So when we went camping for the totality on Sunday night, there was one bit in the experience that got me a little ranty as I recollected attempting to stargaze the night before the eclipse– a night of full-dark, no moonrise.
The experience honestly would have been far more breathtaking sans any light pollution at all, but unfortunately, light pollution there was, and not due to passing traffic, as you might expect, or campfires, or even the other campers– at least, not the majority of them. There was some eclipse traffic that night, but not much. The bulk of eclipse traffic was from campers who arrived around 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., then local totality seekers the following morning. There were a few cars after nightfall, but they turned out not to be as big a problem as I initially thought they were. There was a well-posted fire ban, which (so far as I could see and smell) was thoroughly respected by the other eclipse campers, and the majority of the eclipse campers (at least, those within my sight and hearing range– and we’re talking arid desert-type scrubland) were quiet, respectful of those around them, and generally well-behaved.
It is a truism of car-camping, unfortunately, that there’s always, always, a group of self-centered, dickish assholes who think the entire trip (and camping area) is all about them and their trip, even though there are usually anywhere from 50-150 other campers– families, youth groups, and tired travelers– attempting to quietly use the premises.
I can’t state for certainty, but I’m pretty sure it was only one group out of all the disparate campers there, who I’m calling the Hillwalkers. It seemed to be a group of about 10-15 people in about their early-to-mid-20s (I am notoriously bad at judging age ranges). Earlier that day (long before nightfall) they’d already trespassed onto the private ranch property across the road, despite the clearly posted no-trespassing signs, and clambered around in the hills for some reason.
Watching them, we-all (our camp neighbors and us) hypothesized the Hillwalkers were looking for a cellular signal, since they kept holding up one hand as though to check their phones. If so, it was a fruitless exercise: earlier conversations ascertained that regardless of phone model or service provider, no-one was receiving service. We had nothing but our imaginations, books, and one another to entertain us.
As an aside, there are three separate frowning-upon incidents (daytime trespassing, dusk bongo-playing, and nighttime trespassing) that I assume were all perpetuated by this one particular group, but (to be completely fair) I don’t absolutely know for sure it was this one specific group of miscreants. There may well have been several (unrelated) poorly behaved groups of campers. I’m inclined to think it was the same group for each incident because:
- The daytime Hillwalkers (seemingly looking for cell signals) came from a section of camp downriver from us and stuck to a certain section of the hills.
- The nighttime Hillwalkers came from a section of camp downriver from us and stuck to the same section of the hills.
- The noise from the pipe-and-bongo-playing group (at dusk) came from that same section of camp downriver from us; beginning after hills emptied of daytime Hillwalkers and ending before the commencement of nighttime trespassing.
The pipes/ bongos I mention not because I have an inherent issue with campsite music– there are many times I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the strains of a mystery music rising across a campsite as some talented, unseen musician who’s face I’ll never see calls forth a medly of tunes to tug the heartstrings and make you want to weep or dance or laugh or cry. I’ve listened to campsite instruments from fiddles to guitars, bagpipes to harmonicas, guitars to finger-harps, and usually when I hear the skirling strains of campsite instruments, my heart lifts in anticipation. The problem here was not campsite music; the problem was that whoever was playing these particular instruments was simply not good.
I don’t know if it was a lack of talent, skill, practice, or all three, but they just … weren’t. And I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, honestly. I’m not snobby or picky about music, I promise. That’s how out-of-rhythm they were– the bongos so arrhythmic and the accompanying pipes so atonally monotonous that even I wrinkled my nose in unimpressed distaste at the resultant cacophony.
Moreover, the combined length and volume of their ongoing musical attempt indicated (to me) they had either no self-awareness, or no sense of concern about their lack of skill. In either case, this seems to indicate their musical attempt was entirely self-indulgent; that is, with no concern in regards to how those hearing the music might be affected; only how they (the players) are affected by the physical act/ pleasure of using the instruments, regardless of their skill level (or lack thereof).
Think of the childish pleasure of coloring a picture, or banging a drum– sometimes doing something simply for the sake of doing it is its own pleasure, and that’s fine. However, generally, by the time most of us pass the age of, say, 5 years old, we have either been taught (or learned because we were firmly banned) that although some things can be fun and fulfilling for one person– such as, perhaps, banging a wooden spoon loudly and arrhythmically on a metal pan to produce a satisfying clang– they are not so pleasurable to anyone else in the vicinity, and the community-minded individual who wishes to continue such pursuits chooses one of two paths: They either endeavor to shape their preferred activity into more socially-acceptable results (learn rhythm, become drummer), or they only arrhythmically bang pots with wooden spoons when they’re alone and cannot bother anyone else.
But some kids are just assholes, or maybe they’re never taught to consider the needs/ concerns of anyone else, or maybe it’s something else altogether– who knows? Whatever it is, there’s always that one kid who (metaphorically or literally) will arrhythmically bang that fuckin’ pot with a spoon right out in the middle of a crowd, just because they like it. They don’t care if anyone else hates it (or loves it), they like it, and that’s all that matters to them.
That is the sort of self-centered and non-communal/ “not-thinking-of-others” mindset I heard in the pipe-and-bongo playing, and that was so thoroughly displayed later that night by the Hillwalkers roaming shouting through the hills as they waved flashlights so carelessly, so I am inclined to think they’re one and the same group.
Anyway, after nightfall, the Hillwalkers went trespassing, for unknown reasons. They later claimed stargazing, which really makes no sense to me, as the stargazing by the river was excellent– or would have been, if it weren’t for their goddamn flashlights.
They trudged around up there for a good hour, the high-lumens brilliance of their flashlights lancing down in cutting swathes across the low hills and scrubland to blind carelessly through the thin tent walls and car or RV windows of their fellow campers down below by the river, as the trespassing Hillwalkers shouted and hallooed merrily back and forth to one another, heedless of the disturbance to they were causing to this hastily convened and temporary riverside community.
Down by the river, campers nestled in for the night, seeking protection from the biting, blood-sucking pests of night in their tents and cars and RVs, and we all tried to distract ourselves from the hungry insects, subtle press of shared space with strangers, and stifling heat by focusing on the sky above. In our tent, my husband tossed and turned, unable to settle in the heat. Whenever it seemed he had finally found a position that worked, a bright beam of light or burst of laughter would slice through the night, disturbing one or both of us and starting the whole cycle over.
We weren’t the only ones– in our car, parked next to the tent with its windows unrolled, I could hear our dogs, Azura and Sirius, shuffling uneasily; the low murmur of our son’s voice sleepily reassuring them that all was well. Our pups weren’t the only ones disturbed by the activity of the trespassing Hillwalkers– there was a frequent, nervous, yipping whine (I’d guess from the chihuahuas we met when we first arrived) from upstream, and the occasional deeper-throated, unhappy responding bark from further downstream, I think from a golden retriever I’d seen passing by.
I could hear, too, about two or three car-neighbors downstream, the low fussing of a young child; no doubt having trouble settling in the stifling heat, and the exhausted pitch of its parents’ voices as they soothed it to near-silence, only to have to pick up the task when the poor thing was frustrated awake again by a passing beam of light or burst of ill-time hilarity from the Hillwalkers. Add to this the occasional high-beam headlights and roaring engine of passing cars, and it was shaping up to be a frustrating night. The end of this torture was heralded by the roar of a loud engine, the bright floodbeam of headlights, and voices raised in disagreement.
I rolled out of my tent to see what fresh hell this was.
It seemed the rancher anticipated just such an eventuality (or perhaps actual camps on his property) and had been riding the perimeter of his property on his ATV, leading him to catch the Hillwalkers. Despite the sternly worded sign, he didn’t shoot them, instead opting for a firm talking to/ warning. According to Sam (who went over to talk to the rancher), he told the Hillwalkers they had this one warning and no more to get off his land and stay off, and the next warning wouldn’t be written or verbal. They whined about it– even I could hear them from across the road, voices climbing in indignation at the warning as they tried to defend their trespassing: “We were trying to get a better look at the stars!”
First: Look, no matter what you personally think of private property/ trespassing laws, you gotta take the surrounding/ extenuating circumstances into account, and always always leave where you have stayed in the same or better condition than you found it. Pick up trash. Step lightly. Don’t disturb others. In this situation, with that many people? It’s simply not possible, so don’t do it.
Second: Wandering around at night, in foreign lands, in mostly untamed nature, in the hills, is fuckin’ stupid.
Third: Wandering around at night, in foreign lands, in mostly untamed nature, in the hills, on somebody else’s property, is not only fuckin’ stupid, it’s creating a liability issue for them. OF COURSE they’re going to come up and kick you off. Don’t whine at them for protecting their interests!
Fourth: Wanna know a good way to look at the stars? TURN OFF YOUR GODDAMN FLASHLIGHTS.
So the rancher chased the Hillwalkers off, and Sam went to talk to the rancher for a bit. From Sam’s buddy, I learned some of the other ranchers up and down the valley had opened their land for eclipse camping, for a charge– they had stopped and talked to one on the drive down, but turned down her offer– $75/head to camp in her field, no meals included ($225 for his car alone). He didn’t clarify whether bathrooms were part of that deal. One hopes they were, or those ranchers are cleaning up a lot of shit this weekend. He told me the rancher claimed it was $50/ head last year, and he’d be lucky to find it cheaper anywhere else that night. We had a good chuckle over that, as the camping by the river was free (except for those who lingered– after the eclipse, we drove about three miles down to a rest area, then turned around to head home. As we passed the area we’d so recently camped, John noted there were park rangers descending on malingerers, apparently ticketing them).
I just don’t get it. That wasn’t even a dedicated camping area– it was a special allowance, next to private land. It was a special occasion. When you’ve got a situation like that– a special allowance, a large, crowded camping area, a mix people/ families of all ages and types– what kind of special, selfish, self-centered, dickish jerk d’ya have to be to think any of that behavior is appropriate? Trespassing, unskilled instrument playing, hollering through the hills, shining high-powered flashlights at one another (and incidentally into the tents of other campers)? There are people trying to sleep. There are kids. There are babies. Why? Why do people do that?
This is a general gripe I have about car camping. There’s always one group of people at car camping/ drive-up tent site (usually in their 20s) who act like being loud, rowdy assholes is totally appropriate for the venue, even though the majority of people there are families or youth groups trying to quietly enjoy nature, or exhausted travelers trying to bunk down on the cheap.
I honestly wish there was an “asshole” section of campsites these entitled dickweeds could be funneled off to, where they could be noisy and assholish and shine their lights at each other without bothering the rest of the campers, I swear to gods.