"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Our Thanksgiving deer return for dessert

four deer frolick by our back deck
After this morning's visit from four local does, the little deer herd bedded down in a nearby thicket, and we returned to our Thanksgiving preparations. A few hours later our neighbor, Jane, called to tell us the deer were out again and boldly munching on fallen apples next door.

three deer head for the garden
As we watched through our sliding glass door, the hungry foursome wandered casually over into our back yard. They frolicked together for a couple minutes, then spied some delicious goodies in our smaller garden (the one we've all but given up on). As they sampled the treats found there and in the pine tree hedge, the does approached to less than five yards away.

three does try the garden greens
We moved to the bedroom window for a better view. I grabbed the camera again, took some more still pictures, and then shot a couple videos, too. I'm sure they knew we were right there behind the glass, but they were hungry and unconcerned. This morning's thaw removed a two-week ground-cover of snow, revealing all sorts of tasty deer food.

two deer watch us watching them
The largest doe was the boldest, once again. She preferred to snack on something yummy she found in our pine trees, just beneath the bedroom window. She looked right at me several times, then continued munching casually each time. After an hour or so the four deer headed back up the hill to see what other Thanksgiving delights were available.

Here's one of the videos I captured as two of the does got really close:

copyright 2008 - all rights reserved


These same four deer visited us this morning. See more deer pictures taken near Whitney Road in Fairport earlier this year.

How about you? Do you have any wildlife pictures you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit yours for possible posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Happy Thanksgiving! ~Jim

No, we didn't have venison for Thanksgiving dinner

doe peeks over the back deck railing
We had four unexpected guests on Thanksgiving morning. They arrived early and unannounced, but kept mostly to themselves. Their manners were impeccable. We didn't get their names. They wandered around in the back yard, nibbling on the garden greenery and posing for a few pictures before they bedded down in our neighbor's hedgerow.

three does nibble on the garden greenery
Three does sample our garden's bounty.

two does stay close to the hedgerow
One doe poses while the other finds a succulent treat just beneath the snow.

the smallest doe acts as lookout
The smallest of the four deer keeps a watchful eye.

largest doe also the boldest
The largest doe was also the bravest, lingering just a few yards away from our balcony deck. She didn't eat much, but she seemed hungry for a visit and some gossip.

copyright 2008 - all rights reserved

See more deer pictures taken near Whitney Road in Fairport earlier this year.

How about you? Do you have any wildlife pictures you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit yours for possible posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Happy Thanksgiving! ~Jim

And now, a word from Mother Nature

nature plants a glistening heart on a sidewalk
What do you see?

There are signs all around us, if we keep our eyes and our minds open. We interpret those omens or portents the way we see fit. Sometimes I decide that a particularly beautiful sunset has appeared just for me. A welcome to the new day of my very own. I'm not especially superstitious, but I'm also not afraid to assign significance to seemingly random events around me. After all, it's what you do with a "sign" you interpret as meant for you that really matters.

Do you change your course when a black cat crosses your path? That's superstitious and slightly silly. On the other hand, if you change your driving habits when you narrowly avoid a terrible collision because you "had a feeling" -- that's making good, sound use of a "sign."

One of the most rewarding aspects of going camping is the chance to break free of the clutter of our everyday lives, the chance to spend some time just looking at the beauty around us. We used to call it 'communing with nature.' Great thoughts have emerged while looking into the intricate movements of a blazing fire. (Remember the story about the double helix?)

Over the years I've locked eyes with a feisty crow, been mesmerized by the jerky ballet of a foraging squirrel, and been awed by the grace of a circling hawk. I've watched my kids play together and listened to their laughter, without them realizing I was paying attention. Looking outward at the often overlooked activities around us gives us pause to look inward with insight, too.

Are there signs all around us, every day? Sure there are, if we only know how to interpret them. You can't find the meanings listed in a book. And your message won't be the same as mine, even if the sign we see is identical. What we see when we look, what we notice in the collage of life around us, and what we make of whatever catches our attention all relates to what is in our minds and in our hearts on that day in that moment.

Country music artist George Stait, a steadfast lover of philosophical lyrics in his songs, recently released I Saw God Today. The opening verse illustrates this thought beautifully:
Just walked down the street to the coffee shop
Had to take a break
I'd been by her side for 18 hours straight
Saw a flower growin' in the middle of the sidewalk
Pushin' up through the concrete
Like it was planted right there for me to see.

What do you see in the photo that heads this post?
That's one piece of my bluestone sidewalk with an ordinary leaf flattened against it. Maybe that's all you see in the photograph. I saw it as a sign.

The evening I took that picture, I'd been having one of those days. You know the kind: three or four small irritations pile up into an emotional mountain. I was half-way miserable, ready to snap at anyone who crossed my path. And then, there on my sidewalk, I saw a gleaming heart surrounded by a frame. Saw it so clearly that for a moment I thought my wife has pasted it there for me to see. In a way, she had. I just needed a reminder that love is all around me; I just had to keep my eyes open.

copyright 2008 - all rights reserved


How about you? Do you have a photograph you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your photograph for possible posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Product reviews: Grill Charms™, no "mis-steaks"!

Hot off the campfire

by Sarah Pendleton guest writer

[Editor's note - Sarah is a full-time freelance editor and writer]

Grill Charms™ on grilled chicken We are a family of meat lovers. The grill gets fired up every weekend, rain or shine. It can be a hundred and ten or twenty below - we have to get our fix! Steak, chicken, pork chops; every Saturday is a carnivore's dream. After ten years of marriage, I'm still getting used to it.

I grew up as the eldest of nine, and we were dirt poor. I could make a pound of hamburger serve the whole family for four meals straight, with creative use of spaghetti sauce, potatoes, rice and beans. I had never had a honest to God, home-grilled steak before I got married on my twenty fourth birthday to a real man: a hunting, fishing, red necked card-carrying member of the National Grill Masters Association. Let me tell you - it only took one juicy Porterhouse to have me firmly addicted.

Now, ten years and three kids later, we are firmly committed to keeping the cattle industry alive and well. Even our eighteen-month-old loves nothing more than sinking the twelve teeth he does have into a tiny portion of succulent rib-eye.

There's just one little problem.

I like garlic, and just a touch of pink in the middle. Hubby likes lemon pepper - and lots of it; and he doesn't freak about a little reddish juice on the plate. We both love Lee and Perrins. The kids don't share our passion for spice - yet - and theirs better be well done! When you have five steaks on the grill, it's kind of hard to keep track. You have to keep cutting them open, and trying to figure out which one is seasoned and which one isn't.

That's why I couldn't believe it when a friend turned me on to Grill Charms™ . These little suckers are perfect for helping hubby keep track of which steak belongs to who, and the kids love the concept of being able to personalize their own cut of meat. Grill Charms™ are made of stainless steel, look like dime-sized thumbtacks, and have serrated edges so they stay in the meat during grilling.

Grill Charms™ Charmed Life collection The designs on top of each one let you differentiate the meat. I have already picked out the Charmed Life collection, which features a sailboat, a dollar sign and a crown among other designs. I am aiming for the Spicy Collection next, so I can tell the kids' mild chicken piece or pork chop from my own tangy rub!

I'm going to have to get the Steak Collection for those times we have friends over that want to specify bloody or burnt, and I'm definitely picking up the Pink Collection for my aunt for Christmas. She's a breast cancer survivor, and her hubby also is a member of the Grill Masters Club. At under $20 per six-piece Grill Charms collection, I might have to grab a few more sets for stocking stuffers - hubby and I have a lot of meat loving friends!

Check it out folks - this is the new 'hot item' for the grilling carnivores in your life; and if you're like me, you won't be able to stop with just one set!

copyright 2008 - all rights reserved, Sarah Pendleton for Just Camping Out

From our interview with Leslie Haywood, founder and president, Charmed Life Products LLC and inventor of Grill Charms™ :

Grill Charms™ product packagingI'm a grilling gadget gal from Charleston SC and I have invented the perfect gadget for those scrumptious dinners cooked in great outdoors.
...Sometimes it can be tough for the master chef to keep track of who wants their steak rare, who wants spicy, who wants mild, who's allergic to garlic - all while drinking that frosty cold beer, gazing at the stars, chatting with your buddies about the fish that got away, and try to keep the dog out of the munchies. Grill Charms™ make it all possible. They are the must have campfire gadget while enjoying your time in the wilderness or at the KOA. [~Jim]

Six fantastic reasons to go camping

camping at KOA with our Shasta trailer
  • No bills to pay on the table
  • We leave the To-Do list home
  • I can read a book if I want to
  • We can make a big fire and just watch the flames
  • I can stay up late with no TV
  • Flame-toasted marshmallows. Need I say more?
copyright 2008 - all rights reserved

This one's written for a reason. See why at 22 Words, Experiments in getting to the point, a contest that ends in a couple hours titled, The joy of blogospheric brevity.

Volunteers Needed for Trail Work at Harriet Hollister

November 6, 2008 by newyorkoutdoors

Volunteers are needed for trail work at Harriet Hollister on Sunday Nov 9th and Sunday Nov 16, 2008.

snow trails Harriet HollisterWork sessions will be from 8:00am to Noon; meet at the parking lot on Canadice Hill Road. Volunteers 18+ will be required to sign a liability waiver. Work will include clearing new growth on trail sides and other trail enhancements. Volunteers should wear work clothes/gloves and should bring trimmers/pruning saws/shovels/rakes.

Please contact info@xcrochester.com if you have any questions or to confirm that you will be participating.

Note: If you’re not familiar with it, Harriet Hollister Spencer Memorial State Recreation Area has the prime cross-country ski trail network for the western Finger Lakes...[continued]

Read the rest of the story...

Reprinted from NewYorkOutdoors.

Jim's note: If you're a New York State outdoors enthusiast, this is a wonderful resource. Sue and Rich Freeman do a wonderful job of rounding up topical info from all around the Empire State.

Debunking Blueberries for Sal (Of Bears and Camping)

by Grace Alexander guest columnist

[Editor's note - Grace is a full-time freelance author and editor.
Her new column is exclusive to Just Camping Out]

Grace Alexander, columnist for Just Camping Out
In case you don't remember me, I'm the one who hates camping. Today, I am listing another of my objections to this strange tradition. That would be bears. Unfortunately, when it comes to camping out, bears are the rats of the campground - pesky, fearless and eager to sneak the crumbs…only in this case, the crumbs can mean the entire contents of the garbage, the cooler, or possibly your tent.

Don't give me that Blueberries for Sal propaganda. Why would a bear be content with a few berries when it could feast on blueberry-fattened human? In my opinion, Blueberries for Sal should be on the banned books list as it can lull people into a false sense of security.

For those of you who haven't read the delightful but erroneous book by Robert McCloskey, the story line runs something like this - Sal and her mom go to pick blueberries on Blueberry Hill. They become separated and Sal ends up following Momma Bear, while Baby Bear trails along after Sal's mother.

They cheerfully tromp along eating blueberries all 'round, then parents and progeny reunite happily. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. I am afraid this book may have caused countless bear encounters to go horribly wrong.

I humbly present the HOW TO DEAL WITH BEARS WHEN CAMPING checklist, annotated by myself for clarity and reader usability. I have carefully researched the key points from several Game and Fish Department bear safety guides, combined them with my common sense as a mother, and sincerely hope this post will serve to undo some of the damage inflicted by Blueberries for Sal.

Hang food and garbage out of reach. Never intentionally feed wildlife. (OK, I don't think Sal's mother was intentionally feeding the baby bear, he was more like sneaking berries out of her pail and she thought it was Sal, but still….)

Store all food, toiletries and other scented items well away from sleeping areas and unavailable to bears. (The illustrations show Sal's mom all dressed up and what do you bet she had perfume on. And who wears a skirt hiking?)

Walk or jog in groups. Pay attention to your surroundings when hiking, jogging or bicycling. Supervise your children and keep them in sight. (Well there's the main problem right there. Obviously Sal's mom never read ANY bear safety literature - and living in Maine, too!)

If you are confronted by a bear don't run. Stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away. (OK, Sal's mom gets Kudos here. She did manage to stay reasonable calm - eerily calm in fact, considering it only should have taken a little logic to figure out that if she had the bear's cub, Momma Bear probably had hers…)

Try to make yourself look as big and imposing as possible; put young children on your shoulders. (This is an ACTUAL TIP from the Arizona Game Department - it goes on to say make as much noise as possible. I'm sure the screaming from the child about to be eaten first would do wonders to scare the bear away.)

Finally, my favorite 'bear encounter tip' of all time - Remember, you can't outrun a bear. However, if you can outrun the other guy, you should be OK. If you can use him as a springboard to get up into the tree, that's good too.

Hopefully these tips will serve to make people realize that a merry day picking blueberries with the bears JUST AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN.

Remember the bear guy? Swore up and down you just needed to try and UNDERSTAND the bears, and what happened to him? GOT ATE BY A BEAR. (What's worse, he took his girlfriend down with him. Now, that was just plain wrong.) I bet he read Blueberries for Sal as a kid.

Copyright 2008, all rights reserved - Grace Alexander for Just Camping Out

Read Grace's Profile on Helium.com

Personally, I love blueberries. On the other hand, bears scare me, though they are indeed adorable from a distance. I've never seen one near our local campgrounds, but you never know. Bears are sneaky. I'd better read the book, just to be safe. Maybe someday I can convince Grace that camping can be good fun. We'll leave the blueberries at home. ~Jim

Camping nightmares: One scary night in the woods

Only once while camping have I feared for my life. Once was enough. I was alone in a secluded campsite with my two sons, and I was unarmed. But that's getting ahead of my story.

lonely campsite night scene jcb-2008 Before we had our beloved Shasta camper trailer, we camped in a roomy tent from Columbia (the sportswear experts). We camped in state parks because we liked the grassy, shaded sites and the small amount of privacy afforded by the wooded layouts. It was quiet at night, peaceful. Falling asleep to the sound of crickets and cicadas was heaven.

Our favorite campground was at Hamlin Beach State Park, on Lake Ontario. The place is beyond huge. We often wondered how much the maintenance crew spent fueling up the lawnmowers. Hamlin has room for a couple hundred campers in a series of loops. We settled, eventually, on a campsite deep in the heart of C-Loop as our regular spot.

That put us nearly a mile from the campground entrance point, and far from the noisy pets-allowed loops up front. The loops were paved, so we could roller-blade and ride our bicycles all around the place. We had a reasonably flat, grass-covered and tree-canopied spot. Since there was no site directly across the driveway, it felt as if we were the only ones camping there sometimes.

We often camped as a family, but sometimes it was just me and the boys. It was a chance to get away and have some guy-time, just kick back and enjoy each other's company. That was the case on the scary night in question.

I woke up around two am. Somewhere nearby, a man was yelling. Nobody yells in a state park in the middle of the night. Nobody even plays easy listening music after 11 pm. The rest of the night world was so still you could hear an owl a half-mile away. It probably took a moment or two for my brain to accept what my ears were hearing. I don't think I missed much.

Just across the driveway, in another site screened from the road by bushes, someone was extremely unhappy with someone else. The yelling got louder; the language being used was unprintable. Gathering the story at full volume while I struggled to pull on some clothing, it seemed that there was a woman, a man, and an extra man. The word kill was part of the discussion. Did someone mention gun?

I was scared. We were too far from civilization for comfort. It was mid-week, and there weren't many campers around us. Things were getting very ugly over there, as love triangles often do. The sound of the entrance zipper sounded like a chainsaw to me, as I eased out of the tent to get my cell phone from the truck. I prayed my boys wouldn't wake up.

Something glass got smashed, and a woman screamed. More yelling, more furious threats. Shaking, I eased the truck door open and pushed the no-lights button at the same time, grabbed my phone, and pecked at the keys for 9-1-1. The confrontation escalated while I tried to whisper my urgent request for help. Try explaining where you are by Loops and Site Numbers. At least the dispatcher never once questioned the situation.

It seemed like hours later, but couldn't have been more than five minutes, before the troops arrived with spotlights and real guns. I imagined a burly officer coming over to get my testimony or something, but that never happened. They lit up the campsite over there, had some gruff exchanges which I strained to overhear, then one by one departed the scene.

The boys never woke up. They were wide-eyed when I told them the story of the night's events that morning. I can't be sure, because it's been a few years now, but I don't think we ever stayed there again. I like my campgrounds really crowded now!

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How about you? Do you have a camping nightmare story you'd like to share? You can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.