Main | Monday, June 06, 2005

The Bare Bears, Conclusion

The Bare Bears, Pt.1

It rained on the long drive through the mountains. It rained while we checked in at the main gate. It rained while we fumbled with our unfamiliar tent, then it rained as we hiked down the mountain to the bonfire and disco. We stowed our plastic Target bag, full of canned Budweiser, under a picnic bench and joined the other campers around the fire. Where it rained.

And yet, it was nice. There was a mood of relaxed exhaustion among the crowd, combined with anticipation. It was Eddie's first day at Hillside and while I was disappointed with the weather and its depressing effect on attendance (many campsites were empty), I was pleased that overall he seemed to like the Hillside crowd, especially when he announced that he found "the genuine civility" of the other campers to be "most refreshing and unexpected". I had warned Eddie that at Hillside one was expected to greet every person they passed, whether on foot or from their vehicle, and he found that a charming practice. It also didn't hurt that he immediately hooked up with a friendly bear whose full white beard and matching expanse of chest hair had earned from us the natural moniker of "Santa Bear".

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the tiny canteen and giggled over the sign announcing "No Shirt, No Pants = Fabulous Service!" The guy running the canteen clearly takes his cues from the Soup Nazi, but his gruffness came with a wink. Later, we lounged poolside and watched the bears cavort and skinny dip, where I pondered a possible correlation between body size and gregariousness, because the bigger the bear - the bigger the personality, or so it seemed from my relatively diminutive vantage. I watched and wished I acted bigger than I am.

More campers arrived after breakfast, once they were sure the weather was holding. In the afternoon, we dropped in on a keg party, hosted by a vendor that offers various bear tchotchkes. The cloudy weather had disappeared and I managed to totally fuck up my eyes with sweated off sunscreen. I looked like a hairy vampire, but a few minutes under a cold shower and some saline solution returned me to human form, mostly.

Saturday night, another bonfire/disco event, this one much better attended. Still, I wasn't feeling it much. I was missing my regular camp buddies, one of whom has moved to California, the rest kept at home by Friday's rain. Also, walking around camp in the daylight, I had noticed that a surprising number of the perm sites had been vacated from the previous season. In a few notable locations, gone were the whimsical shacks, replaced by sleek hi-tech trailers with expandable room pods.

The entire camp seems a bit more modern this season, cell phones miraculously now seem to work up on the mountain, and we even found a sign announcing a Wi-Fi hotspot, "courtesy of a perm camper." Ah well, the march of the pussy campers will not be stopped. Further eroding the remote feel was the camper I spotted cruising Manhunt.net on his laptop, from his campsite "Cumalot" (Many campsites are named, some with achingly bad puns, like the aforementioned "Cumalot"...or the equally cringe-inducing "Fuckingham Palace").

Sunday morning, while Eddie was still sleeping off the Saturday bonfire, I wandered over to the Hillside Memorial Garden. Following the carved sign, nestled back against the mountain, after winding down a path through the stunning natural landscape, I came upon a circular clearing. There were two simple stone tablets, each engraved with the names of a dozen men. Some large boulders formed a natural altar of sorts, upon which were laid a collection of remembrances, some fresh picked flowers, some wilted ones, some plastic ones, and a few handwritten notes left out in protective plastic sleeves.

I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I climbed up on the rocks to examine the notes without moving them. Standing there on those rocks felt oddly sacrilegious, somehow. The notes were handwritten. Some contained just a name and some dates, others were long letters written to lost friends.

One letter, in large cursive script, began: "Al, it's been my privilege and honor to call you my friend. Thank you for your boundless love and the joy you've brought to my life. I will never stop missing you...." A few inches away, in a lucite frame, I found a newspaper obituary. The handsome man in the picture had died shortly after his 40th birthday.

I sat there on that rock and considered this place, this beautiful tranquil oasis. Even here, in these remote woods, were our stories. Were MY stories. I could hear peals of laughter rolling up the mountain from the closest tent site, but it didn't feel incongruous, it felt reassuring.

I went back to my tent and kicked Eddie awake.

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