Great story, jackknife. Some very valuable lessons learned and a great example of charity and compassion toward others.
Thanks for sharing that one. It's a keeper!
Theres a mountain in the northern end of the Shenendoah Mountain National park called The Peak. Just that, the Peak. It stood off a bit by itself, to the eastern edge of the Appalation Trail. Mr. Van deceided to have us climb it as part of his teaching program on the lessons of life.
We had no forknowledge of this of course, it was to be just another scout campout. It was deceided that we needed new camping experiances that we got at Gun Farm, so on a lovely spring Saturday morning we loaded up our Yucca packs into family staion wagons and set out.
To reach the area of the Peak, you headed south on Skyline drive for just about 20 miles to the Gravel Springs shelter parking lot. Leaving modern transportation there, you took out on foot north on the Appalation trail which at that point is called by the local name of the Buff Trail. With fully loaded packs and scout knives dangling from belt hooks we marched along. It was'nt too bad, the trail followed the ridge line north untill you got to the trail juction of the Bluff Trail and Big Devil Stairs. a steep trail heading down out to the eastern edge of the park boundries. It was in the woods there by Big Devil Stairs we made out camp.
Pup tents pitched, food bags hung out of reach of bears, Mr. Van insspected the finished camp. He had a habbit of tossing a pebble at the side of a pup tent, and whoa to the scout whose tent did'nt bounce the pebble clear. This was the days before miracle fibers and coated nylon, so the only way to keep water out of a canvas tent was to make it tought, so that water would run off. And don't touch it from inside if its raining!
It was time to go. Mr.Van being satisfied that the camp was up to snuff, formed us up for the short hike to the base of the Peak. He warned us not to take anything but a full canteen, and a few snacks in our pockets, and our small emergency kits we carried in a canvas GI belt pouch.
It did'nt seem bad at first, just another steep trail. Then it got progressivly steeper by stages, till we were glad of the hiking staves that Mr. Van had us carry. Breath was short, and we sucked air like it was going out of style. To his credit, Mr. Van who was well into his 50's at this time, seemed to take it all in stride. He'd lead us up the trail, stopping now and then to check us over. "Come on Doherty, stop making those faces and put one foot in front of the other!" or "Ryerson, did I tell you that you could bring up the rear?"
I really don't know how long it took that certain group of 12 and 13 year old scouts to get to the top. It seemed like a couple of hours of lung burning, leg numbing climbing. But Mr. Van was always there, comforting or stern, whichever was needed. We learned that day how valuable a good hiking staff could be on a steep rocky trail, a third leg on rock and boulder strewn footing. Not to mention something to lean on. The privious winter Mr. Van had taken us into the woods to cut sticks to age and finish in the spring. We had sanded and stained, and varnished our hiking staves to a personal piece of gear we were proud of. That day we needed them.
Like most tribulations, we endured this one, and we did get to the top of the mountain. It was worth it! Below us, it seemed like the entire Shenedoah valley was spread out like a vision from a fairy tale come to life. Tiny patchwork green farm fields and woodland seemed to go on to the hazy distance, and thin blue threads of roads carried pinpoint dots of cars and trucks going on thier way. We collasped in semi-exhustion and looked at the view. There were a few exlamations of "WOW" or other exressions of awe.
"So you guys think it was worth the climb?" asked Mr. Van
All the scouts agreed on that.
Then, there on that mountain top, Mr. Van told us that all of life is like this. That sometimes we have to work a bit hard at something that was worth while. We may even have to struggle a bit, but in the end theres no easy route to a good place. He told us life is like that trail, its a rocky thing, and you have to watch your step or you could fall and end your trip right there. Be sure of how you go, carefully with forthought, so as not to make a misstep. We all understood that Mr. Van had went far out of his way to teach us yet another one of lifes lessons on that mountain trail. He made us understand that we had to be ready for lifes challenges, to be ready for a little hard going now and then. And if we wer'nt ready, then to get ready.
But Mr. Van was'nt done with us yet. He asked us to stand up and present our scout knives for his inspection. He was fond of doing this, to see who was too lazy to keep his knife sharp and in good shape. But today he had something else in mind.
We lined up and held out our scout knives. Those that had them of course. There was a couple of scouts from some of the poorer sections of the churches parish, and they had some pretty bad asian made pocket knives. Mr. Van singled them out. He told them to go stand on the edge of the cliff that we had been gazing out from. They did so.
"Now throw your knives out as far as you can!" Mr. Van commanded.
They hesitated, startled at his order.
"Trust me, and do as I say!" Mr. Van again ordered.
With anyone else they'd not have done it, but in the short time he'd been our scoutmaster, we had learned he was not given to useless orders, he always had a reason. The scouts threw thier knives over the cliff.
Mr. Van nodded in approval, and dug into the canvas haversak he carried and came out with a brand new, in the box Camillus scout knife, for each of the poor scouts who just tossed away thier junk pocket knives. For the rest of us, he gave out real brass Marbles pocket compasses. He then told us that he had not expected all of us to make the climb, but had decieded before hand that those who did should be rewarded for the struggle, and had convinced the church decons to let loose a little funds so he could give us something in recognition. But nobody had dropped out to return to camp. Not even Dave Doherty, who was a bit overstuffed.
Mr Van was always raising the bar on us, and we were the better for it. By the end of that first summer with him as our new scout master we all had come farther that we had thought we could. By labor day Dave Doherty has slimmed down to almost normal. Last I saw him at high school graduation he had kept in shape.
Mr. Van had that effect on people.
Great story JK. Moral of the story was so simple......yet it gets missed so often anymore.
Now THAT is what scouting was intended to be, experiences and lessons that built character and taught life as it should be lived. A shame we all couldn't have had a Mr. Van, but at least with you sharing your experiences with him, Jackknife, we can still get the lessons and inspirations passed on from a source that learned them from the master. Another good and worthwhile read.
Thanks again Jackknife. Another fine story. What a wonderful surprise at the end of the trail, especially for those less fortunate scouts. Mr. Van was quite a man.
Great story..Thanks again.
I really like that tale jackknife. Thanks again for entertaining and reminiding us of some valuable lessons. I could picture throwing those junk knives of the top of a mountain and the look on the kids faces when receiving a new knife/compass. Great imagery.
Great story, and an incredible gesture on the part of Mr. Van and the parish deacons. I wonder though if any of the kids who tossed their knives ever regretted doing so. Even if they were cheap tools, they had value because they were provided by loving parents.
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