More Jackson County Opinions...

JANAURY 28, 2004


By: Kerri Testement
The Jackson Herald
January 28, 2004

Camping like a brat
My camping skills would make my former Girl Scouts leader squirm.
Then again, she never really had what it takes to survive in the outdoors, sans electricity or toilets.
When our troop couldn’t find a nearby scout camp to stay at one summer, we opted for a luxury hotel to learn about the “adventures of outdoor living.”
Sure, we ventured to the outdoor swimming pool and took long walks around Galveston’s historical district, but we also watched lots of pay-per-view television and gave room service a try.
That’s not exactly how young girls should learn about the “wilds” of another environment, but it was a memorable experience (in retrospect, I hope we didn’t earn a patch for that weekend at Hotel Galvez).
Actually, my troop did spend many weekends at scout-sponsored camps around Southeast Texas and my family took frequent camping trips.
But I didn’t realize that my definition of “camping” is far different from my husband’s definition of “camping” until a recent trip.
According to my style of camping, you find the site with the best amenities and nearby attractions, and pack your vehicle with plenty of food and entertainment.
My husband’s camping style, however, requires simply a worn tent, a small ax and some hot dogs.
As spoiled as my style of camping seems, there are plenty of you like that, too.
A recreational motorhome (those massive motorized RVs) can cost $100,000 or more, while a towable trailer can pull $25,000 from your wallet.
And I thought my family’s folding camper (average price: $5,000) was an inadequate piece of crap — at least compared to the trailers parked next to our camping site.
While our camper was purchased new, it didn’t have all those fancy gadgets taken from the convenience of home. We didn’t have a shower, radio or satellite television.
Those big RVs had all of that plus retractable walls, plush sofas, ice makers, queen-sized beds, and washer and dryers. Once parked at their camp site, the canopy usually rolled over an astro-turf area decorated with plastic lawn chairs and citronella candles.
And you were really “roughing it” if your campground didn’t provide sewage connections. That meant you were either forced to clean your RV’s waste tank or use the campground’s dingy restrooms.
But for my husband, camping just requires you finding a private spot and hoping your butt doesn’t touch poison ivy.
When we arrived at our camp site (not a designated camp site, just an open area at a national forest), we had to rely on the resources of the land for our food — with no campground quickie-mart in sight.
James first instructed me to gather firewood (after all, you can’t grill those hot dogs without a fire). I headed into the woods and searched the forest’s floor for dry firewood. I returned with a few twigs in my arms.
“Is that all you can find,” he questioned, while looking up from his work setting up the tent.
“Yeah, I couldn’t find anything else,” I said.
Noting the irony that we were surrounded by trees, he headed into the woods with the ax and made several return trips with firewood.
Meanwhile, I was given the task of setting up the tent. (Guess who ended up finishing that job, too).
We continued to work hard to get the fire going before sunset and grill the hot dogs. Instead of turning on a satellite television or typing on a laptop computer, we spent the night playing cards, talking and listening to a football game on the radio (from the car).
In the end, we both found a compromise to our definitions of camping.

Kerri Testement is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers, Inc. Her e-mail address is

Jackson County Opinion Index


By: Oscar Weinmeister
The Jackson Herald
January 28, 2004

Peachy Summer Job The Pits
On Monday, hammering ice off of my gloriously efficient heat pump, I started thinking about summer, and I was reminded of my parents’ plans to keep me interested in graduating from college by lining up horrible jobs for me whenever school was out. Point in question: picking peaches in 100 plus degree 90 percent humidity weather for the Fruit and Nut Tree Research Division of the USDA down in Byron.
Our cause was noble. Actually, I was there for the $3.15 an hour, but the people I was working for had a good cause: they were trying to determine the origins of “short life,” a condition which limited a peach tree’s productive years from 15 to about five. In other words, we picked a lot of peaches.
I had learned that peach fuzz in abundance acts very much like fiberglass when it gets under your skin, and so on the morning we showed up to pick an orchard 12 rows wide by 72 trees long, I sported long sleeves.
We were met at that orchard by one car full of eight brown skinned Spanish-speaking people. The car was a lead sled from the 70’s, and it had California plates. I was told these people had agreed to pick peaches at a rate of five cents a bushel, and with my pre-collegiate math skills, I determined they had to pick 68 bushels of peaches in an hour to make the same minimum wage I did.
I started in ducking under branches and suddenly found myself alone inside the shaded canopy of a single peach tree. I’d spot a peach hanging low from one of the rough branches, and I’d squeeze it, judging it too firm, too ripe, or just right. Picking those just right ones and dropping them into my padded plastic trap door bucket, I’d look for new targets, and pretty soon, I felt myself settling into a rhythm, knowing how firm a peach would be before I had touched it, proud that I’d made a lot of quick progress on my first tree.
When with a full picking bucket I emerged into the lane to make my contribution to common crates sitting in the lanes, I discovered that the Californian pickers were already on the 10th trees in their respective rows, with large crates full of nice peaches in their wake, waiting for inspection by scientists. I also discovered they were making quite a bit more than minimum wage.
By the time I finished my fourth or fifth tree, someone with decision-making authority guessed I might make a more meaningful contribution by sitting in the truck bed with a pen, recording pounds per square inch of pressure measurements called out in rapid succession by a serious man named Hal.
Hal was selecting peaches at random from those full crates and pushing a metal device against four sides of each fruit to see how much pressure it took for the skin to give. He repeated this procedure literally thousands of times calling out numbers like he might aspire to be an auctioneer, “One! One and a half! Two! One and three quarters! Next! Two! Two! One and a half! One and a half! Next!” and so forth. Each time he started a new peach, I’d have to move to a new line in the journal and start by recording the tree of origin according to where it grew on the grid.
After just a row’s worth of this activity, not only did I think I might be better at picking peaches, I began to suspect that my parents might have had some ulterior motive in suggesting that I work outdoors that summer.
Oscar Weinmeister is the assistant administrator of BJC Medical Center. He lives in Commerce.
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