I guess that you could call it “voluntary homelessness.”
Usually following an argument with my boss and father over some technical detail regarding the business of precision metals manufacturing, I would quit or get fired. I don’t have the numbers — there was little difference between the 2 actions.
I was tolerated at home past the age of 18 — rent free — as an employee perk. One condition of my termination(s) was that this agreement be suspended and I would be obliged to pay rent. Right … forget that.
If the climate was tolerable (which often depended on the severity of the argument, I would take a month or 2 off and camp in the wilderness between New Jersey’s Millstone River and Delaware-Raritan Canal. There I would camp and brood until I was ready to admit that he was right albeit only by some obscure technicality.
Crossings were from the Polish factory town of Manville, where the canal met the Raritan River, to Princeton’s Lake Carnegie, home of the famous longboats. The Manville end was urbanized and industrial while upstream the Princeton end exhibited a more historic-rustique theme.
Between these more populous areas, the rural crossings were about 10 miles apart.
These crossings were Weston, where a mistake during restoration caused the old mill to fall into the river; Blackwells Mills, where I remember the retired lock keeper growing his own tobacco; and East Millstone, with its proud old art deco bridge.
Moving south, we find Griggstown, a crossing used by General Washington’s troops after the Battle of Princeton. Next is Rocky Hill, then Kingston where the dam holding back Lake Carnegie is located.
There are some Revolutionary-era stone houses along the roads that bridge these waterways. There are also a few canal-era buildings (circa 1840) that have been converted to residences. These are all occupied and command very upscale rent in spite of the fact that they are inundated reliably.
Between these crossings, the vast expanse of floodplain was virtually abandoned. It was as if no one owned the land; camp indefinitely for free? Sure. Build a fire? Go right ahead. Swim “au traditionale” and fish with explosives? No problem — just not at the same time.
I would take along my muzzle-loading double barrel 20-gauge and some fishing gear and live off of the land and water. My 7-decade mark is on a not too distant horizon so I’m not too sure that I would still be up for such an adventure today.
But I guess I’m wimping out. When my grandfather, a World War I veteran, was my age, he would disappear into the rugged Kentucky hills on spur-of-the-moment hunting trips. There he would wander about the woods for weeks at a time or until he ran out of ammunition.
But apparently, that’s how the old-timers hunted. Distance was measured in tens of miles and time was measured by weeks.
Lately, I’ve been reading excerpts from 1890s issues of Shooting and Fishing Magazine. These are a regular feature in The Single Shot Exchange (P.O. Box 391 Lamar, Mo. 64759; call 803-628-5326) which have really taught me that as a rugged outdoorsman, I’m pretty much a bantam weight.
“Look.” said a member of a 19th-Century Maine hunting party. “These tracks are only 2 days old.” So they chased a herd of caribou 30 miles (They actually said 60 miles, but I had to salt that down a bit), the last quarter mile crawling under thick brush in order to get a shot at some “camp meat.”
This wasn’t the actual hunt — the result of this excursion was just to supply the camp with meat while the party hunted moose. The caribou meat was carried back to camp by pack mules, of which it is said despise hauling carcasses or any parts thereof: I became suspicious that this feature may actually have been written by a contemporary writer skillfully copying the style of the 1800s.
When I noticed that one writer had signed himself “Iron Ramrod,” I thought that I had them dead to rights. I was jealous that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself.
Before starting this article, I called Single Shot Exchange publisher, Lee Shaver (of Forged in Fire fame) for the genuine lowdown. Lee assured me that the articles were genuine.
Since then, I’ve stationed back issues of the magazine at all of my “sittin’ places” which have become more numerous over the passing years. I just can’t get enough of Shooting and Fishing from the 19th Century.
Some mention was made of a pair of 1895 hunting parties of bankers, professors and barristers meeting in the mountains of Montana.
Their guides were getting anxious to retreat to the lowlands as an approaching storm cloud promised several feet of snow at their altitude of 7,000 feet. They knew that they would experience only a shower of rain at a lesser elevation.
Regardless, the 2 hunting parties — who had been out for nearly a month — exchanged supplies, the surplus of one filling the deficiencies of the other. Tobacco was one of the essentials mentioned.
Tobacco? Is it even possible to smoke in the rarified air at 7,000 feet? Not only would we be constantly out of breath, but likely our pipe would keep going out.
What I found especially interesting about this particular account is that the guides had a reasonably accurate knowledge of the elevation, which may have seemed a real novelty at the time. Apparently, the first U.S. Geological Survey (1894) had recently gone through and placed its elevation benchmark monuments.
Most of the articles are in that British-based wordy 1800s cadence typical of old-time humor and fiction writers such as Twain, Melville and Darwin. Here’s an example from “The Education of a Sportsman” (1890):
“It may legitimately be questioned whether the perfect sportsman is ever a rule of thumb man, for those who merely know that certain results follow certain actions, but are as ignorant as horses of the causes that are at work, become ridiculously helpless under the slightest change in the conditions, while on the other hand the believer in practice with theory can intelligently accommodate himself to the altered conditions and accomplish his desires in spite of seemingly adverse influences.”
(That’s all one sentence! The lesson continues:)
“Many a man in his heart of hearts would prefer to cast a good fly than to succeed at trade, and would rather be a crack shot with a rifle than a senator.”
Naturally, in the instance of the latter, it would behoove the individual statesman to exercise due diligence toward the maintenance of such prowess regarding firearms in view of certain situations arising during a Senate session.
Good grief — they’ve even got me doing it.