by Suzanne Hauser and C Howard Diaz
The 747 turned its nose down for its landing at Portland International. Heather pushed her tanned face up against the airplane window to get a better look at the land below. Never had she seen so much green, or so many trees.
“Isn’t this going to be great?” she asked her classmate Jason who was sitting next to her. Her breath fogged up the window. “I’m so glad I was picked to go to Camp K-Bee. Aren’t you?”
Jason, with his nose buried in his book of baseball cards didn’t respond.
Heather turned in her seat to face him. “Jason, aren’t you even a little happy you got to come? It’s only a week, you’ll have plenty of games left when we get back.”
“Yeah, I suppose. It’s just that I’ve really gotten good as catcher and coach is putting in someone else.” Jason complained.
“I’m sure we’ll play baseball, maybe even volleyball. Listen.” Heather read from the Camp K-Bee brochure — “Enjoy outdoor activities while learning about your environment. Baseball is definitely outdoors.”
“Heather, get real. That means hiking around for days looking at rocks or something. We’re going to be around a bunch of strangers and I bet the food will be as bad as our lunch on this plane!”
“Jason Patterson, your terrible. This is going to be fun and I’m not going to let you ruin it for me. We were picked out of all the Club K-Bee fifth graders in Los Angeles. It has to be great, it just has to.” Heather turned back toward the window, her long tanned arms folded in front of her. She remembered helping her mother fill out the application for Camp K-Bee. Good student, excellent attendance record. Outgoing, well she had fibbed on that one. It wasn’t that she was shy, she told herself, it’s just that her brother Paul was always there first. But he was 14 and too old to qualify. So here she was, ready for an adventure. Ready to learn all about the environment, trees, rocks, animals,,, everything! She was glad to leave the smoggy city and Paul behind.
Heather looked again at the camp brochure. “Did you know Oregon state has over 62.1 million acres in it and 28 million acres of that is forest? It says here in the pamphlet that there’s 400 trees on each acre. That’s over 11 billion trees in all.” Heather had captured Jason’s attention.
“Man, I never knew there were so many trees in the whole world. I wonder who counts them all.” Jason wondered.
“And listen to this,” Heather continued. “Of the nation’s 2.3 billion acre land base, 483 million acres are commercial timber land, 171 million acres are set aside in national parks, wildlife refuges and preserves and 95 million acres are classified as wetlands. That’s 749 million acres of trees in our country,” Heather screeched.
“That is so wild.” Jason was shaking his head. “We’ve been missing out living in L.A. All we have there is scrub brush.”
“See, there’s lots of stuff for us to learn at camp. You’ll see, we’ll have a great time,” Heather assured him.
In the airport, Heather and Jason were met by Counselor Barry. They were each given a name tag, and told to sit in a special area and wait for the other children. Heather watched as children from all over the world grouped together. When all were there, they boarded a bus and headed to Camp K-Bee.
On the bus, Counselor Barry kept them entertained with songs and information about the camp. “Camp K-Bee is a very special camp. It’s the first one designed to get children from all over the world to work together and explore the earth. This is the first destination — the forest.” As he said this, the bus turned a sharp curve and there before them the road went through an archway of tall dark pine trees. The bus bumped and swayed as it made its way down the rocky dirt path.
As Heather jumped off the bus, she felt the first experience of Oregon mountain air. It felt cool and fresh. The smell of dirt mixed with pine needles flashed Christmas through her mind. She was sure she was going to have a wonderful time.
Counselor Barry handed out instructions. “Welcome to Camp K-Bee. This will be your home for the next week. Tent assignments are listed on each tent. Boys to the right, girls to the left. Move out.”
Heather gathered her gear and headed toward the tents. Her name was the first one listed on the last tent. Inside three girls had already moved in. Two cots were left, one near the door and the other in a corner. Picking the one nearest the door she started to place her things on the cot.
“That’s my bunk.” Heather turned to find a little freckled face girl at least a head shorter, with sun-bleached blond hair and crooked teeth, staring at her.
“I’m sorry,” Heather replied, stepping back from this little girl. “There was only four names on the list, and since three of you are already here…”
The blond girl cut her off. “You just thought you would take any bunk you pleased. Well, I changed my mind, I want this bunk and since I was here first, you’ll have to move back there.” Heather watched as the girl narrowed her eyes and pointed to the cot in the corner.
Heather sighed to herself, “I hope Jason wasn’t right. Maybe this isn’t going to be fun.” Slowly, Heather picked up her gear and moved it to the corner.
As she was unpacking, a smiling older girl with long brown hair just like Heather’s came bouncing into the tent. “Oh good, you guys did save me this bunk near the door. I’m counselor Megan, I’m here to watch over you guys this week. I’ll be sleeping here with you in case you need anything during the night. While you’re unpacking, let’s get to know one another.”
Heather glanced from Counselor Megan to the blond girl. She was staring meanly at Heather and narrowed her eyes tighter when Heather looked her way.
“Let’s start with you,” Counselor Megan asked of the blond girl. The girl made a tight smile and turned toward the counselor, then back toward Heather.
“I’m Jonny,” the girl replied. “I’m from here in Oregon. Just south of Portland.” As she spoke Heather noticed she seemed to be talking directly to her. A weird feeling crept up her back.
“I know just about everything there is to know about these parts.” Jonny continued. “My grandmother was a Wenatchee American Indian and she taught me how to read the stars and talk to wild animals.” She turned around to again face the counselor. “So if you need help explaining things to these city kids, just ask.”
Heather wondered how this fair-skinned freckled face girl could have a grandmother who was an American Indian. And why did she refer to “city” kids in such a mean way, she wondered.
“That’s great Jonny. I see on the sign up list your name is Johanna, but if you want to go by Jonny, that’s fine by me.” Counselor Megan approached the next girl. A skinny oriental with a shiny black braid down her back. This girl was from Bangkok, Thailand. Her name was Rey Lin. She explained that she went to a special English school there and was selected from a group of children who wrote an essay about the earth. The next girl was Maria Elena. She was from Cartago, a little town near the capital of Costa Rica in Central America.
“Yo soy, Maria Elena.” Before she could finish, Jonny cut in. “She doesn’t even speak English? How are we supposed to understand her?”
Very slowly, Maria Elena started again. “I’m sorry. I am Maria Elena Guadalupe Sincero. You can call me Maria. I do learn English in school, but you talk fast.”
“No preocupe, don’t worry,” Counselor Megan said calmly. “We all have some learning to do while we’re here. Now how about you? You must be Heather.”
Heather stuttered. “Yeah, uh yes, I’m Heather Makefield. I’m from Hollywood, California. Maria, Yo hablo Espanol, poquito.”
“Should have guessed she’d speak Spanish and from Hollywood no less.” Jonny whined.
Counselor Megan gave Jonny a sharp look. “We’re going to be working closely together this week. It will serve us all well to try to get along. It’s my bet that we’ll make a pretty good team. Now, why don’t you all finish unpacking and then meet in the lodge for our first meeting.
As Heather continued to put her things away, Jonny went over and jumped up on her cot.
“Nice stuff you got here, Heather,” Jonny said with a smirk. She picked up a book Heather had set beside her backpack. “How to Survive in the Wild; interesting title. Think you’ll need it?” Heather reached for the book, but Jonny moved it away and began to read, “… then take the dry pine needles and put them in the center. Listen carefully, this is how to make a fire. Very important.”
Heather snatched the book back. “Not that it’s any of your business, but my brother gave me this book as a joke. But I read some of it on the plane and it has some good information.”
“Oh, I’m sure it does,” Jonny said sarcastically, “but I have my own methods of survival. I told you my Grandmother was a Wenatchee Indian. I could survive days out there and be just fine.”
Heather picked up the compass her own grandmother had given her for the trip to camp. It had a black face and the casing was sterling silver. Heather remembered her grandmother whispering. “Now you take this sweetie, it’s from your grandpa, but don’t let your brother see. He’ll just want it for himself, but you’re more careful with your things and we want you to have it. You know, your grandfather used this many times when he was Scout Master.” Heather was remembering when Jonny grabbed the compass from her hand.
“My, we’re just full of useful equipment, aren’t we. What else you got in there, NASA?” she teased while poking inside the pack.
“Cut it out,” Heather pleaded. “And be careful with that compass. My grandmother gave that to me special. I’d die if anything happened to it.”
Jonny flopped down on to the bed and threw the compass carelessly beside her. “My grandmother doesn’t have to rely on any man-made compass, she knows how to read the stars and can find her way anywhere. She taught me, you know.”
“Yes, you told us.” Heather looked at the two foreign girls for support. They were standing there wide-eyed not sure what to make of Heather and Jonny.
Jonny stood up and gave each a chilling stare. “You are very lucky to have me on your team, so don’t mess with me.” She then marched out of the tent and disappeared beyond the flap.
Heather and the girls looked at each other, they shrugged their shoulders and followed Jonny to the lodge.