Confession: autumn wishes

In autumn I stare at the mountains, especially when the clouds brood gloomily over them. Such gorgeous gloom! I stare from the office where I work and I wish I were up there among the dying leaves, the fading maples, the aspens still gold, even if it were cold and rain dripped from the branches.  I wish I were up there, with a good flame to cook over and keep me fed and warm –

so that I could look out over the valley where I live, gaze on the cloud shadows over the lake, and dream of the land stretching away – more mountains. I wish for the time to do this, to leave behind the struggle for survival for a while, escape into simplicity for a while to get my bearings. I’ll write more about this but to me the impulse to head for the hills is driven mostly by a longing for simplicity.

Were I up in one of those fading gold aspen groves looking over the valley, I would reflect on how strange it is that in a land burgeoning with wealth and labor-saving devices, most people still live with a gun to their head. If the bullet is poverty and panic and infamy, slower than an honest leaden drill bit, I don’t believe it makes it any less real, any less violent, any less of a threat.

I live in a place, a culture that glorifies wealth and grinds on the face of those it deems unworthy. And it does this under a cloak of optimism, faith and – most insulting of all – charity. I get lonely in this place (useless idealist!) and that’s another reason why I wish I could just go off into the mountains by myself.


Don’t snub the humble can

I wrote in an earlier post about hoboes and their rumored sterno habits.  But sterno stoves are far from the only cooking devices used by those romantic wandering men . . .

(Really, what makes that so romantic: the Great Depression, riding railcars, John Steinbeck novels, etc?  I’m sure it was no picnic for all the homeless men who eked out their marginal living in those times.  I’m reminded of a Suzanne Vega song I once heard.)

If you’re traveling light and don’t have much and want to cook over something more efficient than a bare fire, what better technique than just to put the fire in a simple food can?  And so we have the hobo stove, operating on the most basic principle: to concentrate the heat of a fire, contain it.

If you look up “hobo stove” on youtube you’ll find several videos of people making and using these variations on the basic theme.  And apparently if you want a lightweight bit of hiking gear that gives a touch of aluminum grace to this design, there’s the Swiss Army Volcano Stove (3 Piece Set), which has many very good reviews.  I think I’d like to get myself one.  (Again, that’s the thing about getting into simple light stoves: it can be addictive.)

There’s also a company that I’m watching called Siege Stoves, who make ingenious crosspieces with sharp fangs that you can use to punch holes in cans of various sizes, and then put on top for pot stands.  Siege Stoves is planning a big expansion and I hope they make it, and make it soon.  Their product can be used to make a simple hobo-style stove as well as a woodgas stove.

Really, all this is very much like what I have done with my Sterno Single Burner Folding Stove – 50002, using it as a firebox, after watching some videos like this one.  My daughter and I still remember the picnic we had with that, out on the pebble bar in the Snake river, before the dam let the irrigation water down for the summer.  Bright sun, cool breeze and a bald eagle in the sky above us.

As Long As Their Soda Cans Are Red, White and Blue Ones

Sterno fuel, which I wrote last time about being so fond of, is a gel made from denatured alcohol. That is to say, ethanol that has methanol added to keep you from ingesting it in order to get drunk. In the old days that deterrent didn’t always work, and Sterno fuel was sometimes abused as a handy substitute for liquor (as made famous in the Tommy Johnson song “Canned Heat Blues”), by straining out the alcohol from the gel.

My grandfather used to tell stories of men in southern Utah drinking vanilla extract as booze – the only alcohol they could get in the old days, when the Mormon pioneer teetotaler ethic still reigned supreme (before all the Gentile tourists discovered southern Utah and inundated it with their worldly ways).

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather Continue reading As Long As Their Soda Cans Are Red, White and Blue Ones

It Started with a Sterno

I was at an outdoor store, looking at all the camping gear and dreaming of the overnight hikes I might do. Specifically, I was thinking about what I might eat and how I would cook. I like to hike, I like to camp, but I especially like to eat. I like to eat so much that I ought to hike more.

It had been years since I had been on a backpacking trip. I had used a buddy’s stove to boil water for my mashed potatoes, lentil soup, refried beans and suchlike. I was grateful for his generosity but wanted a stove of my own some day.

A cheap one. I’ve seen some of those backpacking stoves Continue reading It Started with a Sterno