Back in camp, I am weak from hunger, because I haven’t eaten since I had some avocado, cheese, dried apricots, and chocolate, which Eddie offered me and which I accepted only because I did not want to grow faint, and possibly stumble, and fall to my death, leaving my aide-de-camp at the mercy of dive-bombing rogue eagles. I’m feeling kind of faint again, so while Eddie searches for shelter makings, I think that for survival purposes it might be wise if I tried to catch a few winks in the late afternoon sunlight. Les did it in the polar-bear-infested Arctic, and I think Bear did it in the Scottish Highlands. I never saw Johnny Rambo rack out, but he must have.
When I awaken, Eddie has built a bed out of pine (or spruce) boughs. It is spongy and soft and fragrant. It looks just about as cool as anything Les or Bear ever curled up on. If not for the fear of bugs crawling all over me, and the gaping jaws of the man-flesh-eating bears, and my concern for family members and some friends who would be devastated if I were eaten just because I wanted to prove something about survival and manhood, I would have slept on it.
At sundown, I try again to make a fire using only my hard-earned television wisdom and my hippie survival tool, which, the elk handle notwithstanding, is a piece of flint and a piece of steel. Eddie has gathered a pile of kindling and some logs. I have constructed a tinder bundle of wood shavings and bunches of old man’s beard, which I have pulled off branches and which I know from Bear and Les is highly flammable.
I strike the hippie survival tool, and sparks fly into the tinder bundle. I strike again, more sparks fly. Lots of sparks, but no flame. Bear and Les always struggled with the sparks. Once they had the sparks, though, the flame naturally followed. I curse for two minutes, at which point Eddie suggests we use a match. I agree, but only because I don’t want to be responsible for a 16-year-old freezing in the backwoods. Also, I quietly nod and murmur, yes, I will in fact accept a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a few squares of chocolate, but only because I think it might emotionally scar my aide-de-camp if he witnessed his survival expert uncle go into spasms from protein deficiency. I think I read about that happening once. Why take the chance?
Next to the now-roaring fire, we sip water filtered from the river–with so many dangers lurking, we failed in our attempt to find a spring. Eddie leafs through the survival book and announces that we should have watched the eagles, tracked them to their prey, then stolen it. That way, we might have had fresh meat. Not a bad idea, I tell my pupil. Not bad at all. I need to get a copy of that book. The firearms chapter especially intrigues me.
Stars twinkle. Flames flicker. The mangy beasts in the trees doubtlessly watch us. I muse aloud about how–local, state, and federal legislation notwithstanding, and the ethics of killing such majestic creatures aside–I bet a nice roast eagle kabob would taste mighty fine right about now. Simply saying “mighty fine right about now” by firelight makes me feel woodsy.
Later, even though I technically sleep in the tent, emotionally and spiritually I am under the stars. It’s a subtle distinction, I tell Eddie when he asks why I’m not in the shelter he built.
My third morning, virtually alone, I realize that I need to find my way back to civilization, and that my best bet is to consult the wilderness compass.
“Or we could follow the trail we walked in on,” Eddie says.
He is so literal, so serious of purpose. Where is his sense of adventure? Is it too late for me to try getting him hooked on comic books? Maybe I can dig up my Man Thing collection and give it to him. His parents needn’t know.
We strike camp, pack, and hike out along the trail we hiked in on. I peer into the woods, at the crouching bears. Then I say, as Bear said when he left the Sierra, “I leave this area with a whole new respect for Native Americans and their survival skills.”