One of my favorite things about working in the field are the natural routines you fall into without even realizing.
A typical day in basecamp commenced sometime between 7:30 and 8:30am. The ample tree cover and eponymous Smoky Mountain haze kept the sun’s heat and brightness from our site and let us wake slowly. Early risers would lower the bear bag, and the rest of us would waddle over to the fire pit to spark the JetBoils into that oddly comforting and satisfying “WHSSSSH”. After the first two days, I quickly realized that having filtered water from the night before was hugely preferred to having to stumble down to the ice cold creek without the benefit of coffee. Breakfast decisions were pleasantly simple – definitely coffee and a choice of a few dehydrated sweet meals including the ubiquitous oatmeal, a strange “smoothie” dust, and a couple of tortured English muffins. We’d quietly eat together and watch Paul work his magic on the drip coffee he had brought and generously shared.
About 10am, the sun was just high enough to peek over the mountain to our east and the first rays of sun began to cast scattered puddles of light around the camp. Throughout the day, we all staged a strange ballet of moving wet boots, socks, and solar panels into these small and fast moving sun spots. The first few days of basecamp, our mornings were spent on various missions set by Andy, such as finding interesting smells or sketching forest inhabitants.
My favorite morning project was building a leaf speaker. Having just 30 minutes to complete it, we all ran off to collect materials that might be suitable to use in the project. I wasn’t so confident that I was going to be successful in making a speaker that worked, so I went for a more aesthetic appeal. I used a rhododendron leaf as the firm base to support the magnets and wrapped it with beech, False Solomon’s Seal, and evergreen wood fern. Surprisingly, the speaker worked fantastically when I plugged it in! The frills and added accroutements made it a little difficult to use as a speaker (in fact, it was a bit of a hazard), but it made for a rather pretty centerpiece.
As the week went on, we worked on our own independent projects like completing the EthoSmock and seeing if the ubiquitous blue butterflies preferred salt or sugar (result: neither).
Despite the variety of things people were working on and how we could become scattered throughout the day, we somehow always ate every meal together. The sound of the JetBoil at noon drew everyone back to the fire pit and we shared our growing knowledge of how best to rehydrate certain meals (e.g., critical that you re-hydrate the broccoli BEFORE the mashed potatoes). After lunch, we’d wander back to our projects and my favorite afternoon activity was sitting on a large rock in the middle of the creek just south of our camp looking for birds. Though the roar of the creek made it difficult to hear bird song, it was clear that the trees were full of Red-Breasted Grosbeaks, Carolina Chickadees, Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, House Finches, Golden-Crowned Kinglets, and Louisiana Waterthrush.
About 5pm, the light in our camp would start to dwindle and brought the campmates back to the fire pit to relax and prepare for the night ahead. People began filing down to the water collecting spot to filter water for cooking dinner and keeping overnight. The first JetBoils fired up at 6pm and information was traded on which Mountain House meals were the best, which needed more time to sit and re-hydrate, and which were destined to just be perpetually crunchy. After dinner, we all rushed to brush teeth and pile our fragrant items into the bear bags, which were promptly hung at 7:30pm each evening. Afterwards, we’d return to the fire pit and watch our expert fire tender, Shiva, create a stable and beautiful fire.
As the sun set, we’d talk, journal, and watch the daylight fade from the camp until we had lost all light at about 9:15pm. Early-to-bed campmates would trundle back to their tents, while the rest of us played word games around the fire and watched the fireflies invade our camp. The same few people would always still be up until midnight, and we’d sometimes foray out into the pitch black of the trail to call for owls, blink at fireflies with LEDs, and generally get spooked by the darkness of the woods surrounding our campsite. Finally, and usually after midnight, the last of us would stumble to tents and hammocks to restlessly sleep until the next day.