Friday, September 30, 2016

Scout Trip

I drove up to the Scout Hut in a drizzle. Seven boys, aged eleven years, came pouring out of the building to see if we were still going camping. With heads bobbing in the affirmative and eyes wide in anticipation, they waited for my reply. We had been planning this camp out for weeks; it was extremely difficult to find a convenient time for everyone. The boys were psyched about the prospects of getting into the woods. Should we let a little bit of moisture spoil the trip? I thought not. I looked to Ted, the other scout master and said, "I'm up for it, we have camped in rain before." Ted shrugged and said, "Let's do it." The boys went wild, many had been dreaming of this day for quite some time. They are Utah high desert dwellers who flourish in the rain. Ted threw open the door of his camper shell, allowing the boys to toss in their gear.

My first encounter with Scouting was after Daddy Duke and Momma Rosa moved our family out of Bluff to Livermore, California, where dad spent two years at a community college stepping up his game. Upon re-entering Utah, Blanding to be specific, we three boys ran headlong into Bishop Scott Hurst who introduced us to the Boy Scouts of America. Craig and I were slightly older and behind the advancement curve. Because of sports and puberty, this lack of complete focus was the reason why Craig only made it to Second Class and me to First. Steve, being the youngest and least distracted, was fortunate to be associated with a scout master extraordinare. With the help of Gerald Black, he made the difficult climb to the top of the mountain, and became an Eagle Scout.

When our son Spenser turned eleven his goal was to become a high flyer himself and I soon learned that would take a big commitment from his mother and me. Since Laurie was not all that keen about getting smoke in her eyes, I became Spenser's camp fire companion. Laurie became our quartermaster and mop-up crew. I will forever treasure the times Spenser and I spent hiking, camping, cooking and just being outdoors in the name of Scouting. Although he and I now live in different places, we still enjoy getting together and reliving that experience.

After Spenser accomplished his goal and moved-on, I was made advancement chairman and eventually scout master over the eleven-year old boys. These younger scouts are in our troop for one year. With the aid of a calm and collected assistant scout master, it is our duty to help the boys achieve the rank of First class. Since ours is a small town with few conscripts, Bronson and I have joined with Ted's troop and his assistant, Kasper, to gain strength in numbers.

As I mentioned previously, it was raining when we made our way up into Blue Mountain. That day Ted and I were the only leaders available, and yes we were afraid! Managing eleven-year old boys is no easy task, keeping them contained and out of harms way is a full-time job. What with an abundance of knives, axes and saws, along with a raging fire, there is much to worry about. I have never known a boy who was not a pyromaniac at heart. When returned to the wild, young boys go a little crazy. They have a tendency to attempt to conquer their surroundings and will endeavor to climb over, under or through just about any obstacle they bump up against. It is not unusual to find one, or several, high centered, ledged or stuck in one fashion or another. The lesson, for scoutmasters, is to be aware, patient, understanding and carry a powerful antacid.

Speaking of heartburn, the boys eventually managed to get their tents set up, mopped up and bedding set in place before it was time for supper. Because scouts are required to cook all three meals, and their attention span is less than one minute in duration, food service often goes awry.  On these camping trips I have had some of the worst meals ever and some of the most pleasurably memorable. Since those meals were cooked by such young men, I hesitate to say they were some of the best tasting, because burnt offerings are common fare. As scoutmasters we never accomplish as much as we would like, but we generally get more than we give. It is always a happy time when everyone is tented up and down for the count. In this case that time was somewhere around 3:00 a.m.

You have not truly experienced the joy of a camp out until you have fallen onto your bedroll at the end of a long and harrowing day and listened in on a group of boys hurling humorous insults at each other through walls of rip-stop nylon, then laughing merrily at their own dubious creativity. I am certain many a scoutmaster has fallen into a fitful sleep with a smile on his face and doubt in his heart at what stories might be related upon parental cross-examination. To be sure, as scoutmasters, we do hear home related stories from the mouths of those same babes, which we hold in perpetuity until forced into a corner. We have realized that the best defense is a good offense.

I have never known a scoutmaster that sleeps through the night. I get up several times to circle the camp and make certain all is well. I will keep the campfire burning because the flames seem to calm the hearts and minds of boys who have spent most of the night telling scary stories. I woke, the last time, just before 5:00 a.m., to the sound of coyotes howling and elk bugling. Now that is the perfect wake-up call. I thought the boys would sleep in, but they didn't, they too heard the call of the wild. They were also excited for a hearty breakfast and a good hike. They were hoping to spot a bear, turkey, or anything with fur or feathers.

On this particular camp-out we set up where cows had recently been and we earned another valuable lesson: Any kind of manure is worthy of a bad joke and fresh cow pies are made to splatter with big rocks. Woe is the boy who stands in the way of a shower of shist. I am certain many a parent wonders just how that stuff got on their child's clothing and, even though I witnessed the occurrence myself, it is difficult to explain the why and how of the shituation. On our hike we learned to let one scoutmaster lead the group and the other to follow behind to retrieve lost items and lost boys. Doing so saves a great deal of time and frustration. The boys soon learned that a gang of rowdy, highly vocal campers seldom see much wildlife. Only mule deer hung around to see what the commotion was about.

Too soon it was time to return the boys to their parents. It was difficult to get them loaded and on the road; they were planning another outing before we closed the last gate. I knew we would catch flak for our odoriferous re-entry into society. Wood smoke and fresh dung permeates all things and is not always acceptable to all people. Upon dropping-off one of our scouts, his mother met us on the porch to welcome her son home. As she came out the door, saw us and drew in a welcome breath, she winced visibly and said. "Wow! I can smell you guys from here!" I guessed the distance to be 50 feet. Never underestimate the power of a mother's sensory perception. Laurie too reported knowing just when we hit town from her workplace, which is over a mile away. I suspect she did not actually smell our arrival but, from past experience, knew exactly what to expect.

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