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Taking It Personally: My Summer Vacation

Thoughts ... including whether it really is a vacation.

The draft of my column for this week was written on the back of a large envelope.

“Oh, c’mon” you are probably saying. “That Abraham Lincoln-writing-by-the-light-of-the-fire stuff was old a hundred years ago.”

It is true that I did not write by the light of a fire. There was one burning nearby, but I used a Coleman lantern, which my eyes really appreciated.

. I was thinking Paris at the time. In fact, for the past week I have been without any reliable links to the outside world. No bars on my cellphone. No Internet connection. Very iffy landline phone service, which requires an arduous walk to use. Nobody has a radio or MP3 player. No video games, either. In fact, no electricity except in a very few spots -- and my tent is not one of them.

Tent? Yes, I am at camp as an adult Boy Scout leader. It is a primitive camp, so the Scouts cook all their own food while learning to function as a small group called a patrol.

I started to write this as a vacation piece, but given that a Scout is trustworthy (first Scout Law), I am not sure what I have been doing, because how to characterize camp is a tough one.

Like many things in life, camp consists of ups and downs.

Sunday is Hope.

The troop is prepared, so check-in goes smoothly. Troop pictures cause only a minor glitch, and the first meal is easily prepared. The griddle is your friend, plus hot dogs and hamburgers are easy.

On Monday, Hope begins to fray a bit around the edges.

Administrative details begin to crop up. One Scout can’t take the swimming merit badge because he has an ear problem, so we have to move things around so he can go with another patrol for the day.  Oops, that patrol is now too big, so we have to find another patrol.  Oops, age mismatch, which may cause problems. And so on.

Tuesday starts with mild Despair, which deepens as the day wears on. 

The meals are a little harder to cook by now. The Scouts who were eager to do meal prep the first couple of days now want others to step up. Scout troops are Scout-led, so an adult can’t just step in and order something to be done. That probably wouldn’t work anyway.

Moreover, the adult leaders who had planned to get some things done during this week are falling behind. The Tom Clancy novel I brought with me is under my cot, unread. A couple of homesick Scouts are explaining to me why the only cure for what ails them is to be sent home.

Wednesday, Hope starts to emerge again.

The breakfast features French toast. All the patrols do a very good job. The Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) -- the Scout who runs the troop -- is settling into his job and doing it well. The older Scout patrol, some of them older than the SPL, are becoming very supportive and setting a good example of how to do things. I spot two older Scouts talking to a second-year Scout about why he feels a little homesick and how to handle it.

Thursday is Despair again. 

At least half the troop has trouble cooking breakfast. Worse, with the evening meal also a camp-wide competition, at least three patrols fall far behind on supper preparation and that spreads to the rest of the troop. One patrol never does get a real meal on the table, although they do produce an entry in the cooking competition that includes strawberries dipped in a chocolate fondue.

But then comes Friday and with it there is Hope again, followed by at least partial Bliss. 

The patrols have jelled. Breakfast is cooked quickly and efficiently with little need for prodding. A certain spirit is rising with patrols working together. They cheer each other on. With the end of this week near, several Scouts are now thinking they do not want this week to end.  What seemed like an endless week yesterday is now turning out to be all too short. I have learned all over again that the glitches and setbacks are all part of the learning process.

By Saturday we are a troop with six patrols, each with a clear identity. 

We clean up camp, gather our belongings, go through campsite inspection, and then head on down that terrible hill to the administration building to greet the parents and to close camp for the week with an all-troops get-together.

The Scouts chatter all the way down, talking about sailing, logging camp, blacksmithing, horseback riding, waterskiing and tubing -- and all the other things they have done.

There are more than a few moist eyes as Scouts and leaders from other troops say goodbye to each other and promise to be back next year. There are three patrol awards for our troop, including the Cast Iron Chef Award to the patrol who produced the chocolate fondue.

I am the last to leave, so I sit down at a table, open a Coke, and pull out my netbook so I can turn my scribbles into a column.

Was this a vacation? I don’t think so. But was it work? Absolutely not.  If pressed, I guess I would simply say that it was a time to sort out what is important and what is not. It was also a renewal of faith in many things such as why our commitment to our kids is so important.

It was also a time to hear those skits and songs, which are still funny even though I first heard many of them more than 50 years ago. I picked up a few new ones, of course, such as the Thought of the Day for Thursday: “It is said that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. But let’s face it—throwing stones at anybody is just plain bad behavior,no matter what kind of house you live in.” 

Big cheer … and it’s true.

Gini Shevrin August 18, 2011 at 01:29 AM
And a memorable time was had by all. Wish I was there...
Denise J. Dubé August 18, 2011 at 03:15 AM
As always, fantastic piece.
Beth August 19, 2011 at 04:03 PM
The bug on the picture is brown marmorated stinkbug featured In August 2011 Issue Of National Geographic.
Hank Manz August 21, 2011 at 03:23 AM
I love the name marmonated stink bug, but for some reason I think that the stink bug is rounder and usually about the size of a dime. This one was close to 1.5" long. I assumed it was one of sawyers that feed on pine trees. On the other hand, bugs are not something I know much about so I will bow to anybody with more knowledge than I have. BTW -- after two weeks of running up and down hills and not snacking between meals, I am at least 10 pounds lighter and I had to punch a new hole in my belt so I could cinch it more tightly.
Beth August 22, 2011 at 06:09 PM
hmm .... I thought chairing the Board of Selectmen takes more energy then running up and down hills :)
Gini Shevrin August 22, 2011 at 06:23 PM
@Beth: I've run up and down that hill - definitely more energy required, but at least at the top of the hill there is a tent, and a cot!
Hank Manz August 23, 2011 at 02:32 AM
I may have overstated the agility I display when going up and down the hill. Most of the time I ... uhhhh ... drag up and down it. Part of the fun is choosing a trail. There are many. Some are moderately steep the entire way. Some are relatively flat with two or three really steeeeep places. And there is one that is steep only at the start, but it feels like a precursor to a heart attack when you use that route. I am still looking for an ID for that bug. I found some more pictures of stink bugs which look an awful lot like it, but they all specify a size of 0.6" max while that critter was more than twice that big. There are a couple of thick reference books in Cary Library, but they are indexed by Latin name and not by common name which makes finding anything really tough. Some of the sawyer bugs look close and the red oak and white oak borers are a possibility as well.

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