I spent a recent Saturday whittling, making fires and looking for lost pocket knives. I went camping with the Cub Scouts.
Every kid wants to go camping. The trick, as a parent, is to get some other adult to acquaint your offspring with the joys of wearing wet clothes for 24 hours. I immediately thought that person should be my wife.
I marshaled my best arguments. I tried logic. She wouldn't be alone, other moms were accompanying their sons on the expedition. I tried emotion. Before she knew it the kids would be grown up and she would regret missing this opportunity to camp with her sons. I tried guilt. For too long camping has been a guy-only thing, it was time for this "gender barrier" to fall.
L To each argument my wife's reply was the same: not a chance.
And so, despite my best efforts, I was the one who loaded the boys and our trunk full of gear into the car and headed out to camp. As is true withmost family trips, we did not travel in a straight line. First we stopped at the outdoor store, our third such visit there in a week. Before camping there is shopping. One son "had" to have a hat, and the other "had" to have some batteries for his tape player. From there we drove to a deli on Corned Beef Row in East Baltimore. Sensing that I was going to have to eat toasted marshmallows for supper, I "had" to have a pastrami sandwich for lunch.
We were about to drive into the wilds, when the 6-year-old -- or, in scouting terms, the Tiger -- ordered me to "stop at the bank machine." He had only been a Tiger Scout a few months, but already he had mastered the organization's basic philosophy: Be prepared. Moreover, he had been in our family for six years and knew that before we went anywhere on a weekend we always were short of cash.
We got to the camp, Camp William B. Spencer in Harford County, about two hours later. We didn't get lost, at least not seriously lost.
As other Cub Scouts and their parents pulled into camp, the adults seemed to be divided between those who loved camping and those who tolerated it. The fans of camping quickly set up their own tents and were anxious to trek through the woods. The tolerators, myself among them, seemed content to enjoy nature by sitting on the porch of the bunkhouse.
I spent the night (notice I didn't say I "slept") in the bunkhouse with the 6-year-old. The 10-year-old, or Webelo, was working on snagging an outdoorsman badge so he stayed up late whittling, or so he told me. He spent the night in a tent that he helped erect. It belonged to Doug Kelso and Claudia Sennett, who are our neighbors, and who despite their otherwise urbane ways, are ardent campers. They have a Wolf, their son, James, who last year was a Tiger. Next year he will be a Bear.
As soon as we got to camp, my sons and I spent a fair amount of time working with our hands. Mainly we were bandaging them. When I unloaded the car I realized that I had left the fishing rod and reel back home in our kitchen. That prompted me to pull out my pocket knife and fashion a pole out of a long skinny tree limb. As I grabbed a likely looking limb from a brush pile, a thorn hidden underneath the limb split open my thumb and blood spurted out. After wrapping up my thumb, I returned to the brush pile. I finished the fishing pole and was going to help the older boy make a bow and arrow out of a bent limb and tree bark when he sliced open his finger. In the first hour of camping we were well on our way to a merit badge in Band-Aids.
From there on out, events were less traumatic. There was a walk through the woods, the highlight coming when one scout, Declan, found a snakeskin that, thankfully, was sans snake. There was a fire-building contest, won by the Bears.
There was a campfire with flames big enough to burn Joan of Arc. It was made by Ted's dad, one of the dads who knew what he was doing. Earlier, when his fire was in a less ferocious state, he cooked lamb kebabs over the coals, roasted two ducks on wire suspended over the fire, and baked potatoes by wrapping them in foil but burying them in the coals. I had a lamb kebab. It was a magnificent counterpoint to the toasted marshmallows.
Nighttime was, of course, chaotic. After a lengthy campfire confab, complete with songs, games and silly and scary stories, most of the adults were anxious to go to sleep and most of the kids were anxious to stay awake most of the night, which they did.
Sunday morning could be described as foggy, both because there was plenty of fog in the air and because no one had slept much the night before.