Where’s Dinner?

Note: I dredged up this story in response to a video a friend recently posted on my Facebook page. The video depicts a water-powered rotisserie. I wrote this 17 years ago. At the time, I was writing humor columns, many of them in the tradition of Patrick F. McManus and Red Green. A lot of my stories were based on weird stuff that happened on canoe trips. Over the years I’ve gotten away from that genre, mainly because the things that happened on our canoe trips were more bizarre than anything I could make up. The same could be said for my news-writing career.

Water-powered rotisserie

Probably an improvement over Ed’s battery powered model

Ed always comes up with new gadgets to bring on canoe trips.

Last August he trotted out his latest invention, instant fire. He made it out of an old wire milk crate filled with a few small hardwood logs, kindling, fire starter sticks and a battery-powered igniter.

Ed invented instant fire to make lunch breaks less time-consuming. In theory, all we had to do was pull off the river, set the wire crate upside down on the ground, light it and grill our food on the bottom of the crate.

We’ll never know whether it would have worked because the ignition mechanism was inadvertently triggered by an errant cast. It must have been a hair trigger, because I was using a number eight hook baited with a wax worm.

The worm was the first casualty of Ed’s instant inferno. His duffel bag was the second.

We managed to douse the fire before Ed lost any more gear. The hard part was righting his canoe and getting the water out. It would have been easier if we weren’t preoccupied fending him off with canoe paddles.

By the time we got Ed calmed down and his boat squared away, we were totally exhausted. We barely had enough energy to eat. At that point, Ed’s instant fire sure would have come in handy.

We settled for cellophane packages of cheese ’n’ cracker crumbs Joe fished out of the bottom of his duffel bag. It wasn’t much, but it tided us over until our afternoon floating buffet.

This was a standard feature of our canoe camping trips. One boat would be designated the buffet barge, generally the canoe belonging to the steadiest paddler. We’d place a tray on top of the cooler and heap on our own version of hors d’oeuvres. (Which is French for “table scraps.”) We’d then take turns pulling alongside and helping ourselves.

We worked up quite an appetite jockeying our fully laden, 17-foot canoes alongside the buffet barge. By suppertime, we were really hungry. That’s when Ed unveiled the latest version of his automatic rotisserie.

He began experimenting with it three years ago. Ed’s contraption involved a borrowed rotisserie motor, a spit to hold the meat and two pointy metal rods, which were hammered into the ground astride the fire.

This seemed like a promising idea, but the first time Ed tried it the motor melted.

The following year, Ed added a heat shield. Which would have worked, except the new motor was too weak to keep four Cornish game hens spinning long enough to cook them all the way through.

If it hadn’t been dark, we might have noticed this before it was too late. At first, we attributed our intestinal anarchy to Joe drying his socks on the grill. We later determined through the process of elimination that the game hens were to blame.

The latest incarnation of Ed’s automatic rotisserie included a bigger motor (which probably was strong enough to turn a commercial pizza oven). It was powered by a Harley-Davidson battery. Under a full load it sounded like a blender churning peanut butter.

Ed assembled his automatic rotisserie and seasoned the game hens. Not wanting to spend the next day “chumming the water,” we decided to nap for a few hours while the birds cooked.

Three hours later we began to stir, mainly because Ed was jumping up and down like a lunatic and screaming, “Where’s dinner?”

While we were sleeping, the rotisserie had toppled over and wandered off.

We followed the meandering path where the rig had rolled from the fire to the edge of a clearing, but we lost the trail in the woods.

It could have ended up in the river. Or, for all we know, Ed’s automatic rotisserie could still be trundling through the woods, laboring under a load of mangled game hens.

If you’re sitting around the campfire one night and hear what sounds like a blender full of peanut butter creeping up on you, don’t be alarmed.

In fact, if you’re a seasoned camper and you’ve built up a resistance to certain pathogens, you might want to start rooting around in your cooler for barbecue sauce.



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