Monday, June 1, 2009

Why Camp?

One of my scouts doesn't particularly like so-called scouty stuff. He's much more into sports. The two are actually quite compatible (and not I'm not talking about just playing basketball in the gym every week). It makes more sense as you get into Varsities how sports really tie in, but there are plenty of merit badges and other activities that are very connected to sports even for the younger boys.

Anyway, a few months ago, we were talking about an upcoming campout, and this boy asked why we go on campouts. What's the purpose really? Who cares if we can sleep outdoors? Well, with as many boys as we have and with as many other things that we had going on right at that moment, his question kind of got lost, and I never got back to it. Every now and then it will pop back into my mind for a second but always when it's not a time we can talk about it.

Of course, there are many reasons we do so many outdoors activities: learning a love of nature, leaving behind parents and electronics, becoming self-reliant, practicing planning (and learning what happens if you fail to plan), getting away from the cares of the world and into a place where you can get in touch with God, and more. That's not to say those things always happen on every campout, but that's the goal.

So fast forward to this past week. I was talking with my wife about taking the family camping with some friends of ours. My friend and I had both enjoyed the Fathers and Sons Outing and thought we ought to get the rest of our families together and enjoy some nature together. My wife has never been a hard core camper. I'm lucky to get Sister Smyth out once a year, which is fine by me, since I get enough with the scouts. I feel bad for our kids who really enjoy it, though.

Usually she complains about how it takes so long to prepare, plan, go shopping, etc. I don't know what she's talking about. Throw the tent, sleeping bags, and Dutch Ovens in the van, stop by the grocery store to grab some chips, chicken, and barbecue sauce, and head up into the mountains. Give me an hour, and I'll be ready to go just about anywhere. If I'm really short on time, I can probably be ready for pretty much any car-camp in 20 minutes. On several occasions I have.

But this time the excuse was different. It wasn't about whether we could get ready on time, since I was giving her a weeks' notice. The problem that Sister Smyth brought up, which was a new one to me, was that she didn't like camping. Why not? Because once it hits about 8 p.m., it's too dark, and there's nothing to do. Now in the middle of the summer, that's probably stretching it, since you can usually see well past 9 o'clock. With the scouts, that's the perfect time to start playing Capture the Flag and other night games or else sit around the fire and talk.

Whether you play Mafia, roast s'mores, stare silently at the burning embers, share a spiritual thought, tell fart jokes, plan the hike for the next day, or do all of the above at the same time, that time is precious. Everyone is together. If you slip too far away from the campfire, you're in the cold and dark. If you get too close, you get smoke in your face. That is when the bonding happens. There is no agenda. There is no deadline. Everyone is equal sitting around the campfire.

The fact that there is nothing to do after 8 o'clock is precisely the reason we camp.

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