Wednesday, May 20, 2015


I must have been about 9 years old that year, or, really 9-1/2 by that summer, which would have made my brother, Gary, 11, Steven Upton 10 and Susie, his sister, just 8. We boys had decided to take our first solo camping trip together, and had chosen a secluded rocky spot on the western shoreline of the lake, just around a bend in the road, about of quarter mile from our parents’ cabin, number two among the eight owned and built by Steve and Susie’s parents and grandparents.

The cabins themselves were quite rustic and basic – but not rustic or basic enough for us. We had in mind some real live camping, where you had to set up your own spot, make do with what you could carry along and live off the fat of the land. We would catch or harvest our food, kindle our own fires, set up various precautions against wild animals and mosquitoes and sleep under the stars like the pioneers and mountain men used to do.

Each of us brought a blanket role, a hunting knife with sheath, a BB-gun, and Steven also had an ax wrapped in his roll. And a guitar. My brother brought a loaf of bread, but none of us thought to bring a fishing pole or bait. Or rather, we did think it, but then we all forgot the thought at the critical moment.

This was to be our first challenge, upon discovery of the same, after we had laid out our blankets on the smoothest looking rocks and gathered some wood, and kindled a pointless fire – for it was already about 80 degrees by that midday. How were we to catch fish without any fishing gear, and what else but fish were we supposed to eat?

We scouted about with this question in mind, but found only rocks and bushes and trees and a beehive. But they were hornets, Steve said, and didn’t make no honey. On the other hand, there were a whole lot of huckleberries, which made us feel relieved, for we could always live off of these if need be for the next three days.

We stripped down to our underwear and took a swim and then our luck got even better when Gary found an old nylon leader under the water with a hook still on it stuck under some rocks. All we needed was a limber stick and some salmon eggs or worms, and we’d got us a pole near as good as any of the fly-rods we had left back home.

We began to dig here and there for worms, but couldn’t come up with a single one. Of all the dirt in the world, we had camped on a perfectly worm-less patch. We all got pretty dusty in our efforts, and the day was even hotter now, so we took another swim. That water was cold – damn cold – and our teeth were chattering when we  sat back down on the shore.

Well, fish eats bugs, Steve said – probably even more than worms. And that’s one thing we got plenty of. Bugs.

So we set about catching bugs that would be large enough to stick on our hook, and would look tasty enough to the fish, and about the time we had twenty-five or so, of all colors, shapes and types, imprisoned in one of our pillowcases, we set about the task of fixing them, one by one, to the hook, and then casting the line out to where the water went deep and green and was doubtlessly swarming with schools of rainbow and brook trout.

The trouble was, we couldn’t find a single bug that any of those fish had a taste for. They didn’t want beetles, they didn’t want flies, they didn’t like crickets or potato bugs, and they didn’t even want dragonflies – which seemed the strangest thing of all, because Steve said he had once caught a 20 inch steelhead on one in the Metolius River.

In any case, it was dinnertime now, we were out of bugs, we had picked no berries and we were feeling pretty hungry. But once again, fortune smiled on us – for Susie showed up, quite definitely uninvited, though thankfully received, given that she had brought along a paper bag with three boiled eggs and a can of baked beans.

The fire was rekindled, the can pried open with some trouble, for she had forgotten to bring an opener, and then set on a rock amongst the the licking flames until the juice boiled to the top and began to drip over the lip. This was carefully rescued from the flames between two solid sticks and then Susie set out three paper plates with napkins from her sack. There were no forks or spoons, but we reckoned pioneers didn’t have such things anyway, and so we ate the beans with our fingers and sopped up the savory juice with Gary’s loaf of bread. We all agreed that it was a mighty good dinner, fish or no fish, and only wished that we had brought some coffee.

Susie had gathered some huckleberries while we ate, and gave us each a handful, and then set to fixing a line between two trees, upon which she hung our paper plates and our underwear with clothespins.

That night, we lay under the stars and talked about a thousand things and about how many billions of stars there were and about how very hard it was to try to sleep on rocks, and in the morning, we counted over 200 mosquito bites between us.

Steve’s dad showed up early in the Resort truck, surveyed our camp without expression and noted, in his customarily blunt way, that it had ‘dewed’ on us during the night. Which it had. We were wet. Our blankets were wet. Susie’s paper plates were wet.

Yup, he said. Sure did. Sure enough dewed on ya last night.

He gave another nod, stuck his hands in his pockets, turned back toward the truck, but then stopped and looked once once more.

Y’all wanna try another time, he said. I mean, when there ain’t so much dew?

We considered the thing pretty thoroughly for the next couple seconds. And seeing that we had no proper fishing tackle, and that we were pretty wet, and that the bread was gone and we had no other food, and most especially that it had dewed so heavy during the night, we reckoned that Mr. Upton had the matter about right.

There were more days to come, more summers, more years. We had all the time in the world and nothing at all to lose.

No comments: