It is a common blunder to pitch the tent directly under the " natural shelter " of a big tree. This is pleasant enough at midday, but makes the tent catch drip from dew and keeps it from drying after a rain; besides, it may be positively dangerous. One of the first things to do in choosing the tent site is to see that it is not within reach of falling limbs. A tree branch falling forty or fifty feet, and striking a tent at night, is something to be remembered — if you survive. Shun the neighborhood of tall trees that are shallow-rooted, and of those with brittle limbs (the aspens, poplars, Cottonwood, catalpa, butternut, yellow locust, silver maple), and any with unsound branches.
Dead trees are always unsafe. Every woodsman1 has often known them to come thundering down without the least warning when there was not scr much as a zephyr astir. A tree that leans toward camp from a steep hillside hard by is a menace, and! so is any near-by tree with a hollow butt.
I have never seen, noi heard of, a beech tree that had been struck by light ning, although beeches are plentiful on many battle scarred mountains where stricken trees of other species can be noted by the score. Miss Keeler says on this point: " There was so firm a belief among the Indians that a beech tree was proof against lightning that on the approach of a thunder-storm they took refuge under its branches with full assurance of safety. . . . This popular belief has recently had scientific verification. . . . The general conclusion from a series of experiments is that trees 1 poor in fat' like the oak, willow, poplar, maple, elm and ash, oppose much less resistance to the electric current than trees ' rich in fat' like the beech, chestnut, linden and birch".
In this connection I may note that there is no truth in the old adage that " lightning does not strike twice in the same place." At Takoma Park, a suburb of Washington, on July 19, 1915, a bolt of lightning struck an oak tree standing in the garden before the administration building of the Seventh-Day Adventists. After the storm had passed, several people went out from the building to view the damage done to the tree. Three of them lingered. A second bolt, from a clear sky, struck the same tree, killed tvvo of the people under it, and knocked the other unconscious.
Electricity follows not only the trunk of a tree but also the drip that falls from it in a rain.
In summer it is well to camp where one's tent will be shaded from the afternoon sun as otherwise it will get very hot, but morning sun should strike the tent fairly, to dry it, lest the canvas mildew and the interior get damp and musty. The wetter the climate, and the thicker the surrounding forest, the greater need of such exposure. Mildew attacks leather first, then woolens, and cottons last of all.
As a general rule, an easterly or southeasterly frontage is best, not only to admit early sunlight and rouse you betimes, but also because, in most regions, it is the quarter least given to high winds and driving rains. Sudden and violent storms usually come up out of the southwest. This is true nearly everywhere: hence the sailor calls his tarp hat a " sou-wester".
Other considerations may govern the case. In not weather we want exposure to whatever cool breezes may blow, and they are governed by local features. Late in the season we will take advantage of whatever natural windbreak we can find, such as the edge of a forest, the lee of a cliff, of a large rock, or of an evergreen thicket. This may make a difference of 10° oz 15 in temperature. A rock absorbs the sun's heat slowly all day and parts with it slowly at night.
A grassy glade or meadow is colder than bare earth, sand, or rock. The air on a knoll is considerably warmer than that of flat land only a few feet below it.
A camp should not be exposed to view from a public road nor be in the track of picnickers, idle countrymen, vagabonds, or other unwelcome guests. One can save much annoyance by a little forethought in this matter.
Often in traveling a party must put up for the night on unfavorable ground; but granting that there is much choice in the matter, then select, in summer, an open knoll, a low ridge, or, better, still, a bold, rocky point jutting out into a river or lake. A low promontory catches the breezes from both sides, which disperse fog and insects, and it is soon dried whenever the sun shines.
In cold weather seek an open, park-like spot in the forest, where surrounding trees will break the wind; or a "bench" (natural terrace backed by a cliff) on the leeward side of a hill. In the latter case, build your fire against the cliff, and shield the tent with a wind-break. The rock will reflect heat upon the tent, and will serve as a smoke-conductor as well.
On a hillside that is mostly bare, if there be a thicket or a cluster of evergreen trees, get on the downhill side of it. The stream of cold air from above will jump this obstacle and will leave an eddy of comparatively warm, still air immediately below it.
The best site for a fixed camp is near a river or lake, or on a bold, wooded islet, with a bathing beach, boating and fishing waters. A picturesque outlook is desirable, of course, but not if it makes the camp too prominent a landmark and so robs it of the privacy that refined people appreciate in camp as anywhere else.
The celerity with which a camp is made depends upon the training and willingness of the men, and the system by which their duties are parceled. Let us suppose that there are four in the party, besides the teamster or packer. Then let No. 1, who is cook, get out the provisions and utensils, rig up the fireplace, build a fire, and prepare the food for cooking, while No. 2 is rustling wood and water. Meantime Nos. 3 and 4 clear the ground and smooth it off, cut tent pegs and poles, unpack the tent, and summon all hands for a minute, if they are needed, to assist in raising the tent and pegging it " square." Then the cook goes on with his proper duties, the axeman cuts and beds a chop-ping-block and gets in night-wood, and the canvas-men turn bed-makers. Thus, by the time supper is ready, which will be within an hour, or less, the camp will be properly made, and every one's work is done save the unfortunate scullion's.