My oldest daughter has never been outdoorsy exactly, though she enjoys reading al fresco. But she spent a couple days at fifth grade outdoor school – admittedly, under duress – and came home with a bit of survival knowledge, having started a fire, built a shelter and trudged through over 20 miles of trails. I love to hike but I am not much of a camper, though I often long to be, despite knowing better. Years ago, I had a boyfriend who made gourmet meals over the fire, spoiling me for all future camping, an affair that I thought involved grilled frisse with leeks, but actually comes with a shocking amount of hotdogs.
When she returned, my daughter said the following: “Mom, I think you should write a blog about dinner on the trail. It would be while you are camping and let’s say you prepared for one night on the trail, you are hiking back and you get lost. You are with a group and it is your job to get dinner for them. First, STOP! That stands for Stay where you are. Think it through. Observe your surroundings. Plan. So, you have observed that there are berry bushes around so there’s your fruit [she is a notorious fruit bat]. You have noticed trees with nuts so there’s your protein [also a nut bat, and let me just add that if she could locate the low-growing shrub that produces cheddar bunnies, all her nutritional requirements would be met]. A few plants have edible roots, and if you have some rations left from the day before then there’s your meal! It would be best to make a list of what you have so you can plan.”
I think the list-making is a way to deal with the fear of being lost, to feel some semblance of control over the situation. I do this every day when I notice my O.B.E. syndrome (Overwhelmed By Existence) kicking in. Yesterday I made a shopping list with this lone item: yams. That was all I needed to purchase, because my sister-in-law was supplying all the toppings for a baked potato bar. Do people still do baked potato bars? I love them. I snipped some chives from my yard for the finishing touch and as I was admiring my plate and forcing my grumpy brother to take a photograph of it, I realized it was ideal trail food.
Yes! Don’t you see? Toss some foil-wrapped yams into your pack next to your anti-wrinkle serum and the rest of the ten essentials. You should have a can of chili in there anyway (And a can opener, I know! I am not utterly useless in the wild!). You can nestle the tubers down among the coals and they can roast while you think about how much you wish you could shower.
Some may scoff at bringing wee containers of shredded cheese and chopped chives on a trek but they scoff at their peril because guess who will be begging you to garnish their bland potato later? The scoffers! For heaven’s sake, bring the toppings. Why should anyone add to the suffering of a night spent in a tent with, just to draw on my biography, a roaring river, a searing sunburn and a stable of neuroses keeping you awake all night? Put these items in unbleached waxed paper bags (not the neuroses, the toppings, but I wish…) because I think you can safely burn these in your campfire afterwards. If I am wrong and you cannot burn waxed paper in good conscience, then simply carry the cheddar and chives gingerly in your bare hands, the same hands you will use later, to slay a bear.