Now I can confess it: The Boy Scouts turned me into a tree-hugger. Not that I had zero appreciation for the great outdoors before I joined. As a suburban kid, I played with friends in the odd scraps of wild land scattered about our town, and sure, I appreciated a day at the beach.
But I didn’t understand the whole “stewardship of the Earth” thing until about age 12 in Boy Scouts.
This was in 1969, back before the first Earth Day celebration. My scoutmaster dad was the furthest thing from a peace-loving, crunchy-granola hippy — in fact, he was so far right, he made Attila the Hun look like a liberal — but he had a connection with nature that he passed on to me and my fellow scouts.
Our troop did the occasional community service project, picking up trash and so forth, but one particular project made a difference to me. My dad and the troop leadership decided we should beautify a tumbleweed-strewn, trashed-out little canyon near my middle school.
One Saturday morning we showed up in our olive green uniforms, bearing buckets, fertilizer, shovels, hoses, and a number of potted California redwood trees. Now maybe redwoods weren’t the most practical trees to plant in hot, dry Southern California, but practicality rarely troubled my dad when he was in the grips of a Big Idea.
All day long, as the sun climbed, we dug and dug and dug. We cleared rocks and pulled tumbleweeds. (And how I wished I’d brought some work gloves!) Was I completely sold on the whole altruistic, save-the-planet thing?
To be honest, I was not. I would much rather have been goofing off with my friend Billy the Kid, riding our bikes around and stirring up trouble.
But when your dad is the scoutmaster, that sort of limits your options.
We worked, we dug, we sweated. Blisters sprouted on my hands. My back got sore. Finally, late in the afternoon, we completed our project, and the canyon was beautified. About ten redwood saplings stood in cleared ground, with wooden logs laid here and there, so that nearby residents could sit and admire the trees. (Assuming they actually survived.)
We ran hoses to the neighbors’ faucets and drenched the trees with water. Every weekend for the next six months or so, someone (often Billy and I) would go water the redwoods. And a funny thing happened over those six months. Somehow, the chore turned into something more.
As Billy and I saw the trees take hold and flourish, we started feeling a real sense of accomplishment — but more than that, a connection to these ancient trees. And when at last our troop erected a wooden sign that read Coronel Canyon Forestation Project – Conservation by Troop 276, we felt a real swell of pride to see how our work transformed that arid, scraggly little canyon into something beautiful.
The end result? Many of those trees still grow in that canyon, decades later. And me? I’ve become a card-carrying tree-hugger. Blame it on the Boy Scouts.
Bruce Hale is the author-illustrator of over 30 books for young readers, including Clark the Shark, Big Bad Baby, and the popular Chet Gecko Mysteries series. You can find him online at: www.brucehale.com and www.brucehalewritingtips.com