Duck Egg Blue

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"And now, gentlemen, as this board of review prepares to consider young Mr. Wright for Scouting's highest rank, there is one more very important thing we need to ask him. Cameron, tell us, please. Do you believe in God?"

So begins Duck Egg Blue, the timely story of high school freshman Cameron Wright, who, as a result of answering truthfully that he doesn't "really know at this point,"ends up having his coveted Eagle badge withheld.

But this is not the end of Cameron's troubles....

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Duck Egg Blue: A Novel

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"And now, gentlemen, as this board of review prepares to consider young Mr. Wright for Scouting's highest rank, there is one more very important thing we need to ask him. Cameron, tell us, please. Do you believe in God?"

So begins Duck Egg Blue, the timely story of high school freshman Cameron Wright, who, as a result of answering truthfully that he doesn't "really know at this point,"ends up having his coveted Eagle badge withheld.

But this is not the end of Cameron's troubles. While working at home on a small-scale model of the Grand Canyon for a science-class project on evolution (for which he uses the color "duck egg blue" to paint the river), his ultrareligous father objects to the teaching of evolution in science class. Cameron's science teacher, Mark Edwards, is then pressured to give "creation science" equal time with evolution, a directive that threatens his cherished position at the school, the quality of science education, and the right of the students to separation of church and state. Soon the religious right is marching through the public square toward a showdown.

Duck Egg Blue captures a slice of life that is typical of many American towns where radical Christians attempt to insert creationism into public schools. The question of the proper place for religious belief is also causing controversy in another American institution-The Boy Scouts, where several cases similar to Cameron Wright's have made national headlines, one even going to the Supreme Court.

A promising literary talent and a science teacher himself, Derrick Neill is no stranger to the Darwin vs. the Bible debate. Neill also wrote Adventures in Spacetime, a controversial science fiction novel that was censored from his school system when members of the religious right took their fight to the school board.

Engaging, suspenseful, touching, and timely, Duck Egg Blue will move you and it will open your eyes to the dangers of religion used as a political weapon in public schools and other secular institutions.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573926850
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Derrick Neill, an Eagle Scout and former Assistant Scoutmaster, has been a science teacher at Sierra Vista Middle School for nearly 20 years.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"And now, gentlemen, as this board of review prepares to consider young Mr. Wright for Scouting's highest rank, there is one more very important thing we need to ask him. Cameron, tell us, please. Do you believe in God?"

    Cameron Wright stiffened in his chair. For the first time during the board's questioning, he felt unsure of himself. With the three men at the table waiting and watching stoically, Cameron glanced up at the walls. To him, the small church conference room suddenly seemed to be shrinking.

    "Cameron?" one of them said.

    Not knowing what to answer, Cameron looked down at the report in his hands. Its title read: AN EAGLE SCOUT SERVICE PROJECT BY CAMERON WRIGHT. The cover snapshot showed him posed in front of a modest house, and topping it was the Mexican tile roof he built for his project. In the center of the photo, all red hair and dimples, he smiled proudly. He didn't feel like smiling now.

    "Cameron?" one of them repeated more loudly.

    Startled, Cameron looked up. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ignore you. What was your question again? I mean, well, what do you mean exactly?"

    Across the table, the Scout council representative cleared his throat. "It's a simple question, son. Yes or no. Do you believe in God?"

    Cameron pursed his lips. He didn't consider it a simple question at all. As congenially as he could, he asked, "Uh, which God?"

    The board member on his left bristled. "Are you trying to be difficult, young man?"

    "No, sir," Cameron answered. "I just want to know what you mean."

    "We mean just that," the council representative said. "Do you, or do you not, believe in God? Do you believe in a Supreme Being?"

    "You mean like someone who actually answers your prayers?" Cameron asked.

    "Yes," he said, "that's what we mean."

    Exchanging glances, the other two men nodded their agreement.

    Cameron regarded them silently for a few moments. He couldn't help but wonder why they would ask him such a personal question in the first place. After all, it didn't really seem appropriate. But on the other hand, he couldn't just sit there all day straining his brain over it, either.

    Then it came to him. The first Scout Law said, "A Scout is Trustworthy." Scouts always tell the truth. He knew what he had to do.

    Looking straight at the council representative, he said, "You know, I guess I don't. Believe in God, that is. I mean, I don't really know at this point. I'm not totally sure. You see, I'm only fourteen. I guess I haven't decided yet. It's kind of a big question. Isn't it?"

    From the looks on their faces, Cameron knew immediately they didn't approve. Abruptly, the board member to his right asked, "Now, isn't John Wright your father? Isn't he an elder here at Mesquite Lutheran?"

    "Yes, sir," Cameron answered. "He's also the committee chairman for our Scout troop. Mesquite Lutheran is the troop's chartered organization."

    No response. The man just stared. But seeing his puzzled frown, Cameron guessed what he must be thinking.

    "You see, my dad goes to this church, but I don't. I go to my mom's church. I live with her, so I usually go to her church. It's 'cause, well, my mom and dad are divorced."

    The board member nodded slowly at him, then gestured at one of the medals pinned to his Scout uniform. "But, isn't that a religious emblem there?"

    Cameron glanced down at the badge with the red lamp flame set against the white world globe. Across the top it read: RELIGION IN LIFE. Looking up, he answered, "Yes, it's a religious badge."

    "Well, then, I'm confused. I don't know what church you and your mother go to, but how on earth does a Scout who doesn't believe in God get a religious emblem?"

    "My mom's church doesn't have that requirement," Cameron said. "It doesn't tell you what to believe, or what not to believe."

    Under his breath, the board member on his left remarked, "What kind of a crazy church is that?"

    Hearing him, Cameron suddenly felt worse than merely unsure. Much worse. He felt put down, attacked. He did his best to hide it but, the way they looked at him, he could tell they knew.

    "All right, gentlemen," the Scout council representative said quickly, defusing the situation. "I think it's obvious this matter warrants discussion by our Eagle review board. Cameron, would you mind waiting outside the room for a little while, please? You can leave your Eagle project report with us. We'll call you back in a few minutes."

    "Okay," he said, getting out of his seat.

    Stepping into the hallway, he closed the conference room door behind him and breathed a sigh of relief. "Now I know how Galileo must've felt," he said out loud.

    "What was that, Cameron?" came a voice from next door. From the Board of Elders chairman's office. The troop committee chairman's office. His father's office.

    "Nothing, sir," he called back.

    "Come in here, Son."

    Uh-oh, he thought. From the frying pan into the fire. Bracing for impact, he stepped through the doorway and stood before the deacon's desk.

    Busy at his computer, his father didn't look over at him. Not even a glance. Robotlike, peering at the screen, he asked, "How did it go?"

    After his experience with the board, Cameron considered himself lucky not having to look into his father's dark, bulging, piercing eyes. A handsome man with strong features and thick combed-back hair, John Wright could sometimes be severe and intimidating, especially when something displeased him. And this would.

    Gingerly, Cameron answered, "They asked me to wait outside while they discuss it."

    "Not a good sign, Cameron," his father said, continuing to work. "Not a good sign."

    Cameron wanted to change the subject. "Dad, do you know where Ricky is? He needed some help with his taut-line hitch. He's got his Tenderfoot board today, after my Eagle board leaves."

    "You mean he has his third Tenderfoot board today, don't you, Cameron?" John Wright said, fingers hovering over the keyboard.

    Starting to type again, he added, "Look, you mean well, Son, but you're wasting your time. Ricky McGee will never get it. He probably shouldn't even be in Scouts. To use politically correct terminology, he's mentally challenged. The kid's a walking safety hazard."

    "Mr. Smith says he's just learning disa—"

    His father cut him off. "Your overly permissive Scoutmaster and I disagree on this, Cameron, as we do on so many things. Ricky's a danger to himself and to others."

    "Well," Cameron persisted, "I want to help him out anyway. Scouts are supposed to help each other, you know. Do you know where he is?"

    Disgusted, his father waved dismissively toward the front of the church. "He's sitting in the vestibule. So, go."

    Great, Cameron thought, off the hook. Wasting no time, he said a quick, "Thanks," and turned for the doorway.


    Turning back around, Cameron froze. No longer trained on the computer screen, his father's eyes riveted him with the intensity of their glare.

    "You know, Cameron," John Wright said gravely, slowly stroking his thick lower lip, "if I were you, I wouldn't be so concerned about teaching some borderline retarded kid a knot. As you know full well, you have much bigger problems."


    "And let's get another thing straight before you run off to do your good turn. You, boy, have nothing in common with Galileo. You see, in his trial before the Holy Office, he never told anybody he didn't believe in God."

    That said, John Wright turned back to his computer and, with renewed vigor it seemed, resumed pounding the keys.

    Backing slowly out of the office, Cameron felt stunned. How? How did his father know? Did he put a stethoscope up to the wall, or what?

    Barely aware of his surroundings as he walked the short hallway to the church entrance, Cameron kept shaking his head. "No way. No way," he said to himself. "There's no way he could've known what the Eagle board asked me, unless—"

    "Hi, Cam!"

    Looking up, he saw Ricky McGee waving at him from the bench by the front doors. Putting his own problems on the back burner, he forced a smile and crossed the vestibule to sit with his friend.

    "Hey, Ricky," he said. "Ready for your board, I see. You look good in your uniform."

    "Thanks, Cam," Ricky said, grinning behind glasses so thick they magnified his eyes. "You look good, too."

    "How are you today?" Cameron asked.

    "I'm missing my cartoons."


"It's Saturday. I'm missing my cartoons," Ricky repeated. "But, it's okay. Ya know how come?"
"How come?"
"'Cause after I get my Tenderfoot, everybody will stop calling me `Scrub.' They won't call me `the Scrub' anymore."

    "Everybody doesn't call you that," he said, ruffling Ricky's hair. "I don't."

    "You don't. But, everybody else does."

    Cameron gestured at the piece of cord in Ricky's hand. "So, show me how your taut-line's coming."

    "I don't think I'm gonna be able to tie it right, today," Ricky said doubtfully. "But, I'll try."

    Cameron watched closely as the boy struggled for several minutes with little success. Scratching his head, he made a suggestion. "Wait, Ricky," he said. "Do you know what the word taut, in taut-line, means?"


    "It means tight. It's much easier to tie a taut-line hitch if you make sure the standing part of your line is tight. Here, pretend this is a tent stake." He held up his arm.

    "Okay," Ricky said, shrugging. With the tip of his tongue stuck out determinedly, he passed the cord around Cameron's wrist and started over.

    It took a while. A long while. So long, in fact, that eventually Cameron's arm felt like it would fall off. But he didn't complain. And Ricky did make progress. Slowly. Slowly. Until, finally ...

    "You did it!"

    "I did?" Ricky asked. Studying the knot a moment, he got a big grin on his face. "I did! I did it!"

    "Just remember, when you do it for the board, tie it around something," Cameron said. "A table leg or something."

    Frowning, Ricky asked, "Was I too slow? I'm prob'ly the slowest person in the world."

    Cameron shook his head and smiled. "Hey, sometimes slow and steady wins the race. You've heard that old story about the desert tortoise and the jack rabbit, haven't you? The rabbit was way faster but the tortoise still won. He had patience. And persistence."

    "Really? You can be slow and still win?"

    "Sure," Cameron said. "See, no matter who you are, there's always gonna be somebody, sometime, who's faster. Or smarter. Or better at the things you like to do. And, there are always other people who are slower, not as smart, not as good at stuff. That's just the way the world is. You just gotta be the best Ricky McGee you can be. That's all you can do."

    Nodding thoughtfully, Ricky suddenly pointed a finger at Cameron. "Jordan's the best basketball player in the world. Nobody's better than His Airness."

    "Oh, yeah," Cameron answered playfully. "How about ... Sir Charles?"





    "Excuse me, Cameron. We're ready for you to come back in now." The Scout council representative stood waiting in the hallway looking very serious.

    Slipping the cord off his wrist, Cameron handed it to the boy and then got up. "Cover me, Ricky," he said. "I'm goin' in."

    Chuckling, Ricky called after him, "I got your back, Cam!"

    After returning to the conference room and taking their seats, Cameron took a deep breath as the council representative addressed the board from across the table. "Well, we'll keep this short. It's summer, it's Saturday, and I'm sure there are lots of places we would all rather be."

    Everybody smiled and nodded.

    "Reviewing your materials, Cameron," he said, "we are very impressed. These letters of recommendation from your teachers and basketball coaches; from Ralph Smith, your Scoutmaster; and from your minister—a Dr. Dreyfuss-Campbell, is it?"

    Glancing over, Cameron thought he noticed the left board member rolling his eyes.

    "Well, they're all just glowing," the council representative continued. "It seems everyone thinks very highly of you."

    Nodding, Cameron waited for the other shoe to drop.

    "And your Eagle project," the man went on. "Planning, developing, and leading this red-tile-roof construction job for Habitat For Humanity. Raising the funds for the materials, drawing the plans, supervising the Scouts doing the work. As I'm sure you know, Cameron, you helped a low-income family's dreams come true."

    He knew. Okay, cut to the chase, please.

    The man kept going. "And your responses to the board's questions today. All exemplary. The best we've heard. It's obvious you've completed all the requirements for Eagle Scout. All, that is, except one."

    Uh-oh, Cameron thought, sitting up. Here it comes.

    "We're really very sorry, Cameron," the man said, shaking his head. "Considering all your outstanding accomplishments, it is with heavy hearts that, for now at least, our board cannot forward your application to the national office. We do have a suggestion for you, however, that we think will help you become a better Scout."

    "Yes, sir?"

    "Read your Scout Oath carefully, Cameron, and think about it. Hard. And read your Scout Law. Especially, the last Scout Law. Think about that last Scout Law, Cameron, and get back to us when you're ready to try this again."

    With that, the three men looked back and forth a few times and then stood up, leaving Cameron sitting there as they filed toward the door.

    On the way out, the board member from the seat on his left tapped him on the shoulder. "You know, young man," he said, pausing in the doorway. "There is something else you could do."


    "Pray, son," his voice called back as he disappeared with the others into the hallway. "It couldn't hurt you to pray."

    For what seemed a long while, Cameron just sat there, mulling things over. It had been quite a day so far, that's for sure. Finally, shaking his head, he got up, pushed his chair back, and headed into the hall.

    Hoping to avoid his father at all costs, he hurried past the open elders' office doorway. As he did, something surprised him. He glimpsed the Scout council representative in there, jawing quietly with his dad. Evidently they knew each other.

    Arriving in the vestibule, Cameron made a quick stop to touch base with Ricky. "Well, I got dipped and fried to a crispy, crackly crunch by my Eagle board," he told him, only half joking. "I hope your Tenderfoot board goes easier on you. Who's chairing it, anyway?"

    Grinning innocently, Ricky answered, "Your dad."

    Cameron just stared. Sometimes the not-so-amusing ironies of the universe amazed him.

    Managing a "Great.... Good luck," he quickly turned to the front door and pushed it open. He gasped. The hot, dry air hit him like a blast furnace and the loud buzz of cicadas assailed his ears. July in southern Arizona.

    Climbing on his bike, he started pedaling out into the church parking lot when something grabbed his attention, stopping him cold.

    His father's big Suburban Silverado. More specifically, the old sticker on the bumper of his father's Suburban Silverado. BUCHANAN FOR PRESIDENT it read.

    He should've realized it sooner.

    His father made Pat Buchanan look like a bleeding heart liberal. His father knew of his uncertainty about God. His father knew he liked his mother's church better than his. And, his father knew the Scout council representative.

    And, now, Cameron knew.

    He knew exactly how his father had known what the board asked him, and what he'd said.

    He knew. He knew.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2000

    Excellent book for Everyone!

    Great book! Not only were the issues dealt with in a very interesting way, the book was great simply as a novel. This book will open your mind to things you may not have considered before, and you may end up challenging some of your old beliefs about the world and about life. I highly recommend this book.

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