When I was 17, a bunch of us were able to escape camp counselor duty one evening and drove past the Canadian border to wander around the streets of Quebec only to wind up in the waning post-midnight hours along the shores of Lake Willoughby.
Exhausted, energized from all we’d seen, and dreading the day’s regiment of duties, we settled around a smoky fire passing around our bottle of cheap wine. We had broken into a package of Oreos, but abandoned them as we tucked into our sandy sleeping bags for what dreams we could capture.
This memory I still carry with me: stirring to the overhead chatter of animals, hazy in my understanding of my surroundings, and watching as one by one, the Oreo cookies were taken by deft furry paws. Squirrels scrambled from limb to limb, predacious and intent on the vellum-wrapped package at the center of our circle. Within minutes of our waking, we’d found the cookies completely gone, and the rodents that had eaten them berserk from the sugar they’d consumed.
I remember this every time I encounter a “Do Not Feed The Animals” notice. Those squirrels did not need any sugar, surely. They did not intend to wake me and my compatriots with their adrenaline-fueled activity. But that morning they were as rowdy as the children we’d taken a break from, as cute and precious, as cumbersome and hard to ignore. We roused one another, dumped our gear into the trunk, and drove back to base camp without much conversation.
My lesson from this was to never pack Oreos on a camping trip. Instead I pack the hippie version, Newman-Os, which provides just the right amount of chocolate cookie flavor and not too much of the sugar. Best of all, the animals tend not to go for the stuff.
Of course, I have not learned my lesson entirely. Lately, this is what I have discovered that camp critters love to shove into their mouths:
1. M&Ms. Especially the peanut/peanut butter flavored ones. Especially if they happen to be loose in your makeup bag on top of the picnic table. Believe me, camp animals have figured out zippers!
2. Sunflower seeds. They may not like them, but they will try their best to get a taste of them. Hard plastic containers are no match for jaws of determined beasts. If they’ve left any seeds behind, it’s probably because they don’t like the flavor.
3. Snickerdoodles. Especially if they’re homemade and especially if you have brought them for the group to share, and you happen to leave them by the fire as you drunkenly and regrettably crawl into your tent without them.
What are you to do when the critters just waddle up to you and do their squeaky best to part you from your bread crumbs? Muster up your best Snow White/Tarzan/Beastman and remind them what happens to Mogwais after midnight.