I was determined to spend two weeks in the Alabama River bottom swamp with little more than a bow, arrows and a sleeping bag. I’d even convinced Birmingham-Southern to give me college credit for the stunt if I could pull it off. “A study for the psychology department, ” my friends Cheairs, Sam and I were calling it. And most people did think it was crazy. But aside from a little rain, our first day wasn’t so bad. We spent our first night in a pine bough lean-to with a cottonmouth snake in our stomachs.
Journal Entry: Day 1
This is awesome. Indians had the life.
The next morning, our shelter complete, we decided to get serious about the food situation. Deer. Rabbits. Wild pigs. Bacon. I didn’t know where the bacon was in a pig, but I was going to find it.
I wandered through the swamp that morning and came across six wild piglets about the size of dachshunds. I wanted something bigger but decided I’d better come back with them just in case neither Cheairs nor Sam’s hunt was successful.
That night, we had piglets for supper. We boiled the meat in our cooking pot. It wasn’t much, but we made the most of it. We ate the livers, brains and even singed the hair off the pigs to make cracklings from the skin. The next day, I found three more piglets. Once again, it turned out to be all we’d have for supper.
“Bacon, ” I said desperately. “I’ve got to find the bacon.”
But the piglets were so lean, the only fat we could get was from licking the inside of the skins. We were all starting to crave fat. Through the hunting and the bacon search, I journaled dutifully for class.
Journal Entry: Day 4
Leftover piglet for breakfast. Getting weak. Time to start eating acorns until I can find the bacon.
Recipe for Acorns
1. Shell acorns.
2. Boil to remove tannic acid.
3. Strain through sock you’ve been wearing for four days.
4. Repeat to taste.
Recipe for Pine Needle Tea
1. Pull pine needles from pine tree.
2. Boil to taste.
Journal Entry: Day 5
Pine needle tea is actually pretty good. Acorns give you terrible burps. Sam is craving fried chicken. Cheairs wants a roast beef and provolone sandwich. I want lemon pie. And bacon.
The deer smelled us and ran. The wild pigs vanished. Our days were spent trudging through the swamp, sailing arrows at whatever moved. We drank from puddles like dogs. We stared at the armadillo that nosed in the dirt every evening around our shelter.
“It can’t be that bad, ” I said.
My friends were both too weak to comment. I got up and killed the armadillo. I cut the shell off its back and dug out the oily, crimson-colored meat. It stunk like nothing I’d ever smelled.
I stir-fried it in the skillet, and we forced it down. I knew it wouldn’t taste good, but I never imagined it would be that bad. The stench stayed on our breath for days … Until we discovered pine bark.
Demonstrating to my friends it was OK to eat bark, I mowed through a limb section about the size of a piece of Silver Queen corn. It tasted exactly as you think it would — like sawdust soaked with turpentine. We couldn’t take much of it, but it cured the armadillo breath.
Journal Entry: Day 8
Pants are falling off. Have not used toilet paper in nine days. GOD, I want bacon.
It was not raining. The temperatures did drop below freezing a few nights, but we could handle that. Water was plentiful. It was the lack of food that was really crippling us. We hiked to a small pond, dug up some larvae and caught about a dozen sardine-sized fish. I don’t know what they were. We cooked them over a fire for a few seconds until we saw them start to shrink. We jerked them out, chewed and swallowed them before they disappeared.
Journal Entry: Day 10
Sam and Cheairs think that this is the stupidest idea I’ve ever had. I told them there’s no way we’ll die. I heard a person can go a month without food.
Journal Entry: Day 12
Too weak to hunt. Still haven’t used toilet paper. Friends not even coming out of shelter. Think I’ll crawl outside and lie in the leaves just so I can call them wimps.
Journal Entry: Day 13
We trudged out of the swamp at one minute after midnight on the 14th day. We went straight to Delchamps in Spanish Fort — the closest and only place open at that time of night. We staggered through the automatic door like escaped POWs. We went our separate ways, met again in the parking lot and ate our fantasy foods in silence. We vomited. Ate again. Vomited. Repeat.
After we returned to school, no one doubted our effort. I’d lost 15 pounds. We were all streaked with pine sap and infected cuts.
My friends were able to keep food down after a few days, but I still couldn’t eat without it bouncing up again. Someone predicted I had contracted trichinosis from eating the pig livers. When word gets out at school that you might have worms, it doesn’t help your social life. I immediately went to the doctor and got checked out. He said I didn’t have worms, but my stomach had shrunk so much that it would take a while to stretch back out. In a few more days, I was able to keep some food down. And Birmingham-Southern posted our grades for the Interim term.
text by and photo courtesy of Watt Key