I met him on the street, and he had changed from when I knew him last. There were streaks of gray in his hair, especially around the temples. But his eyes had that same friendly glow that I knew years ago when he was my explorer leader. My name is Bobby. Economic conditions had caused Jim to move away from our ward and our city, and I had not seen or heard from him for several years.
We dispensed with the usual handshake and threw our arms around each other in a bear hug.
I looked into those warm, friendly eyes, and words that I had stored in my heart came tumbling out.
“Remember our trip to Yellowstone, and especially our pack trip into Heart Lake?” I asked.
We had had 12 boys in our explorer post, and Jim had been the leader. What a leader he was! Each boy loved him like an older brother. As for me? Well, I guess I was different. I was not dishonest, but I had learned that there were ways to get out of work and have other people carry your load.
For example, when we planned our trip to Yellowstone, each member of the post was to make his own trail tent. I didn’t want to bother my mother to do the cutting of the material. So, just by chance mind you, I learned when one of our troop was going to cut his. I just happened to stop by his home, with my material, of course, and his mother just naturally cut out mine.
My mom didn’t like to sew, so I didn’t bother her. Johnny, a post member, had a mother who just loved to sew, and it was no job for me to have Johnny invite me to his home. While I was there his mother sewed up my tent. One of our projects to finance our trip was to collect scrap metal and sell it. On Saturday morning Jim would come around in his old pickup, and away we would go in quest of scrap iron or steel. That stuff was dirty and heavy, so I volunteered to drive the truck. Some of the guys in the post were bigger than me anyway.
Summer came and preparations were completed for the trip to Yellowstone. Each post member had his own trail tent trimmed with his favorite color. A committee was chosen to go with Jim to purchase the food.
What a morning it was when we started on our journey! There was laughter, and back slapping, and all that silly stuff that boys do.
We spent our first night at Old Faithful. We enjoyed the old geyser, but supper that evening was even more enjoyable.
Jim had called for volunteers to peel the potatoes and help prepare the other things, and perhaps it was the camp-robber bird in a nearby tree that took my attention away from cooking chores. There were plenty of other volunteers anyway.
But that supper—I can taste it yet. Chicken cooked in a dutch oven, and potatoes and carrots so tender they wouldn’t stay on a fork. Reflector-oven rolls that just begged for butter. What a meal! What a memory!
The next day we traveled to Lewis Lake, which was the jumping off place for our hike to Heart Lake.
Early in the morning after we saluted the dawn with prayer, Jim had us gather around a picnic table. There, each boy was allotted his share of food—so much bacon, eggs, pancake flour, and so on. Jim explained that we would be gone for three days and that each boy would be responsible for his own food and for the cooking of it.
A bear strolled through the campground, and it got my attention, so maybe Jim’s instructions didn’t sink in too deeply.
Finally, packs on our backs, we headed up the trail toward Heart Lake. We passed a skinny looking cow moose, standing knee deep in water, who wondered what all that boy noise was about. We passed the summit, and as the trail descended toward the lake, we discovered Witch Creek. It was a warm stream that originated in some underground heated spring. There was a spot where it tumbled over a ten-foot bank, creating a beautiful waterfall and a perfect shower for overheated boys.
As if with one thought we threw off our packs and clothes, and with varied yips and squeals we dashed under the shower.
By this time Jim, who was carrying a heavier pack, caught up with us.
He took one amused look at us, then off came his pack and clothes, and soon his happy yips joined ours.
We found a delightful camp spot in a pocket of pines just off the lake shore.
It was time to prepare the evening meal and the post began preparation to cook. I hate cooking. It seems such a useless chore to provide a meal.
I looked at Chubby Lewis, the overweight boy of the post who had an appetite like a wolf cub, and suggested to him that if he would cook my meals, I would give him part of my food as payment.
Chubby jumped at the chance, and everything was lovely until the afternoon of the third day when I discovered all my food was gone.
I couldn’t ask Chubby or any of the other post members for a share of their food because they only had enough for their supper and breakfast the next morning.
I sat down with my back against a pine tree. Across the lake a trout jumped, making rings that turned to silver when touched by the rays of the sun. A gull soared overhead, its white underpart looking like a maverick snowflake against the blue sky. In a nearby pasture a bull elk threw his huge antlers into the air, a picture of majesty and strength.
The breeze was touched with the smell of pine, and the chatter of a squirrel broke the silence. But these things had lost their beauty and meaning because the growling in my stomach was like thunder in a storm. I didn’t realize that Chubby had told Jim of my predicament, but still, when I saw him walking toward me, I knew I was in for a good scolding.
Oh, I know a Scout is supposed to be brave and all of that, but there were tears ready to come, and if Jim had cussed me out, those tears would have fallen like Witch Creek over the bank.
Instead, he took me by the hand and helped me up. Then with his arm around my shoulder he led me to where he was preparing his supper.
He shared with me his beans and a trout he had caught; then he reached into his knapsack and brought out a little package containing two oatmeal cookies, one of which he gave to me. The other he returned to his knapsack.
When the meal was over and the dishes put away, Jim sat down by my side. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, like the breeze on the lake.
“Bobby,” he said, “there are certain responsibilities in life we cannot pass on to others. If we try, we will end up being dismal failures. God gave you a talent to be able to sway people with words, but words are empty echoes if not backed up with work and acceptance of responsibilities.”
There was a campfire program that night with songs and the exchange of the day’s experiences. But somehow I couldn’t join in. The words that Jim had spoken were strong in my heart. I knew I had failed as a post member. The program ended and the campfire was dying. Jim had called on one of the boys to say the evening prayer. However, before he could begin the prayer, I stood on my feet, and words touched with tears came tumbling out.
“Fellows, I want to apologize for my actions. I realize I have been a disgrace to the post, but if you will help me, I will try to be a better Scout.”
Morning came, and with the rising sun, a miracle in comradeship. One by one the post members came and shared their meager breakfast with me. One sliver of bacon, a hotcake, a cup of hot chocolate, and other things. Then Jim reached into his knapsack and brought out the other oatmeal cookie.
“Here, Bobby,” he said, “this will help you down the trail.” The trip back to Lewis Lake was uneventful. Soon our duffle was packed in the truck, and we were ready to leave for home. Before we did, however, Jim had us gather in a circle and he uttered a prayer. He first asked for a safe journey home. The words that followed have been a guideline in my life.
“Heavenly Father, we thank thee for all things that are good and lovely, for the friendship we enjoy with each other. May the lessons we have learned on this trip help us as we go through life.”
The years have passed, and I now have a wife and children of my own. I am considered a fairly successful businessman and am active in the Church.
I still know the power of words, but as Jim said, they are empty echoes without work and responsibility. Do I remember Jim? When I greet the dawn and feel the breath of a summer breeze, the memories of that mountain lake and Jim come out of the treasure chest of my heart.