Saturday, July 7, 2012


Mike got back from Boy Scout camp today.   He won the golf club carving competition, though I've never seen him holding a golf club except at mini golf.  He made a pumpkin cream cheese dessert in one of his Dutch ovens. I'm not sure what he made in the other, probably the chocolate cherry surprise.  He took Adrian out in a canoe and I can guess that he hosted the friendship fire with thoughtful stories and funny songs.  The day I was there to pick up Nick to bring him home, he suggested that I go to the trading post and buy the makings of s'mores for the kids, and the boys told me that they thought he was an all around good guy.  I knew that.  I fell in love with the Scout leader that he is when he invited me on one of our first dates, winter camping.  I already told you that story, didn't I?  If your feet are cold, put on a hat.  I didn't tell you about Hudson Bay bread trip. 

Now, the first summer Mike and I were dating, he was scheduled to go on a high adventure trek out of Sabbattis in the Adirondacks.   The coolest thing was that he needed me to go!  The Explorer Post had to have a woman on any trip that included girls. I was so excited to go and also so much less experienced than I thought.  Sure, I had paddled a canoe, but I'd never trekked in one.  I had no idea how to light a camp stove, tie down a canoe onto my Blazer, prevent hypothermia, or pack wisely.  I tried to pack an old flannel sleeping bag with deer and hunters printed on the insides.  Do you remember those things?  Fortunately for me, Mike gently intercepted that bag and substituted one of his own.  He'd had to be persistent.  I loved my sleeping bag.  He had told me that the trip would be hard on it and I should pack his old bag instead.  He even helped me make a list of gear. That list has changed a bit over the years, but we still refer to it.  Last week, Nick got hold of a version that had us packing Nighttime Pullups and a long leash for our dog Indiana who's been dead for seven years. 

So, on that first trip, Mike encouraged me to invite my brother.  I figured that since he'd been on trips like this, he'd help keep me from looking like an idiot. I had nothing to worry about.  Mike never once made me feel the weight of my inexperience.  One of the good plans my brother brought was a recipe for Hudson Bay bread. 

When you've been out for quite a few days in the wild and all you've been eating is that crappy dehydrated food, when you haven't been quite keeping up with drinking water because you have to filter everything and even then, it usually tastes like crap, sometimes you can get a little backed up in the digestive area.  I know that it's too much information, but there are things you need to take care of and this is one of them.  So, I told Mike that I'd make enough Hudson Bay bread for the whole group.  Hudson Bay bread was not bread at all, but honey, oats, and butter that baked up to looks something like chewy granola bars, though they got pretty ugly after a few days in a pack.  Mike had never had Hudson Bay bread before, but agreed that it would be a nice addition to the menu. 

Oh, this trip was glorious. The sun shone.  The black flies were never as bad as they said they could be.  Songs that sprang spontaneously to my lips.  I wrote poems on a white bandanna since I forgot my notebook.  We paddled about ten miles every day, sometimes stopping to swim from good diving rocks.  One of the kids, a swimmer, kept asking to stop at the swimming rocks.  Sometimes, we had time to stop for a bit.  The second night, I slept out on one of those rocks, looking up at the Milky Way which seemed to align itself with the long lake next to which I slept.  I was in heaven.  My only problem was that I missed ice cubes.  If all I missed was ice cubes, you know that I was seriously happy. Mike loved me despite the big gray smear of aluminum on my butt.

On about the third day, we camped in a wooded glen off of Raquette River.  I wandered off to bathe, finding myself a sweet little nook about a hundred feet away from the water, completely carpeted with moss.  I stripped down to my bathing suit and brought a bucket of water up from the shore.  Just about the time I had lathered my hair and entire body and and was struggling with the bucket through slitted soapy eyes, I heard a commotion by the river.  I felt naked.  I quickly rinsed off, grabbed my towel and threw on my shorts, though I knew they'd be wet all day as a result.  I had seriously long hair then, so my shorts were destined to be wet most of the day anyway. 

The two most senior leaders had just torn their new Mad River canoe and were sitting on a large rock, waiting to be rescued.  Whitewater holes swirled around either side of them and Mike and another leader had a time getting the throw bag across them to the rock.  Cathy came off the rock first, holding the throw bag and leaping back into the swirling water.  It was shocking to see her pulled under despite the heavy duty life jacket she wore.  But Mike and Brad pulled her out and dragged her ashore.  She was an experienced canoeist, yet she was crying.  Then they got Darrell who came ashore with a shamed look on his face.  He was one of those guys who never got into the water, it seemed.  How can you love canoeing if you don't even like getting your feet wet?  The boat was torn.  It takes a lot to tear a Kevlar canoe.  Cathy was heartbroken.  It was her birthday present, its maiden voyage. 

That night, we hung our bear bag too close to camp and got to see a local standing on our canoes, clawing at our bag like it was a pinata.  Oh, that would have been funny.  We banged pots and he reluctantly ambled away, but it was clear that I wouldn't be peeing on my own for the rest of the trip.  The girls had never been around black bear.  I don't think they slept that night.  I did.  As long as he couldn't get an easy meal, that bear was going to leave us alone.  It wasn't injured.  It didn't have cubs.  It wasn't too comfortable around people.  We were good.  It was an adventure as long as we were smart about it. 

The next day was one of the most beautiful.  It was sunny and hot, so being on the water was the only place I wanted to be.  When we got to camp, I offered some of the Hudson Bay bread to the kids.  Most of them looked at the gooey mess and said, "No thanks."  Erik had a little piece, just to taste it.  Before I'd zipped up the bag, he asked for a bigger piece. 

"Sure, no problem," I told him and gave him a big hunk.  I had finished my two pieces and began to pack the bag away.

"Can I have another piece?" Erik asked.  "I'm hungry."  Of course we were hungry.  What I was to learn was that on the fourth day, true hunger always kicked in.  It was the day when we actually started eating the form of Jello that had been packed for us.  It wasn't cold.  It was always lumpy.  Personally, I couldn't handle the texture, but on the fourth day, all of us ate what we were given. 

"Sure, but you shouldn't have too much," I told him.  He took two pieces, but I didn't want to stop him.  How does a twenty-eight year old woman tell a sixteen year old boy that if he ate too much, he'd have diarrhea?   "It's to help with your digestion."

He held out his hands and tilted his head like a puppy.  I was a total sucker.

"Okay, but just this last piece," I said.  He wolfed it down and looked at the bulging zip lock bag.  I wasn't going to run out.

"Erik, if you eat any more, you're going to have some trouble," I said.  Mike walked up, looked at Erik, chuckled, and walked away. 

"I'll be fine," he said. "Please?"  Those puppy eyes.  Did I ever tell you that I like to feed people?  I do, but I don't like making people sick and after four pieces, he was headed that direction.

"I don't mind sharing.  I really don't, but ..." I paused.  "If you eat any more, you're going to get the shits.  I had to come out with it, in case he didn't get all the nuance. 

"I'll take that chance.  I promise.  I won't.  These are really good,"  he said.

"Thank you.  You can have one more piece and that's all until tomorrow, okay?"

"OKAY!" he said as he grabbed the biggest piece in the bag, nearly the size of two.  Oh man, that boy. 

About an hour an a half later, we were on the water, smooth as glass, barely a hint of breeze.  The shores were thickly lined with trees and brush.  There was a swimming rock, looking perfect for a dive ahead on our left.   

"I need to stop," Erik yelled from two boats away, pointing to the rock.

"Can't right now," Darrell said.  "We have to make time.  It's getting late and we need to set up camp soon."  And we all returned to paddling peacefully.  I might have had a couple of blisters on my hands, and an aluminum smear on the butt of my little yellow shorts, but I was still in heaven. 

"I really need to stop," Erik yelled again.  Darrell was about to say no again.  I could see it.

"He may really need to stop, Mike."  Mike was about to say no too.  I could tell.  I took two more strokes.  "Mike, I mean Erik just might need to stop.  Remember the Hudson Bay bread?"

"I really NEED to stop!"  Erik yelled as he aimed his canoe for the rock and paddled away from the group. 

"Well, I guess that stuff really does work," Mike said quietly. We've trekked with Hudson Bay Bread ever since and I've never handed out more than four pieces at a time, no matter how much a kid begs.

Even after twenty-five years of camping trips, I still like to feed kids.  They're cute, better than feeding peanut butter cookies to baby bears.  Did I tell you about that?  Here's what bothers me though.  This week at camp, someone went into a box containing the leaders gear and snacks and stole all of the little granola bars Mike had brought.  The nerve!  It's not like they'd been eating dehydrated food.  It's not like we'd been paddling all day for seven days.  It's not like Mike had handed any of these out to share with the boys.  The boy was stealing, plain and simple.  I don't like feeding thieves.

So Mike feels pretty sure he knows who did it, one of the older boys.  He wants to keep it quiet.  That's his nature.  On the other hand, I'd like to pull aside a Senior Patrol Leader and tell him what happened.  I'd like to tell him that this kid has stolen not only our resources, but also our enthusiasm.  What if Mike had been using these to aid his digestion?  I might not feel like bringing snacks the next time the boys are camping.  Why should I share with people who take without asking? 

In a strange way, this boy stole something from himself.  He stole my enthusiasm and my generosity for him.  On that trip, years ago, Erik never stole anything, though he knew exactly where I stowed that Ziploc bag.  I will always remember his cheerful, hopeful face, even after he came back out from behind that lone diving rock on the left bank.  I'll always remember him as that cheerful, hungry boy.

Thank you for listening, jb

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