Monday, July 14, 2008

Yesterday I spent the day at Boy Scout Camp.

Since the married couple who leads the troop had an emergency, the troop was two people short for checking in and getting set up. I volunteered to help out with paperwork and wherever else I was needed.

Eventually, I got appointed security detail. This consisted of sitting in a lawn chair and "watching" the campsite in case someone tried to steal something while the boys were tested for swimming levels and the acting leader registered. Then I would be forced to shout, preferably something official like, "Halt!" or "You there!" According the the person in charge, my presence would be a deterrent. I am not sure if that is a compliment or not.

Anyway, as part of the afternoon's festivities, I watched a man wearing a school bus yellow shirt and cowboy hat rake hay in a field at the bottom of a nearby hill. He had started earlier that day, and he worked steadily at spreading the drying grass.

Then a bunch of boys came back to the nearby campsite and changed into matching green troop tee shirts, and they joined the man, who put the hay into piles for the boys to carry to the far end of the field and place in a heap. Periodically, the boys would freeze, looking at the ground, animatedly talking, and would gather around and stare down, ambling slowly along. Then an argument would ensue, followed by one boy, obviously the winner in the selection pool, reaching down and tentatively snatching in the hay, jumping back every so often, and eventually coming up with the very tail end of a garter snake in his grasp, holding the serpent far away from his body.

The boys would all back away, forming a semi-circle and warily staring at the snake as if it would suddenly increase massively in size and writhe out of control and strike out at them. The snake handler would walk over to the woods and put the snake down as the other boys watched in rapt amazement. They all would rapidly backpedal away, just in case the garter snake was more miffed than he or she appeared. Once the snake was released, the boys would go back to the hay, and another few minutes later, someone else would find a snake. This went on for nearly three hours, during which the man in the school bus yellow shirt continued to rake the hay in a measured way, mostly ignoring the boys and snakes.

As the sun went down, our boys came back. The boys with the hay went to change for supper at the mess hall, and the man put his rake away and walked the other direction, still not in a hurry and apparently not tired out from his labor.

It drove home wondering so many things: Did the man tell the boys to be gentle with the snakes, or were the boys just naturally resprectful of nature? What was the deal with the hay? Why not simply rake it all down the field into a big pile? Who was this man in the yellow shirt and what was the importance of the hay?

I most likely will never know, but I did enjoy the glimpse into the lives of boys when they thought no adults were looking.

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