Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I really advise reading each section of the story in order. I have changed the names of the characters, slightly, in the event they do not want their names found here via a Google search. This section is a bit long, but I wanted to keep the narrative somewhat cohesive.
The staff always arrived one week early to prepare the grounds for the city boy onslaught. I was to be in charge of the nature lodge, which meant that I had the dubious honor of de-winterizing a 50 by 25 foot log cabin filled with the ancient and moth eaten tanned hides of dead animals which lined the walls and high peaked ceiling. It always seemed interesting to me that here, in the nature lodge, a building dedicated to teaching young impressionable minds the importance of respecting wild living creatures, at a Boy Scout camp, an organization whose major emphasis was the incorporation of a wilderness program for city and suburban trapped boys, hung the stuffed and mounted trophies of large, vanishing critters.
On one wall one could gaze up at the decaying hides of a large grizzly bear and buffalo, on another the mounted head of a huge bull moose, and in one more corner, perched on a Manzanita branch, with wings spread and beak frozen open as if giving a warning to all that passed, rested the most beautiful American Bald Eagle to be seen anywhere. It was a shame that none of these species could be found, or were ever known to exist, in the woods that was now their permanent residence.

There were numerous animal cages and terrariums of various sizes to clean and refurbish awaiting the small animals and lizards that would soon be captured by the over zealous pre-teen boys arriving in seven days. I set up my own weather station which I had brought with me from home, the product of a recent science fair project. With the addition of a few other displays on soil conservation and wild edible plants, several colorful charts of birds, trees and star maps, the room eventually took on the ambitious feel of a mini-natural history museum. Once satisfied everything looked right and exciting I buckled down to study the subject for I was to expound on the entire summer. For, with the exception of what little I learned about clouds while playing with the weather station, (the one my father actually built) I knew precious little about nature. If the truth were known, I couldn't tell a Steller's Jay from a Mountain Chickadee. But by the time the first campfire smoke stained face looked up to me and inquired about finding the North Star I had learned a great deal. Fortunately, I kept up my studies the entire summer and will attest to the fact that by the closing of the summer camp session my knowledge was considerable. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and provide the early summer campers the same in-depth program that the later campers received.

Despite our assigned duties and responsibilities, our primary concern and top priority was the creation of our staff quarters. The staff was assigned one of about fourteen "camp sites," (actually just relatively flat areas spread about the hillsides among the trees), but was special due to the site's access to electricity. Our housing consisted of twelve family style, canvas tents erected on eight-foot square wooden platforms, placed in three rows of four. The most desirable tent locations were along the back row next to tall shady pines. In the middle of the day these tents were quite comfortable and cool. The other tents, however, were placed in the open away, from even a single leaf's shade, and were infamous for melting candles and warping record albums. Of course, newer staff members were assigned tents along "Oven Alley."

Two staff members were assigned to each tent and each was allowed two electrical outlets. With the addition of multiple extension cords, one could set up a fan, a small stereo, a hot plate and a lamp. If you were truly destined for ultimate coolness, you would install a ultra-violet "black light" to illuminate one of several fluorescent wall posters. With a little effort and imagination, a tent could reflect the personality of its inhabitants. Or perhaps one’s desired personality.

The staff area was roped off from the prying eyes and annoying commotion of younger, and certainly unwanted passersby. A rustic, ranch-like entry gate was erected from pine logs replete with a swinging hand carved wooden sign which read, "Resurrection City," in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign encampment on Washington D.C. the previous summer.

The final touch to Resurrection City was the installation of "Radio B.S." Radio B.S. was comprised of a speaker positioned in each tent and wired from the best stereo set owned by Keith Baxter, a bespectacled, skinny, nose picking, junior staff member. Keith later was to grow up to be a successful radio personality in the San Francisco Bay area, playing jazz and blues. But as the official announcer of Radio BS, his choice of music left a great deal to be desired.

Keith had brought a whole collection of 60's bubble gum music like The Archies and Bobby Sherman. One evening his albums mysteriously vanished to be replaced with The Rolling Stones, The Doors and Cream. After some covert negotiations, Keith played an entire summer of Jim Morrison only after his good copy of "Sugar, Sugar" was returned unscratched.

Each morning "Reveille" was followed by the increasingly mellow voice of the now cool Keith Baxter. "Rise and shine, children of God, it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Rise and shine, greet the new day with a smile, and how would you like your powdered eggs this morning?" Suddenly, the sweet sounds of Mick and the boys would belt out "Honky Tonk Women".

The camp itself was actually quite impressive. We had an Olympic size pool in which you could swim a mile and receive a real cool patch to sew on your trunks if you did eighty-eight laps without resting. There was a small lake for boating and fishing, complete with a lodge to store canoes and other aquatic paraphernalia which we delightfully christened "The Oar House". Two large fire ring amphitheaters, large enough to seat the entire camp and special guests lay at opposite ends of the camp. Various simple wood frame "lodges" were scattered among the trees and were utilized as program centers or would house The Trading Post.

The Trading Post was probably the most important building to these youngsters. At the trading post, campers purchased necessary craft supplies, whittling knives and other important Scout paraphernalia. More importantly however, a city kid could find refuge in this wilderness in the form of an overly syruped Pepsi and a tasty Butterfinger. Since, as a camper you had to do your own cooking, I am certain to which, if the trading post had not been available, many of them would have suffered severe malnutrition.

All of this was spread over several square miles of incredibly beautiful wilderness. I often marveled as to the ability of these woods to maintain a primeval pristine quality after this annual assault. Yet each time I returned, the trees, the speckled granite rocks and the deep carpet of pine needles appeared as fresh as it did before the first eleven year old hatchet wielding boy on a quest for virgin fire wood ever approached this place.

Truly, one of the things I have learned about nature is its resiliency. Looking at the marvelous patterns set into the face of a weathered granite cliff or the ability of a fire scarred Jeffery Pine to prosper and grow stronger provided me on more than one occasion reflections of the insignificance of my day to day problems and crises. If something as simple as that rock face can only look more interesting and incredibly, more wondrously beautiful as time and the elements pound against it, I am sure I can survive this traffic jam, tax audit and quarrel with the wife.

The entire week was full of hauling tents, camp stoves and other outdoor living equipment up and down rugged hills and through the trees. But, finally, as Friday evening of this preparatory week approached, the camp director, a tall Mormon with a hearty laugh and sense of fun, announced to his very tired staff that the camp was ready to receive campers. The rest of the evening and Saturday would be our own.

Now this proclamation was not one to take lightly. I savored each word as he spoke. My imagination took flight at the idea that we as a collective group would have almost thirty-six hours of relatively unsupervised time on our hands - for there were only five adult staff members and over twenty junior members. The odds were in our favor that we could engage in some sort of mischief without fear of discovery by anyone over the age of 25. The other factor, which we took into consideration, was that of the five senior staff members present, two of them were between the age of 18 and 20 years old. This fantastic situation could not have been better planned for a group of boys just beginning to experience wet dreams and old, worn out Playboy magazines. The fruits of our week long labor would no doubt be harvested this weekend. Unfortunately, our plans would not pan out as expected but reap rewards which would be collected much later that summer.

As we left the meeting, Rick pulled me aside and told me to get my swim trunks and to meet him at the Oar House in fifteen minutes. The hour was late but there was at least a good hour of daylight left, so I was instructed not to waste a single second. Not having a clue as to what he had in mind I followed orders and found him a few minutes later at the lake placing two canoes into the water. Rick, being on the aquatic staff had access to all sorts of boats and other water toys.

I grabbed a paddle, took one of the canoes and paddled out to the middle of the lake to a buoy which he had indicated was to be our rendezvous point. Rick soon joined me and without a word took hold of the small buoy and began to pull the anchor rope into his canoe. I could barely make out a small white shape coming to the surface.

With one final tug the anchored ice chest was brought into his canoe. Unsealing its tightly secured lid he revealed his precious secret booty.

There, still floating in ice and muddy lake water was an untouched six-pack of Budweiser. "Bud" the beer of my father, and a drink which I still had yet to acquire a taste suddenly took on aspects of Solomon's Gold and magical nectar in my mind. Thinking that now was as good a time as any to begin training my palate, I gratefully accepted his offer of a cool one.

The first beer is always the best one and the most quickly consumed. This I had learned from keen observation in the presence of my carpenter father at the end of a hot summer day on a construction site. But the second beer is the one to savor and truly enjoy.

We were alone on the lake, the sound of crickets and bullfrogs starting to wander in amongst the soft rippling sound of water being pulled with each paddle stroke. The aluminum canoe acted as a resonator for the gentle lapping of water against its sides. We spoke quietly but not often, and though our canoes drifted apart, our voices magically carried across the surface of the lake. We spoke of hoped-for girl friends at home, of school beginning in fall, (perhaps already realizing the shortness of this summer), and we began to talk about our lack of experiences and how we must alter that sad fact.

Before long but well into nightfall we met once again near the ice chest marker buoy which he had carefully replaced. The beer was now working on our minds as we drifted onto more serious topics, no doubt sounding extremely wise and precise.

Rick said, "You know if the war is still on in two years, I am outta' here. I am not going to fight in that stupid, wicked place."

"You’d go to Canada?" I asked.

"Bet your ass. There's just too much I want to do in this life before I have to exit the world," he proclaimed.

I thought for a moment and realized that there were a million things I still wanted to do before I died. But dying seemed such a remote concept. I had never let my mind wander in that direction before.

Rick continued, " ... and the bitch of it all is that we will probably get blown up by the damn Russians before we reach 19."

Rick took obvious pleasure in cursing out loud, away from the ears of parents and/or other authority figures. I joined in his pleasure, but did not have his expertise in the skill.

"Why would the damn Russians want to bomb us?" I offered, "I see no reason why anyone would want to invade this country. If you ask me, we will probably blow ourselves up and we will glow in the dark for a thousand years and the Russians will simply wait till then and walk in and set up shop without a single shot. Rick, its nothing but a waiting game, who is going to kill themselves first. If it's not the bomb, it will be the pollution. If it's not the pollution, it will be some drug crazed maniac dumping acid in our water. If not that, it will simply be our inability to get along. God, I do not want to die and don't plan on anyone else deciding that fact for me."

By now we were well into our third beer, laying back in our separate canoes staring into the full star lit moonless night. Rick raised up with his hands on the gunnels, smiled and said, "you know, there is hope for you yet. I predict a future member of the Students for a Democratic Society is now being formed among these pines," and began to laugh.

I was surprised by my seemingly radical stance, which I had suddenly taken. But I told myself, well, what's fair is fair and anybody can figure that out. We were silent once again as our mortality began to drift into our minds. I finally asked, "What do you want to do before you die?"

Rick thought for just a few seconds and answered, "Have an orgasm with someone else present, learn to appreciate the taste of scotch, fall in love with a European woman, watch the sunrise over a Scottish lake, visit Lenin's tomb, see Morrison in concert and climb Whitney from the west side. How about you, my man?"

My answer came slowly, for this was a very important question I thought, as if an incorrect one might be placed on my permanent school record to haunt me forever. The sex part was easy. Certainly loosing one's virginity was high on the yet-to-do list. I had little desire to drink scotch and I would have rather met John Lennon than see Lenin's rotting corpse. It suddenly occurred to me that it would be best to rectify really bad past sins before having to deal with the possibility of a vengeful, memory-like-an-elephant, permanent-record-reading God.

"I would apologize to my parents," I finally said.

"For what?"

"For lying to them when they should have known the truth."

"About what?!"

"For simply lying to them for things I did and either blamed others or not having a reasonable answer for events. Your parents don't lie to you, but to stay out of trouble you lie to them and then you feel like crap for a while because they probably really know the truth and just deal with it."

Rick knew the sincerity in my voice, "Well kids are supposed to lie and get caught so that you learn not to lie when you are older. It's just the way it works. OK, now what else would you do?"

"That's easy, fall in love with a tall blonde that looks like Miss January" I answered instantly.

At that precise moment in time, God, or the Air Force, was no doubt listening in. The crickets were the first to grow silent, and the frogs soon followed. As the realization settled in that it was suddenly very quiet my eyes were snapped onto a reddish, purple glow in the northwestern sky. The light seemed to fill the western portion of the camp as the glow moved towards and over us. Trailing behind the pulsating orb was an apparently twenty mile yellow tail. This large mass was followed by a half dozen smaller but similarly streaking red-purple forms. Time froze until the objects passed overhead leaving their shape and color etched into the upper atmosphere and our retinas.

Rick and I looked at each other and thought it was either aliens or the apocalypse, in any case our only words, in unison, were "Oh Shit!"

As we scrambled to bring the canoes to the shore I was certain that I would never to have the opportunity to explain all of my sins to my parents and that I would no doubt pass through this world without having experienced all of its earthly pleasures.

We quickly jogged back to our tents finding the rest of the staff huddled around a radio, listening for a news report of the certain end of the world. About twenty minutes later we discovered that Vandenburg Air Force Base had aborted a missile launch gone awry. The pieces of the rocket had re-entered the atmosphere causing a fantastic display for Southern California residents. It seems that God and the President of the United States had given me a reprieve and another chance to redeem my short, but obviously wicked past.

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