In collaboration with Martin and Ellen
Irwin collapsed between the gnarled black roots of the ancient oak tree. He peered up, up into the green leaves at the golden sun. All around him were enormous trees, their leaves rustling in the chill wind. He analyzed his plight. He was hopelessly lost.
Irwin started to shiver. “I’ll get back,” he said, trying to cheer himself up but failing miserably. “I know they’ll find me. They’re probably looking already. I’ll only be here a few minutes.”
It had been a calm and pleasant Saturday morning when he and his family had set out on a nature hike in Dingle Hollow National Park. As the Wilburmeier family came over a rise, they all gasped at the sight of a beautiful meadow, filled with colorful flowers and sparkling with morning dew.
“Kids,” suggested Mrs. Wilburmeier, “why don’t we all pick some of those pretty flowers for poor bedridden Auntie Esmerelda? We’ll take them to her at the home. Ever since the accident she’s been pretty depressed.”
Happily the two children ran down the hill and began plucking daisies and Queen Anne’s lace. Soon Irwin was across the field. He didn’t notice, or perhaps he just wasn’t listening, when his sister Marge called him. When he reached the forest at the edge of the field, he turned around and started back. The Wilburmeiers were gone.
Irwin didn’t panic. He prided himself on his calmness and collectedness, so he methodically assessed his situation, calculated a number of options, and broke into a cold sweat and started screaming pathetically.
In a quick three minutes, though, he was completely hoarse. He knew he would get even more nervous if he didn’t do something, so he ran down the trail after his family. Soon, though, he came to a fork. Of course he had no idea which way to go, so he did eeny meeny minie mo and went left.
Now, collapsed in the roots of the enormous oak, Irwin wished he had gone right. When he didn’t find his family in a few hours he thought he could cut straight across the forest and would soon find the other trail. Irwin jumped up, ran a few minutes, and realized it was hopeless. If he was going to survive in this wild wilderness, he would have to do it on his own.
Irwin had always dreamed of being a mountain man. Now was his chance! He would have to make camp before dark, and he would also need enough food to last through a severe winter storm. He glanced up at the sun. Only seventeen minutes past one. “I’ve got a couple of hours before nightfall.”
“Hmmm,” he mused, “Maybe I have something useful in my pockets. Mountain men and adventurers always do.” His supplies consisted of a piece of string, several paper clips, a quarter, a dime, three pennies, a pencil stub, a bottle cap, and a rubber band.
“Wall, les’ see here. This bottlecap, I dunno what that’s useful for, but it sure won’t cut down trees for my lean-to. I can make fishhooks out of these paperclips and string. Now this here money, I don’t see any trading posts round about this neck of the woods.”
Irwin hunkered down on a rock. “The most important thing about a mountain man is his name. Now I don’t think Irwin Wilburmeier is quite rugged enough. Let’s see… “
So then he thought to himself, “Wild” Irwin Wilburmeier? Naw, that just won’t cut it. Dawg Tooth Irwin? Nah. Irwin “Lockjaw” Wilburmeier? Maybe Wilderness Irwin. No… wait… it’s coming… “King of Dingle Hollow National Park”!
“Yes! That’s it!” Irwin leapt mightily atop his rock and shouted for all the world to hear, “Look out wilderness! I’m Irwin Wilburmeier, King of Dingle Hollow National Park, and don’t you forget it!”
Irwin knew that the second most important thing to a mountain man was his coonskin cap. There didn’t seem to be any coons readily available, so he concluded that he could construct a reasonable facsimile of tough, rugged tree bark. He pulled some off the nearest tree and set to work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t exactly sure what a coon looked like, let alone a cap made out of one. In the end he just stuck it together with some mud and slapped it on his head.
Now that Irwin was really a mountain man, he had to build a lean-to. I’d better build it on high ground in case of a flash flood, he thought. After a suitable hill was found, and a large tree chosen, Irwin began to collect branches for his lean-to. Soon he discovered that all the good hemlock boughs were still on the tree. He had no cutting tools so he had to gather twigs. He was beginning to think he had enough when, under a pine tree, he discovered a few small indentations in the dirt. “Wolf tracks,” he muttered. “Look fresh, too.”
Quickly Irwin headed back to camp. “I better make camp soon. I’ll need a fire to keep the wolves away.” Soon, however, Irwin decided that lean-tos were for sissies. Besides, he wasn’t sure how to make one. So he’d sleep out under the stars. Observing proper care with his fire, he made a ring of rocks and built the required teepee of kindling. Banging two stones together to make a spark, he found out, was not as easy as he’d previously thought. He resorted to a slightly less efficient method of rubbing two sticks together. Just when he was starting to get discouraged, he remembered that most genuine mountain men ate their food raw, hot off the carcass instead of hot off the grill. He also recalled from the depths of his shallow memory that a true mountain man fends off wolves with a gun or knife, if bandits have made off with his trusty flint. In extreme conditions, the mountain man would be forced to protect himself with his bare hands.
Shortly afterwards, Irwin attempted a snare for the purpose of obtaining sustenance, as he was fearful the monstrous growls of his stomach would attract unwanted pests. This occupied his time for several minutes, and as the task progressed, an onlooker might have likened it to the coonskin cap episode. The snare ended up looking like a hurricane had caused the paths of a logging camp and a string factory to collide, possibly causing death and destruction to overthrow a forest filled with weak-hearted rabbits. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the trap caught no edible animal in the time Irwin devoted to it.
While inspecting his trap line, Irwin heard voices coming up the hill. “Oh, no,” he gasped, “Injuns! Probably a Blackfoot war party.” He armed himself with a rubber band and slowly, stealthily, crept over the rise.
The band of savages, shouting guttural noises unfamiliar to The King, used the disorderly battle tactics so typical of the Blackfoot tribe. They wove back and forth on the trail, bellowing what sounded like, “Irwin, where are you?” and, “Irwin, you big galoot, I was happy when you disappeared, but then Mom said it was against the law to leave you here,” and, “Irwin! Irwin, sweetie, I never meant what I said about the way you screech when you see spiders! You know I didn’t, don’t you, dear?”
Irwin loaded and cocked his weapon, then fired. With a resounding TWANG he nailed Marge in the side of the head.
“Irwin! You’ve really done it this time! Why I think I’ll…”
“George! George, what’s that on his head? It’s attacking him, get it off, get it off!”
“Mom. That’s a coonskin cap. You’re just lucky I fired when I did, the wolves were right on your backs. Besides, I’m not just Irwin anymore, I’m Irwin Wilburmeier, King of Dingle Hollow National Park,” exclaimed Irwin, leaping mightily atop his rock once again.
“I think he hit his head again, Vera. We better get him to the hospital quick. You know what happened the last time he did this.”
“Didn’t the doctors say he might have to be institutionalized?” asked Marge.
“Yup, they did. Better get him to the hospital right away.” Mrs. Wilburmeier paused for a moment, then smiled and said, “On second thought… Irwin, why don’t you go pick some more flowers for Auntie Esmerelda? I think you’ll be visiting her soon,” said Mr. Wilburmeier.
This article appeared on pages 10–11 of Issue 10 | April 2013.