Saturday, December 19, 2009

Flashback: My First Night of Camping

While I visit my father in Chicago, I thought I would share with you my very first post about camping with the Boy Scouts.  You'll recognize the first paragraph.  Enjoy!  I'll be back with a new post on Monday.

It was still dark when I awoke last Saturday morning, wondering who let the woodpecker into the camp grounds. I was unaware that woodpeckers were nocturnal and lived in the cold. Then I realized that the sound I was hearing was my teeth chattering because I was freezing! I didn’t actually sleep last Friday night. I shivered through a light doze, listening to the gentle lapping of water as it hit the banks of the tiny peninsula that we camped on called “Scout Island.” I listened to the sound of the wind whip through my tent because I was sleeping in a strange tent that I had to set up in the dark which meant that I didn’t know there were two mesh windows on either end of the tent, one of which I set up into the wind. I didn’t realize that I failed to cover the mesh windows with the rainfly, which I attached sideways. My house for the night was a small nylon Coleman wind tunnel. Add to that the fact that I was sandwiched between the tents of two other dads who left chainsaws running in their tents all night, my answer to the most frequently asked question on Saturday morning, “How did you sleep last night?” was “The coffee better be good!”

Boy Scout Troop 042 was an impressive bunch of kids. 042 is a “boy lead” troop, which means that the boys do not watch as adults show them “how to.” The adults watch as the boys show that they know “how to.” We arrived at the camp site, stepped back, and watched fifteen boys between the ages of 11-17 as they unloaded their chuck boxes, gathered wood, started camp fires, and set up their tents. These kids had fires burning in a couple of minutes and there wasn’t a match among them. Another dad and I took the troop’s water jugs to find a working spigot (apparently, I was the only person to bring five gallons of water from home) and by the time we returned to drop off the water jugs at each camp site the kids were completely situated for the night.

General Mayhem’s patrol leader was Harry Houdini, a kind and friendly thirteen year old who was difficult to find since he was covered from head-to-toe in camouflage. He helped the General get situated. You’d be standing alone in the dark, watching the activity in each camp, when a friendly voice would ask “Can I help you?” and this kid would materialize at your elbow. He did most of the cooking for their patrol and made sure that the General was fed. General Mayhem didn’t understand that each patrol had food for the weekend, and he went to camp thinking that the only food he had to eat for two days were the snacks that we sent with him. The scout master helped the General set-up a tent and gave him an extreme cold weather sleeping bag, guaranteed to make you sweat at temperatures below -30º.

It was an interesting weekend. The scout master and all of the dads slept and camped a short distance up the road from the boys. The boys took care of themselves. They woke up each morning, started their fires, cooked their food, and prepared for the day’s activities. The dads checked on the boys, but the boys took care of themselves. One of the older scouts confiscated the General’s pocket knife, explaining that he needed to go through safety training before he could carry it. A short time later Harry sat down with the General, gave him the safety training, and returned the knife. No adults involved.

The surprise of the weekend came as I drove a van load of scouts from our campsite to the eagle overlook at Missouri’s Squaw Creek National Wildlife Preserve on Saturday morning. The troop is sponsored by one Catholic Church, but many of the scouts attend mass at other Catholic Churches in the area. As I was turning into the preserve I tuned in to the conversation behind me in the van. One scout said, “I can’t stand that nun. She has absolutely no love in her heart. She’s as mean as they come.”

The other boys stated their agreement, and started telling stories of how mean this woman was.

Intrigued, I asked, “What is her name?”

“Sister Mary Battle Axe,” they replied.

“Oh yeah!” I said. “I know her.” I think it was at that moment that I was accepted into the troop as one of their own.

I solved my cold weather camping troubles the second night with a little help from the scout master. He gave me an extra sleeping bag that I laid underneath my bag. The extra bag helped me retain body heat during the night. I covered the exposed windows, and that night the temperature rose ten degrees outside of the tent. Coupled with my exhaustion and one Benadryl capsule, I slept soundly Saturday night.

Sunday morning was Friday night in reverse. The boys broke camp, packed the trailer, and we hit the road for the trip home. I drove home with four scouts in my car. The general was in another car with a new friend, a home schooled scout. The conversation in the van turned to hunting knives, and shortly each boy brought out their weapon of choice. There wasn’t a blade shorter than six inches, each one sharp enough to shave with, although none of the boys in the van were even close to having facial hair. They discussed the merits of cold steel blades versus hardened steel blades and explained how each knife could be used for hunting and cooking. One could be turned around and used as an axe or a pry bar. Two of them were capable of launching small rockets into orbit. As the knife conversation began to dwindle I turned on the radio and attempted to find the score of the Chief’s game but the boys commandeered the radio for some hard rock to listen to.

I tolerated a few minutes of squabbling over radio stations before I told them, “Pick a station or I’ll make you listen to my kids’ Veggie Tales Cds.”

"Veggie Tales!” they cried. “We love Veggie Tales!”

A minute later these hard core campers, these kids who spent the weekend cooking over a campfire and sleeping on the frozen tundra of northwestern Missouri, sheathed their bayonets, cranked the volume to an ear pounding level, and shouted along with Bob, Larry, and Junior Asparagus at 70 miles per hour down the interstate. Gone were the young men who spent the weekend stepping boldly into a man’s world. The kids were back, merrily singing The Sabu Song without a hint of embarrassment.

It’s an impressive group of kids with a dedicated core group of dads who were eager to welcome a new member into the group, even a stone cold rookie like myself. The General had a big grin on his face most of weekend. He was welcomed into the troop and encouraged to join in immediately. He wants to go back. We’re camping again in December. This experience is crucial because in order to continue home schooling we need to have more activities for the General to participate in that involve kids his age. Between Karate, Scouting, and the youth group at our church next year, we can plan on continuing to school at home through sixth grade. The General and I want that. The boss agrees.

Two years later: Harry Houdini is one of the Eagle Scouts who spent last Saturday night in a


TobyBo said...

praying for your visit. Thanks for leaving us something to read while you are away.

CrossView said...

Love the contrast between the hardened men-to-be campers and the boys who still love Veggie Tales!