BY DARREN HANDSCHUH
I admit it. I would have made a lousy pioneer.
I am just not a settle-the-new-world kind of guy.
I enjoy camping and living among nature, but my version of roughing it is not showering for a couple of days and flicking a bug off my plate before I eat.
When I camp, it is in a trailer with a cushioned bed, stove, bathroom and most important of all, a furnace to keep me toasty warm at night.
I recently visited a historic ranch and heard tales of pioneers that confirmed I am not the gold-rush type.
Some of these hardy souls would spend weeks, even months walking to the gold fields in the hopes of striking it rich.
My first thought was, “What kind of bathroom facilities were there along the gold trail?”
Even before the question finished forming in my cranium, I knew the answer involved sticks, leaves and probably a rash of some sort.
Sounds like a good time to me.
I pity the uneducated prospector who grabbed a handful of poison ivy after a trip to the bush to take care of some personal business.
I would imagine word about that particular plant and the need to avoid it would have spread like wildfire.
Who would be providing this information? The guy who had been walking funny for the past three days, that’s who.
Having lived on the land for generations already, I would imagine the local aboriginals already knew to avoid the plant.
Maybe it was a local native who suggested to the fat, white guy with the beard the ivy was perfect for personal use and then ran home to tell the rest of his village what he had done.
“You will not believe what I just got some white guy to do. You know that plant that makes you itch really bad, well….”
They of course would break out in roaring laughter every time they saw a cowboy doing the poison ivy shuffle.
“Hey white guys, you know what else is a good idea - sleeping with food in your tent. Bears hate that and will avoid you like the plague.”
Then there was the bathing issue. Many of those intrepid pioneers would bathe once a year whether they needed it or not.
That’s why so few of them were actually eaten by bears. The bear would take one taste, hunch up and spew his breakfast before swearing off those smelly white things in favour of berries and grubs. You know it’s bad when bug larvae is the most delectable meal in the woods.
It was not an easy thing to lather up in those days and the last thing someone wanted to do was dive into an ice cold lake or stream.
It was much easier to just smell bad and besides there were no ladies to impress anyway so what’s the point?
“Frank you smell absolutely delightful today, what have you done?”
“Well Bob, I took a quick bath in that crick over thar and then used the aloe vera plant to keep me smelling like a fresh spring rain. It also helps keep my skin soft and supple.”
Somehow I doubt that conversation was every uttered among the tough-as-nails customers of the old days.
Of course the natives were kicking back and lounging in local hot springs.
“Do you think we should tell the white guys about this?”
“Naw, it’s way more fun to watch them the way they are.”
So, pioneers searching for gold were a smelly lot with poor hygiene – using your finger for a toothbrush does not count as cleaning – who would spend months on end living with other men.
Is gold really that important? I would much rather have found a job somewhere in the city and slowly squirreled some money away for retirement.
Who needs to settle a new land anyway? Look at all the land we have now, going out and claiming more would just be plain greedy.
But the lure of gold was too strong for many and they left the comfort of the city and plunged head first into the challenges only Mother Nature could provide.
And after a while I am sure even Mother Nature plugged her nose when ever an intrepid gold seeker went by.