Saturday, July 22, 2017

Plew Trail

Update: I'm grading papers furiously. Very impressed by what I've read so far. But I also wanted to record a few thoughts from this week's scout camp adventure. And to share them with you.
In the shower, that’s the best time of day at scout camp. The warm water rushes out of the shower head and with the soap floods away the dust from the trails and the sweat from the sun. The wet cedar boards of the shower floor, cupped just enough to capture a bit of water, allow tired feet to soak up relief, and your feet are so tired and dirty you don’t mind that the cedar is tinged green with a little bit of algae.
But this shower is bittersweet.
Clean, yes, but not for long. Tonight we hike the Plew Trail.
More dust. Lots of dust. Island Park Scout Camp is in a volcanic caldera, so the soil beneath the firs and wildflowers and quaken aspens is loose. And the scouts never pick up their feet. In fact, on the way through camp to the Plew Trail head, they scuff their feet in the dust, kicking up clouds of it.
And I’m breathing that. It’s getting on the Class A uniform I reluctantly put on after that glorious shower. You always wear Class As on the Plew Trail. Because of that Scout Law, the part about being reverent. Being dressed in that stiff shirt with the neckerchief and the patches and the long pants, that promotes reverence. Or so you tell your ragged Scouts, tired from three days at camp, when they don’t want to put on their Class As.
But they do. Because you have yours on. Even though you don’t want to.
Island Park Scout Camp is all about the mountain men. Teton Pete is our mascot. We’re on Pete the Ninth. I’m old enough to remember Pete the First, Dwaine Loertscher, my sixth-grade teacher. Tall and fat and jowly, but always at the front of the line on a hike and he could fire that massive muzzle-loader, nearly as tall as he is, without flinching.
They don’t sing his ballad any more at camp. But I can’t help but to sing it in my head as we march past campsites to the head of the trail:
Oh do you remember my friend Teton Pete
Who crossed the wide prairie his fortune to seek
He came to Wyoming and then Idaho
Saying "Here I have found it, no further I'll go!"
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

One evening quite early when Pete stopped to eat
He threw in his line to Fire Hole Creek
When he got a nibble and pulled it out
It was cooked to perfection a big rainbow trout.
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

When Pete bedded down in his Island Park camp
He yelled "You get up you lazy old scamp!"
While Pete lay a-sleep'in his yell travelled on
Bounced off the Tetons and woke him at dawn.
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

And so on – to the tune of “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”

That’s the kind of thing you learn as an adult. When you’re a scout, you just learn the funny song.

We see Dakota – our assistant commissioner – on the trail ahead. The Plew Trail is starting, and we’ve already walked a mile to the starting point.

Dakota reminds us that many of the campsites at Island Park are named for mountain men who worked and lived in the Island Park area. He also explains the meaning of the word “plew.”

“When mountain men came to their rendezvous, they traded their furs for things they needed to survive the winter: Flour and shot, black powder and blankets. But they kept their best fur – their plew –for last, or when they were desperate for an item and the trader who had it wouldn’t budge on the price,” Dakota said.

Plew is an English mangling of the French “de plus,” or “extra.” The French pronounced it plew. That’s what you learn as an adult. When you’re a scout, you just know you’re going on a hike of some length where you’re going to stop on occasion to listen to a member of the camp staff read a letter from Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting.

So we march. We march past flowers of lavender and yellow and white and Indian paintbrushes of startling, vivid red. That’s what you know as an adult, but as a Scout you just know it’s difficult to do this hike in silence, as Dakota said it should happen.

There are occasional whispers, immediately shushed, and not even by leaders, but by the scouts themselves.

At the second stop, I noticed one of my Scouts hopping from one foot to another, as if he were footsore. He was panting a bit – our leader was setting a cracking pace. And he was sucking lustily on the tube to his Camelbak. He looked uncomfortable. As I looked at him I flashed back to that wonderful shower, and how happy I felt, and how tired I felt now.

So as we left, I patted him on the shoulder and whispered “You doing okay, bud?”

He flashed an enormous smile, hopping lightly on his feet and whispered back, “you bet!” And shot up the trail, leaving his tired Scoutmaster to follow at a trot.

As I walked, it was if a window opened.

A window opened from heaven and a father I once knew and would know again leaned out, patted my shoulder, and whispered, “You doing okay, bud?”

I stomped my left foot hard, as if to keep myself anchored to the ground because I felt like a balloon filling, filling, filling and rising above the canopy of Douglas fir and quaken aspen. I felt as if I were back in that shower, with that cleansing water washing the dirt and sweat and weariness away.

“Give them your plew,” the voice whispered.

I could not react like an adult.

I, too, flashed an enormous smile, hopped lightly on my feet and whispered back, “you bet!”

And shot up the trail, no longer feeling tired, and sang along in my head:

Once you have stayed in Pete's camp for a week
Where ever you go or whatever you seek
You'll always remember and be extra proud
Of Island Park camp and Pete's happy crowd.
Singing om pa pa om pa pa om to de aa!

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