You probably have dreams. Big dreams, wild dreams. Maybe you want to learn to survive in subzero temperatures. Maybe you want to conduct a wilderness photo shoot.
Like Oprah and Mr. Rogers, I totally believe in you. You can do it. (Say that aloud 10 times whenever you’re feeling discouraged.) Whatever your dream in life is, go for it. But let me give you a tip: Don’t bring cats. (Actually, that’s a much better mantra. Repeat that to yourself instead.)
On a chilly, sunny morning this week, I headed to Bonesteele Park, near Aumsville. My plan was simple: go into the woods with my camera, my cat and the will to survive, and construct a debris hut, the kind you can build to protect yourself from the elements in emergency situations (this isn’t necessarily the best option for really cold weather, but it was one I could try without snow).
Since this was not actually a matter of life or freezing to death, I decided to practice by making a mini, housecat-sized hut.
I started by finding some flat ground and compiling sticks of various sizes. I found two forked sticks of similar lengths, stuck them in the ground and leaned them against each other, then took a longer stake and rested it in the forks of the other two. This made a three-dimensional triangle which was the base upon which all other sticks and debris rested.
This part, simple though it was, took much longer than it should have because my cat, Anders, had escaped his leash and was prancing around the forest chasing nothing and smelling things. I kept having to drop my sticks and retrieve him before he wandered out of sight.
Die-hard, lifelong cat-lady though I am, I have to admit that felines are not the most helpful pets. Dogs (the sizable, smart ones, not those little decorative yappers) are decent companions for survival situations because they see a stranger and think “BAD GUY! MUST BARK! MUST BITE!” Cats, meanwhile, are like, “That leaf is a sure threat. Pardon me while I pounce on it. Ah look, there’s the leaf’s wicked accomplice, the dust speck!” and they bound off, leaving you alone to face any real enemies prowling nearby.
I took Anders back to the car (which he just thinks of as “evil shaky red deathmonster”) hoping he would cower quietly under the passenger seat like usual and not get the nervous poops.
His absence made the process much more efficient. I continued digging little sticks into the ground and leaning them against the base triangle until the skeleton was built. It looked sort of like a wooden ribcage, with an opening at the front.
Then I draped the shelter with long leaves and piled on a bunch of debris — mostly fallen maple leaves and evergreen needles, with some pinecones, dirt and twigs mixed in.
Regular huts look like something bizarre out of “Where The Wild Things Are” or the ewok scene in “Star Wars.” But my pet-sized version was kind of adorable.
The only thing that could have make it cuter, of course, was Anders! Because he is really extroverted, adapts well to new environments (excluding, of course, the evil shaky red deathmonster) and has a lot of puppy-like qualities, I sometimes forget Anders is a cat, and that cats do what they want. What they want includes a lot of things — like napping, licking themselves, stealing your lunch or clawing up your roommate’s furniture — but does not include sitting pretty in a muddy hut while you snap some photos.
So while Anders was completely uncooperative, repeatedly running away and once even hissing — can you believe it? he never hisses! — and was also very ungrateful for the effort I went to making him a survival shelter, I’d say my trial-run hut was structurally a success.
Now, like Oprah and Mr. Rogers, I totally believe in my own ability to make a life-sized debris hut. If I can just remember, leave the cat to fend for himself.