By Larry E Vaughn
There’s something a little frightening about your twelve year old son achieving manhood. First he’s childishly mischievous, kicking pea gravel at his buddy, and then he’s using proper logic to make a decision that will affect his entire adult life. He’s gaining self confidence, becoming self-sufficient, and learning independence by conquering the elements of nature with his fellow Boy Scouts.
It was with great excitement the twenty-four scouts from Holts Summit, Missouri climbed aboard the 28-foot cabin cruiser, Gidoris, for a forty five minute cruise to the Lake of the Ozarks island where they would camp for the weekend. The skipper, Gideon Houser, gave the scouts a tour of his well-appointed boat, briefed them on water safety, then issued and fitted life jackets.
Scoutmaster Dwight Gates, who had driven the scout troop‘s bus, had overseen the packing of tents and supplies into a small fishing boat towed behind. “The boys have been preparing for this trip for several weeks,” Gates remarked, “and, I am very grateful to Mr. Houser for making this special opportunity available to us.” The scouts’ boat was launched, and tied on behind the big cabin cruiser.
Houser, a skilled and courteous ship’s captain, eased the big boat from the dock into the main channel. After setting his course and stabilizing the gentle throb of the engines, he stepped aside, allowing each of the scouts to take his turn at the wheel. Keeping an ever watchful eye on other lake traffic, the skipper answered a continuous barrage of questions from the admiring boys. “One of life’s greatest pleasures,” Houser chuckled, “is being able to share a new experience with someone. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend, myself.”
Excitement reached new levels as our destination came into view. The scouts began scanning the wilderness along the shoreline for campsites, likely fishing spots and interesting areas to explore. The Gidoris was quickly anchored thirty feet offshore, and scoutmaster Gates untethered the fishing boat loaded with gear, and headed for the beach.
After unloading the boat on a graveled beach with secluded coves on either side, Gates began shuttling the scouts and adult leaders ashore. Tending to business first, the scouts quickly erected the six tents that would house the troop that night, and gathered firewood for campfires.
Then there was free time for fishing, swimming and exploring. Gates, now in swimming trunks, selected an area to be set aside for swimming. After checking the lake bottom for hazards, he established boundaries by anchoring lifejackets on the perimeters to serve as markers. Then appointing lifeguards, testing each boy’s swimming skill, and pairing the boys into a buddy system, he let them swim freely, while maintaining a constant vigil.
While some scouts were exploring the island’s wooded and beach areas, searching for new discoveries, collecting shells, or just admiring nature’s wonders, others had broken out fishing rods.
Uniformed scouts could be seen on almost every point, trying to catch a trophy fish. It didn’t matter to them what kind of fish it was they caught, just so it was big enough to brag about. And, sooner or later that night, where you saw a scout, you saw an adult leader untangling fishing line, working lures loose from obstructions on the bottom, tying new knots in the line, and putting fish on stringers. It was a new experience for many of the youngsters, and a rewarding afternoon for the adults.
The sky had become cloudy during the afternoon, and now as dusk approached, a solid overcast hid the sunset. It was time for supper. The boys chose spots for their cook fires, downwind from the tents. They brushed debris away from their chosen spot, then assembled kindling and firewood. Soon there was chatter from all around the campsite as each group busied themselves with preparing their meals. The variety of foods ranged from simple canned stews to steak and potatoes. Some had even brought a dessert.
As each scout finished his evening meal, he collected any trash he had created and placed it in the troop trash container. Then he scoured, washed and rinsed his mess kit before packing it away for the night. Some scouts, on their first overnight camping trip that required them to plan and prepare their own meals, received helpful advise and instruction from more experienced scouts to help them make cooking and cleanup quicker and easier.
Night had already fallen by the time everyone had finished their supper and cleanup. Now it was time to unpack bedrolls, lay ground cloths, and make the tents ready for the night. The evening’s cloudy skies threatened rain, so trenches were dug around the tents to carry off any rainwater that might fall that night. Tent bracing was double checked in case there should be any wind. Some scouts double braced their tents and placed large rocks around the bottom walls to hold them securely in place. Others were not so cautious.
A large, cheerful, bon fire ringed with driftwood seats crackled at the edge of the campsite, and the scouts were assembled for a campfire discussion before retiring for the night. The stillness of the lake echoed the sounds of laughter and singing as the scouts and leaders recounted the activities of the day, shared jokes, and closed with singing in unison.
It wasn’t even a half hour later that the first sprinkles of rain fell on the campsite. It was a gentle rain at first, with only a few small gusts of wind. Occasional bursts of quiet laughter and the rumbling of voices telling stories still seeped from the tents. They diminished only when the lightening and thunder worsened, rain pummeling the tents became a constant dull thudding. Gusting wind shook the tents like tissue paper.
Scoutmaster Gates was concerned. “My boys are going to get soaked in this rain,” he worried out loud. “Those darned tents aren’t as good as I would like for them to be, but they’re all we could afford. Maybe some day when we get our bills paid . . .” He donned his rain suit and stepped into the storm. He headed for the campsite to check tent staking and tie downs, to secure flaps and place rocks around those tents that needed them.
It was shortly after he left the campsite one tent’s bracing gave in to the wind and collapsed onto the boys inside. It fell twice more that night. After he returned from the first of many trips to check the campsite, as we were discussing whether to move the boys to a sheltered dock somewhere, I felt the hurt all parents feel sooner or later. I realized, all of a sudden, that my son had been able to plan, prepare, and take care of himself all day, without any help from daddy.
Now, he was out there, in a tent during a severe thunderstorm, dependant on his own resourcefulness for comfort and safety. What a strange mixture of hurt, dismay and pride I felt that stormy night!
The violence of the storm abated in the early morning hours, and turned into light, but persistent, drizzle that continued until near noon. As dawn broke, a few of the scouts donned their raingear, rounded up fishing tackle, and headed for the favored fishing spots. Others slept in, weary from the busyness of the previous day and sleeplessness during the storm. But, by seven o’clock everyone was up, in raingear, preparing for another day.
The problem of getting a cook fire started was uppermost in everyone’s mind. Pine needles and Cedar bark were gathered from the woods to serve as kindling. Small twigs and sticks were gathered from under trees where they were somewhat sheltered from the previous night’s downpour. The scouts stretched out a large plastic drop cloth and lifted it shoulder high over the selected cook fire site. Scoutmaster Gates climbed under it, assembled the necessary materials, and soon had a warm bristling fire burning.
The boys fried and scrambled eggs, baked biscuits, stirred up hot chocolate, and one even fried the fish he had caught the evening before . . . . all in the rain, water dripping off their rain suits! Breakfast took a little longer than planned, because the boys had to take turns using the campfire. After most of the scouts had finished eating, and were cleaning their mess kits, I unpacked my food and cooking gear. It was during this time that my son came over and sat beside me. “I’m still kind of hungry, Dad,” he said. What music to my ears! It sounded sort of like he said he still needed me! It was with great joy that we mixed up some pancake batter, fried potatoes, heated hot chocolate, and shared a rain soaked breakfast.
Before breaking camp and boarding the Gidoris for the return trip to our waiting bus, the scouts were assembled again for a Sunday morning services of thanksgiving. The scouts themselves provided the opening and closing prayers, and related the things that they had learned from the campout. They spoke of such things as fellowship, sharing, caring, and helping others. They related the times that they had needed help that weekend, and the times that there were able to help someone else. They spoke of God, of gratefulness, and appreciation.
Later, as they folded their tents and packed their gear, they kicked pea gravel on their buddy, and played practical jokes on each other. Soon, they were on their way home to their parents, who are just a little saddened as they watch their twelve year old sons growing into young men.