by Mike Bay
Law. It never was and never will be my gig. From criminal to tax and tort law, ach phooey. Even though I've worked in various aspects of law enforcement at different times over my career, law itself remains something of a bugaboo to me--though needing to know it wasn't as important, most times, as knowing where to look it up. And that much I knew. Barely.
Perhaps I should have made an exception when it came to Nature.
Growing up in Iowa and later Colorado, I didn't give the laws of Nature any more thought. Oh sure, I'd learned a few lessons from personal experience: for instance, l learned electricity will conduct from an electric fence to a body if that body's dumb enough to pee on the fence, not thinking it'll matter since I . . . er . . . this mythical person ain't directly contacting it.
But despite those pesky laws, I came to love nature. I spent a number of my formative years growing up on a farm, and much of my free time there exploring the wonders thereabouts. Camping, hiking, fishing, followed by many a night under an infinite celestial vista, toasting marshmallows and swatting mosquitoes with gusto by a gently crackling fire. I tell you, what do you need to know about law to appreciate that?
Ah, the ignorance of youth, but I digress.
In the summer of 1991, a group from work decided we would spend an extended weekend camping out at a state park near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Since not everyone could be there at the same time -- different work schedules -- it would be a come-and-go-as-can deal. I and two of our female coworkers got there first, establishing our little domain in nature.
For those of you familiar with popular (ie., heavily used) state campgrounds, you'll notice one thing immediately: for a place full of trees, there's precious little firewood lying around. It's all been scarfed up by previous campers. Thus, you bring it with you or search well away from the camp for something useable, or -- unthinkably -- you buy it.
That was our situation upon arrival. I had forgotten the above; nor did there appear to be any sites within comfortable walking distance where fire makings were any more available. Even the trees in the campsite had been stripped of useable branches, up to about 8 feet off the ground.
But about five miles back the way we'd driven in, there was a camp store with, my female cohorts had noted, firewood for sale. This was, in their minds, the simple solution. To me, it was rank heresy. Buy wood? We're camping in the great outdoors! The outdoors would supply! Turning to that male ingenuity that keeps us from asking for directions, I pointed out that I didn't need no stinking camp store: I had all the wood we'd need, right there in camp.
While the trees had been stripped of branches up to 8 feet up, that wasn't the case above 8 feet. There was a plentitude of dead, prime-to-burn branches, ready to be harvested by anyone prepared to climb to get them.
Female logic being what it is, my two companions were instantly dubious, almost to the point of pleading with me to go to the camp store: "you'll fall and hurt yourself!" Graced (and cursed) with macho instincts, that was a challenge I had no choice but to step up to. Tucking a small hatchet in my belt, I climbed the first tree, using the stubs of previously broken-off branches to support my weight, and began showing them I didn't need no stinking camp store.
After bringing down several useful specimens, I made a controlled descent, and chose another tree in which to reinforce my proven ingenuity. Again, the warning: "you're going to fall!" Again, I scoffed. Again, I climbed up and harvested a bounty of firewood without incident, further swelling my male ego. Camp store? Buy wood? HA! One more tree, and we'd be good to go for the night's menu of turnip greens and fire-baked cornbread & beans (that had already raised eyebrows, but I digress). Up the third tree I went, a little higher, as my confidence increased, probably from decreased oxygen. But I was going to get me that firewood, as I imagined Nature intended it.
It was then that the bill for my ignorance of the laws of Nature, and what it truly intended, came due: about 12 feet up, one stub of branch supporting my right foot abruptly ceased doing so. I came down the tree like a fireman down a firehouse pole.
'Cept that tree wasn't smooth like a firehouse pole.
I landed with emphasis at the base of the tree, sit down part first; the immediate impact tremor caused a small rain of pine cones and a nearby squirrel to join me; a nearby owl didn't seem very amused by the 3.1 on the Richter Scale tremor, either. The squirrel immediately returned to its perch, chattering imprecations about my ancestral heritage, while my damnably intuitive camperettes stood there with looks of faux horror, miserably failing not to laugh.
Later, while one was trying to clean and dress my right hand (which I'd opened up from the base of the index finger to the base of the palm), while still failing miserably not to laugh, the other took my car and -- oh, the agony of it all -- went and bought firewood.
Thus, it became known around work the next week that I had learned a valuable lesson in the laws of Nature when I fell out of a tree getting firewood. At least, one wag tweaked me, I wasn't killed while trying to rake leaves there.
Mike Bay is a free-lance humor writer and accomplished ceiling pencil sticker during writers' block. Born in Iowa, subsisting in Colorado, he has parental and other ancestral links on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. He's a former newspaper columnist, a member of the NetWits and National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and has been published in the quarterly Satire, on various websites and ezines, on his own website ( outofthinair ), and in an upcoming book, Serenade of the Stinkweed, an anthology of marital experiences by Jeanni Brosius, Bandal Books. A life-long bachelor, he's still waiting to receive his BS in it, and trying to figure out why he needs a degree to prove what he's full of.
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