Eager to show off what he had learned, through scouring books and the internet, young Norman set to test his skills. So, during that chill October morning, with kit in tow, he set for the back hills of Montana.
Now, Norman was no stranger to the outdoors, he’d been camping, hunting, and fishing as long as he can remember—his dad used to take him out all the time. It wasn’t until he had kids of his own, however, that Norman decided he better well learn how to tend emergencies in the out of doors, so that he may pass on his knowledge to his children, lest they may fall victim to mother nature some day.
Norman had done his best to prepare for this trip. He’d read books on native technologies and practiced skills he watched on the internet. He was the consummate learner, even being able to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. He learned to carry and use items mostly cobbled together into a list, by others who taught survival.
The fall colors were starting to come alive and the cool temperatures promised to make this trip to be one taken directly from the pages of a novel. The creeks were running low this time of year, so it would make for easy crossings. Heck, he may be able to catch a trout, or two, along the way. If nothing else, using his small fishing kit, so neatly packed in a tin, and being able to catch a fish would go a long way in helping him to feel at ease in the back hills.
Along the way, Norm stumbled upon an old man fly-fish’n the banks of an untamed creek, where it doesn’t appear anyone had set foot before.
Eager to exchange pleasantries with this fisherman, Norm set out meet up with him. It had been a whole day since Norm had come across anyone and he was curious to see what someone of this man’s age was doing so far back into the country by himself.
“How’s the fishn’?” Norm asked from a distance, so as not to overly scare the old man.
Somewhat startled, the old man looked up in Norm’s direction and replied, “Well, I caught a couple of Bull Trout and one Brook Trout, earlier today, but nothing here yet.”
Norm noticed the old man didn’t seem too pleased to see him and was only being polite, perhaps only in hopes that this strange encounter would not lead to any unpleasantries.
The old man continued, “What brings you out here, son?”
“I’m just here to spend a couple of days in the outdoors.” Norm replied, as he took out a small bag from his pack and spread it’s contents on a nearby rock, looking for something.
“That looks like some might fine gear, though I have to admit I’m not familiar with some of the items”, the old man said.
Finding this as an opportunity, Norm went on to explain, in all eagerness, the contents of his kit. None to impressed, however, the old man simply smiled and returned to his fishing.
Norm doesn’t exactly know what happened next, but somehow he lost his footing on that rock he was on by the waters edge. In his desperate attempt to not fall in, he managed to scatter his gear about, as he struggled for a hand hold on the rock. Some of the gear landed on the shore and some of it landed in the creek and Norm, well, he couldn’t find a hand hold to save his life and ended falling backwards into the water.
Recovering from the shock of the cold water, Norm struggled to stand and tripped backward on the slick rocks a couple of more times.
Cold and shaken, Norm got out of the water and frantically scrambled to recover his gear. Unfortunately, however, the sun was getting so low as to not allow him to completely see where it had all fallen.
The old man, noticing Norm was cold and shivering, told him “Son, you better get yourself out of them wet clothes and get warmed up. Soon as the sun hides behind that ridge, you’re gonna get real cold real fast.”
Taken by the old man’s lack of action, Norm asked the old man if he had a way to start fire, so that he may warm himself, since he had lost that bit of kit.
Without looking up from beyond the tip of his fishing rod, the old man pointed to a spot on the bank and said, “over there, in that coat, you’ll find a book of matches… help yourself!”
“Thanks!” said Norm with a noticeable shiver in his voice.
Noticing the book of matches had only two matches left, Norm knew he only had one chance at this, so he proceeded to gather and collect tinder and wood, just like he had done so many times before, while in the safety of his back yard. This time however, he knew everything would have to be just so, because he only had two chances.
By this time, the old man had stopped fishing and was sitting back relaxing watching the antics of Norm. A couple of times, Norm shot the old man looks, as if to say, “aren’t you going to help me?” But the old man never lifted a finger.
Finally, Norm had everything in place and carefully took one of the matches cradling it just so to guard it from the sleight breeze that had just kicked up. With one deft swipe on the striker the match came to life and Norm carefully brought it near the tinder he had carefully prepared. But just as he was about to touch the tinder with the match, a breeze blew out the match. Not wasting any time, Norm quickly grabbed for the matchbook that contained his one last match, but when he turned around he noticed the book of matches was not where he tossed it. As he looked up, he noticed the old man had taken his last match and lit up a cigar.
In anger, Norm said “What are you doing? That was the last match.”
The man didn’t say a word, instead drew a couple of times on the cigar. Finally, with eyes a little squint and in a calm voice he replied, “You know, I’ve spent a long time in these here woods, often with not much more than a fishing rod and a good cigar. Now I’ve come across a lot of people with a lot of fancy gear and the best of all confidence that it would help them survive if something were to happen” The man paused and took another long drag then continued, “You know I’ve never placed much stock in all those fancy and modern doohickeys whored out by others. Seems to me, it causes one to lose common sense. And out here, son, losing your common sense will get ya killed.” taking another long drag from the cigar, the man continued, “As soon as I saw you showing off all your gear with all that pride, whilst you explained what you was do’n, I knew you were just a duffer who’d sold his soul and bought into all that crap the snake oil salesmen said… Son, you basically traded in good woods sense for nonsense.” With that, he handed Norm the cigar and said, “Here, son, light your fire with this. Only thing wind is gonna do to this cigar is stoke the coal and get it hotter. That’ll surely light yer fire.”
With eyes of humility and still shivering from the cold, Norm took the cigar, without saying a word, and touched his tinder to the end of the cigar and blew the tinder into a flame. After getting his fire, Norm handed the cigar back to the old man and simply said, “Thanks”
The old man taking back the cigar, replied with, “Yer welcome.” With another draw of the cigar, and after exhaling a long plume of smoke, the man continued, “Son, you’d be wise to start paying attention to what you can’t see and figure what yer gonna do with it, cause burying yer head in your gadgets is gonna get you killed”.
Not saying a word, Norm shot him a quick look of acknowledgment, then looked back to the fire and continued to rewarm himself.