Walking along the Hammock Trails at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last weekend – which I hadn’t hiked in 25 years, and Sandy hadn’t been to in 15 years – brought back memories of my youth as a young Scout. These were the woods that my Boy Scout troop would return to again and again. The clearings along the Oak Hammock Trail reminded me of what Dummitt Cove area looked like back when I was a tenderfoot Scout.
In those days, the oak branches hung low, the road was a narrow dirt path, and it still looked completely natural, other a few old concrete slabs. Even those looked ancient. There was nothing else there made by man.
If you wanted a grill, you brought one to use over a wood fire. If you wanted a table, you lashed one together. There were tripods for holding pots over the fire. Our fire buckets were made from coat hangers and number 10 tin cans. If we were showing off, there would be a fancy gate made of only logs and ropes. On a rare occasion, the senior Scouts would lash together a twenty or thirty foot signal tower. We younger scouts would look up to them, looking forward to one day being a member of this special group of scouts who seemed to be able to do anything and everything outdoors.
Those early cooking and camp fires on North Merritt Island are still etched in my mind. My troop didn’t use matches for a couple of years, because our leaders wanted us to have a broader skill set. Instead, each Scout had a piece of flint, and a bit of steel. With a little practice, luck, and dry tender everyone in the troop could start a fire without matches in a very short time. Who needs matches? I still don’t to this day.
Back then, fishing must have had a smaller following, because we rarely saw a boat or fisherman along the shore. Even the shorelines were different back then. They were clean and didn’t have litter. When we came across an old pop bottle, it had probably been there for thirty or more years. Long before NASA, or the wildlife refuge, existed.
Our tents and backpacks were still made of canvas. Held up with wooden poles, the tents had no floors or bug screens. Our tent pegs were wooden and were driven into the ground with the back end of our hatchets. If we were missing a tent peg, we made ourselves one with that same hatchet.
A walk in these woods brought me back to the simple joy of those days. I didn’t recall the boardwalks, but I did remember getting my feet wet on these trails. These were the woods where I would catch ribbon and green snakes. In those great years, when I was a kid, they seemed to be everywhere. This time, we saw a black snake and more armadillos than we could keep track of. Despite the heat, we saw several hikers, too. It was good to be back in these palm and oak hammocks again.