Here it is again. One of the saddest times of year for me. My beloved summer somehow slipped away and I’m left with autumn, a season resembling a changing leaf: drying up by the moment and threatening to blow away to make room for evil winter. Evil, evil winter.
Instead of dwelling on the loss of summer, I will keep my chin high and forge on in an attempt to enjoy fall. A perfect way to do that is camping in Virginia’s gorgeous Shenandoah Valley.
Ahhh, camping. Most people I know do not espouse the same passion for the experience that I do. The sights, sounds and smells of nature all coming together in that perfect moment to soothe the soul. Sure, things can go (and have gone) awry, but not this time. No sir, this time nature cradled me in its arms and held me close, begging me to stay forever.
This may sound sound ridiculous and over-hyped, but it really was serene. So much so, that things I may typically view in a less favorable light appeared quaint. Take, for example, this huge spider making a web on my campsite garbage hook (the hooks keep the garbage out of critters’ reach).
The Shenandoah River itself always gives me pause. Thinking of all the historical events that took place along its banks makes me feel so insignificant. I am in awe of its beauty at all times of year, but I find it particularly breathtaking on calm days in late summer or early fall. During that time, the trees still have their leaves and the river reflections are amazing.
You never know what wildlife you’ll find when hiking in the Shenandoah Valley. I’ve seen snakes, deer, bears and tons of birds. This time I had a first — I spotted an owl box! No owl sightings, but it’s great to know they are there. I did see a bald eagle on this hike, so that definitely makes up for not spotting an owl.
Although I grow grumpy every year when autumn’s presence makes itself known, I do enjoy this season for camping. The crisp — yet not chilly — evenings offer the perfect foil to the warmth of the days. Both provide benefits that camping in the heat of the summer doesn’t — fewer mosquitoes, less dripping with sweat while hiking and an excellent campfire environment. And by “excellent campfire environment” I mean sipping deliciously dark Oktoberfest beers, playing games and cuddling up in front of the warm glow of the flames. Let’s just say my experiences camping in the Florida Keys were far different and the evening fire when it was 85 degrees was not so welcome.
It’s not simply the actual fire I adore, which I’m pretty sure everybody enjoys, but I completely geek out over gathering firewood. Nearly every campground around here now forbids bringing in wood due to the spread of the pesky Emerald ash borer, which is an invasive species that hides under tree bark and hitches a ride to its newest home when people move wood to another location. The traveling wood ban is fine by me, because I get to climb around campgrounds and their surrounding forests searching for the perfect fallen trees and twigs to create the perfect campfire. A twig, a spark, a small flame.
I suppose although I prefer summertime over autumn in general, the camping will keep me from bemoaning the seasonal change too intensely. When winter arrives, though, all bets are off and I reserve the right to grumble up a storm.