As my friends grow old and pass from this world, they will be remembered with headstones and monuments. One will proclaim, "Educator and Master of the Internet." Another, "Banker and Entrepreneur." And still another, "She Cured the Sick." Unless I make it to the moon or find a cure for some obscure disease, I'm probably condemned to the following epitaph: "Jon Powell: He killed Green Eyes and saved us from things that went bump in the night."
Technically, I don't deserve such an honor. You see, Green Eyes had already been killed once (after all, he was a ghost), I had lots of help in the deed, and besides, there are those who believe that Green Eyes is not quite as dead as a doornail. If you are confused by all of this, and you were born after 1969, then I guess I owe you a better explanation of the strange terror that gripped Camp Wildcat that hot summer so long ago.
Every disaster or near-disaster requires someone to blame. No, not me. The blame clearly rests with Camp Director Grant Smith. After all, he assigned Joe Dixon and me to create a nature hike. Since Joe and I had pretty good imaginations, we decided to create THE MOTHER OF ALL NATURE HIKES. We scouted the area and discovered an old low stone wall, a rusted car in the bottom of a ravine, the hulk of a lightning-struck tree, and a nice little creek that ran through the camp. We rounded up and crushed hundreds of pounds of iron pyrite (fool's gold), mixed it with sand and gravel, and created a small beach on the creek. Friends in the anthro department provided ancient animal bones, pottery shards, and a few arrowheads, and we created a grave site from a mound of rocks adding a few bones poking from under the pile.
It really was a nature hike, complete with lizards, cacti, rocks, trees, and flowers and all the neat things that kids love to look at and touch. The props we added and the tale we spun just supplied a little extra fun.
"You know kids, a hundred years ago this land was hunted by the Apache, the Pima, and other Indians. Well some miners came up here and discovered gold. Hey look at that sand bar down at the creek -- let's try panning for gold." The Camp Wildcat chronicles reported that camp economy gradually disintegrated as kids bartered for candy bars and trinkets with small sacks of shiny metal nuggets. Hey, don't blame Joe and me. I'm sure it was Camp Counselor Rich Hauk who said, "Yep, looks like gold to me," and the Gold Rush of 1969 was on.
"Come on kids, time to move up the trail. Remember the Indians who hunted up here? They were really upset that miners were desecrating their land. Most of the tribe wanted peace, but their medicine man wanted war. This medicine man was very peculiar for an Indian. He had bright green eyes. In fact, that was his nickname, Green Eyes. Those eyes scared everyone who looked at him. Even the chief was a little afraid, so he agreed to lead the tribe on the warpath. Now the evening before they attacked, a little Indian boy, who was a friend of one of the old miners, ran to the mining camp and told his friend about the coming attack. The miners quickly built a low stone wall to hide behind so they could ambush the war party . . . That's right Maria, that does look like an old wall. Hey look way up in that tree --- gosh, Jose, that is an old arrow stuck in a branch. Anyone find any arrowheads? Here's some Joe and I collected here yesterday."
Two lizards, several cacti, and three trees later. "You know, those Indians were almost massacred by the miners. The tribe was so angry, they decided to kill Green Eyes. But they wanted to kill him with a horrible death that would turn him into a walking ghost. A ghost that would come back to hunt down the enemies of the tribe. They tortured Green Eyes for days and they buried him alive under a pile of rocks. They broke magic pottery bowls over the rocks and as he died, his ghost spirit sank deep into the earth. Teresa's right! That does look like an old grave over there -- come on gang let's go see it! Wow! Look at the broken pots and the bones. We probably shouldn't stay here too long (Counselor thought: I'm hungry and I think I just heard the lunch bell. Kid thought: I'm out of here!)."
On the path back to the mess hall. "The Indians believe that Green Eyes could come out as a ghost only at night and only if he found a tree which had been killed by lightning. His ghost would crawl through the burnt roots and out one of the branches poking into the sky. My gosh, Billy. I think that is a tree hit by lightning up on that ridge. You see that old rusty car in the bottom of the ravine? Some people say that before the driver died he was screaming about a green-eyed ghost that scared him off the road. I don't believe it myself, but that's what some people say."
Surprisingly, the amount of fear generated by this stroll through the woods was directly proportional to the age of the camper. The youngest kids ate it up with glee and wanted to pull out the grave site bones for a better look. The oldest kids ran in a cloud of dust all the way back to camp.
Before I explain how we killed the ghost of Green Eyes, I'd like to go on record that I was not the person responsible for shining a pair of green flashlights at Barb Klopp and Patty Berger one dark night. And it was just terribly unfortunate that everyone within a hundred miles heard their screams, and even more unfortunate that several campers independently confirmed they too had seen the mysterious green eyes glowing in the blackness. Suffice it to say that by Day 4 pandemonium reigned and the kids were ready to leave. Grant, Joe, and I agreed: it was time for Green Eyes to make a quick exit.
I drove back to Tucson, gathered a few Indian Chant records (round things kind of like a CD only lots bigger and using a more primitive technology), an old Indian costume from my boy scout days, and my own set of green flashlights. That night at dinner we announced that the evening campfire would be a ceremony to kill Green Eyes. And each camper and counselor had to bring two rocks to the ceremony. Panic after dinner! "Are these rocks big enough?!? I can't find any!! What if one is big and the other is small?!? Joey stole my rocks!!"
Campers and Counselors assembled and while Tony Fredericks led the ten-thousandth verse of "Ich bin ein Musikanter, Ich komm von Solnhof" and "John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith," I climbed into my costume and painted my face. Jay Adkins and Barb Armstrong set up the music and rigged the Green Eyes so they could be hoisted into the trees across the ravine opposite the campfire circle. Then, during a lull in the songs, I sprang from the bushes shaking rattles and feathers and shouted, "I bring the bones of Green Eyes!" I don't know whether anyone wet their pants. I do know that Michelle Brandt had six kids clutching her arms and at least two wrapped around her head.
I beckoned the ancient ones to assist us, and haunting tribal chants filled the dark night air. I asked for the help of brother wind, and a terrifying gust of wind swept down the canyon, and hairs stood on end. I summoned the spirit of Green Eyes and two glowing green orbs rose into the trees and stared across at us. The campers placed their rocks around the campfire, I scattered the ancient bones on the ground, and the entire camp shuffle danced around the fire until the bones were dust. The spirit of Green Eyes entered the rocks. Then the order was given: "Take back your stones from the fire circle and carry them away -- the ghost of Green Eyes will be scattered forever and can never harm anyone again." As the stones were gathered by tiny hands, the intense glowing eyes slowly lowered and faded from view. Green Eyes was gone.
Well, that's how I recollect things. I apologize for not remembering the names of everyone that helped kill that ghost, but every counselor, staffer, cook, and dishwasher was a hero that night. As for me, I was still getting proposals of marriage from 13-year-old former campers two years later.
I wasn't going to add this postscript, but if you're camping up in the vicinity of Peppersauce Canyon, be careful. I heard that a sand and gravel company has been gathering a lot of rocks for landscaping down in Tucson. And I know this is just a far-fetched coincidence, but one of the drivers insists he was run off the road by two glowing green orbs that he swears looked a lot like angry eyes. Probably just a DWI.
-- Jon Powell, CW 1968-72