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Thoreau, catfish, doughnuts

Seclusion doesn’t suceed without mothers’ support

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

-- Henry David Thoreau

The plan could not have been any simpler or bolder in its design or proposed execution. Two 12-year-old boys, carrying only the essentials -- tent, fishing gear and matches -- were going to sojourn into the wilderness that Saturday morning and live off the land for the weekend. We would bring no food or water -- we would catch fish and drink water from springs or die trying. Being bold always carries risk, but my friend Billy and I were more than up for the task.

Now before we go any further, I want you to know this column is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history on how I learned to become a man or otherwise mastered some metaphoric lesson of pending adulthood. Rather its modest objective is to help the resting reader -- while away five minutes or so -- than bother him with metaphysics or goad him with politics. If some unforeseen wisdom leaks out, I can only ask your forgiveness. We do seem to live in troubled times.

Securing permission for the expedition from my mother involved some calculated misdirection on my part. Seeking not to alarm her over the risky venture I was about to endeavor, I merely said I was going "camping" with Billy and we would be doing some fishing. Wow, if she only knew the gravity of our wilderness excursion, I would have been forcibly detained. But my pre-teen charm was on full display, and she smiled and said "OK." Reaching up in the kitchen cupboard, she handed me a can of pork and beans and a hand opener, saying, "Take this with you in case the fish aren't biting." I stuck it dutifully in my sack, making a mental note not to tell Billy about this contraband forced on me.

Our wilderness site was Haskett's Creek, located about a mile behind my house -- but to my imagination, it constituted the wilds of Montana, circa 1820. We set up camp that early afternoon and then commenced fishing. We had been there several times before and caught suckers, sun perch and catfish. Sitting on the bank with our cane poles lazily pointed up in the air, I envisioned waving to passing Keyauwee Indians who once roamed this area. As dusk approached, a crisis presented itself: We only caught three small catfish. Echoes of the ill-fated Donner party flashed in my mind. After cleaning our diminutive fish, we only had about 3 ounces of meat to cook. If it wasn't for the cicadas loudly serenading us, I believe we could have heard the laughter of the ghost of Daniel Boone. Billy suggested we perhaps should abandoned our settlement and retreat home. All seemed lost until I remembered the can of beans my mother had somehow seen fit to burden me with. We ate the beans ravenously, but part of me felt I had failed in a crucial test of man versus the environment.

Later, I would learn about the writer Henry David Thoreau, who decided in 1845 to live in a tiny house on Walden Pond without support for two years and to reflect upon simple living in natural surroundings. Afterward, he wrote about the important lesson of self-reliance in his classic book Walden. Despite having his own garden (supplemented with the occasional fish or woodchuck he would catch), I recently learned that Thoreau left out some credits in his book and was not exactly roughing it like I had imagined of this American folk hero. Every Saturday, his mother -- who lived two miles away -- would bring him a basket of goods, which included doughnuts.

Yes, Thoreau munched on doughnuts while pondering self-reliance and other weighty topics of his day. When you think about it, introspective contemplation, creative inspiration or even roughing it in the wilderness requires substance -- so Thoreau took the doughnuts. And I bet if his mom stuck in a can of pork and beans, he would have eaten those, too.

Take that, Daniel Boone.

NAN Our Town on 10/11/2018

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