I told Rick, the other day, that I've gotten a lot better at building fires lately. I mean, I knew how before, I'd gone camping, but now that I live in a house heated by wood I've gotten a lot better at it. I have a reason to be, I guess. It's a practical thing, now.
Rick laughed a little and asked if I'd ever cooked over a fire.
"I've grilled...and I make coffee and toast on the wood-stove."
"No, no, not grilling," Rick told me, laughing, "a grill isn't a real fire. I mean on a real fire you have to build."
Rick does this sometimes--decides this, that, or the other doesn't count as 'real' just because he doesn't like it. I think he got it from Charlie. A physicist would agree that a grill has fire in it. But it's true I've never cooked over a camp fire, if you don't count marshmallows, and I'm pretty sure Rick would say those aren't real food, so I didn't even try.
"So, what's so different about cooking over a real fire?" I asked. Obviously Rick wanted to tell me all about it, so I decided to let him go for it. I don't think he was trying to be obnoxious--he was trying not to be, like he didn't want to seem to be showing off. But so much of what he does he does alone now, practicing for living on the land next year, and I suppose it gets kind of lonely. And of course Charlie is useless for compliments. So I let him talk.
"Well, the thing about a real fire is if you don't get it going, you don't eat," Rick explained. "No lighter fluid, no nice, pre-shaped briquets, no bottle of propane, just wood, and the behavior of wood, and if the wood is wet or it's raining or something like that, what do you do? You figure it out or you don't eat."
"Couldn't you eat something that doesn't need to be cooked?" I asked. "Like apples?"
"Yeah, but a lot of my food does. Raw meat, you know."
I've gone with Rick on his collecting expeditions a few times. He isn't living off what he can gather now--he still eats most of his meals with us--but he's storing up food for use later. His year of living on the land begins at Brigid ("in February?" I asked when I first heard about this. "Train hard, fight easy," Rick replied. It's one of his sayings. I think he got it from Karen), so he needs to have a winter food store on hand already. Most of what he gets is actually vegetable--or mushrooms--though he hunts as well. It amazes me how much he knows. But most of the time he forages and practices his survival skills alone.
Most of the time when we go in the woods together we're working on my education, not his. Charlie told us to work on tracking and also to get to know the area and all the trails. Rick decided he'd really start teaching me tracking when it snows, because it's easier that way, but he does point things out to me sometimes, like deer scrapes and the tiny territorial marks of squirrels. In the meantime we're getting to know the woods, following this trail and that. If we have enough time we try to get lost and then find our way out again. I automatically name the trees as we go by, and I tell some of them to Rick--he doesn't know a lot of non-edible plants, so I get to be an expert, too, for once. I like that.
I still don't know how this latest assignment relates to anything, but I do like walking around in the woods so much. Maybe that's how it relates?