How we scare mountain newbies

Big cone

Giant pine cones under construction. Look before you park! (Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

It’s not that mountain people want to frighten sweet, innocent newcomers, exactly. We simply want them to be prepared.

We want them to be ready especially for two minor dangers: those that want to eat us and those that can squash us flat.

We take in stride the creatures that want to eat us, hustling online to post mountain lion sightings and photos of bears on the patio. Full-time residents rarely call the sheriff to report lions and bears, because we know what often comes next when an animal with teeth and claws shows up in the flatlands, where deputies are trained. Cue Chopin’s Funeral March.

We also sleep right through skunks and raccoons rustling around noisily at night. Beware of letting your cat roam outdoors; when a cat doesn’t come home, the natural conclusion is that it fed a bobcat or a coyote. As far as your head goes, don’t worry – the bald eagles won’t attack like eagles do in other places.

Some things, however, might squash you flat. We love to tell stories about people squashed flat by rocks falling on their cars. In the stories, the victims are always flatlanders, never locals, as if falling boulders had radar More

Tenting on the old glamp ground

Anne dug the tip of her knife into the wedge of brie, then buttered the cheese onto her fruit-filled “rainforest” cracker. Waves crashed below the bluff on which our room-size tent perched, the golden afternoon light spilling across the campsite.

“Let’s carry in a good fish supper,” she said. “We can get it in town.” Preferably something that went well with Prosecco. Melt-in-your-mouth John Dory, perhaps?

We could and we did forgo campfire beanie-weenies. We were do-it-yourself glampers on a seaside glamp-out. Neither of us had ever gone glamping – glamour camping – but it felt like the right time to try. The semester was done: no more keyboards, no more books, no more students’ dirty looks. We wanted to celebrate.


San Clemente traffic jam (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

I’ve known Anne for years. We’re both former newspaper people, now independent business people who teach on the side at the same college. She’s in the legal field and I, writing and editing. We knew a lot of the same people before we knew each other. I’ve never known her to camp. Neither has anybody else. Camping to her is checking into a hotel that doesn’t have any little bars of soap. To me, it’s finding a flat spot to pitch a tent far from civilization and securing your food in an anti-bear barrel.

But I snagged the perfect campsite in a civilized campground in South Orange County, and I asked her to share the perfection with me: surf, sand and sunshine with cool pelicans and cute lifeguards for scenery. What else?, she asked. Hot showers, I said – it has hot showers. And flush toilets. I could throw in a pretty mat and a side table for the tent, glitter nail polish, tropical-scent sugar scrub, floral temporary tattoos, an inverter in the Jeep for running her computer and a new cooler guaranteed to make ice last for three days, so we’d have a good place to keep our makeup from melting.


Beachside fleurs (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

She said OK.

Anne must have studied camping. She traveled light. Instead of an inflatable bed, she brought a chaise longue pad; instead of a notebook computer, she used her iPhone to check email for her business and to help her husband navigate caring for a cat with a cold, packing for his trip to Hawaii and arranging a niece’s semi-annual beaches-and-Disneyland trek to Southern California.

If I hadn’t known she wasn’t a camper, I never would have guessed it. She never complained about the ants, and only a little about the goofballs who decided to sing “Sky Pilot” at the edge of the bluff at 2:30 a.m.  She didn’t wig out over a visit from three skunks More

What day is it?

November 2022