Our last visit to Joshua Tree was almost my last wilderness visit ever. Actually, that’s not strictly true. My first visit to a cabin in the woodlands of West Virginia many years ago was almost my first, last and only North American outdoor adventure. A little OldPlaidCamper family history might help to explain things here. (I’ll throw in a few more Joshua Tree photos to break up the tedium…)
Growing up in the United Kingdom, early camping adventures for me were limited to an overnight tent stay with the Cub Scouts (very little memory about that, maybe hypnotherapy could bring it all back, but some things are best left buried), and the occasional week in a caravan with my family. Those static caravan sites were in North Wales – pretty but rainy – or on the Norfolk coast – windy, pretty but less rainy – near my grandparents. I’ve got happy memories of those holidays, although I don’t know how my parents survived with four young boys sardined into a tin can when the weather was really wet. I seem to recall a lot of bottles in the recycling.
One year I got sick, and because a small boy throwing up in a small caravan is unpleasant for the other occupants, my grandparents came and took me back to their house to recover. I much preferred their house to the cramped caravan, and my “recovery” was timed to when we were about to go home. A naughty and unpleasant small boy, but one who didn’t like tiny accommodations – at least, not crowded.
Anyway, these early experiences were formative, in that, watching Jeremiah Johnson aside, I didn’t really see myself as the outdoors type, at least not as far as camping or caravaning goes. Then there was the wildlife.
My mother, Ma PlaidCamper, successfully passed on to us her fear of spiders, at least when we were younger. There were times when we heard screams of fear, and ran indoors from the back yard, expecting scenes of carnage – had our youngest brother finally jumped down all the stairs, believing (as he did) he could fly? Was the dog savaging an intruder? No. There was a spider in the bath tub. I can’t give Ma PlaidCamper all the credit, because my father, Pa PlaidCamper, had an irrational fear of moths. Spiders? I can see that. But moths?! So, scuttling and fluttering creatures were the enemy growing up.
Just to be clear, moths and spiders don’t grow to any extreme sizes in middle England, and they aren’t dangerous. Although there was one time when Ma PlaidCamper screamed and we all came running in from the garden to confront (there is no other word) the largest house spider I’ve ever seen. Normally, one of Ma PlaidCamper’s brave little soldiers would rescue the spider by placing a jam jar over it, sliding a piece of paper under, and taking it outside to freedom (where it would plan the next arachnid assault on the PlaidCamper house). This spider, Gigantica Grossa, to give it the improper Latin name, could not be captured inside a jar. Or a soup bowl. Not even under an overturned dinner plate. It was so large that Charlie, our bold Basset hound, wasn’t prepared to do what he normally did, and snack on the spider. Pa PlaidCamper ended the face off with the heel of his shoe. My stomach still lurches to this day…
This fascinating and lengthy insight is all a prelude to saying that the very first time we got to our little cabin in West Virginia, I was not emotionally or psychologically prepared for bugs. Bugs! They were everywhere! Bugs you could see. Bugs you couldn’t see. Bugs so ugly you didn’t want to see. They were noisy, numerous, and quick. I think I might have used up several (or more) containers of bug spray the first night in the cabin. I drew a chemical line in the sand around the bed and up the wall. If you had stocks and shares in DEET producers back then and made any money, it was thanks to me. Mrs PlaidCamper saved the day – and a small fortune – by pointing out that we had two weeks in the woods, the bugs had me outnumbered, weren’t likely to move out, and what kind of role model was I being to PlaidCamper Jr? I manned up (but I wish I’d had a heads up on lightning bugs – I thought I was hallucinating. You don’t know what you don’t know…)
Ever since then, this city boy has slowly and steadily grown up and accepted all aspects of outdoor life. Bugs don’t bother me now – although I always pack bug spray before bear spray. Everything has been fine. Until our arrival at Joshua Tree.
The welcome booklet/binder at our vacation home was full of all the useful need to know items about the house and surrounding area. Wonderful! It also had a lengthy page or three about spiders, scorpions, and snakes, listing where they hid around the house, and what to do in the event of being bitten, stung, eaten or laughed at by said creatures. Not so wonderful. Maybe I was tired from the drive, or maybe it was the heat, but I regressed back to prePlaidCamper days. I know you sometimes do need to know what you don’t know, but just then I didn’t need to know there were tarantulas nesting under the deck. Or black widows lurking in corners. Trap door and wolf spiders? Spare me!
I’m pleased to write that this time it was me who gave myself a stern talking to, and I climbed down from the chair, put my feet on the floor (after checking inside shoes carefully), and proceeded to have a thoroughly enjoyable time in the desert. With a container of bug spray readily available in my backpack. We didn’t see any spiders, snakes, scorpions – or moths. It was too hot for them, and they quite sensibly stayed out of the heat and out of my sight. Thank you wildlife!
Do you have an irrational (or perfectly reasonable) dislike of certain wilderness creatures? Please feel free to share – I’ll feel less foolish. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.