Archived Story

Scouting leaves positive glow

Published 12:00pm Friday, February 2, 2007

For reasons unknown, the Northern Lights Council of the Boy Scouts mailed me a copy of its newsletter last week.

I don’t have a connection with the council, haven’t had much involvement with the Scouts for several decades, but the newsletter’s arrival was the second reminder this month of my Scouting past.

Earlier in January, I was having lunch in a cafeteria-type place and, as I walked to a table with my tray, another diner called out, “Hey, were you at Philmont?”

He proudly showed me his Philmont Scout Ranch belt and buckle, twins of the one I was wearing. I had found the belt in a box a few years ago and have been wearing it ever since with jeans — not because of the Scouting connection, mostly just because it fit.

Talking with this fellow, I had to admit that I don’t remember much about my trip to the Scouts’ wilderness backpacking camp in New Mexico. Thirty years is a long time.

But I do remember the endless hours riding on a school bus from Madison, Wis. I remember not showering for about three weeks. And I remember joining other boys from my group in killing and cooking a rattlesnake, one afternoon right after we had made camp. I do not believe this was an approved activity.

(No, I don’t remember what it tasted like. In any case, the little chunks of meat that we had skewered on sticks and roasted were too charred to have much flavor.)

My troop was an active one. We went camping every month, 12 months a year, did an annual week at Camp Castle Rock along the Wisconsin River, and logged many a mile on special trips — from New Mexico to Washington, D.C.

If I were to list the things I saw and did and learned in Scouting, this column would never end.

And over it all lies a positive glow of good experiences.

Yet over the years, when I have told my kids about boyhood experiences with Scouts, the things I most often choose to recount are slightly unpleasant or worse: endless bus rides, camping in the rain, ticks, burned food, burned fingers, a broken bone, frostbitten toes in frigid winter camps, boyish tricks played and received, dirt, sunburn ….

Those are the stories that get told, because those things make the best stories. The times when everything went well, which was most often, are just not as entertaining.

There’s more to it than that, more than just the good tales that come from minor crises. Adventure, which is a big part of Scouting, is about putting yourself in places where things are not necessarily going to go well all the time.

And it is those times when we learn the things that will help us along later in life.
Three days of rain on a backpacking trip? Well, you won’t melt — and if you use your head, you don’t even need to be too uncomfortable. Burned supper? Cowboy-up, it won’t hurt you.

Nothing teaches like experience, and without the experience we do not learn as fast or as well.

We learned to take the Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” to heart. It is a lesson I still apply daily, just as the Scouts taught me.

Likewise, Scouting taught us about leadership, about service and about being a good friend. I do not know that I learned those lessons particularly well.

But much of whatever I did manage to learn, I credit to our Scout leaders’ example, to trips in the wilderness and to field trips to dozens of places I would not otherwise have visited.

At the time, I did not realize I was learning anything. It is only looking back that the sum of the experiences becomes evident.

I am glad to see, in looking through the Northern Lights newsletter, that Boy Scouts remains an active and vigorous organization. The organization’s 97th birthday is Feb. 8. I hope it has at least 97 more.

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