Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter camping, Tippecanoe River

Tippecanoe State Park Canoe Camp, deserted in
December except for two hardy souls and a dog

About winter in our fair state, a writer in Outdoor Indiana observes:

Winter can be a tough time to find outdoor recreational opportunity under an open sky in Indiana. Sure, there’s ice fishing and cold-weather hiking. A few hardcore enthusiasts may even spend a couple of frigid nights camping. But it’s hard to find much else—unless you know where to look.

--Feature Story by Brandon Butler, Outdoor Indiana, November/December 2009.

We are apparently hardcore enthusiasts.

Armed with a tent, a down mattress pad, several fleece blankets, two sleeping bags rated for 0 and -15 degrees, and many, many hand and toe warmers, we set out for our first winter camping adventure. We wanted to do this for some time, unable to see why our outdoor activities should be curtailed just because the sun decided to migrate to the other side of the earth for the next half year.

It was cold. And I don't want to negate any glory for which I might be eligible in return for sleeping outside in twenty-degree weather, but it really wasn't that bad. We also learned what steps to take to minimize the cold even more. We're lucky, though -- 24 hours later it was snowing and much colder.

Sometimes I'm awed by how effectively we have insulated ourselves from the elements in this modern age. It is entirely possible to pass a whole day without ever going outside. You can wake up in your house, get into an air-conditioned or heated car in your attached garage, and drive to a parking garage attached to your office building. You can order lunch brought to you, and go home the same way.

Kids aren't allowed to go out to the playground for recess anymore when the weather is too cold, for even the shortest periods of time. I know people who regularly hop into their car to drive a single block in the rain instead of walking under an umbrella. My sister's office is so over-cooled in the summer that she has to bring a sweater.

I'm the last person to judge anyone who wants to avoid the discomforts of winter. I am constantly cold five months out of every year, and unafraid to complain about it. Nor am I saying that everyone ought to set up housekeeping outside in early winter -- hell, it took me almost forty years to do it. But I do wonder if life lost a degree of immediacy, a bit of pungence, when sleeping outdoors in December became a near-radical act.

We heard something that night, perhaps an owl. It sounded, T said, like a witch seeking her first victim. It was loud, and it was nearby. I don't remember him waking me up in the middle of the night to listen to the coyotes howling, but he did. I do remember him coaxing a fire into existence the next morning, before I photographed the river in the clear, stinging air.

And then we went to breakfast in town. Where it was warm.

Tippecanoe River, winter morning