By Merrill Denison, August 16, 1930.
“The thing you need after your operation,” said Greg’s letter, “is a short camping trip. Lots of fresh air, violet rays, and all that sort of thing. A touch of roughing it, in competent hands.”
I thought it mighty generous of Greg. His were to be the hands, and “in competent” was spelled as two words. The letter went on to sketch an idyllic few days during which I would loaf in the middle of a canoe propped up on cushions, while Greg did the paddling, portaging, camp making, cooking and other labors, which go to make camping a delight for those who delight in camping.
All I was asked to do was to provide the canoe. Greg had everything else needed for a short camping trip, including a silk tent which only weighed seven pounds and occupied a little less space than a pocket handkerchief.
Along in the afternoon of the day appointed, Greg drove up to the cottage. I could see at once that he had brought everything we were likely to need. If he had brought one more aluminum frying pan, either he or it would have had to come by train.
“You won’t know yourself when I’ve got you back from this trip,” were his first words, and I can’t recall offhand anyone ever making a truer prophecy in my hearing.
From the first, Greg wouldn’t let me do a thing. He wouldn’t even let me carry the silk tent. When I offered to help him unload his covered wagon, he said, “No. Your job on this trip is to rest. Have you got the canoe?”
By this time hall the veranda was covered with little bags and big bags, little pots and big pots, little fishing rods and big fishing rods, little axes and big axes. I tried to compare the canoe with the pile Greg had brought.
“I’ve got the canoe all right, Greg,” I said, “but I don’t think it’s going to be big enough. It’s only a seventeen footer.”
“Haha!” laughed Greg. “You’ve no idea how this stuff will compress into a small space. Camping equipment is very deceptive when it’s piled loosely like this.”
I took his word for it because he was an expert, and all the camping I’d ever done was of a most primitive sort. I didn’t even ask why there were so many rods, and axes, and bags. I supposed Greg used a big axe for a big tree and little axe for a little tree, and let it go at that.
Greg was for getting under way at once, but I thought it mightn’t be a bad idea to have a last night’s sleep, so he agreed to wait till morning.
“That’s fine,” said Greg. “It will give you a chance to look over my camping equipment. I’ve got some lovely stuff here. Not one unnecessary thing, and everything designed for maximum compactness and convenience.”
As a sample of how convenient his camping gadgets were, he allowed me, as a treat, to light my way to a match in his waterproof matchbox. With the help of a pair of pliers I emerged victorious. I suggested it might be a good idea to take a couple of pair along on the trip, but he pooh-poohed the idea.
“Who ever heard of taking pliers on a canoe trip?” he said, but since he was taking everything but the kitchen stove and family album, I thought I ought to be allowed to take along one pair of pliers. It was a good job I did. Next to the canoe, the pliers were the most useful tools we had.
Greg was so keen to start camping right away that we had difficulty in keeping him from pitching his silk tent out in front of the cottage, and we dissuaded him only by agreeing to spend the evening looking at the cooking equipment.
Everything was made of aluminum because of its superior lightness and the marvellous way it retains heat. The only trouble with aluminum is that the way it retains heat just about ruins the lightness unless you have a pair of pliers handy.
The Least Bit Bow Heavy
Before we went to bed we talked over the trip. Greg had it all planned on a government map. It was to be a short trip of about fifty miles, with a couple of easy portages. Greg knew exactly where we would stop for lunch, where we would camp, where we would pause and catch a few fish for supper. On the map his arrangements looked well nigh perfect.
“The beauty of a camping trip,” said Greg, “is that you can tell just where you’re going. It’s not like a motoring trip with detours, and torn-up roads, and hotels you can’t get into. On a canoe trip you can plan ahead. You can always find water enough to float a canoe. Then pick some delightful spot in a grove of birch trees, pitch your little silk tent, cut a few balsam bows for a bed, and there you are.”
We decided to get up with the sun and make an early start, but something must have happened, because neither of woke up till half past eight. By the time we had breakfast and Greg had carried half a ton of camping conveniences down to the beach it was about ten.
Then we had to load the canoe. The canoe looked all right and was made by a reputable manufacturer, but it was easy to tell something was wrong with it the moment that Greg started to pack the things in it.
Nothing seemed to fit quite the way Greg thought it should. There were four large sacks and the only place these would fit was between the centre thwarts. But this was the place in the canoe where I was supposed to do my resting and lean against the lazy-back. It looked as if the outfit or I would have to remain behind.
“Don’t bother about me, Greg,” I said. “I can squeeze in the bow. It will be just as comfortable, and there’s no other way to get all this dunnage aboard her.”
“It will certainly make things easier,” said Greg, and set about stowing away the various trifles that for some reason or other he had not been able to put in the bags. Finally he tucked away the fishing rods and I climbed aboard. Greg pushed off.
You didn’t have to be a naval architect to tell right away that there was something wrong with the way the canoe clove the water. Where I was sitting the cornice was about two inches from the lake, while down at Greg’s end the canoe looked like one of these racing sea fleas which only touch the water every second Tuesday. Greg had to lean away over the edge to wet his paddle.
I noticed that the canoe wasn’t steering very well, but didn’t like to say anything about it because I was a passenger. I thought Greg would probably find out for himself anyway. He was trying to steer the way the Indians do, with a sort of slosh and twiddle stroke, but wasn’t making much headway. Then he tried dipping bis paddle first on one side and then on the other. Each time the paddle changed sides I got a shower bath in the bow.
“Sorry,” said Greg, “she doesn’t seem to be balanced quite right.”
“What’s the trouble?” I asked.
“We seem the least bit bow heavy,” said Greg. “I think we’d better shift the load.”
So we went to shore and shifted the load. That got us into the same trouble we’d met before and Greg decided that we had better empty one of the duffle bags and pack its contents separately.
“We’ll empty the blanket bag,” said Greg, and then shook out on the sand a nest of little canvas bags all neatly labeled flour, cornstarch, tea, hard tack, corn meal, salt pork, and other staples of an invalid’s diet.
“Where are the blankets?” I asked when about twenty little bags had poured out on the sand.
“They must be in another bag,” said Greg, “but we know where the food is anyway.”
We got under way again and this time the canoe was balanced, but I wouldn’t like to say the same for myself. I was sitting in the middle of the canoe on top of the three largest rolls and felt as if I might have gone crazy and entered one of these tree-sitting competitions. I was about a foot above the lazy-back.
“Just sit still and you’ll be all right,” said Greg, paddling tenderly. “Now let’s see where north is.”
Keeping to Schedule
I knew where north was, but Greg didn’t I want me to tell him. “Half the fun of a camping trip is finding things out for yourself,” said Greg. “Now, where’s the compass?”
It turned out that I was sitting on it. Not on purpose, but just in the way people always sit on things on camping trip. I tried to get the compass but my resting perch was too precarious to permit much action, so we put ashore and got the compass.
Greg decided that the blue needle must point north because the white one was pointing at the sun, and the camping trip got under way in earnest. I never saw north make such a difference in a man.
According to Greg’s schedule, we were supposed to reach the portage about eight in the morning, daylight saving time, but because of one thing and another, including a slight leak that we tried to ignore but could not, we arrived at the portage at five-thirty in the afternoon, standard time.
“Now, you’re not to carry a thing,” said Greg. “You walk on ahead and wait at the other end of the portage. You’d better take a fishing rod along. You might find something below the rapids.”
I protested. “I may be recovering from an operation, but I’m not a feeble invalid,” I said. “Surely I can carry the silk tent or something.”
As portages go, this wasn’t bad one except for about a hundred yards where it led through a barnyard. This was about the only place you couldn’t take a rest if you wanted to, but on the other hand it was about half way across and so was the one place you had to take a rest whether you wanted to or not.
I reached the end of the portage quite awhile before Greg turned up carrying a bale of stuff tied to his forehead, but I didn’t bother doing much fishing because there wasn’t enough water. I didn’t say anything to Greg about the water because he was in a hurry and besides he liked to find things out for himself.
So I had a rest while Greg staggered back and forth with all the luggage, and finally the canoe itself wobbled into view with about eighteen inches of Greg showing beneath it.
The minute he put the canoe down I could tell that something had gone wrong. Greg doesn’t very often get angry, but this time he was in a towering rage. When I heard what had happened I couldn’t blame him a bit.
It would hardly do to repeat what had happened as Greg told it, but even a censored account will give some inkling of its harrowing nature.
After a superhuman effort, Greg had managed to get the canoe on his shoulders by crawling under it and pretending he was Atlas. Although he expected to be crushed to earth at every step, all went as well as could be expected until he reached the barnyard gate. Here he had trouble with the steering gear.
Although the opening was eight feet wide, Gregory said it was almost impossible to find it with the bow of the canoe. Three times he charged the opening with the canoe only to run foul of the fence on one side or the other. The fourth time the bow of the canoe slipped over a fence post and stuck there.
But this gave Greg a chance to escape from under the appalling weight, which had been growing greater each moment, and to see exactly where he was and get a straight run at the gate. But in his haste and anger he failed altogether to notice one very important fact.
Portaging Through a Barnyard
It being around milking time, the cows had I wandered back from pasture and were dotted idly about the barnyard waiting to be milked. Gregory said the first time he knew that he had cows for company was half through the barnyard, when one of them stuck her head under the canoe and “mooed” at him.
Fearful that the cow’s horns would get entangled in the canoe, and somewhat startled by the unexpected sight and noise, Gregory swung the canoe sharply up and to one side, an excellent manoeuvre, had not the first cow’s sister (an elderly bell cow) been standing directly in the path of the canoe’s stern. Stern met stern, it seems, with a mighty smack. Frightened and indignant, the old bell-cow set up an enormous clatter and in a moment the whole herd was in a panic.
Greg couldn’t tell how many cows had joined his aquatic rodeo, but he figured there must have been about six hundred. It was a desperate situation. He couldn’t see. He daren’t move for fear of offending another cow. He didn’t want to let the canoe down for fear of offending himself when he came to pick it up.
He waited there like a ship at sea with foghorns blowing all around it, until at last things got quieter and he heard a man’s voice.
“What’s the trouble, mister,” it said. “Canoe kinda heavy?”
“Canoe nothing,” said Greg. “This portage is full of cows.”
“‘Tain’t now,” laughed the farmer. “They’re back in the pasture just scared to death.”
Greg thought we’d better camp where we were for the night, so that we could get a good start in the morning.
It didn’t strike me as much of a camping place. There wasn’t any grove of birches, I couldn’t see a balsam, the cows had been making free with what little water there was left in the stream.
I pointed out this last drawback to Greg, and it looked as if one of us would have to go back to the lake and portage some water, but I realized that the farmer would probably have a well. So I left Greg to unpack and start a fire while I went for water.
The farmer was a nice man and gave me some water and some information. “Where do you lads figure you’re going?” he asked me. I told him we were going on a canoe trip. “Then you’d best hire a truck,” he said. “There ain’t no water below here for about six miles since the Hydro’s dammed the lake for storage.”
I asked the farmer to come with me and tell Greg about the Hydro. He did and Greg got out his maps. The farmer said the map wasn’t any good till September, when the Hydro let the water out. Greg said we couldn’t wait till September. The farmer said he didn’t know about that, but that he had a couple of tourist huts for rent and we could get a good meal at his house for sixty cents.
The idea appealed to me but made Greg very angry. So the farmer left and Greg went on getting supper. It was a good job we were in a field, because there never would have been room in the woods for all Greg’s labor-saving devices. Our camp covered about half an acre.
Greg sent me off with the little ax to get some firewood, so I went back to see the farmer and made a deal with him for a wheelbarrow load of stove wood for fifty cents, f.o.b. the camp-fire. Greg was so angry he could hardly speak when I returned with the farmer and the wheelbarrow. I also brought back pie, which Greg threw in the middle of what was going to be the river in September.
“We’re on a camping trip and that’s not cricket,” said Greg.
“Who ever heard of playing cricket on camping trip?” I said.
“‘You know what I mean,” said Greg. “There are rules for camping, just the same as every other game.”
When I understood it was a game we were playing, I said no more. Greg went on cooking. If hotels took the room Greg took to cook supper for two, it would require about two square miles of kitchen to provide a medium-sized banquet at the Royal York. The piece de resistance of the meal was flapjacks.
Back in the Farmer’s Truck
I never found out what a flapjack is like I when it’s young and tender, but Greg talked about them as some people do about pate de fois, or truffles aux pimpernells, or planked porterhouse steak and onion soup.
They caught fire twice and I had to rescue them with the pliers because the aluminum pan was too hot to touch without asbestos gloves. There was only one each, for flapjacking rules require that you flip them in the air over the fire. Greg lost six that way.
After we had stayed our hunger on flapjacks and brownish liquid which Greg said was coffee, we put the tent up. “Now for some balsam boughs,” said Greg. “A real night’s sleep and you won’t know yourself.”
“Wouldn’t some other tree do?” I asked. “Why,” said Greg. “Because I don’t think there’s any balsam around here.” “Nonsense,” said Greg. “There’s always balsam. You go that way and I’ll go this.”
So Greg went off one way and I went up and made a deal with the farmer to fill the tent with hay for a dollar and fifty cents, the hay to remain his property after we had gone. Then I had some supper.
Greg was gone almost an hour and couldn’t find any balsam, which made him sore, but he was much sorer when he found his silk tent packed so full of hay you could hardly burrow into it.
“It’s disgraceful,” he said. “It’s worse than cheating at cards. I’d sooner sleep out on the ground than on hay on a camping trip.”
“That’s all right for you,” I said, “but I’m recovering from an operation. I’ve got to take care of myself.”
What worried me was the waterless river we were supposed to go canoeing on in the morning. I tried to tell Greg that the farmer had a truck, but Greg said the farmer had done enough harm already.
“Wait,” said Greg. “I’ll think of something before morning.”
He did. Along about dawn he roused me with what seemed wonderful news. “I’ve got it,” he said. “There’s no water below, but there’s a lake full of water above. All we have to do is to remove the obstruction that is keeping the water back. Take out a couple of stop logs and we’ll have enough water to float a steamer.”
So I went up and bribed the farmer to take some stop logs out of the dam while Greg got to work and piled everything in the canoe. When I got back he had the canoe out in the dry bed of the stream and was sitting in it.
“Get in so’s we’ll be ready the minute the water hits us.”
We were ready and waiting. First a small trickle of water arrived and then a little bit more, and then I heard a roar and looked back. Greg says the wall of water wasn’t over three feet high, but it looked more like a three-storey house to me.
“Hold tight,” said Greg, “we’re going.”
We went all right. Everything went. Fortunately the stream bent right ahead of us so that most of the things, including Greg and myself, were washed on a rocky knoll. Then I realized what a true camper Greg is. No sooner had he been flung safely from the raging torrent than he said: “Quick! Let’s dump the canoe and get going while the water lasts.”
“I don’t think I’d better, Greg,” I said. “I don’t think I’m strong enough yet to stand any more camping.”
“You wouldn’t go back now in ignominy and disgrace?”
“No,” I said. “We’ll be going back in the farmer’s truck.”
Editor’s Notes: Though I normally only post stories by Greg, I included this one by our old friend Merrill Denison, since Greg is a character in it. It is an example of an older story before the Greg-Jim stories started. The image at the end shows how the overall illustration was placed on the page. The operation he mentions is having his appendix out, which he also wrote a story about on July 12, 1930, which Jim also illustrated.
F.O.B. means Free On Board, a transportation term that indicates that the price for goods includes delivery at the seller’s expense to a specified point and no further.