In my younger and less caffeinated years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone”, he told me, “just remember all the people in this world haven’t had a sufficient amount of coffee today that you’ve had.”
At that point in his life, he was very much accustomed to drinking coffee on a daily basis. Usually 2 to 3 cups per day. I however, was not accustomed to a caffeinated lifestyle. That habit would take another decade before it set in. My allegiance fell in favor of hot chocolate over Hills Brothers, Folgers or even Maxwell House.
So, in late August of 1996, I set out on what was sold to me as a hunting expedition for moose and caribou. What it became was a camping trip with my father and 3 of his friends.
Our trip started with the last cup of coffee poured into a travel mug at 9:27 AM. Driving nearly 4 hours put us at the base of a mountain range on a piece of land owned by a friend where we would make our camp. With ATV’s in tow, plus all of the provision for the week we settled in for an early start the next morning to stalk the valley for moose and caribou.
We started early. What would have been eggs, bacon, and coffee cooked over the fire turned into cold bagels and colder water. It seems my father’s friends were anxious to get a move on, it being the opening day of hunting season. To my father’s credit, he did not protest too much about not getting coffee before heading out. I have distinct memories of grown men yawning while looking through scopes looking out over the valley.
Again, we started early, but my father was prepared. He started his camping coffee pot over the fire before the others awoke. The fatal flaw came when he attempted to stir the cast iron pan of corned beef hash by flipping it like an expert pancake chef. His follow through caught the edge of the grate and toppled the coffee pot, spilling it’s contents over the wheel of the ATV. True heartbreak is knowing full well what could have been, and watching it dissolve. The men decided to break camp to hopefully catch the last of the morning grazing moose in the valley.
The consensus was to break camp early yet again. This time, the coffee would be made on site using a portable cookstove. Packing all of the necessary provisions, we made our way in the early morning hours up into the valley we had spent the previous few days. So, there in our lookout point, while the other men scoped the valley, my father made his well-deserved first cup of coffee in 3 days. Not having a set of binocs, I turned and looked back where we had come. There standing a mere 50 yards away was a confused caribou looking at us quizzically.
I spoke softly to the group,
“What about this guy over here? I could probably make that shot. He’s not far”.
This comment confused the men, confusedly pulling their binoculars from their faces.
There wasn’t much drama to it. One shot too high, one kill shot. But in all the excitement, the attention had shifted away from the brewing coffee. So much so, that I went and turned off the flame as we were now on the move to the site of the downed animal.
“Go have the boy [me] pack the rigs and bring ‘em over here. We’ll split up the load.” I overhear one of the men say. I quickly loaded the gear onto the machines and in doing so, poured the now cold coffee out onto the tall grass.
It was late morning before thoughts of the coffee reoccurred. I had to explain that the coffee was “no good anymore. It’s was cold” to a group of tired men in their mid 40s.
Rain had moved in during the night, which meant brewing coffee over the fire was a lot less desireable. On the drive back home that morning, we stopped at the first gas station and a single cup of coffee was purchased, (and a hot chocolate). Upon setting the coffee into the cup holder between us, my father told me
“This is the first cup of coffee I’ve had in 4 days. If you spill this, it will be YOUR last day.”
I did not spill it.
And so, we brew on, travel mugs against the current, bourne back ceaselessly into the past.
What’s the point in all of this? Why am I writing about all of this?