Richard Levitt: The Hills Are Alive

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The hills are alive, and Richard Levitt has a long-ago scoutmaster to thank for being able to take in the experience.

Recently, I made it back to Reyes Creek in Los Padres National Forest. It was one of the most challenging and spectacular hikes I took with Boy Scout Troop 317.

The steep, rocky trail traverses a landscape that still fills my dreams; chaparral with smooth-barked manzanita and towering yucca, wild lilac, scrub oak, framed by a vibrant blue sky. The air dusty and floral.

I hiked a couple hours. But didn’t really remember, until I crested a little rise and saw a narrow green valley, leading to steep switchbacks, winding up the north face of Reyes Peak.

In an instant I was 12 years old again. Struggling under the weight of my backpack, terrified of the arduous climb.

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My Scoutmaster, Mr. Holtz, chucked me on the shoulder and said, “One step at a time, Scout.”

317 was a backpacking troop, mostly because Mr. Holtz was such an ardent outdoorsman. Every month we hiked deep into the Sierras, often with the forest glowing under a full moon.

“You don’t need a flashlight,” he’d say. “Learn to see …”

I still hold his lessons; teamwork and self-reliance, respect for the natural world, survival skills. Most of all, perseverance.

And with all the terrible news about Boy Scouts — I read more than 80,000 men have filed lawsuits for abuse — it seems important to say this: Mr. Holtz and all the men who supported Troop 317 were honorable, skilled and good-natured. The biggest scandal I remember is someone’s dad sneaking a cigarette out in the woods.

There I stood, the adult, gazing across that breathtaking panorama, holding the sad news that Mr. Holtz had passed just weeks before.

And I wept. I felt a lifetime of gratitude. Humility. Awe.

And for all that, Mr. Holtz, I’m here to say thank you.

With a Perspective, this is Richard Levitt.

Richard Levitt is an East Bay writer who teaches martial arts, yoga and creative problem solving.