The Canoe Trip

Way Cool. A few cabins of kids at a time, canoeing through a sunken forest, warning each other of the potential dangers as they arose from higher limbs they had to maneuver around. I was the counselor on this particular journey. These were suburban campers from mostly well off families and the feeling was that these somewhat unusual activities expanded their otherwise narrow views of the world. However, this one was cut short.

It seemed that the boys had been scheduled for an intercamp softball game and the lake trip conflicted. They were upset. They didn’t want to miss the game. Heck, softball games was what they liked most. They particularly liked to win, and they did pretty much all the time. It was a tradition they believed in.

I called the camp and had the game rescheduled, and reported the exchange to the kids, but for some reason they didn’t believe me. They were pretty sure that other campers were going to play instead.

There were no vehicles left at the lake. We were to be picked up by truck later in the day, but the boys discussed the matter with each other and decided to “take a stand.” (The phrase reminded me of NY progressives.) But in this case what they wanted was to walk back to camp. It only took half an hour to get there . . . by truck.

I agreed to walk with them on one condition. If the majority ever wanted to turn back, we would. No argument. I was one counselor and responsible; the group had to be one group. Well we voted a few times along the way at mile one and three and seven, but at some point the boys said they might as well keep going.

I paid for lunch. And yes I put the sleeping bags of exhausted kids on my back, and we walked and walked. I called the camp at one point and told them where we were, and that we were still on our way and then we walked some more. With three miles to go it was just starting to get dark, when we spotted the camp truck. The driver waved back to us and we all got in the back. We drove, wind in our faces, in silence as I recall. It had been a long day. The owner met us when we arrived and and he looked serious. Unless you spotted the twinkle in his eye. He opened the kitchen and served us supper. Chicken and stringbeans as I recall. And the traditional “bug juice.”

The boys spent the next day in recovery. Their bodies were tired, but they were talking about it and giggling as ten year olds do. And the following day their parents were scheduled to come up to the camp for visiting day. As it approached it became clear that the boys were feeling proud of what they had done. 20 miles Ken? Yes 20. We coulda done it all the way if the truck didn’t come. Yes I think you could.

The parents came and I heard a few of the boys telling them this story. I wondered how they would react. Would they be concerned? But no one talked to me about any of this, and I was left with the impression that the parents didn’t believe the tale — or at least not the miles. Their sons? The ones they drove everywhere, who never walked to school, couldn’t have actually made that distance, never mind with sleeping bags on their backs. It didn’t seem plausible.

But they knew, the boys knew, and the pride of it all turned inward. Now and again as the summer days heated up I could catch a special smile. For them it was something, not to be forgotten. And for the rest of that summer there was a subtle change in attitude. It was intangible, like a silent question. What other extraordinary things could they accomplish? Could they catch frogs in the creek? Fish for lunch? Sail with the older kids? Softball became just another game. Who knew?

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