I used to dread that day every year. We would all be sitting in a classroom, excited to see our friends after a summer’s break and the teacher would ask, “So, what did you do over summer vacation?”
Other kids who knew, would snicker as it came close to my turn. I had the same answer every year, my answer always caused the most fuss, “this summer I wore buckskins and lived in a tipi.”
Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it while it was happening, just not any of the time spent explaining it to the suburban kids at school. It was different. Different isn’t cool to suburban fifth graders. Turns out it isn’t cool to many grown ups either, as I learned in the office the other day.
My family were members of H.U.M.M. the High Uinta Mountain Men. Every summer since before I was born, my school teacher parents would load up the van with supplies, as well as us kids, and head from rendezvous to rendezvous. If you have never heard of, or been to one of these events, nothing could fully describe it.
They would range from what seemed little more than a tourists fair in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to the strictly primitive “Nationals” at various locations including Glacier National Park in Montana. Hundreds, or even thousands, of people would set up camp; tipis, lean-tos, and wall tents, dress in buckskins or pioneer garb, and trade, barter, and compete in all sorts of contests of mountain man skills. That would be the official description. At a glance it would look more like a bunch of bearded guys and girls drinking moonshine out of tin cups, carrying Bowie knives, and shooting black powder rifles. Both descriptions together give a pretty good idea of what went on.
My dad, an art teacher in winter, would trade hand crafted powder horns and engraved knife handles.
Some kids made their business debut with a lemonade stand, I made mine trying to barter a woven sash for a cigarette lighter crafted from an antler. I found it on Traders Row, a dusty road through camp, with booths and blankets set up along side. It was an imaginative child’s treasure trove. You could find any type of animal fur, beads and broaches, knives in any size, tools, tomahawks, and any variety of clothing most appropriately worn in 1823.
At each new camp my brother and I would seek out old friends, scout new treasures, and find the lay of the land. The important things to find were: anyone selling candy, anyone selling knives, and where the shooting range was set up.
Once we knew which direction the guns were pointing we would head up the opposite mountainside.
We always set our sights on the highest point and tried to reach it before dinner time. We would hurdle sage brush, climb under scrub oak, and do our best to out altitude the quakies. The start of the summer was always a little rough as we did our hiking wearing moccasins. It would take a couple treks to toughen up our feet.