Ye Old Menogyn Guides

Menogyn Stories by Maurice Soulis,  Guide (1965-66) , Assistant Director (1967)
 (1) "That Really Tightened His Jaw" (1967)

My last summer at Menogyn I held the position of Assistant Director - "Business Manager. "It was a role that enabled me to realize that I was not only poor at mathematics; I was also dyslexic with numbers (only we didn't know what dyslexic was back then so I just figured I was kind of dumb). Imagine my shock when I realized Arm thought I could manage camp income, deposits and expenditures. One day I was working on something in Hernies along with Arm and Grog (Steve Goggin) -- the front room was our office then, when the phone from the landing rang. Steve answered it while Arm and I kept working, but we could hear Steve's end of the conversation.

 ** A few days earlier, a guide Robyn Lindfors — a Hudson's Bay camper on the first Hommes du Nord Trip led by "Arnie" (Jim Arnold) had departed with a group of boys and one adult advisor. Rob and his group should have been about four days out by then. Arm and I could hear Steve say, "Where are you?" --- "what are you doing at the landing?" Arm stopped working and looked up at Steve asking, "Who is it?" ---- Steve said, "It's Rob." Arm said — "Rob's at the landing?" Steve said, "ahh, yeah, that's what he says." Arm said, "Where's his group?" We heard Steve ask, "Rob, where is your group." Then silence. Finally Steve looks at Arm and says (with a little sheepish giggle, the kind that says, "I don't want to be telling him this..."), "He doesn't know?"Without emotion, but with a twinge of Jaw tiRhtenitte emphasis Arm said incredulously, "HE DOESN'T KNOW?" I thought to myself, "This would be a good time to use the six holer.

 "Turns out that Rob had left his group in their canoes at the shoreline while he walked into the woods looking for a portage and...., this is really funny when you think about it — he couldn't find his way back to the group. I could be mistaken but I think it was Steve who said, "How freakin far did you walk?" or words to that effect. I said, "He didn't call out "Yo" — or sumpthin? "OK — now this part is even funnier: Rob was just plain lost in the woods. Being one of the original Hommes du Nord campers however, he didn't panic -- He laid down and went to sleep. In the morning Rob climbed up the tallest pine tree he could find and looked around. It seems he spied a road somewhere off in the distance, climbed down and walked towards it. Having emerged from the woods onto said road — Rob walked until a car came along and he flagged it down, eventually ending up at the West Bearskin landing.

 The good news is that we picked a couple of strong paddling in-camp staff to head out with Rob and find his group. Thanks to Arm's insistence on "trip plans" they caught up with the boys and their adult advisor — did we mention liability insurance? -- in a day Rob had rejoined the boys and they eventually returned to camp safe and sound.

 (2) "Happy Birthday Mabel" (1967)

I think it was during my second summer at Menogyn our cook was a wonderful elderly woman from Northfield, Minnesota named Mabel. I think she had cooked at St. Olaf College for years and Arm talked her into coming to Menogyn for the summer. Whenever I got back to camp from a trip I would head to the kitchen and ask her how my favorite cook was holding up. She always had cupcakes or cookies set aside for the guides and would get them out of the cupboard for me.

During the summer Mabel had a birthday (I don't think anyone asked how old she was?). Somehow, at Arm's request, I ended up with the task of going into Grand Marais for supplies and buying a birthday cake for Mabel — I can't remember who went with me, possibly John Skaggs? At any rate, in those days the Menogyn emblem was the big black cooking pot (like one of the old voyageur pots) with an orange "M" in the middle hanging over a fire. This was painted onto all of our staff coffee mugs and all our canoes, plus on the camp's stationary letterhead. So we decided to ask the bakery to recreate that emblem on Mabel's cake.

As an example of it, I took one of the mugs into town with us and went to see the baker. We explained that we wanted a cake that said "Happy Birthday Mabel" and, I held up the mug, pointed to the emblem of the pot over the fire and said, "And we want one of these on it." The baker said fine and asked if he could hang on to the mug and copy the design. We went about town doing various chores, picked up supplies, washed our clothes, etc., and returned to the bakery a few hours later.

The baker brought out a box with Mabel's cake, we paid for it and were about to leave when the baker said, "would you like to see what the cake looks like?" I said sure. He opened the box and there was a very nice cake with white icing, pink writing that said "Happy Birthday Mabel", and the coffee mug sitting right in the middle of the cake. "We want one of these on it." That baker was one literal dude. I recall that we bought a little tube of frosting and, after removing the mug, filled in the whole in the middle of the cake prior to presenting it to Mabel. The cake was a hit, the party was fun, and rest is history.

 (3) "Why Not the Best"

My first canoe trip was during the summer before my junior year in high school. A bunch of my male friends, all varsity athletes, decided we should take a trip to get into shape for the fall sports season. We weren't all really prepared the experience. I had a down sleeping bag but no waterproof bag. One of my friends wore his dads Pendelton (he thought it was a flannel shirt that would look "woodsie"). One guy brought his dads fishing pole but forgot to bring any hooks. But we told our guide we wanted a rough trip that would get us into shape.

About the fourth day out we had a group meeting and decided to confront our guide who, it was generally agreed, was committed to killing several of us before the trip ended. He agreed to slow down the pace and shorten the trip a bit. When he went off with our adult advisor to shoot some rapids, we held his ID, wool shirt and pack of Pall Mall's — and promptly shook out a couple and smoked our brains out while hoping he might capsize and drown. He survived the rapids and we all survived the trip with many great pictures and stories to tell. But, I had been sleeping in a wet sleeping bag for ten nights and wasn't eager to venture into the wilderness any time soon.

 During my sophomore year in college I had decided I would either go into YMCA work or become a schoolteacher. One of three YMCA mentors of mine, Gary Lewis, suggested that I should have experience working in a YMCA camp if I wanted to eventually become a YMCA professional (Paul Don and Arm Paulson were the other two). As I talked with Gary about various camps connected to the Mpls. YMCA I had a spiritual awakening —or a bought of temporary insanity — when I realized that YMCA Camp Menogyn was the place I had to work.

Why Not The Best? (my apology to that pretender camp over near Ely —Camp Widjiwagen, but Menogyn was/still is `da best' — that moose rider not withstanding). With something akin to what women experience after childbirth, I completely blocked out how wet and miserable I had been on my ten-day adventure a few years earlier (well, not completely blocked out — I have never slept in a wet sleeping back since). Menogyn became a primary way of staying emotionally and spiritually grounded during years when my home and personal life was not, to say the least, pleasant. Menogyn was a refuge that strengthened every aspect of my character and personality — not to mention helped me look tan and mighty buff all summer. Menogyn became a specific experience of what the YMCA represented to me in those days, "a purpose for my existence."

I became engaged in activities that had a larger purpose than just having fun or taking care of myself. I learned skills that increased my confidence and ability to feel worthy. It gave me friends, some whom have lasted for life, who were all committed to doing the best they could with whatever tasks, roles and responsibilities they were given. And it was tons of fun. That Body, Mind and Spirit thing was very important too. At a time when church and organized religion was failing to speak to many young people such as myself, Menogyn and the YMCA became a way for me to feel connected to a "high power" as well as a higher purpose, without dogma and oppressive mandates that religion seemed to impose upon me.

A short time prior to my first summer guiding at Menogyn I had applied to George Williams College, a liberal arts and social work school with a strong affiliation with the YMCA (George was the founder of the YMCA). My grades were poor but I had great references from Arm, Gary and Paul. That first summer at Menogyn I ran into a guy who became a life long friend, and was also heading to GWC. Together we took our rather dismal academic records into GWC, founded the Great Hall Suite and made the Dean's list our first term — and each term after that. 

Menogyn helped me realize how important the woods, water and wilderness was to my own mental health and spiritual well being. It also taught me that a career in social service was not only honorable but also likely to be extremely fulfilling. After forty years in human services, I can state firmly that honor and fulfillment have been mine in abundance.

 (4) "Nap Time" (196?)

The guides all had lockers in the boat house for their gear, kettle pack, other packs, axe, etc. --- about four and a half feet wide, two feet deep and two feet high. I was about 5'5" and could fit right inside if I curled my feet slightly. I used to sleep inside my locker for thirty or forty-five minutes around mid-afternoon, right before everyone else was hurrying up to finish in-camp projects and hit the volleyball court. I don't think anyone ever noticed I was gone. Always felt seriously refreshed when we took the court, only to have the in-camp staff kick our sorry butts.

 (5) "Entering Camp" (196?)

One of the best entrances into camp by a trail that I witnessed, was the time "Flame" ( Bob Fleming) came in strung up on a pole, berry juice dripping down his forehead and chest like blood - with three canoes tied together and some of his campers pounding out slave ship rhythm. If I remember correctly, Flame was being whipped by one of his kids and would let out a blood-curdling scream each time the whip hit his back. Now that was COOL — and that was "FLAME"! (God bless him).

 (6) "Small Portage - Large Game Trail?  When in Doubt , Burn Down an Island!" (1966)

It was my 2nd year as a guide and I had a boys group making a loop down south, then up through Finn to Banadad — it included that lake where one of the lumber companies constructed a road across the west end. I'd never taken that route before — can't even remember where we came out? At any rate, at one point I began to be unsure of where we actually were on the map. This continued into the next day as we were searching for a portage that didn't seem to be where I wanted it to be. I sent several of the boys in different directions on the shoreline to see if they could find the beginning of a portage trail. They all came back with no success except one kid who said he found something that could be a portage. I asked if he had followed it a bit into the woods to make sure and he said, "Ahh, not really, but I'm pretty sure it's either a small portage or a large game trail."

He was in dead earnest — and it cracked me up — the funniest thing I had heard in two days. So we checked it out and it went nowhere. I decided to pitch camp on a rock shelf of the north shoreline and try finding our way in the morning. While we were pitching camp one of the boys asked what we would do if we couldn't find the portage? I said, "Oh, I don't know, I'll probably just set fire to a small island and the forest service will see the smoke and come find us. But we will have to be out of food and really starving before we do it or they might fine me big time." Just a little Menogyn guide humor

Apparently two or three of the boys (or five or six) thought I was serious and they had a troubled discussion about whether their guide was crazy enough to burn down the BWCA. The next day I checked the map and we followed a small stream out of the lake (we walked in ankle deep water and/or hung onto the gunnels and rode when it deep enough — an unplanned high point for the boys) and into the next lake that was obviously the one I couldn't find the portage into. Never did figure out where the portage was — probably paralleled the stream. When we stopped for lunch a couple of the boys expressed relief that we finally knew where we were and didn't have to burn down an island --that's when I realized they thought I had been serious. That really cracked me up — funniest thing I had heard in three days.

 (7) "Just Say No!" (1965)

On my first staff training break-in trip, I was paddling stern and Arm (Camp Director) was in the bow. I had previously been on one canoe trip out of Menogyn about two or three years earlier as a camper. I was still learning how to control a canoe as well as the disproportionate weight distribution from stern — about 125 lbs., to bow — about, ummm - (nuff said?) (205 lbs)

We were approaching the shoreline and portage that had a couple of wooden beams embedded into the embankment as a makeshift dock/landing to step up onto. Apparently I was late with my back paddle slow down, turn stroke (I made that up) and we smacked right into the wooden beams. Well I didn't smack right into them, Arm did — seeing as he was sitting in the bow.

It was the first time I had ever witnessed "bow seat whip lash" — Not pretty. Arm turned around in his seat and looked me right in the eyes (I think he was scowling), and said "NO!" — Then he jumped out of the canoe, turned it sideways to the logs and we proceeded to unload and start trekking (you know, if he was that limber, one might have thought he would've been inclined to jump before we hit — but n000). Let the record show that I have NEVER smacked the bow of a canoe into the shoreline since — at least not unintentionally.