Monday, August 02, 2010

A restless night between the Christians and the Pagans

It's been a few years since I've been camping, so when a group of friends decided to organize a weekend in the woods, I was thrilled at the thought of hanging out around the fire for a few days. Alas, the campground that we'd unwittingly selected turned out to be a haven for quite a range of [noisy and terrifying] religious zealots. I guess that's how memories are made, right?

We arrived at the site shortly before dark, hastily pitched our tents, and surveyed our surroundings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was very little that was "outdoorsy" about the place. The site was nestled below a stretch of elevated highway with trucks barreling by all day and night, and the plumbing situation was dismal (the woods were too thinned out to safely squat). Still, there were plenty of patches of green, and we geared up for a great time.

The next morning, our breakfast was disrupted by extremely loud music sounding over the bluff. Despite the fact that the lyrics were in Spanish, the tone of it was unmistakably Christian, the kind of hallucinatory, fervor-inducing whine of Christian rock. We paused and made our way to the edge of the site, where we looked down (onto some other sites) to see a group of fifty people solemnly swaying, arms raised, while two charismatic preachers galloped about across a makeshift stage. The noise was amazingly distracting. Just our luck.

To move away from the ruckus, we headed down to the shores of the Delaware River. On the way down to the water, there were other noises amidst the swelling choruses--the shrieks and squawks of people speaking in tongues. We also heard another squawk--from the beak of a caged cockatiel that was prominently displayed on a corner campsite. This corner site, occupied solely by a silent couple, was the most meticulous campground I'd ever seen. They had painstakingly laid down three layers of tarps with no wrinkles on them, and were erecting an ornate table. In addition to the hyper-cleanliness of the scene, the things that struck us as odd were 1) who takes their cockatiel camping!? and 2) the people were wearing rubber gloves through the whole set up. This was weird, and we'd remember it later.

The river was warm and rocky and peaceful, but as soon as we'd taken our first dip in the perfect water and set up our chairs to enjoy the sun, we heard a tremendous bellowing sound. Not fifty yards away from our blissful encampment, scores of soon-to-be-born-agains marched toward the water, sweaty from their frenzied dancing. They were accompanied by a pudgy adolescent boy bearing an enormous animal horn, which he periodically blew--blasting the surrounding area with a mighty honk. The horn was quickly identified by one of our party as a shofar--a ram's horn typically used for Jewish religious purposes. How and why these folks had appropriated this symbol was unclear, but the youngster sure got a kick out of blowing it every two minutes or so. The next time we looked up, we saw that the line of people had trickled into the water, through people bobbing around in life vests and tubes, past discarded cans and other debris, and were baptizing each other in the shallow waters of the Delaware.
The blaring of the shofar continued throughout the afternoon, jarring our nerves with every honk.

Flash forward about five hours. After soaking in the sun, we had a little walk to some lackluster waterfalls and were preparing to hang out around the fire for the night. When walking to the bathroom, a few people noticed that those weirdos on the corner site with the bird were still setting up. Many. Hours. Later. They had meticulously tarped their car, had moved the bird to the center of their ornate table under a dining fly, and had lit a ring of tiki torches around their perimeter. The whole set-up had a creepy ceremonial feel to it, and since the couple was still wearing their rubber gloves, we couldn't help but think they were up to no good. We collectively concocted a horrifying tale. They were setting up their kill site, we said, something clean and airtight that they could just wrap up when they were finished without spilling one drop of blood. But what was with the bird? A sacrifice. They'd brought the cockatiel to sacrifice in some bizarre ritual.

We cooked a terrific meal over the fire (after some difficulty starting said fire) and told some awesome scary stories, periodically referring back to the couple on the corner site, preparing their sacrificial ground. Throughout the evening, there were plenty of bathroom runs past the corner site, and each time we passed, a full eleven hours after they'd begun setting up, we just saw the two gloved figures in the glow of their tiki torches, slowly, methodically sweeping the spotless tarp floor they'd created. We sat around the fire some more, ate birthday cake (to celebrate two birthdays), and prepared to climb into our tents. At around midnight, just as we joked that they were preparing to sacrifice the bird, the sky around their site lit up with red flares, burning into the night. It was beyond eerie.

The next morning, the shofar blaring began before eight. As I walked past the campsite on the corner and peered between the extinguished tiki torches, I saw that the birdcage was empty.


Holly said...

this sounds like the camping trip from hell...

Jill said...

If I didn't have photographic evidence, I would have thought this was one of your stories. It sounds too weird to be true, but there it is.

Nice birthday cake though.

What did Sprout think of the whole thing?

maggie in america said...

This might be one of the best things I've ever read.

w. leavitt said...

the picture of the tent next to the picture of sprout looked at first like you had a dog tent full of bedding for your pup. alas.

la_sale_bete said...

Holly: Ha, ha. It was pretty fun, actually. Very memorable, at least.

Jill: While I often embellish, this one's pretty darn close to exactly how it happened! We thought Sprout would love the great outdoors, but she was generally unhappy--always on guard and not pleased about the lack of soft places to sit.

Maggie: Thanks!

Wayne: Yeah, Sprout definitely thought all of the sleeping bags, etc. were there for her comfort. One giant Sprout nest.