The campsite was quiet save for the sounds of the wind flapping the leaves of the pines and oaks and the occasional air plane overhead. The campers were all away, their tents standing guard over their cots and gear awaiting the return of their occupants from the lakefront or the nature lodge of wherever they were. The weather was beautiful, clear skies with mild temperatures and low humidity, uncharacteristically cool for late June in Missouri. The Scoutmaster sat at the picnic table shaded by the dining fly, a canvas strung over a long two-by-four ridge pole and kept aloft by six additional side poles and staked to the ground to provide cover from both sun and rain.
He sat smoking his cheap cigarettes using an old tuna can for an ashtray enjoying the brief silence for he knew that shortly his divine nirvana would be disrupted by the arrival of his Scouts returning from their afternoon classes; forestry, swimming, wilderness survival, and pioneering were among a few of the merit badge classes the dozen Scouts in his troop that came to camp were taking this summer session. He was a balding man who kept his remaining hair shaved but made up for it with a full greying beard flecked with some remnants of the original black shade it had in his more youthful days. Slightly overweight and bespectacled, he had seen his share of camping, from his own youthful trips and military exercises to his days of young adult solo camping trips and his many Scout camping trips, over a dozen Cub Scout camping weekends with his son and an additional two or three a year since due to his continued involvement in the younger Scout program along with over fifty camping trips, each lasting from three days to over a week, once they joined the Boy Scout troop.
The thing he always enjoyed most were those brief, all too brief, moments of silence and solitude. A few rifle shots cracked through his ponderings, as he thought back on their adventures. The shooting sports range was nearby, a short hike down one of the trails leading out of the southern side of their campsite. The noise was not loud or constant enough to be a huge distraction however it was abrupt enough to rouse him from his musings, bringing him violently back to the present.
He sighed, straightened his back and gazed forward at his tent while he took a drink from his plastic water bottle. The liquid inside was still fairly cool despite the ninety degree temperatures. It had been inside his ice chest since they had arrived on Sunday, one of the perks of being prepared. Two of his tent flaps were open on the green canvas tent, one in front and another in the back to allow the gentle breeze to provide some circulation inside. The tents were like ovens during the heat of the day but as the flaps blew in and out with the wind, the Old Scoutmaster wondered if it was cool enough to attempt a nap without sweating to death.
He lit another cigarette as he looked side to side, surveying the camp. The hammocks some Scouts brought and strung up were gently swaying with the winds and the U.S. and Troop flags in the middle of camp mimicked the hammocks while the camp chairs in their many colors sat still and empty awaiting their tired Scouts to return. He straightened his back again as he ground out his latest smoke and convinced himself he had the time to risk taking a short nap. In his almost ten years as Scoutmaster of this troop he had only managed maybe a 5 or 10 minute nap a few times before the bliss would be disturbed. A Scout would wander back into the camp for some reason invariably; a forgotten water bottle, needing to change out of or into their swim trunks before heading back to the lakefront or from the lakefront, a misplaced beach towel, or even the occasional, "I forgot I was to go to blank class" (a classic line) would usually be the excuse for their return but the damage would be done, the silence and solitude would be broken and the nap became a faded memory, a moment in time passed. But this year, this very summer, he told himself, it would be different. He stood up and walked the short distance to his tent. The cot creaked as he lowered his weight on it to sit down and take off his boots and remove the socks he wore, another luxury he rarely allowed himself during the daylight hours of camp.
He removed them and swiveled his body to lie down flat on the old olive drab green cot, relaxing his head back and staring up at the blowing leaves and the clear light blue skies before closing his eyes. True to form, his eyes remained shut mere minutes before the sounds of shuffling boots through the dusty campsite and the chatter-box first year Scout campers cut through the quiet and the Old Scoutmaster's eyes flew open. There were only two Scouts, but it was just the beginning for soon they would all once more be in camp, excited by their experiences and full of conversations, queries, and observations: "Scoutmaster, you should have seen the turtle we caught, we took it to the Nature lodge but they said they ain't allowed to keep them anymore so they let him go but we got the points for the Camp Wide Nature Scavenger Hunt", "Scoutmaster, what are we having for dinner?", "Scoutmaster, can Jimmy and I go to the trading post?", "Scoutmaster, Billy pushed me,", "Scoutmaster, Timmy didn't go to Reptile Studies", "Scoutmaster, can Mitchell and me go to the trading post?" were all the types of things the Scouts would exclaim rapid fire, one talking over the other, as they came back to camp. The silence and the solitude the old Scoutmaster enjoyed so much was gone, but a smile crept over his face as he held up the Scout sign and the Scouts quieted immediately. He explained, a reminder really, that he could not hear anyone when they all spoke at once, and one by one, he went through each, answering as best he could their questions.
"That's cool,", "I have no clue, I didn't look at the menu but you can check with your SPL because he should know", "No, the trading post is closed until 6", "Billy, stop pushing Alex", "Timmy you need to go to each class to each the merit badge", "No, the trading post is still closed until 6", The Scoutmaster would answer before signaling to his Senior Patrol Leader to get the Scouts assembled together and give them their instructions. It would be changing into the proper Scout uniforms, tidy up their tents and be ready to hike to the dining hall for dinner. The Scoutmaster sighed, watching with pride as their SPL went through the paces, giving the instructions to the troop and he remembered that young Scout when he was a brand new Tiger Cub nine years earlier, but next summer he would graduate from high school and be off to university. He had watched it over and over, an almost annual cycle when the veteran Scouts that had years of experience and wisdom to teach the younger Scouts would leave to go on the adventurous trails of their adult lives; college, careers, marriage and children of their own, The Scoutmaster would return though, each summer, for another new batch of newbies. It might take him another year or two, but soon he thought, as he pulled on his own khaki uniform shirt, complete with colored patches and other Scouting bling and prepared himself to hike with his boys to dinner, soon he would have a troop of veteran campers with a year or two under their belts and maybe, just maybe he will be able to get that silence and solitude he seeks and get that nap in. Maybe.