Art’s life at Camp Wolverton
by Rich Stowell
I was asked to speak about Art’s life at Camp Wolverton.
Art’s was all of 14 when he made his first trip to this Boy Scout camp in the forest of Sequoia park. That was in 1939, and the first of more than sixty years at camp Wolverton. After that summer the Sierra and Wolverton were a big part of his life for the rest of his life.
Art and Wolverton are woven together in my mind – I can’t think of one without the other.
So where do I start?
Art became part of my life in 1962. We met at Wolverton – he was the camp doctor – or at least I thought he was. He was everything I thought a doctor should be…only to find out very few doctors were like Art. He always got to know you as he treated your blister, bandaged your hand, pulled out that splinter. After that, Art was always part of my life; at Wolverton, at home, as a mentor, as a friend and even as an employee - as if anyone could supervise him.
Art always seemed to be timeless, never changing from year to year. As I aged Art stayed the same. Then a few years ago I was complaining about some malady. His response was “it’s hard to be old like us”. That twenty plus year buffer disappeared - in a flash I caught up to Art!
Until four or five years ago Art spent at least two weeks and often a month at camp every summer. While at camp he did whatever needed to be done - mop the kitchen floor (I think he holds the record for number of times), clean the latrines, get the mail, administer first aid, greet troops. He was Wolverton. His car was like his house – it had everything. Extra this, extra that. If you hungered for some salami he had it, need a wedge for a splitting maul handle it was there some place! It’s a miracle that a bear never broke into his car, perhaps they were overwhelmed. Though a few deer mice and a marmot or two probably ended up on Ashland Avenue. The only argument we ever had was his refusal to move his car to the trailhead parking lot a quarter mile away. He was dug in his heels; he said he would go home before he would move his car. It took me some time for me to realize that it wasn’t just a car was like his duffle bag or a spare room, and he couldn’t be separated from it. You never knew when you needed one of the treasures it contained.
In the mid-eighties several of us hiked up to the Tablelands for a few days. Art was invited but declined complaining of various aches and pains. The next day, near dusk I heard the faintest yoo-hoo– barely audible. I searched high and low for the source - it was Art. He had walked nine miles; (three of them cross-country) climbed 3000 feet, and found our camp while carrying a 50+ pound pack. When asked why came all that way he said he “didn’t like being at camp alone.”
Did I tell you about his pack – it was like his house or car. He never threw anything away “because you never know if you’ll need it” extra batteries, a candle, shoelaces, Tabasco sauce, Swiss cheese you name it he had it. His red kelty pack probably had 30 pounds of “you never know if you’ll need it” stuff. Rare teas in tins, cocoa, when we were older a nip of brandy – you wanted something he had it. He always set up his stove next to his sleeping bag so he could have coffee in bed. Once he even pulled out an LA Times he hadn’t had a chance to read yet – it was the Sunday edition!
Art could walk all day, but the distance he covered not determined by his speed, the steepness or quality of the trail, but by the number of people he met on the trail. He talked to everyone, usually getting their entire life story. His favorite walks were long wanders through Giant Forest – any time, any season, any trail. He never tired of these giant – nor do I. He told me more than once that his ideal day was a walk in GF, a dinner at camp followed by an evening around the fire at camp...
I attribute my oldest son’s ability to read to Art, who probably never knew he was a reading teacher. One fall the three of us were at camp and five year old Max asked Art to read to him. Within five minutes Art has nodded off. Max woke him. Art read a while and nodded off again. After several rounds of this Max picked up the book and read it himself. Thanks, Art.
Our last long backpack together was the Deadman’s canyon loop – 60 miles while guiding six members of the park’s natural history association. We had both done the hike several times. All went well until we started the 3500 foot descent from Elizabeth Pass. Neither of us were happy - our knees were aching; we had been walking for six hours and still had three more miles to go. At the last creek crossing Art sat down and said he knew I wanted to go on but he wanted to camp– would I mind. I could have kissed him. It turned out to be the best camp of the trip.
After he retired Art worked with me for a few years. We were often on long road trips throughout the state. He had as story about every place he had been. While passing through camp Pendleton he told me he was stationed there during the Second World War as a medic. After training he waited for months to be sent out. He was anxious for something, anything. So when an unspecified special assignment came up and two volunteers were needed he and a friend jumped at it. Shortly after that the rest of the medics joined the marines about to assault Iwo Jima – many never returned. Art spent the rest of the war showing movies about the dangers of venereal disease to young marines.
Art was a friend when I needed one most - When my first wife was undergoing chemotherapy Art was the one who came by to sit with me for hours while I took care of her. He always made time for the truly important things.
His last visit to camp was in August 2002. He joined Alden Barber (founder of the camp in 1939 and former chief scout executive) and several former scouts from that era. They spent a weekend of eating too much, drinking too much and sharing a thousand stories of sequoia and the camp. Sadly they had not been to the Sierras for fifty years. Except for Art – he had missed only three summers since 1939 and that took a world war.
Several years ago he made me promise that I would see that his ashes would be taken to the Tablelands area he loved so much. My first reaction was are you trying to tell me something – he assured me he was just preparing for the inevitable A promise made is a debt unpaid and I am honored that Art asked for me to take back to the Sierra he loved so much.
Art always didn’t like to say goodbyes at Camp. He would leave at four in the morning to avoid them. Or, wait until we were all preoccupied with something else and slip away and then, Art was gone.
We’ll miss you Art – camp won’t be the same without you.