Posted by: Kirsten | Thursday, 13 September 2007

Gone to the ‘Dogs

Gone to the Dogs
“Yule log this one in your journal…”
Before we homeschooled, I thoroughly enjoyed the four-day weekend our County school system gave us each Fall. It usually coincided with the state teachers’ conference in October, but in 2002, it happened to fall on the weekend prior to Election Day in early November. My son (6) and I took advantage of the opportunity by doing some travelling together, so we burned some frequent flyer miles and flew to Jacksonville, Florida to take in some of the many National Parks in the area.

On our arrival day, we stopped for groceries on our way to Fort Caroline National Memorial, where a 16th century French outpost was briefly established in the New World. Overrun by the Spanish in 1565, the French fled “la Caroline” and decided Canada wasn’t so bad after all. For my son and myself, an ousting by the Spaniards wasn’t necessary — the mosquitoes alone were enough to send us packing. We were a tasty meal for those teeny meanies, and the bug lotion we had applied was nothing more than the icing on their cake.

With our supermarket sacks in tow, we made a beeline (not all bees fly in straight lines) to the campground at nearby Timucuan Ecological Preserve, also an NPS unit, in the hopes of setting up camp before dark. It was not meant to bee. Because, you see, Florida is not well-stocked when it comes to such things as firewood. After spending way too much time searching for some imported Georgia hardwood, we settled on some synthetic fireplace logs from the local drugstore. You know the kind I’m talking about… individually wrapped in highly flammable bags. They were expensive, but I no longer cared.

We bought a case of six logs, and also picked up three flavors of bug lotion plus two citronella candles so we could hopefully enjoy our evening meal around the campfire.

We had made our camping reservations online months in advance through the Florida Parks website. No phone calls, no questions, no worries. We arrived at the ranger hut at dusk and I informed them that we had site number four reserved for the next two nights.

“Number four?” she asked with a hint of disbelief in her voice. This couldn’t be good.

“Site number four is closed for the rest of the year,” she said. “The bathroom next to it is under reconstruction and the site is a mess.” When the kids are young, you try to get the site closest to the bathroom.  As they get older, you try for the sites that are further and further away.

“But I made reservations,” I said without reservation.

She asked if I had my confirmation number handy. I didn’t. I never thought I’d need it. I made a secure online transaction and my credit card was to be billed upon arrival. How could anything possibly go wrong?

There were no other sites available of course because of the big game, I was told. Big game? Deer? Elk? The legendary Florida panther, perhaps? Was it hunting season?

“Aren’t you here for the game?” she asked. “The Florida/Georgia football game?”

I had no idea there was a game, much less that it was being played within a hundred miles of my campsite. Apparently, people cross the state line just to be close by while the game is going on. They had no intention of attending the game. Nor did we.

After radioing her supervisor, she decided to let us use the site anyway with the caveat that we shouldn’t expect much and it’d be a bit of a hike to the nearest restroom and showers. Fine by me. We even got the site for free because the computer system wouldn’t let her charge us for a closed site. I’m sure my son’s mention of Gators eating Bulldogs didn’t hurt our chances of getting a site. We were in Florida, after all.

We set up our tent by the light of the high beams on the rental car, and had the fire going in a jiffy with those nifty bagged fireplace logs. I borrowed (dragged) a picnic table from one of the other condemned campsites, and within minutes we were roasting hot dogs over a roaring fire that was also doing a fine job of keeping the mosquitoes away. As our hot dogs quickly turned black, it suddenly dawned on me that we had just coated our hot dogs — in poison. I picked up one of the logs still in the bag and confirmed the warning label — DO NOT USE FOR OPEN FLAME COOKING.

I tried to think up a kind-hearted way to break it to my son that the hot dogs we had so looked forward to eating were about to be tossed into the garbage. Luckily, peanut butter and honey on a hot dog bun is an equally appealing camp meal. We averted a few potentially devastating moments on that early November day, but it wasn’t to be for the previously undefeated Georgia Bulldogs. They lost to Florida the next day, 20-13. A bad weekend for dogs all around.

— Jon

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