What follows is the first installment of perhaps a 4-6 part story that I wrote a bazillion years ago. I've edited it a bit, but have not taken the time to rewrite any major portions. I will post the first two sections today and then look over the next portions in a week or so, or sooner, we'll see.
It's somewhat of a "what I did last summer" story, but it all happened almost 40 years ago. All of the events are true and the dialogues are somewhat accurate...at least in spirit, filtered through the gentle sieve of time and sweet memory.
THE SCENT OF VANILLA - Part 1
It was the summer of 1969 and the summer of my fifteenth year. It was the summer during which I never felt so grown-up and realized before it was over that I would never feel so young. It was the summer during which I learned about the true nature of man and the possible nature of God. It was the summer that I saw the face of hate, of fear and of pure love. It was the summer of 1969 during which I and my world changed forever.
Each summer since the age of 12 years, I would embark upon a pilgrimage to Camp Emerson, a boy scout camp nestled in a primeval forest high in the San Jacinto Wilderness. The San Jacinto Mountains are located directly east of Palm Springs, California. This small range is unique to Southern California, for it most closely resembles the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains much further north. On the eastern portion of the range is an impenetrable face of jagged, geologically newborn granite. Towards the west, the mountains slope more gently into verdant meadows and valleys that eventually lead to the temperate plains of Riverside and beyond. The mountains exist as a kind of Sierra mountain range in miniature. John Muir once said that the San Jacinto Mountains were Southern California's own "Range of Light". When looking up into the crags and sheer faces of the many granite spires that surrounded the valley, in which the camp was sequestered, the comparisons to Yosemite come quite readily.
Camp Emerson was the only large summer camp for the Riverside County Boy Scout council, and had the proud tradition of being the oldest youth camp in the western states. A bronze plaque on one of the walls of the main assembly room proudly proclaimed this honor, which went largely unnoticed by everyone except the oak tree faced permanent caretaker, preferring the title "ranger", who made his home on the camp grounds. Each of the younger staff members secretly wondered if he was one of the founders of the camp in the early 1920's. On several occasions he had been mistaken for Old Mr. Emerson himself, whose picture rested on the mantle of the cave-like fireplace in the main assembly hall.
Two summers prior I had been hired as a camp counselor. At the age of thirteen, I was to be the youngest staff member ever in recent memory. But now, at the advanced age of fifteen, and a survivor of two summers, I had the distinction of being one of a very special group of veteran staff members. To an eleven year old Boy Scout, away from home for the first time, I appeared to be a hardened, well-tested and experienced mountain man. I knew that this year would be special. This would be a glorious summer.
My best friend, Rick Palmer, was sixteen and was privileged with his own wheels. At camp. God, what debauchery we would engage in I dreamed. Rick had been my roommate the previous year and we found we had many things in common; a dark, twisted sense of humor, a penchant for satirizing the Boy Scout fundamentals and a fondness of perusing the pirated copy of his father's Kama Sutra, the Hindu Book of Love and Sex. I distinctly remember, after trying to imagine that people might actually attain those pretzel-like positions while in bed, that there was a very good possibility his parents had indeed attempted more than a few of them. His parents, although a handsome couple, just could not be pictured writhing in ecstasy and abandon, making gravity-defying love in order to be closer to Shiva.
Parents were never thought of having sex. Regardless of the fact that our presence on this planet depended on it, each of us were certain that the only reason mom and dad screwed was to propagate the species. Sex for pleasure was no doubt reserved only for young childless couples according to our reckoning.
Playboy magazines were forbidden in camp. Despite that seemingly ridiculous rule, crates of them were smuggled in. Hoarding, but dividing the voluminous quantity seemed to be the best tactic in the face of surprise inspections conducted by the adult staff. Hidden copies would often be discovered and the offending scout would suffer the disciplinary action of listening to endless rhetoric relating to the evils of sexual fantasy by older men whose imaginations had left them many years ago. I always wondered what happened to those confiscated magazines. Surely, they were promptly destroyed to prevent further mental contamination.
Second offenses resulted in a phone call to one's parents and this seemed to be a rather effective deterrent. This was especially true if your mother was informed of your fall from grace. It is my belief that moms were mostly concerned with the realization that their sons were somehow no longer the adoring boy-child they knew but were being transformed into pubic-hair sprouting, gas-belching, girl-humping, uncivilized young men. In other words, reflections of the men they married.
Dads on the other hand seemed to understand the fascination that these books of wonders held for us. Questions regarding the exploitation of women had yet to be thought of, but good 'ole pop could be depended upon to remember what it was like to be a young teenaged boy. Our loss of innocence was an event that many fathers awaited anxiously. It was as if this turning point would create an unspoken stronger bond between sons and fathers.
With the caches of contraband safely ferreted away, more pressing duties were placed before us. We had a camp to prepare with very little time in which to complete the transformation. It seemed that it was forbidden that we would leave creek beds untouched, there were bridges to be built. Forget about sleeping on the ground, there were wooden platforms and large tents to erect. There were fire rings to construct and firewood to be gathered into large stacks.
What was once a quiet, pristine forest needed to become a bustling, organized and tamed compound readied and prepared as a place to teach young boys in the true ways of the wilderness.