The Return to Scout Camp
For the second straight year, I returned to Boy Scout camp as an adult leader this past week. I wrote about my experience last year in my hub Going Back to Boy Scout Camp.
This time, I returned to the actual camp I attended as a scout, nearly 40 years ago. Honestly, there isn't much I remembered from that time- my experience was rather neutral. What I do remember was not being able to pass the swim test, doing some kind of craft project, and and I also recall the morning flag ceremony on the rocks by the lake front (see photo at right).
I can tell much is the same, though. In talking with the Camp Director, I learned the Camp was at risk of being shut down by the county before they completed a million-dollar upgrade to the kitchen, added water lines, and expanded the lodge. As I told him in response, I suppose that's the value of having the camp around to so long - at least one of the boys who attended as a youth now had the means the donate enough to keep the place afloat!
The seasoned scout
My son was a bit more seasoned this year, so we strategized in advance how he could take four classes in Eagle-required merit badges: Environmental Science, Emergency Preparedness, Camping and Communications. He tells me he would like to earn the Eagle rank, which is a wonderful life accomplishment, so I just serve as a gentle motivator and mentor to him - he does all the work!
I have to tell you, both a scout and an adult leader need a resilient spirit to participate in these programs, and for we adults, a good set of earplugs! The staff are, let's just say, very spirited - yelling, singing, doing skits, and belting out the lyrics to the theme to Spongebob Square pants, Gilligan's Island, or whatever song or limerick came to mind, at the top of their lungs before every meal. I joked with one of the other parents that after a few days I began developing a Pavlovian response, where whenever I heard yelling, I'd start to salivate, knowing food was on its way!
My son is a goofball at home, though put him with a bunch of crazies, he normalizes pretty quickly and is actually quite a good student, focused on completing his requirements.
But don't get me wrong: goofball first, student second!
Okay, so I have to admit I'm not much of a rule-follower by nature. If the rules are convenient, sure, but ...
Every day, when the boys went to classes, I did some trail running on my own, increasing my mileage every day. On the third day, I pushed myself a little longer, then decided to see if I could run around the whole lake. I never mapped it out. Never researched whether it was possible...or advisable. My goal was to make it back by lunch. Two hours into my run/walk about 11:00, I stood across the lake from Camp, having run and walked around half of the lake, past a resort, down remote service roads with sticks in hand, lest I need to "look big" for a bear or mountain lion. At that moment, staring across the lake, I realized I wasn't going to make it back for lunch, and that this trek might take awhile. I definitely didn't want to be rescued - what kind of example would that have set? Plus, I have testosterone. Nuff said.
I also began to realize there were no more roads or trails around the rest of the lake. Only huge slabs of granite, trees, cliffs and shrubbery. Since I don't normally drink unfiltered Sierra water due to the potential of giardia or other nasty bacteria, I was dehydrated, scratched up and exhausted when I discreetly walked into camp four hours after I started - no one the wiser, and my ego intact.
After I'd downed a couple of liters of water, my son wanted to go boating during free time, so we went down to the waterfront, checked out a canoe and paddled to the far side of the lake, knowing we had to be back by 5. At the far side, we docked, got out and went into the water for a bit, before getting back into the boat and paddling back to Camp. As we crossed the lake, we were greeted by a speedboat with three Camp staffers who said an APB had gone out on us because we were reported missing. Apparently, we weren't supposed to go outside the buoys, which seems a little silly to me - kind of like saying here's a sailboat, but you have to keep it in the bathtub...
The obviously very frazzled staff member lectured us about orientation and whether we'd listened when they said we weren't supposed to go beyond the buoys. "Evidently not," I responded. I thought free boating meant you just had to be back in time. I did feel like I owed it to the poor guy to at least pretend to be contrite, since we were oblivious in not following the rules, which were supposedly about safety, but seemed pretty obvious to me to be more about their legal liability.
So on our way back to camp, everyone teased us "bad boys". I thought it was funny (or karma) that I escaped notice for my first adventure, but got caught on my second!
I have to take a pause moment to address an issue that has recently hit the news.
One observation I have about the Boy Scouts is that it became fairly clear while there that they've become a liability-avoiding machine. They pass out a huge tome of rules, and spend most of the first day repeating the myriad of "don't's" to the boys and leaders, which is fine. The problem is when the fear of legal liability exceeds common sense.
Which brings me to the troubling issue of them denying homosexuals from any type of leadership role in Boy Scouts. It is a bit astounding to me that an organization of this size and standing still does not understand the difference between a homosexual and a pedophile. All leaders must attend Youth Protection Training, which includes a large number of specific rules requiring "two deep leadership", to preclude any circumstance with an adult and a child theirs from being alone together at any time. These are good protections for anyone having their child in the care of any organized group, and I fully support those rules.
But to deny outstanding fathers and even former Eagle Scouts the ability to participate if they are "avowed" homosexuals is shameful on scouting as an organization. Locally, people in scouts are reasonable and politically neutral. On a national level, they need to realize they are killing a wonderful concept that must adapt to the times or perish. Prohibiting homosexuals does not make me feel safer; it makes me feel less safe, because there is an inherent trust violated when the people making the rules are obviously more interested in politics than logic, compassion and common sense.
I don't let such things detract from the value the program brings to my son, and to so many youth, who simply don't learn self-reliance from many sources any more. While at camp, the boys conducted several service projects, such as building and repairing plywood platforms and improving trails. They learn wonderful life skills, and almost all adult leaders and scouts truly cherish the experience of exploration, adventure, learning and community.
On one of the many wonderful evening campfires, Camp Winton staff put on a nighttime ceremony honoring native Americans through a campy and clandestine ritual where the boys were given blindfolds and led to a lakeside fire while being reminded to be trustworthy, kind, courteous, clean, brave, reverent, etc. The massive fire and ceremony were visually impressive.
I sincerely hope the Boy Scouts will continue to survive and thrive as an organization in a spirit of inclusion. There's an element of it that is timeless and always relevant that sustains a compelling need. I'm happy for the opportunity to have my son attend and learn in this important venue, which I hope can nurture his spirit, heighten his sense of self-reliance, and help him and others to become the kind of leaders, fathers and men this world truly needs.