So you think you like camping? Well, before you set up your tent and watch the horizon grow dark, check out this creepy two-part series in the Washington Post about a killer on the Appalachian Trail.
Fortunately, I already knew I didn’t like camping. We’re heavily into eyes-of-the-beholder territory here. You see nature; I see the Blair Witch Project. You find camping relaxing; I find nothing relaxing about being forcibly separated from civilization, a queen-size bed, a nightlight and indoor plumbing. You find nature natural; I find it unnatural.
It all started the summer my husband and I went camping in Mississippi. We spent the day driving on the Natchez Trace highway, a pristine little two-lane road that cuts through the middle of the state. Trees hang overhead, shrouding the highway. Chickasaw Indian mounds — the graves of my ancestors — line the sides of the road. That day, for miles and miles, hours and hours, we were the only travelers on that lonely road. Just us and the Chickasaw ghosts.
At nightfall, we pulled into a campground that was also almost completely deserted. We bustled around and made a fire as it grew darker. We ate some bad food. I was getting more and more nervous, so my husband suggested we make a friendly call on the only other campers at the site. You know, just to reassure me.
So we walked over to the other tent, grinning big, calling out greetings. The other two campers were men in their twenties, with long, stringy hair, patched clothes, and strange, hostile looks on their faces. They stared at us as we said hello, how are you, nice campsite, etc. I began to notice that at least one of them bore a marked resemblance to Elmer Wayne Henley, who’d just been indicted for multiple murders in Houston. But maybe it wasn’t Elmer Wayne. Maybe it was just his brother. Or Jeffrey Daumer. You get the point.
They never said a word to us, which kind of put a damper on the whole social outing. Finally, we wished them good night, which they didn’t respond to, and walked back to our tent.
We lay there for the entire night, not moving, eyes aimed at the top of the tent, where the axe was going to come tearing through, shortly before it decapitated us. By the time we lurched out of the tent at dawn the next morning, sleepless and sore, the other “campers” were gone. But every time I see a “Wanted!” poster, I think of them.
I’m sure it’s all wonderful — being at one with nature, sleeping on the hard ground, sharing your small piece of earth with a couple of future convicts who were probably cooking up meth at their campfire and arguing the merits of cannibalism. But the older I get, the more I realize I’m perfectly happy being at two with nature.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)