I am a modest person. With that being said, I can state factually (without bragging, mind you) that my survival skills and outdoor knowledge run the full gamut of al fresco events—from alpine to zoology. As I always say upfront and without any fanfare: I’ll get us there and back, as long as a situation doesn’t develop that would be impossible to foresee and extricate oneself from.
Like a rain shower.
Oh, and just one more fact I might share is that I will even go out of my way to ensure others get credit for an accomplishment, even if my experience or ingenuity were the principle force in achieving it. Don’t thank me; it’s just how I am.
This modest confidence can surprise some people — such as my immediate family, who often delicately unveil their surprise through wild shrieks of laughter, thus proving modesty is not hereditary. It also proves that you should depend only upon yourself, as my family has also left me high and dry on several occasions with only my own innate skill to save me.
It is well documented in the annals of science that shorthair tabby cats are wily fiends. Being treed by one is sometimes unavoidable and prudent, no matter what the peanut gallery of cackling family members suggests. [EDITORIAL NOTE: Shorthair tabby cats are especially treacherous after they have had their fury ignited through a declawing. But I am far too modest to describe the scars.]
Now, where was I? Oh yes, let me share a (modest) story of when I took my wife on her first camping experience. Deep in the interior of a national forest, I, being of good-nature, showed her all the techniques I have collected in my many years of braving the outdoors.
For instance, when it was discovered that we had no can opener I showed her other ways to open a can — this was both educational and necessary, since I had also forgotten a container holding the bulk of our food. [EDITORIAL NOTE: Upon first camping adventure, be prepared to accept any and all blame for the following: forgotten items, outside ambient temperatures and sleeping accommodations. Failure to do so may induce emotional and spiritual changes in your party such as: anxiety, panic attacks, or homicidal tendencies.]
Despite the challenges presented by leaving several containers, a road atlas and my wallet at home, my modest planning ensured that we had a reserve of nutritious food.
SPAM is very nutritious, and we had just enough for our stay: five cans a day. Each.
After discovering she’d be eating nothing but processed spiced meats for four days my wife was not quite herself, but after I performed a makeshift emergency exorcism she consented to listen. This was good because despite evasive sprints through the forest she was slowly gaining on me.
We settled down and began our task of opening the can. I went through the whole list of entry methods: utilizing my trusty jackknife, a large pine branch, a football-sized rock, and a road flare. As you may know, each of these can be used as a stand alone can opener, or in combination with the others. My favorite combination is a flare lashed to the pine branch, which can also double as a torch. This may not prove any more useful at opening cans, but could be the difference between success and failure when conducting an exorcism while sprinting through the forest.
Luckily, the can maintained its integrity through our freshman-level laboratory, and my wife and I were able to get into a more advanced discussion. This included instructions on using a tent stake and mallet in tandem, although the back of an axe head is easily substituted. While the can remained closed, I was able to open a large gash in my thumb, which provided an excellent segue into self-aid buddy care. After binding the wound with the sterile remains of a used napkin, I continued.
Following several hours of theory and practice, we did succeed in opening the can, but only after I had dismissed the class. I then dismissed the can by hurling it at a large spruce. As I am a modest person, I of course allowed my wife to take credit for eventually getting the can open. I wish to add that my wife has far to go on the road to modesty, as her shouts of glee at the end were in very poor taste, although she’ll fit right in with my family. I mean really, who gets excited by opening a can with the pop tab anyway?
On this same camping trip there were many more moments of me coaching my wife to eventual success, with little to no gratitude displayed for my troubles. My modesty forces me to share one such moment. Luckily it’s the most dramatic.
We had set up the site until only the tent remained. My wife had proven herself quite capable, but still — the tent can be quite a challenge. So, I showed her how to select a flat patch of ground that would still provide enough elevation to prevent water from pooling. Then we laid down a surface tarp, unrolled the tent onto it, and spread it out. The tent is of a quaint design that has a series of woven guides along its exterior. Into these are placed long flexible poles, which are then attached to the bottom, providing the framework of the tent. I explained the idea, and we got to work. Shortly after the first pole was seated, it was evident that one of two possibilities had occurred. Either the fabric had shrunk, or those rascally poles had increased in length. (Now, I reserve judgment on who’s to blame, but let’s just say that I took precise measurements of those poles after this little outing.)
Never one to give up lightly, I attempted stretching out the tent, all the while giving my wife instruction on how to maneuver the pole. After several failed attempts, and more than one puncture wound to my sternum, we were approaching the end of my vast plain of knowledge. Then a light breeze came up, inflating the tent and stretching it out. Seizing the moment, I took the reins and maneuvered the tent so as to catch more of the wind. Fortunately, the wind helped pull the tent up out of the stakes that we had painstakingly applied — I modestly admit that without the wind I could not have freed the tent alone. In fact, only after my feet had risen 18 inches above the ground did I recognize how much lift the tent was producing. Modestly curbing my fear, I commented to my wife that by us holding on to one end, and the wind pulling on the other, we might be able to stretch the fabric enough to insert the poles.
Her silence was deafening.
Undaunted, I quickly tied one end of the tent to a sturdy sapling and began feeding out line. The tent was completely inflated by then and actively strained against the rope, and slowly stretched. I exclaimed loudly “It’s really working!”
When the sapling snapped in half I modestly began to panic. Quickly I looped the rope around our barbecue, lawn chairs and me. I prayed that the combined weight of 207 pounds would be enough to stop the tent.
It was not.
The tent launched skyward dragging its payload of miscellaneous steerage, clearly bent on an impromptu lunar mission. I resigned myself to a quick ride into the stratosphere and even quicker reentry. I also forced my body limp. This was both for impending collisions with foliage and as a last-ditch effort to trick the winds into thinking I was just a carcass, and moving on in search of live prey. This had once worked on a notoriously fearsome tabby and I thought it worth a shot.
It was at that moment the rope snapped. Tumbling to the earth, I looked up in surprise to see the tent sailing off, and my wife holding a knife with which she had cut the line . . .
Even now, years later, we rarely bring up this story.