By Tim McGrath
“Why would anyone actually want to spend a weekend sitting in the dirt?” – Anonymous (But you know who you are…)
Camping was a part of life growing up. Our family wandered from Ludington State Park to the National Forest campgrounds secreted across the UP and many points in between. Those were the golden days of childhood spent fishing, swimming, bike riding, and sneaking Dad’s cigars. We cooked up our own ridiculous versions of outdoor games, some of which involved trying not to get skewered with the newly acquired Jarts. There were hobo dinners enjoyed around the campfire, while Dad plucked out old timey country ballads on his battered Gretsch. Sadly, those days ended with graduations, colleges, jobs, and other responsible adult things.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of those long-ago campfires, though, we had the good sense to resurrect camping when our own kids came along. The best news is we found other friends who decided to also begin this tradition with their families. The stage was now set for new adventures in the great outdoors.
For those who’ve camped with kids, it’s always a hoot to watch how their creative juices begin to flow when they finally realize there’s no TV, internet, or impossibly boring adult-oriented stuff they have to do. It’s infinitely entertaining to watch and listen as group-think-kid-style comes to life and the crazy ideas start to bubble up and unfold. Mind you, the adults in question had one eye (and ear) on the shenanigans unfolding, but as long as there wasn’t an overabundance of blood, vomiting, or serious injury involved, the kids could get on fine by themselves.
“Hey, Uncle Tim. Want to watch us try and catch Beach Chickens?” Joel and Karl asked one sultry August afternoon.
“Beach Chickens? OK, now I need to know. What in the heck are Beach Chickens, and how do you catch them?” I innocently asked. Knowing grins, looks, and winks from the boys.
“Come on, follow us to the beach, we’ll show you. You’re going to love this.” Joel said. Carefully scanning the campsite to see if their mom was watching, they popped into the camper and returned with what they called “The Stuff”: a large bed sheet and half-eaten bag of Cheetos.
“That’s it?” I asked. I almost asked if they’d cleared the bed sheet idea with their mom, but decided against it. I was now in on the scheme, and to even consider squealing on them would be heresy.
“Yup, that’s it. Are you ready?” They were getting impatient with my piffling around.
“OK, you two get in the van, and I’ll let the others know we’re going to the beach for a while,” I said.
Muskegon State Park beach was hopping this scorching August afternoon. Families encamped in little huddles close to the water, young guys with no shirts tossing footballs hoping to catch the eye of one of the bikini-clad girls, kite fliers, little kids with droopy water-logged diapers building drip castles next to the water, crying when a rogue wave obliterated their creations. And, everywhere were the flocks of gulls, some floating effortlessly in the breeze, some screeching their irritation at one another, some picking up garbage from the beach for a light afternoon snack. Suddenly, a little light went on.
“Gulls are Beach Chickens, right?” I said to the boys. “And you two are going to try and catch one.” Duh.
“We are. Almost got one yesterday, but just missed it. Hey, there’s a spot over there by the dune, nobody’s there. Come on, let’s go!” They raced to the perfect place, and immediately set to work. I gathered all my responsible-dad-beach-gear and waded across the volcanic sand toward them. As soon as I came within about 25 yards of the project they immediately stopped, held up a hand, and motioned for me to stay where I was.
They were digging what looked like a shallow trench in the sand. When the trench was just the right dimensions, they carefully spread the dug sand around the area so it would look as natural as possible. Karl then lay down on his back in the trench, and Joel covered him with the sheet. Taking the bag of Cheetos, he tossed several on the sheet about where Karl’s stomach was, then put a few enticers on the sand around the Beach Chicken trap. Looking at the scene, I had to admit it was ingenious. Had to wonder, though, if the boys had considered what might happen if they actually snared one. Gulls have long sharp beaks, and those wings are big, strong and bony. I don’t imagine a trapped one would take kindly to being caught. Ah well, live and learn. Plus, what are the chances…?
Joel surveyed the scene and satisfied with their engineering walked over and sat down by me. “OK, Joel, how does this whole thing work?” I asked.
“Just watch, it won’t be long!” he chuckled.
As if on cue, gulls lured in by the tasty looking iridescent orange Cheetos started hovering over the area. Several of the braver ones landed a few feet from the trap eyeing it carefully, on the lookout for any funny business.
One by one the gulls walked closer, plucked a Cheeto lying on the ground and gobbled it down.
Then it happened. “Karl, there’s one getting set to hop on the sheet, get ready,” Joel quietly called. The gull walked onto the sheet. “OK, he’s on you. Go!”
Instantly, Karl sat straight up throwing the sheet over the gull trying to trap it in the folds.
“Got it!” he screamed. His aim was slightly off kilter, and he had only part of the gull. As predicted, the gull wasn’t having it. Finding its mark on his hands and arms, its beak pecking like a jackhammer, the one free wing beat Karl soundly about the head and shoulders. “Help, help, it’s eating me alive! I don’t want it to peck my eyes out!”
“Let go, Karl, let go!” we hollered. He fell back in the pit, and the gull sprang up, flew away, screeching its annoyance at the interruption to a perfectly good snack time.
The ride back to the campground was a quiet one. Surprisingly, there were only a few red marks on Karl’s face from the wing, and a couple scratches on his arms and hands. The upside was he still had both eyes. He’d also kept his good humor about the whole thing.
“Well, that was sort of fun, too bad it got away,” he said. As we pulled back into the campsite, Karl called out. “Hey, Joel, I’ve been thinking, and I got this really great idea. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could catch squirrels using our fishing poles? All we have to do is take off the hook, and then tie a peanut onto the line. Cast it out by one of them, and let them take the bait. They wouldn’t get hurt, but I can just imagine playing a big squirrel as he runs around trying to get the peanut off the line.
Could be way more fun than real fishing. Squirrels don’t bite, do they?”
Kids and camping… good times, good times.
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