Month: August 2012

Merit Badge mania

I have always been a Scoutmaster that encourages advancement and using all of the methods of Scouting.  I have always put a priority on the Scouts having fun, seeking new adventures and in the process, rank, merit badges, and other goodies will happen.  And for the better part of 8 years, this has seemed to be the status quo of our troop.  Good participation at camp outs, doing lots of cool activities and in the process, Scouts earned merit badges and rank.  UNTIL NOW.
For some reason, some of which I don’t have a problem with the Council has decided that merit badges should fall in the hands of committees and project teams.  In an effort to gain and maintain relationships with big corporations and learning centers in the Portland metro area a premium has been placed on merit badge days and work shops.
Rather than do it the old-fashioned way where as a Scout develops an interest in a subject or understands that he needs the merit badge for advancement, comes to his unit leader and asks for a blue card and the number to the nearest counselor and then he begins work on the badge.  Upon completion, the Scout(or the counselor) returns the blue card and the Scout is presented with the badge.  The Council has now provided opportunities for a Scout to just sign up on-line for a badge, show up for a day and complete the badge, many times without the parent unit knowing he has plans to work on it.  This bugs me a bit.
The other thing that bugs me about this program is that racking up merit badges seems to have taken front seat to other Scouting programs within the unit.  Scouts will sign up and pay online to go to a merit badge hand out rather than participate in a troop activity.  I think this is wrong.
Like I said, the traditional way of working and earning merit badges has worked just fine for the better part of 8 years.  Scouts have shown interest and they have earned the badges without placing too much emphasis on them other than for advancement.
Until Now.  It seems that the latest batch of Scouts (Parents) seem to think that merit badges are the end all be all.  They are cranking out merit badges at a pace that will land them all in Boy’s Life for setting merit badge records.  I don’t know where this comes from and I don’t know exactly when the switch was flicked.  What I do know is that I think it is sending the wrong message to the Scout.  I think the parents should remove themselves from the merit badge game and allow their son to have fun in Scouting and earn them the right way.
I upset some parents (new parents) last month when I gave the Summer camp speech and told the Scouts to not worry about merit badge but to make sure they had fun at summer camp.  Some of the Scouts listened and did have a great time at camp, while others wasted no time in earning merit badges for the sake of earning merit badges.  A quick look at the list of merit badges earned at summer camp tell the story, no Eagle required badges earned (they take all week), but many “filler badges were worked and earned.
So our Tenderfoot Scouts will soon have loaded merit badge sashes and no cool stories, no great memories, and will still not be any closer to the next rank.  But their parents will be happy that they get to see Tommy Tenderfoot at the Court of Honor get lots of stuff.
What I am afraid of is the council creating a “participation ribbon” environment.  Where everyone is a winner and no one has to work hard for what they get.  A patch for the patches sake is far less worth having than one earned.
Not every Scout will be an Eagle Scout and not every Eagle Scout earned all 250 or so merit badges. 
I asked the Scouts the other night how important the merit badges were to them.  My little poll did not tell the story that the amount of merit badges would suggest.  Nor the fact that they are all rushing to work merit badges at the Council sponsored events.  Which could only lead me to one conclusion.  The parents need to get their own sashes.
Merit badges will come when the time and interest is right.  They should never take priority over Troop events, and the Council should stay out of it.
My 2 cents, you know I am interested in hearing yours.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Whispering of the Pine

“Philmont does something to people—it is not something that can be put into words easily. Something ‘‘gets into your blood.’’ A love for the land, the atmosphere, the people—all these work together in you to make Philmont an experience that you can never forget. The base of that experience is the presence of God—an awareness that all we have and all we offer to others comes from God. The brotherhood that we share as God’s children and as Scouts brings us to a sense of peace, a feeling that in some strange way, everything is all right. In that sense, we can call Philmont a ‘‘Scouting Paradise,’’ a glimpse of that ‘‘Paradise’’ all of us are called to and will one day experience.”
This passage is taken from the Chaplains Aide booklet “Eagles Soaring High”.  It is the passage that leads to the Day 9 relection.  Since we were on a Short Trek, our Chaplains aid skipped around a bit, so that the reflections matched up with the places that we were on the trail.
The title of the relection is “Country that I love”.  So for those of you playing along at home.  The reflections center around the Philmont grace and the Philmont Hymn.
What I found impressive at Philmont was the never-ending use of the theme.  A love of Philmont.  It echoed in every part of the trek.  The Wilderness Pledge not only reinforced the ideas of Leave No Trace and Good Stewardship, but a willingness to protect Philmont.  The Tour of the Philmont Villa tells the story of Waite Phillips and his generosity to the Scouts.  It concludes with the question, although never spoken, but what will you leave behind?  How will your generosity manifest?  The Philmont grace reminds us of the good things that we have in life and that we need to be thankful for everything that has been given to us.  The conservation project leaves not only our mark on Philmont, but makes it better for Scouts that will one day pass on the trail that we lay before them, just as Scouts before us groomed the trail so that our Philmont experience was just that much better.  And the daily devotions led by the Chaplains Aide remind us as we sit among the Aspen and Purple Mountains that Philmont is greater than ourselves and truly is Scouting’s Paradise.
So when the passage tells us that “Philmont does something to people”… it certainly does.
I can honestly say that I have left Philmont, but Philmont has not left me.  Now it’s back to the daily grind and loving being back home with my family, but the Whispering of the pines still echo in my mind.
So what does Philmont do to people?  It changes them in many ways.  Some of the changes may not happen for a while, some came home different, but everyone changed.  They all tested themselves in one way or another.  They all found strength on the trail.  They all learned a skill or sharpened one.  They all found peace in the mountain.  They all had a great adventure.
Some fell in love with Philmont right away, while others took the whole trek, some are even still reflecting on how Philmont has made a change in their lives.  And yep, some still resist the whisper, but it’s there.
I am fortunate to have been able to go to Philmont, I am fortunate to be a Scoutmaster, and I am lucky to have walked the Country that I love.  Some of the Scouts find it hard to think beyond the next climb, they find it difficult to open their eyes and ears to what is around them.  The ‘coolest’ of Scouts will hear the whisper of the pines… it’s just a matter of time.  For the seven Scouts of 810-N2 and the other Advisor, I know we changed.  I find myself whistling the Philmont hymn and I catch myself singing ‘the Tooth of time’s been chewin’ on me’ as I go about my daily life.  I have relived the climb up to Shaefers peak and laugh to myself when I think about our Burro racing team at Harlan.  The walk in the rain from Ute Gulch into Cimarroncito and the bear sighting just outside of Hunting lodge all bring a smile to my face.  But I knew we had changed when I watched the crew as they sang the Philmont hymn at the closing campfire.  The mood was somber, but the look of satisfaction as they all sang together for the last time as a crew.  The next morning as they proudly wore their Arrowhead award, being marked among the Scouts that have completed a Philmont trek!  Yep, they changed. 
I look forward to watching these Scouts grow and take what they learned at Philmont and use it in life and in our Troop.  They are better people for the experience and I know that Philmont is a part of them.
If you have never been.. go… if you have been.. you know what I mean.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

The Mountain

“Once in a while you find a place on earth that becomes your very own. A place undefined. Waiting for you to bring your color, your self. A place untouched, unspoiled, undeveloped. Raw, honest, and haunting. No one, nothing is telling you how to feel or who to be. Let the mountains have you for a day…”  Sundance

The night before we headed out into the back country of Philmont, we sat with our Ranger and talked about the trek.  She introduced us to Roses, Thorns, and Buds and we shared our expectations of the trek.  I feel that this was a great way to set the tone for the trek as it got our collective minds off the weight of our packs, the miles we would walk, and the challenges we would face.  What I really thought touched me the most was how the Scouts in our crew opened up.  Now, it is fair to say that for many of the members of our crew opening up may have meant that they had no idea what to expect and that they looked forward to having fun on the trail.  But none the less, it was in the context of a nice discussion about what they wanted from Philmont.
When it was my turn to share my thoughts on expectations, hopes, and desires for the trek, I shared a simple thought about hiking.  A while ago I either read or heard an old-time backpacker talk about hiking.  He said that when you hike or backpack, you are either hiking to something or away from something.  People hike for many reasons and deep in our hearts and minds there is a deeper purpose for why we put on a backpack and wander into the wilderness.  Sometimes, we are doing both, hiking to find something and hiking to get away from something.  That was my Philmont experience.
I was hiking to get away from the hustle of everything that the daily grind has to offer.  I was hiking away from stress and drama.  I was hiking to find me.  Now that is pretty deep, and in all honesty I don’t think that I ever really lost me, but deep inside I wanted to search for some parts of me that I thought were absent.  The wilderness of Philmont was my hope in finding an absent spiritual self, an absent happiness, and a test of my physical abilities to push myself with these young men.
On the second day of the trek we were backpacking from Anasazi to Dean Cow.  We woke up and broke camp, ate breakfast and hit the trail.  The route took us up and over a few canyons.  At one point we had been climbing for miles.  Our Ranger suggested to the crew leader that at the top of this next ridge would be a great place to stop and take a ‘packs off’ break.  So we continued to climb and reached the top of the ridge.  Jackie, our Ranger, asked that we all follow her out to this great vista.  It over looked the route that we had just traveled and the vast expanse of land looking into the North country of Philmont.  The sun was shining bright and the sky was clear.  We all took up places among the rocks on the bluff and Jackie began to talk about the Philmont Wilderness pledge.  During that discussion she also talked about Philmont and what it meant to her.  She shared her personal story about Philmont and to summarize, Philmont is a special place to her and is a part of her.  She warned that it would also become a part of us and we would all find a special place in our lives for Philmont.
Then she read a quote from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid;  “One in a while you find a place on earth that becomes your very own.  A place undefined.  Waiting for you to bring your color, yourself.  A place untouched, unspoiled, undeveloped.  Raw, honest, and haunting.  No one, nothing is telling you how to feel or who to be.  Let the mountains have you for a day”  After she shared this quote with us she asked that we separate for 5 minutes.  Go to a place where we could not see or hear one another and think about what that meant to us.
After five minutes we returned and shared out thoughts on the quote.  It was then that I found what I was hiking for and Philmont took its place in my heart.  It was on that bluff that I saw the beauty of Philmont and would later see more.  It was at that moment that my Philmont experience started to really take shape.
At the opening camp fire and member of the Philmont Staff got up and talked about Philmont and asked that we try not to ‘define’ it.  I got it sitting on the bluff.  Philmont can’t be defined because it is something special, beautiful. majestic, challenging, breath-taking, fun, in many ways to everyone.  We all see it differently and as the week went on and we shared Roses and Thorns each night the Philmont story for crew 810-N2 took shape in each of us.  Each one of us had a shared experience and experienced individual triumphs, challenges, and emotions.  Each of us found something spiritual in the mountains, each of us found laughter and fellowship in the crew, each of us found a piece of ourselves that can never be found in the noise of the city.  Letting the Mountain have us for a day we found what we were hiking for.
For me and our crew it seemed that our Philmont trek was less about backpacking, but more about letting Philmont have us.  After day two on the trail I gave myself to the mountain and as a result the mountain gave back.
I think it is true that when you hike you are either hiking to or away from something, I am glad that I found what I was looking for at Philmont.
And yep.. I wanna go back to Philmont!

Silver on the sage,
Starlit skies above,
Aspen covered hills,
Country that I love.
Philmont Here’s thee,
Scouting Paradise,
Out in God’s country, tonight

Wind in whispering pines,
Eagles soaring high,
Purple mountains rise,
Against an azure sky.
Philmont here’s to the,
Scouting Paradise,
Out in God’s country Tonight.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

We’re Back….

I will go into greater detail on the trip to Philmont in a later post… But I wanted to get a note out to let everyone know that we are back from Philmont with a ton of great memories and a longing to return to Scouting’s Paradise.
My initial thoughts are these:
First.  An incredible experience.  The BSA and the Philmont staff make sure that you have a great Philmont experience.  What you do on the trek is up to you and your crew, but I assure you that your planning, training, and committment to having a great time is up to you.  Philmont does their part.
If you are planning a trek for next summer… start now with your planning and training.  Communicate with Philmont, they are great in responding to your questions, needs, and concerns.
Train.  Train.  Train.  Latch on to a unit that has been to Philmont recently.  Find out how they handled their meals.  We learned late in the trek about dumping things that are not going to get eaten.  Every staff camp has the “Swap box”.. this is a great opportunity to trade food and dump the food that you are not going to use.  That equals weight.  Caution!!  Do not allow your Scouts to dump food for the sake of dumping weight… you will know pretty early in the trip what they like and don’t like…  It will be pretty much the same stuff you like… they need the food to get through the trek.. weight is important, but not worth sacrificing a meal.
Order meals from Philmont.  You can do this from their web site.  Read more about trail meals here.
I am a big fan of the Stinger Honey wafers.. yum!
Practice hanging bear bags.
Practice with the crews as they will they will be configured at Philmont.  Adults.. GET OUT OF THE WAY.. you are their for a cool hike.
Order sectional maps from the Tooth of Time traders!  The map that they send you is great and you will need to bring it with you.  It will be the map that your crew leader marks up at Logistics… DO NOT LEAVE IT AT HOME.  The sectional maps are more detailed and may get you out of a pinch on the trail.
Arrive at Philmont with no expectation of your experience or your crew.  In so far as your experience.  Let the mountain take you.  Open your eyes, your heart, and your mind and your Philmont experience will be fantastic.  Expect too much and you may let yourself down.. Philmont won’t.
As for your crew.  They will amaze you with how much they learn and how they grow.
Absorb the Philmont spirit.  It will talk to you from the time you pass through the gateway till the time you take that glance over your shoulder and glance at Arrowhead rock.
I will write more later on our Philmont experience.  I am also available for questions.
Have a Great Scouting Day!