It started when he was a young lad, spending his summers at the lake. He met an old native American who was building a log cabin from scratch. Each log perfectly hewn. Paul pitched right in to help, but more so to learn all he could about outdoor life. The Indian was quick to teach – how to whittle interesting creatures out of sticks – how to build a campfire, unlike the white man who builds a large fire and has to sit far from it – how to dig deep into the ground and build a natural refrigerator and many survival skills.
This along with his church’s version of the Boy Scouts taught him everything he needed to know about the wild. It also gave him many opportunities to sit around a campfire with other boys and hear and tell stories that seemed to grow bigger with each telling.
Many of you’ve probably heard of snipe hunting, but for Paul it was an opportunity to take that simple story and build it into an epic. The snipe of these fables is not to be confused with the actual shore bird snipe. When he became a leader of the group, they’d have snipe hunt on every campout.
For those of you who don’t know, the hunt took place under the darkness of night, when the boys were restless and unruly. They would be led into the woods with a burlap sack and a stick in search of the mighty snipe, which actually didn’t exist. However, Paul had a heavy stick marked with several notches for the number of snipe he had bagged over the years. Quite impressive to an eight year old boy.
The story would have additions made to it on a daily basis. When it finally reached its peak it included searching for the mating grounds of the snipe. The way they’d determine if the location was true was this. First it would be a stoned encircled spot. The snipe is a very intelligent bird. They know how to make circles out of stones. Within the circle there would be remnants of smoked cigarettes with tobacco scattered about. You see, the male snipe would use the tobacco to lure the female into his space. He did this by placing the tobacco between his cheek and beak. The mixture of his saliva and the tobacco was too much for the female to resist.
Before each of these evening hunts, some of the older boys would be planted in various parts of the woods to make noises that would send the younger boys on another wild snipe chase. Prior to each hunt, the leaders would set out the clues. Every year, kids would begin to catch on, so the story had to be embellished to make it more believable.
They often camped at a local campsite in Crowhassan Park. One of the roads was named Ghostly Drive. This gave way to the dramatic addition of the Hassan Hag – a mythical witch-like creature that roamed the forest to frighten little boys; kind of like the boogie man I guess. The story made it to one of the naturalists at the reserve and she agreed to portray the Hassan Hag. She brought with her a small snake, which she tucked in her blouse.
That night, as they sat around the campfire talking about the Hassan Hag, some of the boys had their doubts, but then she appeared out of nowhere. Her appearance scared the bejeebers out of most of them – especially when she pulled the snake from her clothes. That addition to the story made believers out of them for another three years
Needless to say, this group of young boys, was highly disciplined, very well behaved, respectful and totally oblivious to all the pranks that were being played on them.