This past weekend was rainy and stormy and muddy … and, as it turned out, it was the perfect weekend to take a group of Scouts BSA on a campout.
(Scouts BSA, by the way, is the new name of Boy Scouts of America — hard to get used to!)
I have spent some time at Camp Arrowhead with my both of my sons as Cub Scouts, but it was kind of cool to accompany my older son and his Scout troop on a regular camp out to Ponca, Arkansas. I was one of four adults, and a safety trained volunteer, to accompany seven Scouts BSA plus an intrepid Cub Scout, my younger son, Keats.
We left home around 6 p.m., which put us in Ponca, just outside of Harrison, after dark. In the mountains around our destination, fog had descended, and we weren’t quite sure what sort of terrain we were getting into. We seemed to be looking down on the tops of trees on those winding roads leading to our campsite at Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging.
We pulled into our campsite, and the kids, ages 6 through 14, had to get immediately down to work. The first order of business on a Scout campout is to erect the dining fly, a communal shelter for cooking, eating and spending time together in wet weather. Though we had eaten dinner at home, the dining fly needed to be up for Saturday’s breakfast.
The dining fly is a very large canopy, and it takes many hands to erect. I was impressed at the quick work the Scouts made of the project. Adults are generally pretty hands-off on a Scout trip so that the Scouts can maximize their learning opportunities. This means getting into our own tents a little later then we might have with adult help on the project, but it’s a worthy sacrifice to make. I find that people really learn best by doing things for themselves.
Speaking of our own tents, we put those up after the communal area’s canopy. Scouts and parents have separate tents, and the Scouts pair up to join tent poles and cover them in canvas. Here, too, they are admirably independent, although one tent had to be replaced after the first wet night because its rain fly was not secured properly, and the interior of the tent got soaked. So it goes. A lesson was learned and will not soon be forgotten.
Friday night in Ponca was extremely rainy, to the point where super fine droplets penetrated our rain fly and tent to cover us in fine mist.
More troubling was the lightning. It went on for quite a long time, seemingly a couple of hours, and my husband and I lay awake listening for thunder and doing the calculation required to determine the closeness of the strikes. The storm never got close enough for us to round up the Scouts and order them to the cars, but we got very little sleep doing that math.
The next morning was dry, and the day remained tolerably cool with light sprinkles. This was our cave campout, and we had chosen this location for the express purpose of exploring a cave, but it turned out the heavy rain had put much of that natural structure off limits. I was reminded of the Thai soccer team that explored a cave system only to become stranded inside by sudden monsoon rains. I can too-easily imagine being the adult leader of that group.
You don’t need to go spelunking to experience the wonder and natural beauty of the Ozarks’ karst landscape. All around us were rock enclosures, cliffs, waterfalls — not to mention beautiful flora and fauna. The Scouts even got to see an elk in the wild, and that’s something I haven’t seen since I lived out West. What a thrill, to expose young people to some of the wonders of our world.
We packed out on Sunday after a dry night, and the Scouts did a speedy job of getting everything disassembled and loaded. Some of them had cooked us a delicious meal on the camp stove Saturday night. It was shepherd’s pie, a beef and vegetable mixture covered in mashed potatoes. I swear it was one of the best meals I’ve had in ages, but that might be the result of the appetite I had built up through hiking.
I had been avoiding Scout campouts for the most part because I love long, solitary baths with no one pounding on the door to use the bathroom. I love reading mystery novels and watching bad TV and having Cocoa Krispies for dinner without worrying about the example I’m setting.
I’m starting to rethink my stance. Time alone is really nice, but there is something incomparably fulfilling about adventuring with energetic and curious young minds.