Nothing compares with sitting in the solitude of the Teton wilderness, staring up through towering 100-foot tall spruce trees at the clear night sky jeweled with more visible stars than you’ve ever seen near civilization, when the night is silent and windless after the biting flies have gone to bed.
No commercial water park matches the grandeur of jumping into Scout Pool in the geyser-fed Warm River near the spectacular 265-foot high Union Falls, which fewer than 1% of the visitors to Yellowstone National Park ever experience. You have to watch out for horseflies and other pesky flies, but it’s well worth it. It was worth the 17-mile hike to see the awe on the faces of 12- and 13-year-old boys as their scoutmaster pointed out to them tracks made by a black bear sow just a few hours earlier on the same trail they were hiking.
Nothing is more inspiring than standing silently and respectfully with 250 young men (no giggling, whispering, or elbow-jabbing) saluting Old Glory atop bluffs overlooking the still, chilly waters of the majestic 200-acre Lake of the Woods as the sun sets.
There is a special place in the soul that can only be touched by experiences similar to that of quietly paddling a canoe across Lake of the Woods through the pre-sunrise mists arising from the lake before the mosquitoes are up, seeing the waning moon as well as the sunlight kissing the spruce trees at the top of the ridge.
No chapel, however beautifully appointed, matches the sacred beauty of sitting in the outdoor chapel at Camp Loll, surrounded by the handiwork of the Creator that gave Michelangelo the ability to paint. (Incidentally, Camp Loll is one of the nation’s most wilderness Boy Scout camps).
I’m still scratching some of the manifold mosquito bites I sustained last week. I’m still chagrined at some of the (not entirely unexpected) antics of a few of the boys in our troop (whom I trust will eventually grow to become productive members of society). But these were small prices to pay for last week’s experience in the rustic wilderness where little news or technology reaches.
The world went on while I had a (hard-working) respite from the world. The week provided some time to pull away from the routine and remind myself of some of the things that are truly important in life.
I proudly rowed a boat along side my 13-year-old son as he bravely attempted the mile swim in the incredibly chilly waters of the lake (something I did not attempt until I was 18). I thought no less of him when, at nearly 7/8ths of a mile he looked at me and his assistant scoutmaster with a look in his eyes that let us know he was in trouble, and said that he didn’t think he could make it any further. An hour of personally administered hypothermia treatment later, he was OK. He even canoed the length of the lake, built a lean-to shelter, and won an arm-wrestling contest later that evening.
My son may not think of an experience late Friday afternoon as any big deal, but having worked on staff at Camp Loll as a youth, I know different. After being less than completely diligent throughout the week at the Climbing Merit Badge class, my son was struggling to complete the requirements in the final hour of the week’s program time. Two 18-year-old staffers, Travis of Rockford Illinois, and Kenny of Layton Utah, stayed nearly an hour late—long after the staff dinner bell—to focus on my boy and to help him finish the requirements. They received no extra pay or recognition for this. Young men of that caliber make me think that our nation will be in good hands with the next generation.
It was remarkable to spend time in the great American wilderness, knowing that all of the area around us was owned, not by any monarch, corporation, or rich family, but by all of the American people—the boys at camp, my immigrant father, the kid living in the New York slums, and every other American citizen. I am grateful to generations that had the foresight to set aside these lands as national preserves. I am grateful for the freedom to experience these lands first hand. I am grateful to users and land managers that work to keep these areas simultaneously accessible to the public as well as pristine.
Last week made me proud to be an American all over again.