Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Preparing My Son for the Urban Wild

by Andrew Hunter

It's Day 2 of our countdown to Father's Day, and guest blogger and new dad Andrew Hunter shares with us some big city survival tips. 

This morning, my son and I watched our first sunrise together. I am a new parent. So, lately, I have seen plenty of sunrises. But the one this morning was the first that my son showed interest in. He has just awaken from the fourth trimester so everything interests him these days. This morning after his 5 o’clock bottle he started to fuss because he wanted to sit up and look around. I positioned him on my lap to face our kitchen window. The sun started to peek over the church a few blocks away. I leaned over to look at him. He had his eyes set on the bright outline of the church spire and a big smile on his face.

As you might expect of a new father, when I saw his grin, memories of my own childhood discoveries of nature flooded my mind. Most of them were set in the mountains of Idaho, where I spent my summers. My grandparents had an A-frame cabin on a desolate lake in the Cascade Mountain range. My grandfather built it himself. He was a Depression Era child, the first modern do-it-yourself generation, and determined to teach his city grandson how to live off the land. He taught me how to build a fire out of what had fallen to the forest floor. He taught me which wild berries were good to eat, which ones were not, how to fire a rifle and roast food over a open fire. He even took advantage of the local kids’ tricking me into my first snipe hunt to teach me how to set traps for small animals.  

This all summed up to a rite of passage, a passing on of knowledge on how to survive when money was tight, even though he himself had flourished as well as any in the post war era and deep down he knew he and his family would have to fall pretty far to ever need to eat roadkill again. Thinking about this, I took stock of my own situation: well educated, well employed, living in a nice neighborhood in the best city in the world to live in, Brooklyn. I realized that my son would have to fall even farther than I to need the survival lessons my grandfather gave me. Instead of feeling comforted, however, I worried that I would not be able to assure that my own son experienced this rite of passage. I looked around my house wondering how I might teach Nico to use the resources that the concrete forest provided.

First thing, I figured, he’d need to know is how to start a fire. Right? Man first moved up when he learned to harness fire. But where the hell would I teach him to make a fire? I suppose I could cordon off a parking space on 5th avenue? Does the city not designate a day for taking over parking spots? For fuel, we could use an old Onion or Gotham Writers Course Guide, anything that we could grab from the free paper boxes on the street corner, or maybe the NY Times my neighbor always leaves in the lobby. The Sunday Times rolled up would make a perfect log! I’ll have to shred the Onion for pine needles. Roll up a half dozen Gotham Guides to look like twigs of kindling. I’ll hide the lumber under parked cars and tell my son, “Okay, Nico. First we start with pine needles. Go find me some pine needles.” And he’ll scavenge under the cars. “Time for the kindling,” and he’ll bring me the Gotham Guides. Before we light up our pile of metro news, I’ll warn him, “Now son, always make sure you get a permit before you burn something in public?” That will be my little addition to the lesson, the bit of knowledge I learned on my own, that I added to the family tree of knowledge. Think of how that advice will serve a dual purpose, how it might save him a trip to the jailhouse during college.

Now for foraging. I thought, “That’s going to be a tough one.” My instinct was to say, “NEVER, ever forage in the city.” But come on. Be creative. We’ll visit all of the fruit and nut vendors on Wall Street. They’d never deny a little kid a free sample. I’ll say, “Son, if the vendor isn’t willing to eat one, don’t buy it.”

Firing a rifle? We can let his grandpa handle that one.

Roasting marshmallows? That was an easy one. We’ll use the gas stove range. But what about a roasting stick? I’ll teach him to steal a hanger from the dry cleaner’s recycle bin. I’ll tell him, “Don’t use painted hangars; you might get lead poisoning.” Then I’ll show him how to unwind the hanger into a make-shift roasting stick. “Always rotate your marshmallow,” I’ll say. “Otherwise you’ll set off the smoke detector.” Yep, I thought, I got that one covered.

As far as a snipe hunt goes, I’ll have to wait until his friends sucker him. I figure even Park Slope must have a local version of the snipe hunt. The problem is whether or not the hunt is on the Prospect Park Pond or the Gowanus. Snipes always live close to water.

Seriously. I’ll have to teach Nico how to trap rats and take a rabies shot or how to make a bio hazard suit? I cannot say that I am looking forward to that one.

I thought of his future lessons in comparison to mine and felt humbled that they would pale to those my grandfather gave me, But I suppose my grandfather felt the same way comparing the advice he gave me and what he got on how to feed his family off the land, since he knew I would probably never have to worry. Nico’s memories will be his own I suppose and he’ll know I gave him what I know. Hell, my grandfather’s father was a bone dry Lutheran and Grandpa taught me how to distill my own grain alcohol. Speaking of which, Nico, here’s one to remember: “Never go cheap on booze, shoes, and toilet paper."


Andrew Hunter lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife and son. He is the Community Manager and a Featured Reviewer for fav&co. He also writes fiction. But no one has yet to deem his make believe stories fit to publish. Someday.

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