My childhood home sat at the edge of miles of inviting woods waiting expectantly for adventurous explorers. We found caves, huge rock formations, creeks that had never been named, and a rusted Rambler pickup truck someone abandoned miles from a road.
We ran the hills at every opportunity. I struggled with asthma, and I am certain the strenuous exercise laid a good foundation for my future. I’ve never grown tired of hiking.
I love the woods, but I have no desire to spend the night therein. Woods are creepy in the dark, and bugs crawl out of their hidey holes at dusk to dine on anything warm. Now that houses have been invented, there is a better way. I am partial to flush toilets, proper lighting, and a solid floor I can navigate in the dark without stepping on or in something.
My older brother, Rick, and his friends loved to camp, especially backpacking which dictates taking what you can carry and nothing more. Think of extreme camping.
One year Rick and his gang planned a weekend backpack excursion. They packed no food, opting to live off the bountiful provisions of the land. Their gear included rifles and a couple of fishing lines, although I don’t recall any serious trout streams nearby.
I listened with awe as they described the prospect of hunting, trapping, and fishing for meat. Berries would be dessert and dried leaves could function as necessary paper. It would be a Thanksgiving meal like no other.
The woodsmen clanked and rattled up the dirt path leading from our home to the untamed wilderness. What they couldn’t fit into their homemade backpacks, they hung from the sides. Clink. Clank. Tinkle.
The pioneers, on their journey of discovery, disappeared from sight as the sun dropped below the western hilltops.
Early next morning I packed a peanut butter sandwich and ventured out on my own excursion—to spy on the mountain men. I had a general idea of their location. After miles of hiking in the misty morning, I detected the unmistakable aroma of a campfire.
I carefully approached the camp, and found a spot where I could see but not be seen. After many minutes of watching, I had detected no signs of life. Odd. Perhaps something happened. I moved closer.
Little pup tents formed an arc around the smoldering fire. The men were zonked out inside, oblivious to nature or anything else. The morning’s hunt must have been an ordeal.
Above the fire, roasting in preparation for the noon meal was the game they harvested. I never knew who shot it, but bagging that animal took skill. It was skinned, gutted and slowly roasting, just the way wild meat is supposed to be enjoyed. I expected a buffalo, a deer, or even Farmer Brown’s cow. Instead, I saw a tiny chipmunk who gave his life to sustain three large and very hungry high school boys.
My laugh disturbed the sleeping beauties, who exited their tents with the one question.
“What do you have to eat in that pack?”
Adrenalin is a wonderful fuel additive. I kicked my feet into overdrive and ran. Those hungry monsters chased me across one hill then dropped behind. The fittest, or maybe the fastest, do survive.
I stopped a couple of hills later and enjoyed my sandwich in solitude.
Maybe there is something to living off the land.