After camping for 2 nights at Mammoth Cave, we headed east toward the Daniel Boone National Forest. We stopped at a public library to use the internet to get directions to a campsite, and were pleased to see that there were free campsites in the area. This is one of the great ideas from the Forest Service. Someone had the foresight to save public land through the federal government, meaning that everyone owns it and everyone can use it. Of course, working out how it’s used and by whom is an art in balance. There are rules of use intended to foster respect between different parties. There are hunting seasons, there are trails for ATVs and trails for hikers only. And there are shared trails, shared lands, shared campgrounds. Hopefully, we can negotiate and live side by side. Sometimes, that breaks down. We got to S-Tree campground and found that it is maintained in part by an ATV club and has many trails where motor-powered All Terrain Vehicles are permitted. There was no fee to camp there, and aside from two trailers in the campsite on the other hill across the forest road, we had the place to ourselves. We set up our tent across from the pit toilets, gathered firewood, and went into town for some groceries. The only thing on my list I couldn’t purchase was beer. I found out later that Kentucky has 40 “dry” counties and 49 “moist” counties in their total of 120 counties, meaning that the sale of alcohol is not permitted or is restricted in those counties. In other words, they still practice prohibition. That doesn’t mean that you don’t find Jack Daniels bottles and cans of Bud Light in the woods. Still, the weather was warm, only a little damp, and the place was quiet. The wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves on the ground and in the trees, the starlight and the slim sliver of moon were perfect companions.
We decided to do an extended hike on Friday, hedging our bets against an onslaught of weekend ATVers. We did encounter one group of 4 vehicles while we were resting beside a concrete creek crossing. We were following the Sheltowee Trace (a trail named after Daniel Boone’s native American nickname, meaning Big Turtle) for about 4 miles west along the Racoon Creek, and then planned to take an “unimproved” trail south through the woods, pick up a forest road there and loop back to the east. The “unimproved trail” was so covered in leaves that it was indistinguishable from an erosion gulley that went straight up to the top of the ridge. We ended up on top with no trail in sight. So we did some basic orienteering and blazed south, thinking we’d hit the forest road eventually, which we did, but not before I went through every survival scenario I could imagine. I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a leader for 3, so I have practical skills. Steve has no sense of direction at all, but he also has no anxieties. Together we actually make a reasonable and happy pair of adventurers. By the time we got back to camp and started a fire for supper, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and pleased with Kentucky. We planned to stay one more night and then make camp in a different area of the Forest to hike up the Rockcastle Narrows. While we sat at the picnic table, we saw an SUV hauling a trailer and a pickup truck following it up the campsite road. The road was narrow and gutted, so the guy in the trailer had his wife get out of the pickup and help him navigate. They managed to pull past our site and set up about 100 feet away in another slot. Then they left in the pickup. So, we had company, but on a Friday night, that was not unusual. They looked like an older couple and hadn’t any ATVs with them, so we figured they would be good neighbors. They returned at about 8pm while we were snuggled up in the tent talking. A little while later, we heard the noise of a generator coming from their site. It was impossible to ignore it. It droned on and on. Quiet hours in the National Forest are posted for 10pm – 6am. We figured they were running their generator for a few hours before turning in. But maybe not. At 9pm, Steve decided he would go over and ask them how long they intended to keep the machine running, as we were trying to sleep. The old man was in his pajamas; he said he planned to run the thing all night “for heat”. Steve tried to suggest that went against the rules for quiet hours, but the man said that he’d never had an issue before and that we could simply move. Steve is calm and gentle and polite, so he came back to the tent to discuss the situation with me. We both felt bullied by the man’s refusal to negotiate, and we decided to pack up and head out. We pulled out at 10pm and waved to the man as we left. He was standing outside his trailer in his nightclothes. (How cold was it, then?)
So, we learned some more about Kentucky. Finding a hotel room along the Interstate on a Friday night is not easy. In London, they were booked up due to a Civil War Reenactment event. In Richmond, they were booked up for a University football game. Finally, in Lexington, we found a “smoking Queen” available. It was 1 a.m. The next installment will tell you how we made up for our disappointment. Here are some photos:
In some parts of the world, it’s lambing season. I’ve seen some beautiful photos from bloggers in rural areas, and I want to share my “Lamb” story, too.
Steve and I went on a cross-country camping trip in the summer of 2009. One of our primary destinations was Zion National Park in Utah. We chose to camp in nearby Dixie National Forest. The National Forest designation allows camping free of charge anywhere within the boundaries. The land is also used for other things, which present something of a mystery to me. Houses are built in National Forests. ATV roads and logging operations also exist there. The official motto on many National Forest signs is “Land of Many Uses”. You’re never really sure what the land is being used for until you get there, drive around, and check it out. This was my first experience traveling like this. I was used to researching websites and making reservations with check-in and check-out times. Steve assured me that traveling without plans is mostly safe and more of an adventure. “Be open to what arises” was his Zen-like mantra. This trip would definitely shape our relationship, and I was excited about the possibilities.
After bumping down a narrow ATV road in Steve’s Toyota Camry, we discovered a nice spot in an aspen grove away from the big camper-trailers that had gathered in the valley for an off-road rally event. We parked the car and began to look for level ground to set up the tent. In the quiet of the woods, I heard a faint sound. A bird with an unfamiliar song…rather like the sound of a bleating…goat? “Did you hear that?” I asked Steve. Odd. I picked up a roll of toilet paper and began to look for a likely tree to designate as my powder room. Then I saw her. At the base of an aspen, dirty white fur blended into the leaf cover and the white bark. She let out a mournful cry. “Maa-aa-aa!” Oh, my goodness! “Steve!” She was skin and bones. A dry umbilical cord hung from her belly. Her long tail was caked with mud. She rose and began walking away from us. She was shaky and obviously hungry. We started throwing out questions to each other. What do we have here? (I guessed a goat because sheep don’t have long tails. What did I know?) Where is her mother? She needs help. What should we do? Where can we take her? How do we catch her? How involved do we want to get? Where is the ranger station? How long would it take to get there? It’s getting dark; should we set up camp and make dinner first?
We decided to catch her and drive her toward the ranger station, even though we knew it was closed. I put on my leather fire gloves and picked her up. She weighed almost nothing, but I wanted to be gentle and careful of her sharp hoofs. We set off slowly toward the populated area of the forest and came upon a big, white pickup truck we thought might belong to a ranger. It wasn’t a ranger, but a local who was able to tell us that we had a lamb and that there were free-ranging flocks in the forest. We drove back to camp with this information, hopeful that we’d come upon a shepherd on horseback whom we’d seen earlier. As we set up camp, the lamb stayed close. We tried to feed her milk from a water bottle, but she just didn’t catch on. She was bumping and nuzzling between my legs, looking to nurse. I felt helpless not having the equipment she was seeking. Steve wanted to allow her to sleep in the tent with us that night to keep warm. I feel like an ogre now for saying ‘no’, but I was more “citified” back then. She slept on a blanket just outside the tent with her back against its slope all night. In the morning, we made breakfast, took pictures and figured out a plan.
We decided to take a hike. Perhaps we’d find the shepherd. Perhaps Lamb would find her mother. We set out with Lamb following for a bit, then she turned around and sat at the base of the tent again. We went off toward the valley overlook. Suddenly, I heard a clanking bell sound and the bleating of…SHEEP! The flock was in the valley! We raced back to camp, put Lamb in the car, and drove off to the valley. I will never forget the image of Steve crossing the road with Lamb in his outstretched hands, little legs flailing. It wasn’t so easy as just setting her down off the side of the road, though. Oh, no! She kept following ME! I’d creep as close as I dared to the flock without scaring them further away, set her down and then turn and run toward Steve. He was laughing his head off because bounding behind me with more energy than she actually had was the little Lamb, ears flapping, leaping over the tall grass. Obviously, we had to use more stealth, more trickery. I crept very carefully in toward some ewes, put Lamb beside me and stayed stock still. Finally, she recognized her own kind and started moving toward them. As she moved in, I moved back, until finally there was enough distance between us that she couldn’t see me. She began pursuing the ewes, bleating and trying to nurse. My last vision of her was rather sad. She came up behind a ewe who turned and knocked her off her feet with an angry neck butt. I saw Lamb’s white legs upended in the grass. She hadn’t much strength left, but I hoped her persistence would get her some milk. Or that the shepherd would show up soon. I turned toward the car in earnest and forbid myself to look back.
Of course I’ll never know the exact outcome of our encounter with Lamb. I am grateful for all that she taught us about being open to what arises, talking about how we want to behave toward others, and acting with compassion in the best way we can. That little Lamb was instrumental in our formation in many ways, and I hope that we were able to help her.