The Great Outdoors is not my element. I’m more at home with The Slight Indoors: a telephone box, for example, or a lift.
It was somewhat out of character, then, when I went off (voluntarily!) to explore one of Canada’s national parks earlier this year. I even went so far as to take off my oxfords so that I could paddle in glacier water.
I suppose I wanted to prove it to myself. That I could brave untarnished air with the best of them.
None of this would have been possible, of course, without hours of advance preparation in the library. After digesting Dewey 796.5 in its entirety, I felt ready for the world unpaved.
On the trail, I patronizingly impart some new-found wisdom to my girlfriend. The best way to do this is to affect nonchalance and to pretend that you knew everything all along.
“If a bear should cross our path,” I say, “the most important thing is not to run”.
“What you must do, dear heart, is stride confidently up to the bear as if you own the place. Maintain eye contact and then, while he’s still getting his shit together, you abruptly adopt Fig. 49.”
“Fig. 49 from Creg Dennehy’s Over-Easy Guide to Outdoor Survivesmanship. Fig. 49: A Punch In the Face.”
There was a time in our relationship when the revelation of such pearls would result in a raised eyebrow or two, but she must have overworked those muscles over the years, for her expression betrayed little but constant adoration.
“I think that’s for sharks,” she said.
“No, silly. Sharks live in the sea. There aren’t any sharks around for miles.”
The nearest shark, as a point of fact, was preserved in formaldehyde some fifteen-hundred miles away in a San Francisco art gallery.
An hour later, we chance across the cloven footprints of a moose. There is a strong scent of musk in the air. My smitten partner probably assumed the smell belonged to me. But no.
“Do you smell that?” I ask, “it’s probably the moose but there’s an outside chance it could be a bear.”
“Shall we track him down and adopt Fig. 49?”
“No, dear, I think we should leap ahead to Fig. 52 and move very quickly in the opposite direction.”
Back in the cabin, we reviewed our nationalparksmanship over a restorative lunch of cucumber sandwiches and a cheeky gee-and-tee.
We agreed it was more exciting to think about the bear I could have punched than to dwell on the moment I got the whiff of a moose and ran away.