By Cindy and Walt
I left Miles to join his fishing party. I headed up the mountain with the hunters. We left camp a few minutes before the fishermen so I was out of sight before Miles left. He carried two one gallon plastic milk jugs which we found laying about. He didn’t have to be told to clean it first.
The hunt team had very definite instructions on where to shoot and where not to shoot. Since I didn’t know which of the clowns to trust, I made sure not to allow myself to be back lighted against the ridge. I wanted to be seated with my back against a large tree as much as possible. I also scanned my little valley continually for game and other hunters as well. I didn’t want one of the others to walk up on me.
I sat reading about preservation of food between game scans. It looked as though a smokehouse was the answer to short term food preservation. Since it was only a month’s camp, I had no plans to build a proper smokehouse. Good looks and sturdy construction came well behind speed and efficiency. I checked out the plans for smoke houses and smokers. The only things they had in common was the ability to trap hot smoke while also venting it. The smoker had a rack where the food was placed to allow smoke to permeate it from all sides. I felt it might be better to hang the meat to eliminate the need for a metal rack. I knew that I could use rods of some type to hang the meat.
There had to be a fire hot enough to burn green wood which smoked the best. The smoke needed to be inside a structure that wouldn’t catch fire. I decided to take a look around for something metal when I got back.
Somewhere during the middle of making that plan, I heard a rustle of leaves. I scanned the area in front of me and saw a couple of squirrels moving through the trees. I tracked them with the .22 and waited for them to stop. When they stopped outside their den, I fired the rifle at the one in front. The squirrel was dead instantly. I was almost surprised that my first shot had been a kill shot. I waited to see if the other squirrel would become curious enough to look at his friend. He hid in the den and did not show himself again.
I walked down the hill to retrieve the squirrel. I moved back up the hill only after I had the squirrel inside the plastic bag that I use to carry home all my game. I tried to remember what Killer had said about game trails. Nearby I found some damp earth complete with the tracks of small animals of some kind. I set the two hanging loop snares I carried. I marked them with a piece of white plastic cut from trash found on the site of our base camp.
I spent most of the morning sitting quietly either reading or observing. The rustle of leave and scraping of branches broke my train of thought a few times. Enough times to result in two more squirrels joining their friend in my plastic bag. I also missed two others. I was far from Annie Oakley, it seemed.
Miles was already at the doghouse when I arrived. He had a fire going which was a welcome sight. Even though the day wasn’t deadly cold, it was cold enough for me at thirty to forty degrees.
After spending a few minutes warming, I cleaned the squirrels. Miles had already cleaned his fish so I didn’t ask him to help. He had caught two trout close to nine or ten inches long. After the head, tail and fins were removed. The intestines had to be removed. With all his mistakes of an amateur filleting job, there was probably the amount of meat necessary to make a 1950‘s fish stick. Still it would go a long way to prevent starvation.
Once dressed out I planned to sear the pieces of trout in my three inch deep frying pan. There was no oil to cook the fish, so we just ate the pieces semi sushi style. The fish wasn’t great, but it was a welcome addition to the small amount of beans and rice I had left. I splurged to have the bean and rice with my share of the seared fish. Miles was out of prepared food so he was shocked at the taste and sparsity of the meal. I on the other hand was satisfied with my feast.
Me: Miles we need a smoker to preserve the squirrels, do you have any ideas?
I thought that it was a good idea to include him in my planning. The conversation took place while we boiled water over the fire to refill out water bottles.
Miles: I gave it some thought while I was fishing. I saw some of the sample smokers in our informational pack. It seems we can get a simple one rigged up pretty easily. It looks like a fire, a rack and an enclosure that won’t burn will be enough.
Me: How about one of those five gallon metal buckets to build the fire inside. They have lids we can use as racks to hold the squirrels we would just have to turn them. Then we can sit one of those plastic fifty five gallon barrels over the whole thing.
Miles: We can build a rack of some kind inside the barrel to slow smoke the meat instead of using the top of the can. We can remove the barrel to feed the fire.
Me: Yes we just need vents in the barrel for the smoke to escape. We can use the hatchet to drive the skinning knife into the plastic to make the vent holes and the holes to rig the rod.
We both went around gathering the bits and pieces of the smoker. It took just about five minutes to assemble the parts. Then Miles gathered small pieces of green wood, while I cut the vents in the plastic barrel and the metal bucket. The bucket needed a couple of vents in the bottom to oxygenate the fire. The smoke from the top of the bucket would fill the barrel and be vented out the top of the drum.
I found a lot of coat hangers in a pile lying on the ground. I removed a half dozen to use as meat hangers. I quickly looped them through the vent hole to hold the meat in place. In other words I was ready for Miles and the wood. I washed the meat well while I continued to wait. It was as ready as I could make it and still no Miles. When he did show up he was lugging the wood on a sled made from a piece of plastic whose former use I could not ascertain.
I used my fire start kit to get the fire going. By the time it was going Miles began slowly adding larger pieces to the fire. The final pieces were about three four inches in diameter and really green.
Me: Those should burn nice and slow’
Miles: I have some green twigs to make it smoke even more.
He said it as he dumped a handful on the fire. The fire was strong enough not to be smothered by them. We carefully lifted the barrel over the fire then placed a flat rock on top. For the rest of the evening we checked the rate of burn on the fire. My guess was once during the night we would need to reload the fire bucket.
Miles: I can definitely see the advantage of an outside way to stoke this fire. It would take only one of us to do it in that case.
When we awoke at 2 AM, I went into the woods to pee. When I came back Miles was waiting.
Me: Let’s get this done. I’m cold and sleepy.
Miles: Me too.
Sleeping was easy because I was exhausted.
The next morning After we stoked the fire under the squirrel smoker, I made Herbal tea from the bag of Bart’s secret recipe tea. It was pot tea, that was the only secret. I could never contact Bart again, so I took the opportunity to savor the tea.
“Me: Let’s see if we can eat the squirrel yet. Just to get an idea how long it should be smoked.
Miles: Hell yeah, I’m starving.
Me: It has to be thoroughly cooked to prevent disease. It may not be completely dried out yet, but we should at least check.
Just as I had expected Miles agreed with a head nod. We moved the barrel to the tarp we hadn’t used over the doghouse. Then I cut one of the three hangers loose. I cut it carefully saving as much of the wire as possible so that it could be reused. The squirrel landed on the tarp which was reasonably clean.
When we tore into the squirrel, I found the meat was done, but it wasn’t leathery
Me: According to the book it should be leathery, if it is fully preserved. It looks as though to fully preserve the meat it will need to be sliced thin and smoke a full day at least.
Miles: There was no way to slice and hang a squirrel. Smoking them is going to be a challenge. We will just have to smoke them longer. Squirrel jerky will just have to be gnawed off the bone.
Me: That really sounds appealing. (I laughed)
While we discussed it, I was boiling water in Miles’ deeper pot. Every time we built a fire for any reason, I boiled drinking water. Water was one of the essentials.
Me: Well there is a full day ahead. Tomorrow we need to get more meat, so we have a reserve. At least that is what I think.
I realized it might sound as though I were trying to make the decisions without his input. I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t have liked anyone else making decisions for me. So I made it obvious that I wanted his input.
Miles: I think we need to search for more variety. I’m pretty good with puzzles. How about I go exploring? I can take an empty pack and try to fill it with food, if I come across anything. If not at least we will know what’s out there.
Me: That’s an excellent idea. We don’t really need anything, but water so I will head to the stream to fill the two jugs. After we have that, I will go out for a couple of hours to see if I can shoot dinner.
Miles: That sounds like a plan. If I get through in time, I will try fishing again.
So that was our plan for the day. I carried water and went hunting while Miles foraged. I had no idea how the others were doing. We interacted with them sparingly. It was kind of like living in the neighborhood with strangers. You spoke and asked how things were going, but didn’t give a crap about their personal lives.
When I finished hunting in the middle of the afternoon, it was to prepare the four squirrels for the smoker. I figured Miles and I would try another of the smoked squirrels for dinner to see how well it was preserved. If it was preserved well enough we could take down the third and start smoking again.
Everybody else was eating everything they found, every day. They weren’t storing anything. We had twenty five days to go, so I was pretty sure that on at least one of them we wouldn’t be able to hunt at all.
Me: So how was the exploring?
Miles looking pretty worn out: I walked a long way then circled back. I found what had been on old fire road so I follow it a ways. Just as I thought someone has used it as an access road. There was a parking spot at some point up the road.
The fire road had followed an old wagon path I think. I found the ruins of a couple of log buildings. It must have been someone’s farm once.
Miles: Yeah they did some gardening, but it had long since been taken over by the weeds. There are a couple of fruit trees, but the fruit looks like shit. I brought some back anyway. I searched through the ruins and found some old metal pots. I have no idea why they left them behind.
Me: It might have been granny’s place and nobody wanted the pots and pans. So what did you bring me?
Miles: Well here is a dozen apples that made it through the winter somehow. This is some kind of stew pot. I thought we could boil water in it maybe. When I was ready to leave I noticed a spot where animals had been digging, so I dug up a couple of bulbs. I have no idea what a turnip looks like, but that might be what this is.
Me: I have no idea either, but if animals had been digging them up I guess they are eatable. They may not be delicious but probably won’t kill us either.
The apples were full of worms and hard as nails. I didn’t think I wanted to even cook with them. I left that decision to Miles. He wanted to try cooking one. It had very little taste, so I gave up on it. I did add a lot of water to the cooked apple and make a kind of tea. It had a slight apple taste to it. I put the apple leftovers into a plastic bag. My guess was that it might make a passable bait for the rabbit snare.
That night the squirrel was like beef jerky on a bone. Well the flavor wasn’t nearly as good, but it was better than squirrel that had not been smoked. That was my feeling anyway. The main thing was that it would last a month or so at least.
Miles and I shared the last preserved squirrel for breakfast. It was tough to eat but it did fill me up. That and the apple tea really wasn’t bad together.
Me: I decided to check my snares and maybe pick up another squirrel. What do you think?
Miles: I think I’ll get the water and try fishing till noon then go exploring again.
Me: You know how dangerous that is with these woods filled with men, and all carrying guns and hungry?
Miles: Surely they can tell the difference between me and a squirrel. Besides it is a .22 rifle. If I got killed by that, I would have to be the unluckiest bastard to ever walk the earth.
Me: It could happen, so be careful.
Miles: Nobody hunts across that creek so I think I will go there.
After breakfast I left him alone to go check the snares. I didn’t plan to stop to hunt just to be as careful and observant as possible. Still nothing in the snares but I had the apple bait with me. I hoped for better lucks the next day.
I put the boiled apple against a tree then built side walls to funnel the rabbit into the approach where I could set a snare. The snare was no more than a noose made of wire. If I caught him the noose would hold him or if it snagged him by the head he would likely strangle. The other possibility was that he would either avoid the snare all together, or just tear it loose. He would then hop off trailing my picture frame wire behind. I did see a squirrel and stuck around long enough to get a shot. I was amazed that the shot brought him down. I picked him up and went to the compound to clean him. I had him ready for the stew pot with the turnips before Miles returned. I figured the fresh squirrel would be better in a stew. Frankly I had never eaten a turnip in my life.
Miles: (When he returned) I found a dirt road out there. It is probably used by the Church Camp work crews. Whoever they are, they seem to be a careless lot. They throw away all kinds of shit. I found a roll of wire we can use I’m sure. You know the plastic buckets that we use for taking a crap? There were a couple of cracked ones in the refuge. That’s why I think they are Church Camp people.
Me: We have plenty of those buckets, besides they have to be pretty rank by now.
Miles: Yeah but I found this. (It was a sledge hammer head. The handle was broken off.) If I make a handle we will have a hammer.
Me: Do you really want to swing a ten pound hammer head with a homemade handle?
Miles: You do have a point.
Me: What we might could do is to make a grinder with it. Use it against the bottom of the pot you found at the old farm to grind vegetable material into a powder. We might be able to make something that we can cook like bread.
Miles: It’s worth a try. I’ll read up on it and see what we can do. Do we need firewood?
Me: We can always use firewood. You want me to go find some while you do your research?
Miles: Only if you want to do that.
Me: I’m good with it. Don’t let the stew cook dry.
That is how I came to be out with the sled and hand ax late in the afternoon when I checked the snares. They had not been disturbed so I moved on to cutting low hanging branches from the trees. It was pretty far from camp since I felt sure the best wood supply would be found farther from camp. The taller men had stripped the trees bare of their bottom limbs.
When I returned to the camp it was almost dead dark. I had the sled filled with wood, but no food. The professor was in pretty much the same boat. His two hours of research did nothing to further our knowledge.
They were filling but bitter to the taste. They did seem to have the consistency of potatoes. So stewed up with fresh squirrel they were almost palatable.
As I tried the stew I thought about how valuable salt had once been. I read somewhere that in the ancient world it was more valuable than gold. I wished for the hundredth time that I had a pad and paper. I needed a shopping list for sure. I needed a list of things I wished to carry into the homestead with me. Salt would be high on the list as well as a bucksaw. Chopping trees with an ax was better suited to the men than to me.
I also needed a vehicle which would draw little attention, and would need minimal upkeep since I was no mechanic. It also had to be all terrain. A four wheeler off road vehicle would be fine in the bush, but it wouldn’t do when I got to the road. I gave up thinking about that until I got back to the outside world again.
I knew that I would need salt and hand tools which were almost indestructible. Stainless wrenches were a must as well as screwdriver, axes and hammers with metal handles. Knives needed to be stainless steel with metal handles as well. Finding the right tools might be a problem. There were many problems associated with maintaining a subsistence lifestyle.
I fell asleep thinking about all I had learned in my first week and how much more I needed to learn.
I slept till 6 AM the next morning. It was because I was tired, but also because my mind wasn’t filled with useless worries. I was full of plans, but not worries, there was a difference. I made a pot of apple tea and chewed some cold smoked squirrel. It seemed to be an acquired taste as I was beginning to enjoy it.
I put the boiled apple pieces into a plastic bag. I had used the same zip bag for days. It was probably spreading germs everywhere, but I didn’t worry since I didn’t eat anything directly from it.
I left with the .22 single shot rifle to hunt squirrels and to check my snares. I didn’t have much hope. I checked them because I had nothing to lose. The first snare had the bait gone, but the snare was still in place. I adjusted the snare then rebaited it. The fact that the bait was gone was a good sign. I got to my second and only other snare. There I found a very dead opossum lying in the trail. He was very dead. I was sure it had strangled.
I picked him up and decided that he was one heavy mother. I gutted him so I wouldn’t have to carry his full weight. With the head, intestines, and feet gone, he was a lot more manageable. I also sat down long enough to shoot two squirrels. It was a good day food wise. A good day food wise made it a good day period.
Miles: What the fuck is that?
Me: It’s a possum. I explained. We are going to stew it and for a change eat till we are sick.
Miles: You know I’m up for that. After only one week I had to cut a new hole in my belt.
Me: Imagine what three and a half more are going to do to your body. Those high school girls will be attacking you.
Miles: Not funny.
Me: You are right I’m sorry. Anyway the thing will be ready to eat in a couple of hours.
Miles: So what does opossum taste like.
Me: Chicken. Did you ever notice everything nasty tastes like chicken?
After supper two men came by to tell us they had decided to leave. One of them had his hand wrapped with a towel.
Me: What happened?
The younger neighbor: I let a knife slip. It’s not the reason I’m going. This life is just too strenuous. I feel that I’m starving all the time.
Me: Well have a pizza for me.
Young neighbor: It’s hard for me to admit that you are a better man than me especially since you a woman. You are a woman aren’t you?
Me: I am.
Neighbor: Anything you need?
Me: I could use any spare .22 ammunition you have.
With that he removed an almost full box of bullets from his pack then handed the box to me. I thanked him then watched him leave. I could see how he wasn’t quite sure that I was a woman. My body could have gone either way and if I was a lot younger I could even be a tomboy.
I found it ironic that I slept better in the dog house than I had in any of the places I renovated. If it had been bigger I would have taken it with me when I left. It was kind of like an ancient memory of when people lived in caves safe from bears and such.
Once we got the successful routine down, we just repeated it every day. We learned a small thing or two every day but mostly it was about gaining confidence. That, along with the bits and pieces of information, made it well worth while. Mica came up with a couple of living tips every day.
Killer did a lot of firearms training with me. It bored the others to tears I expected, since they seemed to be mostly former military. I doubted that any of them were evil mercenary material. We did seem like a competent bunch. At least the eight of us who remained seemed competent.