categories: Cocktail Hour
There was one difference between my trip to the Gulf last fall and my trip in the summer. In the fall I did not travel alone. A hairy man out of myth, a Sasquatch-like creature from the north accompanied me. Mark Honerkamp, or Hones as his friends call him, has accompanied me on other adventures, for instance to Venezuela to follow ospreys. Over the years he has taken on, against his will, that most unrewarding of jobs: the literary sidekick. Hones is a big, bearded man, 6’4” and easily 250 lbs at this point, but mostly jolly, and possessing enough of a sense of humor and knowledge of natural history to make me forgive him his animal ways, the flatulence and snoring and the gradual and steady devouring of every morsel of food in sight.
In the past when I have written about Hones, people always mention Katz, who was Bill Bryson’s unsavory sidekick in , A Walk in the Woods, his story of walking the Appalachian Trail. This irritates me, and I point out that Hones made it into print well before Katz (A Wild, Rank Place, 1997). I also suggest that some kind of sidekick challenge may be in order, a fight to the death, a naked cage match between Katz and Hones, or better yet some kind of eating and drinking duel.
I do not doubt that Katz can eat a lot, but I would put my money on my man. As a fairly prolific consumer of food myself, I know of what I speak. But while I am a glutton, a wolfer down of food, Hones is anything but. Here is what I wrote about him in Soaring with Fidel:
“We decided to take Adrian out for dinner and got our first taste of Venezulan cuisine. Meat, and meat alone, dominated the menu. Unlike Cuba, where even mixing chicken with your beans was a rarity, here the menu spilled over with carne. Hones took full advantage and soon the table was covered with tiny beer bottles and plates full of steak, sausage, chicken and pork. Adrian and I wolfed through our food, but Hones had a more consistent, even dainty, approach carefully slcing up his food into little wedges and then drowning each wedge individually in hot sauce. He was still eating long after Adrian and I had finished. I pointed my Polar Ice bottle at him.
This theme continued during our recent October trip. After Hones and I set up the tents in Fort Pickens near Pensacola, and drank our obligatory arrival beers, we headed outside the park for a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant called Pegleg Pete’s. Right then and there Hones decided to launch a campaign of personally sampling as much Gulf seafood as humanly possible. He started in with a plate of fried oysters.
But to be fair, there is more to my friend than gluttony. After lunch we headed back to our campsite (On the way passing an enormous RV with the name “The Intruder” emblazoned on the side and a portable satellite dish sprouting from the grass of the tiny front yard.) Once back at the site we found the shrubs blooming with butterflies. The shrubs were called bacharis, known less formally as Salt Bush, and their whitish flowers were covered with wings of orange and black. Monarch butterflies floated around the closest bush like a living nimbus.
Hones started filming and he couldn’t get enough. While he filmed, I took notes. (Which has been our joint technique, basically, for years.) Seeing the monarchs made me think about the raw fragility of migration, the necessity of small connections to support trips of enormous risk and distance. To think that these butterflies would migrate, over land and water and over generations, through winds and rain and death and re-birth, down to the mountains of Mexico. It sounded like a child’s fairy tale, like being told that a piece of tissue will rise from your bedside Kleenex box and fly a thousand miles.
Here’s some of the footage:
Looking at the butterflies, I thought back to when Nina and I first moved to the South, right after Hadley was born, when we had a Bacharis bush outside of our apartment. I don’t know that I have ever lived through a time that felt as vulnerable, as fragile, as those first years in North Carolina. As full of love as I was for my daughter, I was also full of the fear of losing her. The world felt precarious. Sometime that first September, the bacharis sprouted monarchs and Hadley began to make chimp sounds and point at the dozens of butterflies. They fed off our tree for a couple of weeks before continuing their preposterous and fluttery migration south. I remember watching individual monarchs try to fly from our beach southward over the water, dipping precariously low, almost touching the sea, which would be the end of them, before carrying on, apparently unperturbed by their brushes with mortality. Then, sometime in October, the Monarch tree emptied. Orange leaves fell from the bush though these leaves, unlike most, didn’t merely fall to the ground but decamped and began a two thousand mile generational migration to Mexico.
Which is a long winded way of saying that Hones is an appreciator of beauty as well as a devourer of food. But before I wax too poetic, I need to add that he is also a champion snorer. That night it was a good thing we chose an unpopulated corner of the campground, because I’m pretty sure Hones’ snoring could be heard for miles. We were in separate tents but I still had a hard time falling asleep. In the middle of the night I climbed out of my tent and commiserated with my fellow insomniac, an armadillo who picked along the bushes by the edge of our campsite.
The next day we landed in Orange Beach, where Hones continued his diligent sampling of Gulf seafood. We ate at a restaurant called Live Bait, and this time he opted for the mixed seafood platter with shrimp and oysters. Back at the hotel I was in for another night of snoring, except that now, in the same room and not in separate tents, it was like being trapped in a phone booth with a howler monkey.
In the end traveling with Hones is a little like spending the holidays with your family. Enough time passes between the last time you did it to conveniently forget what it is about these people that made you want to kill them. With Hones it’s not just the snoring but the back seat driving and the checking that the doors of the car are locked, as if, without his guidance, I would not have a chance of navigating through the world. Yet I understand that this last is a product of his living–and usually driving–alone. Also, I know that from his point of view, I must seem a little dictator: let’s go here, film that, interview him. But we are friends—old friends, good friends—and we can laugh at pretty much anything, our own faults most obviously and most often. So, overall, we do okay.
I’ll end with one final eating scene. In Bayou La Batre, where Forest Gump did his shrimping, we ate at a tiny Vietnamese restaurant called Pho. There is a substantial Vietnamese fishing community in Bayou La Batre, and this is where they come for noodles. The Vietnamese owners have seen a lot in their day but I am confident that they have never seen anyone put as much hot sauce on their noodles as Hones did that day. When the broth looked bloody enough, he went to work slicing up little peppers and plopping them in. Hones is a pepper freak and during the trip he often fretted about the peppers he left untended in his apartment back home.
When I didn’t finish my beef and broccoli, he took it and drowned it in hot sauce. When Bethany didn’t finish hers, he asked if he could polish that off, too.
“I don’t like wasting food,” he said by way of explanation.
“You sure don’t,” I said.
He ignored me and reached for Bethany’s bowl
“I’ll give it a good home,” he promised, patting his belly.