Crawford’s Notch

Crawford Notch general store today

Crawford Notch general store today

“They ought to call it ‘Nawford’s Crotch.’”  It was Hooper Cutler, seated with me in the back of Dave Eckhardt’s 1941 Buick limousine, just offering his latest witticism as we wound along US Route 302 just a mile short of our destination in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  It was 1953 and we were fourteen. Dave, our scoutmaster, was at the wheel. “Alright, that’s enough,” he said, as he turned his head a bit. He had already put up with more adolescent gross-out humor than any mature adult should have to endure. But then, in our eyes, Eckhardt wasn’t a mature adult. To start with, he was only a few years older than we were, and not only that, he had shared with us more than a few gross-out jokes and anecdotes of his own. Maybe he regretted these un-scoutmasterly lapses when he realized that once you turn on the spigot of juvenile vulgarity, there’s no shutting it off.

We pulled into the parking lot at Crawford Notch State Park and went into the general store where our scoutmaster checked our camping reservation with the proprietor.  We had a special spot, not an official campsite, right along the Saco River and behind a yard where the highway department stored sand for the icy roads in the winter.

Inside the gift shop we read the plaque relating the sad story of the Willey family which had been killed in August 1826 by a landslide when they ran from their house to a cave they had prepared as a shelter. The house itself was spared when a rock ledge caused the landslide to divide into two streams passing on either side. News of the Willey’s fate, the plaque said, had inspired poets and writers including Nathaniel Hawthorne to commemorate the tragedy.

We pitched our tents, cooked our supper and went to sleep to be ready for the next day’s adventures. On some of our trips we hiked the trails within the park, climbed Mount Willey or visited nearby Arethusa Falls, at two-hundred feet, the highest in New Hampshire. Once, I slipped on the wet ledge at the top of the falls, and slid a dozen feet towards the edge before catching myself on a protruding rock.  On one weekend we ascended Mount Madison to its desolate smooth rocky summit and another we climbed Mount Washington, the highest in the Presidential Range.

The summit of Mt. Madison in sight. Photo by Dave at 14.

The summit of Mt. Madison in sight. Photo by Dave at 14.

We were hiking up a sloping trail when I heard Hooper, behind me, singing some coarse words to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw.” It seemed so funny to us that we had to sing it for our scoutmaster and we did, once or twice. But on our third try, he said “No, that’s enough! I don’t want to hear that damn song again.”

Then, on another hike, we tried singing just the first few words, “Do your …,” just to test his reaction. He froze on the trail, and ordered us again to stop singing. Not to be outdone, one of us came up with sanitized lyrics:

Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro?

Can you tie ‘em in a knot, can you tie ‘em in a bow?

Can you sling ‘em over your shoulder like a continental soldier?

Do your ears hang low?

Yes my ears hang low, and they wobble to and fro, etc, etc.

No, No, No! Not even with clean words! Never, Never again!”                                                           We were silenced, but I never forgot the song.

Our regular camping trips to Crawford Notch ended when Dave Eckhardt was drafted into the Army. Another scoutmaster took over Troop 3 and I went into the Sea Scouts.  A couple of years later when I was seventeen I suggested to two of my fellow scouts that we visit to our campsite in the White Mountains.  Dave Eckhardt couldn’t join us; he was out of the Army, but had been transferred to Chicago. One of the scouts, Paul Meo, was able to use his parent’s 1955 Chevrolet Station wagon, so Billy Doane, Paul and I piled in and headed up to Crawford’s Notch. On the way, we stopped at the American Legion Hall in Marblehead to pick up some of our troop’s camping gear that included a set of nested cooking pots.

Hooper hams it up at Crawford's Notch. Photo by Dave at 14.

Hooper hams it up at Crawford’s Notch. Photo by Dave at 14.

We checked in at the Crawford Notch general store, got permission to camp at our special spot and set up camp. I had my Army surplus jungle hammock which I strung between two trees; Billy and Paul intended to spend the night out in sleeping bags. We explored the state park a bit, returned to the campsite and cooked our supper. We scoured the pots and pans with sand from the Saco riverbed and set them aside to dry. I climbed into my hammock while Paul and Billy stretched out on the ground. Within an hour it began to rain, hard. I looked out to see Paul and Billy with flashlights retreating into the back of Paul’s station wagon. I remained dry and comfortable with the sound of the rain beating on the top of my enclosed hammock.  After another hour I went to sleep. I woke in the gray dawn and looked out. The rain had ended but the Saco River had overflown its banks in the night, washing away the pots and pans and other gear that belonged, not to us, but to Troop 3. The river bank was a foot or two from Paul’s station wagon but not quite up to my hammock. I stepped out onto soggy ground.  We stuffed the remainder of our wet equipment into the station wagon and headed back to Marblehead stopping for breakfast at a diner on the road.

Hooper Cutler, Paul Meo and I now are in our mid seventies;Billy Doane died a few years ago.  Dave Eckhardt lives in Virginia and shares a birthday with me. In December, on the day I turn 75, Dave will be 84.  We will exchange greetings and best wishes, as usual.

Two weeks from today: A Scout Reunion