Downriver, I found a suitable gravel bar where I beached my canoe and set up camp deep in the Irish Wilderness.
I sat alone by the campfire and thought about the strange evolution of this area: wilderness, then settled and clear cut and stripped, then abandoned and back to wilderness.
The wilderness itself is named for the Irish families who busted their backs building railroads westward. Tough work. After they finished the job, Father John Hogan led the spent workers to decompress in the wilderness. But the people vanished sometime during the chaos of the Civil War.
During the past century a new growth forest has reestablished. It’s a bit weaker genetically than the old forest, but more trees cover the same territory. You see miles of dense forestland, pocked only occasionally by a town, or a clearing that might indicate a chip mill lurking around the fringes of these woods, grinding and pulverizing acres of trees to be used in plywood and particle board. Chip mills are the human equivalent of termites. They hide out of sight and exercise their appetites for wood until, before you realize it, whole forests can disappear.
As darkness fell and a full moon rose, I remembered the last time I camped in this forest, deep in this wilderness. It was a December night, and my campfire bolstered me against the cold, but also against the coyotes that circled at a distance, in a pack whose chorus sounded like a hundred dogs. In reality, the pack probably numbered a half dozen.
Their night howls came first from the south, an hour later from the east. As the full moon reached its midnight zenith, they howled from the north. I couldn’t help feeling like a can of Alpo, opened and heated.
But I was prepared, with my most important defensive weapon: a good campfire.
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