In the high summer of my thirteenth year on this lovely planet I was mailed to Boy Scout summer camp in a sprawling forest For a life term, though I guess it was really only fourteen days. I was muddled at woodcraft as I was at everything else then, And finished very nearly last in tracking, swimming, canoeing, Archery, and orienteering, this last an utter conundrum for me; I recall my patrolmates finally gently taking away my compass And asking me to just sit quietly until they would lead me back To our camp, my spectacles knocked awry by jeering branches. I remember when we got our orienteering assignment someone Would lead me to a little open knoll in the rippling sea of pines And oaks and maples and I would sit there happily in the broad Sun for hours, I guess, watching for birds and speculating about Lunch. I wonder now that the Flying Eagle Patrol was so gentle To me, its most useless member, and these were the years when Boys are cruel to each other, for fear of being least and weakest; But they were kind, and I remember their totally genuine delight When I earned my single merit badge, for making both a roaring Fire and a stew. I remember their faces, around that startling fire, How they laughed—not at me for having finally done something Well, but at the surprise of it; the gift of unexpectedness, perhaps. Or maybe they were smiling at my probably hair-raising stew; but They ate every scrap of it, and the one among us who was best in The woods was the Eagle who quietly washed the pots and plates. Perhaps, all these years later, I should remember my helplessness, And either chew my liver or try to smile ruefully, but it's the pots Clean as a whistle that I remember, and the whistling of the Eagle Coming to retrieve me from my knoll high above the seas of trees.
Brian Doyle is editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies, A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance, and, most recently, Chicago, a novel.