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Hey, Your Stick is on Fire

Learning to march was tough, responding to all those marching commands and not stumbling over our own feet.  Drilling like an army was part of scouting.  Boy Scouts had to work together so the whole line reversed direction when Uncle Bruce gave the command, “about face.”   He really wasn’t our uncle, we just called him that.  His manner was not commanding, but when he gave an order, you were expected to follow through.  Uncle Bruce worked in the shipyard, re-furbishing ships that had come out of WWII.  He came home one day with a bunch of canvass ship’s bunks which we  roped tight in a pole frame to furnish the troop’s council shelter with new bunks for our adult leaders.

Every summer we worked on building Camp Thunderbird which was very complete with open-front lean-to shelters built for each of the four patrols, the Bears, the Eagles, the Raccoons and the Panthers.     

We cooked for ourselves, which led to some strange dinners, bread-on-a-stick was a favorite.  A large hazelnut stick was best, so the bread dough wouldn’t fall in the fire.  Pour a little water into the box of Bisquick and start kneading until you have made a rope of biscuit dough that was then wrapped around the  stick which had been heavily buttered to keep the dough from sticking .  Getting the dough to cook all the way through was a trick, mostly we just pulled off the hard and sometimes blackened biscuit from the stick and served it with our warmed up soup or stew if we were ambitious.  Chunks of meat on the end of a smaller stick were also a favorite, probably because it didn’t require pans to wash.  Brother Mike yelled at Charlie Larson, ”Hey, your stick is on fire.” First the hot meat drooped as the stick burned and then the meat fell into the fire. Cooking over an open fire is not for the faint hearted, especially if it is raining.
Mike always brought his dog to camp, which was also named Mike.  My brother’s bedroll was thin and held together by safety pins and inadequate for the cold, so at night, “Mike the dog” would crawl into the sleeping bag to keep Mike’s feet warm.  We never did figure out how the dog breathed.  

The trail to Camp Thunderbird was down Cedarhurst Rd. and up a trail near Nicholson Creek which is where we got our water.  With 30 pound packs the trail up seemed to be a half mile long when it was probably half that.  McCormick’s dynamite shack was near the bottom and an object of great interest because of the double-locked door and the intimidating look of the small shack, which belonged to the two brothers who owned the only hardware store on Vashon.

We had our weekly meetings in town at the Youth Center, a building that no longer exists having been replaced by the new library.  The field to the north was overrun with scotch broom, making for abundant hiding places for games like capture the flag.  We didn’t have much money so few of us were in uniform except for the richer kids who could afford shirts and scarves.  After we had fallen-in and given the pledge of allegiance, Uncle Bruce would teach us knots such as a sheep-shank or how to tie a bowline.  Lashing was the most fun because we could build things like a chair or even a coracle, an ancient Irish boat that was round.

To build a coracle, we first pounded stakes in the ground making two circles, one inside the other and filled the space between the circles with small brush packed tight.  We then lashed all the brush together, being careful not to include the stakes.  We lifted up the round donut of brush and placed it on a large tarp which was then lashed over the top of the brush.  The shore of Mukai’s pond was the launching site for our little craft which we found very difficult to paddle since it always wanted to go in circles.  We used sticks that were larger on one end for paddles and could feel the cold water ripple the canvass tarp under our feet.

The most remembered part of scouting on Vashon was sitting around a huge fire in the scout building and listening to Uncle Bruce tell us stories from books that he had read.  One story was about a boy growing up in a cave in prehistoric times. Sometimes it took a whole winter for one story.