Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Church Buttress Camp

In the summer of 1977 I sought out private places around town to camp, one of the first being outside next to a local church. It was a time of gear experimentation and a time of testing my willingness to live outdoors and out of a backpack. The church sat by a huge maple tree(Oak Mother and the Dog), and was surrounded by a dozen or so large cedar bushes growing parallel and close to the red brick buttresses of the little chapel. I found a good sleeping spot next to the left side of this building and underneath the hiding limbs of a cedar, a perfect camp though not big enough for a tent. It hid me from every prying eye and kept me safe and snug though I had to use a special system of tarps and bags to keep me warm and dry.
In May of 1977 I bought a North Face polyester bag called the Bigfoot from a local outfitter(Footsloggers)and was preparing myself for the summer and the upcoming winter. It was rated to 5 degrees, blue and beautiful and cost $65 new. I spent an entire Boone winter sleeping at the buttress camp while I was teaching music at the college. I could get to it late with a minimum of fuss and get up very early for my morning yoga inside the always open chapel, and then get to work early enough for some clarinet practice before classes.
My sleeping and layering system started with a boy scout vinyl poncho used as a ground tarp and a long floppy ensolite foam pad on the tarp. I used two bags, the North Face polarguard and my old heavy flannel-lined canvas covered cotton filled nine pound rectangular bag which I always unzipped and placed over the other. This system completely enclosed the mummy bag and my body stayed warm even in deep snow.
One night a blizzard came in and the temps got to zero and only my little face poked out of the snow. I hurriedly got up in the morning to meditate and did the usual gear packing when I picked up the boy scout tarp to fold it and it broke into pieces like a saltine cracker. I muttered something about the boy scouts and kept moving.
Another time there was a particularly fierce winter storm covering the town in deep snow as I got up about 5am to stand outside in the snow and do my morning yoga exercises before the actual sitting. As I was running in place in the snow a campus cop saw me and stopped his car and walked up to me wondering if he saw a ghost. When he asked me what I was doing outside in such cold weather, I just said one word: Yoga. He figured me for a burnt out case and left.
As I slept by the church I also started to sweep and mop it out voluntarily once a week, and by late 1983 the Pastor offered me a job as church sexton(janitor)and I accepted. I looked on the arrangement as a great opportunity to keep camping out and backpacking in the area while only requiring me to work two hours a week every Friday to prepare the church for its Sunday service. So I became a sort of wandering monk after all.
Though no one else knows or cares, I still remember with fondness this camping spot with the snow and cold and hellish winds which at times I thought would lift the church roof off and drop it down on top of me. That old red flannel deer-print green canvas bag I got when I was seven did its job and kept me alive. It has since disintegrated after hard use in the Stillwinds Tipi.
When the new church was built a half mile away, the little chapel I slept against was moved to be put next to the bigger building and the college bought up the vacant lot there and put an ugly parking lot where once I called home upon Grandmother's soothing breast. The old maple tree still stands next to the lot though many of its big limbs have been amputated. Or maybe by now it is gone.

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