Young Bones in Bear Creek Campground

dead coyote bones in a field


I wish the hunters wouldn’t leave so much for the gatherers.

And by hunters I mean just that; campground attendees who come to take a deer and so often leave a pile of trash.

So today the gatherers are a young dad and two of his boys. The youngest, hair well below his fourth year shoulders, runs left and right, scouring the campsites–especially the fire pits–for everything from Coors Light cans to propane caps to toilet paper, eagerly grabbing them all and running them back to the garbage bag his dad’s holding.

“Don’t pick up the toilet paper,” dad laughs out. “I’ll get that.”

He fashions thick chopsticks from two broken twigs and wonders who had to shit so bad, in so many different spots.

The older boy–nearly fourteen and growing increasingly disinterested in the nation’s forests he’s been raised in–scours the perimeter, every now and then shouting out to his younger brother Winter the location of some said piece or pile of litter.

Nearly a garbage bag full, they still haven’t completely cleaned every fire pit of countless shards of glass.

“I’ll tell you what happened here,” their dad says, looking down into the pit of one particularly revealing site, “the family was all packed up. Hitched up and ready to pull out.

“But their son was still eating…looks to me like an entire plate full of cheap hotdogs.” A shriveled plastic bag with a nameless family-sized wiener label hides in the corner. Two beer cans are severely burnt, the previous night’s endeavors to thank no doubt.

He continues, “They’d made a fire that morning to keep warm or cook or whatever, and doused it with a cup or two of water. The kid probably peed on it a little.

“So now, they’re pulling out and Junior here is still sucking down the last of his dog.

“‘Hurry up, boy!’ their dad shouts and Junior tosses this paper plate into the fire.

“It didn’t burn completely, so luckily the fire was out enough to not cause any real damage,” he pauses, “I guess.” He’s no Sherlock Holmes, but imagines that’s probably what went down.

Later they walk out of the campground, across the road to the horse trailer section. An empty wooden post would hold an equestrians ride in place on other days, but the entire campground was empty, theirs, for now.

This time a bonfire’s worth of trash occupies the firepit. But a beautiful field, sunset baked and dying tan straw climbing a small hill where more than the occasional ponderosa pine came to loiter, rolling out just ahead.

They advance through the tall grass, the crinkle of crusty old wild flora beneath their every step. In a sparse grove of pondos an outcropping of volcanic rock juts from the field. Each pine burned heavily near the bottom, some completely match-sticked away, though most had endured their many fire seasons.

“What’s this?” Winter asks, standing hands on his hips with a curious smile, head cocked slightly to the side.

Dad raises an eyebrow.

“Oh,” he bends down to look. “Coyote skeleton.”

They see two more in the immediate vicinity, some fur still clinging to their joints, feet and tails. Strange indeed, he thinks but only to himself.

silhouettes of Ponderosa pines as the sun goes down
Sunset in the meadow.

“Let’s go to the top,” he points and leads them ahead.

From the crest of the hill, the Cascades are visible. Through thick smoke–they’d driven through a fire just an hour or so south–but visible.

The sun was safety orange as it dipped behind a peak, one that had so much smoke beneath it that it seemed to just rise from the middle of the sky.

The father looked back down and over the meadow. It was peaceful here, now, but an eerie haunt fell all over the campground. The tinge of trashy drunks destroying their own playgrounds, of those three coyotes who’d died together, of the half a deer leg they’d seen earlier while picking up litter, fully covered in foot and fur though legal deer hunting season hadn’t been in session for eight or nine months.

a lake fills the gaps between mountains in Washington's Eastern Cascades, east of Winthrop
Looking down over state parklands near Winthrop, Washington.

When night fell, the crickets were symphonic, the wind changed direction and the stars bloomed. No one around for miles. Everyone fell asleep and when morning came they’d be left with nothing to do but whatever tomorrow’s imagination could bring.

Thus far, tomorrow’s imagination had proved to bring quite a bit.