Scouting days

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was a Boy Scout once upon a time. I got most of my early exposure to the outdoors with Woodbury’s Troop 54. Now, a previously unpublished photograph has been made available to your reporter, showing him sterilizing the troop’s cookware at a camp in April of 1962. I’m the skinny blond fellow second from the left, doing something energetic with a garbage can. (The suave scout second from the right, stylishly displaying the garbage pail cover, is in my house as I write this, repairing a water-damaged plaster ceiling.)

I remember this event very well. It was held during the Spring school holiday, it was terrifically hot for April in New England…in the Fahrenheit 90s (above 32°C)…and it was a great week in every way. We hiked a few miles in, camped along the Pootatuck River, fished, lashed felled saplings together to raise a tower, had all manner of other scoutly adventures and, to top it all off, built a “monkey bridge” across the srteam. This is a classic BSA project, involving piers of crossed logs secured and anchored at each end, with ropes making up handlines and footline between them, allowing you to scramble across water or chasm. Do monkeys do this?

One evening, probably our last, the plan called for a big campfire, with singing, story telling, and Serious Ceremonies. Members of the adult troop leadership who couldn’t make the whole week began to arrive. One, well fed and resplendent in full regalia, somehow showed up on the wrong side of the river. Boy, lucky thing we built that bridge. Much bantering and jollity as he climbed the step or two up and smilingly began to make his way across the ropes. All of us realized at once that the theoretically firmly planted stakes holding the ropes securing the piers on his side of the bridge weren’t holding. We watched in open-mouthed silence as Mr. Mansfield, a good 50 pounds heavier than the huskiest boy who had scrambled across this web-like construction, gracefully descended, without letting go of our handiwork, into the sternum-deep Pootatuck. His gentle landing burst our bubble of horrified astonishment, and the whole troop, including the adults, were convulsed with laughter. We couldn’t stop, we couldn’t talk, we couldn’t even stand up. “Falling about” describes it perfectly. Hilarity reigned. It remains one of my greatest memories of scouting.


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