In this post a Blast from the Past Article from
WOODCRAFT AND CAMPING by “Nessmuk”
Just at dark—which means 9 P.M. in the last week of June—the fire is carefully made and chinked. An hour later it is throwing its grateful warmth and light directly into camp, and nowhere else. The camp turns in. Not to wriggle and quarrel with obdurate stubs, but to sleep. And sleep they do. The sound, deep, restful sleep of healthy young manhood, inhaling pure mountain air on the healthiest bed yet known to man.
When it is past mid-night, and the fire burns low, and the chill night breeze drifts into camp, they still do not rouse up, but only spoon closer, and sleep right on. Only the O. W. turns out sleepily, at two bells in the middle watch, after the manner of hunters, trappers, and sailors, the world over. He quietly rebuilds the fire, reduces a bit of navy plug to its lowest denomination, and takes a solitary smoke—still holding down his favorite log. Quizzically and quietly he regards the sleeping youngsters, and wonders if among them all there is one who will do as he has done, i.e., relinquish all of what the world reckons as success, for the love of nature and a free forest life. He hopes not. And yet, as he glances at the calm yellow moon overhead, and listens to the low murmur of the little waterfall below the spring, he has a faint notion that it is not all loss and dross.
Knocking the ashes from his pipe he prepares to turn in, murmuring to himself, half sadly, half humorously, “I have been young, and now I am old; yet have I never seen the true woodsman forsaken, or his seed begging bread—or anything else, so to speak—unless it might be a little tobacco or a nip of whisky.” And he creeps into his blanket-bag, backs softly out to the outside man, and joins the snorers.
It is broad daylight when he again turns out, leaving the rest still sleeping soundly. He starts a lively fire in the range, treats two coffee pots to a double handful of coffee and three pints of water each, sets on the potato kettle, washes the potatoes, then sticks his head into the camp, and rouses the party with a regular second mate’s hail. “Star-a-ar-bo’lin’s aho-o-o-y. Turn out, you beggars. Come on deck and see it rain.” And the boys do turn out. Not with wakeful alacrity, but in a dazed, dreamy, sleepy way. They open wide eyes, when they see that the sun is turning the sombre tops of pines and hemlocks to a soft orange yellow.
“I’d have sworn,” says one, “that I hadn’t slept over fifteen minutes by the watch.”
“And I,” says another, “was just watching the fire, when I dropped off in a doze. In about five minutes I opened my eyes, and I’ll be shot if it wasn’t sunrise.”
“As for me,” says a third, “I don’t know as I’ve slept at all. I remember seeing somebody poking the fire last night. Next thing I knew, some lunatic was yelling around camp about ‘starbolin’s,’ and ‘turning out.’ Guess I’ll lay down and have my nap out.”
“Yes,” says the O. W., “I would. If I was a healthy youngster, and couldn’t get along with seven hours and a half of solid sleep, I’d take the next forenoon for it. Just at present, I want to remark that I’ve got the coffee and potato business underway, and I’ll attend to them. If you want anything else for breakfast, you’ll have to cook it.”
And the boys, rising to the occasion, go about the breakfast with willing hands. It is noticeable, however, that only one pan of trout is cooked, two of the youngsters preferring to fall back on broiled ham, remarking that brook trout is too rich and cloying for a steady diet. Which is true. The appetite for trout has very sensibly subsided, and the boyish eagerness for trout fishing has fallen off immensely. Only two of the party show any interest in the riffles. They stroll down stream leisurely, to try their flies for an hour or two. The others elect to amuse themselves about the camp, cutting small timber with their little hatchets, picking fresh browse, or skirmishing the mountain side for wintergreen berries and sassafras. The fishermen return in a couple of hours, with a score of fair-sized trout. They remark apologetically that it is blazing hot—and there are plenty of trout ahead. Then they lean their rods against the shanty, and lounge on the blankets, and smoke and dose.
It is less than forty-eight hours since the cross-pole was laid; and, using a little common sense woodcraft, the camp has already attained to a systematic no-system of rest, freedom and idleness. Every man is free to “loaf, and invite his soul.” There is good trouting within an hour’s walk for those who choose, and there is some interest, with a little exercise, in cooking and cutting night wood, slicking up, etc. But the whole party is stricken with “camp-fever,” “Indian laziness,” the dolce far niente. It is over and around every man, enveloping him as with a roseate blanket from the Castle of Indolence.
It is the perfect summer camp.
And it is no myth; but a literal résumé of a five days’ outing at Poplar Spring, on Marsh Creek, in Pennsylvania. Alas, for the beautiful valley, that once afforded the finest camping grounds I have ever known.
Never any more
Can it be
Unto me (or anybody else)
A huge tannery, six miles above Poplar Spring, poisons and blackens the [Pg 61] stream with chemicals, bark and ooze. The land has been brought into market, and every acre eagerly bought up by actual settlers. The once fine covers and thickets are converted into fields thickly dotted with blackened stumps. And, to crown the desolation, heavy laden trains of “The Pine Creek and Jersey Shore R. R.” go thundering almost hourly over the very spot where stood our camp by Poplar Spring.
Of course, this is progress; but, whether backward or forward, had better be decided sixty years hence. And, just what has happened to the obscure valley of Marsh Creek, is happening today, on a larger scale, all over the land. It is the same old story of grab and greed. Let us go on the “make” today, and “whack up” tomorrow; cheating each other as villainously as we may, and posterity be d—d. “What’s all the w-u-u-rld to a man when his wife is a widdy?”
This is the moral: From Maine to Montana; from the Adirondacks to Alaska; from the Yosemite to the Yellowstone, the trout-hog, the deer-wolf, the netter, the skin-hunter, each and all have it their own way; and the law is a farce—only to be enforced where the game has vanished forever. Perhaps the man-child is born who will live to write the moral of all this—when it is too late.
AS FOR ME John Elden :
I have spent so many night by the fire tending it. A long fire or better, a banked fire. Pour or shovel ash over a cone of coals and leave an open top like a volcano. It will keep most of the night. A light sleeping bag or a blanket on the ground. But better still a hammock close to the banked fire.
But what of no Fire? Yes that can be a good option… We will talk about that later.