Winter campouts are for scouts. Some years ago, I went on one at Headquarters, an old fire service outpost, northeast of Orofino, Idaho. I had always thought winter camp out meant snow and below zero weather. Little did I know that sometimes winter campouts in north-central Idaho meant rain and slush and a slow, sure drizzle. Perhaps the next one will have trappings of campouts I used to go on—if there is one.
I remember my first winter campout as a scout. We loaded up with what we thought were the necessities of winter camping and followed the Snake River down into what everyone in Menan, Idaho, called the “Deer Parks,” appropriately named, I supposed, for all the deer who parked there periodically, looking out from behind the trees, trying to stay hidden from hunters and young boys like our Boy Scout troop.
It was one of those typical eastern Idaho winter days— freezing cold, with a touch of wind. We set up camp and then played games in the deep snow. Keeping the blood flowing kept us alive. Had we just stood around, we would have frozen to death. I suspect they would have renamed the Deer Parks, “Scout Park” and engraven the following words on our frozen statutes: “Here stands a group of scouts who through their stupidity stood in the cold and frozen snow, chatting about life and basketball, although a fire was stoked some thirty feet away.”
But we kept moving, returning often to the campfire to warm up. Finally, we began one of the natural and habitual scout cooking procedures: We cooked our tin foil dinners. Before we arrived, we—with some help from our mothers—cut up carrots, potatoes, and onions, pounded out a hamburger patty, and carefully wrapped all of it in tin foil, thus the celebrated tin foil dinner.
After the fire had some good hot coals, we each strategically placed ours in the coals, timed them carefully, and then turned them over at the appropriate time. Then, keeping careful watch, we played some more, hearing periodically the sage words of our scoutmaster: “Hey, guys, I think your dinners might be burning.” Within a reasonable time, we scuttled back to camp where we dined on tin foil cuisine. Now that I think back on the whole affair, I cannot remember eating one tin foil dinner where the carrots and the potatoes were actually cooked through or weren’t burned around the edges. Since we didn’t die, I guess we were nourished sufficiently. Of course, having red licorice around didn’t allow for starvation.
After our delicious dinner, we headed out into the dark to play “steal the flag.” Around 11:00 or so, maybe even later, we gathered around the campfire to perform another scout ritual: staring into the fire while absently stirring the fire with a long stick. Actually, the entertainment was always stirring until sparks flew up into the dark, cold night and disappeared somewhere out there, hopefully not on our tents.
While we stirred the fire, a couple of rifle shots rang out, not far away. Our first thoughts hinged on “Who would be out this time at night, shooting?” Our answer was swift: “Somebody’s out poaching deer. Let’s go catch them.”
We grabbed our flashlights and headed through the woods. We hadn’t gone far when we broke on to an open field. We could see the spotlight ahead of us, and I’m sure the poachers saw us. Who could have missed a dozen or so 12-13-year olds with bouncing flashlights running pell mell across an open field. It must have looked like hoards of large fire flies at ground zero.
The poachers quickly threw something into the back of their truck and spun out of there. We didn’t even get a close look at the license plate. What we did find was a pile of intestines, still steaming in the snow, and boot prints of the poachers. To this day, I don’t know what would have happened had we caught them red handed. We were a bunch of kids, all bundled up in snow gear, and Eveready flashlights in our hands, surely a formidable force against a couple of 30-06's.
Even today, though, I think about how “unsmart” we were by pounding across that open field, a bunch of crazy kids yelling and screaming at the top of our lungs, flashlights bouncing up and down, with a couple of poachers with their rifles, probably safety off. We were open targets—literally. They could have picked us off like bobbing ducks on an opened pond. Yet we did it anyway. We were very lucky.
After some inspection, we trudged back to camp. As we warmed by the fire, we chatted about the night’s event until it became late enough to actually turn in. I always figured if you were tired enough, you could ultimately fall asleep. But that was before my first winter campout. The biting cold on the banks of the Snake tended to seep through the thickest sleeping bag and wooliest blanket, at least mine, anyway. I froze the entire night. I think we finally learned to pray during that campout—we prayed hard for morning to come and a hot fire to warm us up.
Our prayers were answered; morning came; and we had survived. I guess could have scored it: Scouts 1, frigid winter. Once the bacon and eggs and hot chocolate slipped down our throats and landed in our stomachs, we felt much better. Food always has been a Scout’s best friend.
So after we packed up this last time while the rain drizzled steadily and then changed into dry clothes in the warm restrooms, we climbed in the van and headed out of there and home to Lewiston. As I sipped my hot chocolate with one hand and steered with the other, I chalked another one up for the scouts.