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.