Meridian Star

November 1, 2013

Defying Algebra - The Lost and Found

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Sometimes when the weather gets really hot or really cold or really rainy and you just stay indoors, you have time to replay some of your outdoor memories. Such daydreaming happens to me every time one of the knives I found in the woods catches my eye. There are three of them; well, just two right now, but there used to be three before I lost one of them.

    This lost and found phenomenon seems to display itself in my mind in the form of an equation. I think it is because the equation was the only thing I ever understood through two courses in algebra. It was a big day when it finally hit me that whatever the gobbledygook on one side of an equal sign was, it was always the same as whatever the gobbledygook on the other side was.

The vision of x plus y equals z was permanently fixed in my head that day and I often seem compelled to fit stuff into that balanced formula; stuff that probably doesn’t need balancing at all. One thing that appears to need balancing out in my mind is the lost and found account. However, I always lose more outdoor stuff than I find. But reviewing the lost and found file is a good way to look back at neat places and happenings; fuel for daydreaming.

    The most valuable thing I ever lost in the outdoors was a compact camera that cost $200.00 if you count the two rolls of film that were in the little fanny pack and the pack itself. The occasion was a coon hunt that was a lot of fun except for the loss of my camera. A faulty buckle was the culprit.

    Once I lost a Buck pocket knife that I only owned a short time. It was a gift that friends had given me when I retired. It was long enough to handily field dress a deer. That was what I had planned to do with it the day I lost it. The new knife slipped from my pocket as I lay prone atop a stinking dog box in the back of a pickup truck headed for a deer stand on a dog hunt.

While I held onto the clammy box, grasping two corners with frozen fingers and hooking my frozen toes around the other two,  the truck tipped side to side through mud holes and over house-size boulders. I don’t know if the knife was shaken from my pocket and tossed into the mud while I was distracted during one of my screams, or when I had my eyes closed during prayer. But it is rusting away out there somewhere.

  A compass I lost in Colorado was even more cherished. It was a Boy Scout compass that had served me well as a Scout. More significantly it had seen me through many a day (and night) in the woods (and once on a river) in many states, when it regularly provided my only clue as to which way I needed to travel. As I rushed down an oak brush slope toward a bugling bull elk between Gore Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass, probably a stiff limb grabbed the string that secured the compass to my belt and ripped it away. If I had to lose it, I like to visualize it lying there in some of the world’s most beautiful country.

    A couple of other treasured outdoor things are among stuff I have lost, but, strangely, each of them are items I had previously found in the outdoors. One was the finest pullover knitted skull cap I ever had. It was orange wool and I found it near our campfire in a frozen Tennessee hollow while on a boar and deer hunt. It served me many years and in many states when my head protruded from sleeping bags in freezing weather.

    Then I lost the cap while crawling toward a bugling bull elk in north-central Colorado, a mile off the road. I knew were my stalk took place but when I searched for it the next day a three inch snow had fallen and long winter storms set in. Perhaps a field mouse crawled inside the buried cap and spent his winters warmer than his cousins.