You Don’t Always Have One Available.

campfire
Photo by Almos Bechtold.

John McPhee on the father of his geologist traveling companion David Love.

In the earlier stretch of his life when John Love had slept out for seven years, he would wrap himself in his sougans and finish the package with the spring hooks and D-rings that closed his henskin. During big gales and exceptional blizzards, he looked around for a dry wash and the crease of an overhanging cutback. He gathered sage and built a long fire–a campfire with the dimensions of a cot. He cooked his beans and bacon, his mutton, his sourdough, his whatever. After dinner, he kicked the fire aside and spread out his bedroll. He opened his waterproof packet of books and read by kerosene lamp. Then he blew out the light and went to sleep on warm sand. His annual expenditures were seventy-five dollars. This was a man who wore a long bearskin coat fastened with bone pegs in loops of rope. This was a man who, oddly enough, carried with him on the range a huge black umbrella—his summer parasol. This was a man whose Uncle John Muir had invented a device that started a fire in the morning while the great outdoorsman stayed in bed. And now this wee bairn with the light-gold hair was, in effect, questioning Love Ranch policy by asking his father what he had against tents. “Laddie, you don’t always have one available,” his father said patiently. “You want to get used to living without it.” Tents, he made clear, were for a class of people he referred to as “pilgrims.”

John McPhee. “Rising From the Plains.”

Sougans and henskin are vernacular for blankets and tarpaulin.


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