Friday, March 10, 2006


I happened upon an old army survival manual, which was placed, conveniently enough, directly at eye level and attracts attention by the austerity and utility of design. It is full of useful facts and helpful tips that are sure to keep a POW or a wounded paratrooper or pretty much whomever out of trouble for at least a season or so. Such facts include: a skunk cannot spray you if its feet are off the ground and it's best to submerge its carcass in cold water so its stinker glands will harden before you cook it up, and that mussels in tropical regions are toxic in the summertime. This last one may not be entirely true, but I remember it saying something about mussels from somewhere being poisonous at some point, so I'd prefer to be safer than sorrier. Although this manual is surely supposed to be just the facts, I found that it rather began to romanticize the idea of survival under extreme conditions and I wondered how many people had purposely gotten themselves lost just to test out the advice it lends. I pictured myself in a daze with a torn knapsack and a cracked compass and the tattered volume tucked under my arm frantically digging myself a snow cave with my bare hands. Thanks to the book, I was able to identify the symptoms of encroaching frostbite and would thus be wise enough to take a break and stick my hands in my armpits every time the fingers would get numb. Once inside my cave (on the sleeping level on a bed of prickly pine boughs, 12-16 inches above the cooking level, ventilation hole, and door), I pictured snuggling up with what was left of my Government Issue wool blanket and reading the survival manual until I peacefully drifted off to sleep. I would know how to distinguish cumulous clouds from the stratus and the cirrus ones and I would be prepared if I ever encountered a death adder, copperhead, or the dreaded king cobra.

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