Craig Childs - House of Rain
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Field Notebook

February 25, 2008
Camp Counselors in Hell

Officially, the company called us "naturalists." They gave us each a small gang of high school students uprooted from Los Angeles. The students came by bus. Dropped at the end of a dirt road, they found themselves in a landscape that receives the highest average temperature and the lowest average precipitation in all of North America. Dreadlocks, river sandals, and feet hard as hooves, we must have looked terrifying to them. We were camp counselors in hell. Most of the time the students followed us around like goslings as we explored this way or that. We would play games, initiatives, we called them. I hated initiatives, Species-Tag and Untie the Gordian Knot. Instead, I kept them walking. I did my job. I taught the basics of desert survival: how to find water, how to flick a scorpion off your ankle without getting stung, how to cope with a rattlesnake bite, and, greatest of all insults, how to eat beetle grubs. "By eating I mean chewing and swallowing," I told my students. "Get some protein out of it." Six stood around me beside the weeping skeleton of beetle-killed paloverde tree. There was no sound but hot wind clicking the branches. Not another human being was to be found. As far as these kids knew, I was the only way out of here alive. I lifted up a writhing and legless little creature, pale and fat as a baby. I popped it into my mouth. I chewed. I swallowed. "O.k.," I said. "Your turn."

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