I grew up watching Emergency! from age seven to fourteen, alternating throughout between a simple buff and wanting to be a firefighter. It seems I have chosen the former path, and as a part of that collect patches of fire departments that are relevant to me.
This shoulder patch, worn by the Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics in the show, naturally belongs at the top of my collection, since it commemorates when my fascination with firefighting began.
I didn’t earn this patch in the same way as I did most of those in this column. Nonetheless, having taken my family to visit over a dozen national parks in three years, and having hiked a few National Parks, National Monuments, and National Forests, I figure I’d earned this anyway.
Last month I talked about the President’s Challenge and the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) as being important incentives to changing my thinking and my lifestyle, to getting me off my ass, off of fast food, and onto a much better life.
After earning the PALA four times, I decided to take on a much tougher challenge, the Presidential Champions Award. I managed to make it to the Bronze Award last year, and was starting work on Silver when the program was terminated on August 10.
I’m incredibly proud of this award, which is the highest recognition that I have received for any physical activity since I was in High School. It took me the better part of a year to complete the requirements, and by the time I had completed it, fitness had become a part of my life, rather than something that intimidated me.
While I have yet to encounter serious opposition to the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, an argument can be made, perhaps, that a healthy life is its own reward, and that offering recognition – especially presidential recognition – for simply living a healthy life is a great big precious-snowflake-everybody-gets-a-trophy cow pie.
Statistics and my own experience speak volumes against it. Providing any reasonable incentive to entice people out of McDonald’s and off the couch is not only a good investment, it sets people on a positive path. Getting people addicted to achievement instead of instant gratification is a very different kettle of fish than rewarding mediocrity, especially if you build a program that rewards higher and higher levels of participation and achievement.
I weigh 50 pounds less today – and am healthier now than I was in my thirties – in part due to the President’s Challenge, of which the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, or PALA, is a part. The act of exercising regularly, recording the foods you eat, and gradually replacing less healthy foods with healthier choices is a powerful start, and was my ladder to a place that I always felt was beyond me.
I’ve won the award four times in the past five years, and subsequently used it as a stepping stone to higher achievements. But I can honestly say that this program probably saved my life and my marriage, and I have no doubt I earned this damned patch.
It is one of my proudest achievements, and I will wear it on my BSA Jac-shirt with pride.
If the California desert continues to hold secrets, it is not because they are hidden, but because they are ignored. As we ease into fall, the thoughts of our Scout troop naturally turn inland and towards the desert.
October through March offers the best season to camp in the deserts. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.
One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites were mostly primitive, but there were toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.
We had originally planned to go in February of this year, but cancelled at the last minute. The winter had witnessed a parade of great storms roll through the state that effectively ended the long drought, but also spewed flash floods across the desert floors. Given that Saddleback was accessible only by roads susceptible to flash flooding, and that we were driving in at night, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and rescheduled for March.
It was the right call. Sharing our gigantic site with another troop, we enjoyed the weekend immensely. I picked up this patch at the interpretive center at the northwest corner of the park after a short hike up from our campsite.
No doubt we will be back this way.
It is too easy to take for granted the forces that have created and continue to drive the existence of a scouting movement in the United States. A trip to the National Scouting Museum should eliminate any doubts about why this organization exists, and must continue to exist, as a critical part of our national youth development infrastructure.
We visited the museum in June, just as it was preparing to close and relocate from a commercial park in a Dallas suburb alongside National HQ to a brand new home. The new National Scouting Museum will be at the Philmont Scout Ranch at Cimarron, New Mexico, a place where, the organization’s leadership believes, it will be seen by twice as many people.
We didn’t focus on this during our visit. Instead we had the run of the museum, which did a brilliant job explaining what scouting is, how it is conducted, why it is delivered the way it is, and, perhaps most important, why scouting plays an essential role – as essential as school and sports – in developing young people.
If scouting, broadly speaking, faces a problem in the US, it is that we are far better about delivering these messages to ourselves than we are to people who have know little, nothing, or aught more than disinformation about the organization.
Hopefully, the process of shifting the Museum will open more doors to better exposure. I hope so. The more people who know about the organization and what it REALLY does, the better.
One of our few “fun” stops on our recent trek to Dallas was a stop at the National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America, which has been in Texas since moving from New Jersey in 1979. The building is massive but utilitarian, reflecting the approach of an organization that is increasingly focused on economy.
Sadly, this is the headquarters of a shrinking organization. We’re down to about 2 million registered scouts, a not-insubstantial number to be sure, but a far cry from the numbers in the past. While the program has done a truly unbelievable job of remaining up-to-date and relevant (far more than it was in my day, to be sure, when the organization had become hidebound), some organizational issues (now addressed) and the battle for the time and attention of young people have combined to take its toll on the organization.
I fear that in order to survive, Scouting in the USA will need to cut back on the number of organizations, and move toward a unification of Boy and Girl Scouting.
In the meantime, though, I will dedicate my spare time to supporting the organization, its units, and the youth who make up the organization. I can think of no worthier cause, political correctness be damned.