Then there's eating: dinner this evening is a special treat of hot dog pieces swimming in beans and served up in what appear to be dented bedpans. It's a meal designed to straighten out the curves in anyone's small intestines, but the forced march through the woods has made me so ravenous I can't help but wolf down a couple helpings of the stuff. Every bite crunches with sand--once this slop hits my stomach it will turn to cement.
Fred had told me earlier that he hadn't brought any beer. When this turns out to be the truth I shrug it off as inconsequential, sobbing uncontrollably for less than an hour.
"Isn't this great, Dad?" My son marvels. I gaze upon him expressionlessly. He has spent the evening playing in the creek, fishing for trout, and catching fire flies. If only he were hanging out with Satan worshippers or some other harmless group--I'm afraid I've lost him forever.
"Evolution, son. We must deal with it." I gesture subtly with my fork at Fred, who blinks in the sudden spray of wiener juice. "If man had been meant to camp, we would have been born with four wheel drive."
Night falls hard in the American wilderness. I call my son's attention to the croak of various small animals being eaten by lions, though Fred insists they are crickets. "Like a cricket would be way out here in the woods!" I hoot. Fred may be an experienced camper, but he is no biologist.
"What are you, Fred, a soft banker or something, can't deal with the realities of nature?"
He frowns. "No, I'm a biologist."
The kids grow sleepy, and we agree it is time for bed. This leads to a quandary, because it turns out that there isn't a television in the tent. "So we're just supposed to crawl in there and sleep?" I demand indignantly. "What are you, some kind of communist?"
No one else seems troubled by this blatant anti-Americanism, so for the sake of getting the whole wretched experience over with as soon as possible, I climb in among the bodies and try to relax. Immediately Fred offers us impressive evidence that it is possible to breathe with a kazoo up one's nose, his snoring sawing the air with such force that it upsets my circadian rhythm. Then the beans hit the last bend in the kids' gastrointestinal system, and they add a horn section to the symphony. Sleep, another biological function, is impossible.
I am cocooned in a sleeping bag. There are too settings in a sleeping bag: too hot, and too cold. Fully wrapped, and the heat is enough to cause brain damage, which might explain why people agree to camp. Unzip the thing and fling it off your sweating body, and you are exposed to a chill factor worthy of a Minnesota wind. Metal, subjected to extremes of heat and cold, will eventually become brittle and break, so it is no small wonder that within the hour I find myself on the point of shattering.
Then there is the matter of my bladder. The gurgle of the small creek outside the tent walls speaks to my internal waters like a pack of wild dogs calling to a domesticated cousin. "Join us. Run with us. Be free..." Within ten minutes of achieving hypothermia through sleeping bag, my brain receives a message indicating impending urinary explosion. I lie there and calculate the odds of being able to discharge out the front of the tent from my current position. I'm untroubled by the idea that I might drench Fred, but my son also lies in the path of my considered trajectory, and I don't suppose it will improve my relationship with him if I pee on his feet.
I grab a flashlight, an inadequate instrument which demonstrates the pure folly of man's quest to invent a machine that doesn't need to be plugged in. The beam blinds me as it reflects off the wholly unsatisfactory visage of Fred, and it fails utterly to illuminate the lurking dangers of the forest when I beam its narrow light out of the tent flap and into the wilderness.
Shivering, I step outside. It strikes me that this must have been how early man met his nocturnal urges: alone in the forest, no magazines, no catalogues. I'm not altogether sure I'll be able to go under such circumstances.
It is then that I hear the bear.
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Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1998
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Submitted By: W. Bruce Cameron
Jul 15, 1998 11:43