When we first began to work out the details of the Backpacker magazines “Anyplace Wild” TV show in which I was to be victimized, BUGS were a minor issue and good for a gag (pun intended). At the onset of planning, one of the questions was, "Can you find some bugs for John Viehman (Editor of Backpacker magazine) to eat?" "Certainly," I assured the deranged producers. "We’ll find some."
Weeks later, the notion of feeding John "bugs" had become a full-scale obsession with the production staff. I could hear it in their voices… The word "Bug" wasn’t just a hard, clean sounding noun, it became a sibilant hiss "Buuuuggssssss"… It also became an issue of how MANY and how BIG a bug we could find for John’s munching pleasure. I pointed out that I know the Sierra insect munchies and there are some fine, juicy specimens to be had. Bugs had become important, perhaps more important than the message I wanted to convey. They were now an integral part of the story. I was hoping that the winter weather hadn’t been too rough on my mobile munchies. I wanted, I NEEDED, to have a real insect feast for the cameras to record. The producers were convinced that John Viehman would refuse to munch these slimy packets of wriggling fat.
As we wandered into the mountains, John asked me if bugs were a good food source. I assured him that we’d find some to enhance our meager rations. He looked at me with a sort-of "Well, maybe some other time…." look. Annie Getchell, our co-survivor and John’s Co-host on this trip looked away from a pine tree she was examining and said "Can we get some today… I really want to LOOK at them". "Actually," I explained, "when it comes to bug eating, looking at them is probably not the best way to start". Some of our larval friends are a bit too disgusting to actually LOOK AT (something like those nightmare creatures Hollywood creates to max our "freak-out meters".)…. Eat, but don’t look… John looked at me like I was some sort of Alien.
About three days into the trip, our food was running low. What we had taken with us to masquerade as food was a couple of packages of military MRE’s which were meant to last us the full week. Supplementation or hunger was our unhappy choice. While the crew feasted just up river from our camp, we’d supplemented with Onions, Indian Yampa, Yarrow, a few currants and some other mystery foods. I knew that BUG MUNCH TIME was fast approaching. I could tell, I’d seen it many times before. Using special Woodsmaster sensory enhancement techniques, I spotted the signs. The body is funny when it starts to miss food. It produces gas… The odd rumblings around our little camp fire, the funny vibrations in the seating log we shared. The scents that were SO much different than the smell of pine told me that the time was near. In fact the signs were so clear that the crew, camped ¼ mile away, complained about the foul odor that seemed to creep into their camp during meal times. John, Annie and I just smiled.
I announced that we needed to look for some protein supplements. The ever present film crew, who had been instructed to NOT give us food (and who obliged with a willingness that bordered on sadism) smiled and cleaned their lenses. The sound guy checked his mikes, the camera guy checked his batteries, the still guy got out some more film, the director coughed a few times and reached for a roll of TUMS.
I remembered that on the way into this area two days back, I’d spotted a large dead animal, probably a range cow. "Maybe there are some maggots in that dead cow" I announced. The sound guy fiddled with his dials, the camera guy started to smile a bit wider, the still guy changed lenses and the director ate some more TUMS. John just looked at me and asked, "How do you cook maggots?". I replied "Just gather them, drop them into a sock, wash them in stream water till they aren’t sticky any more, drop them in boiling water with some wild onion, boil them for ten minutes and eat." John looked at me and said, "I’m tired of onions"… Annie looked interested, perhaps she was familiar with this fare. We went on a bug hunt.
The hunt didn’t last nearly as long as we thought it might. Along the way to the carcass we found a patch of ripe Currants, and started to munch. One of the rules of survival is that you must take advantage of resources whenever and wherever you find them. We had Currants and we ate them. While John and Annie ate the little greenish red berries, I wandered off into a meadow. There I noticed a log that had been partly disassembled by some large animal. I investigated… MAGGOTS, as fine a collection of larval something’s as ever I had set eyes on. FOOD! Excitedly I called for my cohorts, John and Annie… Munchies! Food! Grub! (Literally)… Everyone came running. The camera guy was grinning from ear to ear, the sound guy was turning up his volume, the still guy checked his batteries, his film, his lenses, his zipper. The director checked for some Alka-Seltzer.
The larvae were hundreds in number, white in color, and about ½ inch long. Perfect bite sized munchies. Hungry, I reached for one to eat and a chorus of voices yelled, "STOP!" I looked up "We have to get this…." They set up the cameras, checked the light, checked the sound and checked the spew zone in case of a sudden ballistic expulsion of stomach contents. John moved in close and eyed the bugs. Annie kneeled down, looked at the bugs, looked at me and smiled. She’s Backpacker Magazine’s wilderness cooking expert. I was certain that she’d seen worse.
The cameras were rolling, the directors eyes were rolling. Some stomachs were rolling. Then John asked me in that calm, interested Viehman sort of way "Are these bugs edible?"… "Yes John, They are, and they’re good too!" I reached into the squirming mass, removed a few choice specimens, and ate them. The cameraman made a funny sound, the still guy moved out of the spew zone and looked away, the sound guy turned down the sound. There was dead silence. A few moments passed and all the faces turned towards John. If ZEN has a look, John was wearing it. He reached into the mass of puerile, lunch launching slime crawlers, selected a chubby member of the insect convocation AND ATE IT! He looked as if he had just had his First Holy Communion. The director asked if we could do it again. The entire crew had smiles on their faces. Smiles like the one Sgt. Bilko used to sport. Big, toothy, grinning, gum showing smiles. Annie started to collect our find into an old can we’d found. "Dinner…." she announced.
We kneeled there for what seemed like an hour while the camera crew shot stills, tape, audio, cut-away’s and every other conceivable video transition and fill-in. For God’s sake it’s just some damn bugs! Finally we’re given permission to toddle back to our campfire. Now we were supposed to COOK the bugs. I was already full.
Bugs are funny that way. I can eat two Big Macs, an order of large fries and a giant drink. A gram of bugs fills me up just as well. I believe that John and Annie felt the same way as we headed back to camp.
The campfire scene was a rebellion. John, Annie and I fiddled around, marking time while the crew wondered what we were doing. Somehow, telepathically united after our joint bug munching ceremony, we silently agreed that the crew should munch maggot too. When we announced our decision… there was silence. "I’ll HOLD one" a member of the crew announced. Goodie… John glared. Annie huffed. I held out a bug to the bold adventurer. "Open your mouth…." I demanded. It started to creep open, lower jaw vibrating like an old-fashioned paint mixer. The cameraman shouldered his camera, the sound guy turned up the volume and the still guy started to click. The mouth trembled open. Plop! In went the maggot! "Don’t swallow" someone yelled, "I want to get this…" Click, whirrr, click. "Put it on your tongue!" another voice demanded. The insect appeared on the end of the tongue. The owner of the tongue looked ill. Click, whirrr… Ten minutes later EVERYONE was munching maggot.
Suddenly there was an orgy of bug-on-tongue displays, gagging sounds, and "That’s not so bad…" statements. Then a momentary silence while the crew began to realize what they had just done… Annie looked around at the guilty crew, John Viehman stood up, motioned for attention and stated simply, "You’re eating our dinner!"