Down to a Can of Spam (A Thanksgiving Story)

Our abundant grocery store aisles.

I was trying to remember the last time I was truly sincerely grateful for the food I was eating—like I would have gone hungry for a long time without that food—starved maybe for real.  And I couldn’t.  I am a very blessed Canadian—and I’m told I live in the country that is one of the world’s biggest food wasters.  I can believe it every time I walk into a grocery store.  Where does all that food end up, because it surely isn’t all eaten?

When I lived in Yellowknife and came down “south” to Alberta for a visit, I was always blown away by the absolute abundance of food in our grocery stores!  It was amazing!  I think Yellowknife and subsequent northern communities are as close to the third world as Canada gets.  I think every Canadian should live at least one year up north (or in Africa) to get the idea of gross over-indulgence.

Since I couldn’t think of a time when I would have truly starved, I thought of a time when it was pretty close.  We were down to a can of SPAM.

I was horse wrangling in the Yukon and it was the second sheep hunt in August.  I had already been broken in by the first sheep hunt of the season, but was still learning the nature of the job.  We picked up 2 hunters, a father/son team from Pennsylvania, at the base camp Ceaser Lake.  We packed up the horses and headed down the trail.  We stopped at a halfway camp and planned on doing a goat hunt on a nearby mountain.

It was on the hike up that mountain, crossing slippery shale that I noticed the 16 year old boy stumbling around like he was drunk.  He couldn’t keep up with the guides and looked like he would go tumbling down the mountainside at any moment.  The dad was lithe and limber and was already 50 yards ahead with the one of the guides.  I was regulated to coaxing the teenager up the steep hill, but it became apparent that he would not only kill himself, but ruin the whole “sneaking up on goats thing” we had going on.  So I was told to take the kid back to the horses and wait—which could mean hours and hours of waiting if they happened upon goats.  Thankfully I managed to get the kid back down the hill with only one minor mishap that sliced his wrist open on the jagged edge of a rock.  We stemmed the flow of blood with bandages from my first aid kit, and thankfully our wait for the others wasn’t too long as they hadn’t spotted anything to go after.

The dad then explained that his son had had a virus a few years prior that had attacked his nervous system and robbed him of his balance and muscle control of his legs.  He had just not mentioned that to the outfitter and hadn’t realized how strenuous goat hunting could be for the kid.  It was now obvious that his son would not be goat hunting with him and it was decided the kid would go after caribou instead.

View from my tent at Sheep Camp at six in the morning. I had already been up 1.5 hours getting the horses into camp and saddled for the days’ hunt.

We packed up the next morning and carried on to Sheep Camp.  During the pack up I caught one of the guides (who shall remain unnamed at this point) throwing out all the green vegetables—actually all the vegetables.  His excuse was that they would only get damaged on the trip.  Ha!  This coming from an expert packer who never cracked an egg.  I knew better.  I was on to him!

The day before the weather socked us in with heavy fog, rain and sleet was a beautiful, hot and sunny day.

Well, we set up at Sheep Camp with only a tarp on a frame over a little 2 burner wood stove and pup tents to sleep in.  We were in a high mountain valley filled with stubby balsam trees that don’t burn well, and little grass pockets.  Beautiful.  When it was clear.  Which was only for the first day of hunting I think.  After that, it socked in with a thick soupy fog and sleet.  Cold.  I bundled up in every pair of clothes I had and it felt like I never got warm unless I was running after the horse herd or dragging the kid up a mountainside in search of an elusive caribou.  But then I broke a sweat under my rain suit and was drenched and once I quit moving, I slowly iced up as my body temperature lowered.

This Picture was taken on the twelfth day of the hunt as the fog had lifted enough for us to hope for a chance at a goat hanging out below the curtain.

The heavy fog prevented us from hunting for goats, as it would be pointless to blunder up the mountainside in a vain hope of spotting that wily animal.  Just our luck they would spot us first and take off for the next mountain range.  So for days we all sat under the tarp beside a little 2 burner wood stove that put out no heat.  Often we would retire to our tents to wait out the boredom in sleep.

Unfortunately the foamy in my tent became wet from the constant drizzle and eventually the wet claimed the bottom two feet of my sleeping bag.  So I slept in a fetal position for most of the hunt which makes for lovely cramped muscles come morning.  Five days of this and we were going stir crazy!  The guides were under a lot of pressure to get their hunters onto and animal, but the time of the hunt was ticking down and so was our food.

This outfit only supplied enough real food to last maybe five or six days into the hunt and then assumed an animal would be down and hanging in camp with which we could supply the rest of our meals.  Since the veggies were gone and we were bored sitting in camp munching on things, we were soon down to a can of SPAM to make meals with (there were a few other odds and ends, but SPAM was the main course).

Let me back up some.  On the first day of hunting from Sheep Camp, guide Floyd had spotted a big old bull caribou on the mountain next to camp.  He pulled a stalk with the kid that day and by the time he got the kid into position the bull had wandered off too far for the kid follow.  During the next number of days that we were sitting in camp we spotted the bull again on a lower part of the mountain, just under the fog and just before sundown.  Each time Floyd and I would drag the kid up the mountain side after that caribou, we would get to the point where we would top a rise or round a tree to be able to see him and the darn bull would have wandered off out of the picture.  Frustrating!  Especially when you got a teenager hanging off your backpack, dead beat from hauling him up a hillside with him hardly able to keep his legs underneath him.  Then the fun part, getting him back down.

Well the tenth day of the hunt and we spotted the bull again near suppertime.  I stayed with the dad and watched the stalk through the spotting scope while the guides pulled the kid up the mountainside again.  The dad was pretty desperate to see his kid down an animal!  And I was pretty desperate for warmth of any kind.  It was absolutely frigid out.

The Kid and his caribou!

The shot rang out through the frosty valley!  Yeehaw!  One shot through the neck and the bull was down!  Boy was the dad ever stoked to watch his son get his animal!

Since it was close to ten at night, the guides ripped the tenderloins off and raced back down the hill in the dark for a celebratory meal.  I cannot think of another time there was such joy from EVERYONE in camp!  The tenderloins were extraordinary!  We were all very grateful the shot the kid made, had put the bull down where he stood, and now we had FOOD—and hope!  It was truly a meal of thanksgiving!

Now I know that to be truly thankful requires the knowledge and experience of being without.  If you don’t ever know what it’s like to be without, you will never really appreciate what you have.  For me, spoiled Canadian that I am, that meal was the closest I’ve ever been to being without food easily attained.  And it’s really just a silly comparison to truly being without—all we had to do was pack up and ride a really hard day or two to the road and then flag down a vehicle to make it into town and we would have been okay.

As I celebrate Thanksgiving this year, after a bountiful year in my garden with which I can supply pretty much all of our thanksgiving feast if I wanted too (minus the turkey), I am reminded again of how many people in this world would be so absolutely astounded by the spread on my table and so completely more thankful than I.  It really makes me stop and thank God for all He has blessed me with.

Now there is a story in the Bible that makes me think of thankfulness.  I know this passage centers more around forgiveness, but it kind of fits with how I think of Thanksgiving.  It’s about a time Jesus goes to a friend’s house for a party.

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Oh? Tell me.”

“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”

“That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” Luke 7:36-47 (The Message)

In other words if you have much, your thankfulness is minimal compared to if you have little and are given much. 

So go into this Thanksgiving time remembering that you have been given much and have MUCH to be truly grateful for!  And with that thanksgiving comes a responsibility:  HOW can we pass on some of our bounty to others?  How can we bring Thanksgiving to those who have nothing?

 And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God.  Hebrews 12: 28 (The Message)

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One Response to Down to a Can of Spam (A Thanksgiving Story)

  1. Pingback: A Grizzly and a Goat (A Hunting Story not for the Faint of Heart—or the Squeamish) | lessonslearnedinthebush

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