(HOST) For the first time in sixty years, commentator Willem Lange has been camping with a group of Boy Scouts.
(LANGE) Rain was threatening when I put up my tent, so I was a little careless about its placement. I put it exactly over a lump in the ground that curved in a direction opposite to the curve in my back. I slept fitfully, flipping from side to side and cursing my inattention to detail.
It’s the details you notice on a camping trip. Yes, there’s the broad river winding between the green fields and forests; cliffs marking a geologic fault; marching cumulus clouds with their black, wet bellies – but it’s the minute details that complete the experience.
A stowaway spider climbed into our canoe, hid unnoticed in some recess, and emerged during the day. It walked cautiously along the left gunwale, seeming to watch New Hampshire go by as we carried it downriver, far from its home. I wondered how different the scene appeared to a creature with eight eyes.
It’s the morning after the last night of a three-night trip down the Connecticut by canoe with a troop of Boy Scouts. A beginners’ trip: three nights of camping, two easy days of downriver paddling, and no portages. We stayed the first night in a Vermont State Park, where the friendly ranger came by to give us the weather forecast, the dam release schedule, and a few fishing lures.
The Connecticut Valley has been a thoroughfare for centuries. Indian trails on both sides of the river became settlers’ trails, then oxcart and horse paths. River-driving loggers used them for tote roads. Now the river is hemmed by highways, railroad tracks, and an interstate. Finding campsites between the riverbanks and the traffic is a bit of a treasure hunt.
The kids were amazing at spotting tiny creatures – a peaceful cicada, a leech, a toad, and several large black-and-yellow garden spiders wandering through the tall grass. The kids’ killer instinct was constrained by looking to see how we adults would react. Sinner though I was at their age – I owe the animal kingdom a huge debt for adolescent outrages – I invariably voted loudly for life, and the little critters returned to their natural routines.
The valley is a birders’ paradise. We watched bald eagles, adult and immature – a good sign. Kingfishers, sandpipers, blackbirds, black ducks, great blue herons – the river seemed lined with them. At the Little Sugar River, a white wading bird flew over and landed in a dead tree. A great egret; an new addition to my life list.
It’s been sixty years since I was a Scout. But when my Scoutmaster pinned my Life Scout badge to my chest, he said, "Once a Scout, always a Scout." He was right. I may not have done a Good Turn daily since 1949. But during the wakeful night I discovered the words were still there: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty…" and the twelve virtues of a Scout: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly…" Good words to ponder as we plunged back into our lives.
This is Willem Lange on the Connecticut River, and I gotta get back to work.