The lost idea, now found in post 100..

For my 100 th post I have hopefully pulled out all the stops. This one has been sitting in the finish me pile for awhile.

Sunset over a Lake

The poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee was first told to me many years ago my Boy Scout leader, George Gimble. Maybe poetry is not your thing, I can’t say it is mine. But the story behind the telling of the poem is where the magic resides.  To get you to click on the link, I have copied the  first stanza of the poem, here goes..

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
    But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
    I cremated Sam McGee.

Ok, how can you resist that opening stanza?  The poem was written by Robert W. Service in 1907. 

So, lets set the stage for this story. The back story if you will. I was in the Boy Scouts from age 11 when they would take me until after the age of 18 when I aged out. The scout master of the troop was a man named George Gimble. George lived with his parents and two sisters when I met him. Over the course of the years his parents passed away as did one of his sisters. One of his sisters may still be alive today. The sisters were world-famous concert pianists. I remember seeing posters on the wall of their house announcing the piano concerts featuring one or both of the sisters. George never married. He was a chemical engineer for General Foods in White Plains, NY for most or all of his life.

So, as one of the ten children in our home, having the ability to escape for a weekend, a week at summer camp or three weeks back country camping in Canada, was priceless. I took advantage of every opportunity I was presented with to go camping and get out of the house.  One of those opportunities was a yearly three-week camping trip into the back country of Algonquin Provincial Park, in Ontario, Canada. To be eligible for these trips you would need to be of a certain rank and have volunteered your time during the year for the various troop fundraisers. The trip took us by canoe about 100 miles from end to end. We would canoe in from the most tourist accessible boat ramp and canoe and portage until we were about as deep as we could go in the park and still get back to civilization in ten days.

The term “portage” means in this context to pick up your canoe and hike a mile or more over land to the next lake. As you might imagine (or not), not all of the lake were connected by water. Each portage would require at least two full round trips by each person to get all the canoes and supplies across. The backpacks were military grade, waterproof monsters that really dug into your back. Some days carrying the canoe was a better trade-off (if you got a trade-off). Everything we ate or needed except for water was carried in the canoes and backpacks. Towards the end of the trip, the food and provision packs got quite light. There were no garbage cans so you either burned your trash or carries it out.   Obviously there were no bathrooms, sinks, cell phones. This was before the age of iPod s and mp3 players. If you had a Sony Walkman, you came from a wealthy family.

When you were “in country” you were isolated from the rest of the world. If anything important happened, you might find out if the people traveling in had information and they shared it with you. On one of these trips we learned five days after the fact that Richard Nixon had resigned. We learned this from fellow travelers on a portage two days before the end of our trip. Days came early in country and night-time came early as well. We had few flashlights, batteries were heavy and after 10 days they were mostly burned out. Camp fires were an every night routine.  Food was cooked over the fire, dishes washed in the lake. Bathrooms dug in the wood before it got too dark.  There was a real sense of comrade between the travelers. I guess the shared hardship and overcoming those hardships truly built a team. This is one of the premises that we learn about when studying the building of teams that combine varied different team members.

Each night, maybe most nights, after the dinner chores were done, we campers would gather around the campfire for warmth and light. While it was the first three weeks in August, the chance for snow was not out of the question. Nor was the chance for 90 degree weather, either. As a matter of fact, I saw both during the four years I made that trip.  So, time to set the stage…

We would be sitting around the campfire, maybe eight to ten campers including the Scout Master. Being the young adults that we were, there certainly would have been some chop busting and talk about girls and such. The sun would have set. The sky, absolutely filled with stars. The loons would be calling each other across the lake. Click on the loon calling link and close your eyes, imagining that you are sitting by a campfire in the wilderness of Canada. You have not seen anyone else for two days of paddling and portaging. The fireflies are dancing in the woods and the stars are shining, I mean really shining, up above. The loons keep calling. The the scout master says, “Boys, I’m going to tell you a poem, written about the Canadian wilderness by a man called Robert W. Service.  Each of us are attentive, since anything new and different  ruled the day.

After the poem was over we would sit and watch the fire, imagining what it had been like to be in th Yukon during the turn of the century. Then the talk would resume about girls and cars. Slowly we would hear off to our tents, the next day was coming fast.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sillygoose
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 06:52:02

    WOW! Bro! What an awesome experience! I escaped to camp as much as I could as well! Team building though hardship…I can relate


  2. Christina
    Oct 08, 2011 @ 12:12:03

    Cool! I can relate -I also escaped to the woods every chance I got.


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