The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Haversack

Your haversack can take you here and beyond
(Illustration from "Caçadas de Pedrinho" - book by Monteiro Lobato)

When I was a child a haversack (the name in Portuguese is "embornal") was a very common household possession, especially in the rural environment where I grew up.

Every one of the farm employees had one, almost always white made from discarded and reclaimed flour or sugar cotton sacs and with their initials embroiled by hand, with greater of lesser skill. Every morning around 9:30 the wives or daughters would bring the haversacks with the just cooked lunch and rang them in hooks outside the farm workshop from where they would be taken to fields.

That pretty much defined the standard dimension of the haversacks, since they had to have enough room for a caldron about six inches in diameter, which contained he inevitable rice and beans filling about three quarters of the volume and some sort of meat, pork or chicken being the most common, since almost every family kept at least one capon and several piglets plus a number of chickens, hens, and at least one nice looking rooster.

The lid was kept in place by an elastic band, and together with it would go a former soft drink glass bottle filled with very sweet, and soon to be cold, coffee. Those haversacks had a very practical use, but almost every one of those men also liked to fish, and some to hunt, even if only to provide some free protein for their families, but none had fishing boxes, all they need would fit in another haversack. And why not, since their wives could make them for almost free?

My brothers and I had our lunches in haversacks many times, more out of wanting to be part of the environment than for need, but like most of the other children in the farm we used ours to help us in our adventures.

So I started to consider what a haversack should be stuffed with to make us feel like children again!

First and foremost it should have a pocket knife of any type imaginable. Of course a Swiss Army knife would be the most desirable and useful knife anyone could carry, but they were too expensive and rare for children, and probably we would have to rely on a single blade friction folder, almost certainly with a sheep's foot blade that was handled down by some salesman, most likely chemicals being used o fight a losing battle win the boll weevils that were destroying our cotton, and that my father to his grave would swear where parachuted in Brazil by the CIA, so the big American companies could sell us their chemicals.

Next we must have a slingshot, as no self-respecting boy at the time would go out in the bush unarmed. Many dangerous mangos and other less desirable fruits would still be haunting the country if we did not have our slingshots to bring them down from their towering heights. Of course we could also try our luck at the multiple doves and pigeons that populated our woods or some careless tinamou that decided to prove Darwin wrong.

Marbles would be third in line, for they provided both entertainment during long lazy days and also could use as ammunition to the slingshots in case a trophy of enough importance would present itself for such expensive and high performance ammunition.

Following these basic staples we have a long list of absolute must haves, at least in the opinion of a professional small boy like me, and I will present the in no particular order.

Fishing hooks, sinkers and line that could all be accommodated inside a match box allowed us to y our hands for the "lambaris" (Astyanax sp.) and "traíras" (Hoplias sp.) among other fish that hid themselves in the dark muddy waters of the Córrego do Rosário that bisected our property, and that would come out in the early evening, about the same time that the annoying mosquitos would wake up to make us company and render us misery. A small glass jar with a screw in top that formerly held medicine or food is always useful to carry earth worms, rotting corn or other bait.

It is hard to overstate the importance of twine or cord or even some steel wire. They are essential to make an "arapuca" a very effective trap to catch birds and other small animals.

There is no reason not to carry as small container of .177" air gun pellets, even if your father, like mine, did not allow you to have an air gun. You could always come across another kid that had one, but had no pellets, and the priceless gift of half a dozen pellets or so would surely grant you access to that coveted gun. But I can't complain about my father for as much as he was afraid of air guns, he would allow me to carry a small bore shotgun, so in my haversack I always had a small handful of .310" rimfire shotshell made by CBC. The older version had glass wads that let us see the No. 11 shot while the newer ammunition was crimped.

Matches or a Bic lighter are critical to start our fires so we can cook our fish or the rare birds we hunted with our mortal slingshots. The frying pans were made from discarded cooking oil cans and were generally good for a single meal. More cans could be found when necessary. Of course the pocket knife was used to make he fry pan and then become the cooking utensil.

The haversack should also carry a small and inexpensive flashlight. Nowadays we have reliable and bright LED hand torches that cost next to nothing, but to us professional small boys (and I freely steel once more the expression from Robert Ruark) nothing is better than and old and barely functional flashlight, with worn out batteries that barely light the old bulb, and that before the night is over will have to be boiled or frozen to give us a couple more lumens that reflected from the eyes of a timid alligator someplace win the lagoon.

Being the nerd that I always was my haversack was also home to a magnifying glass, mostly used to burn black holes in mango leaves, and a small notebook and pencil, that of course was sharpened by the inseparable pocket knife.

A whistle is very useful if you are lost, or even if you just like to annoy people and disturb their early afternoon nap and any child will soon find out how easy it is to lose it when overused or misused.

A very important item is a magnetic compass, especially if it is inexpensive and not too reliable, as it provides us a good reason to get lost for as long as we desire.

A good haversack can carry many other essentials, but it cannot transport or contain the most essential and necessary "items" for a us, professional small boys, adventure spirit and imagination.

Just get away from this computer screen and go explore your own backyard! You will discover a world that you thought was lost.


  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life...

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