My hair felt like it’d been pasted to my head with three tablespoons of Crisco. My back hurt from sleeping on a board, and my temples pounded from hollering at our swarm of pre-teen boys.
Alcohol is forbidden at Scout Camp because, at the first opportunity, anyone with any sense would take out all they had and drink every drop. I’d camped many times in the interim but, before a couple weeks ago, I’d not camped with Scouts since I was one.
I was along to help supervise, but mostly the week was about learning independence, a chance to let the boys roam and try and fail, the better to step eventually into adulthood. It was a chance to offer them limited exposure to risk.
What they learn from getting a little bit lost and stuck with a fish hook and gnawed by mosquitoes and blistered by poison ivy is, it’s not the end of the world, better times lie on the other side of trouble, and they can get there whether they think they can or not.
It’s important to learn that lesson early because, at some point, these minor things lose their power to teach, and then the lesson may never get through.
Perseverance through difficulty is a learned art. To teach it, first there must be difficulty. Fortunately, when you’re camping with a herd of boys, difficulty is never in short supply.
For the boys, the week was a chance to learn and explore and achieve, but mostly to just be. Letting them just be, not micromanaging, was an ability I was working to develop for myself.
Why, at the moment of departure, do mothers hug their little boys so hard, even for a three-night trip? All growth is incremental, one way or another. Growing up takes years, but a few days of semi-independence at camp makes a difference. Maybe they know the child they’re hugging goodbye really is going away for good, that the little Scout who comes home will be mostly the same, but still a little different somehow, and that every bit of difference is precious, both the old and the new.
“We found a lot of interesting rocks,” the boy said as we trudged along a slag road that loops around the lake.
I get frustrated if I have to walk at any pace other than my own, so I walked and stopped, walked and stopped, looking back at intervals to make sure the others were still there, to see if they were still coming.
“One of the rocks looks like granite,” the boy went on.
“Yeah, and one of them looks just like coal,” said his buddy. “We’re going to do experiments on them back at camp and see what they are.”
The wonder of their imagination at this age is infectious, too. When else are we reminded to consider where the rocks underfoot come from, to imagine how they got this way?
The rocks were formed through pressure and time. Some are coral that outlasted an inland sea. Some are the compressed remains of plants that dinosaurs trod. Some are elements thrown together at the planet’s creation, grown molten under the weight of continents and spewed through volcanoes into the sky.
Maybe boys are made that way too. Their ingredients form the men they will become. All it takes is pressure and time, and a chance to just be.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.