REALITY CHECK: No amount of research will make me Jack London
Working at a newspaper, one is often called upon to write on topics about which one knows little or nothing.
As a reporter, I’ve covered politics and crime (the two being inextricably linked), education, religion, business and entertainment. I’ve written about natural disasters, man-made disasters, good deeds, heroes, villains, murderers and saints.
All in all, it’s an interesting way to make a buck and I have few regrets. But I am often forced to expound at length on a variety of unfamiliar subjects. This requires research. Sometimes a lot of research. I hate research, though I will admit it has forced me to learn a little bit about a great many things. In conversation, this makes me seem smarter than I really am, so it’s not all bad.
At the moment, I’m working on two stories for an upcoming outdoors magazine; one on fishing, one on hunting. I’ve been fishing for decades and know my way around a lake. Research required: zip.
The story on hunting, however, is going to take a little more effort. I’ve gone hunting just once in my life and the experience, though memorable, did not provide the material required for, say, a Jack London novel.
The year was 1975; outdoorsman Euell Gibbons was on TV telling people some parts of a pine cone are edible; John Denver was extolling the virtues of a Rocky Mountain High; soccer teams were surviving plane crashes in the Andes by snacking on their dead teammates. Men were men, women were women, and small woodland creatures knew enough to keep the hell out of the way when they heard the sound of a pair of Vibram-soled hiking boots tromping through the woods.
I was caught up in the whole back-to-nature movement and spent most of my free time backpacking in places like the Bruce Trail, Porcupine Mountains and any stretch of Michigan shoreline not crowded with beach homes, condos and shops selling T-shirts.
However, naturist though I was, I had never really lived off the land. I had yet to take that final step into complete self-reliance. And I wanted to.
So I bought a sharp knife and a cheap paperback that explained how to catch, clean and cook small game and, thus armed, headed into the woods. I had no guns at the time, so I settled on fashioning a deadfall trap from a hank of rope, a section of log and a branch that overhung a well-traveled deer trail.
I won’t go into the mechanics of a deadfall trap here other than to say that — if all goes well — a bunny is supposed to wind up squished beneath a falling log. The design is essentially Roadrunner-esque and when I saw the finished product, I realized it had about as much chance of catching a bunny as Oprah has of catching Lance Armstrong.
Which is why I was surprised when, less than two minutes after walking away from the trap, I heard the log come crashing to the ground. Sure enough, a dead bunny lay beneath it.
It was the first time I had intentionally murdered an animal. I was determined to honor the bunny’s spirit (or some such other new-age baloney I adhered to at the time) by cooking and eating it.
How-to book in hand, I carried Bugs’ earthly remains to the lake, where I proceeded to skin it, gut it, behead it and otherwise prepare it for cooking. My efforts in this regard bore almost no resemblance to the tidy drawings in the book, and what was left of that poor critter by the time I got it skewered and roasting over a fire would have been considered too gory even for inclusion in a Sylvester Stallone flick.
I cooked it anyway. And tried eating it. My bunny flambe tasted like the deodorant liner from a ninth-grader’s gym shoe. I choked back three bites before giving it up for a bad business and boogieing to the nearest pizza parlor.
So ended my foray into the world of Grizzly Adams. Too bad. If I could have stuck with it, I’d have less research to do before writing my upcoming hunting story.
But really, pizza tastes SO MUCH better than bunny, and the research is so much more agreeable.