The selection of the stories for this anthology was inspired by some of the activities, antics and camp life of the staff over the years when, as a scoutmaster, I would take our scout troop to summer camp for a week at Camp Wolfeboro.
Many summer camps have stories and legends unique to their area. The "Secret Camp Staff Escalator" is such a story, passed down among the staff who, a week or two into summer, find a faster way down the trail into Wolfeboro.
Each summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, many a tired group of hikers has stumbled down the twisting, rocky road into the Boy Scouts' Camp Wolfeboro to discover several smiling, refreshed staff members waiting at the gate. Once the hikers catch their breaths and down a few gulps from their canteens it dawns on them; these are the same staffers they saw at the top of the hill. But how could they possibly have arrived sooner and more refreshed? From this bewilderment some staff member, years ago, concocted the story of a secret escalator that is only turned on for camp staff. This story waxes and wanes over the years, dying out to be reborn when some wide eyed campers can’t believe a staff member out hiked them.
It could be that the staffer had been at camp long enough to become acclimatized to that mountain hike. Maybe the staffer actually rode down in the supply truck, ducking down in the cab when the vehicle passed the hikers. Or, is there perhaps a more direct route that is known only to the staff members? And are they simply reluctant to show this to any outsiders because the challenging terrain may well cause someone, unfamiliar with the unique and peculiar landmarks, to wander off the trail, never to be seen again until their bleached and weathered bones become part of camp lore?
- Nah! There’s got to be a secret Camp Staff Escalator!
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PROLOGUE - SUMMER CAMP TOUR
Most youth oriented summer camps are based on a theme often related to the history of the area. A camp at the site of an old logging operation might use a theme based on logging, with rustic cabins for the campers and zip lines to add a bit of thrills to the weekly events. Or maybe a camp near a lake has canoeing and the "Rendezvous Days" of the Native-American and French Voyageur fur traders as a theme. What has been unique to Camp Wolfeboro is that the theme is different each year, voted on by the staff. It then becomes a challenge to create a bit of whimsy that the campers will recall for years to come.
Camp life; living in a tent and being fed from the camp kitchen, working the daily program and tracking each camper's progress, all become integral parts of many a youth's employment history. While in the Boy Scouts, my two sons spent several summers on Camp Wolfeboro staff, beginning in the kitchen, then because of their swimming skills, later moving on to the aquatic staff. My daughter, a Girl Scout, was also able to parlay her aquatic skills into the summertime lifeguard position at a lake. So, with the help of some familiar authors and others, let's re-visit those days and nights spent at Wolfeboro and other summer camps.
This literary camp tour starts at the camp kitchen, beginning with Jack London's story, "Housekeeping in the Klondike." Next, because no camp is ever complete without the camp counselors, "Buzz Cut" presents an unintended lesson taught to one hair-dyed counselor by Mother Nature.
Many summer evenings alongside the Stanislaus River at Camp Wolfeboro end with the nightly hubbub in the staff tent area just before lights out. These debates on most everything are very reminiscent of Bret Hart's poem, "Society Upon The Stanislaus," except that, to my knowledge, no staff member has ever been clobbered with a fossilized bone.
Mornings at Wolfeboro begin with the flag raising and daily announcements, then that summer's theme is introduced by an ongoing skit which invariably concludes with the notorious "Wolfeboro Rassle" between the forces of good and evil. The theme might call for the sidekicks and henchmen to be pirates, or superheroes versus nefarious villains. Or maybe spies and counter-spies from the 'Wolfeborovian Embassy.' A theme just might introduce gold miners and bandits, or even club-carrying cavemen from the dawn of time. "The Department of Villainous Affairs" and "Zuk and Zub" are humorous representations of the types of skits often dreamed up by the Wolfeboro staff.
Wolfeboro, like other adventure camps, provides training in rock climbing skills; belaying and rappelling. This not only helps to bolster self esteem and trust in the young campers, but leaves them with a life skill they more easily learned than the two youth in Jack London's story "Dutch Courage."
A brisk swim in a cold mountain lake or river introduces us to the camp waterfront. But a moment of tom-foolery in the canoes or rowboats will bring a quick blast from the Lifeguard's whistle. To earn that whistle and master control over the beachfront, a new lifeguard must endure many hours of training and practice, or perhaps, discover help from a fortunate coincidence as told in "Aura of Authority."
Counselors for Boy Scout, Girl Scout, Girl Guides, as well as other youth camps, often teach new campers Kim's Game. This method of honing one's skill in observing and remembering details comes to us from Rudyard Kipling's novel, "Kim". In "Tod's Amendment" Kipling also reminds us that the wisdom of a child can often be greater than that of an entire bureaucracy.
Next we trek over to the archery and rifle ranges where shooting skills can sharpen the eye and lead one to imagine becoming a superb marksman or even a hunter of great renown. However, the prey would certainly have to co-operate, as Mark Twain discovered in "Hunting the Deceitful Turkey." Also, a hunter would need the proper equipment and attitude, as BSA Advisor Bill Baker found out in "To Be A Duck Hunter."
A huntsman with a lot more skill than either Twain or Baker was Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement. But his skills were developed as a soldier, long before his famous Brownsea Camp scouting experiment, as we discover in "Scout" by Harold Begbie. Baden-Powell trained scouts and scoutmasters as well, in basic woodcraft; tracking and outdoor skills that can be put to the test on a campout as described in "On the Fast Track."
Another early pioneer in the scouting movement was Daniel C. Beard who was a strong advocate for getting scouts outdoors and off to summer camp or the wilderness. His "In a Wild Animal Republic" recalls a time when the wilderness was the domain of the animals. The modern camp, including Wolfeboro, still has to deal with bears, so camp leaders have usually been trained well enough to outsmart them, but perhaps "Smokey's Lesson" demonstrates just how fast the bears learn.
Many camps offer a zip-line experience for fun and excitement, with campers lined up to take a turn sailing over the trees and creeks. But there was a time not so long ago when such a line was not only a necessity, but could also be quite unreliable, as Jack London illustrates in "The Banks of the Sacramento."
Our next stop is the nature lodge for a study of the flora, fauna and natural history of the camp. Some of the early writers would sometimes casually use ethnic slurs acceptable in their time but which modern readers find rude. Still there is gold in their words when they describe those early years of visiting nature within its natural habitat. Daniel Beard's "Charged By A Herd Of Buffalo" allows us to marvel over the ease of using our point and shoot cameras when compared to his photographing buffalo with the tripod camera and glass plates of his era.
As evening draws near, the red of the sunset is replaced by the glow of the campfire, so we end our tour with some tall tales, stories and inspiration around the fire-ring. About the time that scouting was being established, Irvine Cobb wrote about that camp tradition of the old hats pulling a prank on the greenhorns. Variations of his old skunk tale "Rabid and Friends" have been told on many a hike and around many a campfire. Story-telling, however, is not limited to tall tales and pranks. Sometimes tales teach important lessons as in "The Man, The Owls and The Woman Who Was Greedy."
Besides bolstering self-esteem, creating bonds of friendship and teaching life skills, many summer camps also try to cultivate a sense of belonging and even patriotism without preaching as in "The Firelight Honor."
As our campfire dies to glowing embers, it is time to reflect on what summer camp has taught each of us. My summer camp experience was as the scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 266, 'The Happy Campers' of Lodi, California. I was Woodbadge trained, yet often I would still learn a little more about life from the kids in the scout troop. "The Hidden Trail" is based on a true incident from long ago when I saw that the lessons and skills we taught, allowed our scouts to rise to the challenge and accept someone, just a bit different, as a new friend.
I truly enjoyed that week each year at summer camp and look back with fond memories. I hope that the following stories also guide you to enjoyable memories of summer camp.
Well, see you later, now I've got to hurry .....
to catch that secret camp escalator.
Enjoy - James Fox -
Fall 2012 Re-edited Spring 2016