Life of Riley in LouisianaWritten by Don Hendershot
Different people have different ideas of camping. Some people like to carry their camp on their back as they hike for untold miles, eating freeze-dried beans and drinking purified water from the streams. Some people’s idea of the camp is where you go to mix cocktails and sit in the hot tub and watch the big game on the 60-inch plasma TV.
Both of these “opposite ends of the spectrum” have their associated perks and pitfalls and both can be wonderful experiences. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy both aspects but I can tell you I’ve spent more time in a tent than a hot tub. The average camping experience usually falls somewhere in between, like a small tent at a backcountry campsite, a pop-up or RV at a front-country site, the hunting camp or the fishing camp, etc.
On my recent trip to Louisiana to count birds at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, near Monroe, I had the pleasure of camping for two nights along the Ouachita River with an old Mer Rouge chum, Gil White. Gil is the proud owner of a small one-room camp literally feet away from the edge of the high bank of the river, near Moon Lake, just minutes from Monroe.
The camp is, in fact, a little too close to the riverbank, and one of Gil’s projects for the summer will be moving it back a 100 feet or so. It seems the unusually high water last year caused the river to undercut a huge water oak standing just in front of the camp. If the tree goes, the camp, where it is now, would follow, and I don’t think it would make a good houseboat in its present form.
The camp is definitely one of those “tweeners” from above. No electricity and no running water, but dry with a wood stove and small covered deck for river watching. I’m guessing the total inside area is about 12 by 12 or so, maybe a tad larger and the deck extends out another 6 to 8 feet. Plenty of potable water in different sized containers, propane cookstoves, battery and gas lanterns, ice chests and a port-o-potty just down the trail insures all basic needs are met. And the best part – you don’t have to pack all that gear in.
Now this is not wilderness camping. The camp is barely 10 minutes outside of Monroe and probably less than a mile from Moon Lake campground sitting in an open field/pecan orchard with a gravel road just outside the gate, a few hundred yards away. But once you’re there and sit back and prop your feet up you’re instantly transported.
The sun is sliding west, disappearing through the woods beyond the river. Wood ducks, dark silhouettes in the dusk, are plopping in one pothole then splashing and squealing and rising up to circle the clearing and try another pothole, seeking that perfect spot to settle in for the night. Spring peepers, American toads, cricket frogs and others call loudly and lustily from slough and road ditch and swale while a huge moon crawls into the sky above the levee to peak at us between the clouds.
With bellies full of tasty camp grub that Gil cooked up on a small propane grill, a nice fire in the fire pit and a cool adult beverage, we decided to see if there were any owls in the neighborhood. I walked over to my truck and played a CD of great horned owls. By the time I made it back to my spot by the fire a pair were in the big water oaks above us quietly hooting and carrying on as if talking to themselves about where the interloper might be. The moon was so bright we saw the duo as they left the oak headed for another nearby post where they, once again, began calling as if challenging the intruder.
As bedtime approached a tug passed by headed upriver with two empty barges. Gil had a tent sent up on a mat outside and I retired to the camp. It was a pleasant, warmish February evening. All the windows in the camp were open. The frogs were serenading as loudly as ever, and the owls were still calling in the distance as I crawled into my sleeping bag.
The dawn will be our alarm clock. Black Bayou is only minutes away and the coffee pot is ready to go. Life is good.