July 7, 2014 at 6:20 pm Leave a comment

In the scouts for years, I journeyed from Cub Scout to Boy Scout to Explorer earning the Eagle Scout award along the way, learned and explored many things a city boy would not normally encounter. One of the activities I enjoyed the most was the opportunity to go camping.
An hour’s drive northwest of Newark, New Jersey near Boonton was a Boy Scout campground. My troop would camp there several times a year, mostly in the winter. Cabins of various sizes dotted the campground. The only source of heat was a fireplace at one end of the cabin and cooking was done on a wood-burning stove. One winter, we had to melt ice for water. The weather had been so cold that the pipes to the old hand pump had burst. It seemed the harsher the conditions; the more we enjoyed the outing. City boys were facing nature head on.
On my first experience camping at the campground, we boys were going to cook a spaghetti dinner for Saturday night. The scout master wasn’t there, and none of us had ever cooked spaghetti before, but that didn’t stop us. We filled a large pot with water, put in the pasta and set it on the wood-burning stove to cook. A couple hours later we had one large noodle. That’s how I learned you needed boiling water to cook pasta.
The camping trips were formal outings organized by the troop. The less formal day hikes to the local Boy Scout area located in the South Orange Mountain Reservation, would be organized spontaneously, when a group of us were just hanging around with nothing to do. For a group of boys ranging from maybe eleven to thirteen, these trips were a real adventure. The beauty of these outings was that the city bus could take us to the base of the mountains. No adult input was required, once permission to go was obtained.
We usually caught the bus fairly early in the morning because once we arrived at the base of the mountain; it was at least an hour walk to the Boy Scout area. Sitting amongst commuters going to work or out to do some shopping, laden with packs and canteens and any other camping paraphernalia we thought we might need, we proudly displayed our badge of ruggedness. We rode through the Newark downtown area, then north through some of the blighted areas of the city, and then on to the more affluent suburbs. The bus would leave us in the shopping district of South Orange, where we would start to trudge up the hill to what us city boys considered wilderness. We hiked past stately homes with manicured lawns, a far cry from our homes in Newark. Finally, the houses were replaced with trees and the sidewalks with a dirt shoulder – we were almost there.
Our destination lay down a dirt road branching from the main highway. The area was large and open, set aside for day-tripping scouts to build fires and cook their meals. Across a stream bordering the area and up into the trees stood a few cabins for weekend outings. The cooking area was supplied with a generous amount of wood provided by work crews maintaining the reserve. For a bunch of boys who thought starting a charcoal fire was an adventure – this was nirvana.
Lunch was usually hot dogs and foil-wrapped potatoes and onions. The fire built to prepare these meager meals was immense to say the least. On hot summer days, we built fires large enough to heat the whole area during the dead of winter. Once everyone tired of throwing on wood, we had a fire too hot to approach to do any cooking. Either you waited for the flames to die down or had to find a very long stick to cook your hot dogs.
After our meals were consumed and the fire extinguished (I won’t go into how we boys would sometime extinguish fires), we set off on our hike. The mountain reservation was extensive with a variety of trails we could wander. Some were relatively flat, along a streambed, while others were more strenuous. One hike we often took was up a steep hill with the final climb to the summit a rock face. A spectacular view awaited, a view city boys could appreciate. When we later returned to the Boy Scout area, we usually built another fire whether on not we had anything to cook. With everyone rested, we began our trek down the hill to catch the bus home. Somehow the walk down always seemed longer than the walk up. By now we were all grungy and reeked with the smell of smoke, but we always enjoyed each other’s company and the time we had in the woods. After once again walking through affluence, we boarded the bus and made our way past the slums of Newark and finally to our homes. I treasured these outings with friends and took comfort in the fact that the solitude of a forest was only a bus ride away.

Entry filed under: BIO, memoir, OBSERVATIONS & OPINIONS, Walt Trizna, WALT'S OBSERVATIONS, WALT'S OPINIONS. Tags: , , , , , .


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July 2014

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