The last weekend in September marks a ritual gathering that has been going on for over 40 years - a group of folks from my small home town in MN meet in Bayfield, WI for a pre-Apple Festival weekend.
Not only is this weekend gathering a time-honored tradition, this group has been meeting and camping at the same campground for the entire four+ decades.
Many of the original folks still attend, but now they are accompanied by their grown children and numerous grandchildren. Traditions like the Sat. night potluck and campfire stories are now being passed down to the third generation of campers.
It is a gathering I look forward to almost as much as Christmas.
But this year, we couldn't go. We have critters to take care of, and our trusty farm-sitter was out of town. Being new to the area, we don't know a lot of folks to call on yet.
I was very disappointed.
What could we do instead, besides work on the never-ending list of farm chores?
Go camping! (Or as Mary Jane Butters would call it, Glamping!)
We have 40 acres after all, most of which we have not even begun to explore.
There is one area of particular interest to both of us - a flat knoll on our high land that we would like to build our house on in a few years. So I suggested to Papa Bear that we toss a few things in the back of Old Yeller and head up there for the night.
Papa Bear readily agreed, as he is a pretty 'fart smeller' when it comes to following my awesome suggestions.
Since it was supposed to be in the high 30's F that night with no precipitation, there was no need to worry about bugs or a traditional tent. A single-sized mattress borrowed from the Airstream Land Yacht and settled into the back of the truck and covered in thick sleeping bags would suffice for comfortable lodging.
After finishing up the late-afternoon chores and gathering up some extra clothing, tools and a cooler with dinner and breakfast items, we jumped into Old Yeller for our "long" commute to the top of our land.
A field road runs the edge of the flat hayfield up there, and beyond the homemade barbed-wire-and-wood-post gate, our destination.
I navigated through the tall uncut grass and Queen Anne's Lace now gone to seed ahead of Old Yeller, watching for large rocks that might damage her undercarriage.
Before long Papa Bear had her turned around with her tailgate facing our newly chosen campfire location.
With less than two hours of daylight left we now had work to do - build the rock campfire ring, cut firewood, and grill dinner.
Somehow these chores didn't feel much like real "work," as the late afternoon sunshine sifted through yellow and red leaves and we basked in the joy of creating our small home - albeit a temporary one - where we hoped to build a real home some day.
It didn't take us too long after starting the campfire to realize we had nowhere to sit.
No problem - I knew we had 2 folding chairs in the 'burb down at the house. I could just run down and retrieve them with the ATV.
This is one of tremendous benefits of camping 5 minutes from home. Nothing is too far away to retrieve, if you really need it. Of course half the fun of camping is 'making do' when you forget something. But I felt the chairs would be worth the trip down to the house.
While at the house I could also grab PB's water bottle and a couple of other things we realized we had forgotten in our spontaneous packing haste.
When I returned, the coals were getting hot and the brats were sizzling in the grill basket.
Grilled alpaca brats, a bottle of bluberry mead in honor of our 10th anniversary, some gourmet cheesecake bites, and a full moon rising in a clear sky.
It just don't get no better than this.
(Although I still missed my peeps in Bayfield of course).
After cleaning up our few dinner dishes, it was dark enough to make a run back down to the house to shut the chicken coops. I stayed to watch the fire while PB zipped down the hill.
I sat there in the quiet darkness, the only sounds coming from the crackling fire. The full moon was almost over the treeline.
Then, time stopped.
Life gets pretty darn simple when you take away all of the distractions.
But there was one distraction PB wasn't about to go without this weekend - one technological necessity... watching a Netflix movie. One hour of battery life on his laptop got us halfway through the movie The Help. (An awesome movie by the way).
Every so often we'd pause the movie just to look around and watch the rising full moon and remind ourselves of the amazing theater we were sitting in, taking a moment to express our gratitude at being in such a beautiful place, a place that we were somehow magically connected to.
After the laptop battery quit,the bright full moon eliminated the need for flashlights as I made my way to my cozy bed.
Smartwool covered my limbs as I snuggled between the warm sleeping bags.
I was dozing before PB had finished burning through the pile of thistles I had cut earlier, flames dancing outside of my eyelids as dreams began to dance inside them.
It was the best sleep I've ever had outside of my own house.
In the morning I walked down to the house (saying good-morning to Boo & Monet who sauntered up to the top of their fence line to see what the heck we were doing up there) to move the sheep and let out the chickens, while PB worked on cooking up pastured pork sausage patties and gluten-free oatmeal pancakes.
It was the best breakfast I've ever had. Of course, I say that every time I eat when I'm camping. Or every time I eat outside. Or every time I eat oatmeal pancakes.
We procrastinated as long as possible after breakfast before packing up our few things and driving back down to the house.
One of the shortest camping trips ever - for sure - but also one of the very best.
Sometimes the simplest things in life are the sweetest.