“Be Prepared”

by Mark Blackwell
drawing by Joe Lee

“Be Prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts and the words I lived by when I was a Scout. Of course, that was back before you could get a merit badge for DVD-player programming or marathon computer-gaming. We had to know how to use a compass and then be able to navigate our way through the woods without one. And we had to know how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. I excelled at fire starting because I was prepared.

One of the tests that Scouts had to pass was a kind of low intensity survival camp out. We would be led into the woods at night with only a knife and a hatchet, a canteen of water, sleeping gear and the provisions for a simple breakfast. We didn’t know where we were exactly but we did know that to have any security from carnivorous wildlife and an edible breakfast in the morning, being able to start a fire was of prime importance.

Now, in the art of fire-starting-with-two-sticks it is imperative to choose the right two sticks and the two I always chose were the Ohio Blue Tip strike-anywhere kitchen matches that I kept in my left sock for just that sort of emergency. While some folks might be rude enough to accuse me of not keeping to “Scout’s honor” for my survival test, I believe that I was still within the spirit of “Be Prepared.” However, it has come to my attention that fewer and fewer folks, these days, find self-reliance to be a virtue and more folks believe that being prepared just means having their cell phones charged up.

Living here in Brown County on a place that backs up on Yellowwood State Forest has provided me with many opportunities to observe a representative sample of a certain type of nature lover—the unprepared type. I hadn’t been living on the ridge a month before the first of the unprepared tribe showed up unannounced and they’ve been showing up with regularity ever since. Because I live in a spot that’s kind of isolated, most people wanting to visit make a phone call first. It ain’t worth the trouble to come all the way out here just to see if I’m at home or not. So, when I get a knock on the door and nobody has called to say they’re comin’ I know right off what to expect. Well, maybe not what specifically but I know what generally—a person or persons who are disoriented, dazed, dehydrated, dying for food and darned thankful to find some semblance of civilization, meager though it might be.

Now, I don’t believe that being lost is necessarily a shameful thing, but it does seem to result in considerable embarrassment for some. I expect lots of folks who settled Brown County in by-gone times were probably lost when they got here. Even Christopher Columbus was lost when he discovered America but he wasn’t embarrassed. Columbus is an extreme example but at least he was prepared. He had food and water and a compass. I don’t see many of his sorts coming up the trail. In fact, nobody, so far, has showed up here with food, water, a compass or even a trail map.

Nope. Invariably these folks show up just about sundown, having trudged four or five hours through the woods. And the story is just about always the same; “We were just going for a hike around the lake (Yellowwood) and then we got lost.”

These hikers show up not carrying anything to eat or drink and perty much dressed for any occasion but a walk in the woods. I’ve had ’em turn up in sneakers with no socks, sandals, and even high heels. They’ve arrived at the cabin in cut-off jeans, tee shirts, tank tops and mini-skirts.

About the only thing to do is to get them out of the sun, give them something to drink and some little snack. No matter what time of day it’s gettin’ to be, the lost hikers always ask, “Can you tell us the best way to get back to the campground?” I could tell ’em but what good would that do? Instead, while I got ’em sittin’ down on the porch, I like to make a little friendly conversation so I ask the hikers about their afternoon odyssey. “Did you see many copperheads or rattlesnakes?” I ask with innocent curiosity. “Did you happen to catch any sign of that pack of coyotes I’ve been hearing lately?” Well, for nature lovers, these folks don’t seem to employ powers of observation much more evolved than those required for a stroll in the shopping mall. They just look at me with big eyes and repeat, “Rattlesnakes? Coyotes?” And then they look back at the trail.

So, that’s when I tell ’em it would probably be easier to just pile in my truck and I’ll take ’em back down to the campground. I never have gotten a polite refusal or any argument about it at all. Brown County is a fine place to get lost, but be prepared. Wear your boots, bring along a compass, get yourself a map at the park office and take a quart of water for every person and some trail mix or jerky to chew on when you’re sittin’ on that stump wondering where you are and how you got there.