Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Chicken dinner - part 1

by Tom Gaylord

In the first part of the 20th century, outings were an important part of American life. Magazine articles, newspaper accounts and even whole books were written proclaiming the benefits of enjoying the healthy outdoors life. Outdoor equipment was in high demand, and entire catalogs were devoted to displaying the finest grades of sporting dry goods and equipment. Companies like Abercrombie & Fitch ruled the day, and young boys, especially, looked forward to the day when they could be properly outfitted for whatever adventures might come their way. So it was with me.

I lived in New Jersey, and the opportunity for outings into the wilderness were usually restricted to local parks or the seashore. The parks were fun, but you could easily walk out of their boundaries in a few hours, and the New Jersey coastline was as well developed in those days as it is today. So, a fellow had to read stories and do a lot of daydreaming if he wanted real adventure.

One day, however, all that changed for me. My uncle Don, on my mother's side, was a naturalist who worked for National Geographic magazine. He was always off exploring faraway lands and sending back Kodaks of his adventures. I idolized him, which I guess he suspected, because whenever he would come to visit us, I monopolized as much of his time as I could. On one such visit, he surprised both me and my parents by offering to let me accompany him on his next journey.

He was going to explore the ancient lands of the Mandan Indian tribe of North Dakota to document what had become of the tribe since they were first contacted by Lewis & Clark. Since the trip was to be inside the United States and since it was only scheduled to last three weeks, he won permission to take me along. I would miss some school, but my father said the experience would help to round out my education more than long division and diagramming sentences. Since he was also the principal of the school I attended, there was no need for further discussion on that subject.

I might note that my mother was concerned about my getting bored, being in the field with her brother all that time. "It won't be like the park, Jamie. You won't be able to come home when you get tired. If you go, you'll have to stay the full time until your uncle is ready to come home." That actually worried me, as I had no idea what life would be like in the field. I imagined hunting big game and fishing for salmon; but, to hear uncle Don, it was more like a day on the farm. I wasn't sure how I'd feel after several weeks of it. Still, I wanted to go, if only to find out what it was like to be in the field.



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