omg… is that a bear???

This post was sparked into existence as I read one of Jo-Ann Carson’s posts. As a girl born and raised in the midst of the Kentucky Bluegrass, surrounded by the bible belt, my memories verge closer to the weird, the rallying, and the good ole camping nightmare.

The weirdest just happens to be one of the best memories I have of being covered in mud and limestone that I have. Anyone from the Kentucky area, will know what I am talking about, when I say that Kentucky is littered with caves. You don’t grow up within these borders, if you are lucky, without learning how to become a spelunker. My journeys were never complete without a little bit mud involved. But Laurel Cave is a special treat. Hours of crawling through limestone filled cave systems, the mud, and yes, even the occasional ice cold pocket of water, can be liberating and exciting.

One does not enter a cave system expecting to come out the other side of the journey clean. It just doesn’t work that way. In fact, the idea of just walking through a cave is ludicrous. At one point, I found myself shimming up a tunnel, straight into the heart of this beautiful, bell shaped area. But the tunnel was so small that my uncle, began calling me back from my great find. Wiggling my way back down, yes the tunnel was that small, was like squeezing that last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. Caving is definitely not for the claustrophobic. But it wasn’t like I didn’t understand why I needed to rejoin my small group of two. I had left my uncle standing in a pocket of water that was at least four feet deep, and freezing cold. 😉

But the weird part of the expedition came as we were leaving the cave. Those of you from the Carter Caves area will undoubtedly know about the homemade ladder, a 20-30 foot tree that was carted in so that cave lovers would have easy access to the upper levels of the Laurel cave system. A tree trunk that had existed for more than twenty years. You would think that grown adults would know better but … We, my uncle and I, were standing off to the side as three (lets call them brave, it sounds so much nicer than moronic) brave souls made the accent to the second level. The men were talking, one victoriously stationed on the second level, one near the middle of the tree, and one posted near the base awaiting his turn. I had to have been no more than twelve, standing there watching the tree shake, listening to the men joke and laugh about the tree longevity.

But when someone commented on the fact that the tree was twenty years old, that it had never cracked, and that it would never snap, it happened. I in my twelve year old wisdom, looked at the man that was nearing the top of his climb and said, “Til now…” I have no idea why I said this, but the words had barely left my mouth when the sound of the tree snapping in half reached our ears. Needless to say, the grownups were freaked out. A man had just dropped was amounted to two and a half stories, landing on the not so soft cavern floor. Oh, and the little witch in their midst made it happen. Okay, maybe not, but the coincidence of my words and the accident spurred my uncle in to action. Making his hasty goodbyes, I was pulled from the cave and thrown into the back of his truck. Freaked or not, he didn’t want that much cave muck speared all over the interior of his car. And yes, I was that filthy, but hey, I was twelve.

The rallying point comes out of the numerous camp fires, held nightly and always accompanied by a musical theme. It is amazing to me, at the tender age of thirty three, but I still associate camp fires with guitars, singing, and smores. The smores are a must, and the misplacement of marshmallows is a criminal offence. But the musical aspect just seems to flow throughout a campground. Large or small, you can always find someone preparing to entertain his fellow camper.

Now, I am a shy person, even now, but when I was younger, my shyness was dang near debilitating. But standing in the dark, the fire sparking off various campfires, there is a felling of freeing isolation. It feels as if the night itself will protect you from the judgment of others. It makes singing out into the night a lot easier when you are standing in front of your friends and family, nervous and sick to your stomach about preforming. Believe it or not, I have preformed many times as the solo act, for both church and school function. Usually right after I toss my cookies in the nearest bathroom.

But surrounded by darkness, the words were able to flow from my mouth. I love to sing, walking around the comfort of my home, hidden from sight but in front of an audience is a different story. There is a joy, a freedom, when the tone and melody flow from your soul. You can feel the beat claiming your heart, even without the accompaniment of an instrument. I can remember one night, surrounded by my family and the coal black darkness of the campground, that I enjoyed myself and got so wrapped up in the music, that is took a few minutes for me to realize that I was pulling in drive-bys, or should I say walk-bys.

When most people are pulled from their sleep, or interrupted form their own quiet holiday, they are understandably upset. But in the heart of a Kentucky campground, the result is different. You may wander over, but the result is welcoming, and usually results in more volunteers for the impromptu concert. It is always fun, but this performer is too old to sleep out side, surrounded by the beauty of nature. I will leave the excitement to the next generation.

The good ole camping nightmare of sleeping out in the midst of nature, bugs, and usually on a hard dirt surface, reminds me of the being awaken from my sleep by the sounds of an angry bear. There I was, tucked into my sleeping bag, my tent all that could protect me from the wilds of the Kentucky campground, and wishing that I had chosen to sleep in the camper with my mother. But nooooo, I wanted to rough it with my cousin. A cousin that was somehow sleeping through the warning growls of a hungry bear.

I can still remember my heart beating out of control, my hands sweating, as I slowly reached for the zipper of the tent flap. I left my cousin to her dreams, hoping that I would peek out and see the dangerous animal retreating into the forest. I had never seen a bear, and frankly, at the moment I was would have been happy to live the rest of my life without encountering one.

As I slowly lifted the edge of my tent flap, lying flat on my stomach, I was confused for a moment by what I saw. There was no bear, but the campfire was burning bright and my mother and uncle were sitting in exhausted heaps by the flames. Slowly crawling from the non-existent safety of my tent, and convinced that the grownups were insane to sit by the fire without a care in the world, I looked around until I found the source of the terrifying sound, and then proceeded to release a relieved bark of laughter.

My aunt was using the back of her extremely large van, doors open, to bed down for the night. She was also snoring loud enough to wake the entire campground. Or at least, everyone but her daughter still deep in slumber, back in my tent. It really was an amazing noise, vibrating into the night.

I’m sure that the camp stories and nature fiascos number in the hundreds, but for now, that’s it for my walk down memory lane. Now it is your turn to take Jo-Ann’s advice, and take a trip through your own memories. Happy writing, Tracey

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