Tales of Backwoods Survival
By Karlene Bayok Edwards
Photos courtesy of Karlene Bayok Edwards
“Hold still now,” Dad would say as he tipped the five-inch blade of his hunting knife beneath our splinters to lift them out. It didn’t hurt, and it never took long. The scary parts were the scratch of the knife sharpening against his whetstone and the point of the blade suspended above our miniscule fingers. We didn’t cry. We wanted to be as brave as our father, Joe Bayok.
For all the years we knew him, he carried in his wallet a fishhook, a knuckle-wrap of fishline, a black fly nymph lure, and a photograph of Mother. In his album, he kept a younger, smaller, much-creased photo of her. Above it he’d written: “Marcella’s picture—made it through prison camp.” They had been married just two years when he was captured by the Japanese at Wake Island in December 1941. That small photograph was his talisman.
Born in 1913, the tenth of eleven children, Dad fought and dreamed his way from a crowded New Jersey neighborhood to Idaho’s mountain wilderness. To help his family, he left school after the eighth grade to work a series of factory and farm jobs: packing hats, grading tile, milking cows, and sweating behind a horse-drawn, foot-burner plow. He told us he read Civil War histories from the library and every Zane Grey western he could find. He especially remembered Gene Stratton-Porter’s The Keeper of the Bees, about a severely wounded soldier who, though not expected to live, refused to give in.
As a boy, Dad collected photographs from magazines of Alaska and the Rocky Mountains, and he vowed to see all that wild country one day. He got his first opportunity right after his twentieth birthday, when he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and traveled by train to Idaho to help construct a CCC tent camp on Payette Lake to house and feed two hundred men (see “You’ll Be Glad,” IDAHO magazine, December 2015). He was paid thirty dollars a month, twenty-five dollars of which were sent directly to his family in New Jersey.