Nate's Story, p.1
Written by Kitson Jazynka
Illustrated by Craig Orback
Sky Pony Press
Copyright © 2013 by The Boys Camp Company, LLC
Illustrations © 2013 by Craig Orback
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Manufactured in China, July 2013
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Bird card illustrations courtesy of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Artwork by John C. Anderton.
Boys Camp is grateful to Andrew Knotts for his wonderful sketches of the owl and the cowbirds and for his handwritten notes. Thanks, Andrew! You really gave us a hand!
Have fun. Make friends. Be yourself.
All of us at Camp Wolf Trail are looking forward to greeting you on July 10. We’ve got a great summer ahead of us.
Pretty soon you’ll be packing your trunk for your two weeks here at camp. If this is your first summer at Wolf Trail, you’re probably curious—and maybe even a little nervous—about what to expect, especially if this is your first time away from home.
Well, first of all, don’t worry. Camp is fun. And here at Wolf Trail, we’ve been sharing the fun with kids like you for more than fifty years.
As soon as you arrive, counselors and returning campers will welcome you and help you find the way to your cabin. The cabins are scattered like acorns throughout the woods. You’ll be sharing your cabin with eight other campers and two counselors.
Counselors and campers of different ages are assigned to groups called “clusters.” Together, you and your cluster will come up with a funny name and a signature move for your group. You’ll take turns doing communal chores, like setting the table for eighty hungry monkeys (also known as the campers, counselors, and camp staff). You and your cluster will compete against other clusters during our camp theme days, including the Oddball Championships. Past themes have been Martian Day, Rock Star Day, Backwards Day, Half Magic Day, and Chicken-of-the-Woods Day.
Every day there are lots of activities to choose from: swimming in clear, cool Evergreen Lake, boating, canoeing, arts and crafts, hiking, sports, and trail blazing (also known as bushwhacking). At night everyone at camp gathers around a fire for songs, stories, jokes, and reflection. And each week you and your fellow campers and counselors will go off on a wilderness adventure into the woods, over the mountains, or even across the lake, with only what you’ll need to survive for two nights and three days. You’ll rest on breezy overlooks, discover secret, hidden swimming spots, cook over a campfire, and sleep out under the stars, listening to owls hooting. Your counselors have been doing this for years and will look forward to teaching you the ways of the wilderness.
You are in for a wonderful time! So, pack your enthusiasm and your sense of humor along with your socks, and come to Camp Wolf Trail. We are ready for the fun to begin, and we know that you are too.
See you soon!
All of us here at Camp Wolf Trail
Due to our simple camp lifestyle, and our even-morerustic wilderness trips, anything you bring may get wet, dirty, lost, or all three combined. So, leave the special stuff at home.
Daily camp supplies
Shorts and T-shirts for warm weather
Clothes for cooler temperatures (Fleece clothing is good for camping because it dries quickly.)
Socks (Wool is good for hiking because it also dries quickly.)
Hiking shoes or boots for trips, and everyday shoes for camp (Be sure to break in new boots or shoes before you get here!)
Old sneakers/water shoes for canoeing and creek hikes
Swimming gear: suit, sunscreen, towel
Sheets, blanket, and pillow for your bunk in camp
Bathroom items: towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap (although we’ve noticed that some campers’ soaps don’t get used too often!)
Wilderness trip supplies
The basics: a comfortable backpack, lightweight sleeping bag, roll-up camping pad, mess kit (plate, cup, fork, and spoon) water bottle, flashlight with extra batteries, waterproof poncho
Optional: camping knife (check it in with your counselor when you arrive), camping pillow, compass, hat, bandanna
If you wear glasses, bring a cord to hold them safely around your neck, so you don’t lose them when boating or rock climbing.
Other optional items
Portable games such as cards and cribbage, crossword puzzles
Paper, stamps, envelopes, pen, addresses (Your parents and friends will want to hear from you!)
Art supplies, journal, nature guides, binoculars, musical instrument (if it’s not too fragile), or other hobby supplies
Pocket money (no more than $20, though)
Please do not bring any electronics or a cell phone. They don’t survive getting wet, dirty, or lost. And besides, who needs them? You’ll be hiking in the woods and swimming in the lake most of the time. Who would you text? A squirrel? A fish? Enjoy being free of screens (except the kind that keeps bugs out) for two weeks!
“Say what?” asked Nate, jolted into focus.
“Earth to Nate,” said Vik. “I said, do you want this?” He offered Nate a marshmallow so burnt that it looked like a lump of coal.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” said Nate, grinning. “Besides, I thought you were going for the World Record for Marshmallow Intake.”
“Yeah,” sighed Vik, “but I’m having an off night. This would only be my twelfth. But my teeth are starting to itch. You’re sure you—”
Hoo, hoo. Nate twisted around, looking at the woods behind him. So that’s where you are, he thought. I’m coming to find you, Owl. He stood and zipped up his hooded sweatshirt.
“Yo,” said Vik. “Where are you going?”
“I’m, uh . . .” Nate hesitated. At school, kids teased him about how he liked birds. That’s why Nate was still keeping his interest in birds a secret, even from Vik.
When Nate didn’t finish his sentence, Vik said, “Relax, buddy. You can’t go anywhere. You and I are on fire duty, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Nate. He sank back down, glancing over his shoulder at the woods.
“What’s back there that’s got you so jumpy?” asked Vik.
“Nothing,” said Nate. Then he decided to trust Vik—a little. “It’s just, I heard an owl, and I sort of want to see it.”
“Okay, so after we douse the campfire, we can go look for it,” said Vik. He tossed the stick and the marshmallow into the fire.
“Really?” asked Nate, surprised. “You want to?”
“Sure,” said Vik. “We’ll hunt for you-know-who-oo-o
Vik’s hoot was pretty loud, but no one else heard him because the other campers were singing.
Nate laughed. “Okay,” he said. “You’re on.”
“Hey, Nate,” Vik said. “Knock, knock.”
“I hope so,” said Vik. “Get it?”
“Oh, man, that’s painful,” groaned Nate. He shoved two uncooked marshmallows in his ears.
Now Vik laughed. Vik was a newbie; it was his first summer at Camp Wolf Trail. Nate had hit it off with Vik right away, and he was really glad that they were both in Birch Cabin along with his friends from last summer: Yasu, Jim, Erik, and Zee, and the other newbies, Zack, Kareem, and Sean.
“All right, everybody,” said Simon, one of the counselors. “That wraps up the show for tonight.”
Another counselor, Carlos, lifted the strap of his guitar off of his shoulder and started to put it in its case. “Time to hit the sack, boys.”
Nate leapt to his feet, tossing his ear marshmallows into the flames. He was eager to put out the fire and be on his way.
But most of the other campers didn’t want to leave. “Noooooo,” they groaned. “One more song! One more song!”
Carlos held up his hands in surrender. “Okay,” he said. “You got it. One more song on the condition that you sing it as you follow me back to your cabins. Deal?”
“Deal!” yelled the campers.
Nate glanced at the woods. He hoped the noise wouldn’t scare the owl away. It might be a screech owl, or maybe a great horned.
Carlos strummed his guitar. “You’ll be sorry,” he said to the campers with a mischievous look. “I’m gonna sing the goofiest song I know.” He took a deep breath, and sang at the top of his voice:
You put your right foot in,
You put your right foot out . . .
The campers laughed and howled with glee and soon everyone was singing the “Hokey Pokey” as they danced—left foot in, left foot out—behind Carlos through the woods to the cabins. As the last That’s what it’s all about faded away, Nate was glad that most of the cabins were in the opposite direction from where he thought the owl might be.
At the lake, Nate filled two buckets with water and Vik filled a bucket with sand. They lugged the buckets to the fire circle, and then Nate dumped the water on the fire, making the flames hiss and smoke and sputter out. Vik grabbed a stick and stirred the soupy gray slurry. He dumped the bucket of sand in the slop to finish the job.
“Thanks, guys,” said Simon. He poked a large stick into the mess that used to be a blazing campfire to make sure the fire was really out. Fire was a serious danger at Camp Wolf Trail, since all the cabins were made of wood. “I’m headed to a meeting up at the dining hall,” said Simon. “I’ll see you two back at Birch.”
“Got it,” said Nate.
“See ya, Simon,” said Vik. After Simon walked away, Vik clicked on his flashlight, held it under his chin so that it cast a weird light on his face, and asked Nate in a ghoulish voice, “Still up for finding the owwww-ellll?”
“You bet,” said Nate. “No doubt about it.”
“Tell me how you really feel,” joked Vik. “By the way, are you sure we’re allowed to do this? Take a nighttime stroll, I mean.”
Nate pulled up his hood and shrugged. “Technically, we’re just taking the scenic route back to our cabin, right?”
Vik nodded. “I guess.”
“That owl’s calling us,” Nate said. “Let’s go.”
Nate led the way into the woods, swinging his lit flashlight low on the path to light the way for his feet. At eleven years old, Nate was big for his age, especially his feet, hands, and ears. Vik—the same age—was short and skinny, and usually sported a beat-up old tennis visor. The boys said nothing as they followed a pine-needly, winding path that led away from the fire circle. The cabins at Camp Wolf Trail were sprinkled throughout the woods so campers were truly living in the forest for two weeks. Off to the far left as they passed, Nate and Vik could see flashlights from inside Spruce Cabin and Paw Paw Cabin flickering through the pine trees like lightning bugs.
Cicadas chirped and mosquitoes hummed, but it was mostly quiet in the woods this late at night. In the morning, campers woke to a racket of birds and insects and hungry deer grazing in the trees outside their cabins. There were other wild animals too: raccoons, skunks, quick cottontail rabbits, and squirrels. Even a bobcat had wandered through camp once. Old campers claimed to have seen black bears, and Nate figured there must have been at least one wolf—sometime—whose trail had given the camp its name.
Walking along in the dark with Vik, Nate thought about how much he loved Camp Wolf Trail. Camp meant two weeks of endless hikes, no set bedtime, kayaking across Evergreen Lake, and being outdoors all day long. To Nate, who was always curious about stuff, camp meant a million new things to notice, and to wonder about, and to ask himself questions about. And camp meant friends and lots of time with friends. Camp was staying up late and talking about anything and everything with everybody. Well, almost, Nate corrected himself. Not birds. Not yet. Not everybody.
Behind him, Nate heard Vik stumble. “You okay, Vik?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Vik answered. “I’ve got nine other toes, so no problem.”
“Because you don’t have to do this,” Nate said.
“No, I’m good,” said Vik.
Nate was glad. Hunting for the owl all by himself wouldn’t have been as much fun.
The boys walked in silence for a while. Nate craned his neck, looking in the high branches for the owl.
“So, I didn’t know you were into owls,” said Vik. “You like raptors?”
Seems like the time has come to tell Vik the whole truth, Nate thought. So he said, “Well, I . . . yeah, I mean, I like all birds.”
One of the things Nate liked best about Vik was how quick he was with jokes. So Nate braced himself now, in case Vik made a joke about birds. He was still mad about the way last year at school, back when his interest in birds began, kids had made fun of him and said he was dorky.
But good old Vik didn’t say anything jokey or snarky, so Nate went on: “I’m keeping a list of birds I see. I sketch them too.” He patted his back pocket. “In this notebook.”
“Aw, man!” said Vik. “That’s what that notebook’s for? I noticed it, but I thought you were writing down all my great jokes.”
“Nope,” said Nate, relieved and happy at Vik’s reaction. “Sorry. Just birds. The kids at school call me Bird Nerd.”
“Typical,” said Vik. “I’d say they’re bird brains, but I don’t want to stoop to their level.”
Nate laughed. “Anyway, that’s why I don’t talk about the bird notebook. I’m tired of being razzed.”
“Hey, we’ve all got secrets,” said Vik.
“Oh, yeah?” Nate started to ask. “What’s your—?”
But Vik talked over him, saying, “That’s something I like a lot about Camp Wolf Trail: camp’s not school. Nobody here knows your school stuff or team stuff or home stuff or whatever. You can leave all that behind.”
“Right,” said Nate. Whatever Vik’s secret was, it was clear that he didn’t want to talk about it.
“So, is keeping the list like a competition or something?” Vik asked. “The guy who sees the most birds wins?”
“Nah,” said Nate. “I just do it to do it.”
“Cool,” said Vik.
Nate stopped next to a break in the trees that was barely visible and pointed his flashlight so that the beam of light shone on the narrow path. “I think this is where the owl is. Come on.”
Hardly any moonlight filtered through the dense pine branches.
“I don’t know about this, Nate,” said Vik.
“We’ll be okay,” said Nate. “I’ll shine my light on the path so we can see our footing. You shine your flashlight up about fifteen feet off the ground. Sometimes owls nest in the fork of two
It was slow going. The pools of light that Nate’s flashlight made on the path showed dried leaves, rocks, twigs, and twisted tree roots. Suddenly, Nate stopped short. He knelt down and breathed. “Nice.”
“What?” asked Vik.
Nate picked up an egg-shaped lump that looked like a big nut. “You know what this is?” he said. “It’s an owl pellet.”
“Owl pellet?” repeated Vik. “Sounds like a snack.”
“You could eat one, I guess,” said Nate. “But even you, Vacuum Vik, might not want to. Because I’ve got to tell you, owl pellets are little bundles of . . . well, like hardened throw up. The owl eats stuff like mice and other birds. The parts that the owl can’t digest, it spits out in a pellet.”
“Gross!” said Vik, impressed.
“Yeah,” said Nate. He rolled the pellet on the palm of one hand. “You’ve got to soak a pellet before you can pull it apart and see what’s in there. Usually, it’s feathers and bones and skulls and stuff.”
“Oh, man, you’re making me hungry,” joked Vik. “C’mon, let’s find me my own owl pellet, and super size it with a side of fries.”
But Nate wasn’t listening. He was scanning the tree above with his flashlight. “Pellets are usually under an owl’s nest,” he said. “Do you see a nest up there?”
Vik beamed his flashlight on the tree. “Nope.”
Nate walked forward on the path and saw that it skirted a ledge that dropped down to a darkened streambed. The first few days of camp had been rainy, but ever since then, the weather had been hot and dry, so the stream was just a trickle.
“Sure is dry,” said Vik, walking ahead of Nate. “I’m . . . whoa!”
Nate looked over to see why Vik had stopped. A few inches from Vik’s face hung a huge spiderweb across the trail, like a stop sign anchored in all directions with tight, shining thread. The delicate fibers caught the light from Vik’s flashlight. In the middle of the web, a giant yellow spider—the size of a quarter, maybe even a silver dollar—froze in the light. Vik seemed frozen too. Then the spider and all of its eight legs skittered threateningly across the web, like a guard defending a treasure.