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Friday, February 10, 2006 

the makings of a mountain man

When I was a kid I always wanted to be a mountain man. My definition at the time was a person who lived off of the land and did not have to work a regular job.

My Uncle Fred fell into this classification. His becoming a mountain man was directly related to his parents dying and leaving him a small fortune and his ability to remain unmarried. To his credit he was and is a great hunter and fisherman.
I asked him what was his greatest tool for survival; His answer was “a can opener”.

But I digress…
I was seven years old and had yet to break out on my own, I had yet to hunt a big game animal. I had not yet even built a campfire on my own. This caused me a great deal of humiliation. My friend Sven was in the same boat as I. We had one hindrance to all these goals, our Mothers. Sven and I chose to start our trek to mountain mandom by practicing building fires. Unfortunately we did not have access to matches so we tried rubbing sticks together, banging rocks together and even the old magnifying glass trick with no success.
So we just setup campfires with no fire. We scattered them all over Snagley Acres. Small Teepee type fires dotted the landscape. Our parents could not walk across the yard without falling over unlit campfires. The kidding we got made us stop building them, our parents made us clean them up. We pilled them behind the old hay barn Sven’s grandfather had created when clearing the land 75 years ago, it was still filled with old moldy hay, we were forbidden to enter it because it might cave in any minute.

Then one day Sven’s found a book of paper matches. They had been carelessly left inside of Sven’s fathers pipe tobacco pouch, where any kid could find them. We quickly went back to the stump pile and rebuilt a small campfire where nosey parents would not be able to see it. We struck match upon match watching them smolder beneath the small “campfire” burning our fingers with every strike until we came to the last match. Sven grabbed the matchbook from my blackened fingers and struck the match. He put it at the bottom of the campfire, which promptly collapsed. A small sliver of smoke rose and quickly extinguished. Sven looked at me and said, “Oh well let’s ride bikes. I said ok , and off we went in search of adventure.

The next morning as I lay in bed the sunrise from the west was unusually bright, then I remembered that the sun usually rose in the east. I thought this odd but not worth mentioning. I looked at the clock it said 10:00 odd I thought, Mom usually woke me up at 7:00. Then I looked carefully at the sunrise and realized it was Sven’s grandfathers hay barn.

I quickly dressed and left the house. I was about half a mile from the Barn but I could feel the heat from it already. Flames were 75 feet in the air and black smoke streamed into the night sky. People were coming from miles away to see what was wrong. They all circled the barn watching its demise as the route 7 volunteer fire department rolled up. The firemen said the best thing to do was let it burn. So they wet down the pasture surrounding the barn so it would not spread. Two arsonist were quickly apprehended, Sven and I. The next morning the fire was out. The only remnant was some glowing embers and mine and Sven’s glowing behinds.

Even now the fire is still legendary marking the date in 1975. Old timers say, “Do you remember the time old Slim shot that deer. It was 10 years to the day after Bo Snagley and Sven burned down that old barn and scared us all half to death”.
I never did get to become a mountain man, on of my many great regrets. I do, however have a can opener.