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The Lost Boy Scouts

When 11 Cub Scouts and three adults join forces for a three-day camp-out, the boys seem to lose their senses. The parents simply lose their minds.

By David Hawley, Staff Writer

From the July 4th, 1994; B section of the Pioneer Press.

The 10-year-old boy sits at a picnic table, clutching an orange and whining at the top of his lungs. “Hey, I need a knife to cut this orange. Who has a knife to cut this orange? Somebody get me a knife to cut this orange.”

“Keep your eyes on my finger,” I say, holding it about 10 inches in front of his face. Then I slowly lower my finger until it points to the knife that lies on the table directly in front of him. “What’s that?” I ask. He regards it for several moments before answering. “Oh, yeah, that’s a knife.”

It’s a typical quality-time moment at Webelos Camp. After spending three days in the woods with 11 Cub Scouts (and two other adults, thank God), I’m convinced that camping with kids this age produces major, though temporary, childhood afflictions.

They Include:
Loss of hearing: This condition is a group phenomenon, surfacing when phrases like “put down those sharp sticks” or “wash your plates and silverware” are uttered. At first, you think they’re ignoring you. Then after noticing a glazed quality in their eyes, you realize that they’re listening to the call of the wild.
Loss of sight: A tiny toad or a hapless daddy longlegs is instantly spotted, but ask them to pick up trash or the dropped food that rings the picnic tables and they are struck with sudden blindness. Trash? What trash?
Loss of motor skills: Food seems to flee from their plates to the ground. Milk erupts from their drinking cups. This phenomenon strikes at mealtime followed by the sudden blindness during cleanup.
Shortness of zips: This is the inability to close the misquote screening on tents. The severity of the affliction varies from scout to scout, but the worst victims soon display large pink bumps on their exposed limbs.
Sever bouts of bellowing: This phenomenon is somehow connected to being outdoors in the company of male peers who are all brandishing sticks. For complete understanding, read “Lord of the Flies.”
Flashlight palsy: Sometimes called “faux Morse coding,” this condition surfaces at night when everyone is supposed to be sleeping. Spasmodic flashlighting goes on for hours, but the condition decreases on the second night after batteries weaken. No one wants to be left with a dead flashlight – not at night, not in the deep dark woods.
Hydrophobia: All forms of water are feared, with the exception of water that is mixed with grape flavoring. Hot water is particularly abhorrent, especially when it is mixed with dishwashing soap. Since our camp has no showers, the severest fear of all is avoided. I suspect that one of the exceptions to this fear is large amounts of standing water than can by walking through piles of sand, but our camp has no beach.
Tactile sensitivity: This is an aversion to certain fabrics. To avoid it, Scouts don’t change their clothes for three days.

Our Cub Scout pack meets in Minneapolis, which means were part of the Viking Council organization of the Boy Scouts of America. The council has sponsored three- and four-day Cub Scout campouts for a number of years at Camp Stearns near Fairhaven. Boys who attend are next year’s fourth- and fifth-graders, called Webelos (an acronym for “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts”).

About 75 Scouts and 25 adults from eight different communities attended a recent camp session, including our group from Pack 120 in South Minneapolis.

Webelos Camp is a program run primarily by Boy Scouts, some of them only five or six years older than the kids they’re instructing. Our camp “facilitator”, for example, was a tall gangling 15-year-old Scout who showed us how to erect or tents, led our campers like a pied piper to assemblies and flag ceremonies and spent hours helping the Cubbies earn their “Geologist” advancement badge.

Older staffers, one of them a former tank commander in the Army, introduced the cubbies to the rigorous formality of a military-styled rifle range (BB guns at this age level), showed them how to shoot a bow and arrow and gave instructions in the first aid. The Scouts in other packs earned different activity badges – “Naturalist,” “Outdoorsman” and “Forester” – and learned how to build campfires, tie knots and use compasses. And, of course, there were campfires. On the first night, the assembled group sang songs that have been around for generates, summoned the “fire fairy” to light the blaze and laughed at the skits that made their parent-leaders groan with nostalgia. They also listened to the camp director give a little speech about “respect.” Sounds corny. It was, it is, it always will be. And for these Scouts, it will always be remembered.

The camp experience was not all smooth sailing. When it came to preparing meals, everyone wanted to cook, everyone wanted to eat, no one wanted to clean. At one breakfast, 11 boys argued about cracking three-dozen eggs. “That’s three apiece and three left over,” one of them shouted as 22 hands shot simultaneously in the direction of the egg containers. Result: Well, a lot of cracked eggs and a few missing yokes.

And there were bad moments. On the first night, some our Scouts got in to a scuffle with Scouts from another pack, and one of our boys wound up writhing on the ground in a little pain and a lot of fear and humiliation.

The incident was not taken lightly. There are explanations and confessions and apologies. And there was a consequence: All the participants, even those who had hit and fled, agreed to clean a latrine. “Justice stinks,” one of them said to me.

And then he added: “Get it? Y’know stinks, like the latrine.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

In the end, there were moments that parents are lucky to witness. During one event, called the “Adventure Trail,” a guide presented our Scouts with obstacles that required team planning and team effort. The group’s principal troublemaker – an overbearing bully most of the time – suddenly emerged as the team’s chief strategist and leader. “Very impressive,” the guide said, looking directly at the boy, who beamed. A few hours later, the boy was acting up again, but that moment on the Adventure Trial was something to savor.

It was, to be perfectly honest, a relief when Webelos Camp ended. The last hours of the last afternoon were the worst – when tents had to be struck and the campsite cleared of all but our memories. After three days of heat and sweat and emulating “Lord of the Flies,” our boys were pooped and filthy. And then came the finally indignity:

We made them carry there own gear out of the woods.

No one balked, for they were heading for there parents, a family dinner prepared by the staff (what a relief) and a closing ceremony. We had won a “Super Pack” award, a blue ribbon to hang from the pack’s banner.

It was then that one of our Scouts, a quiet, self-sufficient, serious boy who seemed far too mature for his years, learned that his mother wasn’t coming. Another parent would be taking him back to Minneapolis.

The disappointment was too much for him, and while his comrades ate with their families, he wandered across a nearby field, weeping bitterly. Eventually, he returned to the dining shelter and sat alone at a table. Some of the other boys, in ones and twos, drifted over to him, sat down, saying nothing at first, then whispering: “You can ride home with me … no, ride home with me.” They were being, Webelos. Ask what it stands for and they’ll tell you: “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts.”

I'm Gonna Eat Worms
(a camp song)

Nobody loves me,
Everybody hates me,
I'm gonna eat some worms,
Big, fat, juicy ones,
Long, skinny, slimy ones,
itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie worms,

Oh, first you bite their heads off,
Then you sucks there guts out,
Oh, now they wiggle and squirm,
Big, fat, juicy ones,
Long, skinny, slimy ones,
itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie worms.

Oh, up comes the fist one,
Up comes the second one,
Oh, now they wiggle and squirm,
Big, fat, juicy ones,
Long, skinny, slimy ones,
itsy-bitsy, teenie-weeine worms.
(Sung about a million times over three days, with a complete set of wigging illustrative gestures.)

  

Last Update Saturday August 15, 2009 11:36 AM

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