A Sleepover with Friends

Deon Matzen

© Copyright 2021 by Deon Matzen

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay..

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.--Vincent Van Gogh

For most of my life I have liked sleeping outdoors, not an easy fete when you live in the Puget Sound Basin of Western Washington, where it frequently rains. I did it as a child and still do it as an adult sleeping on the deck or the back patio. My longest season of sleeping outdoors came when I lived on a small farm in Redmond, Washington in the 1950s. My Dad, having purchased a new canvas wall in hopes of encouraging my Mom to participate, allowed my sis and I to spend almost five months sleeping continuously outdoors.

There are disadvantages to sleeping in a tent, and it is not my favorite choice for sleeping outdoors as I like to wake and watch the stars, but the tent allowed for us to sleep out even through misty rains that are common to our area, however, if you are touching the walls of a canvas tent in the rain, you will get wet. Tents do allow for a certain amount of security and protection from the elements and critters that frequent the night.

Over the years, various varmints have found my sleeping on the ground a good place for them to keep warm. I have slept on picnic tables in campgrounds to avoid rattlesnakes crawling inside my sleeping bag. I slepted on the ground for many years until one night I awoke to a slug sucking on my neck. That was it for my lying down on a tarp in the dirt or just on the grass. I have slept in my old Volvo station wagon with the back door open so I could look out at the stars through the hatch window. Now we have a queen-sized air bed with complete bed coverings, including sheets and a handmade quilt, which arenít too practical when a shower comes through but we keep a plastic tarp under the edge of the mattress for this type of emergency. All we need to do is pull it out and cover ourselves. If it is raining too hard, we cover the bed and retreat to the house where it is dry and warmer.

Well, having just moved to the farm the previous winter, the first summer after fourth grade, my sis and I wanted to try sleeping out, our first experience since we had moved to the farm and our first experience ever, it was more private. I was nine and she was five. My dad bought us new the Dacron, washable sleeping bags, a much improved and lighter weight version than the old-fashioned kapok that was previously available. Back then we didnít sleep on any padding; we just lay down on the brick patio outside the back door. It seemed very cold and hard compared to my bed in the house. It was also very dark as there were no streetlights or even a barn light. My eyes became accustomed to the darkness and I could see shapes and forms in the night, the barn, the chicken house, the dog house, though we had yet to acquire a dog. Back then, we didnít light up the countryside with outdoor lighting. (I still donít, and the advantage is that one can see the stars in the sky). It took a long time for me to fall asleep that night. The newness of everything, the new and wonderful sleeping bags, being outdoors at night, seeing stars and hearing all kinds of sounds, night birds, coyotes, the horse walking around, the chickens grumbling in the henhouse. There was a lot happening to keep me alert. I must admit, I WAS SCARED! I neednít have been because I could always run indoors and jump in my own warm bed. I fell asleep, probably a lot faster than it seemed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke. Probably not surprising because of the newness of this adventure and allowing for the fact that I was only nine years old.

What had awoken me? I lay still and listened. Something was walking across the foot of my sleeping bag and making snuffling noises. We had barn cats who roamed the yard and barn at night looking for critters, but the snuffling didnít sound right, cats donít snuffle and ours would have probably tried to crawl into the sleeping bag with me for warmth, which I would have welcomed at that point. I looked across at my sister who was sound asleep not noticing a thing. I had had my head under the covers as I was cold and had discovered this helped me keep warm. Sleeping outdoors in summer, especially in Western Washington is a chilly affair.

Finally, I decided to see what had decided to repose at the foot of my ďbedĒ. I peered out. I could clearly make out something white in the darkness, sitting on the foot of my sleeping bag, sniffing around. It was a skunk! I didnít dare move. He was probably enjoying a little nighttime warmth there. I knew all about skunks. I knew how they smelled, I knew how they enjoyed the henís eggs, not to mention, the hens, how they would take the lid off the garbage can and raid it for goodies. It only took one look. I just did the ostrich thing and pulled the covers back over my head. I could visualize having to throw away my sleeping bag if this varmint decided to let go out of fright from encountering me underneath him. However, the visitor hung around the warmth for a while longer and then moseyed off to do whatever skunks do at night, eat chickens and such.

Since skunks could be a problem, my sis and I decided it would be best to move our sleeping arrangements to the barn loft which was half filled with hay. This became our preferred sleeping spot until the advent of the canvas wall tent. And besides, it smelled of wonderful hay. I made myself a cozy little nest of soft, loose hay surrounded by bales, like my own room, which afforded some privacy and warmth, but still allowed me to look out the large loft door at the sky where the stars were clearly visible. Pesky skunks could not climb the ladder to the loft, but the barn cats thought snuggling was pretty cool, or should I say warm.

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