“Alright, you guys, let’s go. Time to get up,” shouted Newman, beating his walking stick against the tents as he rounded the circle surrounding the campfire.
There was very little response from inside.
“Come on, you guys, let’s go. We’re going on a hike today. Get yourselves up and have breakfast. We want to be out of here by 10 o’clock.”
There were sullen stirrings behind the nylon walls. “Do we have to, Mr. Newman?” “Can’t we sleep another half hour?”
“Come on, guys, it’s already 8:30. We want to get started before it gets too hot. I’m going to take you around the other side of the mountain. There’s some beautiful views over there. You can sleep tonight when we get back. You’ll be dead tired anyway.”
Slowly, one by one, tent flaps began to unzip and the boys struggled out, shielding their eyes against the morning light. “Hey, it’s nice out here.” “Wow, look at that bird.”
“See, you don’t want to spend the whole day in a tent. Now come on, who’s got cooking duty this morning? Get with your patrols.”
The troop was divided into two patrols, the muskrats and the jaguars. The idea was for the boys to organize themselves and take turns in leadership. For the most part it worked, although Newman had to intervene constantly intervene.
“Mr. Newman, none of these guys will do what I say.”
“That’s what leadership is about, Darien. You can’t just order them around. You’ve got to make them want to do things. There’s an old saying about Indian tribes, ‘One word from the chief and every brave does whatever he feels like doing.’ Leadership is always difficult.”
The shuffling around the fireplace picked up as the cooking began and soon the usual arguments arose.
“Squirrel! You just knocked over my water. Now I get to have some of yours.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have left it there. I couldn’t help it.”
“Jared, how come you get to tend the fire? You did it last night. It’s my turn.”
“Well, I’m patrol leader. I get to do it whenever I want.”
“Jared.” Newman pulled him aside. “Look, being patrol leader doesn’t mean you can do anything you want. It means you have to give up things you want. There’s a saying in the military, ‘Officers eat last.’ What do you think that means?”
Jared shuffled his feet, making sidelong glances.
“Answer me, what do you think it means?”
“I don’t know,” muttered Jared.
“It means an officer is responsible for seeing that his men eat first. Right? Then after everybody else is taken care of, you can eat yourself. Now go back there and get those guys working on breakfast and stop trying to take the best jobs for yourself.”
It was a slow struggle but eventually the oatmeal was dished out and everybody sat around eating and enjoying the morning. Newman let the chatter about rock stars and sports teams go on for quite a while before bringing around the discussion again.
“Alright, now boys, we’re going up to a place on the other side of the mountain where there’s a nice rock face. We’re going to do a little rock climbing. Have any of you done any rock climbing before?”
“Me, me!” Eight hands waved in his face. “We have a rock pile in our backyard,” said Tom Brown. “I climb it all the time.”
“Well, this is some serious rock climbing. We’re going to use ropes. Did all you guys bring your ropes?”
“I didn’t,” said Squirrel. It was inevitable.
“Well, see if anybody’s got any extra. Now you guys all know your knots?”
“I do! I do!” Once again the flurry of hands appeared.
“Alright, how many of you know the bowline?”
“Is that the one where the rabbit goes out the hole?” asked Darien.
“That’s right. It’s the rescue knot, the one you tie around your waist where it doesn’t slip.”
“I know how to tie that one.” “I think I do.”
“Alright, I want you to get in patrols now and make sure everybody knows how to tie the bowline. You’re going to need it if we do rock climbing. Darien and Jared, you guys know this, right? You’re responsible.”
The two groups divided off with the usual shuffling but soon they were absorbed in the task. “Mr. Newman, is this right? I can’t tell.”
“Well, you’ve got it around your waist, right Tom?. Now pull to see if it squeezes you. If it doesn’t then you’ve got it. If you’re pulling somebody up the side of a cliff, you don’t want it to slip. Otherwise it would squeeze them around the waist and hurt them real bad.”
In another ten minutes the boys were prancing around, secure in their new knowledge. “I did it! I did it! Two times in a row! Watch this.”
“Alright, you guys, let’s get together now. Just take your daypacks. Leave everything else behind. Take a lunch. And make sure you’ve got your ropes.”
And so with a minimum of bickering and high hopes for the day, they set off.
THE TRAIL TODAY was much different than the day before. Coming up the back of the mountain, there had been steady switchbacks up the side of the mountain, weaving in and out among the trees. Now they were swinging around on the north face, where the slope was much steeper and the trail more narrow, sometimes swinging perilously close to the edge.
“Be careful now, boys, watch where you’re walking,” Newman called behind him.
“Mr. Newman, what’s an Eagle project?” called Darien from somewhere back in the line.
“What’s an Eagle project?” Newman repeated. “Where’s you hear about that?”
“I was reading it in the Handbook.”
Newman fell back to the middle of the line so he could address then all. “Just stay on the trail there,” he said to Jared, who was now in the lead. “You’ll see the rock face when we come to it.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Newman,” the boy called back.
“Alright, what rank are you guys now, second class? First class?”
“Second class! First class!” they called out. “Tenderfoot,” said Squirrel, ever proud of his lagging.
“Alright, how many of you want to go on and earn Star and Life?”
“I do! I do!” they all chorused, ever enthusiastic about some unknown challenge.
“What do you have to do to earn Life?”
“Be a good boy,” shouted Skipper, provoking laughter as usual.
“Be a good Scout!” shouted Darien, upright as ever.
“Be a patrol leader,” said Jared, looking for some credit to his efforts.
“Well, you’re all three right,” said Newman. “You have to do all those things. But you have to earn a lot of merit badges, too. Do you fellas know about merit badges?”
“What are merit badges, Mr. Newman,” sung Skipper, enjoying the back-and-forth.
“Well, merit badges are where you’ve got to learn about something real well. Like camping. There’s a camping merit badge.”
“Can we earn our camping merit badge today, Mr. Newman?”
“Well, it usually takes a little longer than that. You have to go on three or four camping trips and learn a lot of other stuff as well.”
“But what’s the Eagle project, Mr. Newman?” asked Darien, coming back to the point.
“Alright, fair question. After you’ve earned your Star and your Life, you can go for Eagle Scout. It’s the highest award in Scouting. Very few Scouts ever make it. But you have to do a big project, for your community.”
“Does that mean like building something?” asked Tom Brown.
“You can to that. But it just has to be to help other people.”
“I helped my Mom clean out the yard,” chirped Skipper. “Does that count?”
“No, you can’t do it for yourself or your family or even your troop. It has to be for the outside community, people that you don’t know. And you have to organize your whole troop to do it.”
“Wow, that sounds hard,” said Jose, who had been silent most of the trip.
“I don’t think I could do it,” said Squirrel, morosely.
“Don’t give up so easily,” said Newman. “You can always try.”
Just then a gust of wind blew down the mountain, surprising them. Jared’s hat flew off and in an instant disappeared off the cliff.
“My hat, my hat,” he shouted, running after it.
‘”Jared, don’t go near the edge,” said Newman. The boys followed an in an instant they were peering over the edge.
“My hat! My hat!” wailed Jared. “That’s my favorite hat.” It was lodged in a bush about four feet down. Below that a narrow ledge protruded out about twenty feet below. Beyond that yawned the sickening descent into the valley below.
“Jared, don’t go near. You might fall.”
Jared was on his belly, reaching over the edge precariously when suddenly the earth gave way. A clod of dirt kicked out and slid down the side and in an instant the boy was tumbling after. He bounced off the bush, sending the hat floating into the valley below. Then he rolled over several more times before hitting the ledge flat on his back. Jared rolled over toward the precipice so that his hand dangled over the edge and lay perfectly still. The boys watched in horror.
“Jared! Jared! Are you alright?” Newman shouted. The boys picked up the call. “Jared! Jared! Say something.”
“Quiet! We can’t hear him.” The troop fell silent. A faint murmur came from below.
“He’s crying. I think I hear him crying.”
“Jared,” called Newman. “If you are conscious, nod your head. Don’t move. Just nod your head up and down.” There was a faint shaking of the boy’s head.
“I saw him! He’s moving. He’s OK.”
“Alright, listen. Jared. If you’re alright, move your head the other way now. Shake it like you’re saying `no.'” Jared’s head moved from side to side.
“He did it. He’s alright. He’s not hurt.”
“Alright, listen, you guys. We’ve got to get a rope down there to pull him up. Who’s got a bowline? Tie a couple of these ropes together. We’ll need about four of them. Do any of you guys know the sheetbend?”
“I know! I know!” In a minute they were all busy at their tasks, some boys tying the ropes together, others testing the knots, some leaning over the cliff again shouting encouragement. “Hold on down there, Jared. Don’t move. We’re coming to get you!” Despite himself, Newman couldn’t help feeling proud of the way these boys worked together when it was necessary. In two minutes they had fashioned a 45-foot rope with a firm bowline at the end.
“Alright, let’s test it,” said Newman, slipping the bowline over his head. “You guys try to pull me up the trail here. I’m going to resist hard as I can.”
At first Newman dragged them down the trail but as the boys organized themselves they began to hold their own in this intense tug-of-war. Gradually Newman had to give ground. “We’re winning! We’re winning,” they cheered, almost forgetting the life-and-death matter before them. “Hooray!” they shouted as Newman gave up, lurching toward them.
“Alright, let’s get this thing over the edge. You boys line up with it and I’ll guide it down.”
“You better hurry up, Mr. Newman,” shouted Darien, who had stayed on the edge. “I think he’s crying again.”
Newman peered over the precipice. Jared lay as before but with his headed lifted slightly off the ground.
“Jared! Are you alright?”
A small choked voice wafted upward. “I’m scared.”
“Alright, don’t move. We’re sending a rope down for you. Don’t move a muscle until it gets there.”
Newman guided the rope slowly down the side of the cliff, making sure the boys had firm hold, until it dangled just above Jared’s. “Give me a little more slack, guys,” he said. “Jared, I’m going to drop this rope right on top of you. Just slip it over your head and put it around your waist. Don’t get up, just slip it over your head.”
The rope plopped onto Jared’s back. He did not move. “Jared, can you do it?” Newman called.
“I’m too scared,” his voice came up the cliff. “I’m too scared.”
“Don’t be scared. Just take a hold of the rope and slip it over your head. You’ll be safe.
“He’s not going to be able to do it,” he said, turning to the group. “Somebody’s going to have to go down to him.”
“Oh, me! Me! Me!” Almost a dozen hands shot up at once. He couldn’t help but marvel at the bravery of these young men.
“Darien, you’re the senior patrol leader,” he finally said to the older boy. “I think you’ve got to do it.”
“I’ll do it, Mr. Newman. Don’t worry. I’m not scared.”
Darien was quickly fit in the harness and backed off the cliff with a dozen boys and Newman holding on. “Keep your face to the wall,” Newman called over the edge. “Push off with your feet. Keep some distance between your body and the wall.”
Darien belayed down expertly as if he had already done it a dozen times.
“Now listen, be careful in approaching him,” shouted Newman. “A drowning man will sometimes grab on to you and pull you under. Don’t let him panic. Punch him if you have to.” Darien looked up questioningly. “I’m serious. This is very dangerous. Come at him from his feet so he can’t grab you.”
Newman edged the rope over so that Darien landed just at Jared’s feet. “Jared,” called Newman. “Listen, Darien is right next to you. Don’t try to grab him. Just lie still. He’s going to slip to loop over your body. Then we’re going to pull you up. Don’t panic.”
Darien edged over, approaching his fallen comrade. Gently he slipped the noose off his own body and moved it toward Jared. The prostrate boy did not move. Darien gently edged the loop over the outside arm, then the head, then the other arm. “Should I put it on backwards or try to swing the knot around to his stomach,” Darien called up.
“Try to put it on his stomach,” called Newman. “I’m afraid he’s going to slip right out if he doesn’t have something to hang on to.”
Darien tried to turn Jared on his side to slip the rope to his front when suddenly Jared grabbed on to him. “Get me up! Get me up!” he screamed.
“Pull right now, guys,” Newman hollered at the boys. “Don’t wait! Do it fast! Hard as you can!”
The boys yanked and Jared’s body jerked upright. He clawed desperately at Darien’s shirt as the ascent began. Darien fought him off, pressing his back against the cliff, the dizzying chasm yawning below.
“Grab the rope, Jared! The rope! Don’t grab Darien.”
The boys yanked again and suddenly Jared caught on, forgetting Darien and grabbing the rope with both hands. “That’s it, that’s it!” shouted Newman and the twirling body spun up the cliff until Newman grabbed his collar and dragged him over the edge, where he lay sputtering like a fish dragged out of the ocean.
“Yay! Yay!” the boys shouted, rushing forward to view their catch. “We did it!”
“Hey, guys. Wait a minute. We’ve still got to get Darien up!”
“Wow! We almost forgot!” And in an instant, they were back at their places, with Newman guiding the rope down below. “Don’t forget about me!” Darien called up. In another moment, he was back up on top and being mobbed by his delirious teammates.
“We did it. We did a rescue! Hooray!”
“You fellas did fabulous!” Newman shouted. “Everybody did the right thing. You were terrific.”
And then Skipper’s clear voice above the crowd. “Mr. Newman, do we get a merit badge for this?”
AROUND THE FIRE THAT NIGHT, the boys did an ancient camp skit.
“We are little Boy Scouts as you can plainly see,” they chanted in a demure line. “But if I were a grown up…”
And one boy steps forward: “…a plumber I would be!
“Flush! Flush! Look out below! Flush! Flush! Look out below!”
And after the line reformed again, another would step forward:
” … a carpenter I would be.
“Four by six, two by four. Nail it to the floor – Whack”
And then they would all go off in different directions, all shouting their lines in a wild cacophony until finally settling back into the line once again,
” … a boxer I would be!
“First a left, then a right, then I take a bite,”
after some long forgotten heavyweight who had once tried to bite his opponent’s ear off.
Newman marveled at it all. “They could do this on Broadway,” he thought as he settled back and let the day’s events play out in his mind once again.
It was only later, as they sat around the dying fire, that Jared approached him once again with his i-World.
“Mr. Newman, this really big thing has happened. I think you ought to see.”
“Jared, didn’t I tell you to forget about that stuff.” But the boy had had enough for one day and so he took a look.
“Oh my god!” he said. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Jared looked innocent. “It’s been on the news all night.”
The others began to crowd around. “What’s happening, Mr. Newman? What’s happening?”
“It says the Chinese Navy has sailed into Pearl Harbor. They’re claiming they want Hawaii. And it says they want all women who have been adopted in America to return to China. Is this serious? ” He looked at Jared questioningly again. “Good god.”
“Can they do that, Mr. Newman?”
“I don’t see how.”
“Is anybody going to do something about it?”
“I’m sure they are.”
“What if those ladies don’t want to go?” asked Jose.
“There’s a girl in my class that’s Chinese,” said Christopher. “I think she’s adopted. Will she have to go?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Newman.
“Hey, Mr. Newman, I’ve got an idea,” said Darien. “Why don’t we do an Eagle project? Help those girls. So they don’t have to go back to China.”
“Yeah, let’s do that,” said a chorus of voices.
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Newman, eyeing them proudly.