Coons and Cookouts

It’s funny how I was able to churn out a blog entry a day when I was on the road, constantly moving, and seeing new things every day but now that I’m at home most days, with plenty of time on my hands, I can’t write one in the last month.

After a comment from my dad on the last entry and a tweet from @KarenJanos to write more, here I am.

Last week was the annual “all family members close by come crash at my parents’ house” week of summer. The brother came in on Saturday, an aunt, cousin, and grandparents on Sunday, and said cousin’s friend on Monday. On top of my nephew already being here for a week or two.

Earlier in the summer, my brother and I came up with the idea to take my cousin (12), his friend (15), and my nephew (15) out camping on one of the islands in Lake Murray for a night. Sort of a combination boy’s-night-out meets summer-camping-trip meets outdoor-initiation-for-the-electronic-generation deal. My aunt kept warning me about how I had no idea what I was getting myself in to, as if this was going to be a monumental task to pull off with no one dying, drowning, or hurting feelings. Psh. I’m 28. My brother’s 26. We got this.

Until we actually tried to leave.

The plan was to leave Monday at 4:30pm. That would have been no problem except for the battery on the boat was dead. No worries. I hooked up the charger, plugged it in, heard the fan going, and crashed inside for an hour and a half. 6:00pm rolls around and we head down to the boat to ship off. Only there’s no juice when we start it up.

Turns out, you actually have to turn the charger ON for it to actually charge the battery. Oops? Maybe this isn’t as easy as I thought.

Long story short, we shipped out around 7:30pm after charging the battery for another hour and a half. The kids left with grandiose ideas of exploring the island and finding all sorts of treasures to bring back as souvenirs. My brother and I just wanted everything to go smooth, which was turning out to be not as easy as planned.


We made it out just fine and had no problems picking a spot, given it being a Monday and we were the only ones on the island. Since we got a late start, the exploring had to be put on hold until tents were up and firewood was collected. Since it was all three of the boys’ first time camping out in the woods and not in a backyard, the goal was to let them learn on their own how to install the tent. And after a few useless laps circling everything laid out on the ground, they got to work and figured it out.

With the sun quickly setting though, the work wasn’t over. Flashlights were handed out and everyone set out to collect firewood. If you’ve never been camping with a group of young teenagers, here is how this goes:

  • 28 year old goes one way, 26 year old goes another way, and three boys all go together
  • 28 year old comes back with a handful of wood, 26 year old comes back with a handful of wood, and in the group of boys that comes back, one of them is carrying two sticks max
  • Rinse and repeat

Needless to say, an “each of you brings two sticks with you before coming back” rule was implemented and our wood pile didn’t get big enough until well after dark. But we got there eventually! We started the fire, found good grilling sticks for hotdogs, and chowed down. Smores came next, even though one kid didn’t eat any, one ate one without putting it on the fire, and the last one ate them for the first time. And from there, we all turned in for the night.

Or so we thought.

I had put the trash bag with all of our aluminum cans in it by our tent so it wouldn’t blow into the lake over night. About 45 minutes after laying down, I hear the cans rattling in the bag. Thinking it was just one of the boys throwing away something else, I rolled over and tried to doze off. Then it dawned on me there wasn’t a flashlight turned on. I checked to see if my brother was still awake (yup) and he yelled out to the other tent to see if the boys were still in there (three yups).

Earlier in the evening, the boys had asked us if there was anything on the island. After some far-fetched tales about a murderer once and people who sneak up on your tents, we eventually said nope, nothing but bugs, frogs, and birds.

“It’s too far from the land for any animal to get there. And there’s no food for them to eat if they were here” said my brother.

The rattling of cans in our trash bag said otherwise.

The boys flipped on their flashlight and scouted the area from their tent. Nothing by our tent and nothing by their tent. The trash bag was still in tact. Maybe it just shifted weight and the dark made everything seem worse. Until sweeping our end of the island, the boys happened to see two beady eyes staring back at them from the lip of our boat. My brother probably was right… there isn’t enough food on the island to feed a raccoon… that is, unless they’re digging through the leftovers you bring on the island.

“We should be good though, right?” asked my brother.

“Sure. We can put a rock on top of the cooler and the dry food is stored inside one of the bench seats on the boat,” I answered.

“Um… he just lifted one of the seats on the boat!” yelled the kids.

Uhhh… Let’s just say it’s not a great feeling to know you’ve just been outsmarted by a raccoon who lives on an island. This was supposed to be easy. But at least the kids are getting a not-so-ordinary camping experience out of it! They got a good chuckle out of the raccoon opening the seat, hopping into the storage area (2nd picture), and then having the lid close on him.


After assessing the situation, we managed to chase him off the boat without anyone being mauled. He dined well on a diet of hotdog buns, some marshmallows, and a graham cracker or two before we ran him off though. The food & trash bag was moved to a different part of the boat with a gas can weighing down the seat. Another gas can sat atop the cooler by our tent. Several of the remaining hotdogs were torn up and thrown in the opposite direction of our tents and boat with hopes that meat smelled more appetizing than bread. And once that was all finished, finally sleep came!

Usually, the plan when camping on the islands has been to wake up whenever the sun comes calling, everyone grabs some breakfast, we sit around trying to wake up, then pack up and ship out around lunch time.

There is no usually with teenage boys.

My brother and I got up around 7:45am to find them wide awake, cleaning out their tent, and packing up. Apparently one of them had left a half empty Coke in the tent overnight, which means they were overrun by ants at 7:00am. And combined with all of the adventures the night before, they were ready to get out ASAP.

So camp was packed up, sleeping bag rolling lessons were given, pictures were taken for moms and grandmothers, and we were on our way by 9:30am. Adventures were had. Lessons were taught. All in all, it was a good (albeit short) time.



P.S. Ladies and gentleman… my brother left alone with a camera.


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7 Responses to Coons and Cookouts

  1. Hope Clark says:

    Cool post, Nanu. Those boys will remember that evening for a long time. Very noble of you two guys to grant them an all-boys night.

  2. Pingback: Giraffe Calves and Carabiners | Nanu's Nation

  3. Karen says:

    Just read this post! Thanks for the call out. I’ve never been camping and have to give you 2 thumbs up for taking 3 teenage boys out into the wilderness alone. Kids do have a way of changing your plans. 🙂

    • If you’re near NYC, I spent a night camping in Pomona, NY in Harriman State Park on my trip around the country. So even I’ve been camping in your neck of the woods! 🙂

      • Karen says:

        That’s so funny! I know where Harriman State Park is, but I have not been camping there. There needs to be a comfortable bed and running water for me to consider “roughing it”. 🙂

  4. RMJinAK says:

    Neat read, Matthew; it kept me going even though you had told me the story on the phone. One indicator of a good writer is that it keeps your attention and you still read even though you know “how the story ends”.

  5. The Aunt says:

    Just read your post. All I can say is …. I warned you!
    Thanks for taking them out. They loved it!

    The Aunt 🙂

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