Saturday, January 9, 2016

Return of the Ice Beast

A movie opened this weekend called "The Revenant" -- the true story of a mountain man named Hugh Glass. In 2009, I wrote the following piece, which included the Hugh Glass event of 1823, and became a chapter in one of my books, ORB OF WOUNDED SOULS.

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Life is like an unorthodox teacher -- you get the test first and the lesson comes later.

During the evening of January 26, 2009, my region of the country was having a severe ice storm. Ice was forming on trees, causing them to literally explode as large branches were falling, trees were splitting down the middle and some were toppling from the root.

Power lines in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky were ravaged. My utility company reported 32,000 out of 37,000 households were without electricity. The four utility poles in the line across the road from my property had been destroyed. In northern Arkansas, over 6,000 utility poles had to be replaced.

My driveway was blocked by three large fallen trees and a large branch had collapsed on my van rendering it stationary. I was without electricity (my only source of heat) and running water, and my phone lines were dead (for the first few days).

The temperatures dipped into the low 20s and teens over the next several days. The temperature in my place dropped into the high 30s at night. I had plenty of food and water on hand, but no alternative heating source.

I spent the first three days trying to stay warn under some quilts by candle light in my smallest room. My dog threw off some body heat as well. It was a time for staring at walls and contemplating your existence.

Then on day four I started thinking about my grandfather and Hugh Glass.

My grandfather was a very rugged, independent guy who had a plaque on his wall that read, "I felt sorry for myself when I had no shoes until the day I saw a man with no feet."

It was obvious the electricity would not be restored soon, so I decided to stop waiting for help and do something about it. Since my chainsaw was electric, I started sawing by hand on the fallen trees in my driveway. The wood was green and wet, making hand-sawing nearly impossible because it kept pinching the blade. It took two full days to clear a path, thanks to a guy who lives down the road and drove by and helped me with the big pieces toward the end with his chain saw.

Then I had to clear the hanging branch from my van and move it out of there. Unfortunately, the only place I could move it was where it got stuck in some deep mud with no room for maneuvering. I couldn't get it out for many more days until the mud dried.

After 17 days of struggling and hunkering down, my electricity was restored on February 11. It took another two days to repair my running water system because of frozen pipes that had cracked.

Hugh Glass was my inspiration through much of the ordeal. He was a mountain man, fur trader and honorary Pawnee in the early 1800s.

In 1823, Glass was with an expedition party of 13 mountain men in the Dakotas whereupon he was off by himself scouting for game and was attacked by a Grizzly bear. He fought it with his knife and the bear was eventually killed with the help of his partners, Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald.

Glass was badly injured. He had a broken leg, gashes on his back exposing his ribs and remained unconscious.

The expedition party determined Glass would soon die. Bridger and Fitzgerald volunteered to remain behind and bury Glass when he expired, as the party moved on toward the valley of the Yellowstone.

While Fitzgerald and Bridger were digging the grave, a band of hostile Arikara Indians appeared. Fitzgerald and Bridger grabbed Glass's rifle, knife and equipment, and high-tailed it out of there. When they caught up with the expedition party, they reported that Glass had died.

At some point, Glass regained consciousness. No weapons, no equipment, abandoned by his partners.

He set his broken leg. All of his deep gashes were festering, potentially turning to gangrene, so he laid his wounded back on a rotting log allowing maggots to eat the dead flesh.

The nearest settlement was Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River, some 200 miles away. Glass wrapped himself in a bear hide that was intended to be his burial shroud and began crawling toward the south.

Glass survived on wild berries and roots. On one occasion he drove two wolves away from a dead animal carcass and consumed some meat. In six weeks, he reached the Cheyenne River, where he fashioned a raft and floated down the river, eventually reaching Fort Kiowa.

After a long recuperation, Glass set out to have an unfriendly chat with Bridger and Fitzgerald.

He eventually encountered Bridger near the mouth of the Bighorn River on the Yellowstone. But Bridger was only 17 years old at the time of the incident, thus Glass  forgave him.

Later, he found Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald had joined the U.S. Army, so Glass refrained from killing him. Killing a soldier would lead to a death sentence. However, he did retrieve his lost rifle from Fitzgerald.

In the winter of 1833, Hugh Glass and two other mountain men were killed by Arikara Indians on the Yellowstone River. A few months later, some fur trappers recognized Hugh Glass's rifle in the hands of an Arikara Indian who was trying to pass himself off as a friendly Minitaris Indian, whereupon he was swiftly dispatched to the Happy Hunting Ground in the Sky.

So I figured if Hugh Glass could travel 200 miles by crawling overland wrapped in a bear skin for 6 weeks with a broken leg, building a raft and floating down a river that I could survive without electricity and running water for 17 days.

The glory of existence is not what happens to you, it's what you do when it happens.

Quote for the Day – "When you're going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill

Bret Burquest is the author of 11 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where electricity is a very handy item.

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