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Thoughts on the Meaning of Life…..by Todd Helmkamp

Things I Learned from Reading Louis L’Amour Novels

Posted by Vogeler on July 27, 2007

This past Wednesday, my wife and I had some friends over for a cookout/bonfire. We were planning on starting at six pm. So of course it began raining promptly at 4:30 pm. My friend Isaac stood outside under an umbrella with me as I cooked hot dogs on a gas grill (he’s loyal like that).

Several of our friends couldn’t come until about 8:30 or so because their church’s annual business meeting was that night. At around 8 pm the rain stopped, so Michael and I went out to see if we could get the fire started. The wood was all soaked, as it was in a heap rather than neatly stacked (had it been stacked, only the top couple of layers would have been wet. But it was free, so I’m not complaining). Long story short, even with wet wood, I was able to get the fire started using a few pieces of dry pine for kindling, around three pieces of newspaper, and a single match.

I was pretty proud of that.

One of our friends called before he came, and thought I was telling stories about having a fire going. It was nice to see his face when he looked at my respectable blaze. 🙂

The point of this is that had I not been a huge fan of Louis L’Amour’s western novels, I probably never would’ve gotten that fire going without a chemical agent. It was from his works that I learned that if the wood still has bark, you can peel the bark off and the underlying wood will still be dry. He also taught me how to make a reflector out of earth (or in this case, sand) so you can dry out other pieces of wood with the heat from what you’ve already got burning.

After some thought, I decided to make a list of some of the best things I’ve learned from his books. Here we go!

1. How to find water in the desert (look for bees, and follow them).

2. Always cross a stream or river that is in your path before you camp for the night. It could be running bank-full in the morning.

3. You can’t bargain with evil (see also the unfortunate early policies of the US and Great Britain toward Hitler).

4. Women are to be protected (also learned from my Dad).

5. Working with your hands is a good way to accomplish something productive yet still give you time to think about problems.

6. Always check your backtrail.

7. Good men (and women) must stand against evil. Many of the world’s problems would be lessened if good people didn’t stay silent.

8. If you are lost in the snow, make sure not to over-exert yourself. If you begin to sweat, it can freeze inside your clothes and suck away all of your body heat.

9. Snow is an excellent insulator for the outside of a cabin, tent, or shelter.

10. A man isn’t really a man until he is building something. It doesn’t matter if its a business, a town, a farm, or whatever, as long as he’s building something for the future.

11. Manhood has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with accepting responsibility.

Just a short list, but if I listed everything it would take days. If you’re a fan of L’Amour, I’d love to hear some of the favorite things you’ve learned. If you’re not a fan, or haven’t read any of his books, I’d highly recommend them (apparently, so does Billy Graham. I read that he’s a big fan too).

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6 Responses to “Things I Learned from Reading Louis L’Amour Novels”

  1. Michael J. said

    Hmm… I was pretty impressed with your fire starting skills as well, my friend. L’Amour is an excellent author. I’ve not had the opportunity to read all of his works, but I’ve read enough to know that he would be in my top 50 (which is saying something considering I usually read about 30 books a month and close to 200 different authors a year.)

    Thanks for having us over on Wednesday!

    ~Lewis is still better~

  2. nathan said

    Is it impressive that i’ve never heard of L’Amour?

    Yeah, i probly could read a more diverse catalog, but i like what I’m reading…
    I think i’m just not a big fan of fiction, perhaps? Not sure…

  3. I don’t know if its impressive or scary…. 🙂

  4. nathan said

    Now that I’ve read a Louis L’Amour book, i can intelligently answer your question:

    1. Never bed down in a canyon. You never know when it may have stormed many miles away and a flash flood will come and kill you in your sleep.
    2. in the desert, snakes come out at night, not at day.
    3. you can stake a mining claim by working (or paying someone to) the claim once a year.
    4. Us Americans are the only people who call a path a ‘trail’. Everyone else calls them paths.

    i can’t think of anything else off the top of my head.

  5. Hooray!

    I’m proud of you. 🙂

    I know you’re not a big fan of novels, but if you want to try some, I know of a really great author….

  6. These “lessons” you learned from Lamours novels are not worth the time it takes to mention them unless you also give the reasoning e.g. “always check your back trail” has many reasons to follow this very sage advice, one that Lamour mentions many times in his work is probably the most relevant today. “Landmarks look different from a different angle” is the best reason for checking your back trail and one that has helped me many times when out and about. You could also say “you’ll know if you’re being followed” as a reason for checking the back trail.

    I would add a couple more things learned from Lamour.
    1. Always make camp off the main trail – you’ll be less noticed
    2. Never top a rise without first peeking over to check for _______ – you’ll skyline yourself and make an easy target or scare the game you’re stalking
    3. Practice seeing without looking – you’ll end up more observant
    4. Trees dissipate smoke from a campfire – making you less noticeable
    5. Trails can be lost when the prey has travelled in a stream for a ways – useful to track game that has been wounded but not killed

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