Reader Essays: Wilderness Served

James Dammar dishes up some brotherly love on Isle Royale.

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I was on a hike with my elder brother, with whom I’ve probably pitched more camps than any other person, as well as longtime trail veteran Big Chief Baby Bladder. We were way out on a small freshwater archipelago in Lake Superior, a wilderness retreat known as Isle Royale. Primeval islands, mounted this day, like rare gemstones in a vast sea of shimmering blue. We were following an island trail, singletrack, which wove like organic tapestry through a rich, green forest, abloom at every bend with soft, fragrant wildflowers. Warm sunbeams fell just right, through the dense tree canopy above, adorning the emerald hollows with golden shafts of light.

For some reason that is above and beyond my mental grasp, I was taking point that day, and found myself a good ways up the trail, far ahead of everybody else. Not being accustomed to such lots in the trail life, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I sat on a lichen-crusted slab of granite, trailside, and rummaged through my pack. I pulled forth, in a sealed zip-lock, a big, thick, and, dare I say, impressive, ham-and-cheese sandwich, lovingly prepared that morning, by yours truly. By all accounts, I’d like to say I had my way with that sandwich, there on the trail, whilst the tweety birds gathered around me, but I didn’t. No, for some odd reason, a streak of goodness and generosity dwelled within me that day, and I opted not to eat my delicious sandwich, in a locale that was just begging for it.
Instead I laid out a napkin, just out of reach of the sun, smack on the trail, and placed my precious sandwich upon it, setting the table, so to speak, for one big-bellied brother to come.

Ham and cheese, I knew, happened to be his absolute most favorite sandwich in all the known land. What a lovely gesture to a trailmate, to leave my one and only sandwich for him to discover and happen upon, like an ice-cream parlor in the Gobi Desert. I shouldered my pack, tipped my hat, and bid my lunch farewell. Then I waddled off down the trail and around the bend, satisfied with my good deed.
Several minutes passed, and I was belly-up in a patch of thimbleberries, when my brother and friend came ambling along, rambling in the usual trail banter. I was beginning to have second and third thoughts about my sandwich, fearing its mutilation by a wayward boot, but one must have faith in times of culinary distress, that things somehow will go as they ought.

Brother did indeed spy his prize from afar, and proceeded to stalk it, eyes darting about the forest like a predatory cat. He walked up to it, a tear perhaps rolling down his cheek, smiled, turned around to Big Chief Baby Bladder, and promptly launched into a speech on how to properly and with great effectiveness live off the land. Only a true outdoorsman, he bellowed, someone tight with Mother Nature, could ever hope to procure a ham-and-cheese sandwich from such a savage land. But it can be done. And he ate his sandwich with great delight, there along the winding trail, whilst long shafts of golden light shined silently through the green canopy above.
It was a good day to have a sandwich.

Dammar lives in Brooklyn Park, MN. Favorite hike: Any path in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, and the entire Superior Hiking Trail.