On the road...again!!!
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Those Fruitful Lunch Hours
Over the years, the Footloose Forester had developed a modus operandi for achieving some of his planned free time activities. He was not unlike other people who had both big plans and small, immediate goals. Big plans required adequate planning but immediate wishes did not always require any planning, at all. When he found an arrowhead along the trail, he picked it up and put it into his pocket, but he then began thinking about ways that he could look for more, in the same or other likely places. For a working man, that was a minor problem because his jobsite, so to speak, was in the woods, or miles from his nominal office. Many times, his jobsite was in a foreign country. But his desire to take advantage of his circumstances required that he justify spending time looking for arrowheads, or visiting volcanoes, or fishing for native trout; during normal working hours on the job.
There is little doubt that some of his colleagues and a few supervisors were always looking for ways to accuse him of slacking off on the job, or of not doing what he was supposed to be doing. The Footloose Forester very often worked alone, thus it was natural for others to wonder about his work habits. Most times they could only presume, but more than once they took their assumptions to a supervisor who, in turn, asked the Footloose Forester to explain himself regarding what he actually did during those work days alone. Footloose Forester developed a coping strategy and it was: to pursue his plans during vacations, regular days off, after working hours, and during his allotted lunch hours.
Time dims the circumstances regarding how he worked out his various strategies to enjoy his diversions, but each job presented some opportunities. They say that opportunity knocks only once, and he took that homily to heart at an early age. Even as a paper boy at the age of ten, and progressing though dozens of jobs over the years, he kept his ears and eyes open for opportunities as he saw them and understood them. It seldom had anything to do with personal ambition or advancement; more likely it was about discovering a new fishing hole, or following up with a hike to search for arrowheads. Or to discover new rock formations. Or to climb a new mountain. As a loner even at an early age, the Footloose Forester, hiked many a trail alone and climbed a few very tall mountains without companions.
Fulfilling his wanderlust was straightforward during vacations, but taking advantage of the opportunities when he was on the job limited his options. It was either after work, or during his lunch hour. Playing golf after work in Botswana or Rwanda , for example; did not require as much explaining to his critics, but it may have required them to accept the premise that Footloose Forester often went on the road with his golf clubs in his luggage. Opportunities were there, and sometimes he had to create them.
Playing golf after work at the Golf Club de Saigon was largely out of the question because it got too dark to finish a round when he emerged from his office just across the street from the clubhouse. His solution was to play during the extended lunch hour in Viet Nam, a hot period in the middle of the day when nobody else ventured to the first tee. The good thing was that Footloose Forester and fellow employees at Pacific Architects & Engineers were entitled to a 2 ½ hour lunch period, enough time to finish nine holes. Those opportunities were there but Footloose Forester almost always played alone.
Back in the United States, the Footloose Forester also used lunch hour to search for mushrooms in parks and common areas in urban settings, and deep in the forest when his entire work day was spent in the woods. That is not to say that mushrooms were available everywhere or in every season. In the spring of the year and after the snow receded, patches of bare ground in the forest began to sport Morel mushrooms. The magnificent Morels seemed to favor patches of land that had been burnt over in forest fires, and the Footloose Forester wasted no time in planning to capitalize on his presence in their midst to harvest as many of them as he could. He recalls mushroom hunting in other places as well. Germany, Indonesia, Malawi, and Kenya come to mind.
During a period when he was designated as an inspector of tree planting operations being conducted by contractors to the US Forest Service, the Footloose Forester spent his mornings and afternoons digging up hundreds of contractor-planted trees and otherwise evaluating their planting techniques; but he spent his lunch hour harvesting Morel mushrooms in near-by burnt over patches. Lunch was always secondary but lunch time was always cherished as a period of exploration and personal gratification.
The suspicions about how Footloose Forester spent his time on the job never did completely go away, as he knew they would not, so he just made sure that he limited his golfing, his mushroom hunting, and his other recreational activities to the permitted free time, or to after-hours. People are always going to judge you, so it is in your own self-interest that when you look in a mirror, you do not deceive yourself about how you have conducted yourself. To thine own self be true.
By the way, Footloose Forester usually had a plastic bag or two stowed away in his car to transport his mushrooms, or berries, or decorative Sugar Pine cones that he planned to use for decorating the mantle above his fireplace. And the spacious pocket in the back of his cruiser’s vest seldom returned empty from the woods. Before he was finished with the tree planting inspection project, he had collected about 25 pounds of Morels. Those that we in the fire barracks did not eat with dinner steak one day, we had with bacon and eggs for breakfast the following day. He gave the rest to the foreman of the tree planting crew.