After re-reading On Camping, I get the feeling that much of it feels rushed and I glossed over important aspects of camping that I would have rather not. My roommate confirmed these assumptions, and since today is his birthday, this special redux edition of On Lives goes out to you, Greg.
Survival Camping: The New Frontier
On a recent trip, we ran into a very Elfish-looking creature, a young human man on the cusp of his twentieth year. He greeted us with a cheery smile each time we passed him on the trail, and everyone in our group was drawn to him in some way. He had very little on his person but looked extremely refreshed and comfortable, and on his feet he wore moccasins! Actual shoes made of leather, shoes that one would imagine a Native American to have fashioned.
He showed us how to eat some of the local flora and told us why mushrooms are the hardest items to forage. The basic idea of his camping trip, him sans a large overnight bag like the ones that were weighing our group down, was to bring as little as possible into the wilderness and see how many days he could live on the trail and off the land for. We broke bread with him in the form of pine nuts from pine cones as well as over-ripened hobble berries from the surrounding bushes. And then, as quickly as he had swept into our lives, he blew away like the evening wind.
With so little, how did he survive? He slept under the stars at night, with nothing around him or under him except the grass and a long sleeve shirt. Were his foraging skills enough to get him through the days? What if he ate something poisonous? And this was his idea of fun? To emulate the life of frontiersman and settlers of centuries past?
Foraging and Mushrooms
One of the most abundant sources of food and death on the trail are mushrooms. Mushrooms grow everywhere, especially in the damp and cool climates that many mountainous areas provide. All one has to do is pay attention.
Foraging mushrooms is the same way some varieties appear at the store; there are even hikers who hit the hills to bring back mushroom supplies for local restaurants at a hefty price. It’s funny how all of those plastic and Styrofoam packed mushrooms lining the shelves of supermarkets everywhere are much more appealing than the ones seen on the forest floor while many are exactly the same.
Mushrooms live in a strange world and are strange entities in themselves. Everywhere, earthen colors prevail: The green of trees and foliage, the gray of rocks and stones, the brown of the dirt and earth itself. Popping out from this landscape are the orange, blues, whites, and purples of many mushroom families, and just the colors of these decomposers alone scream, “Don’t eat me!”
But with the proper knowledge, it is possible to collect mushrooms on the trail and once the sun goes down, to flick on the stove, and fry them with a little olive oil, (salt to taste), and one has all the food they need to get through the night.
How were these books on foraging written? Experimentation, perhaps? How many people have died as a result of eating poisonous mushrooms? Are the authors people who have been poisoned themselves and lived to write about the experience?
If you have a few males and a few females on a camping trip, chances are you’re going to run into drama. Males tend to want to travel further and explore more treacherous terrain, live life closer to the edge during their few days of escape. How close can you really get to the edge, though, when in any fifteen to forty-five minute interval, there are groups of other hikers pouring down the trail and smiling and greeting you as they pass? It’s not like we’re crossing a desert while hiking or always on the lookout for thieves.
(As an aside, one thing that should be mentioned is that a feeling of amiability prevails the wilderness atmosphere. The woods seem to give all who roam there a license to smile at anyone they see; maybe it’s because everyone shares the common interest and love for the outdoors. It seems only natural when walking in the middle of the woods alone, to greet and act gregarious toward another person walking on the same trail.)
Also with different genders on trips, jobs and activities some times revert back to the old style stereotypes. The male pitches the tent, the male gathers the kindling, the female cooks the food, the female keeps the campsite organized. It is important to note that this is not necessarily the norm; I love to cook on a camping trip and love it when a girl takes the initiative and sets up the tent and builds the fire. Whatever the difference or perceived difference between males and females, camping can bring these matters to the forefront.
A Final Note On Modern Amenities
No matter how far from civilization, no matter how much we rely on modern amenities and supermarkets to provide us with comfort and food, the freshest eats and water can be found out there, out in the wild. On our last trip, spring water was gushing from the side of the mountain like so much blood flowing from the heart of the wilderness. It was an oasis in the middle of the forest, the water of which could be drunk without any sort of treatment or filtration. Cold and crisp, the water rolled into my chest, and it felt as if I were taking a drink from the very essence of life itself.