Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cougars, Bears, and Weird Neighbors-Oh My!

photo by D'Arcy
Some years ago Jake and I were snuggled together, reading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. The fourth wilderness survival book we'd read in as many months, it fascinated him with the character's steely will to survive, not to mention the mentions of hunting, fishing, making tools, and living on his own.

"Let's go camping Jake, just you and me. We can be wilderness survivors," The words were out of my mouth before I realized what I had just said, and his eyes lit up at my suggestion.

"Yes!" he squealed, "I want to go camping!" The full impact of what I had suggested didn't hit me until later. Why did I suggest that? Sure, we had camping gear and some nice campgrounds close by. However, I didn't have the foggiest idea of how to set up the propane stove, let alone pack the car, and me being the sole adult on the trip meant I was responsible for all of it.

I've camped many times as a child, but I was never the one in charge-my Dad enthusiastically took care of everything with the precision of one who has camped all his life. Once I got married, my husband took charge of the camping preparations. I was the camping newbie, and I admit, I was a little nervous!

Nevertheless, I quickly became very excited. This would be wonderful Mother/son time, I thought. I couldn't wait to bond with my son over s'mores and catching crabs at the beach. After weeks went by and the groceries were bought, the lists made, and I received a crash course in camping from my husband, we were ready. I had strategically chosen a campsite not far from our home, so that if it rained or we needed something home was close by. Handy Dad drove us to the site, patiently helped me unpack and set up camp, and then he was gone. We built a driftwood fort and then spent the day at the beach picking blackberries and catching crabs. Later that evening as the sun set and the sparkling cruise skips floated past, we sat on a large rock and watched. Of course, until the wake from the cruise ship sent waves towards us that crashed against the rock, soaking us both. We squealed and laughed as the cold salty water hit us, almost falling off the rock as the tide marched in.

That evening we discovered we had neighbors. I find that neighbors on a street can be interesting, but camping neighbors can be downright weird. The couple that arrived next door were facinated with us-especially Jake. They came to introduce themselves, and then sat down at our picnic table and wordlessly watched me get Jake ready for bed as if studying some interesting bug. Attempts at conversation were met with grunts. When Jake was in the tent, they went back to their own campsite.

Okay that was a little weird. I thought, but I let it go as a one time thing.They were both in their 20's, with a little baby. When they introduced themselves they told us that they were living at the campsite as he looked for work, because they were new to the area. I took in their scruffy clothes, toothless smiles, and attempts at conversation, and smiled back warmly. Having lived with street kids and worked with special needs children, I'd like to think I'm not so judgemental and more understanding.

However, it only got weirder.The next night they arrived, as if by clockwork.

"Would you like to see the bunnies over by the playground?" the man turned to Jake and offered a toothless smile.

"I have to ask my Mom." Jake, who normally is never fazed by anyone, looked at me in desperation. I could see the "please Mom, say NO." in his eyes. I politely declined.

"How about down to the beach?" the man offered. Again I declined. I wasn't sure what this interest in my child, especially in getting him alone, was all about, but I wouldn't have it.

Three nights in a row they arrived, as if my campsite were their own. All three nights they offered to take Jake places by himself. All three nights I politely declined. Jake got progressively more freaked out. He couldn't sleep without me in the tent.

They would walk into our site and throw wood on our fire-regardless if we were trying to burn it down or not. They didn't even ask, they just thew the wood right on.

And every night they came to our site, sat at our picnic table, and watched me get Jake a snack and put him to bed. Not in a friendly making conversation way, but just wordlessly sat there. Watching. Watching how I took care of Jake, and striking up conversation only with him. I politely tried to get them to leave, but they'd have none of it. They just sat and looked at me.

Can you say...creeped out beyond reason?

I began sleeping with a hammer under my pillow. I was afraid to let Jake out of my sight. Forget bears and cougars, the neighbors creeped me out more then anything else there. Visions of kidnappings were running through my head and I finally called Handy Dad to come and get us.

I was done. Camping is already not my thing, but camping alone as a parent was just too scary when you had to contend with people like that.

"Maybe they were axe murderers," Jake offered.
"I don't think so," I answered. "They probably were harmless, just weird." But I wasn't taking any chances.

So the next month when we saw them in the local library, Jake and I quickly left the building.

Lest they offer to take him to see some bunnies, you see. Somehow I didn't believe it was bunnies they wanted to show him, and we weren't going to stick around to find out.

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