The Intruder

DSC00776A low rumble of a growl, that’s how it started. Our first camping trip found us buried further down a country road than I had ever traveled, stuck on one of those rural grassy drives between dusty gravel and green pasture.

The little red Plymouth Sundance that I brought into our marriage lost the battle with the deep ruts that passed for a driveway. My husband’s manly Jeep from antiquity would have prevailed, but we wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation during the drive. So there we were, in my vehicle instead of his—a vehicle stranded with its undercarriage on the dirt, wheels dangling in the air like a little kid in a grownup chair.

A distant cousin lived this deep in the country so J calmly walked us down the road to their house, where we found him home and able to extract us from our predicament. We thanked him and drove the remaining fifty yards through the open pasture and pitched our tent amid the close timber. J unpacked while I worked on dinner.

That’s when I heard the growl.

I surveyed the surrounding trees, looking for a bear. (Because what else would growl in the Iowa woods?) I saw nothing. Not a bear. Not a squirrel. Not even a cow. Someone rented the land for their herd, but we hadn’t seen any of them yet. I told myself it was a cow, but I didn’t believe me. I grew up around my grandpa’s cows and I never heard them make a sound like that.

I heard it again, closer this time. I turned and there, ambling our way, was a bull. Grandpa’s warning to my seven-year-old-self erupted in my head: “Tillie, I would never keep a mean bull, but if the bull is in the pasture, you stay out.” That was enough. Bulls were obviously dangerous and to be avoided.

Now one was aiming for my outdoor kitchen.

I walked to the car and informed my husband about the intruder. We went to opposite sides of the car and stood, mesmerized by the bull as he plodded toward us. We opened the doors. He advanced further. We got in and sat down, shocked, because who gets stalked by a bovine on a camping trip? He held his course all the way to the front of the car and I wondered if he would crush the roof when he stepped up and walked over us.

bull - Version 2He pressed his legs against the front of our tiny car, stretched his rippled neck, and nearly touched the windshield with his immense nose.  Apparently he didn’t need much personal space. When he pulled his head back we waited to see what he would do next. We didn’t wait long. He bent down, stuck his nose under the car, and lifted it into the air.

And then he dropped us.

J had the vehicle started and in gear before we hit the ground. He backed through the maze of trees with impressive speed and got us to the fence where we could put a gate between us and the bull, the conqueror in full possession of our gear.

Back to the cousin’s house we drove. Once he finished laughing, he told us that yes, he knew the farmer who kept the cattle on the land. He called and miraculously, he too was home on a Friday night.

The farmer met us at the gate and climbed out of his truck with a bag of Cheetos. The bull was a rental, brought in for breeding purposes. He’d been raised as a pet. His owner had shared his cheese curls with him while he chored, so he was unusually interested in people.

The gear extraction plan was simple: The farmer would distract the bull with his Cheetos while my husband made the grab. I waited on the safe side of the fence.

It worked.

We drove even further into the country to the empty farmhouse where J’s grandma grew up. J pitched the tent on the lawn and I restarted dinner. We fell into our sleeping bags in the deep dark and slipped into sleep to the mooing of the cows across the road, mooing broken by an occasional low rumble of a growl.


We shared camping’s trial and by the next morning we shared its laugher, first together and later with J’s great-aunt who roared up in her pickup not long after we peeled ourselves off of the ground. Now it’s one of our stories. Not all of our stories are happy. Some are sad or even dull, but each one is a different type of thread in the fabric of our life. With the threads of faith, hope, and family, they hold our life together.

And you? You have stories. What do you do with them?

This is the final post in a series about the trials of life outdoors and their effect on relationships. Part one is here and part two is here.

The bull photo is courtesy of a friend who risked life and limb, under the supervision of the farmer, because she knew I wanted a photo of a bull. What greater love?

What’s a Little Rain?



Dad and I went to Yellowstone about a year ago—just the two of us, to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, for a nature writing class—and we did some hiking and camping along the way. Most of the time, the end-of-August days delighted us with warm sun and cool air, but the forecast and cotton candy clouds foreboded rain.

The clouds delivered a couple of afternoon spurts worth dragging out our yellow ponchos for. And once, while we walked the boardwalk to Echinus geyser, they brought hail.


And every night for three nights, while we cooked our dinner, the sky sprinkled. Every night we sat by the fire in a gentle rain. And then, every night, it picked up and rained like it meant it. We wanted to linger by that fire, but how much can worn hikers really take?


Our weather-enforced curfew was probably good for us. We logged plenty of miles on foot and in the van during days that started early. Rain delivered the message that darkness and fatigue did not: go to sleep. So, every night after a short fire we retired, Dad to his tent and me to my luxurious pile of memory foam in the back of Mom and Dad’s twelve passenger van.


When Dad and I arrived at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, we brought with us a wet mass of a wadded up tent. Our cabin’s timbered railing provided a place to hang it to dry in the sun. Our camp chairs needed the same treatment, so we set them up on the porch.

Our gear dried quickly in the arid mountain air and when the time came to stow it back in the van, we kept one chair out. Our cabin featured one rustic wooden chair on the porch. Because of the rain we thought to have two–two where we sat together every morning and evening, the kind of together that life rarely bestows once you grow up and move away from home.

Every day I wished it wouldn’t rain, but once again, through the rain came a gift. You’d think I’d learn.

And you? How do approach unexpected and unpleasant circumstances that come your way?

This is the second post in a 3 part series on the pitfalls of life outdoors, especially how those pitfalls may bring us closer together. Why post about camping in September? Its weather is usually an open invitation to step outside.

Sharing stories this week at Unforced Rhythms.

On Trials Shared

Gary Smalley, founder of the Smalley Relationship Center, says that the secret to a “close-knit relationship is shared experiences that turn into shared trials.” He mentions camping as one source for shared trials and a potential relationship-building activity. Makes sense. Camping is fraught with potential for trial.


There’s the weather. The bugs. The work. The hard ground.

He grants that you don’t have to camp to invite such trials. I agree. A picnic will do nicely.

The year of the October heat wave that turned to snow, we adapted to the rain with less time on the trail and more time on the road. Lunchtime still always found us nowhere near a restaurant. We picnicked in spite of the weather.

We stopped during sporadic sprinkling rain at an understandably empty picnic area, unloaded our supplies and got ready to make lunch: fruit, veggies, and—because it was cold—soup from a can. All was well until no one could find the can opener.

Long before this, back when we had one or maybe two children, we took a weekend camping trip five miles from home. By the time I had everything packed, piled, and ready to load, it filled two vehicles. My easy-going husband was less than happy. Now I try to be more reasonable when I pack.

The can opener was necessary, and not purposefully left behind. It probably sat alone and overlooked on the kitchen counter, utterly useless to my hungry family.

My husband is a creative guy, not easily flapped because he knows that there’s usually a solution if you stay calm and look at all the possibilities. In this case, the possibility was my son’s axe, which he lifted and struck the can—hard enough to open, yet gently enough to keep from spilling the contents everywhere.

The whole family watched him work on the can, too engrossed in what he was doing to notice the rain that once again began to fall until we heard the crunch of gravel. We turned and saw a Yellowstone Association minibus filled with students enrolled in a wilderness class. They drove past, staring but not stopping. My kids suspect the sight of a man hacking open a can with an axe turned them away.

It’s an image that sticks in the mind.

At least, it sticks with my kids. They weren’t mortified by it. It was just another family adventure and just their dad being their dad, saving the day in his quiet and slightly off-the-wall way.

Life’s an adventure, one filled with trials–otherwise known as opportunities to knit relationships closer together. Sometimes it’s our relationships with people that are strengthened and other times it’s our relationship with the God who created us. It’s hard to remember that in the midst, but worth it when we do.

A question for you: Do you see trials as something to be avoided at all costs or as opportunities for something good?

This is the first post in a 3 part series on the pitfalls and joys of life outdoors, especially those related to camping. Why post about camping in September? Fall’s weather is perfect for camping.

Sharing stories at Unforced Rhythms and Coffee for Your Heart.