The weekend I started reading The Collector: Back to Nature David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest, Jack Nisbet’s excellent new biography on the nineteenth-century Scottish naturalist and explorer David Douglas.
My wife and I were on a trip to Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, getting back to nature and “disconnecting” from modern life for a couple of days.
As I was reading the book, overlooking the ocean while sitting in front of our television-, Internet-, and cell phone signal–free cabin, it dawned on me just how different my definition of “roughing it” is to Douglas’s. Witness:
(1) For the two-night stay in our “primitive” cabin Back to Nature
which of course had electricity, not to mention a small kitchen with a refrigerator—we packed one small suitcase. Back to Nature One overnight bag, one large ice chest, and three large grocery bags of provisions. (And, to be honest, a GPS tracker, two iPods, a digital camera, three books, five magazines, etc. . . .)
In contrast, for his 1826 exploration from Fort Vancouver to the inland Pacific Northwest that lasted several months. Back to Nature Besides the clothes on his back. David Douglas packed only “one extra shirt, two handkerchiefs, a blanket, a single cloak, and no stockings at all. His one indulgence for the journey: 100 pounds of collecting paper to preserve his samples and specimens.
(2) We spent hours preparing for our “spontaneous”
campfire on the beach. This included buying a package of bratwurst, buns, corn on the cob, bottles of squeezable ketchup, and mustard. Paper plates and plastic cutlery, aluminum foil, skewers with extendable handles, a box of kitchen matches. A stack of newspapers as the starter, and two pre-cut bundles of firewood from the general store.
Despite all this, it still took me an hour to get a decent campfire going, and even with our fancy skewers. We managed to simultaneously singe and undercook our brats, not to mention both dropping our corncobs in the sand while roasting them over the fire.
By comparison, after grueling 12- or 15-hour days of crossing hard terrain, Douglas and his party were often lucky to locate a dry place to camp, and even if they didn’t, Back to Nature they had no choice but to find a way to start and maintain a fire if they wanted to survive the night.
On a good day, they would be able to hunt game for a nourishing dinner so Douglas and crew wouldn’t have to resort to eating plant roots (not necessarily predetermined as edible) or one of his collected avian or mammalian specimens for supper.
During really bad stretches in hostile terrain, the party might be forced to eat one of their horses. Corn on the cob rarely accompanied their campfires.
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(3) We found a few jellyfish washed up on the beach and saw a lot of birds, trees, and a few squirrels.
Douglas identified more than 80 species of flora and fauna that now have his name (douglasii) attached to their scientific monikers, and is credited with introducing hundreds of other species to the world outside of North America.
Obviously, these are extreme contrasts. But even the most hardcore hiker or camper will Never have the opportunity to explore and. Experience the vast and staggering wilderness of the. Pacific Northwest in the way David Douglas (and others like him) did.
We are fortunate that despite the encroachment of civilization, so much of the wilderness and natural beauty of Washington. Oregon and British Columbia remain for us to appreciate.