M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Wednesday, August 05, 2009  


Here's a conundrum for you: if a tree falls in the forest and lands on a blogger, does anyone notice when he stops updating?

Let me back up a little. Last weekend, Trash and M. Edium and I went on our second camping trip of the summer, which is something we hardly ever do. We went to a place that's new for us: a sprawling state park on Lake Wissota in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, where Leinenkugel's practically falls from the sky.

The trees there were like nothing we've seen before. Much of the park's square mileage was given over to these dense pine forests where the trunks were so close together and the canopies so intertwined that looking into them at midday was like looking twelve hours into the future. Other parts of the park were dominated by taller pines that were devoid of branches until about forty feet above the forest floor. The effect created by these trees in large numbers was almost as striking, as bare, silvery trunks seemed to recede into the distance like in a hall of mirrors.

It was this latter variety of tree that our surprisingly secluded little campsite was surrounded by. They didn't go as far back, but they came right up to us. One of them was where Trash hung our garbage bag, and the clothesline was strung between the next two trees over.

The first night, when M. Edium was asleep in the tent, and Trash and I were about to go in and join him, we stood outside for a moment listening to those tall pines creak gently in the breeze, unable to see a single one of them in the pitch black.

If you've read The Road, you know what this auditory scene reminded me of: the part where Man and Boy are bedding down in the woods, and they hear the trees starting to fall around them. It's become a normal thing at that point in the story: nuclear winter is killing them all, so there's no point in their continuing to stand.

I started to relate this to Trash, who said, "Do you really want to bring this up right before we go to bed?" Because she sucks at getting to sleep at the best of times, I didn't. But to myself, I quietly recalled how pleased we were upon our arrival, when we saw the volume of fallen wood. In case you're not a camper, we love fallen trees because anything that's dead or on the ground is free firewood, as opposed to anything alive or standing, which isn't. Those trunks leaning against the ground at a crazy angle had looked like a windfall (literally) in the daytime, but now, when I thought of them, they seemed a bit ominous.

Still, that was of less concern to us than the ring around the moon, which told us it would rain before morning came. It certainly did that, but we were safe and dry in the tent, and Trash tells my I slept resolutely through it, although I seem to remember hearing the drops clattering against the nylon. As for my feet being wet, I'm pretty sure I just dreamed that.

The next day was, if still a little damp, perfect camping weather; not too hot, not too sunny, and the ground, tarps, and folding gazebo covering our picnic table were drying rapidly. We had a marvelous day, exploring the park and eating stuff off of open flames and making plans to explore Chippewa Falls the following day on our way home.

Some time after eight, after dinner had been consumed and the dishes put away and the "pre-packing" for the next morning done and the preliminary battle lines being drawn for M. Edium's bedtime, Trash happened to look up at the tree that had served as our garbage-hook. "Was it doing that before?" she asked me.

By "that," she meant, "leaning at a ten-degree angle from perpendicular."

"I don't think so," I said.

We joked about it a little, like, good thing we didn't hang our garbage bag on the other side of the trunk, the side it was leaning toward, I don't think it could take the extra weight, har har, and oh, when it goes, it'll miss our tent by a good six inches, easy, hee hee.

And then we looked up again and it was leaning at a fifteen-degree angle.

Eight degrees doesn't seem like much, if you're just looking at a protractor. But think about what that means with a seventy-foot-tall pine. You can be standing right at the base of the tree -- noticing with a kind of oddly detached curiosity that a fat surface root pointing away from the direction of the lean has very recently snapped, while your wife says, "That must have been what that loud crack was last night." -- but then, if you want to stand under the crest of the tree, you have to walk over there. And when you do that, you're halfway to your tent.

We debated staying the one more night, as originally planned. I even pulled the tent stakes out of the ground in hopes of being able to drag the whole thing clear. But try as we might, we couldn't balance the upside of enjoying another night in the tent and a Sunday of exploring Chippewa Falls against what seemed like an increasing likelihood of being crushed in our sleep. So with the sun already well below the trees and the daylight bleeding away, we got to work breaking camp.

The usual division of labor, both on arrival and departure, is that Trash deals with the kitchen while I deal with the shelter. M. Edium was assigned to deal with his toys, set way off at the other end of the campsite, well out of any imaginable squish-radius. Deflating the air mattresses and rolling up the sleeping bags and packing up the equivalent of a hotel room inside a thirteen-foot-square nylon sack takes longer than you might think, so after a while I started just throwing stuff out onto the tarp that served as our front porch. While in there, I was uncomfortably aware of my vulnerable position if that thing decided to come down, even if Trash had time to shout a warning. Not only does our model not come with an ejector seat, but anyone who's ever drank too much beer around the campfire and finds themselves urgently needing to visit the head at four a.m. knows how easy it is to get out of a tent quickly.

But the good news was that the tree seemed to have stopped moving. It was now leaning against the next tree over, like that skyscraper in Cloverfield.. Except now that tree was leaning as well, and since Trash had already taken the clothesline and the five kitchen towels on it down, there didn't seem to be much we could do about that.

We did learn a couple of things. The first is that with both of us working together and as quickly as we could (with occasional help from M. Edium), we are able to break camp and get everything packed in (and on) Chao's truck in a little under an hour and a half. The second thing is that from the time we decided to pull up stakes and bail, it's about an hour and a half until full dark. We found ourselves very glad we always bring extra lanterns.

After I had the canvas cargo carrier stuffed and strapped to the luggage rack (lopsided as hell, but secure), I made another circuit of the campsite with one of the lanterns, looking for anything we'd forgotten. Just for shits and giggles, I pressed both my hands against the tree trunk that was now leaning at a twenty-degree angle, just to see if I could rock it. I could, but I couldn't bring it all the way down. As to whether its angle had changed from my exertions, it was too dark to tell. We got out on the main road just as the final layer of dark mauve was fading to black in the west.

Did we overreact? Maybe. That tree probably wouldn't have fallen that night, or the next morning, or even the next afternoon, after we were long gone.

On the other hand, we were home by midnight on Saturday, giving us all of Sunday to unpack the truck and do any number of other things we might not otherwise have had time to do. Oh, and none of us were turned into pulp.

I'm kind of curious about when it fell, though. If anyone happens to encounter a park ranger near Lake Wissota, ask him or her about that tree at site 110, would you? The one with our names on it.

posted by M. Giant 7:51 PM 2 comments


I love Lake Wissota! Did you manage to go to the Leinie Lodge?

By Anonymous Rebecca, at August 6, 2009 at 8:59 AM  

Sorry you had to cut your trip short, I grew up in Chippewa (the locals just call it Chippewa. Two syllables. Chip-wah.) and it really is a charming little town. Make sure to hit the ice cream store on the main street of town (Olson's, on Bridge Street) if you go back. It's expensive (by Chippewa standards at least), but worth it. And no, I'm not just saying that because I worked there in high school, years ago.

My cousin's husband is actually a ranger at the park part time, I'll see if I can find out if the tree ever came down!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 6, 2009 at 8:27 PM  

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