Thursday, November 01, 2012


I'm not sure what brought this to mind recently, but I was reminded of an incident from a long time ago, that seems more remarkable every time I reflect on it.

I was about fourteen or fifteen, my exact age doesn't really matter. I was a member of the Explorers, which I refused to acknowledge was in any was associated with the Boy Scouts. Regardless of its affiliation, the organization presented an opportunity to escape the stifling confines of suburbia one weekend a month and get out into the woods with a small cadre of like-minded miscreants.

In any case. Besides my hanging with a tough crowd of middle class white teenagers, my parents also owned a share of a farmhouse in the shadow of the Blue Ridge in Sperryville, just a couple of miles from the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park.

So I had the bright idea of heading out with the Explorers on a weekend trip to Shenandoah, and using that as a launching point for an epic day hike beginning at Skyline Drive and following the Piney River down Old Hollow to Apple Hill.

In fact, I may have actually, um, you know, helped plan a weekend trip for the Explorers—a circuit hike, you know—for the rest of them. I'm kinda sketchy on those details at this point. So, on a fine spring Saturday, we piled into the van and left Arlington for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline

Drive with a mixed bag of understandings of what was going to transpire. At the trailhead, we parked the Green Monster and saddled up—them with their full packs with tents and sleeping bags, me with my daypack...

We set off down the trail, and as I was kinda fleet of foot, I got out in front of everyone. Of course, I was also not encumbered by a full pack, so had a bit of an advantage. So I hiked like a boy possessed, and within a few short minutes, I was alone in the wilds, making a solid four-plus mile an hour pace. I still can recall how the wind felt and how the air smelled that day.

The trail began along the ridge, then dropped down to follow the stream valley. By noon I was near the park boundary, and by a little after one I had arrived at Apple Hill and had lunch with my family.

But, strangely, I had never thought to mention my plans to Bill, our Explorer post advisor - chaperone -  resident adult. I'm not sure I even explained things to any of my peers in any great detail. In my mind, I wasn't participating in an Explorer outing; I was simply catching a convenient ride out to the mountains with them.

From an adult perspective, I can't imaging what must have gone through Bill's mind that evening when the group assembled at the campsite with one fewer hiker than they began with. I never really did find out, and I don't recall our ever speaking of it later. I know that if some little smart ass pulled a stunt like that on me, I'd make sure we had an understanding once we were both back in the world.

What gets me is recalling exactly how this made perfect sense at the time, though in hindsight it seems the very epitome of obliviousness. As a young teen, I passed through the world like a shade, wrapped in a self-sustaining mantle of invisibility. I left no trace, made no mark, had no impact, made no difference. So I completely believe it—and sympathize—when young people do dazzlingly dumb or inconsiderate or thoughtless or ridiculous things. It's likely they lack any way to gauge,  no way to recognize that they make a mark on the world, however faltering or tentative that mark may be. 

We need to remember that for the first decade or so of our consciousness, we really don't make much impact on the world at large, and perhaps the greatest revelation of growing up is that moment when you reach out and the world resonates beneath your touch. 

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