Saturday, August 22, 2009


We had one of our troop alumni, Matt, attend camp for a couple days. He came up for two reasons. The most obvious reason was to participate with us on our hike day. One day at the camp we attended is dedicated to going on one of several hikes into some beautiful wilderness area. It's a highlight for many. It's dreaded by some, if they're not prepared or not in shape. But that's another post.

I'll get to the less obvious reason Matt came up to camp shortly.

First I wanted to foray briefly into a book I read recently, On My Honor by Jay Mechling. It's a really interesting book. Mechling creates a fictional summer camp based on actual events that happened on his visits to a certain troop's summer camp over a period of several decades. He delves into all kinds of deep topics regarding human behavior and why boys and leaders do the things they do at camp. The author was a Scout himself and while he honors the BSA, he doesn't pull any punches in his analysis and assessment either.

I don't want to go too much into the main themes of his behavioral studies, but rather mention a few interesting things from the book. The first is the length of the camp. This particular troop would go to camp for three weeks! The first week, while dads and older scouts set up the camp, the troop goes on a 50 mile backpacking trip. They then spend two weeks at the main camp, earning merit badges and participating in all kinds of fun activities. I'm not sure I could handle three weeks. 5-6 days seems to generally be plenty. They also have 4-5 patrols, up to 50 boys in the troop, which you would never see in an LDS troop.

While reading the book, I looked back on my own experience both as a boy and as a leader. While some things in the book were different from how I experienced them, many things were eerily similar, even comparing an LDS to a non-LDS troop.

Thinking about Matt's second reason for attending camp made me think of another tradition in Mechling's book. The adults had their own stash of treats, including alcohol, in their campsite where the boys were not allowed to go. When troop alumni would come to visit, they would bring beer and various snacks to share at the adult campsite.

Drinking alcohol on any BSA event is questionable but absolutely out of place with an LDS troop, so I'm happy that Matt didn't come up to camp to get drunk. :) But one of the big reasons Matt came up to camp was so that he could bring chips and salsa and not share them with the younger boys. Only adults could eat them. And he could. Because he was now an adult. He drove four hours each way over terrible roads into the mountains so he could hike and eat chips that the boys were not allowed to eat.

Matt's mom is Sister Smyth's visiting teacher, so for two months in a row, his mom told my wife all sorts of stories about camp. Well, to clarify, she told all the same stories in both her July and August visits. I'm afraid her visits aren't doing anything to help Sister Smyth understand or appreciate Scouting.

She told Sister Smyth about Matt's chips. I didn't need to hear her story since I was there to witness it in person as I was eating chips with Matt when my ASM's son, who is one of the younger boys in the troop and also about the nicest, most helpful kid you could find, came to get a chip. Matt had his glorious moment of denying the young scout a chip. My ASM wasn't very appreciative of the slight, but he did eat some chips and salsa anyway. Matt's mom made a point of talking about how these chips were a tradition in the troop. Matt had been denied chips and salsa for years and upon coming of age could now partake and help to pass on the tradition.



Is it still a tradition if we didn't do it last year? Matt's dad came up to camp with us last year and didn't bring chips. I had never heard of it before, and if someone did tell me about it, it didn't make enough of an impression on me that I remembered it or actually did it. I don't plan on doing it next year. Am I wrong for throwing away 10 years' worth of tradition?

Giving the boys letters from their parents telling them how much their family appreciates them...great tradition. Requiring everyone who doesn't have the Environmental Science MB to take that class at camp...indispensable tradition. Having the boys plan the menus and cook our own food...I have some great cooking techniques and recipes now from watching 13 year olds carry out their assignment to be in charge of a meal because of this tradition.

Not sharing my treats with the boys even though a lot of them are pretty generous with sharing the treats they bring with everyone else...not really a tradition that interests me much.

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