Birthday Camping Trip

It was a mild, overcast weekday morning. Elmer the husky and I were on a walk along the Milwaukie Bay trail that led to Elk Rock Island, adjacent to the Willamette River.

In the distance, coming toward us, I saw a man wearing a frame pack, fully loaded, with a pit bull off leash bounding around him. Oh great! The damn beast will probably come over and drive Elmer insane. There goes my back again.

The man came into closer view. He was in 60s/70s and exuded an unmistakable vibe of homelessness and of course, pit bulls are the overwhelming choice of dog for homeless people.

The man saw us walking his direction. He called to his dog and leashed him up. A citizen!

We met. I said hello and he said hello in return. We stopped. I asked how his day was going. He told me fine and that he just camped overnight on Elk Rock Island (no camping allowed there) because it was his dog’s birthday and the dog loved camping out. So he hiked to the island with his dog to give him a special birthday present.

I was instantly dumbfounded, but then not. I remembered one of my favorite lines by my favorite American author, Jim Harrison: “There is something about doing a favor for a dog that calm’s a person down.”

There might not be a truer line in American literature and it doesn’t matter if the dog’s owner is homeless or not.

We said our goodbyes. A few yards later I turned around and saw the man unleash his best friend and they continued on to wherever they were living outdoors, but not camping out like one camps out in the woods, near a river, for recreation and for many, spirituality, but a different kind of modern American camping, for survival or escape or something I still can’t figure out.

But at least for one night, for the man and his dog on Elk Rock Island, there was a return to the gritty and ethereal camping we all associate with the word.