Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 9.1.17
Stanstead, Quebec


Got wood?

In the 20-plus years my wife and I have been tent camping, we've barely changed our routine. We still pile our kitchen gear in a laundry basket - - as portable as it is inefficient. We use grocery bags to transport our dry goods, which before the end of the day are spread across the back seat. And our original luggage carrier doesn't so much sit on the roof as cling for dear life.

There have been some innovations. Moving from instant coffee to a French press was a revelation. And just this trip to PEI, I've learned that a tortilla can do more than two slices of bread can ever aspire to.

But generally we stick to tradition, including what we squabble over.

On arrival, it's the tarp.

I'm all for staying dry. Camping while wet is a recipe for incubating disease and malevolence. So we bring along the tarp in case there's a chance of rain. Of course, chance is subjective.

"We should be fine," I'll say.

"If it rains we'll need somewhere to sit," Deb will say.

"I don't think it's supposed to," I'll argue.

"But it might," Deb will reply.

Possibility trumps probability.

The reason I balk at setting up the tarp is because it's a great big pain in the impermeables. It involves ropes, trees and the planning acumen of the Army Corps of Engineers. You need to eyeball where the four corners will be and what trees you'll lash them to. Then you have to get your ropes high enough up those trees. You can do this two ways: climb the tree and spend the rest of the day picking sap off your skin; or tie a rock to the rope and fling it over a branch, hopefully not hitting yourself in the face in the process.

You tie this all to the tarp with a bowline knot, which is the coolest knot to know, as long as no one hears you muttering,"The snake comes out of the pond, goes around the tree, back into the pond…" It's a struggle, but done well, your camp will be perfectly dry. This is up for debate.

"It's going to run off on the tent."

"No, the low point's over here."

"But look, if the wind picks it up…"

"I can stake this side to the ground."

"That's right where we walk. Someone will trip."

So more sap.

As it happens, we discovered this trip that our tarp has passed its best-before date, as in it would have been best before we packed to check it. It had a few pinholes and leaked along the seam right over our picnic table. (Yes, it did rain.)

You might wonder why we don't merely buy one of those easy pop-up shelters. Simple: because it won't fit in our laundry basket.

Leaving is another matter. Deb's favourite part about camping is the fire, so she likes to stock up.

"We need wood."

"I just bought a bag."

"We'll go through that."

"I don't think we will."

"But we might."

On our way to our PEI park, we had stopped at the end of someone's driveway to place $5 in an honour box and haul away a massive plastic bag of cuttings. (Further on, another sign offered $5 wood plus a free bag of potatoes!)

On the site, the park provided a canvas bag for refilling at the woodshed. Shoving irregular pieces of jagged wood into canvas, however, is not especially efficient.

"Use the plastic bag," Deb suggested. The bigger plastic bag. The unsanctioned plastic bag. The potentially-get-kicked-out-of-the-park plastic bag.

I filled the plastic bag at the shed with far more wood than the canvas could have held and guiltily scurried back to the car, as much as one can scurry lugging 40 pounds of timber in a bag. Consequently, we had more than enough wood. But here's the thing: Deb always wants to bring the leftover wood home.

"We're not bringing the wood."

"We're bringing the wood."

"We still have two bundles from last year."

"We're bringing the wood."

"You're not supposed to transport wood. What about weevils? The pine-snatching mouth breather?"


"There's no room."

"There's always room."

As you can see, our firewood entails considerable illegal activity, with Deb as mastermind and me as accomplice or, as you might say in French, aiding and a-bois-ting. Or you might not.

But Deb has this annoying habit: she's usually right. There was room for the wood. But that's only because we threw the leaky tarp in the recycling.

It felt like a small victory.