Today I ask you to consider Rudyard Kipling, who told us the first law of the jungle is, obey!
Common courtesy is a comfortable virtue to live with, and I never leave home without it. At Mother's knee I was told to employ it. I should stand when a lady comes into the room, let my sister have first choice with the watermelon pickles, and not try to speak with my mouth full. But I got more solid lessons in chivalrous decorum when I began going into the Maine woods with my father and my grandfather.
There I was told the first law of the wilderness is to leave the kerosene lamp ready to light and the woodbox full when you close camp. This is the highest form of dutiful courtesy. A camp in the Maine wilderness is any shelter with a tight roof, but if you leave a mere tenting area, you must tidy it, bury the leavings, and douse the campfire. Somebody, either way, will bless you and say you're a fine chap.
I fear courtesy of that sort has eroded with the coming of the sporty snowmobile. For generations, Maine camps were seldom locked, and often the door would be tied open so the wind couldn't slam it shut.
This was because of bears. The first law of the jungle to a bear is, "Eat!" If you leave a camp door shut, a bear will break the door in, ransack the camp, and then break a window to get out. I think the Boy Scouts are taught to turn a beached canoe over so it won't fill with water if it rains during the night. Don't ever do that. Leave it gunnels up. Otherwise, a hungry bear may smash his way in looking for goodies. You can dump out a wet canoe, but one that is stove-in is little use on the river.
If you're from out of state and feel you must lock up, don't take the key back to Connecticut. It's not much fun to return next year and find you forgot to bring the key. True, a bear may have opened camp for you, but maybe not. If you lock the door, leave the key on a nail in the woodshed where it can be found if a stranger needs shelter. Gus Garcelon had a fine camp at Long Pond, and 10,000 people, including the total membership of the NRA, knew the key was in a crack in the foundation. One Memorial Day, Gus and I went to inspect the trout situation and we found a family had been living in his camp all winter. They took us in, extended courteous hospitality, and let us use Gus's boat. When we left, we checked the lamp and the woodbox.
There is always somebody to use a camp next time, and he or they will approach expecting to find they were anticipated. It may be a bitter-cold day and they hope to be warm soon. Perhaps they are soaked from rain, or even fell in the lake.
I do have an instance to show how dire the consequences may be if you are derelict in closing camp.
The year was 1965. We were a party of eight compatible gentlemen eager to get away under the pretense of bird hunting, and we had permission to use a game warden's camp on the International Paper road just over the boundary from Daaquam, Quebec, on the way to Clayton and Umsaskis Lakes in Maine. It was a camp that wardens used if working that area, but was frequently vacant. Getting there required permission from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game, a pass to use the company's private logging road, membership in the National Geographic Society, and basic training in what to do with three queens and a wild knave.
I speak esoterically, of course. And when we passed customs to arrive by way of Canada, we stowed our wanigan and gear, hoseyed bunks, and found our lamp had not been filled and the kerosene can on the shed shelf was dry. We had flashlights, but it seemed prudent to go back over the line into Daaquam before the store closed and get some kerosene. This meant a walk of almost a mile, because the international boundary was closed after hours and the chain was in place.
COLONEL LEE kindly volunteered to make this trip, and he took the can and started for Canada. The rest of us began to make supper, for which we had steaks. (Always have steaks the first supper in camp.) Colonel Lee had walked to the boundary chain, scootched under it, and come to the store. Now he retraced himself back to camp and came in to ask, "How do you say 'kerosene' in French?"
Hank Gauvan then gave Colonel Lee his first lesson in Maine Canadian French, thus: "You don't; you wave the can and say 'Wump-plee.' " Colonel Lee repeated it so he sounded like a real jarret-noir, and off he went again.
By the time he got back with oil, we had supper ready and our flashlights were dim. We had cleaned the lamp, and its friendly glow serenely illumined our banquet. In this silent beauty we were no longer "put out" because the legendary courtesy of lamp and woodbox had failed. We did have a mind to upbraid the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Game about the dereliction of his warden, but as he was a member of our party and would deal, we didn't want to see him cry. But it shows you what can happen.
That was Nov. 9, the very night of the big Manhattan blackout, when they had no lights in New York City. We heard about it the next morning on the car radio. Colonel Lee, who was from Kentucky, said, "All they needed was some wump-plee. Why is kerosene called 'wump-plee?' " (Remplir = refill.)