Sometimes when camping, especially if there’s an early morning hike involved, we’ll settle for a quick working breakfast: a slice of cold Spanish tortilla, a hunk of cheese, or just a handful of Ionah’s granola and a cup of tea and hit the trail. But, there are times when camping has nothing on the books other than to rise, pee, perform ablutions (minimal) chop wood, make fire and cook breakfast over said fire’s coals.
We had brought wood gifts for the fire from the 7,000 foot high desert home of our good friends Frank and Ruth Ann, in Carbondale, Colorado, of seasoned juniper and piñon pine.
Juniper and piñon had been sustaining and warming the Arapaho and Cheyenne people who lived in this part of the world for centuries until the unwelcome arrival of the Europeans and the subsequent land-grab.
But the wood survives, and a lot of the land too — under the stewardship of the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management — remains the same as it did 300 years ago, apart from the common dandelion which grows abundantly alongside other verdant settlers, and was brought over on the boat by leaf eating pilgrims to New England from old England as a nutritional supplement and has spread to every nook and their granny in the country.
Fifteen million acres of Colorado’s forests fall under the stewardship of the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. That’s about 85% of the state’s forests. The remaining 15% is in private hands. BLM land is owned by all Americans to freely roam on and enjoy. You can camp out anywhere on these public lands for up to 14 days in one place and then you must move to another. You can hunt, fish, hike, climb, canoe, raft, backpack, ski, mountain bike, dirt bike, scramble around in jeeps and ATV’s, or just stand around, chomp on a cigar and shoot beer cans if that’s your bag. For the most part and for most people these lands are a place for peace, love and understanding,and what’s so funny ’bout that?
And then there’s the matter of the cows. They, unlike us, can stick around more than 14 days. Through deals cut way back in the day with western ranchers and the federal Government, to help ranchers increase their stock and bring more meat to market, cows, without boys to bully them, are allowed to graze on the forest lands all summer, as long as the grass lasts — trashing by munching all that’s green under-foot, wrecking havoc on river banks, sullying the water, upsetting the trout, creating unruly fly populations and leaving piles of poop everywhere, for you or me, the hapless hiker, or biker to step in or skid upon.
Why, in the name of God and all his followers don’t the ranchers pickup after their animals like we do for our dogs and for ourselves? On multi-day wilderness river trips I carry my own portable toilet and bring my shit home so as not to pollute the river water.
Ranching life, as we know, is hard, damn hard, and, as a nation we’re addicted to cheap burgers and beef — so why not add a modest tax, we could call it for what it is, a national shit tax, to our beef, and the revenue would go directly to the ranchers and give them the funds to go clean up the mess created by their polluting cattle?
It would get them out of their trucks and walking the land with a shovel, a pitch fork and a bag in hand. And what could be healthier than that? Everybody would win, except the flies, who would cease to breed, but, as yet, they are not a protected species.
Our ranchers and farmers are among the unhealthiest of all Americans and maybe, after seeing the mounds of collected steaming, sun-drying turds reaching for the heavens and beyond, they would be persuaded to raise fewer cows and leave our public lands a little less packed with poop and a little cleaner for the grandkids and their kids and their kids’ kids. Maybe the price of beef would rise. Maybe we’d eat it a little less. That’s OK. Maybe the ranchers would be happier from daily walks in the forest. That’s Ok too. Maybe they’d grow organic veggies. Raise rabbits. Maybe.
There are daily movements afoot, and they’re not from cows, within the bowels of the Federal government, that aspire to confiscate large swaths of these public lands from the American people and open them up to a stampede of development from private industry for private profit namely, resource extraction; mining and drilling, with little or no regard for, as the Arapahoe and Cheyenne used to say, the long view.
Sitting by the early morning fire while sipping Assam tea, a gift from another land grab, I pondered these mighty matters and remembered the delicious taste of my steak from last night.
I brought a cup to Ionah, she was in the tent engrossed in The Snow Child, and then I set to work.
From the cooler I fetched eggs, unpeeled cooked fresh crop potatoes and the porcine mushrooms from yesterday’s hunt. I pulled out a jar of green chile, the olive oil and salt and pepper from the dry box.
I cleaned and sliced the mushrooms, chopped the potatoes, cracked four eggs into a bowl and poured the green chile into a pot. I counted how many skillets I’d need to make breakfast. Four in all.
I waited for the fire to die down a bit. I passed the time watching, and tossing potato skins to, and briefly locking eyes with a brash, uninvited breakfast guest, a grey jay, AKA camp robber, in these parts. After thirty minutes, as embers began to form, I lost interest in the bird and he lost hope in further scrap acquisition, I moved some of the embers to the side of the pit to prepare a space for the skillets.
Add olive oil, or whatever fat you fancy, to a couple of skillets, heat them up and add the potatoes to one and the mushrooms to the other. Place both on the embers. If it seems too hot use a stick to move a few embers back into the fire. The potato skillet should be hotter than the mushroom pan as the potatoes are good when they’re nice and crispy on the skin. The mushrooms prefer a little less fire. They will soak up the oil fast, so you should add some more. Keep stuff moving. Sprinkle on salt and fresh black pepper to taste.
Pour the chile in a pot and place it on a warm spot on the fire. When everything’s about ready, fry the eggs in the coolest spot you can find.
Watch carefully and control the cooking by moving embers and skillets around. A few scattered ashes will no doubt flutter, rise and land lightly in the food. That’s OK. That’s what makes camp food camp food. Wearing leather gloves and using a long spatula and a stick avoids singeing arms and eyebrows. There will be damage. Wear your newly singed arms and eyebrows with pride.
To plate. Set a mound of potatoes on each plate. Place fried eggs on top. Drown with green chile. Top with freshly foraged porcine mushrooms. Add crumbled cheese if you like. After a breakfast like that you’ll be ready for anything. I opted for a book and a snooze under the tarp while a light rain pattered.