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Aaron Johnson: Camp Comer and paying debts

High atop Lookout Mountain, above Fort Payne, cradled in hardwoods, hides Camp Comer.

Most of her alumni just call her “Comer.” She isn’t visible from the main road that travels along the ridgeline of Lookout Mountain. However, if you turn off the county road and pass beneath the silver archway to good camping, after driving a winding downward road, you will find her. She is the keeper of many of my favorite childhood memories.

I am an Eagle Scout.

During my career as a Scout, I earned every badge between Bobcat and Eagle. You might say that Scouting was an early love of mine. Boys who were faithful Scouts usually fall victim to two powerful smells: gasoline and perfume. Those two powerful aromas usually punctuate the end of a promising Scouting life.

For more summers than I can count, Comer was my home for one week. During that week, Scouts from all around Alabama and beyond, converged on Comer. We worked on merit badges designed to give us working competency in things like power boating, archery, shooting, leatherwork, first aid, and more than I can possibly list.

It was awesome! One week free of parents. One week set almost-loose in nature. One week of camping like our pioneer ancestors did. One week of bathing optional. One glorious week in the year when a boy was allowed to just be a boy. I miss those days.

In my possessions is a small red leather chest, trimmed in black. It looks like it might hold the treasures of Black Beard. Instead, it holds my treasures.

Inside you will find all those accomplishments from the days of scouting. You will find my Philmont patch from 1975. Led By Jonathan Medlock from Arab, we took the longest itinerary in Philmont history. A part of me still hikes the trails at Philmont. That was 10 days in the New Mexico Rockies with boys from across north Alabama, who all just wanted a walk in the wilderness.

I miss the wilderness.

I miss the feeling you have when you wake from a night’s sleep on nothing but mother earth. I miss the smoke from the fire that always follows you no matter where you sit. I miss sitting around a camp fire on a cold night with friends, letting the fire warm our boots.

Do I miss the wilderness? Or do I just miss me?

Fall has arrived and with it the call of the mountains. My annual reading of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” will soon mark the official beginning of fall for me.

Once each year I make a pilgrimage back to Camp Comer. I walk the paths that connect campgrounds. I walk beside rock formations from which I used to jump. I peer into the dining hall where so many bad meals were served and just as many gallons of watered-down Kool-Aid were guzzled. And there I remember.

I remember a verse that goes something like this: “Across the fields of yesterday he sometimes comes to me; the little boy just back from play; the man I used to be.”

I wonder if the 12-year-old Aaron would be disappointed in the 63-year-old version. Oh, how I wish I could talk to that kid! There is so much about life that I would tell him.

I can’t talk to the 12-year-old me. However, I can talk to another 12-year-old. He needs to hear the same things that I needed to hear when I was 12.

We all have a debt. We owe a debt to the next generation that we were given by all those people who made us who we are today. I pay my debts.

To all the teachers, coaches, scout masters, volunteers, Sunday School teachers and all the rest who tolerated the 12-year-old me, who poured into me, thank you.

I will be faithful with the debt.

Aaron Johnson is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News. He is pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Guntersville.

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