Eddie Skillin was my boyhood chum. The reason we were not Boy Scouts is mainly that we never heard of them, and wouldn't have become members anyway. When Eddie and I were still in grade school we went on our first exploration expedition, and we continued such annual outings through high school, spending two weeks afoot each summer just before school open- ed. Had we been Boy Scouts, the manual would have helped us, but we got along without it, and I know we encountered many a moment for which the Boy Scouts hadn't provided.
With canvas backpacks, we'd strike out left-foot-right-foot and disappear into the woods of Maine where adventure lurked. We had an Army surplus pup tent, just right for two boys, a set of cooking pans, our eating tools, a blanket apiece, a poncho apiece, and enough money to buy train fare home if we needed it. Plus a few dollars more to buy food along the way if we found a store. We had string, fishhooks, and watertight bottles of waxed matches.
Could wishes come true, I would wish every growing boy in the world such memories as Eddie and I provided for during those hikes! Tourism had not been thought of, and "hitching" a ride was something we knew nothing about. The woods had no signs that told you not to do it, or how many miles to Katahdin.
Two boys walking alone prompted everybody we saw to take an interest. Farmers gave us tomatoes, sweet corn, and cucumbers, and if we asked we got pleasant directions to the best trout pool. "You can't miss it!"
If there was a law against campfires, Eddie and I didn't know about it. But we did know we must douse our embers and leave a green alder branch over the cold ashes. Unless we camped near a home, we didn't need to ask permission. This was long enough ago so possessiveness hadn't really hatched. Anybody who said no to two polite youngsters was an old grouch, and we passed on the other side.
In later years, Eddie and I acquired a folding reflector oven (Mr. L.L. Bean had used it a couple of times and gave it to us), and before that if we made biscuits we baked them in a frypan. Our encampments were before plastic and aluminum foil, but we did carry a roll of waxed paper. And we carried a "boy's ax." We could find a "down tree" almost anywhere. It didn't take long to lop dry limbs off a down tree and have a brisk fire going, and after an August thundershower a fire was good to have.
Eddie and I learned early that being off in the woods far from home and conveniences is no reason to go without good food, tastefully prepared. The one and only hardship about this is carrying what you'll need. Things that require too much carrying are the things to skip. Fresh milk and canned milk, for instance. Dried milk is easier to lug, and it gives you a choice. As you mix it for breakfast cereal you can decide if you want Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey, Shorthorn, or whatever.
Because we liked to make camp by a stream, Eddie and I had many a trout supper, which I think some boys today have not enjoyed. We also, at least once every trip, took the time to build a trout chowder, which is probably this world's finest culinary achievement. It was somewhat precarious to do so in our only "big" pot, a half-gallon size, and we had to stay put at one campsite long enough to fulfill the required "mull."
I'll venture the Boy Scout Handbook does not help the developing Scout with roasted guinea hen, a delight Eddie and I had once a few miles the other side of Patten in a wildland township called Moro. As we trudged along that morning, we were soon surrounded by trees, but after a mile or so we came upon a clearing and a stand of buildings. The ample barn suggested a dairy farm, and on the ridgepole a flock of guinea hens burst into melodious cacophony as Eddie and I emerged.
THE guinea hen is better than a watchdog, because a guinea hen will keep it up for a month or so after the dog has barked himself out. There was a gentleman standing not far from the road, and he greeted us in affable manner and inquired as to our destination. Upon learning that we were peripatetic, he invited us to have second breakfast with him.
So Eddie and I went with him into his home, where his wife welcomed us and set forth generous plates of baked beans, ham steaks, and hot cream-of-tartar biscuits. We applied ourselves, as did they, and we partook in the screaming hullabaloo of guinea hens on the barn ridgepole. So the man asked us if we could cook a guinea hen on a campfire, and we said we certainly could, and he gave us a guinea hen all dressed out and ready to cook.
Eddie and I didn't go far, but came upon a likely place and made early camp. We found a few trout in the brook for our lunch, but we didn't overeat because of what we planned for supper. We cut forked saplings and made a spit, and we made every last one of those essential preparations you will not find in the Boy Scout Handbook under "guinea hen."
While Eddie turned the spit I roasted potatoes, and while I turned the thing Eddie fixed a watercress salad. We made biscuits. We ate guinea hen, and after sleeping well we had guinea hen for breakfast and made guinea hen sandwiches to take along. Biscuit sandwiches; finest kind. Eddie and I had many good times.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society