Now walking through a pine plantation isn't the most difficult thing in the world, especially if you are going with the rows. Cutting across the grain takes a little more concentration. The furrows are often just wide and deep enough that you can't quite bound from top to top, at least not without ending up in a herky jerky jog. Not the best idea with sharp sticks, eyeballs, and old knees in the equation. So you end up sort of post-holing through the forest on a quiet bed of rusty brown needles. One leg shoots down into the valley of a furrow, then the other is forced to mount the next crest. It's akin to walking on a crust of snow, and having every other step break through. From a distance, the three of us probably looked like a game of Whac-a-Mole drifting through red pines that day.
Then, completely without warning on an otherwise uneventful little excursion, Roger had vanished. I heard a deep little whump, and our fearless leader was missing... until I glanced down and noticed, with more than a little curiosity, that I could see the bottoms of both of his Vibram soles clawing at the air. He'd mistimed his crouch-hop through the furrows, and biffed hard. Hadn't even had time to attempt to catch himself. In hindsight, I can almost swear to you that his hat was still spinning in the air by the time I grasped what had happened. As soon as we were sure all his parts and pieces were still attached and in working order, the howling ensued. We laughed until we cried, Roger with glasses askew, pine needles in his hair, and the funniest stunned look on his face you can possibly imagine.
Walking has been described as the continuous act of falling, then catching oneself. But when there's a hitch in the double pendulum strategy, when the wheels come off, when some outside force causes the whole undertaking to go sideways, comedy gold often follows.
Falling is hilarious.
More specifically, other people falling is hilarious. I can't think of anything that vaults me into abrupt side-splitting laughter faster and with more reckless abandon than watching one of my friends take a hard digger. I've been known to fall down right next to them in an uncontrolled fit of glee. As long as nothing is broken, I laugh until it hurts, then continue to giggle about it at random intervals throughout the day. I think most of us do.
Disclaimer: I know plenty of people who have taken unfortunate falls, and suffered serious injuries. Tree stands, roofs, and ladders are often involved, and debilitating back and pelvic trauma have been sustained. Broken bone falls. Traction tumbles. We aren't talking about the falls that result in months of physical therapy and lifetimes of residual pain here. Only a sociopath would laugh at that. We're talking about the tumble that makes you point and laugh at your buddy, completely justified in calling him an idiot and waiting for the pictures to be taken before you help him to his feet.
As people who spend a lot of time cutting cross country over rough terrain or crossing slippery stream beds, by the very nature of our endeavors, we outdoor enthusiasts set ourselves up for falls more often than most. The dude who trips at the mall is amusing, but any slightly distracted numbskull can do that. It's not a well earned tumble, miles from the truck, covered in mud and stink.
There are as many types of crashes as there are settings and situations. I have three favorite classes of collapses, all with their own virtues and blessings to contribute to the world of hilarity. They are the Sudden Collapse Fall, the Stuck Feet Fall, and the Extended Traversing Fall.
First we have complete and utter calamity, out of the blue, as Rog so kindly demonstrated above. The Sudden Collapse Fall (SCF). It's simply the instantaneous system-wide failure of a body to remain upright. It's so entertaining because of the surprise factor and the downright catastrophe of it all. That a person can be vertical in one instant, then decidedly not so in the next, often for no apparent reason in the moment, is uproariously funny. This one often results in some bumps and bruises, because when preformed correctly, there is no time for an attempt at self arrest.
It really shines during early and late season ice fishing when there is no snow to provide traction on the ice. Creepers were invented to prevent this, but I'm glad people forget them because it often leads to a precipitous and painful plunge to the planch. You're all milling around in a loose huddle, waiting for a flag to trip, then suddenly one of the group is no longer standing. His foot simply shot out from under him, and down he went like a sack of hammers. Often, the next thing to shoot in this situation is beer out of an onlookers nose. If his friends are anything like mine, the victim of this particular fall will hear about it for some time to come, simply because of the ridiculous nature of a supposedly functional adult unable to keep himself upright like a grown-up.
The next flounder in my top three is the Stuck Feet Fall (SFF). This one results from the inability to get one's feet where they belong in time to prevent a slow decline to terra firma. It happens in thick brush and on muddy ground. Your boots get sucked in or tied up, but your body is still moving. You flail and grunt and grab desperately at nothing, but in your head you already know you're going down. It's so gorgeous because it takes an eternity.
About a decade ago now, Brian and I were on a quixotic fly fishing trip for pre-spawn pike in a backwater of the Mississippi River. It was bitterly cold and windy, hell for a fly fisherman trying to cast, but we'd made the drive so there we were like a couple cretins out in the weather. I'd gotten myself in that Zen-like zone you have to find in those situations. It's the only way you can withstand the conditions. Don't think too much or you'll suddenly wise up, and get the hell out of there.
Intruding on my reverie, I suddenly heard splashing and grunting to my right. Thinking Brian had a fish, I glanced up to see him pitching and wobbling, shin deep in the mud about five feet from dry land. He had been attempting to get out of the water, but the river goop had different plans. Try as he might, he simply could not free his feet to catch himself. He was going down, and it was taking so deliciously long to happen. Arms windmilling insanely, language appropriate for the sailor he once was, he finally face-planted in the slop. It could not have been uglier without breaking the rod. He might have needed help extracting himself from the icy water and mud, but I was in no condition to lend it, doubled over with tears running down my face as I was. To this day, he still bitches that I stood by, and almost let him drown that day.
The happy little sub-variant of the SFF is the Tangled Upright Fall (TUF), often encountered on deer drives and during thick cover bird hunting. You begin to fall with stuck feet, but the brush is so thick that you can't actually complete the tumble. It hangs you up while your boots lose purchase so you simply hang there, flailing your feet like a puppy rounding turn three at the Linoleum 500. Frisbee holds the honor of performing the greatest TUF I've ever witnessed while we were on a deer drive.
Our final failure to stand, and my personal favorite, is the Extended Traversing Fall (ETF). The ETF also takes considerable time and energy to complete properly, but the main distinguishing feature is the extended stumbling around and thrashing about while covering ground laterally. All of which takes place before performing the dismount on your face. After the initial lurch you almost succeed in recovering your stance and your dignity, but gravity and momentum are cruel mistresses. Just as it occurs to you that you might come out of this sudden low balance situation unscathed, you are forced to recognize that you are, in fact, about to come to a hard prone stop.
I once watched my friend Roadkill (so nicknamed for his eyes like a deer in headlights and his body of a flattened rabbit) perform an exquisite modified ETF up a snowbank as we were exiting Camp Randall. Yes, I said up. He slipped as we were clambering over a trampled, slick bank of snow. Immediately upon slipping, the sound that escaped his mouth was almost indescribable -- something between a moan of despair, and a grunt of effort. After a nifty little ricochet off my hip, he kicked in the turbo chargers and the mad scramble was on. Somehow, defying all laws of physics, he managed to the summit the snowbank on all fours with his feet slapping away like a duck on speed. I'm fairly certain the amount of beer we'd consumed before the game had something to with his ability to bend the physical laws of the universe. Or perhaps my ability to perceive them. He'd used roughly the same number of strides it would normally have taken to cover a quarter mile in less than seven yards and five seconds. Unfortunately, since it was not a truly complete ETF, no confirmed topple to the ground, I was forced to disqualify him from official scoring, but it was still one of the greatest things I've ever seen.
I am not impervious to the dangers of a good fall. In fact, I am an accomplished practitioner of all the battles with gravity listed above, and many more. I've fallen off porches and into wood stoves. I've plopped into streams and out of them, staggered around marshes and broken my big toe by tripping over a concrete parking bumper while sober as a judge. I ruined a perfectly good smart phone this very spring, sprawling face first into a creek. But most of those are subjects for future posts.
I'll simply state that, after a certain rather undignified plummet a few years ago up at camp, I am now strongly encouraged by my hunting buddies to wear a helmet at all times.
Yeah... it's funny now...