I was about 12, and my father forced me to go camping in the mountains of New Mexico with my brother and stepmother.
I don’t care for camping, and Colorado is probably wasted on me.
Although I wouldn’t say I’m a room-service type of person, I’ve always felt that mountains should be admired from a safe distance, say 20 miles. Bears live in the mountains. So do mountain lions. It is as it should be. Leave ‘em alone is my motto.
It’s worth noting that my dad began speaking in a southern drawl after he married my stepmom, a west-Texas shit kicker who loved bedazzled sweatshirts, Yanni and menthol 100s. It didn’t seem to matter that he grew up in Kansas and Nebraska. It was like he was suddenly Jeff Bridges in every movie from 2009 and on.
So upon our arrival, my brother and I began to scurry off the gravel road and into the woods as children do, prompting my dad to say this in his best Midland/Odessa affectation:
“You boys don’t go out of my sight now, you hear?”
Sure thing, dad.
We wandered into the woods. For about 30 seconds. Then came the gunfire. Loud, high-caliber gunfire.
We ran back the way we came.
“Oh god,” we screamed in unison. “Please stop shooting! Don’t shoot! Please don’t shoot!”
The gunfire continued.
“Please! Stop shooting! Stop shooting!”
We cleared the tree line and arrived at the gravel road. My father was standing there in his green army field jacket. He held his a chrome .38 revolver with the barrel pointed to the sky. Smoke was still billowing out of its snub-nosed barrel. His icy blue eyes dripped fury.
“What did I say about staying in my line of sight,” he asked.
“We’re sorry,” my brother and I sang in a guilty chorus.
Later that night, I was building a campfire in a clearing. I had purchased a WWII-era mess kit and was eager to cook a steak in it over an open fire. I had gathered up small pieces of fallen branches, arranged them in a neat pile and stuffed dry pine needles underneath to provide kindling.
My dad lumbered up with a gallon can of alcohol stove fuel and poured half of it over my as-of-yet unlit camp fire. The odor stung my eyes.
“Light it, but make sure you get down low, boy,” my dad instructed as he dropped a book of matches on the ground in front of me.
I held a match under the camp fuel precipitating from the pine needles. The flames singed my eyebrows, the hair in my nostrils and the nascent mustache on my upper lip.
“Shit, I guess I used too much fuel,” my dad said.
I spent the rest of the weekend rage-chopping a dead cedar tree. Once I cleared the scorched hairs from my nose, the freshly cut wood smelled lovely.