How Urraca Haunts Me

The following is from a letter I sent to the camp staff I adopted this summer from my old Scout ranch:

Urraca,

Please find a few things enclosed that may amuse you for the remainder of the summer. My daughters were certainly entertained while helping Carrie and I pick them out. I have no idea what you can do with the stuffed animals, but the kids insisted.

I worked four years at the PTC and one as a Ranger before I dove into the Backcountry as the Urraca CD in my sixth year on staff. The first few days of training and the subsequent CD meetings were odd, because no one knew where I’d come from yet I had more years on staff than most. Returning back to camp after the final CD meeting that summer set the tone for every single return to camp I ever made after that.

I suppose it’s normal to fear the unknown. At Urraca it becomes somewhat normal to even fear the things you know—to be dubious of the status quo.

Some of you know the drill. Hit the staff trail from the campfire bowl late in the afternoon the day before the meeting because lazy as we are in the backcountry the hike-in from Urraca is a breeze. If you’re a first year CD it’s dinner and drinking. If you’re a vet it’s laundry. Meeting the next day and for sure the James after that—we didn’t have Cold Beer yet. Then depending on the days off rotation it might be another day or two poking around the Enchanted Circle with friends old and new. Finally, you have to head back up the hill.

I don’t recall where I started. I may have begun at Basecamp and heading to Lovers’ and then up, but I rarely did that. Maybe I bushwhacked off part of the Urraca Trail the PTC uses but I doubt that too. Most likely I got someone to drop me off at the road and I walked up till I bushed to the staff trail because I distinctly recall coming up from the campfire area around mid-morning. All the campers from the day before were gone and no one else was in camp yet. It was quiet.

Brian, Trevor, and Ray sat on the porch all morning waiting for me to come back. Reggie was gone on days that overlapped a little with mine. Even before anyone said, “Doug we need to talk.” I knew something happened. We’d not been plagued by ghosts or haints all summer—except for the ones we made up—and we were due. Still I was unprepared for the scary thing they told me.

“An Advisor saw us after a sweat.”

“OK. Tell me the whole thing. Even the parts you don’t want anyone else to know. I can’t help unless I know everything.” They relayed in jagged pieces a story that put eleven folks warming around a campfire fresh from a sweat like babes newly born and an Advisor insistent radio call later that morning from Miner’s.

I didn’t even unload my pack. I’m not sure I even went into the cabin before I turned around and headed back to Base to save what I could—if I could.

If you’re the kind of person that dreads confrontation as I do you’ll probably be able to imagine what went through my head on the long walk back to Base. When I got there someone asked if I hadn’t left yet. I saw one of the eleven sitting in a patch of grass outside the office. We exchanged glances but not words. Then I went in.

Thankfully, my memory doesn’t start up again till I’m on the road in a nine person carry-all with only three people: Doug, Dean, and Reggie. Dean 10-8s and 10-7s otherwise the only talking comes from mundane radio chatter. I’m told the ride back was similarly quiet.

My three guys packed their stuff and headed home later that day. The other eight were similarly dismissed. Reggie and I had a week of regular crew load days before he headed home for school. I rounded out the summer with a steady stream of Ranger replacements. Crew loads dwindled as they do in August, but Urraca never had more than three staffers to cover that load. Eventually, Kenneke and Chas Gathered me after two days alone on the Mesa.

In four more years at the Ranch and the twelve since then I’ve never been back to Urraca camp. I thought of this every time I returned to a camp after days. I still feel a little dread upon returning to work after a vacation now, in the real world.

This is how Urraca haunts me. How will it haunt you?

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