Russian Olives and Big Towels
(Previously published in the Rapid City Journal)
By Al Campbell
The smell of Russian olive trees reminds me it's early summer. It has signaled
summer since I was in grade school. Back then it meant summer vacation
was starting and I would be free of homework, books, pencils and such
for three short months. Better make the best of summers because they
don't last long.
It's also a smell that reminds me of the Bighorn River. The banks of that
famed trout river are lined with Russian olive trees and my annual fishing
trip always coincides with the best aroma those trees offer. It's a
pleasant smell that usually means fun and a short time of freedom from
the grind of daily obligations.
When I was in high school, the first smell of Russian olive trees in bloom
meant it was time for the first camping trip of the year in the big mountains.
Most of the time it involved backpacks and at least a few days of remote
fun. One good whiff and I was checking my gear and planning a trip to
the wilderness. It was a tradition brought about by the
early fragrance of summer.
One of the more memorable early summer trips occurred in June of 1970.
School was out, the sage colored olive trees were in bloom and my backpack
was begging me to take it camping. The only problem was Hic Belcher
hadn't found a suitable substitute to run his paper route for a few days
while he, Darnit Stammer and I took our annual trip. In fact, Darnit and
I had decided to go without Hic if he didn't find a sub fast. The evening
before we were scheduled to depart Hic called and said he had found
a sub and would be able to go. He would be ready by 6 AM if we would
pick him up.
Darnit and I arrived at Hic's house at 6 AM, but he wasn't ready to go. In
fact, it wasn't until 7 AM before he managed to pack his backpack, find
his sleeping bag and toss his stuff in the back of the old Jeep I was driving.
I hate late departures!
That old Jeep had a top speed of about 45, so it took two hours to drive to the
trailhead and another three hours to hike to our favorite fishing lake. If I recall
right, it was a warm day, and we were pretty hot by the time we made it to the
lake and set up camp. That heat is what started the chain reaction of events
The cool, clear lake water was too inviting for Hic to ignore. As soon as we
had the tent set up and the camp arranged properly he stripped off all his clothes
and made a perfect cannonball dive (feet first) into the cool (cold) water. Darnit
and I were a little slower getting ready for a swim. I thought the water might
be bit too cold and the fact that Hic's voice climbed several octaves after
he hit the water didn't reassure us much.
Despite Hic's attempts to convince us that the water was warm, Darnit and
I decided to try fishing instead. Hic decided he was refreshed enough and
would join us, but there was one small problem. When he asked us to toss
him his towel, we couldn't find it. In his hurry to get ready, Hic forgot to
pack a towel, so while Darnit and I fished Hic tried to drip-dry in the summer sun.
Drip-dry might be good for some types of clothing, but it doesn't do much
for a teenager who thinks he's missing out on all the fun. Hic decided to
put on his hiking shoes and jog down the trail a couple hundred yards to
see if the air passing over his naked body would help him dry off faster.
We were four miles into the wilderness and hadn't seen anybody else
all day, so it should be safe. Well, anyway, it seemed that way to Hic.
About 200 yards from the campsite Hic met the only other hikers we would
see on that trip. Unfortunately, one of the other hikers was a woman, and
her husband wasn't at all amused by Hic's appearance. Hic was so stunned
he just stood there in full display wondering what to do next. The man
finally helped him decide.
"Get out of here!" the man snapped at Hic.
With those commanding words Hic took the fastest exit he could find and
made a head first dive into a thick patch of weeds. The couple moved
down the trail as soon as Hic was out of sight; the woman laughing
almost uncontrollably and the man muttering comments about what
a low moral state the youth of this generation had achieved.
I don't know how he managed to do it, but Hic had found a patch of
nasty weeds to roll around in. They looked innocent enough, but they
were real unfriendly. I'm not sure if it was poison ivy or some other
weed, but the effects were complete. I don't think he missed any
part of his anatomy, and some parts were a lot more sensitive than
others. We had to break camp early so Hic could find some relief.
It was a long hike and ride back to town.
If you see Hic Belcher on a trail someday, don't tell him I passed on
this little story of his big adventure. He would think I betrayed a sacred
trust and I'm sure it would embarrass him a lot. If you don't know
who Hic is, you'll recognize him when you see him. He's the guy
carrying the big towel. ~ Al Campbell
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