By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, November 8, 1947
“It’s a brain wave!” shouted Jimmie Frise.
“Good planning,” I yelled back, “is the secret of everything!”
We were in the back of a rented truck which was joggling us terribly over the backwoods tote road that led into our log hunting cabin.
With our duffle bags, rifles and hunting gear, we were being bounced and thudded through the dusk on the last 10 minutes of the 15-mile journey from the ultimate village.
“Boy,” exulted Jim, “I bet this is going to be the best hunting trip of our entire lives. Something tells me.”
“Organization,” I bellowed, “pays off. When I think back over all the hunting trips we’ve been on, haphazard, unplanned, disorganized …”
“Of course,” interjected Jimmie, “part of the charm, the attraction, of outdoor sport, is its uncertainty. I don’t go for these highly organized hunting camps where the deer are practically tied up to trees by the guides, beforehand.”
“I was thinking of the cook,” I shouted. “The Chinese cook. Why didn’t we think of that years ago?”
“Ah, that,” cried Jim happily, “was good old Skipper’s idea.”
Skipper is the newly-elected captain of our small hunting party. For years, he has been the chief complainer about lack of organization in our annual excursion. And one of the first things he did, on taking over command of the party, was to engage Wang, a Chinese friend of his from a city restaurant where Skipper eats chicken chow mein.
Wang, with Skipper and the rest of our party, was already in at the hunting cabin. Jim and I had been detained to the last by Jimmie not having his cartoon done.
“When I think,” I joggled “of all the years we’ve gone into the bush with a dozen great big cartons of canned goods …”
“So we were all half sick, about the third day,” agreed Jim, “with greasy food.”
“Aw,” I reminded, “and think of the mess the cabin was always in! And the delay in getting going in the morning, because of having to get breakfast.”
“And all the quarreling and bickering,” said Jim, “as to whose turn it was to wash up dishes or get the dinner.”
“I don’t see how we put up with it,” I submitted. “Every hunting party should hire a cook. It’s a very small outlay, divided among six men. Yet, it makes all the difference. Wang will get up early and have breakfast on the table before daybreak, so we’re all out in the bush by the time we’re able to see.”
“And,” contributed Jim, “he’ll have our lunch sandwiches packed up for us to put in our pockets. And when we come in at the end of the day, think of finding a real meal all ready and steaming!
“Wow!” I yelled.
So we sat, balancing as best we could on the cartons and boxes of supplies which we were contributing. To be on the last leg of the November hunting trip journey is exhilarating. To those of us who are still uncivilized enough to respond to the autumnal desire to go forth and hunt, the smells of the wilderness, the chill of the frosty air, seem to waken very ancient memories that we have inherited. It may be November was the month when all our ancestors went forth to fill their caves with meat and furs against the oncoming winter. There is a sort of joyous desperation in the spirit of a man who goes hunting in the fall.
But added to this, to know that, for the first time, we were going on a properly organized hunting party with a cook, filled our cup to overflowing.
I leaned out the back of the truck to peer into the misty dusk and see how near we were to the cabin. Our cabin is on a small lake in a very remote and uninhabited neighborhood. We are 15 miles over a vicious rock and corduroy tote road from the nearest village. No other hunting camps are within six or seven miles of us, separated from us by impenetrable bogs and swamps.
And tomorrow, the season opened!
“I can see the cabin lights,” I shouted to Jimmie. “Across on the point.”
Jim came and leaned out too, sharing that indescribable tumult of feeling that rises in a man at the sight of his wilderness destination.
The rest of the gang had heard the sound of our truck and were all out with lanterns to give us a royal welcome. They had come in the night before so as to get the camp settled and to do a little spying out of the land in advance of opening day.
Old Skipper superintended the unloading of the supplies and duffle and he gave Elmer, the truck driver from the village, his last and final instructions.
“Now, remember, Elmer,” said Skipper in the lantern light,” you come in every third day. That’ll be Wednesday. Then Saturday. Unless, of course, there are any important messages for us, or emergencies.”
Elmer drove off into the night; and with our duffle, Jim and I staggered into the old familiar cabin.
Just the standard log hunting shack, it is, with sets of double bunks on either side of the single room. In the middle is a large plain plank table, with benches. At the end, a large old fashioned wood stove which serves to warm the cabin as well as cook the food.
But Jim and I both stood staring in the light of the bright gasoline lantern hanging from the ceiling. For the old familiar cabin wore a most unfamiliar air of tidiness and order.
The bunks were all neatly made up with their bedclothes. The plank table was covered with white oilcloth. The rusty old stove was black and gleaming. On the shelves, lined with newspapers, the canned goods and other supplies were set up in the attractive style of a groceteria.
Skipper stood beaming at our surprise.
“Well,” he demanded, “how does the old joint look now?”
“Why,” gasped Jimmie, “it doesn’t even smell! No mice! No squirrels …”
And from the other door of the cabin beyond the stove, appeared Wang, the author of all this miracle. He was a small, chunky Chinese in a white apron. We shook hands with him formally.
“Wang,” said Jim, “we should have met you 20 years ago.”
And Wang beamed too and proceeded immediately with his cooking.
As Jim and I tossed our gear on our bunks and got ourselves settled, Skipper and the rest of the boys told us how Wang had sent them all out for a walk while he scrubbed and disinfected, and made the beds and organized the layout of supplies and stowed everybody’s equipment neatly under the bunks or hung it on nails.
“You’d think,” said Skipper, “that Wang had been born in the wilds or spent his entire life in hunting camps, instead of being a city slicker.”
Wang waved his appreciation and grinned happily.
Dinner was just ready. It consisted of small lamb chops grilled over bright red birch coals, to bare which Wang had simply removed the front top of the stove. You never tasted such chops, even in the costly restaurants. There were boiled potatoes, peas, broccoli, a large bowl of salad, lemon pie and coffee.
Skipper sat at the head of the table in the captain’s chair and watched us with pride and satisfaction as we stowed away the delicious victuals, with glances at one another which revealed more than words could our delight with the whole situation. Wang stood, like an adjutant, behind Skipper’s chair, watchfully. It was certainly a far cry to the hunting parties of the past, when we had stumbled about a cluttered cabin and sat down to amateur meals dished out of cans.
“I would have you gentlemen know,” announced Skipper, “that out in the lean-to, at the back, where, by the way, Wang has made his bed, we have a front quarter and a hind quarter of lamb; a side of finest bacon; a roast of beef and fresh vegetables too numerous to mention. And it all costs a great deal less than the canned goods we would have brought otherwise.”
Wang cleared the dishes off without disturbing us in our places. He wiped and mopped the table deftly. And there we sat, ready for the evening’s planning of tomorrow’s strategy.
Skipper, as captain, had prepared some fresh maps of our hunting territory. In different colored pencil, he had sketched maps of each section of the country, showing all the favorite runways and all the familiar topographical features, so that as he laid each map out, we could follow his instructions almost as though we were on a high hill overlooking the actual locations.
“Planning,” announced Skipper, “is the essence of any enterprise. To go hunting and just wander about by random, as we have done for years past, isn’t fit to be dignified by the name of hunting.”
“Here, here!” we all chorused; and from the end of the cabin came the cheery clatter of Wang doing dishes.
“According to the barometer, which I brought with me,” announced Skipper, “tomorrow is going to be cold and wet. A lot of east wind and rain. Therefore, I suggest we do not hunt the usual first-day section, which is down in that swampy area near Loon Pond. It will be too wet, too exposed; and the deer won’t be wandering around in such weather. We will hunt instead up in the cedar and hardwood country around Job’s Hill, where the deer will be taking shelter, and where we won’t get so wet hunting.”
“Here, here!” we all agreed, and Skipper laid down before us the big red and green pencil map of Job’s Hill and proceeded to appoint each of us to our station.
In that delicious mood in which you climb into your berth on a train that is about to take you to New York or San Francisco, we all undressed and climbed into our bunks for a good night’s sleep to prepare us for the opening day’s hunting, Wang had finished in his chores and brought in armfuls of wood for the morning, wound his alarm clock and stood dutifully to the last to see if there were anything wanted of him.
“Good night, Wang,” called Skipper, as he turned off the gas lantern and slipped into his bunk.
We heard Wang retire to his bed in the lean-to and before the first faint snore from Jimmie disturbed me, I had slipped away into dreams.
What waked me, I could not at first determine. I glanced at the cabin window and saw the first faint gray of dawn. I could see Skipper, leaning out of his bunk, pumping furiously at the gasoline lantern. The back door of the cabin was open, and a chink of light indicated that Wang was already up and about.
I could hear Wang’s voice, low and tense.
He was saying:
“Come on! Get out! Hey! Come on! Get out!”
“Hullo …” I began heartily.
“Shut up!” hissed Skipper, down below me.
He scratched a match and set it to the lantern. It burped and glowed and suddenly filled the cabin with glaring light.
“What’s up …?” I murmured.
“Shh!” commanded Skipper sharply and started to swing his legs out for the floor.
At which moment we heard a loud thud from Wang’s lean-to; and a sudden wild yell.
Through the cabin door, from the lean-to, came a large skunk, with that hop-skip-jump and sideways gait of an indignant and outraged slunk. A skunk likes to move with dignity.
And in the doorway, his face contorted with rage, appeared Wang, brandishing a stick of stove wood over his head.
“No, no, nooooo!” roared Skipper, diving back under his bed covers.
It was too late anyway. The skunk had fired his first shot in the lean-to, at Wang. The cloud of incense rolled in on us.
“No cat,” yelled Wang, letting the billet of stove wood fly, “is going to eat my eggs!”
The stick hit the skunk and………well………
Well, well, well!
At the council of war, held outside in the dawn of the opening of the season, Skipper applied the talent for organization which he possesses. We had no tomato juice. All our juice was grapefruit and orange. We had one pint of vinegar. It would take, at the least, four gallons of vinegar or eight gallons of tomato juice to wash down the cabin.
“And all the fresh food in the lean-to,” I reminded.
It was 15 miles to the village.
So we drew lots and it was Ben Holt, our youngest member, who is only in his forties, who got the job of walking the 15 miles into the village for Elmer to come and take us all the heck out of here.
“The best laid plans of mice and men,” said old Skipper sadly, “are easily skunked.”
Editor’s Notes: A Tote Road is a road for hauling supplies, especially into a lumber camp.
This story reads a lot like the Greg Clark stories from the 1950s, in that Skipper, their friend who shows up more in the 1940s, plays a major role.