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The Newcomer

Back to the wilds

Summer is fleeting, and I still haven't tossed my sleeping bag on the ground, drank coffee with a hint of sagebrush and grounds or charred a marshmallow.

The camping season was in danger of passing me by until I remembered an invitation I received months ago to attend a Cousins Campout in Ellensburg.

A favorite cousin of mine is hosting the event at his home where there is room for RVs, tents and whatever other rigs the cousins might bring.

We are all descended from the Amo family of nine siblings-four boys and five girls, my mother being one. All were blondes with blue eyes, who gave birth to many tow headed kids, me being one.

At the prompting of this cousin, who recently moved to Ellensburg from the rainy western part of the state, Cousins Campouts got started about six years ago. They involve huge campfires with leaping flames and flying sparks, a sort of Amo trademark. This host cousin is an artistic type, who carves fire and walking sticks. His fire sticks are used to prod logs into the tremendous blazes that light our nights as we sit around drinking, talking and laughing a whole bunch.

If the fire ban isn't lifted by the weekend, I don't know how the Amo clan can conduct a proper reunion.

I will, of course, miss the friendly snap, crackle and pop of a camp fire, but I am just grateful to have the chance to pitch my tent in the fresh air, sleep on the ground and drink my coffee from an old tin cup.

That kind of environment reminds me of the days my widowed mother and a favorite aunt hauled me off into the woods where we would wade into streams and catch trout with our bare hands, cook potatoes in the coals of an open fire and sleep in an abandoned fire lookout building where the pack rats would creep in, unseen and unheard, while we were sleeping and steal odds and ends, always leaving something else in their place. In my child's mind, I looked upon the pack rats as something magical, equivalent to the tooth fairy.

On the day we broke camp mother would wrap our bedding tightly in canvas bleached white from many washings and tie the roll firmly with rope grown soft and pliable from years of use.

I suppose the Ellensburg camp- out is going to be less rugged, with commodious RVs, a huge cast iron camp stove and barking dogs instead of pack rats. I will miss the smell of crisp, tough canvas overhead, and will try to ignore the chemical odor of plastic and nylon that wafts from my tent.

But I am going to take the fire stick my cousin carved for me, just in case the burn ban lifts. My fire stick is a nice, hefty, six-foot pole with a little man carved on top of it. This little fellow is posed in a hunched-over position, as if he is, perhaps, about to do his share in extinguishing our camp fire.

My cousin insists he is totally against the uncouth habit of peeing in the out-of-doors and the posture of his carved man was totally unintentional, but try telling that to those who have gathered around the camp fire when my fire stick sets off a round of laughter.

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