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.


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.