I went to the woods for my sanity, but I came back for the air conditioning

Posted by on September 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm.

Two weeks ago, I tried to go camping. I’ve been having an itch for the outdoors lately. I’m used to summer being an awesome time to get outside and get on the water — but it’s not so easy in Florida. It’s too damn hot in the summer to do anything in the direct sunlight for more than a couple hours, so camping is pretty much out.

But something told me it was a good idea to try. I haven’t slept in a tent since before I moved down here, and that makes me extremely sad. When I checked the weather, it told me there was a high of 93, so I risked it. I drove to Jacksonville and got set up in my campsite at Hanna Park. I was going to give myself a little writing/reading retreat in the woods.

I walked down to the beach to hang out and write for a while. While I was at the beach, I realized it was probably hotter than 93 degrees and checked my phone. It was 99. I’d been punk’d by the meteorologists, but I decided to stick it out anyway.

About 6 p.m., I decided to build a fire and cook my dinner. Just after I got the fire lit, I realized I wasn’t actually hungry. And I certainly didn’t want to stand over the fire and cook anything. So I put out my fire and when I did get hungry, I had cereal for dinner instead.

I climbed into my tent by 8 p.m. It was still hot, but I figured I’d entertain myself with my papers until it got cooler and I could go to sleep. I even managed to have a phone conversation with Jean (cell phone reception being one of the key advantages of going to a campground located in a city).

After I got off the phone with Jean, about 11, I put my phone down and tried to go to sleep. It wasn’t much cooler, but I was exhausted, and figured I’d suffer through the heat. As I was laying there, I began to hear some local wildlife walking nearby. I didn’t pay it too much attention until the creatures were walking in my campsite.

I figured the critters would pick up whatever scraps of food I’d left outside and then move along, but that wasn’t the case. After what must have been ten minutes of these animals walking around my campsite, one of them seemed to lay down beside my tent and started making this deep, guttural growling noise. I’m very familiar with the sounds raccoons make, so I guessed this must be an armadillo or something else we don’t have in the Midwest.

At this point, I decided it was time to clear the critters out. I sat up in my tent, it my arms against the walls so they’d puff out, and yelled “Git!” a few times. Normally, that’s enough to run off any critters unless there’s a lot of food they’re trying to get into. I’d locked all my food in the car a little bit away, so I knew they hadn’t found anything significant near my tent, but the animals didn’t move. They stopped walking for a moment, but resumed a few seconds after I stopped shouting.

I tried again, this time making even more noise and hitting the tent a lot more. And the animals stayed put. Which is freaky. The old adage that the animal is more scared of you than you are of it is always true. Except these animals were obviously not scared of me. The worst-case scenarios played out in my mind. Half-domesticated coyotes, fearless raccoons, or even an alligator. In my campsite and refusing to leave. I’ll admit I was at least a little bit scared. Or maybe a lot a bit. I’ve run off a lot of animals before, and I’d never found any so bold.

Brandishing my flashlight, I unzipped my tent door a little and shined into the campsite. It was cats. Feral cats like I’d seen wandering around the campground earlier that day. These cats are not somebody’s pet, but they also aren’t afraid of people. They stay at a healthy distance of 20 paces at all times. If you walk toward them, they walk an equal amount away. If you walk away, they follow you. It was an awful lot like an Alred Hitchcock movie.

And now they were in my campsite, frolicking around as if it was play time. Content that I wasn’t going to be eaten by an alligator, I tried to go back to sleep. But the cats kept frolicking. In the dry leaves. And didn’t stop. For almost an hour. Wasn’t it too hot to frolic?

Finally, I gave up. I broke camp and put my camping gear in the back seat. I was rolling out at about 12:15 for the drive home. The air conditioning in my car felt wonderful. Just before leaving camp, I check the weather on my phone one last time. It was 96 degrees, three higher than today’s predicted high. Meteorologists are dumb.

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