Ever since I was a Boy Scout in the 1970s, I have always wanted to be a member of the Order of the Arrow. The national honor society for the BSA is selective: candidates are elected by their troops from among scouts who have reached the First Class rank, and once selected are then tested in a weekend-long process called an Ordeal.
I never made it as a scout, and never expected to make it as an adult leader. Adult leaders are elected as well, but their candidacy is not automatic: adult candidates are then reviewed at the Council level for suitability and for demonstrated commitment to scouting ideals.
Quite unexpectedly this year, my name was submitted by my troop, and I was called out at a special ceremony at the April Camporee. I couldn’t even be there – I was in China on business. But I accepted (naturally) and submitted myself on June 1st for Ordeal.
The specifics of Ordeal are a closely-held secret, known only to members of the Order. Suffice to say that it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in four years as a scout and nine years as an adult leader, but it was also transformative in obvious and subtle ways that continue to manifest themselves months later.
It was one of my life’s great experiences, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.
This is the best time of a summer day in California’s Traverse Ranges. A trickle of sea breeze sneaks in from the West, and the desert to the east has not quite made its influence felt. At 64F at 6am, the temperature will rise one degree every twelve minutes for the next six hours, and the humidity will drop below 20% and stay there until long after sunset.
I am as yet the only one awake in camp. I sit in my chair and enjoy the cool and quiet, planning the day, grateful that kind colleagues and spotty coverage ensure that flow of emailed trivialities shan’t interrupt it.
A last coyote protests the dawn in a far hillside. A blue jay darts across my view. The yellow jackets hum in the water buckets. And the trees hum with that distinctive sound made only by a mountainside of conifers catching a rising breeze, sounding like the distant roar of a cheering crowd.
The camp stirs. Alarm clocks go off in six tents within a few moments of each other. Groans, yawns, and farts emerge from the tents long before their sources do, but the troop is waking. I pull on my Keens, straightening my field uniform, and pull my protesting bones out of my chair.
“Good morning, two thirty-four,” I say at a low baritone.
The scenery was beautiful, and any other time of the year it would be an ideal place to take a scout troop camping.
In the summer, during a heat wave, temperatures in triple-digits, relative humidity 10%, and no shade beyond our canopies and tent flies is not ideal. The expression on my face was unintentional: five minutes in the sun was too much.
After this short recon, we decided to shift the campout to someplace with water.
We will camp at Red Rock eventually, but we will wait for a time of year when the list of available activities can extend beyond endurance and survival.