September 24, 2009: Another post due, I turn to last week's overnight camping experience with my son's scout troop.
Please understand, much as I might feign the manly guise of the rugged New England boy -- (and I know many of you see me as being the zenith of strapping manhood, and I appreciate that) -- alas, I am in actuality but a frail example of modern man, strung to the numbing comforts of his technological life-support systems like a moldy yard dog tethered to his post. So to send me out into the cold woods of upstate Connecticut, regardless of the related good cause, is somewhat akin to pouring an innocent fresh-water guppy into a sour salt-water tank.
The carryings-on of the more demonic scouts aside -- the distasteful habits of the more military-minded fathers, including the one who went for laughs by passing gas at the dinner table -- it was all ultimately a positive growth experience for my offspring, and therefore for me (since I'm so codependent). It was a unique opportunity to practice patience and tolerance, to find a chance to be of service, and to -- at least for a few moments here and there -- pretend that I was something grander and more savage than the meek, wiley little city slicker I am.
The real test came at night, when it got dark. It got really dark. It was bizarre. I didn't know they still made darkness that dark. I felt constantly for the little flashlight in my pocket like it was my drugs (were I still doing them). I began to wonder what would happen if I dropped my keys, or my chapstick. This was the real wild. It wasn't for me. I'd progressed beyond this. I was too civilized. I'd evolved beyond this, as sensitive men are wont to do.
Late night didn't bring sleep, but there were a terrifying variety of strange sounds bubbling throughout the camp. Our scout leader snored incessantly, and the baritone echo rumbling across the small meadow made me sure at one point that a black bear had entered the area and was foraging about for the remains of our pork-and-bean dinner. Around 2 a.m. I thought I heard a cougar -- that awful hissing snarl so familiar to anyone's whose been chased by one. He crept stealthily into camp and began considering who to eat first. I held my breath, re-experiencing that faux defense mechanism of childhood, wherein you hold your breath and pull your feet close, hoping therefore the enormous mountain lion won't be able to rip your tent open and chomp your skull. Several minutes later, however, I realized it was someone pulling their tent zipper open and shut, so that was a relief. Yet another disaster averted. Still, I kept my feet close, as well as my flashlight and chapstick.
It wasn't all bad, of course. At five a.m., stumbling my way through the site to the latrine -- (I'd had to go all night, but was trying to be rugged) -- I got to see a wealth of clear white stars speckling the sky. I stood observing them for a beautiful breathless minute, until I realized I was literally standing on the corner of someone's tent. I scuttled away like a frightened vole, tripped on a rock, and ultimately hit my head on the metal pole suspended over my tent.
All in all, it was a valuable and cherishable experience, except for a lot of it. I won't say everyone is ready to journey to the wild, as I have done, but for you city-fied gentry, it may be time to start considering the value and opportunities of facing your forestry demons and becoming one with the bitter soil that is nature at her buck-nakedest ...
And until next time, my time is up ...