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A good book for curling up under the stars

Now that fall is here, my kids are ready to camp.

They like making fires, sleeping in tents and not having to bathe or brush their teeth.

It's not that I don't value personal hygiene. But after a day of running through the woods, there are usually more pressing matters, i.e., gathering wood, making s'mores and, of course, securing the camp against the nocturnal Swamp Ape attack.

My wife doesn't understand such things. She thinks camping is anything short of the Ritz-Carlton.

She wonders why I don't camp like Teddy Roosevelt, with a retinue of porters, fine white linens and cognac served in imported crystal.

For starters, I'm not the President of the United States (yet), but when I am, I will make Camping 101 a required course in all elementary schools. Every student would be required to read Francis H. Buzzacott's timeless text, The Complete Sportsman's Encyclopedia, before he or she enters the fifth grade.

First published in 1913, the Sportsman's Encyclopedia covers everything from how to set up a proper camp to tips on cleaning game. It is full of useful information, albeit, some outdated, but nonetheless, a must for every outdoor enthusiast.

Buzzacott, a hunter, trapper and guide for more than 40 years, lived in an era without high-tech gadgets and space-age materials. At the dawn of the 20th century, it was wool, buckskin and oil cloth that kept you dry. When Buzzacott got hungry, he killed something.

Take, for example, his recipe for the "Hunter's and Fisherman's Lunch." You start with two flat stones and toss them into a raging fire. Then, when the embers glow, take a quail, snipe or trout (a sliver of bacon in each), and place them between the hot stones, cover with embers, then wait.

"O, ye epicures, who think nothing good unless served by a Delmonico or a Sherry, go ye into the mountains or trail, follow a brook for half a day, get wet, tired and hungry, sit down and eat these cooked on the spot, and learn the choice morsels of the hunter's, trapper's or fisherman's art."

The author would surely think that we modern campers are a whining, spoiled lot as we sit snuggly by the campfire eating our freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini and sipping electrolyte-enhanced energy drinks.

Buzzacott, like his contemporary Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, knew the value of "roughing it." Civilization will make you soft. Food somehow tastes better when you are wet, tired and hungry.

But don't be misled. The outdoors-men of old ate well. The recommended camp rations for four men on a five-day expedition included, among other things, 5 pounds of select salt pork, 5 pounds of choice bacon, 10 pounds of fine ham, 6 pounds of dried Navy beans and one screw-top flask (contents unknown.) It is no wonder T.R. needed porters.

Buzzacott believed everybody, not just presidents, should camp. In his list of "Don'ts and Ifs," he offered the following advice: "Don't hesitate to go camping because your (sic) not experienced," he wrote. "Every man has his first trip and the immense army of them that follow it year after year is evidence that they enjoy and benefit from it."

Good advice, even if it is nearly 100 years old. The Sportsman's Encyclopedia has been reprinted numerous times, most recently by the Lyons Press ($16.95).

Buzzacott knew his stuff. A member of the American Geographical Society, he took part in expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, no small feat in a time when the chief mode of transportation was dog sled.

Buzzacott was also something of a social scientist. His other well-known works included The Mystery of the Sexes: Secrets of Past and Future Human Creationism and Bisexual Man or Evolution of the Sexes.

In addition to being a proponent of a well-planned camp, Buzzacott also liked to argue the biological superiority of hermaphrodites.

Now that must have been some heated campfire conversation.

A good book for curling up under the stars 10/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 1:41pm]
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