By Clint Norrell
Thompson Chain of Lakes State Park is halfway between Libby and Kalispell, Montana. The Peninsula Campground is primitive. The roads are full of roots and ruts and potholes. The campsites slope irregularly toward the lake. They are numbered and that is their most developed feature. There are no leveled RV pads. No water and no electrical, but we had the whole campground to ourselves.
After jockeying the rig between trees, I finally achieved a reasonably flat spot broadside to the view, engaged the stabilizers and put out the slides. With no hook-ups, setting up went quickly and I turned my attention to unloading the boats from atop the SUV we tow.
A bald eagle soaring on high
As I was leaning over the windshield to free a twisted tie-down strap, I watched the reflected image of fast-moving clouds passing overhead, and was treated to a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring on high. By the time I had freed the strap and untangled my limbs, the majestic bird was gone.
Kath had binoculars trained on a common and two hooded mergansers cruising the shore. In short order, we’d seen mallards and heron and several other varieties of water birds. On land were robins and smaller LBBs (little brown birds). A crow squawked from the upper boughs of an evergreen, “No matter where you travel, I will find you.”
The trees had recently been thinned in the campground. Much of the underbrush had been cleared. Maybe it was for fire prevention or revenue or both, but stumps and bark and small limbs littered the ground. I missed the privacy the undergrowth had afforded in past visits. I understand man’s need to manipulate the land for his convenience but also wondered if any consideration was given to the critters our chainsaws displaced.
It was still pretty, and not all lost. Chipmunks scampered about freely. I didn’t recognize the omen in their running beneath our motorhome.
Our paddling adventure
Happy hour was held indoors. It was chilly, the wind came up, and rain threatened. There was no Wi-Fi, no Netflix, and running the generator seemed sacrilegious. After a short walk through scattered, empty campsites, the wind died. Sunshine peeked between clouds often enough to make paddling appealing, so off we went. First, to the opposite side of the narrow lake, then along the far shore in an easterly direction. At the lake’s end, there was a meandering channel through reeds and cattails. There was a tiny island that compelled circumnavigating. Then, ten to fifteen yards ahead, a loon surfaced. He showed no fear, little curiosity, and after half a minute, he dove. He resurfaced nearby, turned his head with its long black beak, studied us or rolled his eyes, I know not which, and dove again. This was repeated a number of times.
He was close enough to see his contrasting colors and striped markings clearly. I looked to see if his eyes were red but failed. Soon he was joined by another bird. I assumed it was his mate. Neither bird showed any concern for our boats, neither my shiny red ultra-light canoe nor Kathy’s blue and white kayak.
When both birds were down I looked west. Threatening clouds were approaching. There was rain to the north and south. I couldn’t see if it was falling to the ground or merely berm, but it blocked the sun. The wind freshened. The loons didn’t seem to mind, but I did. “Kath,” I called. “We need to go back before this gets nasty.”
We had a workout
The wind kicked up. Parallel lines of small waves formed. Fortunately, we headed directly into the weather. It was good that we weren’t in the trough. Kath would have been fine. Her boat’s covered deck and skirted cockpit was made to shed a wash. Mine was open. Once a wave broke over the gunwale, the next would find it easier and I’d soon be swimming. I’d have had to tack at least 45 degrees to avoid that. The thought of hypothermia motivated me to paddle hard. We had to go a half-mile into the wind. Our bodies acted as sails. I paused once to raise the hoods on my sweatshirt and backpacker’s rain jacket. I was immediately turned sideways and pushed backward thirty yards. No more of that. Better to be cold from wind than wet.
By the time we got back, I was spent. I ungracefully exited my canoe and helped Kath land hers. We carried boats to high ground, upturned them, and stripped our protective clothing. We hung life jackets and such out of the weather and went inside, slamming the door behind us.
I slept soundly, until 3:30. It was cold. I was tired and sore. I hadn’t paddled that hard since our whitewater days, long before knee replacements and arthritis. My hands hurt. My shoulders hurt. It took coffee and breakfast, daily exercises, and a long walk before I began to loosen up. We had to drive 20 miles to a cell signal so we could get online to purchase a Montana camping permit. It was unavailable from the camp host at nearby Logan State Campground until they opened in mid-May.
Time for a nap
We lunched when we returned. A breeze and the threat of wind ruled out boating. I decided to nap. I may fall asleep watching TV or in the middle of a conversation, but I no longer drift off just because my head hits the pillow. When I lay down, I start to think, so I opened my current book. As soon as I started thinking about somebody else, I went to sleep … until Kathy called, “Clint, there’s a chipmunk in here.”
She seemed to think I’d know how and why and what to do about it.
I replied, “Open the door so he can get out,” and went back to sleep.
Two hours later, when I awoke, I found Kath under a blanket in her recliner with a book. The door was closed.
After a brief discussion, I acknowledged my responsibility for the chipmunk situation. Not sure if the rodent was still inside or if he had left by the same route he’d entered, I opened the door.
A cane to shoo out the chipmunk
I held onto an adjustable cane the hospital had given me after knee surgery. I use it to push open and closed the drapes that shade the windshield. Sometimes, it has other uses, like poking under the driver’s seat to panic a chipmunk into running for the outdoors. It worked … kinda. First, he had to show his mettle by darting here and there, then up onto the dashboard where he encountered a glass barricade. Frustrated and scared, he ran from one side to the other.
I didn’t want to hurt him. But I did want him to recognize the inside of my motorhome as being mine.
I ignored the laughter that came from under the blanket, pursued our guest and, eventually, the chipmunk bounded out the door. I closed it and looked at the clock. Too early for happy hour.
I reclined my theater seat and opened the solitaire app.
You guessed it; another chipmunk
There was a scratching sound. Then another. Kathy looked at me. I got up, armed myself with a weak flashlight and my cane. The sounds were coming from the bedroom end of our RV. Yep, there was a chipmunk sitting on the narrow shelf that serves as a nightstand on Kathy’s side of the bed. Cute little bugger.
He looked at me and me at him. Kath yelled, “How ‘bout if you trap him. Put a peanut under a box, you know?”
I moved. He ran along a line between the pillows and the headboard. Then back. I considered covering him with a blanket, as I had with a squirrel when I was a kid. That one had already bitten me and it had succumbed to the folds of my death grip. I didn’t want this guy to come to harm, just to get out. I stomped my feet and pounded with my cane behind where I wanted him to go. Herding. The squirrel went in a flash out of my reach, across and off the bed, down the short hall between the shower and restroom, and …
I don’t know where he went. I looked. Kathy looked. I put new batteries into the little flashlight. I went outside. Looked some more. Accepted that I didn’t know and probably never would.
I looked at the clock. Close enough. I uncorked a bottle, poured, sat down, and raised the footrest. I watched through the RV’s windows as a half dozen chipmunks played grab-ass from tree to brush all around our campsite. Cute little buggers. They belong in cartoons.
See some of Clint’s recent cartoons. They’re wonderful!