One springtime we wandered into the Warner Mountains of NE California. Looking for a campsite we parked the truck near a marshy pond just off the main road. We walked the dirt track that followed a small branch of East Creek. Beaver-chewed aspen marked the waterway; early wildflowers nodded; aspen whispered as we passed. We rounded a bend and there it was. On the grassy bench above the creek lay an old-time camp site. Rough boards were laid across rounds of pine for a  makeshift table. Nearby was a fire circle with upended low stumps placed for seating around a well–used burn pit. On the upper bench smooth earth outlined a rectangular tent site, already ditched, prepared for a good–sized tent.

At the edge of the clearing was a spring. An old pipe had been pushed between the rocks at the bottom of an ancient rock fall that covered part of the hill. The pipe captured the hillside seep and poured a steady trickle of clear water into the small pool that was carefully ringed with rocks, now moss-covered. We wondered–who built this camp? Would they be back? Who was here first? Early sheepherders? Another family? Fishermen? Hunters?

The site was ready and waiting, and we set up our camp the way it was laid out—Coleman cook stove on the table, folding chairs around the firepit. We had an Army Surplus 9×12 wall tent that fit the tent site exactly. We stayed for ten days with our two small children. It was our first and one of the best campouts we ever had as a family.

We moved into Eden that summer. We pulled out the field guides and identified plants and animals. We named wildflowers: Indian paintbrush, yarrow, water leaf, and sticky geranium. This was Great Basin country, blessed with forests of ponderosa pine, white pine, aspen, and juniper. Marmots watched us from the rockfall behind the tent. They whistled if we got too close. Chipmunks and golden mantle ground squirrels dashed about the clearing. We spotted wrens and woodpeckers. A Swainson’s thrush poured out its heart in song every day down by the creek. In the afternoons a great grey owl would hoot a greeting from the forested ridge above our camp. One day I saw it fly from tree to tree–a huge wingspan, what a sight! Deer walked through in the early mornings. At night coyotes howled, and Don caught sight of one in daytime as he fished up the creek. The children played and played, running, climbing, hiding, splashing. They gathered wood and fetched buckets of water. . .

This story continues in my next Saturday Blog: The Gift of Pure Water. Stay tuned.

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