Sitting next to a crackling fire with a hot toddy and a good book is a perfect way to hunker down on a stormy winter’s day. There’s something about feeling snug when it is cold outside that creates a unique sense of well-being and comfort. The toddy doesn’t hurt, either.
With that in mind, here are some recommendations for books with an outdoor bent and a few suggested alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks to accompany the written words. Sip, read, relax and stay warm.
The book: “Real Hunting & Campfire Humor, Short Stories from a Lifetime of Travel and Adventure,” by Jack Atcheson Sr.
Books don’t get much more traditional than Jack Atcheson Sr.’s latest offering. Atcheson grew up in Butte but left at an early age to work in the logging town of Libby. Throughout his life, he has been an avid hunter. And like all longtime hunters, he has gathered a wealth of humorous and almost too-wild-to-believe tales.
One of my favorite short tales involved a prominent landmark north of Gardiner, called the Devil’s Slide. Atcheson shot a bull elk near the top of the steep scree and cliff-lined slope and decided to try and ride the animal’s carcass to the bottom. Here’s what he wrote in his matter-of-fact style.
“I got tangled in the drag ropes and the two of us rolled down the hill together. It was terrifying and could have been deadly. I will stick to sleds in the future.”
Another describes his encounter with an Ekalaka-area farmer’s wife when he was lost. He asked the woman for directions, but she wasn’t any help. Turns out she was a recluse and never went to town, but she did offer this tip: “‘I really don’t know where there is any town but my son goes out every Friday night and gets drunk.’ She pointed out the road that he went down and said, ‘There must be some sort of a town that way.’ She guessed right. She also gave me a letter to mail.”
Atcheson’s writing is plain. The book isn’t edited very well. But who cares when the stories are so interesting. Now more than 80 years old, Atcheson is an icon of the Montana hunting scene, having worked as a taxidermist, outfitter and activist for hunting and access rights. It’s great he put down some of his stories, and included some equally unusual photos, too.
He included this personal note with a copy of his book that is as sparse and informative as the prose in his book. It was written in neat script, all capital letters with little punctuation: “The book is late but I broke my hand – ribs couldn’t hunt Second time no elk in 65+ year No antelope second time since 1945 Life is too short I can’t believe I’m so old! But I feel like 60”
The book is $29.95 and can be ordered online at www.RealHuntingHumor.com.
The toddy: A traditional hot toddy since the author is so time-honored.
A hot toddy is a Scottish creation that mixed whisky, boiling water or warm milk with sugar or honey as a sweetener. That’s the basics. From there, however, the drink has evolved many different forms. Here’s one:
Add 2 ounces of Glenfiddich whisky, one lemon slice and honey to reach your desired sweetness level. Fill the rest of the mug with hot water, stir and inhale deeply.
To preserve the toddy’s warmth for as long as possible, preheat your mug.
For teetotalers: Black coffee in an enameled camp cup.
The book: “Anything Worth Doing, A True Story of Adventure, Friendship and Tragedy on the Last of the West’s Great Rivers,” by Jo Deurbrouck.
If you’ve ever been on a river trip with a guide who has told tales of his near-death outings in whitewater to scare the clientele, then you have an inkling of where this book is heading.
Deurbrouck, who lives in Idaho, was once a river guide herself, so she paints a detailed inside view into the bohemian lifestyle of those who make such outdoor occupations a way of life.
The story floats around an insane outing on the flood-level Salmon River in June of 1996. The two main characters, Jon Barker and Clancy Reece, are racing downstream in high water to set a record for distance floated on the river in a single day. So they start at midnight, in the dark, near the small town of Stanley, Idaho, and begin rowing downstream for maximum speed.
Did I mention it was night!
“Less than an hour later, the dory swept around a corner and the spotlight’s beam splashed against a massive logjam. The main force of the current flew straight at it, piled up against it. … After a half dozen strokes it was clear they weren’t going to make it. The current was stronger than it had appeared, and now it was too late for the tactic a less confident oarsman might have chosen, an upstream ferry to slow the boat and buy maneuvering time.”
As outdoors folk look for ever-more challenging ways to make their mark and test their skills, Deurbrouck’s book serves as a cautionary tale of the sacrifices such outings take. It’s also a reminder that although someone may have years of outdoor experience, as Reece did, they don’t always make smart choices.
The book, a 2012 National Outdoor Book Award winner, is $15 and can be ordered online at www.sundogbookpublishing.com.
The toddy: Mix 1 ounce spiced rum with hot apple cider and garnish with a cinnamon stick or sprinkle of cinnamon. This drink is known as a broken leg, probably because it was served to some poor skier who ended up sitting in the chalet the rest of the season after cracking their femur.
For teetotalers: Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows floating on top, a visual reminder of high river runoff.
The book: “Mark of the Grizzly,” the revised and updated version of recent bear attacks and the hard lessons learned, by Scott McMillion.
Livingston writer Scott McMillion has long weaved a well-written, insightful tale – first as a newspaper reporter, then as a magazine writer and finally as the author of a book on assorted grizzly encounter tales from across the West.
My favorite story from his “Mark of the Grizzly” book is the Chapter 10 piece titled Grizzly RoboCop. Despite the apparently wide media coverage Troy Hurtubise received for developing his bearproof suit, I had never heard of him.
Hurtubise built his suit of titanium, plastic, flameproof rubber, air bags and chain mail. In testing the suit, “It – and Hurtubise – had endured the sort of punishment suffered by the coyote in the old Roadrunner cartoons: tumbles off 150-foot cliffs and a few collisions with a three-ton truck going thirty miles an hour. Wearing the suit, Hurtubise survived a smack from a three-hundred-pound log-on-a-rope that dropped forty feet onto his chest and face. The suit stood up to sharp arrows from a hundred-pound bow, slugs from a 12-gauge shotgun.
Now, Hurtubise said, the suit was ready for a grizzly bear. It was time to go find the Old Man.”
Hurtubise spent 10 years and $150,000 developing the body armor, but it was so heavy and awkward that he had a hard time walking in it, rendering it pretty much useless. So he developed a lighter model, but no one is interested in buying the suit, although he’s had many interested callers.
McMillion’s other tales provide detailed insight into the rare bear attacks that occur in places as near as Yellowstone National Park and the people who survive them, as well as die. He also includes this note in the preface that is fair to remember: “When bears meet civilization the bears generally lose.”
The book is $16.95 and can be found in local bookstores, as well as at www.LyonsPress.com.
The toddy: Your favorite bourbon straight, no wooseying around, since the book’s subject is not for the faint of heart.
For teetotalers: Black tea to race your pulse.