Ten years. Makes it kinda suck that the top of the bell curve of enjoyment of those ten years for me was the first day. But that's not what I'm talking about right now. This node is to simply express all the things I learned from Boy Scouts in an honest and thorough manner. Allow me to make an unordered list:

Shit. I sound pretty conceited. Well, all of this is true, so conceit might not be the case. I did find good things in scouts, despite the fact that I think being an Eagle Scout means nothing anymore. That is but a miniscule part of the life-long experience that is scouting. Now I sound like the goddamn handbook.

One of the coolest things I think I learned from Scouting was pioneering. If we had spare time on a campout, we'd head into a wooded area looking for long straight pieces of wood that hadn't begun to rot yet. Then we'd get our hands on some twine or other rope, and we'd try to decide what to build. The Handbook and Field Guide both have fun ideas for things to build. I can remember building a couple different kinds of bridges, a chippewa kitchen, and a tower. We built a raft at one point, too, but it didn't support much weight.

Another really cool thing was wilderness survival. Throw me in the middle of the woods or the desert in any season or what have you, and I'll be able to find my way out or get myself rescued, or even stay there for a while if it suits me. I know at least five ways to start a fire, and at least four techniques for building one. I can navigate without a compas. I can tell time without a watch. I can figure out lenghts without a ruler. I can lead a group of adolescent boys without a tangible basis for authority. They're bigger than me, older than me, and somtimes even smarter than me, but I can still trick them into working together. That's what I learned or tried to learn, anyway.

Survival skills on a mountain

I rose up from my bed that morning, not realizing then just how unreachable and tantalizing my warm, comfortable room would soon become. Showering was a mundane routine, but the hot droplets would soon be a distant, dreamy memory lost in the steam. When I arrived at the meeting place, there were only three other people there. Ahh, yes, we are running on Boy Scout time. Half an hour later, we're ready to leave, and we head off in to the morning twilight for the distant peak of Mount Hood.

We are a lazy Scout Troop, not too endowed with the ideal Scouting abilities, but we make do with what skill we do have. That weekend we were going to Mount Hood to face the elements and spend a night in snow caves of our own making. It's reputed to be cold and wet, but veterans of the trip said it's a lot of fun.

The cars pulled into a packed lot of SUVs and station wagons. The excited merrymakers were headed off to be moved down a hill with no effort on their part. Our task was to move the hill.

Our behemoth was over 100 feet tall and very steep. It was perfect, as the leaders assured us, seemingly made by the Scouts' non-denominational god solely for the purpose of snow caving. Snow caving requires steep precipices, because the steeper the slope, the more snow gathers at the bottom to dig into, and the snow caves will then be stronger and could be larger. At least, that's the theory.

We set up camp, with our Coleman stoves for hot chocolate and Cup'o Noodles. The shovels and digging tools were handed out, and we split up to build our shelter for the night. My building partner, Dave (name changed), was quite large and that nominated me to do most of the digging, as he couldn't fit in the small hole we scratched out in the beginning stages. And, that necessitated our cave being quite large.

As the sun descended into the forest, we became frantic in all our movements, hurrying to finish our shelter before night, and a blanketing cold, settled upon our heads. The technique we had to use was one proposed by our Scoutmaster. It was not particularly enjoyable, as at one point, we had to block one person in, and they had to dig themselves out. This was so our entrance would be pointing downward, and thereby trap all the heat inside. It was easier to begin digging at an upward angle, so once we finished, we would block the entrance we had made and dig out a new entrance from inside.

You never realize just how claustrophobic you are until you climb into a cave with no door that will just barely fit two people and their gear. As I crawled inside, I had a feeling of dread, but I foolishly ignored it. When the last bit of snow was packed in, and I was completely trapped and alone, my breath quickened. It's not in human nature to be enclosed in a small space for any period of time. I frantically began digging. There was no way I would spend any more time in that hole than I had to. I burst out of my personal hell triumphantly, rejoicing in the fresh air. Everyone just glanced over, and then ignored me. They didn't care that I had conquered my primal instincts and survived. At least, my partner Dave was appreciative of my skills, as our lazily built snow cave was now finished. It was time to sleep.

The coolest thing about snow caving is having a bunch of flickering candles in your bedroom, eerily lighting the walls. One by one, I blew them out. I was exhausted after almost single-handedly building this home. The darkness settled down like a dying elephant. It was almost a physical blow. But I had no more candles or matches. That was Dave's job. Oh well, I thought, laying down. I can deal with it. Sleep came quickly.

I groggily awoke to something weighing me down. Apparently, the roof of our cave had unexpectedly fallen down on our heads. It was about five in the morning, much to early to be digging yourself out of a pile of snow. Luckily, many of my fellow scouts noticed my yells of panic, and assisted in rescuing Dave and me. That is probably the worst way to wake up in the morning. You can barely move and are cold and wet.

After that excitement, no one went back to sleep, as we would have to leave soon anyway. So we sat around, wondering if any of our dream trips would ever come true. Or at least that our boring trips wouldn't run off the road and lay in a smoking pile of scrap metal. At least we learn how to tie up anything at anytime. Well, we're supposed to learn that.

  • Being materialistic is dumb. People can be happy for weeks in the middle of the woods with nothing but food, water, the scout outdoor essentials, a tent, and a sleeping bag.

    There have been times that I have thought, "I would be much happier if I had ..." I think that being able to be happy with very few creature comforts is a valuable ability. No one should feel bad because they do not own a certain something. I have seen my friends drive themselves into debt by buying x-box games and mp3 players. If the masses realized that they can be happy with very little material stuff, perhaps there would be far less greed in the world.

  • Duct tape, plastic trash bags, tent stakes, and many other seemingly ordinary objects actually have thousands of possible uses.
    Some Uses for A Plastic Trash Bag
    • rain coat
    • transpiration bag for collecting drinking water from plants.
    • emergency sleeping bag
    • stuff it with leaves to make a pillow or mattress
    • sling for a broken collarbone or arm
    • shelter from the sun
    • rain cover for a backpack
    • fill one with sand or dirt to make a weight that can keep your tent from blowing away
  • Planning, leadership, and communication skills are some of the best things that can be learned as a Scout.
  • Personal politics can ruin an organization, even if everyone in it has good intentions.

    The soccer moms and grumpy old men that provided most of the logistical support to my troop would bicker about their own personal differences while their sons played capture the flag together. This resulted in the cancellation of some activities and the withdrawl of some leaders and their kids from my troop.

  • When you travel to higher elevations, the atmospheric pressure drops. Unless you do something to prevent it, this will cause your toothpaste, sunblock, and just about any other not-well-sealed container in your backpack to leak.
  • Often, many people will pass right by someone that is in need of assistance. Perhaps this is because they do not notice, or perhaps it is because they do not think that they can help. By simply being more alert than the average person, and looking for subtle signs that someone is in need, you may find ample opportunities to do a good turn daily.

    On two occasions so far, I have encountered elderly men, presumably with Alzheimer's disease, that have wandered away from their home and become lost. On both occasions, many people walked and drove past the men that were obviously disoriented and in need of help. After politely talking to them and determining that they were actually incapable of taking care of themselves, I called 911 and had them taken to a hospital.

  • Be Prepared

    This dosn't just mean that you should carry around a bunch of useful gadgets or learn skills that may be useful. It also means that whenever you know that you are going to have to do something, or that something may happen, you should think hard about what you should do beforehand to ensure a favorable outcome.

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