We were driving two-track logging trails deep in the middle of Marquette County when my buddies Tom and Tim fell into conversation about situational ethics and how to lead a principled life. Tom quoted Seneca — “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men” — which had special relevance for us because we kept meeting adversity in the form of trees that had fallen across the trail. Also, the trail kept turning off in unexpected directions, none of which matched the dotted lines in our county map book.
I don’t know how many miles of two-tracks there are in Michigan. Thousands, surely. We drove at least half of them that day.
When Tom put the truck into four-wheel drive and started to drive around a fallen tree instead of facing the adversity head-on, I recited a Mexican proverb: “Honor does not scuttle sideways like a crab.”
Tom suggested that if I was so determined to be honorable, I should fetch the damned bucksaw from the back of the truck and cut the tree out of the way.
It was a good-sized maple. I reckoned that in this case, it wouldn’t hurt to scuttle a little.
Tim observed that we were exercising the most famous principle of the Boy Scouts, “Be prepared.” That made us feel pretty good about ourselves because one thing we were was prepared. We had the bucksaw, a reliable compass, an unreliable map book, a GPS unit that couldn’t find a satellite signal, a cooler loaded with sandwiches and Widow Maker (black ale). All we had to do was find a paved road, and we’d be golden.
Tim observed that we were exercising the most famous principle of the Boy Scouts, “Be prepared.” That made us feel pretty good about ourselves because one thing we were was prepared.
We came around a bend in the trail and found the way blocked by a flooded beaver meadow. If we couldn’t cross it, we would have to backtrack for miles. Then we noticed that halfway across the flooding was a station wagon stuck in mud. Kneeling next to it was a man in his 30s or 40s shoving beaver sticks under the tires for traction. Beside him and watching us was a boy. He appeared to be about 12 years old.
We got out of the truck and walked to the edge of the water to see if we could be of assistance. Tom’s truck was equipped with an electric winch. It would be simple enough to tow the station wagon to higher ground. We called to the man, “Can we give you a hand?”
Even from 50 yards away, we could see the relief on the boy’s face. He lit up like a floor lamp. But before he could say a word, the man jumped to his feet and grinned at us and shouted, “Heck no! We can get ourselves out! We love this stuff!”
My friends and I shrugged and turned to leave. The boy watched us forlornly. Then the man shouted, “Hey wait a second! Do you know where we are?”
“Nope!” we shouted, and everybody laughed. Everybody except the boy. He didn’t think it was funny at all.
Reflections columnist Jerry Dennis was a failure as a Boy Scout but has since learned to build a good campfire and cook a tasty stir-fry. His most recent book is “A Walk in the Animal Kingdom,” illustrated by Glenn Wolff.