In Praise of Scouting

Frankly, I don’t know where so many scout leaders went wrong in order to lead the organization into disrepute. Will the organization survive? I hope to. In spite of the problems–which are attrocious–the BSA has, over time, done a lot of good. Not just wilderness skills, but a code of life based based on service, a moral life, and skills that have been applicable in multiple environments and situations.

Our family was heavily involved from cub scouts to explorer scouts. My two brothers and I were eagle scouts as well as God and Country recipients. One was a member of the Order of the Arrow. My father as a pack leader and later an explorer post leader and my mother was a den mother. They were also involved at the council level.

Our Tallahassee, Florida troop 101 was sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church. Then later, after I grew up, they dropped their sponsorhip and when I wrote to ask, nobody seemed to know why. What a shame.

Fellowship and working together toward common goals were always part of the mix. I feel we’ve lost the spirit of that has young people grow up glued to their cell phones rather than something that matters.

It’s not so much that you need to know how to survive in the wilderness, to tie a dozen knots, to make camp furniture out of scrub okay, practice first aid, and learn whet the world offers and what it will ask of you as you become and adult after applying yourself to the BSA ranks and merit badges. Will I ever need to know how to tie a timber hitch or a bowline? Perhaps not,  but knowing how (should the need arise) is a large part of being self sufficient. 

We knew how to identify what we found in the woods, whether it had beneficial uses or was harmful, and how to stand on our own two feet should danger arise. Sometimes I wonder if today’s youth are learning to survive or just to get by on a wing and a prayer.

Will Scouting itself survive? If so, I think it will have to change in a lot of ways, and I’m not just talking about all the injury suits brought by boys and their families against warped Scout masters. Yes, that must be part of it. But there’s more, I think, and a great part of that is learning to take responsibility for what you do and learning how to step in and lead others out of danger who, unlike Scouts, do not follow the “Be Prepared” motto.

The skills that have grown out of Scouting have been a life long part of growing up to be the kind of person you are glad to have become. We need more of this.


Fate’s Arrows is available on Kindle and Nook, in paperback and hard cover, and an audiobook edition. 

I probably shouldn’t show you this

My aunt, uncle, and father are all long gone, so my promise (to my late aunt) was that I would never tell my late father about my late uncle’s book. All this happened during the war when I was stationed briefly in San Francisco and had an apartment down a steep hill from my aunt’s apartment.

She said I want to show you something but you can never tell your father. That “something” was a paperback novel called A Present for Harry (1967) written my my father’s younger brother Maury. Maury didn’t want Dad to know about it because, well, the cover and the title made it look sexier than it was and, according to my aunt, Maury just didn’t think it would help family harmony for the existence of the book, worse yet, the book itself, to get back to Florida where my parents lived.

My aunt gave me an extra copy after I signed on a stack of Bibles that I wouldn’show it to my parents. I think my rounger brother also read it and might (like I do) still have a copy.

It was all hush hush. Presumably, Uncle Maury wrote it as a joke and was surprised when it got published. Frankly I think the story itself was a hoot as well as all the hush hush.  My uncle had previously written a very popular  nonfiction book called Pay Dirt! San Francisco. The Romance of a Great City. It was well reviewed and praised, and my Dad was very proud of the book as well.

Suffice it to say, a novel with a beach babe on the cover about a wife who givers her husband a beach babe as a present was, shall we say, and my uncle saw it, a fall from grace. As far as I know, my parents never found out about it. My aunt as a live and let live relative, strongly independent, and one of my favorite people. I called her one time during a San Francisco earthquake because there was rather large fire near her apartment. She said she didn’t know anything about it because their power was out and she couldn’t see the news. However, she said, “My building didn’t fall down, so not to worry.”

And, as the years went by, it turned out that more than one of us shared our hush hush secrets with her. But the statute of limitations on this book has run out (I think).


This book is a bit gritty, so goodness only knows how my parents would have reacted to it had they still been around then it first came out. I would have told my aunt about it, though.

Staying just ahead of your characters

Teachers who are suddenly assigned to teach a course they’ve never taught before, often say that they use the course’s text book to stay just ahead of their students.

Writers often do the same thing. Let’s say my character hitches a ride and is let out next to a Florida swamp when the driver comes to a fork in the road and that’s the end of the ride. What does the character see? I don’t know. Well, I partly know because I grew up around Florida swamps. But that’s been a while. So, I get out a couple of my flora and sauna books about Florida and learn that the character can see. That includes things he can’t see that might hurt him.

So, I’m like the teacher, except in each case, I’m writing my way through locations and incidents that are new to me. In my novel in progress, a major character is at a livery stable, one owners by his two partners in a pack train operation. While I’ve ridden a fair amount, I’ve never run a pack train, much less had to know anything about the pack horse’s harness, how to load up, and what to expect a;pmh the trail.

Pack trains are still used in National Parks and other wilderness areas. However, tracking down working packers seemed like it would be more time consuming than reading books and following up with Google searches to fill in the gaps. So, now you know why there’s a book pictured here.

This book, like the earlier clasic by packer Joe Black, Horses, Hitches, and Rocky Trails: The Original Guide to Packing, Camping, and Getting Along with the Wilderness, has all the detail a neophyte needs to stay ahead of his characters. If the whole novel centered on a packtrain, I would interview people who run them after eading the books.

Both books are written by people who know horses, know tack, have plenty of packing experience, and can draw highly detailed and accurate illustrations. In reading these, I decided to change from mules to horses in the book since the books focus on horses and I’m more comforable staying within the authors’ specialties rather than trying to apply them to mules. Either one works in the novel.

Unlike people taking courses or receiving technical instruction in order to do a specific job, an author isn’t researching the subject in order to go out and do it. S/he just needs to be able to create an accurate representation of the work. Needless to say, this approach wouldn’t work if I were training student pilots and I’d never flown a plane. But for fiction writing, it works fine. And, like a reporter, I always try to find multiple sources. So, I can’t claim to be able to picket break a horse, but I can say I know (and my character knows) why you’d want to do it for horses on your pack train.

Research is always the aspect of the muse what stays with me throughout the writing to make sure I.m not writing without a figurative paracute.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Experience the audio edition!

Loving our parks to death

You’ve heard the old story, one version or another, about a family who builds a cabin next to a lake or on a high hill where there’s a spectacular view. Their friends visit, some build next door, then one day a restaurant appears and a gas station and a traffic light and a hotel and, in time, the place is just as crowded as the neighborhoods in town everyone tried to escape.

The national parks are suffering a similar death, one in which most people consider humans to be the most invasive species with the once pristine preserve. Years ago, Glacier National Park was considered the most threatened park in the NPS system, primarily from air and water polution that arose outside its borders. Now the new threat comes from within as the NPS continues to resist putting a cap on the number of visitors allowed each year.

Glacier started a ticketed entry system this year. So far, it seems to be managing the traffic. The sad thing is this: it’s not reducing the traffic. A recent story said visitor counts on Sun Road in Glacier are up 41% over 2019. I had hoped the NPS would manage to reduce the number of visitors based on the premise that too many is too many if the park and its flora and fauna are to be preserved.

When a new building goes up in town, the fire marshal establishes a maximum occupancy in the name of safety. We  need a similar limit for parks because once our invasive species of humans have overrun the place, it will lose everything the NPS was supposed to be preserving. In Glacier, there are traffic jams not only to get into the park, but of hikers waiting to use popular trails like the High Line which, I suppose, will one day have a turnstile at each end to control access.

Unfortunately, the most viable way to reduce visitor counts is also the most unfair: charging so much that people cannot afford the bill. This means the rich get in and the poor do not. The ticketed entry system seems to be helping at Glacier. I look forward, though, to the next viable and democratic system that truly keeps each year’s visitor counts to a safe level.

In the 1960s when I worked in Glacier as a seasonal employee, we said, “Thank goodness nodody knows where this place is.” Unfortunately, they’ve found out. The park was overcrowded several years ago: letting more people in is not the answer we need.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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There’s a snake on the back porch

Our back deck has beeen screened in with a tight-fitting screen door. So how did the snake get in? We have no clue. From watching it off and on today, I’d say it also wondered how it got in because it appeared curious about how to get out.

Hmmn, maybe yes, maybe no

When people asked me for a description, I told them it was round, several feet long, and had a head on one end which appeared to be the front end. As for markings, they look like the kind of markings one would get if he got drunk at a tatoo shop that caters to Hell’s Angels.

In the old days, guys would throw a stick of dynamite out the door the porch and rebuild the deck later. So far, I’m not in that much of a rush. In fact, we may not need to go out there for the rest of the year. After all, we have multiple ways to get in and out of the house primarily in case this kind of thing happens.

I grew up in Florida where there were snakes, sting rays, and moray eels lurking about whenever one went on a camping trip or hung the clothes on the line to dry. We didn’t use the clothes line for a year when Mother decided there were pirana fish in the mud puddle that developed out there during a huricane. It was easier to just take her word for it rather than reach into the puddle to see what happened.

I went on line to see what kinds of snakes look like copperheads. There’s a fair number of them including the copperhead itself. But then, maybe it’s just a black racer or a ratsnake. We live in a rural area where there are a hundred mice per square foot, so snakes probably think we’re running a smorgaboard.

As far as I know, Amazon sells mongooses, so if the who shebang with the snake drags on, perhaps I’ll send off for a box. They aren’t as noisy as dynamite.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism books set in the Florida Panhandle.

A cool selection of fiction

From my colleagues at Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Child of Sorrow by Melinda Clayton

When fourteen-year-old foster child Johnathan Thomas Woods is suspected of murder, an old letter and a tacky billboard advertisement lead him to the office of attorney Brian Stone. Recognizing the sense of hopelessness lurking under John’s angry façade, Stone is soon convinced of his innocence. When John offers up his lawn-mowing money as payment, Stone realizes this is a case he can’t refuse.

In the face of overwhelming evidence assembled by the prosecution, Stone and his team find themselves in a race against time to save an angry boy who’s experienced more than his fair share of betrayal, a boy who more often than not doesn’t seem interested in saving himself.

An Inchworm Takes Wing by Robert Hays

In the tranquil solitude of a darkened Room 12 in the ICU on the sixth floor of Memorial Hospital’s Wing C, a mortal existence is drawing to an end. His head and torso swathed in bandages, his arms and legs awkwardly positioned in hard casts and layers of heavy gauze, he’s surrounded by loved ones yet unable to communicate, isolated within his own thoughts and memories.

He does not believe himself to be an extraordinary man, simply an ordinary one, a man who’s made choices, both good and bad. A man who was sometimes selfish, sometimes misguided, sometimes kind and wise. A man who fought in a war in which he lost a part of his soul, who then became a teacher and worked hard to repair the damage.

When faced with the end, how does one reconcile the pieces of an ordinary life? Does a man have the right to wish for wings to carry him to a summit he believes he doesn’t deserve to reach?

Chasing Eve by Sharon Heath

Everyone expected big things from Ariel Thompkins. Wasn’t she the girl who’d roped her friends into one madcap adventure after another, who’d met the challenge of losing both parents before turning eighteen, who’d gone on to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA? So how did this livewire end up delivering the day’s mail for the U.S. Postal Service, hunkering down each night with her half-blind cat in front of the TV, ruminating over the width of her thighs? It looked as though it would take a miracle to get her out of her rut. Who knew that miracle would come in the form of an acutely candid best friend and a motley crew of strangers—a homeless drunk once aptly nicknamed “Nosy,” a lonely old woman seeing catastrophe around every corner, a shy teenager fleeing sexual abuse, a handsome young transplant from the Midwest with a passion for acting and for Ariel herself? Not to mention the fossil remains of a flat-faced crone who just might have been the ancestress of everyone alive today? Chasing Eve takes us on a funny, sad, hair-raising adventure into the underbelly of the City of Angels, where society’s invisible people make a difference to themselves and to others, and where love sometimes actually saves the day.

Who’s Munching by Milkweed? by Smoky Zeidel

When Ms. Gardener discovers something has been munching on her milkweed plants, she embarks on a fun and educational monarch butterfly journey that enchants both children and adults. 

With Photographs. Zeidel is a Master Gardener.

Pack mule, old accident story

Yeah, I know, that’s not a mule.

If you hike enough trails in Glacier National Park, you’ll sooner oer later come along a pack train of mules hauling supplies to backcountry chalets, fire towers, and ranger stations. If I’d worked on one of those instead of as a bellman, I wouldn’t be spending all this time looking at YouTube videos about how to pack a mule and how to harness a mule.

Why do I care? One of the characters in my novel in progress hauls goods around the area in a mule train. So now I need to learn how he handles the mules and the tack. If I were in the Matrix movie, I could just download all that info into my brain and be an expert.

This is the kind of detail that really slows down the writing.

Old Accident

Here’s a two-door version.

When we lived in Eugene, Oregon during the time I would have been in kindergarten, we seemed to have family and friends throughout Washington, Oregon, and California. So, we were on the road a lot in our giant, four-door 1950 Nash 600.

On one of those trips, we were passing a flatbed truck. Mother was driving, Dad was riding showgun, and my younger brothers and I were in the back seat. In those days, it seemed to be customary to tap the horn twice before passing somebody. Mother did that and then started doing around the truck when it swerved  into our lane to pass a smaller car in front of him. Mother honked again and put on the brakes.

The truck driver saw us, over-corrected, and went rolling down through a field. I have know idea who called the police, but we were parked off on the shoulder for ages. After the officers figured out what happened, filled out their paperwork, we were allowed to go on.

The odd thing about this is that after it happened, my folks never spoke of it. Growing up, I didn’t think of it often, so never asked for details. The subject just never came up, and if there were injuries or fatalities in the truck (which seemed certain to me), I can see why my parents wouldn’t want to speak of it. Otherwise, I have no idea why–at least when I ws an adult–I never asked, “What do we know about the near collision with the truck when I was five?”

I’ve been searching digitized newspapers, but so far haven’t found anything. It would help if I knew for sure which state we were in when it happened. In an Internet age when we seem to hear about everything, most of which isn’t important, it’s frustrating to look back in time and find nada, zip, and endless void.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Fate’s Arrows, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback and hard cover editions. 

Briefly Noted: ‘Waltzing Montana’

Mary Clearman Blew grew up on a small cattle ranch in Montana, on the site of her great-grandfather’s 1882 homestead. Her memoir “All But the Waltz: Essays on a Montana Family,” won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, as did her short story collection, “Runaway.” – Author’s Website

Waltzing Montana, University of Nebraska Press, March 1, 2021, 294 pp.

A refreshing and original story by an author who knews the territory. Blew is a writing professor at the Univerfsity of Idaho.

From the Publisher:

Midwife Mildred Harrington is riding back home one evening after checking on one of her pregnant neighbors when she stumbles upon an injured stranger. She soon realizes it’s her old sweetheart, Pat, from country school—and he may not be telling the full truth about how he was injured.

Set in rural Montana in 1925, Waltzing Montana follows Mildred as she grapples with feelings for Pat while also trying to overcome the horrific abuse she suffered as a young teenager. Ultimately Mildred must decide whether to continue her isolated life or accept the hand extended to her.

Inspired by the life of midwife Edna McGuire (1885–1969), who operated a sheep ranch in central Montana, Blew has turned the classic Western on its head, focusing on rural women and the gender and diversity challenges they faced during the 1920s.

Editorial Review:

“What we need most right now are stories that are down-to-the-bone authentic, and Mary Clearman Blew gives us one with her new novel, Waltzing Montana. The women and men in this book are not only resilient but find their true meaning in forging through challenge: drought, war, and the Spanish flu pandemic. And yet Blew artfully nods to their limits too. There’s only so much brutality a person can endure, and the ravages of pain and abandonment Blew portrays in these pages stir acts of forgiveness, patience, and abiding friendship, which allow the deepest wounds to finally heal.”—Debra Gwartney, author of I Am a Stranger Here Myself

The book has an apt and lovely cover; my only concern here is that the title and author’s name need to be more visible.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Available on Nook from B&N



Grand Teton National Park

The most famous photograph of Grand Teton National Park was taken by Ansel Adams in 1942 showing the Snake River in the foreground.

Many photographers take pictures of the Tetons from this side of the mountains.

These days they’re usually in color and often show The John Moulton Barn. I see this view almost weekly on Facebook. If I hadn’t seen various sections of the Snake River when I was young, I’d be tempted to ask: “Is there another side to these mountains and, if so, why don’t we ever see it?”

If I were a fan of conspiracy theories, I might ask for proof that these mountains are more than a giant mural or, perhaps, an exciting arête that’s no wider than a few hundred feet or so.

People have been visiting the Tetons as a 480-square mile National Park since 1929. According to the National Park Service, “Grand Teton National Park took decades to establish. Congress created the original park in 1929 to protect the Teton Range and several lakes at the foot of the mountains. In 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared additional land in the valley to be Jackson Hole National Monument. In 1949, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated the land he purchased to the government to be included in the national park. Finally, in 1950, Congress combined the original park, the national monument, and the Rockefeller lands to establish the present-day Grand Teton National Park. In 1972, Congress established the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, which connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to honor Rockefeller’s philanthropy and commitment to the National Park System.”

Sad to say, I have never been to Jackson Hole or climbed these mountains. Out of youthful stupidity, I skipped an opportunity to attend a photography class led by Ansel Adams in the 1960s because I was in love with somebody who finally ran off and married somebody else.  If I had it to do over again, I would choose a more lasting experience. I might not be a professional photographer, but I would have met the master of western photography and (possibly) learned a few tips. Adams’ distinct style remains my favorite view of the out of doors.

And then perhaps my own camera would have proven to me that the Grand Tetons can be seen from both sides, like clouds.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Nightbeat: Why Book Sales Are Down

Nightbeat column, Star-Gazer News Service, Junction City, TX, July 1, 2021–Woke up early this morning because the “patriots” across the street were firing off cherry bombs and M-80s before the dawn’s early light even had a chance to pull itself together.

When I called the cops, the 911 dispatcher said they thought all that racket was “simply another neighborhood gang war, so hadn’t bothered to investigate.” I made coffee and checked to see if my typewriter had finished the column I started last night. Unfortunately, the only words on the otherwise blank sheet of Eaton’s Corrasable Bond typewriter paper was the title:

Nightbeat: Why Book Sales Are Down

Sometimes evil spirits, haints, and things that go bump in the night write my columns while I’m sleeping or passed out. No luck, so I showered, shaved, drank two cups of Maxwell House Coffee, and walked to the bad part of the neighborhood which, actually, is right next door. I cut through the unmowed backyards so the “patriots” wouldn’t see me and knocked on the man’s back door.

“Who sent you?” he asked.

“Bob Costas,” I whispered.

The door openly quickly and a withered arm snaked out and yanked me into the mudroom which, coincidentally, was filled with mud.

My source looked like death warmed over. “What do you need?”

“The straight skinny about falling book sales,” I said.

“Did James Patterson die last night?”

“No, but that wouldn’t matter since Tom Clancy is still churning out bestsellers.”

“When you’re right, you’re right, Jock,” he said as he lit up a Lucky Strike. “Otherwise, serious small press authors are being hurt because everyone thinks they have a book in them–actually, many books.”

“The old gag was ‘every journalist thinks he has a book in him and that’s where it should stay,'” I replied.

“My sources tell me the old rules and the old morals no longer count. Today’s self-published and small-press authors have developed writer’s diarrhea.”

“That stinks.”

“No sh_t. They’re–how should I put this?–spewing out cookie-cutter genre books at the rate of thousands of words per day per person. It’s the chief cause of global warming and insanity. I checked a secret survey last week and, as it turns out, only two or three people in the country are not writing books. You know what that means.”

He took a swig of Jack Daniels and passed me the bottle.

“Damn, that’s good,” I said. “Of course I know what it means. It means that Larry, Moe, and Curry, and the scum across the street are the only people out there who are still reading.”

“Damn straight.”

“So, that means that two or three people are using different names to post highly positive reviews on Amazon for those tawdry books while the good writers are lucky to find a review anywhere.”

“You planning to stay for breakfast.”

“Bacon and eggs?” I asked hopefully.

“Bangers and mash with gravy.”

“I’ll pass.”

“As always, this conversation never happened.”

“I know.”

I went home, typed up my notes, and faxed this column to the newspaper. The editor wouldn’t like it, but I don’t give a flaming rat’s butt about that because she knows I know she’s one of the people ruining literature with her 40-book series “The Piper and the Piper’s Missus.” People are addicted to it. It’s worse than Fentanyl.

Her readers are reviewing her books before they’re even released. We’re entering the end of times, kind readers, and you read it here first.

Story filed by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter