Thursday, July 28, 2011

"How Brown Was My Latrine?" (a.k.a.: Summer Camp 2011)

Okay, it's been a couple of weeks.  I can go there now.  I wasn't exactly sure how to get started, but starting is easy once fingers begin moving on the keyboard, the mouth begins mouthing the words I type, and the dehumidifier in the my downstairs 'Rec' room begins to drone on relentlessly. 

Grab my hand, we're going into the woods...

Summer Camp 2011 
July 3rd through July 8th

We took part in the annual pilgrimage to 'Summer Camp' a few weeks ago.  The weather was 'close' to perfect, highs during the day of mid-80's and in the evening it dropped into the high 50's.  Sleeping on the rickety cot and mattress in the WWII-era Boy Scout tent was better than sleeping in my own bed at home.  

I had a tent all to myself (due to an potentially-explosive 'methane' issue).  No, actually I was the 'acting' adult leader for this year's trip and we had an even-number of boys.  They got to bunk with each other - as for me, it was just me, all alone in my own tent.  It was nothing short of wonderful.  On paper, I'm the Assistant Scout Master - in real life, I'm Mike Kane, with my youngest son, Tim, in Boy Scout Troop 244. 

Our 'actual' Scout Master is the Ranger at Camp Tuscarora (you can call it Tuskie if you like - it's a lot easier to type or say, in a sentence).  'Ranger Mike' (not me, the OTHER Mike) pretty much runs full throttle from 5:30am in the morning till 11:00pm in the evening seven days a week for six weeks each summer.  Once summer camp is over he checks himself into a Camp Ranger De-Stress clinic for the 'serially sleep-deprived'.  I would imagine that 46 weeks out of the year, Tuskie is a great place to wake up in.

These six weeks of Summer Camp, though, let's just say, 'They'd kill a lesser man...'

I brought my digital camera with me to camp again this year.  The following photos took place over six days - you'll probably get through them in less than half this amount of time.  As for myself, I don't need the photos 'cause I was there.  My memory isn't as good as it used to be, but probably better than it will be in another ten years, but good memories have a way of 'sticking'.  Unfortunately, well, the bad ones, they get 'stuck' too. 

This post isn't about the 'baddies'.  It's about the 'goodies'. 

Let's get gettin' while the gettin's good...
Home Sweet Home for the Week July 3rd - July 8th, 2011
(Please take time to note the MAJOR Award underneath the
Chippawa sign - more on this in a second)
The Boy Scout Troop has been setting up at 'Summer Unit 3' (Chippawa Site) since before we moved into the area, and probably way before my kids were born.  It's quite possibly the nicest camp site in the facility.  It's got trees, it's got sun, it's got shade, it's got spiders, crickets, garter snakes AND a latrine. 

Seriously, what else could you ask for?  (Anyone who asks, "A TV?" is not capturing the 'Scouting Spirit' and will be struck in the face with a cream pie.  (They call this 'foreshadowing'...)) 

Ah, behold, the mighty 'Tuscarora Site Inspection' award!  Troop 244 DECIMATED the competition (two other Troops) by winning this MAJOR AWARD four of the five days it was given.  On the fifth day, it was awarded jointly to the other two troops we competed against because, apparently, no one has ever won it five days in a row.

How do you GET this prestigious award?  You need a clean campsite, a non-stinky latrine (more later), assigned chores for scouts, a well-maintained fire pit, no bears in your tents, a Dad (me) to trim the lawn via industrial Weed-Eater (louder than a jet engine) and lastly, a 'site improvement' project.  (Think 'brown' - don't rush me, I'll get there...)
"Doo, Doo, Doo, Lookin' Out My Tent Flap"
On Monday afternoon I rested after a fun-filled morning of mowing, trimming, and edging the campsite.  In the picture above, but not really visible you'll find a lawn mower and the Weed Eater from the US Weed Eating Olympic Team. 

Can't see 'em?  They're there, trust me.  Okay, how about now?

Oh yeah, I got site-clearing skills...  Of course, after snapping the above photo I fell asleep for  almost two hours.  In my head, however, the 'metallic-mosquito-from-Hades' noise of that dang Weed Eater continues to this day.

Home away from home, July 2011...

Behold the Fire Pit!
The fire pit is pretty much Ground Zero at the campsite.  There are EXTRAORDINARILY uncomfortable benches (with 'BONUS splinters!') surrounding half of of it, the other half is where people who planned ahead of time had folding chairs set up (I was one of 'them').  I lay my weary body down on the bench for a moment in order to get a photo of things much greater than myself.

This, is that photo...

I really like this picture.  I don't know if it's because it was a beautiful day, or if it just 'put things in perspective' for me.  In any event, this is what I saw as I lay down upon the 2" x 6" plank next to the fire pit.

When we arrived at camp on Sunday, we signed up for the 'now-near-legendary' Bear Cave Hike.  In the photo above, we see Scouts walking away from me as I take another photo.  Thinking back, I spent the entire week watching the back of kids' heads.  I was the 'scooper' for most walks / hikes.  If anyone lagged behind, I would 'Scoop' them up and move them forward, hopefully, not trampling any others in the process. 

At the end of the walk, I could have used a 'Scooper' of my own - I was 'Pooped'. 

I was a 'Pooped Scooper'.  (This, it turns out is better than being a: 'Pooper Scooper'...) 

There ought to be a sign:  "The Bear Cave - Stay AWAY!!!"

There wasn't a sign warning us off. 

Luckily for us, the bear was OUT for the day.

Remember, I'm the 'Scooper'.  I've got the slowest-walking kids back here with me.  As the old adage goes, "I don't have to outrun the bear - I only have to outrun YOU." 

Although, I really didn't want to find out the hard way WHO the slowest of the group was, because, most likely, it was me...

The side of the 'Bear Cave' rock formation AND bonus twisty-trunked tree!

Camp Tusky has a 'Back-Up' emergency alert system.  If there is a camp emergency the horn on the top of the dining hall blasts loudly until you can no longer hear ANYTHING ELSE.  If, however, the dining hall loses power, bursts into flames, is inhabited by bears or they can't reach the button to trigger the alarm, there's always the 'Bell'. 

I've been at camp now for six summers.  I never looked at the bell until this year.  I should have looked sooner.  It was manufactured by Meneely's Bell Foundry of Troy, NY.  It features the patented 'Meneely Rotating Yoke' (not making this up). 

The bell was manufactured in 1857.  Yeah, that's over 150 years old.  Almost as old as my Chrysler.

Okay, that's pretty cool.

Each day we line up outside the Dining Hall for Breakfast and Lunch.  The above photo is of the flag-raising ceremony.  At dinner we meet at the parade grounds, in uniform, for the flag-lowering ceremony.

At lunch, you challenge Staff to friendly 'Competitions'.  For example, you can challenge a staff member to a 'Fishing Challenge'.  If he / she catches more fish than you do, as the 'Challenger', YOU get a pie in the face.

When challenged by the Scout, the ONLY acceptable response in reply is, "To the Death!"

Example:  "I would like to challenge Tom to a Smores Eating Contest!"

Response:  "To the Death!"

Then, everyone claps, shouts, and in general question under their breath, "Can you really DIE eatting Smores?"  I don't believe so - as I'm still alive. 

If you DO accept the fishing challenge referenced above and if you catch more fish than the Staff Member does, the following series of events takes place:

1.  Everyone is called to the center of the Dining Hall

2.  The results of the Challenge are carefully reviewed and tabulated using highly efficient scientific methods.  For really high fish count numbers (over '10'), shoes are removed...

3.  If you lose the challenge, you get a whipped cream pie to the face, as illustrated below

Moments after this photo was taken, several bears stormed the Dining Hall and ate this staff member's head. 

It's a shame really, he was a nice kid. 

As the day begins to wind down, there's nothing better than a bunch of scouts sitting at a rickety picnic table teaching each other the 'Life Skills' they'll need to be successful as they get older:

a.)  Telling Jokes

b.)  Telling Tall Tales

c.)  Comparing Merit Badge Achievements

and, of course, the proudest Scouting experience of all...

d.)  Learning How to Play Cards Without cheating

So as the camp fire dies,and the sun sets on another year at Camp Tuscarora, we ask ourselves: 

WHAT did we learn this year? 

Which memories will last a life-time?

The answers to the above questions are pretty much the same as every other year: 

  • We learn that there are things greater than ourselves.
  • We learn that being away from TV, Radio, and the Internet helps you sleep better at night.
  • We learn that if you hear 'snuffling' noises and leaves rustling coming from the outside of your tent at 2:14AM early Tuesday morning - it might NOT be a hungry bear. 
  • We learn that eating 'Beefy Bean Burritos' at noon and sitting too close to the camp fire that evening is NEVER a good idea. 
  • We learn that those people who honor the past of our Nation will help shape it 'for the better' in the future.
  • We learned that on the Fourth of July, by recognizing our Nation, those who serve in the US Military, and playing 'God Bless the USA' over the dining hall speakers WILL make Mr. Kane remember how much he misses his son serving the US Navy in Japan.  A couple of years ago - he was at this table.   
  • We learn that sometimes Mr. Kane cries in public - even when he's trying hard not to.
  • We learn that if you volunteer for a 'Site Improvement' project which includes the 'Staining' of the latrine - it's better to get the stain delivered on Monday morning vs. Thursday night.

Why?  Because Troop 244 is the first group to stay at the campsite since last summer.  Stuff from beneath the latrine has pretty much dried out / dissipated over the winter.  Butt (big butt), if you don't get the stain until dinner-time on Thursday and don't start staining until Friday morning...  Let's just say it doesn't smell as good in the latrine on Friday as it did on Monday morning.

The question which began this post:  "How Brown Was My Latrine?"

Over the past few years porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks  and other 'denizons
of the woods' conspired to chew the wood within the latrine.  Someone had to
sand, and paint it, right?  Yeah, that would be me...

The Answer:  "Very"

I'll leave you with the following.  The kids packed their tents, rolled their bags, and had headed down to the parking lot to get signed out by their parents.  I made one last trip to the campsite to make sure that no gear, kids, or trash was left behind (it's a Boy Scout thing). 

As I approached the campsite for the last time a deer stepped onto the road about ten feet in front of me.

We stared at each other for probably no more than thirty seconds, but it felt as if a much longer period of time passed.  There was no fear in either of us - just a mutual understanding of each other. 

We both 'belonged' there.

With a quick look back at me and a leisurely turn to the right, my new-found friend left the campsite. 
Having completed his inspection, I began mine.

Yeah, it was 'all good'. 
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