Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
Summer Camp: Twenty-Six Miles across the SeaFirst, I want to state that to the best of my memory this is a true and factual tale of a week I spent at camp:
The Boy Scouts of America is considered by many to be almost quasi-military in its makeup and ideology. Therefore, it's not hard to imagine that their summer camps although fun, consist of structured days and nights filled with crafts and activities that teach a young lad to be a better man. The Scouts had such a camp on the island of Catalina off the southern California coast and this is the true tale of a week I spent there as a boy.
I can remember how excited I was as we bounced across the choppy seas in the water taxi out of San Pedro Harbor, the thrill of seeing dolphins breaking the surface of the water, then even the famous flying fish of the island flapping their fins as they soared from one wave to the next. Soon the twenty-six mile journey was over and we pulled into Crescent Bay where the scouts had their camp. There were only five boys from our troop able to go to camp and as soon as we were ashore our scoutmaster gathered us all around to tell us, that do to some problem he would not be able to stay the week with us. Because we would have no adults to supervise, we would not be allowed to stay but if we promised to behave, he wouldn't tell the camp leaders, that way we would be able to enjoy the Boy Scout camping experience.
Our scoutmaster had a heart of gold but his head must have been full of lead or he never would have allowed a group of preteen boys to have a week of unsupervised camping. We found our troop's tents, stored our gear, and then met in the mess hall for indoctrination. It was to be a week filled with swimming, boating and canoing, plus hikes and lessons on tying knots, making fires etc. We were instructed not to wander off the campgrounds as we were surrounded by private property full of feral pigs, Brahma Bulls and even some wild buffalo.
To we five boys left on our own and unsupervised the thought of all the adventure that could be had outside of camp was much more inviting than classes on tying knots and learning semaphore flag waving. Every morning we would line up at the mess hall be counted, eat breakfast, then split for the back woods, return for lunch, and then back to the lands beyond the camp. So young and oblivious to danger, we chased wild pigs that weighed hundreds of pounds, I even remember one lad who climbed a tree so he could jump on the back of a Brahma Bulls if one would wonder under it (thank god it never happened). We ran on goat paths along the cliffs overlooking the sea hundreds of feet below, without a thought of whether the path would give way and thus tumble us down the mountainside. That first day we hiked down to the ocean and as we walked among the rocks exposed to the low tide, we saw abalone above the water line. Now usually to harvest abalone you need to dive to the bottom and use a crowbar type of device to pry them off the rocks but the ones we saw seemed to be relaxing in the sun and if we snuck up on them, we could actually pluck them off the rocks with our fingers.
Our self-appointed ringleader Donny got an idea and when we went back for lunch he approached our cook with a deal that if he wouldn't tell on us and maybe fix us a meal of fresh abalone, we would give him the rest to do with, as he liked. The abalone is a prized mollusk that fisheries pay a lot of money for and so was on the endangered species list even way back then. There was a list of ways to harvest them legally, including size and number but of course, we had no idea of all this. The next morning we went back to the rock and plucked enough to fill the potato sack given to us by cookie, it was so heavy it took two of us to carry it back to camp. True to his word cookie made us an abalone dinner that to our immature pallet had both the taste and the texture of a rubber tire (I can't tell you how many years before I even had another taste of the creature).
After a week filled with adventures that most city boys only dream of our scoutmaster returned on Saturday and our camp life returned to what you'd think a scout camp would be like. It was amazing that we were never found out or even missed by any of the other adults in charge. Even more amazing was the fact that only injury was some thorns in my lips I received as I tried to eat the fruit off one of the many cacti around the island. I went to many camps as a lad but none are remembered like my week on Catalina Island.
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