The Changing of the Leaves

St Francis River in Silver Mines Conservation Area near Fredericktown, MO.

“I hope I can be the autumn leaf, who looked to the sky and lived. And when it was time to leave, gracefully it knew life was a gift.” – Dodinsky

The temp today was supposed to be in the 60s today and if it wasn’t it was close. I was to meet a high school friend and we were going to kick back and enjoy an autumn day. We met up around 10 a.m. both of us needing a “do nothing” day. Silver Mines is the kind of place where one can do that. It offers so much in the way of nature that it is impossible for someone who loves nature to leave without their spirit fully charged.

We had just camped here the week before. We got a lot of rain Sunday night and the river level had came up. The water is usually very clear but today it was stained. The leaves were starting to change to their autumn colors. By this weekend I think they are going to be in their full autumn colors.

There are so many things you can do. Kayaking, fishing, hiking and camping. Daily picnic sites are available. The trails on both sides of the river are rocky and rough. I would rate them as hard. You can make a loop but you have to cross the damn to do so. It can get pretty crowded on the weekends so I limit my visits to the week days where you are pretty much by yourself. Flash floods can be a problem in the spring.

We headed home around 3:30. On the way out I saw the camp ground hosts. They told me the powers that may be notified them that they were going to close the gates November 7 for winter. They have already turned the water off so if you camp in this last week be sure to bring some water with you.

Camping at Silver Mines

St Francis River, in Silver Mines Conservation Area near Fredericktown, MO

On October 18, a good friend of mine met me at the Silver Mines Conservation Area. This area is named for the abandoned “Einstein Mine” where in 1870 was used to mine silver, tungsten and lead up until 1946 when the mine was closed. The area is known for its Precambrian granite and felsite rocks.

After a brief visit we began setting up camp. I had brought my Bushnell one man tent and Clarry opted for a hammock and tarp. I was amazed with the hammock setup. Clarry had it down to a science. When he was done setting up it looked very inviting. It was only his third time at setting it up. The temps got down into the upper 30s and he discovered some things he would do differently the next time.

After breakfast we decided down the dam on the St Francis river. It was built when they were mining the area. The trail actually goes across the dam to get to the other side of the trail and we thought about trying it but we were going to have to wade to do it and we decided against it.

We talked to another camper who had done it and he told us about two graves on the other side marked by two wooden crosses and the mine entrance was on the other side too but it had been closed off. The trail was pretty rocky and in places you had to climb over big rocks and because of my ankle not being fully healed we didn’t walk the entire trail and headed back to camp. When back at camp we sat around the campfire talking and we had a surprise visitor.

It was a great time. Trees were just starting to color and in another week should be in full color. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We did meet a gentleman there who came all the way from Chicago to a camp a couple of days. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. It would be hard not to feel at peace with yourself while you were here. If you are looking for a place to camp where you can enjoy nature I highly recommend Silver Mines. It is located near Fredericktown, MO off highway D. In the spring when the river level is up they have kayak races.

Tent or RV

My one man tent.

“Without the intense touch of nature, you can never fully freshen yourself! Go for a camping and there both your weary mind and your exhausted body will rise like a morning sun! – Mehmet Murat ildan

Two popular methods of camping are Glamping Camping and Tent camping. Glamping camping, also known as glamorous camping, involves camping with the luxuries of a home or hotel ie RV. Tent camping is a primitive form enjoyed by those who want to get closer to nature.

RVs are loaded with the amenities of home. AC, satellite tv, electricity, running water, bathroom and shower. One can get almost anything they want in a RV to meet their desires.

Tents on the other hand just provide one a place to sleep and shelter from inclement weather. There are many types of tents to choose from and come in several sizes. Some are for warm weather camping and there are four season tents that can be used all year. Mats and air mattresses can make sleeping on the ground more comfortable. They can be pitched almost anywhere.

The camper has to choose whatever method fits their desires. Personally I like to keep it as simple and primitive as possible. At the ripe old age of 66 I prefer tent camping. I feel closer to nature and when camping I don’t want any distractions from outside luxuries. I cook on a campfire using cast iron Dutch Oven and skillets like the pioneers carried on their wagons for cooking. I also make Cowboy coffee.

I have a one man tent that I use on float trips, back packing and short camp outs. I have a three man tent I like to use for week long campouts and a hammock with a net and rain fly. I haven’t got a chance to try it out so the verdict is still out as to whether it will work for camping.

Camping is one of those activities you either love or hate. If you love it there are a multitude of places you can camp. State Parks, National Parks, private campgrounds and gravel bars on the river. Both methods of camping have their pros and cons you just have to decide which one is right for you. Happy Camping!!

Nature Is Calling Me

Camp

Why do I love nature so much? I am going to do my best to put into words why. I wish I was a better writer so you could maybe experience the passion I have for nature. Well here we go. The following is about a night on the river back in September.

I arrived at the river just as the sun peeked over the eastern ridge shedding its light on the colorful hues of autumn. The leaves glistened with the reflection of the sun’s light upon the orange, red and yellow hues scattered around the hillside. A beautiful sight to behold. It gave my heart joy to see Mother Nature’s paintings before my eyes.

I busy myself preparing my kayak for my river excursion. As I slid my yak into the water I caught a glimpse of movement to my right. I turned my full attention to what had captured my eye. It was a momma racoon with 4 of her offspring. One in particular had taken a deep interest in what I was doing. Slowly it began to inch its way in my direction to get a closer look. As it inched closer momma became agitated and positioned herself between me and her offspring. She began chattering loudly as if she were scolding the young one. After a couple of minutes she began steering her clan away from me. They moved down the bank of the river then disappeared over the rise.

I began my trek up river to the place I would make camp for the night. I had camped here many times before. It had a clear western view where I could watch the sun set. The area was well protected from any artificial light pollution giving me a clear view of the night sky.

Beaver pic from a another day on the river

As I rounded a bend in the river I noticed a beaver standing in the river near the bank watching me with great curiosity. Suddenly it disappeared under the water. It surfaced about 20 yards from me and slapped its tail on the surface of the water warning the others that there was an intruder in their territory.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river. It was a week day so I pretty much had the river to myself. Temps were in the 60s with a slight southerly wind. Movement ahead of me. About 50 yards up river 4 deer were making their way across a shallow part of the river. They were moving with purpose and soon disappeared into the woods on the other side.

Smallmouth bass

I was making good time so I decided to do a little fishing. For about an hour and a half the fish bit good and all of a sudden they seemed to get lockjaw. Fortunately I had enough action to be able to relive the battles sitting in front of the campfire.

Hawk

I made it to my campsite around 4:30 p.m. As I pulled my yak up on the gravel bar a hawk soared overhead. I went to work setting up camp and gathered some firewood for the night. With camp set I threw a couple of lines into the water in hopes that I would catch supper. Unfortunately it didn’t happen but I had brought along some Mountain House freeze dried beef stew. I filtered some water from the river then got the fire started. I brought the water to a rolling boil for about 4 minutes then poured it into the stew pouch. In ten minutes supper would be served. For a MRE it was quite tasty.

This is my favorite part of camping. Sitting in front of the fire watching the flames dancing within the fire is so relaxing. In the background I can hear the music of the insects and Mother Nature’s night creatures. It is so peaceful sitting there alone listening to the river critters going about their business searching for food. A star falls from the sky. Then another and another. Then it ends as abruptly as it began. Now I am ready for sleep.

It’s hard for me to put into words the peace I feel within me. My friend Gary Fultz I am sure knows the feeling I am talking about. He too has a great respect for Nature and Mother Earth. My spirit seems to float to the heavens. I feel no sadness or anxiety. My soul is cleansed by the tranquility surrounding me. I feel so alive and all my senses are intensified causing me to be more appreciable of my surroundings and what is in my heart. Reading back I am disappointed. I didn’t do a very good job of putting what I feel into words. The best way for you to understand is to just go camping.

Big River

Camping In Missouri

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach of us more than we can learn from books.” – John Lubbock

Camping has become very popular for many Missourians. Camping venues, state and private, fill up rapidly on the weekends and some places are booked weeks in advance. They bring everything from RVs loaded with all the conveniences of home to the simple tent. Whatever makes them happy.

At the age of 66 I still prefer tent camping. I have been known to just roll out a pad and sleep on it. The simpler the better. I have a one man tent and a 3 man. I use the one man for one nighters and the 3 man for extended nights in one place.

3 man tent
Food taste better when cooked at camp.

There are so many choices for campers in Missouri. There are 41 state parks with over 3600 campsites. From lakes, rivers to trout parks there is a campsite waiting for you. Fun for the whole family. mdc.mo.gov

You can also find an abundance of privately owned parks throughout the state. Campers have so much to choose from in the state of Missouri.

Kayaking on Bismark Lake

Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy Coffee is done.

I couldn’t sleep so I decided to get up and get a fire going and make some Cowboy Coffee. I know there are all of those designer coffees available and I can’t forget Starbucks. I was told one time you never had a real cup of coffee until you had one from Starbucks. Well I beg to differ.

Ain’t nothing better than a cup of Cowboy Coffee when made right. I use Kent Rollins recipe. I use 1/4 cup of coffee grounds to 1 quart water. The pot in the pic is a 4 quart. Don’t add grounds until water is warm then bring to a rolling boil for about 4 to 6 minutes then remove from heat and let rest 2 minutes. Then pour about a cup of cold water around the inside of the pot and down the spout. That will settle the grounds. If you prefer it stronger add more coffee or boiling time. Check out Kent Rollins at Kent Rollins.com or check him out on YouTube.

Waiting for it to boil.

A lot of friendships have been made over a cup of coffee. I myself always love sharing a cup of coffee with a friend. When I am out camping and get the coffee going it doesn’t take long for the aroma to get the other campers attention. I don’t know how many times I have had people stop at my camp and partake of my coffee. Like anything else it took me a while to master the art of making good Cowboy Coffee. Kent Rollins taught me through his videos and he is one heck of a Dutch Oven cook.

A couple of notes. If you grind your own coffee the coarser it is the longer it has to boil. Cowboy Coffee is best when made in a seasoned pot. You have heard all good things come to those who wait, well you have to have patience when you make coffee this way. The wait is worth it though.

Much Needed Night On The River

Camp for the night

I finally got a much needed night on the river. I finally took out time for myself. The only one I could blame for not doing it sooner was myself. I knew the river would be busy so I chose the Thursday before Labor Day weekend.

My plan was to set out some limb lines. My bait of choice is chicken livers but for some reason chicken livers are hard to find but through perseverance I finally scored. I also picked up a box of crawlers for tight line fishing. I got a late start but was able to salvage the day. I paddled up river to my favorite spot to set up camp. Once I reached my destination I busied myself setting up camp. I got busy starting a fire. We had a couple days of rain and dry wood was hard to come by. I managed to get a fire started with my magnesium rod and cotton balls impregnated with Vaseline.

Night’s Campfire

When the fire was going good I set out to set my lines. When I got them all out I come back and baited them all with chicken liver. I returned to camp and started preparing supper. After I ate I threw out a tight line baited with a crawler to see what was hungry. I was disappointed that it was relatively quiet. The bullfrogs weren’t even in the mood to entertain the silly human. There was a full moon but the sky was cloud covered.

Around 10 pm I heard a lot of splashing going on in the direction of one of my lines. I jumped in the kayak, shoved off and headed that way. I shined my light on the limb and I could see it dancing. I had a pretty nice fish. I pulled along side of the line and could make out a nice channel catfish. I grabbed the line and got it in the kayak. It was a 24 inch channel, around 5 pounds. I rebaited and headed back to camp.

Channel Catfish

It seemed as if it was going to be a good night or so I thought. Little did I know that would be the only catfish of the night. I had my pole out and baited with a Canadian night crawler. I was sitting there watching my pole when all of a sudden the rod bent signaling a bite. I grabbed the pole and set the hook. The fight was on and I finally landed it. A 22 inch sucker.

Sucker

I got a few perch after that and they shut down. About two hours went by and I hadn’t got a bite. I went to reel in my line so I could check my bait. I started to reel in line and it felt like I was hung up. Finally it started moving and I began reeling I knew it wasn’t a fish, I finally landed it but to my dismay it was not a fish. It was a softshell turtle probably almost 2 feet across. While I was trying to get it unhooked it broke my line and made a quick return to the river.

Later on while sitting on the river bank I noticed a snake’s head zigzagging in the water headed for shore. What the heck? Now I have had a few encounters with snakes on the river like the time I grabbed a limb to tie a limb line on and found 3 foot water snake wrapped around the limb but nothing like this. All of a sudden it is headed my way. It came out of the water onto the gravel bar like it was on a mission. I hit it on the head with my rod and it couldn’t get out of there quick enough. The rest of the night was pretty quiet.

Sunrise on the River

Sadly my night on the river was coming to a close. I had hoped to catch more fish but it wasn’t meant to be. I couldn’t complain though. The time alone on the river was very much needed. It was so peaceful. For a night I felt like I was the only one on earth. I was able to savor my thoughts without interruption. Life is good.

A Welcome Memory

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. ” E.B. White / Letters of E. B. White

At 66 years of age I still prefer primitive camping in my one man tent. I prefer to leave the conveniences of the modern day world at home. Right, wrong or indifferent if I am going to take a camper filled with the luxuries of home then I would rather stay home or just stay in a motel.

I set up camp on my property in Frank Clay, Missouri. It is 12.65 acres filled with oak, hickory, and walnut with patches of sassafras and cedar sprinkled in. There is abundant wildlife, deer, squirrels and turkey.

It is so quiet and peaceful you can hear yourself think. It is my safe place when I can’t go to the river. It is another place I can go to rid my mind of all the negative energy that I let in. Only positive thinking allowed.

The sun is starting to sink in the west so I get busy setting up camp. Once done I start a fire so I can get started preparing supper.

Sweet taters, corn on the cob and Cornish hens. No finer eating than food prepared in Dutch ovens. Once done cleaning up it is time to sit and relax around the campfire.

As I sit in my chair reflecting on my day I hear the lonesome bawl of a hound in the distance. There is a chance of rain in the forecast. There is a cloud bank in the west. I can just make out the sound of distant thunder. Lightning is visible as it dances among the clouds illuminating the night sky. What a glorious light show to see. Absolutely breathtaking.

As I become engrossed in the show Mother Nature has so graciously provided for my entertainment I lose track of all time. A breeze begins to move down the ridge into the valley and arouses me from my thoughts. The lightning and sound of thunder is closer. I can smell the scent of rain carried in by the breeze. Rain is close.

The wind begins to blow hard across the woodlands I quickly go to work putting my fire out and securing anything that might blow away. J wind is blowing hard enough my tent looks like it is dancing.

I can feel the mist from the rain against my face. I crawl into my tent and settle in not knowing what to expect from the approaching storm. The first raindrop lands on my tent and is soon followed II many more. My tent is being pelted by the rain that is now a downpour but the wind has slowed. I can only hope that it stays dry inside the tent. I love to listen to the sound of the rain upon my tent. I don’t know how long I lay there listening to the rain before Mr Sandman came to visit.

A Night of Solitude on the River

It’s 2 am and I am alone on the river. There is no moon and the night sky is black as ink. I hear the crackle of the campfire and the sound of the river as it makes its way across the rocks in the shallow rapids before finding its way into deeper water. Bam! A beaver slaps its tail on the water warning others that there is an intruder in their domain.

Yip! Yip! Yip! I can hear the coyotes on the other side of the river making their way along the river bank. The lightning bugs illuminate the darkness with their blinking tails. As a child they reminded me of airplanes against the night sky with their blinking lights.

The bull frogs had been eerily quiet tonight but the deep bass croak of a bullfrog begins to resonate throughout the river valley followed by the scream of a screech owl.

With the soothing sound of Mother Nature’s symphony I begin to relax and I let my mind wander. I wonder if there was someone camped on this very spot 250 years ago. Perhaps a Native American or a settler. Were they fishing or just passing through? Were they in search of a place to settle or were they making their way to the mighty Mississippi? How much different it must have been. No litter or tires along it’s banks. How clear the water must have been. Were they as mesmerized by the beauty of the river as I am? Did they enjoy the peace and solitude? Were they alone too?

I am brought back to the present by a ruckus behind me. I turn around and in the darkness I could discern five figures in the darkness. It appears to be a mother raccoon and her offspring. She seems to be scolding one of the youngsters. Maybe it had ventured too close to me and she was worried about its safety. They soon moved on in search of food.

I readied my bedroll and crawled inside it as the desire for sleep won over the marvels of the nighttime. I lay looking into the night sky watching for a shooting star but there would be none tonight. The smells of the river were crisp tonight. The smell of the river and the campfire were the most prominent and complimented each other. I begin drifting off playing the days events back in my mind. At the same time I wondered what tomorrow would bring. Would I catch my personal best smallmouth or would it just be a day of photography? As sleep began to overtake me I was one with the river rooted in my safe place. A place of peace and tranquility. A place to recharge my soul and mind and cleanse my spirit. Life is good. I am on the river.

Abounding Excitement

“Camping: The art of getting closer to nature while getting farther away from the nearest cold beverage, hot shower and flush toilet.” Anonymous

I awoke at 5:00 a.m.excited that I was finally afforded the opportunity to go camping for the first time this year. Finally a weekend without rain.

I was headed to my property in Frank Clay, MO. I arrived a little after 10 a.m. I began the task of setting up camp. I soon found out that the seed ticks survived the winter. It was far worse than in years past.

I decided to take a break and parked myself in a chair. The woods were quiet except for the sweet sound of song birds. A donkey began braying in the distance and some Bluejays began fussing at one another.

When camping, time seems to move at breakneck speed. I dug out the lantern and readied it to bring light to the darkness of the coming nightfall. I gathered wood and started a fire.

“The fire is the main comfort of camp, whether in summer or winter.” – Henry David Thoreau

I settled into my chair and turned my attention into enjoying the glow of the fire. I pulled out my journal and began recording the day’s events. A donkey began to bray just east of camp. It was such a sad sounding bray. A whip-poor-will began sharing its song. To the north of camp a pack of coyotes began yipping playfully and the woodland insects began their nightly symphony. As I sat watching the flames of the fire dancing around, my eyes signaled it was time to turn in for the night.

Morning came early for me. I awoke at 4:00 a.m. and even though still half asleep managed to find my way out of the tent. I was met by temperatures in the low 50s. I added some kindling to the fire to rekindle it’s flames. I grabbed the coffee pot, added water and Cameron’s Highland Grog coffee grounds. I placed the pot on the fire and sat back and waited for the finished product. Caffeine! I need caffeine.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced the taste of camp coffee and if you haven’t I am here to tell you the flavor is in a league of its own. My childhood friend David Tripp has always been fascinated with the flavor of my camp coffee to the point he has mastered the technique and become a master at brewing camp coffee.

Finally the coffee was done and I poured myself a cup and sat back in my chair watching the fingers of light from the rising sun overtake the night sky bringing dawn to the woodlands. I was awoken from my trance by the barking of a squirrel. I finally located him. It was a gray squirrel moving erratically on the limb of a white oak. He seemed upset to find this human invading its territory. After about 10 minutes he lost interest and moved on. Two geese flew just above the treetops honking noisily as they went. The songbirds began filling the air with their music. My stomach began to growl and I heated up the Dutch Oven so I could begin the preparation of breakfast.

I loaded the oven with bacon and the morning air was filled with the aroma of cooking bacon. I then fried some eggs over easy but because some dummy forgot the biscuits breakfast would only consist of bacon and eggs. Food always seems to taste better when cooked over a campfire.

After breakfast I sat back and reflected on the weekends events and finished my last cup of coffee. It was time to break camp, clean up and head back home.

As a side note I had a phone conversation with my childhood friend and fellow blogger David Tripp telling him about my camping trip. David is doing a story about Hank (me) and Randy (David) on his blog and is doing his own illustrations. I urge you to check his blog out and follow the adventures of Hank an Randy. https://davidtripp.wordpress.com/. and check out his website Recollections 54 The Art Of David Tripp http://www.davidtrippart.com.