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  • Why we do what we do...

    Sorry this is a little long winded, but thought I'd share a piece I was inspired to write after a campout a couple weekends ago. Not really a SM minute, but I don't know where else this would fit on the boards - hope you get something out of it.

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    From campout 3/14/09 Dinty Moore Stew

    As we pulled into camp at 3100 ft ascending from our afternoon hike on the valley floor, the temperature had dropped over 20 digits to 56 degrees. The onshore flow was picking up as dusk was rapidly approaching. Paul, Jim and Anoop tended to getting the stove started and dinner cooked. The boys, Carson, Ryan, Aaron and Rohith returned briefly to their boulders for one last climb before sunset. I was sure glad to leave the thousands of day-trippers on the valley floor, returning to our secluded camp and occupied myself with getting the campfire started in the tin washbasin that was required for any open flame inside the state park. Once lit, Anoop took over tending the flames. I wandered off to a nearby grove of trees providing me a windbreak for starting my lantern. Fellow campers, present company included, have poked fun at my stubbornness in using such an old Coleman lantern on campouts. They ask me if I know that Sports Chalet sells newer models.

    Its an old 1940s model handed down to me by my uncle Mark. He and my aunt Cecilia never had kids and he had gotten the lamp from his father, now since past away. Still in the original red metal carrying box and it still had the 1st glass globe it came with. Jim commented that it would likely fetch a good price on E-bay. Other than putting new mantles in it Ive always gotten it to light, even if it was a bit testy sometimes. Tonight, I wouldnt be so lucky. In my impatience to get the dang thing going, I probably flooded it out by over priming the thumb-pump. At least the other guys had their lanterns and we werent relying on mine for camp light.

    Ive always kept the lantern and the old Coleman stove Mark gave me. They still work and I cant seem to bring myself to discard a piece of camping gear that is still useful. Maybe its my connection to campouts of the past. Maybe its my link to my family back in Nebraska. On this trip, Carson and I slept in an old 3-man dome that my father bought for our family sometime in the early 1980s. Anoop and Rohith shared the second one. Aside from the elastic in the poles loosing their resilience and some slight off-coloring of the canopy from decades old water sealer, they work as well as when Dad bought them. Good thing too for tonight, they would be tested. The wind would not die with the setting sun.

    I return from my unsuccessful lantern lighting to find the four boys all huddled around the fire asking about food. Jim fashioned a makeshift windbreak from a tarp, some cord and a U-shaped piece of tubing he found discarded on the perimeter of the camp. Its not much to look at, but it does the trick. We setup the folding table on the downwind side of the windbreak and bust out the mess kits. Salad, BBQ chicken and rice. Paul should plan the meals every time, I think to myself as we dig in. For sentiment sake, Jim breaks out a large can of Dinty Moore Stew. Tearing the label from the can, he vents the lid and places it directly on the coals to cook.

    While the boys finish off their chicken and prepare to gorge themselves on Smores, I pull the lid back on the can of stew using my pocketknife pliers. I then move whats left of my rice to the side of the bowl and scoop out a generous helping from the smoky can. As I peal off the lid, I hear my fathers voice in my head telling me that this is how they cooked it in Viet Nam. I remember questioning back then, if they really had Dinty Moore stew in Viet Nam. Twenty some years later, I still dont know the answer. But, I do know my father cooked his C-rations this way in the Army. He had passed this culinary campfire knowledge to me. Now Carson, his 8 year old grandson was fresh with the same skills needed to make his own hobo stew. As I brought the first tastes of slightly overcooked, campfire smoked, canned stew to my mouth the aroma brought back a flood of boyhood wilderness memories.

    The time in Colorado when we hiked Notch Mountain together as a family. I think this was the reason Dad bought the dome tent. My sister had to of been a year or two older than Carson was now. I was probably about 13 and somewhat experienced in my camping with scouting. We did a 10 miler from base camp to the summit to look across the valley at Mt of the Holy Cross. I remember the awe of being above the tree line for the first time in my life. I also recall my father getting pissed off at me and my sister because we ran so far ahead on the trail. He made me carry the daypack for part of the journey, just to slow us up. There is something magic about a hike like that. Pushing up to near 13000 feet, having a snowball fight at the summit in the middle of July. I remember we were not supposed to cut the switchbacks on the upper route and we carried out everything that we took in with us. It might have been called Leave No Trace back in those days, but I only knew it as, Leave the place better than you found it.

    By my second and third bite of stew, my thoughts were on to the boundary waters of Minnesota. That trip was just Dad and I with the scouts. My mother and Jennie had gone to Chicago with some friends as I recall. Fifty miles in seven days by canoe and portage. We bear-bagged our food every night and still managed to have a sow and cub come into our camp and make a try for our food about half way through the trip. I thought it was exciting. My father had other adjectives he would have used to describe the encounter.

    I caught the largest fish Ive ever landed on that trip. It was a huge pike. As fishing stories go, the thing gets bigger in my mind every time I think of that fish. I know this. We had 6 or 7 guys in our crew and we all ate off that pike that night. This is the same trip I scarred my foot. My lure got fouled on some rocks about 20 feet from shore. Since the water is so clear, I could see the lure. I decided to put on my trunks and swim out to untangle my line. Before my father could speak the words of warning, I was down to my shorts and in the water. Not only had I shed my clothes, but my hiking boots too. The rocks in the boundary water lakes are unglaciated. This means unworn and sharp. I thought I had just stubbed my foot on the way out to the lure. Once back on shore, I found a deep L-shaped gash on my right foot that probably should have had stitches if there would have been an ER within 250 miles. We butter-flied it shut the best we could and thankfully it didnt get infected. Thats alright scars, like my stew, are reminders of adventures you have lived. I would examine that scar as I slipped into my sleeping bag later tonight some 25 years later.

    Finally as I finished my stew, my thoughts turned to the people that I have known through camping and those who knew me. There was Dorothy Molter the Rootbeer Lady on an island in Minnesota. She lived out there by herself and sold homemade root beer and packs of spare leaders and hooks to any of the canoeists that came her way. I read on the internet that she had passed away. No surprise, she was well on in years when I was 15. Some society dismantled her cabin and moved it to a museum outside of Ely. You can still order a 6-pack of her root beer online if the mood strikes you, but I doubt it tastes as good as it did on her island oasis.

    There are others, my own family, my mom and sister, especially my father. He didnt have to take time to show me about the outdoors, how to hunt and fish, how to respect and care for the world around you, but he did. Some of my best memories as a kid involve him and a tent in Colorado, Minnesota, or at Camp Augustine on the Platte in Nebraska. There is Dr. Mike Kleppinger, my old Cubmaster and father of my friend Stan. I last heard Stan was teaching high school music somewhere in Iowa. He and I used to play poker for candy late into the night on campouts, in the same tent Carson and I would sleep in tonight.

    There was Dr. Will Locke, my Jr High history teacher, ardent scout supporter and the guy who hatched the idea of the Notch Mountain trek. He led a group of older scouts up Mt of the Holy Cross at the same time the younger ones did Notch. I remember him as a tall lanky guy who liked to run. His appreciation of nature and the outdoors was strong and he passed it on to any student that would listen. I think Dr. Locke and Jim must be long lost twins; they are sure cut from similar cloth. The first time I met Jim, memories of Dr. Locke jumped into my head.

    Mr. Stewart was my Scoutmaster. He drove around in an old Army Jeep and they lived in a house on the edge of town. He was all about the camping, getting outdoors. His son, Joe, was a year ahead of me in school. Joe was a good kid, but could be moody sometimes. I think he got a kick out of playing the role of disaffected youth a little too much. Maybe it comes with the turf of being the scoutmasters kid, similar to being a preachers kid. Being a year older, he was cooler than me and I was never really sure if I fit in with him or if he was going to exclude me from his circle of friends. I remember in high school, their house caught fire and was pretty much a total loss. I asked Joe about it. He replied that it was all cool because it meant he got to get all new stuff. I dont really know if he truly felt this way, or if it was a teenager playing off a huge loss in his life because he didnt want others knowing how bad it hurt to loose your belongings. Anyways, that comment always stuck with me. Funny how a few words or a single sentence can stick in your brain like that.

    I vividly remember Mr. Stewart at scout camp. We were gathering for a huge bonfire. I dont know where I got it or why I was even trying it but for some reason I had my first dip of chew in my mouth on the way to that bonfire. We get there, about ten of us in our Troops group and sit down. Now, Mr. Stewart could have sit anywhere with our group. But, as you might guess, he plops down in the grass right next to me. Now, how am I supposed to spit without being seen by my Scoutmaster? Im not sure if he did it on purpose or if it was an act of God, but I sat through that bonfire with a wad in my mouth and no place to spit. It got to the point I couldnt take it and forced myself to swallow the saliva building in my mouth! I remember only two things from that bonfire. First, I puked in the tree line on the way back to camp. Second, I have never to this day ever been inclined to try chewing tobacco ever again.

    I wonder if Im doing them all proud. It feels wonderful to spend time with friends and especially my son outdoors, but its really a selfish endeavor. Its male bonding, father-son time, but the undercurrent to it all is nostalgia. I often ask myself if Im doing a good job of paying it forward to the next generation. Do I find the right balance of fun and teaching when Im out camping with Carson and other boys from the pack? Will they overlook the lessons and just see it as fun, much as I did as a kid? Finally, will they grow to understand the importance of having places to go camp, nature unspoiled, appreciated? My hope is that once Carson has kids of his own, hell look back on these times with a great sense of wonder and awe. They should be the epic adventures and romantic remembrances of his childhood. They are for me.

    Maybe thats why I use the old tents, the old stove and lantern. Heck, our mess kits are even my fathers and mine from our respective days in scouts. Its nostalgia in action and a tactile connection. I will likely never have the opportunity to have my sons camp with their grandfather. The old gear is the link between generations, the tie that binds. Its funny to think all those memories were triggered by a musty tent and a can of stew. I count these new campmates as close confidants in my history, just as I hold on to those that shaped me as a youth.

    It was a one-nighter, not even a full weekend campout, but it left a history in my soul. It was the campouts of the past, mixed with the campers of the future. Almost as if the flames of the campfire forge the bond between the campers who sit around it. Three days after the trip, I happened to smell the stale smoke from the camp fire still seeping from Carsons heavy coat in the laundry room. Even then, in that split second I was transported back to the memories. Joe, Stan, my father, Dr. Kleppinger, Mr. Stewart, Dr. Locke, their faces all there. But this time Carson, Jim, Aaron, Rohith, Anoop, Paul and Ryan infused in the memory as well.

    I pray the memory will be enriched as future campouts add to the play list in my mind. Luke and Jennifer are not far behind. How exciting and exhausting it will be to have both boys out under the stars, my wife along for the adventure instead of at home with the baby. The two brothers climbing the boulders of Anza Borrego, spying for chuckwallas or scorpions at dusk. If by chance we are ever lucky enough to summit Whitney or Half Dome together, will my sons be struck with the same awe I experienced that first time above the tree line? I hope so.

  • #2
    Lovely and touching story. Thanks for sharing.

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    • #3
      Please do me a favor...
      Send this in to "SCOUTING" magazine. This is what it's all about. This is a successful Scout Leader. Pass this on to us all.

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