Echoes from a Deserted Campground
August 8, 2012
In the fall, when the maple leaves were turning to goblets of wine and the sumacs turned crimson with the blood of a dying summer, I camped on a stream or a lake to write my book. The campgrounds were deserted as the vernal vacations came to an end.
My little trailer became my home for a time, but the world of the Ozarks opened to me like a late-blooming flower. I drank of the clean air and fished in between scenes, at peace with all the wars I left behind, in harmony with the land, the water and the sky.
I camped in all of the campgrounds operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas, from Beaver Lake to Bull Shoals, all of those impoundments on the White River.
It was my habit to write my books set in winter during the summer, and those with summer settings in the winter. Imagination is a powerful force, and when I wrote of winter in the summertime, I was cool. When I wrote my summer books in the cold of winter, I was warm.
I spent most of my time outdoors, fishing the creeks that fed into the lakes, or in the lakes themselves. I slept inside my trailer or tent, but I could always see the stars and the moon at night, and during the day, there was the sun glinting on water. I found shade under the trees that lined the streams or in small copses along a lakeshore.
Always, there was solitude and that warm feeling that I was a child of the universe and my imagination roamed the firmament and the land around me, land that was teeming with wildlife, from fishes to red-tailed hawks sailing on invisible zephyrs, their rumpled shadows in silent pursuit over the hills and hollows of the Ozarks.
I wrote many books in those deserted campgrounds and I cooked the trout and the bass I caught over an open campfire, where gold sparks danced in the breeze and winked out in the solemn dark of evening. It was a good life and I would have been satisfied to live that way for all the years left to me.
Part of me was alive hundreds of years in the past, a lone man by a campfire with no sign of civilization to mar the beauty and the serenity. I dreamed in my waking states and slept like a working man when my day was done, lighthearted and satisfied in my bed.
Many times, those rangers in charge of the campgrounds let me stay beyond the mandatory two weeks because they knew I was a writer and the campgrounds were empty. I gave them books of mine as evidence that I was harmless and they let the rules slide away under their desks like castaway shadows.
I still seek out those places in the hills where I can be alone and part of nature instead of just an observer from a distance. I still camp in a tent and write on a laptop. There is no time in these places, only days of sun and nights of wonder as I gaze at the sky.
When I am back home, there is a terrible longing in me to return to one of those deserted campgrounds or a level place by a lake or stream where I can pitch my tent. And, when the batteries on the laptop fail, I have a legal pad and a ballpoint pen and that wonderful silence where I can drift into a story and live it without fear, a silent companion to people I have created and have come to know as I journey through their homes and towns that are mere figments of my imagination.
As I write this, I am at home. Physically that is. But, in my mind I am at one of those desolate and vacant camping spots where many of my books were conceived and birthed. I give those books to the world and I remain behind, waving a fond farewell as the glowing sun sets and the whip-poor-will sings in the tree shadows that stretch long and silent to shore and lake.
As I write this, I am still there, sitting outside my tent or trailer, full of life and grateful for all that has been given me on my journey to an unknown beyond.
Jory Sherman is author of the Hills of Eden, a nostalgic memory of the Ozark Mountains.