Burt Prelutsky

Having been born in Chicago and raised in L.A., taking a short cut through an alley or across a vacant lot has always been my idea of hiking. And although I saw in “The Yearling” that even wise and noble Gregory Peck could find a good reason to shoot a deer, “Bambi” convinced me that until one of those critters actually threatened to destroy my family’s food supply, my policy would be to live and let live.

My attitude towards camping was equally level-headed. Just as I felt that any six or eight-legged varmint that flew or crawled into our home was fair game, and was just asking to be swatted or squashed, anybody who chose to venture into the wilderness had no one but himself to blame if he got himself mauled or eaten. But you know how it is with peer pressure when you’re fourteen and two of your friends, Steve and Barry, both of whom had scouting experience, suggest venturing into the woods for a couple of days of high adventure. Or, to be more exact, as it turned out, two days and two nights in the bowels of hell.

Frankly, I don’t recall what I expected, but, for openers, I didn’t expect it to be as sweltering as it was. Hot weather and no air-conditioning is not a good combination. Air-conditioning, my favorite invention, by the way, is the one thing that truly separates us from the lower forms of animal life, including the French.

One of the most vivid memories of that camping experience is that from the moment that Steve’s mother dropped us off in the foothills all I wanted was a peach. I had always liked peaches, but no more than apricots or plums. But over the next 48 hours, I craved a peach the way nobody before or since has craved anything. I remember distinctly thinking I would gladly trade my entire baseball card collection for a single ripe peach.

The only sustenance we had were packages of dehydrated food. I had never before had experience with survivor fare. For those of you who have been spared, it is powder to which you add water, thus turning it -- voila! -- into wet powder. The way you distinguish one meal from another is quite simple: you read the label on the package.