First, you must be a boy 10½ years old and have completed the fifth grade or be 11 years of age or older but not have reached age 18.
“I don’t want to be a Boy Scout any more.”
I was twelve years old, that summer. My parents had come to collect me, itchy and sodden, from my first week camping at Treasure Valley Scout Reservation. This was in the ’80s, before the Boy Scouts of America had cracked down on hazing.
“They tied me to a tree and let the mosquitoes bite me. They sprayed Right Guard on my tent so the rain dripped in my face. And Josh jumped on my stomach. He said he was Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka.”
My parents agreed that I should quit the troop, but they suggested that a different troop might be better.
They were absolutely right.
My new troop was better in every way. It was smaller, and much friendlier. When summer rolled around again, I was thirteen, and very excited to go back to Treasure Valley for a week with my friends. I earned the Rowing merit badge and the Emergency Preparedness merit badge that summer. E. Prep was my first merit badge required for Eagle Scout. And I earned my Second Class rank. I remember making new friends from other troops, and telling ghost stories. I learned to keep my elbows off the table. I sneaked strike-anywhere matches from the kitchen and watched them burn. I found a tick on my scalp; Mr. Clancy carefully removed it. And I spent all my candy money to buy a mosquito net from the Trading Post.
The next summer, I was fourteen. I earned my First Class rank, and the Basketry and Leatherwork merit badges at the Handicrafts Lodge. I still have the leather pouch I made, and my basket. I remember the incessant sound of hammering, the feel of the rolled leather mallets with wooden handles, and the rich smells of cowhide and sawdust and paint. And the Swimming merit badge, another required for Eagle, and how it felt to pad across the dirt road in bare feet, the cold lake water dripping from my hair, and wiping the wet sand from my feet before putting on my socks and shoes. I’d go to the Trading Post, after, and buy a 3 Musketeers and a lemon/lime Slush Puppie with damp dollar bills.
Fifteen, and Star. I finished the requirements for Life Scout at Treasure Valley that summer. I earned the Safety merit badge, Personal Management, Environmental Science, Cooking, and Canoeing. For Cooking, we made brownies in a Dutch oven, crumbly and warm, fragrant and delicious. The Canoeing merit badge class was the most fun I’d ever had on the water. Requirement 9b is to capsize your canoe, and 9c is to empty it and climb back in. When we managed that more quickly than we were expected to, the merit badge counselor let us play for the rest of the class. We capsized over and over again, and slid over the belly of the canoe like otters.
Sixteen was my first summer on staff. I wanted to work in the Handicrafts Lodge, but I didn’t have a lot of leadership experience, and the Camp Director saw me better than I saw myself. “How would you like to be Camp Clerk?” he asked. I said I would do my best.
I was Camp Clerk and Trading Post Assistant for four years running, living at camp for seven weeks every summer. The staff tenting area overlooks the lake, and I remember waking up every morning with the sun just peeking over the top of the hill, mist rising off the surface of the water. I would take a deep breath of the cool morning air before heading to the shower house, pine needles collecting in my foam-rubber flip-flops. I learned every path and trail, every song, every building. I learned to drive the disintegrating pickup truck we called Mobile 7. We would gather on the back porch of the East Lodge in the evening and listen to Jon and Ray play their guitars. There were cribbage tournaments, and marathon games of Risk. We took turns as Officer of the Day, visiting every campsite at night to make sure all was well, and Charge of Quarters, sleeping in the CQ office in case something happened in the night. I was the camp bugler. I played Retreat and To the Colors at the Friday night closing ceremony, and I played Taps at the end of the campfire, each note echoing back from across the darkened lake.
When Nate finished Kindergarten, I took him to the Cub Scout recruiting night. I didn’t present it as a choice; it was just What You Do When You Finish Kindergarten. He accepted it cheerfully, and we marched in parades and slept on a battleship and visited the police station. When he crossed over into Boy Scouts, the Scoutmaster asked me if I would be interested in taking over as Troop Committee Chair.
In Cub Scouting, the parents are partners to their sons. They do everything together. In Boy Scouting, the parents must step back and allow their sons to be independent. Nate’s first camping trip with the troop was while he was still a Webelos Scout, not yet a Boy Scout. He came to me for help, as he always had, and I pushed him away over and over again, saying, “Ask your patrol leader.” The troop requires Scouts to address all adults, especially their parents, as Mr. or Mrs. Lastname at all Scouting events, to emphasize that separation. Your parents are no longer here to do it for you; you need to figure it out on your own, or ask your patrol leader.
He earned his Tenderfoot rank in April, and his first three merit badges at Camp Squanto this summer. When we picked him up at the end of the week, he said that Camp Squanto was the greatest experience of his entire Scouting career.
As Committee Chair, my job is to organize the administrative side of things, and to let Nate be on his own, and fail, and learn from his mistakes. I try not to go on the camping trips, to give him space. But when the Patrol Leaders’ Council announced that the September outing would be a weekend at Treasure Valley, I knew I would have to go.
I was afraid it would have changed, in 24 years, as all things must change. The first night, after the Scouts were in bed, I walked down to Boonesville Plain and listened to the hoot of an owl. Some things had changed, of course. The seven-foot bushes are now forty-foot trees. But the camp is well-cared for. I still know every trail. And the stars are still there, the Milky Way bright and clear across the night sky.
On Saturday, we took a hike into West Camp to see Sampson’s Pebble. As the PLC examined the trail map, one of the younger Scouts said, “Maybe we’ll find the treasure of Treasure Valley!”
Another Scout laughed and said, “The treasure is friendship!” I could tell he was being sarcastic, but my eyes blazed with recognition. Kid, you are right. You just don’t know it yet. 24 years, and I still keep in touch with those guys.
As we were packing up on Sunday, getting ready to leave, I asked the Senior Patrol Leader if I could borrow my son for twenty minutes, a breach in the troop’s protocol of separation and independence. I wanted to give Nate a quick tour: show him the Council Ring, my old tent overlooking the lake, the waterfront, and the parade ground on Boonesville Plain.
As we walked down the hill past the East Lodge, he said, “Do I still have to call you Mr. G?”
I smiled. “For this, I think you can call me dad.”