Even the Boy Scouts are better in winter. A Venture Crew from Cambridge was an unusual Boy Scout group. Beyond including girls, the leaders expected these middle schoolers to be responsible for themselves. Small squads of four or five kids organized their own food buying, meal planning, preparation and cleanup. The leaders gave the kids time and space to themselves, cooking and eating separately. While I heard a fair share of bickering, I saw a good deal more self-reliance and organization than I’ve observed on the part of many guests, child or adult. They were quick to distribute water-toting and dishwashing duties amongst themselves and I was envious of the opportunity for such an outing at such an age.
The evening of the Good Venture Crew was an evening of other unexpected encounters. They shared the hut with a men’s hiking group, half of whom were deaf. While the troop leaders worried that their kids were too rambunctious, it was the deaf guys who laughed loudest. One boy observed what he thought was a turning of the tables, saying that they’d be silent, signing, and then burst out with peals of raucous laughter leaving him curious as to what they were laughing at. At lights out, I had to quiet a rowdy game of cards commingling members of both parties. It seems that caretaking is as much about meeting people as hutcrewing was. It’s just that the people I’m meeting now are my guests, rather than my coworkers.
That writ, one can’t please, or be pleased with everybody. One guest complained of the hutcaretaker’s incompetence in fire-building and use of position to boss guests about. I take no offense at the slight against my firekeeping abilities. I’m sure the author would have bested me in a bonfire competition. Our fuel in the backcountry, however, is limited by the amount the forest service allows us to be cut. Which is good, because I’d be surprised at the visitor, who, in desiring wildness, requests the cutting of more trees. (For even those visitors who suppose the firewood flown in, I would hope they would recognize the parallels between firewood and helicopter fuel conservation.) Furthermore, I’d have been more inclined to toss in more wood if this guest had been more inclined to put on a hat.
What unnerved me was the suggestion that we boss guests about; I must have done something wrong to leave a guest feeling this way. Beyond normal cooking and cleaning, self-service in winter relies on guests collecting their own water, disposing of dishwater in the chutes outside and toting the caretaker around in a litter. I hope they see these responsibilities as part of using the hut facilities rather than as an imposition of a lazy caretaker. At the very least, I see these routines as a quicker and more effective warm up than huddling by the fire. The water pump, like a backyard bowflex, can triple as an abdominal, bicep and tricep machine. It seems that this guest missed out on character-building venture crew trips and continues to miss out on bodybuilding ones. The comment was effective in any case, since I now make mention of our fuel sources and make more visible my own caretaking responsibilities.