The Old Paths: Hungry as a bear

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

Raindrops keep falling on my roof (not my head) as I type this column. Indian summer temperatures have grudgingly given way to hoodie-and-sweatpants weather. For me, it’s an “I’d-rather-not-go-anywhere-unless-I-have-to” kind of day.

And I’m hungry.

Is it just me or does anybody else notice an increase in appetite when summer morphs into fall? I suddenly start craving hot chocolate; thick, savory stews; homemade bread with real butter. Watermelon, cantaloupe and tomatoes are yesterday’s fare; give me hearty beef vegetable soup or cheesy baked spaghetti.

My theory is that our bodies were programmed long ago to begin packing in the extra calories when Jack Frost comes a-rap-tap-tappin’ on our windowpanes. For the majority of history—even during the childhoods of some of my older readers—food was not as plentiful in the wintertime.

Wild game became scarcer, or at least thinner, as the cold months dragged on toward springtime. The vegetable garden and fruit orchards were out of production, so families had to rely on whatever Ma had preserved back in the summer. If Pa’s crops were good last year, then the pantry shelves might be full of canned goodness while the root cellar abounded with turnips, potatoes and the like.

But there were years when the harvests weren’t as bountiful or perhaps Ma was ailing and couldn’t can as much as she usually did. Those were the winters when dried beans, corn pone and salt pork had to suffice ‘til Pa could get some venison or the spring garden began producing some early table fare.

My friend Janice suggested that maybe we are preparing for hibernation. Sure enough, hibernating animals do it—pile on the fat cells before they power down into the cold-weather mode. Problem is, I can’t tune out and sleep all winter.

Although I am a Creationist, I am not one of those who cringes/gasps/makes the sign of the cross when you say the word “evolution.” I actually believe that our gracious Creator programmed our bodies to be able to evolve for survival. Through the thousands of years when mankind had to struggle a bit harder for food in the winter, wouldn’t it make sense that humans would instinctively begin to take in more sustenance as cold weather approached?

Anyhow, that’s what I tell myself when I find myself hungrier in the autumn. I wish my body could get the message that these days, grocery stores provide us with all we need throughout the winter. But since I’m still waiting on our bodies to realize we probably no longer need wisdom teeth or an appendix, I don’t anticipate that this hunger mechanism will suddenly take note of the local Food Lion just down the road.

Then again, if we lived in a third-world nation, it might be a very different story. Sometimes I worry that we have become so spoiled by our relative prosperity in America that we would be up the creek without a paddle—or in Mother Hubbard’s bare cupboard—if our financial situation changed.

When the Great Depression struck in 1929, most of America could still fend for themselves. Men were hunters, women knew how to preserve food, even children could grow gardens. Although rural Stokes County is full of people who still retain those skills, we are the minority, folks.

If financial ruin once again struck, I’ll confess I’m headed lickety-split to Dry Hollow to live with Daddy and Mama. My hubster is a very capable man in many areas, but if I had to depend on him to kill us enough game to live—well, you probably ought to get the eulogies ready.

I have canned a bit in my time, but I am a mere amateur as compared to Mama. My kids have worked in gardens, but they know even less than I do! Besides, in this hybridized world we have allowed to be created for us, if we couldn’t run to the store to buy seed packets, we’d better hope somebody has heirloom seeds to share.

As the volunteer leader of the School Skippers 4-H Club, I felt to bring in my friend, Troy Brown, to teach our club about emergency/disaster preparedness. He demonstrated how to seal food to last for extended periods, discussed radio communications should we lose our normal methods of communication, taught us how to economically make a device to get water out of a well when the power is off, showed us a well-stocked first-aid kit and books for medical survival in a crisis.

As I listened, I realized just how lost I’d be without my cell phone, Internet and cable TV for information….how hungry I’d be in just a few weeks if food supplies were cut off….how thirsty I’d be in just a few days if we lost power to our water pump.

Some say our country will never fall that far. I hope they’re right, but never say never. One clever enemy attack on our power grids would quickly cripple our now-dependent nation. And if you think it would be bad for us out here in the country, imagine the scenario in inner cities where there is little land for gardening, few wells for water.

We would be well-advised to not let ourselves drift so far from the survival techniques and life skills practiced by our ancestors for eons. Mine was perhaps the first generation to abandon that lifestyle. Because I think that’s a critical mistake, I intend to educate myself and others.

Our 4-H club is a vehicle for that. Donnie Hedgecock is going to lead us on a nature hike to teach us about edible plants, and Chad Lange will take us into the woods to teach basic survival skills. (I’ll bet you’re wanting to join my 4-H club now, aren’t you? Sorry—ages 5-18 only!)

Perhaps we should all ponder how far we’ve veered from the old paths of self-reliance for simple survival. In the meantime, I might warm me up some Brunswick stew before I hibernate—er, sleep—tonight.

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News

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