I have a time capsule I run across at least once a year when I pull out the camp gear. It stands out, because it is one of the only things I still have from the age of thirteen. It is a scuba mask, complete with a snorkel and a pair of fins, and I remember that I saved up two consecutive weeks of my paper route money to buy this set from the local Canadian Tire.
A strange kind of malaise settled over me around that age. I had a general feeling of discontent, that I wanted to run away from the trappings of civilization, to become a wild outlaw and live a life of daring outside of the rules of civilized society.
The mask and fins were just part of that equation. Their function was in food collection. The plan was to go directly underwater to the fish, and spear them. My friends and I, we wanted to live in the wild, eating food we hunted ourselves as a mark of bravery.
We put that plan to the test. A small band of us went deep in the woods, armed with a rag-tag collection of army surplus gear. Our sanguine preparations did not include food – that was to be gathered in the wild. We had stoked up on Bradford Angier’s “At Home in the Woods” which advised that a good meal could be had if you could catch a snapping turtle. A true woodsman would turn the turtle over, and cook the whole thing in the shell over a fire.
Our destination was Warsaw Caves conservation area, a virgin forest with a swamp full of deadfall trees in the middle. In that swamp lived a number of ancient snapping turtles. Full of verve and without any sense of hubris, we descended on the woods, willing to get a bit dirty in order to throw off the shackles of civilization. We sat around a camp fire the first night, savouring our temporary freedom and smelling of smoke and lake water. Together we perused the mysteries of women, the chores we would avoid, and the dupes and losers we had left behind. Our plan was on the horizon, based on the sage advice of survivalist Bradford Angier. We had merely to go to the woods to find our wild game and take it.
But snapping turtles are crafty; there is a reason they have survived since prehistoric times. Although leaden and slow on land, they are at home in the water, and thoroughly without conscience. We chased the snappers from above on a criss-cross of deadfall trees over a swamp, taunting and herding them with weather-worn branches about the width of our arm. The first sign of trouble arrived when we realized that a wily snapper could bite through a good sized wooden branch, and it made us wonder what they could do to an arm or a leg. I got one enormous turtle cornered at the edge of a pond, and grabbed it by the tail, confident that once I got in on land and flipped it on its back, it would be easy prey. The snapper, with the strength and steadiness of a plough horse, dragged me into the water and abruptly turned on me, snapping within inches of my fingers. Needless to say, I let go. The rabbit snares and the figure four deadfall traps we had set earlier in the day did not yield any supper either. The only food to be had in the woods was us, and the mosquitoes and flies were eating us alive.
Finally in disarray and defeat, we ran cold, hungry, and itchy to an outpost of civilization, the general store of the campground. There we pooled our spare change and bought a box of Rice Crispies which we wolfed down straight out of the box with our hands, without the benefit of milk or bowl.
Our trip ended with some concessions to reality. We began to be homesick, wondering what our other friends (the dupes and losers) were up to back at home. One guy was imagining what his Mom was cooking for supper. Another talked about the huge hamburger he was going to buy the minute he hit civilization. The bad-ass outlaw plan was on hold… at least for now.
Dial ahead forty years to fifty-something. A strange kind of malaise settled over me around that age. I had a general feeling of discontent, that I wanted to run away from the trappings of civilization, to become a wild outlaw and live a life of daring outside of the rules of civilized society.
A yearly camping ritual started around that time, a group of guys seeking a common answer to an age-old problem. We sat around a camp fire the first night, savouring our temporary freedom and smelling of smoke and lake water. Together we perused the mysteries of women, the chores we would avoid, and the dupes and losers we had left behind. Our plan was on the horizon. Once in the woods we got out our fishing rods, and boldly descended on the lake to gather our supper. We did not however, end up catching anything big enough to keep. We kept reeling them in and throwing them back again. We were looking for a fish fry that was not to be.
We went for a consolation swim, which was great only until we found out that we were not alone. The water seemed to host a number of very large snakes, which were feeding on the very same fish we were trying to catch. The snakes were about as long as we were. Valour quickly vanished with excuses to get out of the water. I later found that what we had seen is the Northern Water Snake. A large snake which resembles a poisonous copperhead swimming right beside you, might take some of the starch out of your sails. Let’s just say the presence of oversized snakes in the swimming hole tends to separate the men from the boys.
Our trip ended with some concessions to reality. We began to be homesick, wondering what our other friends (the dupes and losers) were up to back at home. One guy was imagining what his wife was cooking for supper. Another talked about the huge hamburger he was going to buy the minute he hit civilization. One man started to gaze at his phone, looking at snap chats of his new grandson.
I run into that snorkel gear at least once a year when I go through my camping stuff. It is over 45 years old now, but the sight of it fills me with the same sense of longing as if it were purchased yesterday. It’s a time capsule which reminds me of an inner cave man waiting to be called forth from the shadows.
The bad-ass outlaw plan is on hold… at least for now. But a week in the woods is coming up again next year with the same group of guys. That snorkel gear is still calling out to me. It’s saying, “Stick with the plan, you fool”.
I am working on it. Next year for sure.