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Stayin’ Alive

Almost exactly ten years ago (I forget, really) Dys and I had just gotten married and moved out of Virginia, and I was settling into my first autumn in our new home in the rural Midwest.  I was looking forward to my first hunting season with my father-in-law, who traditionally spent a bit more time hunting than my own dad usually did.  So while I was busy figuring out what on Earth I needed for a hunting season in a new environment, Dys happened to be at a library book sale and picked up a “withdrawn” copy of Bradford Angier’s How to Stay Alive in the Woods.

Neither of us really thought I was going to be in need of some survival guide that would tell me how to light a signal fire by snaring two rabbits with my shoelaces and then rubbing them together.  Nevertheless, I happily read the book that year just to continue getting my brain into thinking outdoors-ishly.

Angier himself was a Boston editor who was heavily into Thoreau, and decided along with his wife to chuck it all to the wind, buy himself a little chunk of land way out in British Columbia, slap together a cabin and live off the land.  And, frankly, his book really reads like the work of some stodgy Boston Brahmin.  It abounds with phrases like the following (I’m making this up for effect, but trust me.)  “Perhaps you’ll find yourself lost in the woods.  Perhaps you’ll decide that you’re hungry.  If so, you will likely find that you can make tea with spruce needles using a container made of a handy bit of birchbark.  You may be lucky enough to find a beaver which was pinned when the tree he was gnawing fell onto him.  Beaver meat is both rich, savory, and contains a generous amount of calorie-rich fat.  Many find the unusually large liver especially toothsome.”

And no shit, in and amongst all the talk about how to improvise traps and snares for animals, there is one paragraph in which his advice is almost word-for-word something like “You can also make a bow.  Of course skill in building and using such a tool varies, but if you have the wherewithal to survive in the woods, you are apt to do very well.”

I guess that means “Every kid over the age of four knows how to make a bow.  If you can’t hit shit with your newly-made bow, I guess you were doomed to die of dipshititude anyway.”

I make fun of the book with good reason, but it’s a good read.  There is a lot of good information there buried by rather dated turns of phrase, and sometimes the turn of phrase itself evokes the image of some old-time woodsman.  That’s cool in and of itself.  Ultimately, the book offered me more or less zero in terms of advice that I’ve ever had to put into practice.  But it was good to put me in a forest frame of mind after a few years of city living…thinking about game trails, and changes in terrain, and wilderness hazards, and most of all about the value of observing and thinking even when things take a bad turn.  With those things under my belt, I went into my first hunting season in a new environment with a healthy amount of confidence.

It’s been almost seven years now since I’ve pulled the trigger of my shotgun.  We live now in a town far away from our families’ traditional hunting grounds, and we don’t really know anybody locally that hunts or has land on which to do so.  I miss it occasionally…the long walks in the quiet, paying attention to all the smallest details in trying to discern meaning and patterns, are good for the soul, I think…but I don’t miss it terribly.  I think hunting is important to my heritage, but it’s not a vital part of me per se.

But I still find myself reading How to Stay Alive in the Woods every fall, just to remind my urbanized brain of what it’s like out there in the quiet places.


10 Responses

  1. I’m (as you know) a bit of a nature freak, so I would totally dig that kind of thing. Your description of the beaver nearly wet myself. Increasing age is a terrible thing. 😉

    I am not a hunter, but really approve of the idea of hunting for food. It’s when people shoot for sport and don’t take it home and eat it that I get really mad.

    I’m barely exaggerating about the beaver. He goes on about how the tail can be cooked, etc. And he definitely used the word “toothsome” in regard for some animal’s “unusually large liver.” I think it was the beaver but it may have been another animal.

    We butchered everything we killed, prepared some of the meat using a meat grinder, and sent some off to a meat processor. Each hunter usually ended up with about 40 pounds of ground meat and/or sausage, a few roasts, several pounds of tenderloin, etc. My father-in-law will still bring us a cooler full every now and then if they come visit us within the month or so after the end of hunting season.

  2. I’m with Suzy. I’ve got nothing against ethical hunters at all, it’s the poachers I just don’t understand. I don’t think I could hunt. I don’t even like the idea of fishing and tossing them back. It always just seemed so mean!

    Oh stop looking at me like that! 😉

    Like what?!?

    I usually throw fish back because I don’t like fish all that much. But being out there is always fun.

  3. First of all, with all of your music posts, I assumed by the title that we were headed for a Bee Gee’s post.

    It is the quietness and alone time away from everything that lured me. I never actually managed to kill anything but a rabbit (which we did eat), but sitting up in a tree or in the brush waiting allowed me to do a lot of thinking. Fishing with my son this past week was fun. We didn’t stay together much…I let him wander down the bank and cast and fish by himself. He actually managed to get a fish off of the lure himself when I pretended that I didn’t see him catch it.

    I need to take my son fishing sometime soon. We haven’t done that in quite some time, unfortunately. (We tend to take trips back to the grandparents’ places, where there are lots of places to fish, when it’s too cold to do so.)

  4. My dad practically lives in a tree stand for 3 months…I enjoy his observation stories about the woods, but miss having a hiking buddy. Although, I was fortunate enough to see an albino deer on a hike a few weeks ago…unfortunately, no camera to document.

    The beaver-pinned-under-a-tree thing was hilarious 🙂

    I’ve actually seen pictures of pinned beavers with the big “FAIL” captions. Sick and hilarious!

  5. “I guess that means ‘Every kid over the age of four knows how to make a bow. If you can’t hit shit with your newly-made bow, I guess you were doomed to die of dipshititude anyway.'”

    I laughed at this. I like being out in the woods, but I don’t like this kind of being out in the woods at all. I like it when I can sit in my nylon tent, or even go home, in my car.

    Also, I think it’s terrible to throw fish back if you’ve hooked them with painful fish-flesh-ripping hooks. They’ll be disfigured and shunned by the other fish.

    I mean…right?

    Nah, they’re seen as cool and rebellious for the cool piercings, I think.

  6. And do you have your copy of The Anarchist Cookbook handy as well, dear?

    Actually, no. Too urban postmodernist. 😉

  7. mmm…gotta get me some beaver-meat..extra liver please! LOL 😉

    Insert “not the kind of meat I thought you were obsessed with bagging” joke here. 😀

  8. It took me a while to get back to this, but I had to let y’all know. I had to check it out, so I brought the book in with me. The “unusually large and toothsome liver” belongs to…duh-duh-duh-DAAAA…your friendly neighborhood porcupine.

    And here is the paragraph on improvised weapons, verbatim (p. 76 in my paperback):

    “Other Weapons

    Both slingshots and bows and arrows are so familiar that, inasmuch as we will be limited in any event by the materials at hand, there will be no need to do more probably than to suggest them as survival weapons. As for their successful use, this will depend largely on individual practice. You will do the best you can and, if you have the ingenuity and resourcefulness necessary for survival under extreme conditions, you are likely to do extremely well.”

    So, was my summary accurate or what?

  9. Sheesh! That guy is a hunting snob!

    Like I said earlier, I guess if you died that just proved you didn’t have what it took, huh?

  10. I think you should write a paraphrase version of his book for comedy value, as clearly nothing he can come up with will live up to the toothsome liver of the pinned-into-place beaver. 😀

    I actually love to do parodies of songs, and I’ve done a few bits lampooning famous movie scenes (I did a few Pulp Fiction parodies that I thought were pretty good, but they were set in my old MUD world and you had to know some of the people involved to get ’em) – but something book-length would be quite an undertaking!!

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