What follows is a short story, or maybe even a parable.
“Alright boys, staaaaaaaaart camping!” The rich timbre of the camp director’s voice rang through the valley, reverberating off the pine trees and straight into the ears of his young charges. They looked up at him with awe, even as their arms instinctively began shrugging off their rucksacks.
They were that well-trained.
Jonathan Hardchuckle wasn’t a physically imposing man, but he carried himself with a dignity and natural poise that was unmistakable. Like a mighty oak tree with feet. The kids, and the whole Cross Camper Community, respected him fiercely. For what he did, how he breathed, what he stood for, and for how he stood.
He was the most outdoorsy man any of them had ever seen. And no other Cross Camper Chief instilled as much discipline or respect for nature in his charges as Chief Camp Director Hardchuckle. Even the Senior Leaders deferred to him on most matters without question or complaint. He was young, but wise.
In what seemed like moments, but was probably the better part of an hour, the camp began taking shape. Some boys lit fires, others collected and stacked firewood, still others erected tents or dug latrines. A small coterie began preparing a hearty meal out of lichen and berries. Every one of them had a task, and each carried it out to the best of their budding abilities.
Many badges would be won this weekend.
The shadows of the towering pines grew longer as the afternoon progressed into evening. A bluebird came and perched on Chief Camper Hardchuckle’s shoulder. He glanced up with a smile at the birdsong, and resumed whittling a picnic table for that evening’s meal. The boys whose work had finished busied themselves with inventing new knots which they would use to hold up the mess tent. Others continued their original tasks, and some others formed a leg wrestling ring and set about using it. Boys will be boys, after all.
A slight chill settled into the air as the sun’s rays weakened. Still, it would be almost physically impossible to imagine a more idyllic afternoon, no matter how great your imagination is. But of course you should also have a sense of foreboding by now. Especially as a lone cumulonimbus cloud passed in front of the sun. The shadow cast was deeply symbolic one, and the chill got more intense.
An ominous rifle report cracked the sound of laughter and birdsongs into tiny figurative pieces. It was followed by a terrible scream. The campers froze in mid-action. Stillness descended, save for the screech of frightened birds, so recently happily chirping, now taking terrified flight.
Hardchuckle immediately identified the scream as that of Father Bear, the largest and fiercest of the woodland creatures. He must have been the recipient of the bullet fired from that rifle, Hardchuckle surmised. But the screams were greater than the ones that mere death would inspire.
If he was screaming in such intense pain, Hardchuckle reasoned, it meant that the pain was not only physical. Likely the bear’s attempts to scare off the forces of unchecked progress were unsuccessful. Plus, the camp director’s slightly-too-large ears could hear the low grumble of mechanical engines, a sound that had not been heard this deep in the wood for more than two generations. Hardchuckle knew he must bring his young charges into his confidence.
“Boys, don’t be frightened, but there is an evil penetrating the boundaries of the this wood. We cannot fight this evil now, not until you’re stronger. And yet, I believe in you,” seeming to look each boy in the eye at the same time. “We can defeat the evil forces of unchecked progress and selfishness. They will feel our wrathful justice, for they are in the wrong, and the very wood itself is at stake. This weekend is no longer about earning badges, it is now about winning freedom for that which we hold dear.”
And so they began an intense and condensed training montage. They rode wild horses through streams, carried windfallen trees up and down bosky hillsides, and ate the raw flesh of willing animal sacrifices. When the montage was done – in just a song’s length – it was clear that these were no longer boys: they were young men with mature spirits. And these young men and their noble leader set out to challenge the anthropomorphic bulldozers that were set on destroying the valley.
The battleground was Gulch Meadow. The bulldozers turned their attention from destruction of the forest to the destruction of Cross Camper Troop #85. Snick Mudhead, the largest of the bulldozers, snorted derisively and set out towards the troop.
The boys rushed forward, only to see Jonathan race into the front and plow directly into Mudhead’s machine torso. Jonathan used his wits and impressive upper body strength to weaken the bulldozer, even managing to cave in the radiator. But in very little time it became clear that the camp director was getting the worst of it. The evil bulldozer was not swayed from its task of bloodying the man.
Then one of the troop, the bookish one who never ever spoke up and seemed to fail, even during the inspirational training montage, suddenly spoke.
“If we use the rope techniques we’ve been practicing and inventing – all of us, at once – we can subdue the evil Snick, and hopefully save our leader and the forest.”
It was a brilliant idea: simple and effective, utilizing the tools at hand. Surely he had a badge coming to him – should they survive.
So they set to it. Using brains, and the small amount of brawn they had recently acquired, to subdue the sinister leader of the evil bulldozers. With ropes fashioned into nets, and knots fashioned into unopenable fists of hemp. Each time a rope was cut free, two more appeared further ensnaring the ringleader, and tripping up his mechanical minions. Snick tired, his diesel depleted, and before long, he was still. In short: the plan worked!
The other bulldozers, without their leader to rally them, lost the fight and faded back out of the forest, harried the entire way by all manner of rodents, and pecked at by birds of prey.
But alas, it was too late for Jonathan Hardchuckle, the inspirational and knowledgeable chief, who was rapidly slipping out of consciousness. Dying, even as the bees offered him the sweet succour of honey, and the spiders spun webs of silk to close his wounds. It was not enough.
And as he slipped away into the Great Skyforest, he gasped, between dying breaths, “Don’t… mourn me, rejoice. You’ve… saved the forest!”He steadied his quaking voice, “Besides, you’ve all… shown yourselves to be men… you don’t need me anymore. Carry on, my charges.” And with those words he closed his eyes and died.
And as they stood there, dumbfounded and tearful, a most remarkable thing happened. A tree started growing out of his stomach. A mighty tree, like an oak, or a giant cedar. Each second seemed like a year in tree-time. Ring after ring, the mighty tree expanded outward and upward.
And they stood and watched it grow to enormous heights, comforted by the knowledge that the forest will continue, and so will the circle of life. So long as the noble and purehearted do what they must to preserve its sanctity.
When they returned to camp that evening the boys were red-eyed and heavy-hearted. But they were consoled by the fact that they had done something important, and though they knew their battles were just beginning, they also knew they were now prepared for the trials they would face.
They set about, even before eating the meal of beans and hotdogs they so deserved, or tending to their own wounds, sewing themselves badges commemorating the loss the mighty Jonathan Hardchuckle, Camp Director.