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My ebooks The Passion Killers, A Dark Wind of Vengeance, Blood Beyond the Abyss and The Second Layer of Hell (apocalyptic fiction) are now available for download. They are the first four installments in the Path of Survival series. To see additional information, click here .



"A strange thing happened on the way to Canada. We were attacked by a grouse. I mean, an upset, fearless, in-your-face, unflinching, determined, male grouse with an attitude. Apparently, he had staked out a section of the sandy trail as his domain, to be used for mating and defended at all costs." - -From Rainmaker's journal of Sept. 17, 2001
Grouse Attacks Fellow Hiker
Photo By Ben "Cobweb" Curtis


This page will be used to post humorous trail stories, tales of misdaventure and any other articles that are of a lighthearted nature. If you have an article / story that you'd like to post here, please send it to me as e-mail at:

rainmaker@trailquest.net


  • Of Trail Angels...And Devils - By Cal Ewing
  • 'Twas The Night Before Manning - By Carol Wellman
  • Laws Of The Wild (I've Learned The Hard Way) - By David Mauldin
  • The Hiker Defense - By David Crane
  • Maniac With A Weedwhacker - By David Mauldin
  • Searching For The Ivory Billed Woodpecker - By Shane Steinkamp
  • Mouse Recipes - By David Mauldin
  • Waking Up Billy Bob - By David Mauldin
  • Directions To Our Room - By Carol Wellman
  • It's A War Out There - By Nancy Lemoine







    Of Trail Angels....And Devils


    Saturday afternoon, wife and kids in NH, me here in Florida bored out of my skull. No plans made to backpack or camp anywhere nearby. Maybe later I'll walk to the beach and build a little squaw fire to ward off the city and warm my soul, to seek out different times, past and future. Like the night I spent in Wyoming with a lunatic.

    He offered me a ride back to the CDT from Encampment, the proverbial 'wide-spot' in the road, where I had gone for re-supply. I was grateful for the ride, and didn't mind sharing the bed of his pick-up with his dogs and chainsaws. Back at Battle Pass he drove me right up to the spring that I had inquired about, and we were soon filling up water bottles and chitchatting about the weather, which was getting nastier by minute... thickly overcast for miles around, wet, windy and cold. Then it came, he offered to let me crash overnight in his trailer, which was close by. I took a long look back at the weather, and thought too about how my just-bought bacon and macaroni would come together so perfectly in a real kitchen, his kitchen...

    And so I said yes..(Oh thank you, God!) We hopped back in the truck and headed back down a side-road the quarter mile or so to his trailer. Along the way he yelled back to me 'hey are you a drinking man?' No, I said, I'm not very much of a drinker at all. Well that's OK, he said, I'm gonna drink enough for the both of us. That was my first clue, but as it was raining sideways at the time, I didn't give it much thought.

    Well, sure enough he got stinking drunk, just like he said he would. Two hours after our arrival he was so drunk he couldn't stand up, or even smoke. Picture that if you will...a person has to be really drunk not to be able to smoke cigarettes! And then it got worse. At some point he decided that it was unforgivably rude of me not to drink with him...that I was in violation of his own and the State of Wyoming's code of conduct regarding drinking when invited to as a guest in someone's home, a code that apparently went all the way back to Jim Bridger and the Crow Indians. Now, any sane person would have joined in by knocking back a few long before it got to this point, but I have never been accused of being a sane person. In fact, I don't drink at all, ever, for reasons that are entirely personal and that I won't go into here except to say that I haven't awakened on a floor, or in a jailhouse, in almost twenty years. So, he was just going to have to keep on ranting, which he did. It wasn't until he pulled out his 9mm Ruger and started waving it around to punctuate his tirades that I began to worry.

    That was about midnight. I began to stealthily re-assemble my gear. It was raining hard outside, and I was pissed that I was going to have to spend the night out in the rain after all. Still, I had to get out. I had had enough of 'dueling banjos' for one night.

    As luck would have it (there's always a little bit of luck floating around), he unexpectedly passed out on the couch, his hand still attached to his very cocked pistol. I waited around until I was sure he was out cold...all of about twenty-four seconds... and then made my exit into the wee-hours of the Wyoming night, shaken but unscathed.

    It was a freaky, twilight-zone of an experience, an act of kindness that turned ugly. As I look back at it, I wonder how it happened....how I let it happen to myself, mostly. My drunken host suggested the mountain itself might be haunted....it is, after all, the place of several Indian battles and massacres.(Battle Mountain)...so maybe he's right. Or maybe I was just too wet, tired, lonely and hungry to think straight.

    --Cal Ewing







    Directions To Our Room


    I love the PCT, and always will. The guide book was indespensible, and so is reading footprints, pole marks, water bars, horseshit, along with everything and anything else at your disposal.

    In 2000, Rainmaker and I stayed at Callahans, near Ashland, Oregon. It was fantastic, and we really enjoyed the "All-You-Can-Eat" breakfast the next morning that we'd paid for. I wrote this in commemoration.

    A PCT GUIDE BOOK version of:

    Directions To Our Room

    From the dining area cross a table and chaired saddle (.002m) turn west until you see a ladies room. There you'll find a refreshing faucet, although late comers may find it seeping (.00012m).

    Decend north on an east facing staircase. Pass a room. Pass another good room. Pass an old abandoned room (.0035m).

    On an east facing west rising door you'll note the number 24 which has been posted since the new easier route was established in 1983. Head north. Open door. Close door. However, this won't get you to the Post Office. So, if you need to go to the Laundry Room, head east from your saddle.

    Those who complete this section may want to celebrate at the licorish bowl, (4,290-.003m)a seven way junction where intense PCT Register Logging is going on.

    * * * * * * *

    Good luck to all who venture
    Brawny







    Waking Up Billy Bob


    Submitted By David Mauldin (as told by Captain Mark Mauldin)

    This story really doesn't have anything to do with hiking. However, when things really get rough on a hike and it appears that disaster is about to strike in a spectacular way, I often think, "It's about time to wake up Billy Bob". Also, the story does relate to the outdoors, so I've decided to include it here.

    My brother attended classes in New Orleans given by the US Coast Guard for the purpose of securing his maritime Captain's license. Before classes started, the students attended an orientation meeting. An instructor explained that some tests would consist solely of verbal questions to test each student´┐Żs reactions.

    The instructor went on to explain that during a verbal test administered in a previous class, the following dialogue occurred between an instructor and student:

    Instructor: Let's say that you are on watch. It's 2:00 a.m., and everyone else on board is asleep.

    Student: Okay.

    Instructor: Suddenly, you notice a large cruise ship off your port bow, steaming directly toward you.

    Student: Wow.

    Instructor: Also, off your starboard bow, a super tanker is also coming straight at you.

    Student: Good grief!

    Instructor: In addition, a pleasure craft is tacking across your stern, from the starboard side.

    Student: (Getting defensive, uncomfortable and confused) All this at once, at 2:00 a.m.??

    Instructor: It happens. What are you going to do?

    Student: (After very long pause) I'm going to wake up Billy Bob.

    Instructor: Why are you going to do that?

    Student: 'Cause Billy Bob ain't never seen a real bad shipwreck.

    The student was deemed not ready to assume the responsibility of Captain of an ocean going vessel, and was encouraged to expand his knowledge of maritime rules and regulations and return for additional testing at a later date.







    Mouse Recipes


    A few of us in the chatroom were poking fun at those who oppose killing shelter mice. To begin with, rodents seem to have thrived several million years without any help from us humans. Secondly, the mice can carry diseases such as the Hantavirus. Anyway, someone jokingly said that perhaps it would be okay to kill the mice if you ate them. Someone else suggested a certain way of preparing them, and soon we were all suggesting our favorite mouse dishes, and "Mouse Recipes" was born. Here are the ones I remember. If I'm forgetting any, or if you have a new one, please let me know.

    Chocolate Mouse
    Mouse Tracks Mice Cream
    Mickey Teriacki
    Mick N Cheese
    MOS - Mouse On A Shingle
    Rodent Surprise
    Mouse Helper
    Mice & Rice
    Minnie Wheats
    Mice Krispies
    Rat-A-Roni
    Snap, Crackle & Squeak Cereal
    Chunky Mickey Mice Cream
    Mice-Ka-Bob (on a Leki)
    GORP - Good Old Rats & Peanuts
    Ratuccini Alfredo (with a nice Micecatel)
    Squeak On A Stick
    Mouse Under Grass
    Tom & Jerry's Mice Cream
    Mouse Nest Soup








    'Twas The Night Before Manning


    A PCT Version of:

    'Twas the Night Before Christmas

    ---or "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas"
    by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)
    (previously believed to be by Clement Clarke Moore)

    --corrupted by Brawny, December 24, 2001

    'Twas the night before Manning,
    And all through the park
    Not a creature was sleeping,
    Though t'was plenty dark

    Rocks were all piled
    Near the tent door with care,
    In hopes that they wouldn't
    Be needed against bear

    Hikers were nestled
    Just barely been fed,
    While visions of real food
    Danced in each head

    I on my short pad
    Rain on his thermarest,
    Had just settled down
    For a review of the quest

    When out in the camp
    There arose such a clatter,
    I unzipped the screen
    To see what was the matter.

    Away in the dark
    And just under a tree
    Were two camp counselors
    Holding one flashlight, to see

    And swinging some food bags
    By the end of a rope
    To fool all the bears
    And sleep tight, was their hope

    The moon on the breast
    Of the new-fallen leaves
    The day's heat now spent,
    I tucked my hands in my sleeves

    Then, what to my remembering eyes should
    appear,
    But a grouse with an attitude
    Showing no fear

    With a little red comb,
    And, so lively and quick,
    I knew in a moment
    He was up to some trick.

    More determined than mice
    More ferocious than bear
    He pecked and rerouted,
    As Rain tried to move him from there

    At last we hiked by,
    Then I heard on the trail,
    Such a swoosh, so I jumped
    to avoid getting nailed.

    As I drew in my feet,
    Rainmaker was turning around,
    He shouted with surprise
    And came with a bound.

    That bird was all attitude,
    From his head to his toe,
    What had pissed him off
    We may just never know

    Rain pushed him aside
    I got back on the trail
    Safely hiked on ahead
    Turned to see those two males

    He was fiesty and angry,
    Kept attacking Rain's shoe
    I laughed when I saw them,
    This bird with no clue;

    That grouse was fresh meat,
    And had a little round belly,
    That wouldn't taste bad
    With some cranberry jelly.

    If a hiker so chose,
    And gave a twist to his head,
    He could be lunch meat
    Sliced thin between bread;

    Rain marveled and laughed,
    As he out flanked this bird
    Who tried to get to me
    With a passion absurd

    But the sun started setting,
    The border 3 miles away;
    The grouse stood his own ground
    And his stance seemed to say

    "Don't you dare come back,
    Or I'll give you some more
    I'm lord of this trail
    And I've done this before"

    But I heard Rain exclaim,
    ere we hiked out of sight,
    "You'd better be glad
    We're bound for Canada tonight!"







    Laws Of The Wild (I've Learned The Hard Way)


    Submitted By Rainmaker

    When a bull buffalo in Yellowstone National Park decides that he does not want to have his picture taken, all efforts at photography should cease immediately.

    Being lost on the Paris subway system provides quite an incentive to learn the French language.

    When your life depends on it, sometimes a 3-season tent will stand up to a full blown blizzard.

    Black bears with cubs in the Smokies don't like to share their blackberries with hikers.

    Grizzlies in Alaska don't like to share their blackberries with hikers, either.

    When you have no other choice, you can hike quite a distance with a broken bone in your foot.

    When selecting a campsite in the arctic, don't pitch a tent in a green, mossy area. It's green and mossy because that's where water stands after a good, hard rain.

    Its almost impossible to burn up a wet tent, but you can scorch the heck out of one.

    Backpacking stoves are actually calculating, patient psychopaths, silently plotting the painful demise of their owners.

    Elk dearly love to urinate on unattended sleeping bags.

    If there is a heaven for backpackers, it probably looks a lot like Denali National Park in Alaska.

    Mountain goats feel that they have the right-of-way on trails that traverse their territory, regardless of how precipitous the terrain. Arguing this point can be hazardous to your health.

    Lying awake all night in a tent listening to avalanches in the Italian Alps while reading a Stephen King novel by candlelight can give you nightmares later on.

    As far as I can tell, there are no zip-loc bags, Coleman fuel or salad bars anywhere in Europe.

    Calling a rude rest room attendant a bad name is not a good way to gain admittance to a pay toilet in France.

    When a Customs official in London asks if you know where you are, expect to have your baggage searched.

    I can get by alone in a country where the language is different, providing the alphabet is the same as ours. However, if both the language and the alphabet are different, I wouldn't try it.

    A sharp $40 Buck knife can provide quite an attitude adjustment for a tight pair of $30 hiking boots.

    Don't ever look directly into a geyser, regardless of how calm and well behaved it seems at the moment.

    We sit as many risks as we run. The weakest among us can be some kind of athlete, but only the strongest can survive as spectators.







    A Trail Maintenance Story (Or "Maniac With A Weedwhacker?")


    Submitted By Rainmaker

    I'm a District Leader with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club, and I've logged about 1,300 hours of trail work. My district extends 9 trail miles from Dick's Creek Gap in GA to Bly Gap in NC. I maintain a 1.4 mile section within the district, and oversee the work of 8 other maintainers.

    I've learned (the hard way) that if I show up with an ax or chainsaw (or other "implements of destruction", as one hiker put it), I can't assume that everyone else on the trail knows that I'm a trail worker.

    The incident described here actually happened when I was cutting weeds on my trail section between Cowart Gap and Bull Gap one hot summer day a few years ago.

    A fellow trail maintainer had offered me the use of her daughter's gasoline powered weedwhacker, but only for one day. She explained that she had to get the tool back to her daughter, who was planning on doing some yard work. So, I picked it up and drove to Dick's Creek Gap, where I proceeded to hike the 2.1 miles to my trail section.

    The weedwhacker started right up, and soon I was happily obliterating every weed in sight that had dared trespass upon my beloved trail section. I really got into it, thinking that this sure beat the heck out of using a swingblade. Anyway, about 4 hours later, I heard a clap of thunder. I looked up and saw that the sky was about the color of asphalt. I was over 3 miles from my car, and I knew that I was going to get caught in a heavy thunderstorm. Knowing that I was going to get wet anyway, was in no real danger from lightning because of all the trees around and that I had to return the weedwhacker that evening, I decided to keep cutting weeds.

    I didn't get caught in just a garden variety thunderstorm. It was one of those storms that went on for hours, with lots of thunder and lightning, and very heavy wind and rain. I vaguely remember how the wet weed and grass clippings clung to my clothes and body, and that I was having some difficulty keeping the perspiration and rain out of my eyes. Since I was using both hands to cut weeds, I used some jerky head and body movements, which probably appeared very strange, to keep the moisture out of eyes and off my face. Also, I was wearing camo pants because they have lots of pockets, which is handy when doing trail work.

    Suddenly, some movement behind me caught my eye. Startled, I spun around quickly (with the weedwhacker still in my hands), to see a young, Gore-Tex clad couple practically running past me just off the trail. I spoke to them, but they didn't speak back. I thought that they were just in a hurry to get to the shelter at Plumorchard Gap to get out of the storm. A few hours later, my long, hot, hard and very wet day came to an end. I took the weedwhacker home, cleaned it, and returned it to my friend.

    Several weeks later, I was on another trail maintenance trip, checking on the shelter at Plumorchard Gap. There was a register in the shelter, and I began reading through it. I reached an entry that had been made by the young couple whom I'd encountered while cutting weeds during the severe thunderstorm. To the best of my recollection, this is what it said:

    "A very strange and disturbing incident occurred on our hike here from Dick's Creek Gap today. First, we got caught in a hellacious thunderstorm. We were both a bit concerned about all the lightning, but decided to try to get here to the shelter. The wind picked up to about 35 mph and it was raining almost horizontally. A couple of miles north of Dick's Creek Gap, we began to hear a very strange buzzing noise ahead of us. Neither of us could figure out what it was. Several minutes later, we rounded a bend in the trail and saw a very strange sight. A man was cutting weeds with a power tool in the raging thunderstorm, oblivious to us and everything else around him. This guy was covered in weeds and grass from his head to his toes. He hadn't seen us, and we ducked off the trail into the woods. We watched him for a few minutes, and discussed our options. I wanted to go back to our car at Dick's Creek Gap, but my friend Todd wanted to take our chances and try to make a run for it and get past this character. We decided to go for it. When we were almost past him, he saw us. He turned and faced us and said something like, "Hello, how are you doing?". We practically ran down the trail, and finally made it safely to the shelter. If this crazy person follows us here, we don't know what we are going to do. We won't sleep well tonight. I am writing this as a warning to others who may encounter this apparently deranged person. We don't know if he is an escaped mental patient, out on work release, or is just plain crazy."

    I guess they had quite a story to tell when they got back to Atlanta. As for me, I'm still at it, helping to keep my trail district well blazed and free of weeds, briars, limbs and blowdowns. If you see some "weird" character out there, hopefully it's just me.







    Ballad Of The Trail Maintenance Crew or "It's A War Out There"


    Submitted By Nancy Lemoine

    "It's a war out there!"
    Went out the cry.
    "It's a war out there!"
    Those shrubs must die!"

    So with loppers in hand
    The valiant few
    Went off to the trail
    And plants they slew.

    With the plants cleared away
    The tread was exposed --
    The roots, the slough,
    The muck decomposed.

    "It's a war out there!
    Put on your gas masks,
    Pick up your pulaskis
    And set to your tasks!"

    They chopped and they dug,
    They grubbed and they pried
    Out rocks seen in China
    (Just the underside).

    And on up the trail
    Were heard cussing and hoots.
    A muck hole was acting up,
    Sucking off boots.

    "Let's drain it!" they shouted,
    "We'll scrape off the mud,
    Dig out some ditches
    And clear out the crud.

    "No more shall that muck hole
    Sad hikers waylay."
    Some counted the battle
    Won for the day.

    But more was the come.
    The vanguard saw true
    A portion of swamp
    The trail cut through.

    'Twas time for some puncheon,
    A bridge they would make.
    So they cut down some trees,
    Which they dragged through the brake.

    They skinned them and trimmed them
    'Til stringers they were,
    And they laid them out straight
    To be covered with fir.

    (Or cedar, as their puncheon boards
    Turned out to be,
    Brought in by the Horsemen
    Of the Backcountry.)

    They laid it all out
    As straight as they could,
    Then they drilled through some holes
    And drove spikes in the wood.

    Some staggered and stumbled
    As they left that fray,
    All coated with sweat
    And caked over with clay.

    "It's a war out there,"
    Passed faint from the lips
    Of a few who had stopped
    To clear out some dips

    As they headed down-trail
    At the end of the day.
    "It's a war out there,
    But we'd like to stay

    "'Cause it's fun to get dusty
    And covered with dirt.
    It's rewarding when mud
    Finds its way down your shirt.

    It's a kick when your hair's
    Full of leaves at the end,
    When you're not sure your muscles
    Ever will mend.

    "And besides...
    It's a war out there!"







    The Hiker Defense
    (How to get thrown out of a time-share presentation.)
    A short story, based on fact, by David Crane

    "I'm going to show you how you can OWN a suite in this resort for one or two weeks a year for less money than you are currently spending for vacations. Then, as a time-share owner, you will have locked in your vacation costs for the rest of your lives, at less than the average family is currently spending!" The speaker's name was Jacob*, a finance major who spoke New York American with a Latino accent.

    My wife, our seven-month old son, and I were sitting through a Fairland Properties* time-share sales presentation in Orlando, Florida. We were there for the "freebies": Five nights in Orlando and Daytona, a $40.00 gift certificate to Planet Hollywood, plus free tickets to Animal Kingdom for $299.00 - if we would sit through a time-share presentation. I can sit through anything for two hours, (the maximum legal time they are permitted to "hold you" by law) and I've been there, done this, before. The goal here is to maximize vacation time and minimize toxic-sales-exposure time by getting yourself thrown out in significantly less than two hours. After two hours, they OWE you the freebies. To get them in less time, they have to WANT you to leave early.

    For part of the presentation, one is usually taken for a tour through a suite in the resort. In this case, this involved a ten minute shuttle bus ride. On the way over, I met another time-share-presentation veteran / survivor and we began to discuss amusing exit strategy possibilities. For the sake of humor only, the concept of pinching my son under the table until he started screaming was suggested. Since that would hurt, and may be child abuse, we decided not to do that. Besides, as I told my new acquaintance, I have "The Hiker Defense" - an exit strategy that gets me (with my lovely parting gifts and hotel vouchers) practically thrown out, in seconds flat.

    It goes something like this. After the initial introduction, slide show or movie, and demo tour, you sit down with your "advisor" and he or she begins to "run the numbers" that usually prove that you are indeed a fool, who is financially irresponsible and doesn't love his / her family, if you don't buy a vacation time-share TODAY! (And today only, this offer cannot legally be extended to you tomorrow - you have to buy NOW! - or my supervisor comes in with the rubber hoses, thumb screws and third-degree guilt-trip.)

    Advisor: Sir, you're here in Orlando today because you are on vacation. Isn't that true?
    Me: Um, yes.
    Advisor: Sir, for how many years in the future will you be taking vacations if you live to be 80 years old?
    Me: Um,...er...carry the one, the eight becomes a seven, ten minus one equals nine...um, 39 more years of vacations.
    Advisor: Do you think the cost of vacation will go up or down in the future?
    Me: Do you mean for my wife and I or for folk in general?
    Advisor: What do you mean sir?
    Me: Well, this vacation is nice and all - especially with your incentives and all - but we're outdoorsy folk. We don't usually do this tourist trap scene. We're only here because junior is too young to walk. We're backpackers - ultra light hikers.
    Advisor: Ah! That's fantastic! We have miles of gorgeous manicured hiking and biking trails at our resorts. Let's look at the cost of your last vacation. What do you think your last vacation cost?
    Me: Does that include travel to and from?
    Advisor: Um, no. Regardless of whether you are with us or not, you would still have to travel to and from your vacation at your own expense.
    Me: Ok, well, let's see. (pause, study the ceiling, count on fingers) I think the cost was about $350.00.
    Advisor: What was $350.00?
    Me: The trip.
    Advisor: For $350 - for both of you? What was that? A weekend Bed and Breakfast?
    Me: No, that was the whole vacation - a two week hike for the two of us through the "backcountry" of Yosemite National Park; the John Muir Trail, the Little Yosemite Valley, Half Dome. We really didn't want to spend that much, but we each needed ice axes and found some great ones on sale through REI for $100.00 each.
    Advisor: So, um, the rest of your trip - food and lodging - cost $150.00?
    Me: Yeah, the backcountry pass cost about $20.00 for the trip, and we brought most of the food with us from home. We already had all the rest of our gear, so yeah, $130.00. But that included some maps, a trail guide, souvenir t-shirts, trail patches, film and developing. Should I not have included that?
    Advisor: Two weeks?
    Me: Oh, yeah! It was awesome! There was still a lot of snow in the higher elevations. We were post-holing every other step. The cables up the back side of Half Dome were still down...
    Advisor: SIR!
    Me: Yes?
    Advisor: Don't you want to take junior to see Mickey Mouse?
    My wife: That's why we're here. We get to visit Mickey Mouse at Animal Kingdom. In a year or so, our son will be able hike trails and we'll be back into nature as a family. But that reminds me - we've got a great mouse trick. There are lots of mice in trail shelters. Take along a glow-in-the-dark flat plastic star, the kind kids stick on their bedroom ceilings - it only weighs a tenth of an ounce. Leave it on top of an empty Ramen Noodle package with the used flavor packet inside when you go to bed. As soon as the plastic starts rustling, smash the star with a shoe! Most of the mess stays inside the Ramen package.
    Advisor: Oh, My God! Take this paper over to that window over there and pick up your vouchers. Have a nice vacation!

    This year, I "hit the head" after the shuttle ride, and my wife had us out of there before I could make it out of the bathroom. I don't know what she told them, but no one even spoke to me after that. Now we don't actually spend all our vacation time in the outback. We do have family and friends with whom we spend some of our available vacation time. We also have occasion to do some of the more "normal" vacation things. But so long as there are enough of you out there who keep buying time-shares to allow these folk to underwrite our vacations with such incentives, and as long as "The Hiker Defense" keeps working, well, you get the picture!

    *These names have been changed to prevent possible litigation.








    Searching for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker
    By Shane Steinkamp
    shane@theplacewithnoname.com

    Well, after dragging all my gear out of the closet, I couldn't help but go hiking. This turned out to be lucky, since one of my erstwhile hiking buddies called me out of the blue on Thursday night. Slim is an avid bird watcher and has evidently been very excited over the recent 'sighting' of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Pearl River Louisiana. He's been out looking for it, and he wanted to know if I wanted to come out with him and look for the birds this weekend. He'd gotten lost last weekend, and needed somebody to keep an eye on him while he kept an eye out for the birds.

    Now, I had heard about this 'sighting', listened to the NPR radio articles, and read about it in the Wilson Quarterly. Strangely enough, I had never paid any attention to Ivory Billed Woodpeckers until a few weeks ago - and in reality I was about as interested in looking for the critter as I was interested in looking for Elvis.

    I didn't have many plans, however, and my gear was packed. A weekend in the outdoors when the weather promised to be perfect was more than I could resist. It would also be nice to catch up with Slim. Slim had a plan, which is to say that he wanted to go to Pearl River and look where everyone else had been looking in an attempt to see something that nobody had seen for awhile - except for one person who may or may not have been under the influence of dandelions at the time...

    I had a different plan, and he agreed to it. We drove out on Friday evening to see Mr. Fournier (four-nay). Mr. Fournier is a real Cajun. The genuine article. A WW-II veteran somewhere above 80 years old, he's prowled, hunted, fished, boated, camped, and hiked more of Southeast Louisiana than most people probably think exists. I learned my perfect Cajun accent from Mr. Fournier on several 'shopping' expeditions during my boyhood. 'Shopping' usually meant hunting, fishing, and picking wild berries all rolled into one. I don't think the man has ever eaten fast food. His freezer is stocked with various fish and game. Lest you think that he lives in a cedar shack in some back woods swamp, he actually lives in a modest brick home in Chalmette near New Orleans. I called him on the phone and told him that I wanted to show him something. He was glad to hear from me, and Slim and I appeared at his door promptly at 7:00 P.M.

    "What cha say, Reverend?", he said and hugged me. He gets a kick out of calling me Reverend. I introduced Slim and showed him the picture in the Wilson Quarterly article. "Now I know you been everywhere you could go around these parts. So I thought you might have seen dis boid", I said in my finest accent. He gets a kick out of that too. "Sure I seen it. Why, I seen it plenty. I seen dis boid all de time!" I thought Slim would faint with ecstasy.

    The thin smile on the old man's lips gave him away however, and he led us into his bedroom and pointed to a very nice print of an Ivory Bill on his wall. "See? I see him e'ry day!", he laughed. Slim was not amused.

    "Yeah, but you ever see a real one, Captain?" "I don' tink so." "Do you have a good idea where we could go look?" "Why you wanna do dat for? Why you want dis boid?" "So Slim can take a picture of it."

    He thought for awhile, then he said he did have an idea where we could go. Better than that, he'd take us since he was going to head out in the morning anyway. If we wanted, we could leave right now, so long as I drove, since his failing eyesight didn't allow him to drive at night. So, we agreed. We hitched the boat, bought gas, ice, cigarettes, and a bottle of Wild Turkey for Mr. Fornier (which is one reason he agreed to take us - he knew we'd pay our way), and three hours later we arrived at the boat launch and put her in the water. In Southeast Louisiana there are lots of places you can go by boat that you'll never get to any other way - except, perhaps, by helicopter. I got Mr. Fornier's kit out of the truck and we dropped out packs into the boat and fired up the motor. The old man fired up the spot lamps (SERIOUS spot lamps) and piloted us lazily down waterways that he's known since he was a small boy. About 3:00 AM he slid us into the bank and told us that this was as good a place as any to look for a bird that didn't want to be seen. Slim and I piled out and we arranged that Mr. Fornier would pick us up at the same spot on Sunday afternoon.

    We set camp while Mr. Fornier went off in the boat to do some fishing. Real fishing. There are real fishermen like him, then there's the rest of us who play like we're fishing, but in actuality we're just messing around in the boat.

    At first light we were up and I made note of where we were so that we could come back again. Getting lost in the swamp is as easy as falling off a log, since there is NO terrain, and one bit of wetlands looks remarkably like another bit of wetlands. I would have to keep track of where we were if we wanted to get back. From past experience I knew that Slim would be lost after we went ten steps. I had a roll of orange plastic marker tape in my pocket to tie around limbs at visible spots so that should the map and compass idea fail, we could play Hansel and Grettel and find our way back. The only problem with the practice is that you have to retrieve them all as you return. This isn't easy in some areas, since quite a few people follow the practice of orange taping a trail - but few pick them back up. You can suddenly find yourself on someone else's trail if you aren't paying attention to your map. Fortunately, we were in an area where there hadn't been traffic for years - but I quickly decided to not to use the tape so that we wouldn't have to backtrack our own trail.

    Since the temperature was perfect I stripped completely off and stuffed my clothes in the pack. Having hiked with Slim before, I knew he wouldn't mind - and we were as likely to see another human being out here as we were to see an IBW. Slim wasn't entirely comfortable stripping completely off, and I noticed with a chuckle that he was 'modestly' dressed in an electric blue Speedo. I suspect the man has never seen himself naked in a mirror. Modern synthetics be damned; the best thing against human skin is...nothing. Quick breakfast, tarps folded, fire extinguished, and we we're off. Slim went first, since he was the bird fanatic, and I followed at a distance that let me see him. Moving through the swamp at anything other than a snails pace is often impossible, if not just undesirable, so we took our leisure and enjoyed ourselves - stopping frequently to interact with items of interest.

    About 11:00 we stopped and made lunch in a promising area, all the while Slim warning me to be as quiet as I could, and making more noise than I in the process. Mr. Fornier had done a good job of putting us in a spot where we might find an IBW if any actually existed. Slim told me that the habitat was ideal. He tapped on trees with a stick, made all kinds of crazy bird noises, and generally made a fool out of himself. It was very entertaining. We'd already seen lots of birds and other wildlife, but no sign of Elvis. About 2:00 Slim wanted to go on, and he'd even let me go first this time.

    We continued along slowly, notating the 'map', which was nothing more than a blank piece of typing paper with my scribble on it. By my reckoning, we'd made four miles. I saw the usual array of snakes, birds, squirrels, an armadillo, rabbits, a nutria, and maybe one deer - but I wasn't sure at that distance. While Slim was on the lookout for an IBW, I was on the lookout for a Louisiana Black Bear - which was about as likely as finding Elvis. I'd only seen three wild LBB's in my lifetime, all of them in Northern Louisiana.

    We made camp about 5:00 in a spot that seemed higher than the rest of the area, although it too was moderately damp. A good fire and a hot supper was a very good end to a nearly perfect day. Slim and I had a very good conversation about gear that evening. I was pleased to report that the Bridgedale sock on my left foot seemed to be doing better than the Thorlo on my right foot. In cooler weather I suspected the Thule would do better. I'd switch feet in the morning to see if it was just my imagination. He was (again) appalled at the condition of most of my stuff, and using my own arguments against me, convinced me that I needed to replace, if not necessarily upgrade, some of my stuff.

    Slim drifted off into never-never land quickly, and began snoring. I couldn't sleep, so I wandered off into the darkness. It suddenly occurred to me that wandering around naked in the swamp in the middle of the night was a pretty good way to get lost, so I went back and got my light, compass, and whistle. I tied a red Photon micro light to a tree branch and switched it on so I could find my way back.

    Bird watching is fine during the day, but at night there are lots of other critters worth seeing. Most people never see them, because most people sleep while the critters are awake. After wandering a short distance from camp till about 3:00 AM, I returned and slept fitfully.

    Slim was up and at breakfast before dawn, still wearing his electric blue Speedo. He seemed deep in thought, so I didn't bother him. I made my own breakfast, packed up my camp, extinguished the fire, and raked the area with a branch.

    Slim had, what was to him, a brilliant idea. Rather than traveling single file, we could walk parallel to one another and cover a wider area. I didn't like it because it would be easy to loose one another that way, and eventually he let me take the lead again since he was, by his own admission, hopelessly lost. I tried to orient him for about 15 minutes, and only succeeded moderately. Finally he got frustrated and said, "You're the damn Navigator; so navigate!" This was, after all, one of the reasons he had called me in the first place...

    Slim is a level guy, mind you, and an excellent outdoorsman in his own right. It's just that the bird fever gets him. He's always walking along looking up - which is an excellent way to get lost.

    We traced a leisurely circular route, seeing nothing more - or less - interesting than we had seen the day before, although today we saw a small alligator, about 20 inches long. Slim stopped a few times to make bird noises and tap on trees. He tried to educate me on the subject, but if animal calls are a required part of a woodsman's diploma, I fear I shall never receive one.

    About 2:30 in the afternoon, I caught a faint whiff of roasting meat. I followed that scent right into Mr. Fornier's camp - right where he said he'd be. He was roasting a nutria on a forked stick rotisserie that you usually only see in camping books. We had a nice meal, got dressed, packed up the boat, and started home. Mr. Fornier had an ice chest full of fish, but he hadn't shot anything except the nutria. He'd had a very lazy weekend, and had enjoyed himself. I noticed that the bottle of Wild Turkey was empty.

    Slim was allowed to pilot the boat, and we chatted on the way back. The old man got a good laugh out of ribbing Slim over looking for a IBW. He asked Slim what he would have done had he actually found one. "Well", Slim said, "I'd take two or three rolls of film, report it to every nature society between here and Timbuktu, and lead the right people to the birds so that they could be studied and conservation efforts could be made." The old man laughed. "And what do you think the boids would think of all dat?" Slim thought about it for a minute and said, "Well, I'd shoot three rolls of film, then, and the rest be damned."

    We got back in, cleaned the fish, and all made it home before midnight. All-in-all, it was a wonderful weekend - nearly perfect - even if we didn't spot Elvis.

    Shane