Patch of the Month: Yuletide Special

Opening the holiday greetings, I was pleased to find a card from the Ventura County Council. I work with the team there rather a lot, and they are dedicated, caring, and inspiring.

Enclosed was this gift, a little blessing to a patch collector like myself: a limited edition council-specific patch with the Council’s legendary summer camp, Three Falls, with a visitation by Mr. Claus and his personal herd of Rangifer tarandus. This one will not find its way to eBay: it’s a keeper.

Merry Xmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Good Festivus, and a belated chag sameach to all, and to all a Happy New  Year.

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Camp Turkey

The best time and place to eat a deep-fried turkey: November, at the family campout two weeks before Thanksgiving, surrounded by active young people who will eat all but a full slices so that I am not inclined to eat half the damned bird.

Seriously delicious, and courtesy of our wise and tireless Scoutmaster, Mr. E.

The Kid Sleeps

While the rest of the troop curls up in their tents, our intrepid Senior Patrol Leader throws down a ground cloth, a pad, and his sleeping bag alongside his backpack, curls up, and snores contentedly. Behind him is his camp chair, to which he has tied his crutches, upon which he has neatly hung his field uniform (“Class-As”), water bottle in reach.

He’s come a very long way since our first campout together 9-1/2 years ago. Now he wants to take me backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail.  He has gone from video game couch-potato to an intrepid outdoorsman, and I give all the credit to the Boy Scouts of America and the encouragement of his teachers at school.

A little note to my friends in China and elsewhere who disparage the value of extra-academic endeavors beyond those that will polish college applications: when we slash everything out of our children’s lives but academics, we not only shortchange our offspring: we shortchange society, our nations, and the world at large.

Never in our history has it been more important to raise resilient children.

Start now.

Shadow of the Inferno

Wildfire morning. The flames are a dozen miles away, but here downwind, you wouldn’t know it. The smell of burning brush hangs heavily in the air and the cars are covered with ash. We’re not worried for ourselves: that dozen miles is all flat, and there is a six mile wide fire break in the form of vast berry fields twixt the flames and our town.

But we worry for our friends in the hills, and for the kids in our scout troop who are going through the stress of evacuation.

We toy with the idea of cancelling our family campout, but decide to go ahead. A good thing, too: two of our Navy families being evacuated out of Point Mugu can’t find housing nearby for the night, so the campground is the best alternative.

And, frankly, everyone needs a little distraction to relieve the stress, so where better than in the minutiae of setting up camp?

Bye, Baby

After five delightful years, we decided to sell our Itasca Navion motor home. We loved our house-on-wheels, but the painful truth that we discovered was that between my business travel, my son’s school, the demands that scouting placed on our weekends, and my wife’s growing preference for hotel rooms, we just weren’t using it as much as we should.

So we did the best thing for her and for us, and we took her back to the wonderful folks at Conejo RV, who had originally sold her to us, and they gave us a very fair price to pass her on to another (hopefully less busy) family.

I cannot say enough great things about either Itasca (which is to Winnebago what Lexus is to Toyota) or the Navion, or the dealer. We had an unforgettable experience all around, and (don’t tell my wife) I will be purchasing an RV again when 60-70-hour work weeks are no longer a regular occurrence in my life, and when the open road and solo camping are at least a weekend a month.

For now, though, my SUV and my pup-tent are my second home, as is appropriate for a scout leader with a day job.

Bye, baby. And thank you.

Arrowman at Last

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.

Dawn at Camp 3 Falls

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.

And the day in camp begins.