Tales from around the campfire

Adventures: Practical jokes, fishing and encounters with raccoons, snakes and poison ivy keep things lively for campers at the height of the season.

SUMMER In Harford County

July 17, 2005|By Cassanda A. Fortin | Cassanda A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ronnie Turner, 14, remembers the prank he pulled as a 10-year-old on his father, Michael.

One night while camping at Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace, the Norfolk, Va., boy drifted off to sleep as his father wove a traditional spooky bedtime story.

Just before dawn, Ronnie stuffed his sleeping bag, making it appear that he was still in it. He sneaked out of the tent and stretched fake spider web he had saved from Halloween across the tent's entrance.

"I've watched a lot of camping movies and shows, and I know lots of good tricks, and I wanted to get my dad for scaring me," Ronnie said.

Michael Turner woke, saw the bundle in the sleeping bag and assumed it was his son. He unzipped the tent without trying to wake him. Ronnie took pictures and laughed as his father flailed about, grasping and tugging to get the web off his face and arms.

`It was so funny'

"He looked like a crazy man running around and grabbing at the web," said Ronnie. "It was so funny.

The only problem, said Ronnie, is watching out for his father's next move. "One year he put a little snake in my sleeping bag, and another time, when we slept outside, I put a little fish in his sleeping bag," said Ronnie. "I never know what to expect, and that makes it a lot of fun."

At the height of camping season in Harford County, the Turners were among the families at several local parks who shared highlights and horror stories of roughing it.

Their accounts included confrontations with snakes, unidentifiable wild animals and first encounters with poison ivy.

JoAnne and Robert Stanley, who were camping at Susquehanna State Park recently, shared an experience that both say almost turned deadly - for a snake.

The Delaware couple camped with friends at the park during the Fourth of July weekend in 2002. They went boating during the day and sat up late at night talking and playing cards.

One evening before sunset, JoAnne felt something by her feet. Robert looked down and told his wife to sit still as the other two women screeched and jumped onto the nearby picnic table. A snake had wrapped itself around her leg and her chair.

`Slimy and awful'

"It was slimy and awful," said JoAnne, laughing. "I was frozen to that chair. I kept telling Robert to kill it."

Robert recalls being "scared to death she was going to get bitten and that it was poisonous. ... Her face was positively ashen. The snake wasn't moving at all, and we thought it was sleeping or something. So I got a stick like the snake handlers do on television. I didn't know what to do, so I messed with it until it slid away.

"She was just shaking when she stood up," he said of his wife. "She went into the camper and refused to sit outside the rest of the trip. It looked like a copperhead, but we found out it was a common snake. That appeased her because now she sits outside again."

Angela and John Ralph of Aberdeen, Scotland, were camping at Susquehanna State Park recently on their way toward New Jersey for a weeklong survival course and then two weeks in the Adirondacks.

The Harford County park served as an educational warm-up for the couple, who found camping in the United States much different from camping in Scotland.

Unusual prints

The wildlife wasn't as easily identifiable as it was in Scotland, something the couple had an opportunity to test on a daily walk near the water, where they spotted unusual paw prints.

"We have otters at home, but we knew it wasn't one of those," Angela said. "We noticed trees with bark chewed out and looked in books we brought and figured out it was beavers. And this morning we saw beautiful deer."

Their most important identification was of the three-leaf variety rather than the four-legged type.

"In Scotland, we don't have poison ivy. When people go to the woods, you just walk wherever you want to walk in the woods," she said. "But here we had the friendly park ranger show us what the poison ivy plants look like. Which we suspect will help with the remainder of our trip. When we walk, we stay on the trails. We've decided when in Rome do as the Romans do. It's just better that way."

Around the corner from the Ralphs, Janet and Francis Ragland of Baltimore and their 12-year-old son, Joseph Slack, were clearing their picnic table after dinner. The Raglands have been camping at Susquehanna for years, mainly for the fishing and to get away from the city noise and telephones.

"When we first started coming here, we camped in a tent instead of a camper, and Janet would see the shadows of raccoons and then their red, glowing eyes, and she'd get up and go into the tent," said Francis.

Run-ins with raccoons

"We have had a lot of run-ins with the raccoons. One year we put our soda cans in a tree, and we could hear them destroying the cans during the night. The next day, ... the cans had been torn in half."

One year they caught more than a dozen catfish, but this year they haven't caught one. Their most memorable year was in between.

"We'd been fishing all day long and had just caught fish too small to keep," said Francis. "I moved downstream, and every time Janet caught a fish she'd yell for me. Pretty soon I was getting tired of running back and forth through the water to help her throw a fish back in the water. I was getting slower and slower about it.

"Then she yelled, `This one is so big I'm not going to touch it.' I started running toward her for that one. She'd just called me so much for help, I was reluctant to believe it was big enough to keep, but that one was."

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