Joyce Bupp, farm wife

All that remained to be cleared away from an impromptu overnighter last week were two gallon milk jugs full of water.

The “water jugs” started out as ice packs, frozen solid overnight in the freezer and popped into a thermal picnic cooler, along with a couple of iced, single-size, water bottles. We normally shy away from buying or using bottled water, having been blessed with wonderful water right here from the farm’s underground. I do keep a small stash of commercial water bottles on hand for emergency use, if needed.

In this case, we were headed for the hunting cabin in the mountains west of Williamsport and usable water there is a bit iffy. A connection to a mountain spring above the cabin served well for years, but in recent times, it’s become simpler to just take along a couple of gallon jugs of our “homegrown” water.

These two frozen jugs, however, were intended to keep cool the key purpose for our overnight trip: picking up an order of fingerling fish to stock one of our ponds. Uncertain of how they would be packaged, we loaded two large, thermal picnic coolers along with the frozen jugs. A little ice would melt overnight, but plenty of the large, frozen chunks would keep the baby fishies comfy and cool until we hustled them back home.

Even a “bare bones” overnight hunting camp trip requires a little planning and packing, despite how minimal we try to keep it. Some blankets, sweatshirts or sweaters, change of clothes, extra shoes and at least a little bit of foodstuffs are mandatory. With several well-stocked Amish-operated stores in the mountain valleys nearby, we prefer to shop locally there for supplies for our simple hunting camp meals: sandwiches, bonfire-roasted hot dogs, fresh and dried fruit, assorted snacks. Yogurt and bagels make an easy breakfast.

Although it lacks running water, the cabin, located on an old Civilian Conservation Corps site, is equipped with electric, including stove, refrigerators, radio, fans and a wood stove, all of them well-used and recycled from earlier lives. There’s even a TV if someone drags along a “dish” to hook it up.

But we prefer to go without TV. Books, magazines, maybe an iPad or laptop go along. But, internet and cellphone connections are iffy, and only a bit better if one trudges out to the middle of the paved road that passes by beyond a stand of pines. The Farmer simply likes to sit and watch the icy (even in midsummer) mountain stream that tumbles past just behind the cabin, while I lose myself in a book. Both of us, however, are ever alert to whatever birds visit the small open space around the camp and the surrounding hemlocks and hardwoods.

“Back-road” drives, both en route and around the camp’s valley and surrounding lush green mountains, are mini-adventure components of every trip. Main roads may get us there faster, but back roads are way more fun, interesting and sometimes, even memorable. Continuous traffic, coupled with miles of commercialization and traffic lights, are not our thing. We often get lost on back roads, but eventually find our way to something familiar or a helpful sign or road route number. Eventually.

Ever on the lookout for wildlife, The Farmer hit the brakes of his SUV on this trip as we rounded a rural-road bend and came nearly face-to-face with four beautiful deer meandering along the roadside grasses. Two were fawns, spotted and playful, cavorting about with their mother and a smaller, possibly yearling sister. Seemingly oblivious to us a few yards away on the opposite side of the road, the deer poked around and played for a couple of minutes before ambling off toward thick cover around a distant woodland home.

Farther along, we stumbled onto a small, covered bridge, pausing to read with amusement restored signs mounted on both entrances. The warning notice forbade driving more than 15 head of cattle across at a time, or crossing the bridge with “live fire,” with the threat of a $30 fine for doing either. That no doubt would have been a hefty monetary punishment if caught committing either infraction.

Along our meandering journey, we wandered through mountain valleys lush with fields of produce in long rows of plastic, acres of young tobacco plantings, and vegetable and flower gardens so pristine and weed-free that I cringed with the mental comparison to mine back home.

It turned out that we didn’t need the ice or the coolers. Two sturdy, sealed cardboard boxes held heavy plastic bags filled with mountain water and the fingerlings when we picked them up. They were still lively in the cool water held over cold gel-packs when they moved into their new pond home.

It was a short trip, but left lingering memories.

And I’m still wondering if any farmer ever had to cough up 30 bucks for getting caught sneaking an extra cow or two across that bridge.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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