Doc Johns’ Four Simple Sure-Fire Rules for Saving the Planet

by Andy Wood on June 3, 2009

in Consumers, Five LV Laws, Insight, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy, Protecting Your Investment, Turning Points

maubilaDoc Johns wasn’t a doctor; he was a pharmacist.  But ever since Bo Brannon ripped his eyelid on a pretty mean briar while playing Capture the Flag at night on an old lake bed and proceeded to bleed like a stuck pig, Marion J. Johns became known to us as “Doc.”  As Bo was howling at the invisible moon, sure that life as he knew it was over, somebody in the Boy Scout troop said, “Let’s take him to Jeff’s dad… he’s a doctor!”

So Doc it was.  Bo lived; his gaping wound by night was just a pretty ugly scratch by day.  And Doc Johns – then the Assistant Scoutmaster, had a new name.

Soon thereafter, Doc Johns became the scoutmaster of Troop 68 in Mobile – about the same time I passed the requirements for the rank of Tenderfoot.  Within three years, before I turned 14, I became an Eagle Scout – due in no small part to the help of two men – my dad and Marion J. Johns.

Doc Johns had an infectious laugh and an incredible sense of humor.  He believed that we should camp out at least once a month, and made sure it happened.  He encouraged achievement without making us feel as though we were a paramilitary outfit. (Three other boys made Eagle the same night as me, and that’s a bit unheard of).  This man gave of his time every summer for a week-long camp, as well as other area-wide events.  But most importantly, he made the ideals and principles on which scouting are based accessible to anybody who was motivated to learn them (and a few who weren’t).

In those days we were environmentalists before it was hip to be green.  We were recycling and practicing soil and water conservation, learning about and caring for the environment long before we had ever heard of the terms “political correctness,” or “global warming.”  Under the tutelage of Doc Johns, we were working to preserve our little corner of the globe when Barak Obama was living in Jakarta and Al Gore was writing for a military newspaper in Viet Nam.  And in the process, we learned some no-nonsense, nonpartisan ways to enjoy the planet and protect it at the same time.

Doc Johns had four rules when it came to caring for our spot on the map.  It’s amazing how these simple rules, applied today, can continue to bring wisdom and sanity to the discussion and help ensure that our grandchildren inherit an earth that will continue to serve them.

Rule #1 – Never hack on a live tree.

An axe or hatchet is a useful tool on a campout.  They help harvest wood to produce energy (fire) necessary to cook and provide light and/or heat at night.  That said, the woods had plenty of dead trees and limbs to burn.  And nothing would make Doc Johns jump out of his skin quicker than seeing a 12-year-old taking a hatchet to a living tree.

In general, the idea is reverence for the living, dignity and usefulness for the dead.  Doc Johns understood that the earth has been recycling long before we’d ever heard of plastic, aluminum, or McDonalds napkins. That said, the scoutmaster would certainly have made an exception to his rule if someone’s life depended on it.  His issue was recreational killing or damaging something (or someone) who was living.  This same principle tells hunters to kill only what they can eat or share with others, developers to cut only the trees that are necessary for building that neighborhood, and people everywhere to value every living thing or person (including those still in the womb).

Rule #2 – Don’t litter, and pick up whatever litter you find.

Littering was a social ill of the day, and several national campaigns reminded us not to be a litter bug.  We’ve moved on since then, having graduated to politically correct eating.  But the principle is still there – we have an amazing capacity to generate trash.  And tossing it in a dumpster or trash can doesn’t end that responsibility.  We were learning that some things recycle back into the earth rather quickly, but other things can pollute the water and land for years.

Whether we were hiking the Odom Scout Trail or camping at Mr. Brinkman’s 40, Doc Johns taught us by example that another man’s trash is just as much our responsibility as our own.  We are to be stewards of what we do with it, regardless of whether the other guy had a clue or not.  That’s why we participated in Project S.O.A.R. (Save Our American Resources), which for us amounted to a multi-mile hike to pick up litter wherever we found it.  This was more than a beautification project – it taught us that we could make a difference.

Rule #3 – Dig a hole and cover your, uh, “stuff.”

Doc Johns knew what my mama did – that there’s not much more rank-smelling than a 13-year-old who’s been on a one- or two-night campout.  We carried that awkward blend of smoke, dirt, and day-old sweat.  That said, he knew the difference between dirty and unhealthy.  Hygiene and sanitation were important, both for our health and for the health of the environment.  He also taught us that in the area of sanitation, the earth could be our friend if we didn’t abuse it.

That same principle is true today.  What’s missing in a lot of extreme environmental discussions is admission that it’s OK to be a human being, and that we aren’t a pack of evil foreign invaders on what would otherwise be a paradise.  While Doc Johns was no theologian, he understood the principle that the earth is the Lord’s, and He created mankind to exercise dominion over it.  No, dominion doesn’t give us the right to “rape the planet.”  But it does mean that whatever problems the environment has, we have the God-given resources and ingenuity to solve them.

Rule #4 – Leave the place better than you found it.

We never left a campsite, trail, or even a picnic pavilion without making sure that it was somehow a bit better because we were there – even if that meant simply finding the nearest trash can.  We never hurried to leave anywhere, and every site was always inspected.

Imagine what could happen if every corporation, family, school class, or Friday night football crowd applied this simple rule.  Imagine what could happen if we insisted that people who sell us their stuff made sure they left their place and ours better than they found it… and that we didn’t buy their stuff until they proved to us they were responsible.

My scoutmaster lived in the real world.  He knew what people were capable of – good and bad.  He loved the planet without hating the humans who occupy it, and taught us to do the same.  He modeled environmental horse sense. And that’s a pretty good term for it.  After all, when have you ever seen a horse throwing fake blood on somebody’s fur?

Or hacking on a live tree?

(The photo, taken in 2008 at Maubila Scout Reservation, was shamelessly borrowed without permission from my cousin Paul Hendrix – who continues Doc Johns’ legacy to this day.)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mama June 5, 2009 at 7:28 am

Boy does this bring back memories!! Love Ya

Joseph Condron@Yellow Magpie February 17, 2010 at 9:21 am

That was a brilliantly written article. Like the above commenter, it took me back to the days when I was a scout.

Excellent. Keep up the good work.

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