Interviewer: Edith, thanks for taking the time to meet today. It sure would’ve been easier by phone, or when I stopped by the campsite in the summer, but I’m glad I tracked you two down here in your Arizona digs.
Edith: Welcome off the grid, son. Hope you get what you need for your blog business. Yup, we had no time for talking on the job. It’s hard work hosting the campground…Clarence will bring over some bratwurst in a bit, but you can start asking me questions. He won’t have much to say anyway.
Interviewer: So, how did it go up in Idaho this season?
Edith: Once again it was fixin’ to be a problem, but I—uh, we—kept order up there as usual.
I: Is it getting more difficult with the big influx of Californians?
E: Oh no, they ain’t the problem. Hardly come out of their RVs, seldom use the firepits or leave out stuff for the bears. They just watch the Dish and go to town. Even use their own bathrooms. Only problem is when they run the generators after-hours is all.
I: So that’s your ideal guest?
E: Well, it ain’t exactly like camping looked when we started this back in the 90s, but for Clarence ‘n’ me it lightens the load.
I: Tell me about that. You said that it’s demanding work—most would think it’s more like a vacation job, getting to live in the mountains and all.
E: You call enforcing the law a vacation?
I: You don’t wear badges, though, right?
E: Exactly. Law enforcement with no badge. Tougher than being a cop, I’d say.
I: Okay, sure. But these are campground rules and regulations that are sometimes broken, not so much “laws,” correct?
E: Rules, regulations, laws…call it what you want. And it ain’t just “sometimes.” You got folks violating the extra-car rule, going after firewood, running generators after hours, backing in all wrong, pilfering toilet paper…and off-site we deal with the dispersed campers. And most of all the bear safety violations. We gave out a couple dozen bear attractant fines this season alone.
I: Let’s get to some of your list later, but tell me about the bear attractants—campers leaving out food and such?
E: Well sure, food, but also “grey water” from their sinks. Bears go after that too. And the Yetis.
I: Abominable snowmen? The Sasquatch? Are mythological creatures showing up there?
E: No, dummy. Yeti coolers. Bears go for ‘em. But Sasquatch would too, I suppose.
I: So, coolers with food are left out, and bears can smell it through the seal?
E: Food or not. They just like the Yetis. And the old Colemans, if they’re red.
I: So, let me get this straight, you fine guests not only for leaving out food or dirty water, but empty coolers?
E: That’s right. And for music after 9 pm.
I: Getting off the bear topic, but yes, I’d imagine loud music could be a problem.
E: Loud or not. Bears have keen hearing.
I: Excuse me?
E: And apparently you don’t. I said, “bears have keen hearing.”
I: Yes, I heard that. What does that have to do with people disturbing the peace with music?
E: Bear attractant. For sure we want a nice, quiet campsite, but the bigger thing is that bears take to the music.
I: Fascinating. Any kind in particular?
E: Well, we don’t have grizzlies in that area, so I can’t speak for them, but I ‘spect they’d take to it too.
I: I mean, are the bears attracted to a particular genre of music?
[Clarence shows up with the bratwurst.]
E: Hey Clarence, this city boy wants to ask the bears what musics they like…
Clarence: Ha, I don’t recommend dat. You askin’ for it, trying to talk it up with dem creatures.
I: Okay, fine. Not exactly what I meant…any other bear attractants you’ve fined guests for?
E: Oh, just the usual: suntan lotion, mosquito spray, campfires not put out…
I: I’ve heard about lotions and sprays, emitting an unnatural scent that might attract bears. The campfire thing, though?
Clarence: Oh, hell yeah. Bears like ‘em. They’re in fer red.
I: Excuse me, did you say that they can see infrared?
C: Not sure what you’re going on ‘bout, city boy. They’re in fer red, you know…ain’t you seen hot coals at night? Red. Like the coolers.
I: So, you’re not fining people for untended fires as a forest fire risk so much as for their appeal to bears?
E: Well, could be for both: Up to $5000 and six months in jail for each violation.
I: So, if guests leave their site and the firepit is at all warm to the touch, you would fine them $10,000 and they’d spend a year in jail?
E: I wish.
I: So, you don’t fine them that much?
E: Forest Service has to give the full punishment, and they tend to stay out of it: bunch of red tape. But we can hit ‘em for $250.
C: And we done done it, I tell ya.
I: And what if they’ve already left?
C: We got them’s plates. We report ‘em.
E: And we’ll remember them. Ain’t never they stay in our campground again, reservation or no.
I: Okay, well, it appears you take this seriously. So, back to the firepit thing. I’ve noticed how you rake out the campsites thoroughly. Is that to keep kindling away from the firepit and ensure that the fire stays contained?
E: It makes the campsite pretty for the next guest.
I: But the raked-out ground isn’t very natural looking; that has to be more about the fire safety.
E: Whatever you say, Boise Boy. We take pride in the raking.
I: Okay, I see that. But tell me this, you’ve got a raked-out dirt-and-gravel campsite, but you don’t want people foraging for deadfall just outside the site. You must want at least want those areas to look pristine, right?
C: We sell firewood bundles, so they ain’t supposed to get it free.
I: I guess that’s all part of the business model. But if people just pick up sticks and brush, not running loud chainsaws, isn’t that harmless while also reducing the forest fire risk?
E: You’re really on the forest fire kick, kid.
I: Well, I do believe that was a problem again last season.
E: What, folks not coming up on account of the smoke, with no refunds? That was a win-win!
I: A “win-win”? How was that good for them?
E: No, for us. A win for me and a win for Clarence.
C: Maybe not for my lung condition, though. But yeah, less work.
I: Right. Tell me about the dispersed campers. Isn’t that outside your jurisdiction?
E: The mountains is our jurisdiction.
I: Well, I don’t think that’s accurate…but what’s the problem with the dispersed campsites? Noise, trash? I’ve camped in that area east of your campsite and, in my estimation, everyone was well-mannered.
E: The problem is the altercations…plus they’re noisy folk. Children screaming, people hauling their trendy paddleboards through the bushes and getting out on our lake and whooping it up.
I: I’m sure the kids are just having fun—and aren’t guests from your campsite making a to-do on the water also? Sounds like you might be a bit jealous that groups are having a fine time without your supervision.
E: Without supervision? No, we go on over there, alright.
I: Okay, that explains the altercations. But enough about that. So, what’s the most unpleasant part of the job? Cleaning the outhouses?
E: That ain’t so bad compared to the rest.
C: Speak fer yourself, old lady. [To Interviewer:] That’s my job.
I: Ha, I see. By the way, these brats really are tasty. Thanks, Clarence!
C: Everyone likes ‘em. It’s bear.
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