Saturday, August 8, 2009


The Law of the Woods defines a set of core values first recorded on birch bark scroll by Ernest Thompson Seton, the father of the American Camping Movement.* Kooch-I-Ching, the camp Paul Bunyan grew up going to as a young boy, uses the principles of the Law of the Woods as its cornerstone. Every summer the young boys, and the men who are still boys at heart, don Native American costumes and hang bells from their ankles, and show off their Indian dancing skills. The audience gathers in a Council Ring, which has been raked clean of all debris, and is marked clearly with a ring of rocks, painted freshly white. No one is allowed to step inside these rocks, except the dancers, and only AFTER the Law of the Woods has been recited. This recitation is dependant upon the lighting of the Great Central Fire. The lighting of the fire is clearly an important part of the ceremony, if not the most important. I have watched many (however, not as many as some) of these Grand Council ceremonies and have always been impressed with the ease at which the fire was started by some of the most famous fire starters this side of the Mississippi (which side are we on?). The Ernst brothers have their names etched on the fire starter plaque as being the fastest and quickest in town. Well, maybe there is no plaque, but in the imaginary halls of the Kooch-I-Ching historic library it's their photos that show the mullein stick as hand drill, with smoke billowing from their nests of tinder...a sure sign of imminent flame.

And once the fire has started, the Law of the Woods is recited. So this year, with boys waiting in the wings to dance their tiny little asses off, poor Sam Weiman struggled with his bow and drill. Some reports say it was half an hour, but I would guess it was more like 15 minutes. The squeaking sound of wood rubbing against each other...creating heat and spark and smoke and fire, seemed to get lost, as time progressed, in the antsy coughs and quiet whispers of the restless crowd. I could only guess what Sam was thinking, as he took time to retie his bow and make more tinder. The cadence of his struggle reminded me of some of those camp boys, who (I'm sure) lie awake in the night playing with themselves...stroking harder as climax approaches. Finally, it appeared Sam would have the Great Fire started...flames could be seen. He placed his tinder pile on top of the wooden box, which was so carefully prepared as to ensure perfect bonfireness. And then he exited the council ring.

BUT, the flames would go out and poor Sammy Weiman had to come back...come back I tell ya' and blow smoke up that wooden box's ass....just to get the damn thing to light.

Oh, what I would have given just to see him stand up and say, "Does anybody have a match?"

And here is the Law of the Woods:

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Lamp of Beauty.
Be clean- both yourself and the place you live in.
Be strong- understand and respect your body. It is the temple of the spirit.
Protect all harmless wildlife- and be ever ready to fight the wild of the fire in the woods.

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Lamp of Truth.
Speak true- word of honor is sacred.
Play fair- foul play is treachery.
Be reverent- worship the great spirit and respect all worship of him by others.

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Lamp of Fortitude.
Be brave- courage is the noblest of all attainments.
Be silent- it is harder to be silent than to speak, but in the hour of trial it is stronger.
Obey- obedience is the first law of the woods.

From the Great Central Fire,
I Light This, the Flaming Lamp of Love.
Be kind- do at least one act of unbargaining service each day.
Be helpful- do your share of the work.
Be joyful- seek the joy of being alive.

This is the Law of the Woods.

Thanks, Sam, for lighting that Great Central Fire last night and I think maybe we should add The Lamp of Persistence, for your sake, to all the other Lamps.

*some data stolen from a Kooch newsletter

1 comment:

  1. I'm swiping the whole thing and I'm making my students all recite it at the beginning of the school year.

    LOVE IT.