Monthly Archives: April 2014

“Up to Valley Green” by Christopher Morley

When I was going through my father’s things, I found a book titled Travels in Philadelphia written by Christopher Morley, bound in red leather and held together with duct tape. There was a folded piece of paper inside marking an article entitled “Up to Valley Green.” My wife and I have always loved this part of Fairmount Park and we go there as often as we can. It is wonderful to see how little it has changed in the 90 years that have elapsed since Morley wrote these words:



MADRIGAL had a bad cold, and I was trumpeting with hay fever; and we set off for consolation in a tramp along the Wissahickon. In the drowsy stillness of a late August afternoon, with a foreboding of autumn chill already in the air, we sneezed and coughed our way along the lovely ravine. Those lonely glades that once echoed to the brisk drumming of horses’ hoofs rang with our miserable sternutations. The rocky gullies and pine scented hillsides became for one afternoon the Vallombrosa of two valetudinarians. Thoughts of mortal perishment lay darkly upon us. We had lunched gorgeously with a charming host who was suffering with sciatica and had described this affliction to us as a toothache as long as your leg. Then the Ridge avenue car carried us between two populous cities of the dead — Laurel Hill and Mount Vernon Cemeteries. Was this, we thought, the beginning of the end?

The Ridge avenue car set us down at the mouth of Wissahickon Creek. We each got out a clean handkerchief from a hip pocket and determined to make a brave fight against the dark angel. Under the huge brown arches of the Reading Railway which have all the cheering gayety of an old Roman aqueduct we entered the valley of enchantment. At this point it occurred to us that the ancient Romans were really prohibitionists at heart, since it was on aqueducts that they lavished the fullness of their structural genius. They never bothered with vinoducts.

Perhaps Philadelphians do not quite realize how famous the Wissahickon valley is. When my mother was a small girl in England there stood on her father’s reading table a silk lampshade on which were painted little scenes of the world’s loveliest beauty glimpses. There were vistas of Swiss mountains, Italian lakes, French cathedrals, Dutch canals, English gardens. And then among these fabled glories there was a tiny sketch of a scene that chiefly touched my mother’s girlish fancy. She did not ever expect to see it, but often, as the evening lamplight shone through it, her eye would examine its dainty charm. It was called “The Wissahickon Drive, Philadelphia, U.S.A.” Many years afterward she saw it for the first time, and her heart jumped as hearts do when they are given a chance.

The lower reach of the creek, with its placid green water, the great trees leaning over it, the picnic parties along the western marge, and the little boats splashing about, is amazingly like the Thames at Oxford. I suppose all little rivers are much the same, after all; but the likeness here is so real that I cannot forbear to mention it. But one has an uneasy sense, as one walks and watches the gleaming motors that flit by like the whizz of the Ancient Mariner’s crossbow, that the Wissahickon has seen better days. The days when the horse was king, when all the old inns were a bustle of rich food and drink, and the winter afternoons were a ringle-jingle of sleigh chimes. Then one turns away to the left into the stillness of the carriage drive, where motors are not allowed, and the merry clop-clop of hoofs is still heard now and then. Two elderly gentlemen came swiftly by in a bright little gig with red wheels, drawn by a spirited horse. With what a smiling cheer they gazed about them innocently happy in their lifelong pastime! And yet there was a certain pathos in the sight. Two old cronies, they were living out the good old days together. Only a few paces on was the abandoned foundation of the Lotus Inn. And I remembered the verses in which Madrigal himself, laureate of Philadelphia, has musicked the spell of the river drive —

On winter nights ghost music plays
(The bells of long forgotten sleighs)
Along the Wissahickon.
And many a silver headed wight
Who drove that pleasant road by night
Sighs now for his old appetite
For waffles hot and chicken.
And grandmas now, who then were belles!
How many a placid bosom swells
At thought of love’s old charms and spells
Along the Wissahickon.

“But, my dear fellow,” said one of these silver-headed wights to Madrigal when he had written the poem — “it wasn’t chicken, it was catfish that was famous in the Wissahickon suppers.” “All right,” said Madrigal, “will you please have the name of the creek changed to Wissahatfish to fit the rhyme?” The necessities of poets must be consulted, unless we are to go over, pen, ink, and blotter, to the blattings of vers libre.

But a plague on the talk about the “good old days!” Certainly in those times the road along the creek was never such a dreaming haunt of quietness as it is today. An occasional proud damsel, cantering on horse, accompanied by a sort of Lou Tellegen groom; a rambling carriage or two, a few children paddling in the stream, and a bronzed fellow galloping along with eager face — just enough movement to vary the solitude. The creek pours smoothly over rocky shelves, churning in a white soapy triangle of foam below a cascade, or slipping in clear green channels through an aisle of button woods and incredibly slender tulip-poplars. Here and there is a canoe, teetering gently in a nook of shade, while Colin and Amaryllis are uttering bashful pleasantries each to other — innocent plagiarisms as old as Eden that seem to themselves so gorgeously new and delicious. The road bends and slopes under cliffs of fern and evergreen, where a moist pungency of balsam and turpentine breathes graciously in the nose of the sneezer. Gushing springs splash on the steep bank.

Already, though only the end of August, there was a faint tinge of bronze upon the foliage. We were at a loss to know whether this was truly a sign of coming fall, or some unnatural blight withering the trees. Can trees suffer from hay fever? At any rate we saw many dead limbs, many great trunks bald and gouty on the eastern cliffs and a kind of pallor and palsy in the color of the leaves. The forestry of the region did not seem altogether healthy, even to the ignorant eye. We have seen in recent years what a plague has befallen one noble species of tree: it would be a sorry thing if Philadelphia’s dearest beauty spot were ravaged by further troubles.

Talking and sneezing by turns we came to Valley Green, where a placid caravanserai sits beside the way, with a broad, white porch to invite the traveler, and a very feminine barroom innocently garnished with syphons of soda and lemons balanced with ladylike neatness on the necks of grape-juice bottles. Green canoes were drawn up on the river bank; a grave file of six small yellow ducklings was waddling toward the water; a turkey (very similar in profile to Mr. Chauncey Depew) was meditating in the roadway. A bantam cock and his dame made up in strut what they lacked in stature, and a very deaf gardener was trimming a garden of vivid phlox. Here was a setting that cried loudly for the hissing tea urn. Yet to think again of refreshment seemed disrespectful to the noble lunch of a noble host, enjoyed only four hours earlier, and we passed stoically by, intending to go as far as Indian Rock, a mile further. But at a little waterfall by the Wises Mill road, we halted with a common instinct. We turned backward and sought that gracious veranda at Valley Green. There, in a pot of tea and buttered toast with marmalade, we forgot our emunctory woes.

We set match to tobacco and strode upward on Springfield road, through thickets where the sunlight quivered in golden shafts, toward the comely summits of Chestnut Hill. Let Madrigal have the last word, for he has known and loved this bonniest of creeks for forty years:

There earliest stirred the feet of spring,
There summer dreamed on drowsy wing;
And autumn’s glories longest cling
Along the Wissahickon!

Catholic Scouting or Catholics in Scouting?

[This is an expanded version of a blog post first published on this web site on February 21, 2014 and later taken down because, frankly, it didn’t say very much!]

At home I have a book entitled Scouting for Catholics: Adding the Supernatural. This book was, I think, first published in the early 1940s, although according to this “Brief Chronicle of US Catholic Scouting” there was a similarly-titled work published in 1928. The book’s history is beyond the scope of this blog post, however — I want, instead, to consider the term “Catholic scouting” and what it means.

In the United States, and in the Anglo-Saxon world in general, the preference has been to have a single national scouting association. In Canada, for example, scouting is monopolized by Scouts Canada, and a similar situation prevails in the United States. Oddly enough, in Great Britain itself there are a number of “alternative” associations but (and this will be important later) they tend not to be confessional. In fact the British member association of the FSE was forced out of the larger FSE movement at least in part because it rejected the confessional nature of the FSE (while the FSE is open to non-Catholic Christians, an individual unit cannot have a mixed religious identity).

The above has implications for the meaning of the term “Catholic scouting.” If a country has a single national scouting association, and this association is privileged in law, then “Catholic scouting” means nothing more than “Catholic members in scouting“; at best it means the ability to have a Catholic unit within a non-confessional scouting association. The book mentioned in the first paragraph (Scouting for Catholics) recommends that exact approach — Catholics should be members of Catholic units; Catholics should have their own distinctive units within the single association.

In 1926 Lord Baden-Powell was asked about the place of religion in scouting. His response: “It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying scouting and guiding.” Now one can, I think, respectfully differ from our founder on this point — not that scouting can exist without a religious basis, but the degree to which that religious basis is already there — but there is an important truth here. Can a scouting program truly be said to have a religious basis if religion must be added to it? Or should religion be integrated into the program from the very beginning? Scouting for Catholics includes a lot of advice about how Catholicism can be added to an existing program, one might say “tacked on.” For example, a period of reflection before the Blessed Sacrament might be recommended prior to making the promise. This is all well and good, but again, it is simply adding Catholicism to a program developed without Catholicism in mind. (It is true that Baden-Powell sought the advice of then-Archbishop Bourne and the Benedictines of Downside Abbey before publishing Scouting for Boys but the Catholic influence on the work is not immediately apparent; furthermore mainstream scouting in the United States has never used Baden-Powell’s original program anyway.) Why not a program developed with Catholicism in mind in the first place?

With all this in mind, I would like to consider an article published on the web site of the UIGSE-FSE: Catholic Scouting or Catholics in Scouting? [PDF].

The author points out what has already been noted above, namely the preference for a single national scouting association (the author’s term is “unique”) throughout in the Anglo-Saxon world (Great Britain, Canada, and the United States). On the other hand, European countries (apart from the UK) have tended to have separate scouting associations for separate confessions. In France, for example, we see scouting associations with a Catholic identity (the FSE or as it is known in France, the AGSE, is one of these). So while in the United States, or Canada, the term “Catholic scouting” is generally used to apply to Catholic members in scouting associations of whatever stripe, in Europe it refers to the type of scouting practiced by associations with a Catholic identity. Little wonder since Catholic scouting associations in the USA are relatively new and have a tiny footprint in comparison to mainstream scouting.

So tiny is the footprint of American Catholic scouting associations that many if not most Catholics have never heard of them, and when faithful Catholic families are looking for “alternatives” to mainstream scouting for their children, non-scouting programs and organizations (such as Blue Knights, Columbian Squires, Kepha, Troops of St. George, etc.) are suggested in response. (Please note that I am not debating the relative merit of these programs; I am simply pointing out that they’re not scouting.)

So we are left with the term “Catholic scouting” and two possible definitions of it: One, Catholic members, individually or by unit, in a non-confessional scouting association, and two, a Catholic scouting association. I think it’s pretty clear that the second definition is a better fit. We might speak of Catholic computer programmers but not Catholic computer programming; Catholic physicians and Catholic nurses but not Catholic medicine; and Catholic scientists but not Catholic science. Similarly, if one is a member of a non-confessional scouting association, then he is a Catholic scout but he is not practicing Catholic scouting, rather he is practicing (just) scouting. We can try to Catholicize science, medicine, even computer programming, even scouting; but since these things were not built from the ground up as specifically Catholic endeavors, they are not specifically Catholic.

The question of whether families should allow their children to be involved is, of course, a separate one — and like the question of the provenance of Scouting for Catholics, beyond the scope of this blog post, or any blog post for that matter. And parents will have to decide for themselves anyway — as a layman I have no authority and (for better or worse) we’re long past the era in which faithful Catholics obeyed their shepherds in the choices they made for their families. No bishop could tell his flock to pull their children from mainstream scouting and expect to be obeyed (which is one reason why lamentations about a lack of episcopal backbone are wrongheaded). But what a layman can do, what a parish priest can do, what a bishop can do, is offer an alternative. I am not of the mind that staying in this organization or that is always the best option.

Exploring – what it is and what it isn’t (redux)

I wanted to revisit this topic (maybe this series will just continue indefinitely! But this post ought to be brief) as I’ve been reading some material on-line lately that I think could be cause for confusion.

I should preface this post by noting that I do recognize that parental involvement in exploring and guiding is crucial. One can’t run a unit without the parents who volunteer their time and energy to fill the many roles required in a well-functioning den, troop, or company. What I want to address is whether all parents (especially fathers) should be involved to the point at which they are all effectively leaders in their children’s (especially their sons’) units.

Exploring (or what Lord Baden-Powell called “scouting”) isn’t fathers taking their boys camping. This is not to say that there is something wrong with fathers taking their sons camping — there isn’t, in fact it is a fine thing — but let’s call it what it is: family camping.

As Baden-Powell wrote in Aids to Scoutmastership, exploring is “a game for boys under the leadership of boys, in which elder brothers can give their younger brothers healthy environment and encourage them to healthy activities,” and “a jolly game in the out of doors, where boy-men and boys can go adventuring together as older and younger brothers, picking up health and happiness, handicraft and helpfulness.” That is, the boys are led by other boys (in girls’ units, the girls are lead by other girls), ideally those who are older and more experienced, while the leaders are present to give advice, direction, ideas, and generally facilitate the playing of the game. (It goes without saying that younger boys need considerably more direction than older boys!) We see the genius of that particular method in which units are divided into patrols each of which is comprised of a range of ages.


Children often learn best by doing things for themselves, and in order to do things for themselves they have to be able to make mistakes, they have to be able to try and fail. Without the possibility of failure there is no real success. This is not, by the way, unique to exploring, but is a general principle of youth ministry. But our emphasis on the outdoors (God’s creation is our primary textbook) can give some parents particular qualms about letting their children learn for themselves. The outdoors is, after all, dangerous — and I say that without my tongue in my cheek. Some parents can find it difficult to let their children make mistakes when a mistake means a scraped knee or a loose tooth! Still, exploring is a safe activity and its safety is not enhanced by the presence of a multitude of parents.

Again, this is not to say that parents should not be involved. An Explorer unit could not run without the help of the parents in it and we appreciate all the help that a parent offers. But parents do need to take a step back and let their kids work things out on their own, or better yet under the guidance of older kids.