Every hunting camp has a practical joker
"Are you nuts?" Asked my wise and loving wife with a moan of exasperation. "You're going on another hunting trip with Tim? You haven't had enough of his practical jokes?"
Now, I'm a "shrink" by profession so having my sanity questioned so unceremoniously, borders on serious insult. But I had to admit, at least to myself if not to that lovely woman, that hers was a valid question, well deserving of careful consideration.
I had hunted and fished with Tim Anvinson of Oslo, Minn., for almost 50 years, from Missouri to Alaska. On each adventure, he had dug deep into that bag of tricks between his ears and lavished me and our companions with all sorts of mayhem. We're not talking about loosening the cover on the salt shaker, or something as mundane as a "whoopee" cushion at a packed family restaurant. No, we're talking activities that wreak high havoc in the moment of execution, but bring grinning pause and righteous awe for years afterward.
So I completely understood my wife's skepticism. But it was obvious to me that along with the natural feminine wisdom she enjoyed and displayed routinely, she was also demonstrating scant appreciation for true manly motivations. That masculine attitude to life is exemplified in the character of Augustus "Gus" McCray in Larry McMurtry's classic novel, "Lonesome Dove."
McMurtry's story takes place in West Texas in the 1880s. Gus and his partners had set out to drive cattle north through the barren plains all the way to Montana. Various forms of disaster had befallen the group of drovers. Several of the cowboys had been killed along the dusty trail, and there was likely to be even more danger the further north they traveled. As they made their way through Nebraska, they stopped to visit an old romantic flame of Gus'. Claire tried to convince Gus to give up the perilous journey and put down roots with her. Gus leaned back in his saddle and made this declaration about the motivation of the male of the species: "...we like to get where we started for, even if it don't make a damn bit of sense."
Wow! If only I could be so eloquent with my wife.
Left to my own limited powers of debate, I tried to deflect: "Tim's over 70 ... too old to be too much trouble anymore." That sounded pretty good, so I risked adding a second, albeit less admirable, motive: "Besides, this might be my last chance to get even with him."
My beautiful wife gave me her classic grimaced eye-squint, followed by the ol' extended sigh. She clearly was not convinced. I gave up the argument, but her incredulous reaction did get me thinking and remembering the various hunting escapades with Tim.
Before I detail these misadventures, I want to remind us all that that every hunting or fishing camp has a prankster. In fact, the role of practical joker, jester, trickster or Coyote is embedded in every culture. The human psyche apparently demands that someone in the group embody that role. So I encourage people to reflect on their own personal deer or fishing camp Loki as they read on.
Yet, not that all jesters are created equal. Mastery of this ancient craft requires creativity, patience, persistence and a poker face worth millions on the Texas Hold-em circuit. Some are true artists ... such was my old hunting partner Tim.
My dilemma with Tim began as I contemplated retirement. I believed I owed myself one final "big" hunt to an exciting place. I knew my lungs could not tolerate high altitudes, so elk or sheep were off the table. Moose was a possibility, but my legs and knees were no match for slogging through swamps and over deadfalls.
I called Conway Marvin of Hosted Hunts in Warroad, Minn., for suggestions on an "old guy" hunt. His considered opinion was for a caribou hunt in northern Manitoba and added: "Find yourself a partner." The first person that came to mind was Tim. Therein lies "the rub" I was having with my lovely wife and probably ought to have been having with myself.
So you might ask now: "What in the world has Tim done?" to deserve such a review.
Space will limit us to a mere few amongst the many possible tales of Tim and his tricks. The most memorable for me was our Alaska hunt for moose and bear in the fall of 1972. I had just gotten out of the Army, and Tim had finished the year's farm harvest earlier than usual. We flung an uninsulated aluminum topper onto his pickup truck and fitted it with twin plywood beds, purchased a white-gas heater and headed for the Alaskan Highway.
Being the elder, Tim made most of the decisions along the way, including deciding that the temperatures would inevitably drop the farther we ventured into the fall of the season and the north of the country. So the white gas must be "saved 'til we really need it."
Unfortunately my sleeping bag was probably better suited for Arkansas than Alaska. Even before the temperatures dropped, I was complaining about the frost on my whiskers each morning. The only saving grace was the air mattresses we had between the stiff unforgiving plywood and ourselves; a cushion of air is a great insulator. Strangely though, shortly after reaching the Alaska border, my air mattress seemed to have developed a very slow leak. Each evening I would blow it up and by the small hours of the night, I again was feeling distinctly every hard knot of the plywood. In fact, I was often awakened by the clattering of my own teeth.
This frigid misery went on for about a week. I pleaded to "waste" some of the white gas to prevent hypothermia. "No." says Tim. "You've got a leak in that mattress ... fix it ... use the duct tape."
So I would use precious daylight hunting hours searching for the elusive leak in my mattress. I even stripped down to my underwear and waded into a stream of freezing glacial waters, dousing the mattress to look for air bubbles. No leak could be found, and I resigned myself to crawling into my bag fully clothed with parka and mitts.
As I lay there still as death, praying the icy chill wouldn't freeze the marrow in my bones completely solid, I heard some rustling in the tight quarters of the topper, then the "psssssst" hissing of air through a small hole.
I spun toward the leak and slammed heads with Tim, who was desperately trying to fit the tiny plug back into its valve stem. I let loose with a barrage of swearing and threats about using my Army hand-to-hand combat training in creative ways on him. Tim responded with his classic adenoid-clicking chuckle that made him sound more like an African Bushman than the Norwegian farmer that he was.
Another hunt and exquisite prank took place in the foothill region of Montana. This time there were three of us: Tim, Big Jim Bushaw (another Oslo resident) and myself. We arrived in a little cow town late in the night and the only establishment open was a small bar that bore a remarkable resemblance to the Long Branch of "Gunsmoke" fame. In fact, most of the patrons were packing pistols and playing cards at small round tables.
We inquired of the bar-keep (Kitty) and were told that the upstairs of the saloon had the only room for rent in town. We paid up front for two nights, had a short beer and bought out all the food available (mostly pickled eggs and candy bars so dried out they shattered at first bite).
The upstairs room was exactly that ... one single room covering the entire second floor of the building. A double bed was situated in one corner and a single cot in the far corner. One nearly had to shout to be heard across the room, especially with the jukebox downstairs blaring "Home on the Range."
The bedding, alas, consisted of Army surplus wool blankets.
As was our custom when the three of us traveled, we drew straws and of course Tim, the smallest of us, drew the single cot. Big Jim — literally Big Jim — and I shared the skinny double bed.
With a hard hunt planned for early the next day, we turned in for the night.
Sleep came quickly despite the itching of the heavy wool. I was dreaming of large muley bucks when a massive elbow slammed into my ribs. Big Jim growled: "Cut it out .... get to sleep."
I had no idea what I had done wrong but quickly returned to my dreams. It seemed like only moments later, I was hit again by that big elbow and received a hearty shove that almost drove me off the bed.
"Doggone it," Big Jim menaced. "Quit hogging all the blankets ... it's cold in here."
I was so tired I could barely utter any defense beyond "What did I do? Didn't do nothing."
I was just settling the crosshairs on that wide antlered buck of my dreams when I was propelled for an incredible force out of bed onto the hardwood floor. I believe I bounced twice before coming to rest.
My scoot out of the bed was followed by more harsh language about the risk of "stealing blankets." I managed to crawl shivering back into bed, but now I couldn't sleep. As I lay there, Big Jim began gently snoring ... actually, his breathing sounded more like a bugling bull elk in rut than a man breathing.
As I lay there, I heard the dry flooring go: "Creeeak" about midway between the two beds. Being the good huntsman that I was, I knew it was best to stay still and not move a muscle. I felt the rough wool being dragged across my chest by an unseen force in the dark and could hear the wool slouching into a pile on the hard floor.
I struck out like a cobra and caught Tim by the arm.
In the commotion, Big Jim shot up out of bed and promptly smashed his big toe into the bed frame. Good thing none of us were armed like the cowpokes downstairs or we might have had a gunfight right there in Kitty's attic. After cursing and threatening into the wee hours of the morning, we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, breakfasted on the remaining pickled eggs and headed out to hunt.
It was definitely not funny at the time, but like a good wine, a cruel prank takes on a smooth character over the years. I can't help but appreciate the tenacity of a joker like that. He was willing to give up an entire night's sleep.
Sharing the pranks
To ensure you don't get the mistaken notion that Tim's antics were aimed solely at me, here is another story. A good jokester often shares his charms with many. I only heard this tale, so I can't attest to its veracity. Tim and a small army of fellow Oslo-ites trek to the Winnipeg River each summer for fishing. The housing accommodations are two rather primitive cabins with about the only amenity being hot water heaters. Apparently one of the gang decided to play a little trick on Tim and his cabin mates by shutting off their water heater. That night, Tim and his mates had cold showers awaiting them when they returned from their day on the water. The evening was reportedly filled with good natured guffawing: "got you back this time."
The next morning as both crews headed for their respective boats, Tim excused himself to retrieve the tackle box he had "forgotten" in his cabin. He returned a few minutes later all smiles and enthused for the day on the water. According to my witness, by the end of the day, all were adequately coated with fish slime and man-sweat and looking forward to a cleansing shower and a cool night's sleep.
As they approached the shore, one of the crew noticed their camping area was "shimmering with heat waves" emanating from one of the cabins. On shore they approached the cabin to find the outside wall so hot it seemed ready to burst into flames. After an hour with the doors and windows open, it was finally safe to go inside, where they found that "someone" had stoked the large wood stove with enough firewood to warm the southern regions of Manitoba. Keep in mind that this was July.
By midnight, the walls still hadn't given up the heat and the temperature inside the cabin was well over 100 degrees.
Those guys slept in their vehicles that night. They were fortunate that an arctic cold front came through and finally cooled things down the next day. According to my witness, there was enough self-satisfied chuckling from Tim to last them all a long time.
Misery and mastery
So what do I do about my last big hunt? Well, I guess relating these stories has given me a chance to again appreciate the misery and mastery of Tim's pranks. Bearing in mind that this fishing cabin debacle took place just a year ago, I have to give up on the notion that time and age has magically changed him into a more genteel hunting partner. And clearly there are substantial risks to body and spirit in any attempt to "get even" with him. I guess I'm stuck with the philosophy of Ol' Gus: "we go even if it don't make a damn bit of sense." Rest assured, I'll let you know how it goes.