Oh, the s'mores, the smells Camping: A Columbia Brownie troop samples the delights -- some parts not so delightful -- of a weekend adventure.

June 01, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

When you're an 8-year-old girl, fireflies are magical, s'mores are the height of culinary achievement, and a 19-acre Girl Scout camp in the Baltimore suburbs seems like a wilderness.

Over the weekend, Brownie Troop 580 from Columbia left behind Nickelodeon television, McDonald's french fries and Beanie Babies and learned to live in cabins without plumbing or electricity and cook their dinner over a campfire.

The 11 girls arrived at Camp Whippoorwill Friday clean and giggling and excited by the adventures that lay ahead. By the time they lowered the flag over camp yesterday afternoon, the giggles had dissolved into weary sighs, and red mosquito bites were rising through layers of dirt. But most of the girls were still smiling.

In two days, they had learned to use a compass, fished with handmade poles, built bird feeders, played games and sung songs. They had captured a newt, watched ants fight and seen a tree fall in the woods. They had trembled from ghost stories and cried from hurt feelings.

"I love Brownies, I love camping," declared 7-year-old Julie Cain, a petite blonde who spent much of the outing bent over looking for bugs in the dirt.

The excitement began soon after the Brownies unloaded their supplies when one of the girls spied an injured butterfly. "Gentle with his wings," assistant troop leader Susan Peck urged.

"I'm going to help him," Julie declared, tossing the butterfly into the air and watching it tumble down.

"He can't fly because he's scared," said 6-year-old Lily Annenberg.

Girl Scouts have been coming to Camp Whippoorwill on Anne Arundel's Mountain Road Peninsula for more than 60 years. While today's Scouting programs include lessons on solar cooking or trips to the Maryland Science Center, camping remains a highlight for many of the 1,800 troops in Central Maryland.

"They have to learn how to live together for two days and how to cooperate," said Clarissa Ferraris, 42, who has led Brownie Troop 580 for eight years.

Along with cooperation, the girls also learn a dose of endurance. On the first evening, Lily peeked into one of the wooden latrines. "Are there lights in there?" she asked cautiously. "No, no lights," Ferraris said.

The girl's eyes widened.

And the girls faced the challenges of roasting hot dogs over a roaring fire. "I can't stand the heat any more," cried Stephanie Edwards, 7, as she looked down the skewer at her still-cold hot dog.

By the time the hot dogs had been devoured, the lightning bugs had started to flicker. The girls scampered about catching them.

Marshmallow detail

"Who knows a song?" Ferraris asked. Several girls raised their hands, then took turns leading the group. They sang about sharks and banana peels and Princess Pat, and the Girl Scout anthem.

Finally, came the moment they'd been waiting for. "Who's in charge of the marshmallows?" Ferraris asked.

The girls had been assigned to two groups -- the Purple Panthers and the Green Iguanas -- and they took turns with the chores. Several girls ran to check the list. "It's the Panthers," one announced.

Hannah Miller, 6, a curly redhead, was an Iguana and looked alarmed. "We're not going to be able to eat them?" she asked her mother, Katie Miller, her mother and a chaperone.

"No, they're going to prepare them," Miller reassured her.

The marshmallows were placed on skewers and plunged into the fire. Several became flaming torches and fell to the ground. "Does charcoal taste good with s'mores?" Hannah asked, looking at her blackened marshmallow.

"I know why they're called s'mores. Because you always want some more," Julie said.

'Really bad'

But if nothing tastes as good as a s'mores -- a graham cracker with chocolate and melted marshmallow -- nothing smells as bad as a latrine. Eight-year-old Maya Munoz's mother had given her a perfumed handkerchief that some of the girls put to their faces.

"It's really bad," Maya said between giggles as she came out.

The girls were sent to bed at 10 p.m. Minutes later the two cabins were locked in a screaming match to the tune of "Macho Man."

The adults quickly put a stop to the screaming, but sleep was still a long time off. A flashlight appeared from the Iguana cabin. It was Maya. "I can't go to sleep," she said. "They keep talking."

Ferraris sent her back to the cabin. Soon two other lights appeared from the Panther cabin. Sharyn Eirich and Maya Agarwal came out to ask the adults when the grown-ups were going to bed. They, too, were shooed back, but instead, headed toward the other cabin.

"Where are you going?" a leader asked.

"We heard Allison doesn't like Anna anymore, and we wanted to see if that was true," Sharyn replied with all the sincerity of a budding diplomat.

That first night, the talking and laughing did not fade until midnight, but hiking, fishing, games, singing and cookie baking took their toll by the next evening.

By yesterday morning, the girls were noticeably quieter. They slowly picked up sticks to replenish the store of firewood. Occasionally, tempers flared.

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