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It's in the Bag

I'm waxing nostalgic again. Bear with me, please. It happens a lot after age 50.

What brought on this latest round of nostalgic reverie? It's my brand-new sleeping bag.

Much of my waterfowling involves camping. By the time I travel to a prime duck-hunting site, pay for gas, hire a guide and purchase licenses, I am invariably unable to afford the price of a decent motel room. Thus, I defray the expense with a tent. And a sleeping bag.

My new bag is constructed from lightweight synthetic fibers and weighs about as much as a parakeet feather. It will keep me warm, weather notwithstanding. It is flame-retardant and vermin-proof. Minor repairs, if ever needed, will take 5 minutes, tops. There's but one downside: This bag will be exceedingly boring.

Duck-camping, you see, is not a new thing for me. It started years ago, when I was an always-broke boy who had not yet grown into an always-broke man. Even then, though, I always had some semblance of a sleeping bag. Reflect with me, if you will.

My first "sleeping bag" was a woolen blanket, U.S. Army issue. It came home from the war in Uncle Somebody's duffel bag. Which war, I never learned. I'm guessing Spanish-American or Civil. At any rate, my father deemed it to be the perfect young waterfowler's bedroll.


"It'll be warm," Dad said, not mentioning what he considered its most-positive attribute: It was free.

With the blanket, I had two choices: roll up in it and die of heat stroke or sleep uncovered and be eaten alive by duck-marsh mosquitoes. I generally opted for the latter, because there's little difference between mosquito-itch and wool-itch, anyway.

My next make-do, duck-camp "it'll-pass-for-a-sleeping-bag" was a furniture pad. Dad trucked tables and chairs for a living, and you guessed it, there was no monetary outlay involved.

"It'll be warm," the old man said. Dad was nothing if not consistent.

The pad was indeed warm and surprisingly comfortable. It was not mentioned, however, that, when wet, it weighed 500 pounds. He might also have added, "Keep it away from the campfire." A blazing furniture pad in dry marsh grass gives "warmth" a brand-new meaning.

The third sleeping bag of my young duck-camping career really was (wonder of wonders!) a sleeping bag. It cost me 15 cents and a broken-bladed pocketknife. It didn't look like much, but I figured it would do, once the mice were evicted.

"Good deal," Dad said. "It'll be warm."

My old man is a genius. That bag was as hot as my woolen blanket and as flammable as my furniture pad. Plus, it had a zipper -- a zipper that stayed zipped. Permanently. Think being swathed in a flaming furniture pad sounds like high adventure? Try self-cremation in an old-fashioned sleeping bag. The garter snake that slipped inside during the night was just as excited about it as I was.

Now, here I am facing the prospect of sleeping in a bag guaranteed 100 percent safe and comfy. I'll not, I'm told, be consumed by fire, terrified by uninvited bedfellows or perish from suffocation. And yes, I'll be warm.

As for the resultant boredom and lack of youthful adventure, let's face it: When a fella gets his 50th birthday behind him, ho-hum ain't always a bad option.

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