DISASTER IN THE WOODS

My next door neighbor, who has four children ranging in age from high school to kindergarten, has been making Spring Break plans. I received an email from her that went something like this: “I recall that your family spent some time in a cabin in the Hocking Hills. Do you think that would be a fun thing for our gang to do over the break?”

This brought back a rush of memories. Packing the car: Snacks, breakfast items, dog bed, extra blankets, DVD’S, games, and other essentials for a fun weekend in Southern Ohio. Charlie added his items, as well: Beer, four bottles of wine, the AAA Guidebook to Ohio and Kentucky, a cell phone charger, rubber boots, and a corkscrew.

The girls arrived home from their respective places of residence, one a bit more enthusiastic about this whole “woodsy” enterprise than the other. Did I mention that this whole foray into nature was MY idea? One daughter had the presence of mind to bring a crossword puzzle book. The other brought a knitting project. Neither one packed a sweatshirt.

We arrived at the cabin on a frosty November Friday. Snow surrounded the little cabin. It all looked so cute, so rural, so cozy! We entered the cabin, and found it to be adorable: one room with a loft. Two pull out sofas. A tiny kitchen. One bathroom. What looked like a fireplace, but was actually a façade with fake logs and a red light bulb. The girls gave each other a significant look, which I later realized was a portent into the events to follow.

What does a family of four adults DO in the woods in November? Well, you can hike. Our dog enjoyed that. She has always liked getting muddy, racing around after sticks, and barking at squirrels. The rest of us got sick of that after about ten minutes of stomping through mud, ducking to avoid low lying vegetation, and stepping over fallen trees.

Back at the cabin, I began preparations for supper. The girls discovered that my DVD selection consisted of Gerard Butler in “Phantom of the Opera” and some “Masterpiece Theatre” classics. They also discovered that there is no cell phone reception in the woods of Southern Ohio. They broke out the wine.

We spent the evening reminiscing about old times. The time Annie was grounded for three months. The time Marion broke both ankles simultaneously her first quarter at college. The time when both girls discovered that there was no Santa Claus. They remembered when a favorite cat died, and when the tooth fairy forgot to leave any money. Charlie broke out the beer.

The next day, we all took a long hike. No one really wanted to, but as Charlie was putting all the beer and wine bottles in the trash, the dog got out and dashed off into the woods. It took us about forty five minutes to find her, and the girls had splitting headaches. Trekking and moaning, we communed with nature until we spotted the dog enjoying herself in a particularly swampy area, where apparently all forest creatures go to die. She was covered with a slimy green coating of rotted organic matter that smelled like a combination of animal droppings, skunk, and garbage.

Back at base camp, it was up to me to figure out a way to wash the dog. There were no buckets, so I had to use saucepans. Charlie held the dog. Annie filled the pans at the sink, Marion ferried them back and forth to me, and I attempted to clean the dog, using the little hotel shampoo bottles that we brought. It took a good hour, but the dog emerged smelling like she had been to a Spa, and the rest of us were exhausted and dirty. We took turns in the shower, but since there was now no shampoo left, we used Dawn dishwashing detergent.

As that day stretched into what seemed like months, the family pursued other fun activities: Annie clipped her toenails. Charlie discovered that the “Phantom” movie had language options, and so he turned it on in FRENCH, thinking that would be more authentic and interesting. Marion took a nap, with a pillow over her head. I read the book that I had brought. Good times.

There was a HOT TUB at the cabin, and so that evening, Charlie thought it would be relaxing for all of us to sit in there, and have good conversation. The girls were grossed out by the idea of soaking nearly naked WITH THEIR OWN PARENTS. Annie suggested that she go into town for more liquor, and before you could say “Paul Bunyan,” the three of them were in the car and the dog and I were left staring at each other. The dog and I watched Gerard Butler singing in French. I saw neither hide nor hair of the other family members for the remainder of the evening. The dog and I went to bed. The next morning, it was, thankfully, time to go home!

So my advice to my neighbor? It might be really fun to take the family on a little outing in the woods. But it might be best to wait until your children are old enough to buy their own booze…

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