Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cowboy Coffee

Anybody who loves the bean can tell you how well coffee goes with the great outdoors. In the old westerns they might have had to eat a Chuckwalla, but they always had a pot of coffee on the fire. One of my fishing buddies is an ol’ boy they call Rainbow Brite, King of the Hippies. He's not really a hippie, the name's ironic. His real name is Martin and I'd say he eats hippies for breakfast, but he once told me, "Have you ever tried to clean one of those things"? Brite carries the coolest little plastic French Press and always uses fancy beans from the yuppie store. You can’t always be hauling a lot of gear though, or even a special pot for coffee. When I was living in the forest, I got by for years on cowboy coffee.

To make cowboy coffee you fill a small sauce pan (pot) to within an inch or two of the top. When the water starts boiling you take it off the heat and throw in a handful of coffee. The coffee grounds cool quicker than the liquid, so as the temperature drops, the grounds settle to the bottom. This process can be quickened with some eggshells or a splash of cold water. If you poor slowly off the top, you won’t get too many chunks. Eggshells also help pull some of the bitterness out.

I rarely made fire in the mornings. I couldn’t afford to be tied down to my camp in case the rangers came through and I had to hide. Leaving a fire behind is a big no-no. I would use my coals at night and make coffee after the evening’s meal, then enjoy it by the fire.

I didn’t have much in the way of luxuries, so coffee was a treat that I savored. The forest would be quiet and I would reflect on the day’s labors, happy to have lived another day in paradise. Much of my day was occupied with sustenance in the early years. When I would relax by the fire of an evening with the extravagance of a hot cup of Joe I felt like a rich man. along with a bud, or in those days some resin scrapings, and I was in heaven.

My first few months on the Rim were deep in a period of drought when it seemed to me like the whole world was on fire. The sky was always black and the drone of fire planes could be heard below the cliffs all day as they tried desperately to keep the fires below the Mogollon. I was in one of the few parts of the forest still open, and fire was banned that year for several weeks.

I didn’t have a stove with me because at the time I was traveling from lake to lake on foot and didn’t want the weight. The fire ban took me by surprise, being an Indiana boy, but I made do with what I could. I ate a lot of greens, and choked down raw trout five days a week to make sure my body got what it needed. Thankfully, I was carrying Taco Powder and used it liberally on the raw fish. It was still terrible. Trout makes lousy Sushi. It gave me the trots for a few days at first, which had me worried. You have to keep an eye on that in the wilderness. The resulting dehydration can be a killer, but all was well. I soon got used to the change in diet.

That Summer I didn’t mind asking friendly campers if they would heat my water at night for my coffee. I never asked anybody to cook my fish because I didn’t want people thinking I couldn’t take care of myself. I didn’t mind asking about the coffee though. Coffee is social. I met a lot of fascinating people that way and learned a lot about the forest. I also met a wide range of people. I had coffee with Cops, Mormons, CEO's, Bank Robbers, Elderly Couples, IT Geeks, Schizophrenics, Families, and Bikers. The conversations I’ve had in the wild, over coffee, run the entire breadth of human experience. Not bad for an outlaw.

I’d say that pound for pound, coffee’s worth carrying, even uphill on a dusty day.

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