When the fellows decided to build a cabin down at deer camp a few years ago, even I thought it was a good idea, and I hate improvements on nature.
But what could be wrong with a little one-room shack in the woods with a few bunk beds, a propane stove to cook on, a wood stove for heat, a dining table and a porch out front overlooking the river?
Then, when the cabin was built I tried to sleep there, only to discover Jack snores like a chain saw and Uncle Tommy like a buzz saw. All the fellows favor a tot of whiskey before bed, too. The tot usually takes till midnight to finish, leaving just a few hours to sleep, during which you couldn't sleep anyway for the racket.
After one night in the cabin I was hunting alternatives. The next year I brought a canvas cabin tent, spent the requisite 1 1/2 hours setting it up, rolled out my sleeping bag and enjoyed blissful peace until about midnight, when it grew bitter cold. I shivered awake and pretty much stayed that way.
The next evening I spent the requisite 1 1/2 hours taking down the tent in the rainy dark and decided winter tenting was not my shtick, either.
What about a camper trailer you could tow in and out? It sounded easy enough, so I bought a half-share in a used, fold-up model with a guy who swore he didn't snore. Sure enough, when we opened it, it folded right up. The roof supports were rusted and the 200-pound top came crashing down in a rumbling hail of twisted, broken metal.
Rather than spend the next month rebuilding, I reflected on my aging mother's lifelong code: Simplify!
How to spend a night or two at deer camp, or anywhere else in the wild, in a way that requires no work, money, time nor the sharing of space with those who snore?
Easy, answered a longtime student of matters practical, Manuel Munoz-Carrasco.
"I have found," he said, "that the best sleep I ever get is in the back of my car. This has become part of the pleasure of the outdoors for me."
Sleeping in a car always struck me as a solution of last resort, but Munoz takes life's comforts seriously and on his recommendation I decided to give it a try. We agreed to meet for the last two days of Maryland's deer season at a spot on the club grounds well away from the cabin.
Munoz has a huge Chevy Blazer but all I have is an antiquated AMC Eagle, a station wagon jacked-up for four-wheel drive. Would I have room?
I discovered the Eagle's front and back seats folded down, creating a six-foot-long flat place broken only for a foot or so by the void between the two seats. A square of plywood neatly filled the void, a roll of foam made a fine mattress and we were on the way.
A blustery wind blew rain in horizontal sheets when we left Washington, but 50 miles away at camp there was just a cold drizzle. We hiked into the woods with our tree stands on our backs, climbed trees in likely-looking spots and waited out the evening, but neither of us saw a deer.
We made our way back by flashlight to the cars, which were bathed in silver moonlight, a cold front having swept through and cleared the skies.
Dinner that night was taken in the roomy front seat of the Blazer with the heater blasting warmth and fandangos playing loud over the tape deck. Barren trees swayed to the cold northwester while we fed contentedly on Greek olives, goat cheese, pheasant, chicken, bakery bread and beer.
After dinner, we hiked to the place where beavers had dammed the creek and listened in the night to the whistles of wood ducks feeding in the swamp.
At 8:30, with nothing better to do, I was swaddled in my sleeping bag with the wind whooshing all around and the trees swaying. Briefly, I read by the courtesy light, and by 9 was sleeping, not to awaken until 6 a.m., an hour later than planned.
During the night the wind had roared in from Canada and built to gale force, leaving deer, which depend on sound and smell to warn them of danger, nervous about moving.
It was no hunting day, but refreshed by a long sleep we hunted hard anyway, walking miles of thick woods during the middle of the day and waiting patiently in our stands morning and evening. Again, neither of us saw a deer.
But that evening, as we rolled up the sleeping bags, tossed our junk into the luggage compartments and sped off home, I rated the trip a success.
In the never-ending quest to make things simpler, I'd learned how to do without one more thing: A place to sleep.
Not to be a scrooge, but on the eve of this season when people get smothered in stuff they don't really need, here is the Phillips guide to simplifying outdoor pursuits: Never buy a car you can't sleep in. Order everything from catalogues. Shopping just confuses you. Drink water. It's cheaper, better and easier to find than soda, beer or whiskey. Paddle. If you use a small boat, propel it yourself. It's good for you, and motors need fuel, care, and they break down when you need them. Walk. The day you need a cart to carry you around, stay home.