The lazy river with its lush, overgrown banks quickly became a mud hole as our boys thrashed in the water like a wild pack of Tom Sawyers on the loose. “Geronimo!” They swung from a dangling rope into the depths, screaming their heads off.
Back in the clearing I was one of several parents who finished setting up camp. “Hey, can you help me lug that big pot over to the fire? They’ll be heading back before long, hungry as sharks.”
“Sure! Man, this thing is heav….y.”
Meanwhile, the laughter and splashes by the river seemed to quiet down.
“The fellas must have worn themselves out. Can’t even hear ‘em anymore.”
“Yeah, maybe they won’t keep us up all night now.”
Our secluded campsite lay surrounded by virgin forest on every side except one, where a clearing with a well-beaten path led down to the river’s bank. Various sizes and shapes of tents dotted the rough terrain like multi-colored checkers, each one marking territory for a separate Boy Scout family. A few young children played in random piles of loose sand, digging with fat sticks. A black crow caw-cawed loudly from overhead in an attempt to welcome us. “Perfect”, I thought. It all seemed delightfully refreshing and freeing.
I heated water in the giant pot, enough to cook a generous dinner of beef, carrots, potatoes, and onions - a real pioneer feast. The black iron kettle resembled a fairytale cauldron, and its water soon began boiling and spitting, furiously, above the crackling fire.
“Hey! You guys! Look what we found!”
“Yeah! Get a load of this!”
The boys’ voices suddenly overwhelmed the camp. Their ragged forms raced toward us, every boy stripped to the waist, dripping wet and barefooted. Several of their t-shirts had been tied to form pockets that dangled almost to the ground, each holding small, mysterious bulges.
“They must have found some neat rocks,” I thought to myself.
The water in the huge pot hissed and bubbled at me, stating that it was ready for cooking to begin, but I waited. Before dumping in the beef I just had to see whatever those lumpy treasures might be.
“What in the world have you got in there?” I stood with my hands on my hips and faked an expression of mock horror. “What kind of dirty stuff are you bringing into camp?”
“Look!” One excited face pushed ahead of the others. “We ate these in a restaurant in New Orleans! Can we cook ‘em?”
Suddenly a swarm of crayfish - fresh from the mucky bottom of the river - cascaded with great flourish onto the ground before me. The wigglers squirmed forward, thrilled with their freedom, and headed toward my feet.
“Can we get some ketchup? Pleeeeeeese?”
I jumped about a mile into the air, more or less. But the boys barely noticed, as boys hardly ever do, and only circled around the cooking pot expectantly with their t-shirt bags.
“Cook ‘em, cook ‘em, cook ‘em,” they chanted in unison.
The first victim ceremoniously descended into the pot, ever so slowly. I helped lower him on a big flat spoon while he just sat there, sort of nodding at us. Eventually his antennae wiggled frantically and his practiced pincers reached up and away from the steam, clipping madly at thin air. “I know what you’re feeling like right now, buddy,” I thought. There was only one word for his condition: trapped. He finally plunged to his death, struck the bottom of the pot, and then bubbled wildly on the water’s surface for a full minute while the masculine crowd cheered.
An outsider might have thought these boys were primitive young men engaging in some sort of rite of passage. It seemed they could have just returned from their first serious hunting escapade in the jungle and were ready, really ready, to celebrate. They hooted and hollered and danced around the black pot with a fervor I had previously witnessed only on National Geographic videos.
That evening every person in camp, young and old, tasted Midwestern-style mud-fed crayfish dunked in good old Heinz ketchup. I relished the hilarity and comic adventure as a great escape from my parenting pressures back home. Just hours before, I’d felt trapped, squirming in an exhausted stew of overwhelm. And yet as usual, God chose to rescue me – unlike those unfortunate crayfish - before I found myself wiggling too far into self-destruction and drowning in the hot water of discouragement.
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