We stopped at Menindee Lakes earlier this year. We were careful to hit off-season and were delighted to find the place pretty much deserted. We could free camp right next to one of the lakes in the immediate area. We chose the one that did not support motorboats.
It was a great beach that stretched across a mile or two bordered on one side by a dirt road, and inset with a ribbon of trees that provided enough shade to make camping in the sand a great place to set up.
Everyone was so busy playing and enjoying the day that the night caught them unawares and suddenly families, who should have gathered firewood while the sun shone were left to the devices of their flashlights and children running in every direction other than the one their father wanted them to run in. I was not sure whether it was the thrill of the idea of a campfire or being allowed to search real darkness with their very own flashlights. Certainly, some learned about WHY you should never shine a flashlight that claims the brightness of 10,000 candles, directly into your eyes. Mainly they were fathers. Fathers who unwittingly allowed the cute kid to hold the flashlight and believed him when he promised to be careful, even though dad could neither see his eyes nor if the butter was even melting in his mouth. Some fathers yelped, some screamed, but the children just laughed …. after they dropped the flashlight and were running, of course. Who could tell who did what in all that confusion?
We had our firewood. Of course, we did. We had Derek and Derek was collecting his wood just as soon as he had gone through his point 837 of his checklist of things a responsible person does when they are caravanning. Except parking. He does that several times. Not because he cannot park like a pro but because he is a perfectionist and in the event someone ever comes around and there are prizes on offer for the most perfectly parked caravan, measured to determine if the borders on all sides match perfectly, demonstrating one has perfectly occupied the space one was allotted …. he is going to take that prize … hands down. Collecting firewood for the evening fire is number 839 and follows chaining up all the items to be left outside that might be picked up by someone else during the night. You have no idea how hard I had to fight to convince him I did not need to be chained to the kayak. At first, I thought it might be because he treasured me but I am pretty sure it is because he figures it would make it harder for anyone to steal the kayak.
Still, we sat out for a long time that first night. Eventually, Derek decided he would get some more wood. Well, that is what he said. I think he saw all those kids running around with their flashlights and he wanted to prove he had the mother of all flashlights. So off he set. You have to picture this. We are all set up in a line down the beach, hidden in the trees and far enough apart that you really do not see one another . . . until night time when all the fires get lit. It is kind of shocking actually. You thought you were really isolated and alone and suddenly you are not. That is when you start trying to remember where you were standing when you walked out naked and whether the tree is at the right angle to have blocked those camps from seeing anything. Up and down the beach fires set back on the edge of the trees. It is late. The kids are still laughing and squealing but they are contained.
Out goes Derek with a 10 million candle flashlight. He is the halftime show. All eyes are on him. He shines the light one way or the other. Boats begin to dock from far out in sea. Airplanes try to land. From far out beyond our galaxy, alien ships are speeding towards this new light source as their sun dies. He is picking up bits and pieces of wood. And then, he swings the light around in a new direction to source out more wood and there, caught in the beam and almost within touching distance in front of him, are cows. Derek and the cows. A staring contest. Neither blinks. The world stops. The children scream. Monsters on the beach! The cattle begin to moo. I am pretty sure it was a “shut up for crying out loud, have you never seen a cow before” kind of moo, directed at the screaming children. We are surrounded by cows. Suddenly mothers and children alike realize that the mud on the bottom of the kids’ feet after playing all day is not mud at all. Now there is flinging and screaming and the sound of mud hitting … tent walls.
Derek does what any former farmer does, he begins to whisper to the cows, they mind meld in a way that would have made even Spock tear up. He motions to the cows, they nod and begin towards him, ignoring the screams that surround them, unaffected by the cruel taunts of the children that they are monsters. They walk to him and past him, kind of like moths to the flame only without a lot of flapping of wings which may or may not have been because cows do not have wings. He lights the way for them because I am sure they have never known the way before this fateful night of deliverance. They probably mind-meld blabbed about how every night they would make it to that point and then sit down and cry because it was so dark and they did not know how to go on. Perhaps they had even prayed for a man such as him, dressed only in shorts, bare-chested among the sand flies, searching for wood, with a gift for cow whispering and a big ass light.
All around we can hear the other camps. The children are crying because well … cows. The cows are all mooing. They are all around us. They want to come through the trees and get to the beach so they can walk along it to wherever they are going, making lots of new “mud” along the beach. They are big. I am sure if they could just see how tiny some of the children were they would have braved the insanity and run towards the light but alas, they appear to be confused and so they stand, defeated by the miniature hysteria. The man on the beach has returned to his camp and turned off his light because he is a married man . . . he senses his wife is waiting for the wood in a fire that is dying … and he wants to live. Every now and then the fire catches a pair of eyes in the dark. They are everywhere. They will surely walk through the kids tents and trample them during the night. We spend the next few hours watching families, with their inferior flashlights, searching all around them . . . for cows. I have no idea what they will do if they find them.
Is it worse to find one or to not find any and just know they are there?
It was a long night.
The cows left behind are bitter, their resentment fills the night. We decided we should seek out the safety of the caravan. We barely escaped with our lives and one of the cows had decided it would be funny to drop “mud” right on our doorstep. We slept, unaware, while a cow protest pooped.
Many families packed up and left at first light. I was not imagining the hated looks they threw at us as they drove by. All because Derek blew their cover and pulled the curtain back and showed the kids cows.
Some things are unforgivable. We live in a world that treasures its ignorance. We moved on from Meninee. There is a whole world of children out there, just waiting for us to shatter their dreams….