At Camp Quest in 1963, I was a church camp counselor in charge of an open-sided “hogan” full of junior-age boys. I was 16. Recruiting older folks to serve as primitive camping counselors was difficult; I was recruited in the last days before the camp began. I had a lot of camping experience for a 16 year old, but I was still a green recruit. Getting ready for the night’s sleep, I had not reminded the boys to put their candy or foodstuffs into a suspended container in a tree, away from the hogan.
Campfire over and extinguished, last group walk through the dark woods to the latrine accomplished, boys and girls separated to their own hogans, boys bedded down, lights out, quiet hour imposed first, second, and third times, we entered into what may have been my favorite part of the day—sleep time. Not to say that spending sixteen active hours with 9, 10, and 11 year-olds wasn’t fun, after a fashion. One of the older counselors, a minister in his fifties with a dozen children at home, said that the slow pace of this camp in its rustic natural setting made this week one of his favorite in the year. He had volunteered for it several years in a row. I wouldn’t have described the camp quite that way, but it was O.K.
That night I woke sometime after midnight, as I often did, and lay on my cot quietly, enjoying the soft snores of my nestlings along with the crickets, tree frogs, cicadas, and a distant whippoorwill, when I also heard some rustling under one of the boy’s cots. The moonlight shone into a corner of the hogan, so it was not difficult to see when I peeked out of my sleeping bag over the edge of my bed. The black fur was nearly invisible, of course, but the white stripe was quite obvious. The skunk evidently enjoyed the treat as it rustled its wrapper, and then moved on to another knapsack to find something equally enticing.
If my prayers with the children up to that moment had been rote, forced, uninvolved, and lame, they gained a new fervency. May none of these boys wake up. May the skunk eat its fill and leave as uneventfully as it came. May the children’s dreams all remain blissful and undisturbed. I don’t know how long I remained in that state of sanctified solicitation, but it seemed like hours. Finally, the skunk moseyed away. I added my thanks and relaxed. When the boys woke up the next morning and discovered that an invader had devoured their candy stashes, I had to tell them what had happened.
I didn’t have any trouble persuading the boys or the girls to put their secreted snacks into the tree storage container the next night. Of course that also meant they had to share what they had hidden away.