The harsh conditions bred a tough and independent brand of outdoors man. Hunters mostly. Men with weathered faces who drove pickups with gun racks. They came from the country to settle in Houston because rough necking and construction paid and farming did not. In summer they hunted rabbit and squirrel. In fall, deer and duck. Hiking was something you did with an ice chest to get to a duck blind.
There were no outdoorsmen in my family. My paternal grandfather came from a village in the Ukraine and had a cigar stand. My mom came from Brooklyn where she lived over a pet store. My dad was a Florist. However the family across the street were true Texans—outdoorsmen who put skinned squirrels on the clothes line when the sheets were dry. Thanks to them I had a bond with adventure. I wore a Davy Crockett hat, a rubber Bowie knife, and imagined life on the frontier.
(Thanks to Paul Phillips for digging up the photo)
Oddly enough, I took to scouting. I became a Webelo, and joined Troop 190. Eventually I journeyed up the ranks to Life. I even managed to become a Senior Patrol and a member of the Order of the Arrow.
190 had a 'private' campground, Camp Spring. Camp Spring was located deep in the Big Thicket outside of Spring Texas. We camped there 3 to 4 times a year. The camp had once been a poor dirt farm that had been donated to the Jewish Temple that sponsored our scout troop. Our camp rested in a clearing that featured a broken down cabin, old-fashion hand pump and a dilapidated outhouse. The Scoutmasters slept in the cabin. We peed in an 10 foot trench at the edge of the woods that was dug and buried by the Tenderfeet. No one dared put a foot in the outhouse.
We chopped down trees and build fire pits from green logs. (No rocks in the piney woods!) We sawed the green wood into burnable chunks with a bow saw. We lit fires with charcoal starter. We cooked in smudged and greasy aluminum pots and pans. The green wood didn't burn well. We ate stews with potatoes, carrots and onions still crunchy. We relished baked beans because they didn't really need cooking. Of course, that was before NASA invented Tang and freeze drying seemed improbable because Houston was never dry and didn't freeze solid.
We all had standard issue Boy Scout sleeping bags, the ones with a liner that looked like red PJs. They had a distinctive canvas smell. We laid them out on shower curtains inside Army-surplus "pyramid" tents. When it was hot and we slept with the mosquitos on top of our bags. (There was no DEET back then, just OFF which felt like a chalk board scratch on you skin. If you left the OFF on too long, you'd get a rash.)
For the main event of every campout, we built a towering 10-foot-high campfire. It burned so hot we got sunburned. As the fire cooled, we drew closer to hear our scoutmaster tell stories of the brutal cold at Chosin. Our favorite was about the ordeal of taking a dump outside when the wind was howling and the temperature is -30. As lights out approached, he would lower his voice and turn his narrative to the sordid events that were known to have happened in these woods. For years there had been reports of a shadowy figure, of stolen food and of dogs and cattle being ripped limb-from-limb. The authorities could not explain the mystery, but locals knew. They called it the 'Hermit of Spring,' and it had lurked in these woods as long as anyone could remember. With that our scoutmaster sent us off to our tents where we listened in the dark. Later that night, our assistant scoutmaster would sneak out of the cabin, beyond the edge of the clearing, and rattle a few high branches. We all heard it. Few got any sleep.
After 36 hours of this fun, we were delivered back to our parents exhausted, hungry, bitten and filthy. That was scouting. That was camping out.
|Sunset Meadow and Mt Clark|
Fifteen years later I moved to Los Angeles. I made new friends. Many had grown up in California. As kids, they had hiked in the Sierras. They loved the outdoors.
One year some dear friends invited my spouse-equivalent and me to join their family for a Yosemite vacation. It was magical! We hiked Chinualna Falls, Ostrander Lake, Mariposa Grove and Dog Lake. We hiked the valley trails. A couple years later, we hiked the High Sierra Camps.
I was hooked. I've been hiking the Sierras ever since.
You can find my email address on my Google+ page.