Campers seek relief from heat
As a child of the South, I usually vacation to escape the heat rather than confront it. Summer trips typically take me in search of cool ocean breezes or mild mountain air. But last week, I spent many of my hours away from the office in temperatures at or above 100 degrees.
That’s what happened when I joined 11 other fathers to help chaperone a Boy Scout camping trip in rural Oklahoma. We camped for a week in the valley of the Kiamichi Mountains, which meant temperatures in the high 60s as evenings fell across our campsite. The cool nights became even more pleasant as we plugged portable fans into a nearby outlet to create a nice breeze in our tents. Our electric fans, like the ones of my childhood summers, hummed like the propellers of a bomber plane as I nodded off each night.
During the days, though, the mercury rose into triple digits. By noon, our fans could do little but churn the hot air, like a convection oven toasting our skin.
Two brief rains helped take the edge off the heat. As the first shower fell, I worried that my leaky tent might grow soggy inside. But the little storm, no wetter than a lisp, produced only the tiniest trickle from the ceiling above my bed, the moisture rationed out as if being squeezed from an eye dropper. An empty ice chest positioned to collect the drip caught a teaspoon of water.
The earth, as dry as the leavings of an ash tray, quickly consumed what the clouds offered, and moments after the showers stopped, the ground betrayed no evidence that rain had passed.
Heat made shade a great treasure. The surrounding forest was crowded by Southern yellow pines, which were tall and straight, casting the slenderest of shadows. I thought with fondness of our big oaks back home, their wide limbs a welcome shelter from the sun.
We dutifully drank lots of water, plastic canteens dangling from our waists like prayer beads.
Each afternoon reminded me why siestas are popular in warm Latin countries. As the high sun slowly worked its way across the sky, we gathered in folding chairs under a portable canopy to catch the current from outdoor fans, filling the time between lunch and dinner with small talk, reading or catnaps. Down the dusty road that snaked beside our campsite, a lake and swimming pool promised more ambitious relief for the heat-weary. The prospect of soft-serve ice cream from the camp commissary drew me up a steep hill each day. I hadn’t wanted ice cream that badly since hiking the Grand Canyon years ago, when my wife and I, our mouths parched, spotted a treat shop along the canyon rim.
With dusk each day of our sojourn, our brains and bodies slowly revived, the heat lifting its thumb from our dampened brows. We sweated a lot, but our young sons seemed to sweat more. Occasional trips to the campground showers suppressed, but did not eliminate, the unique smell that comes from boys ripened by summer days in the woods. As we packed to leave, each father was presented with an air freshener for the ride home.