October 2015 Scouting Update

The Boy earned his Star rank in August, topping off a great Scouting summer.

The day after school let out for the summer, he left with a crew from his troop on a self-supported, 6-day canoe trip (just over 50 miles) on the Buffalo National River. They earned the 50-miler for that trip.

The troop attended summer camp at Kia Kima Scout Reservation in northern Arkansas. The Boy took all the natural science-related Merit Badge classes he could, earning Geology, Fish and Wildlife Management, Nature, Forestry, Mammal Study (and most of Reptile and Amphibian Study), and Soil and Water Conservation. He’s planning to finish up Environmental Science this fall, and that will be all the Merit Badges he needs to earn for the Hornaday Award (I think). He has only Eagle-required Merit Badges left to earn for Life and Eagle. In addition to all the science ones, he also earned Robotics, Photography, and Emergency Preparedness this Summer.

In September, he became our troop’s first Outdoor Ethics Guide. He’s already taken the Outdoor Ethics Orientation class and completed a few more requirements for the Outdoor Ethics Awareness Award, which most of our troop is also currently working on. He plans to take a Leave No Trace Trainer course as soon as he turns 14.

The Future of Outdoor Education

In the context of being a Scout Leader and a father of a really outdoorsy boy, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last several years studying (as a layman) the general area of “outdoor education.” It’s also often called “Adventure Education” or “Wilderness Education,” and it lies along the spectrum of experiential education. I’m especially interested in how that can lead to more people interacting positively more often with Nature.

imagesDan Garvey gave a great keynote address at the 2012 NOLS Faculty Conference about who outdoor educators are and what they can do to help shape a better future. (As an aside, what appears to be nearly the entire conference is available as a YouTube playlist of over 40 videos covering a broad range of fascinating talks.)

Garvey cites a study in which Outdoor Ed majors scored the highest of any major in terms of their moral reasoning ability (the ability to make ethical decisions). Does the outdoors draw people who are already inclined to be moral or ethical or is it something in outdoor education that creates or nurtures that in them?

And though creating generally more people who are ethical and moral in their everyday lives is important, the essential things that getting kids exposed to Nature will do is create adults who will take action to preserve our wild spaces. A generation of kids raised on video games who’ve never been camping or hiking or swimming in a creek, or fishing, or hunting, or any other outdoor activities will not be the adults who write the legislation and the checks that help fight to protect our environment, both the wild places and where we live.

reconnect-kids-nature-500x280Creating and nurturing ethical and moral behavior in Scouts is certainly a focus of Scouting, since the outdoors is just one of the methods of Scouting, whose main purpose is to help raise good citizens who are equipped to make moral and ethical choices as adults. (As an aside, I wonder how many of the subjects in that study were Scouts or former Scouts?). That time spent in the outdoors is a major part of the moral and ethical training of Scouts, I’d like to say that would be the case for non-Scouts, too, who spend a lot of time in the outdoors.

Fewer and fewer children spent enough time in Nature these days. Scouting is a good organized way to make that happen, though there are other programs available for getting outside, too, and I’d certainly like to see more of them, and having more people involved in Outdoor Education — both professionally and as volunteers — will help that. With a rise in Outdoor Education programs, hopefully more ethical people will get even more kids outside.

Ice Storms, R.E.M.’s ‘Driver 8’ and One Little Boy

During the NWA Ice Storm of 2009, we stayed in two different hotels for four nights before being persuaded to stay with friends in Bentonville. It was on the fifth night of not being able to sleep in his own bed that The Boy couldn’t get to sleep on a borrowed sofa bed.

After a half hour or so of hearing him toss around, I went in to check on him. He was very upset. He said, “Daddy, why can’t I sleep in my bed tonight?”


His bed was at our house where there was no electricity, no heat, and a clogged sewer line that couldn’t be cleared until the power was restored. And it was getting down into the 20s at night. I reassured him that we’d be able to go home soon and he could get back to his routine.

So as I lay there and comforted my son who had held up for the first four nights like a champ, I nearly lost it, too. I had been trying to balance work (in the news business where we were busy covering the storms aftermath with something more like obsession and overkill than completeness) with making sure my family was safe and warm and my house was getting repaired and services restored. It had definitely taken a toll on me as well.

So I rubbed his back and sang the usual bedtime songs to help him get to sleep so that I could get some rest, too. But he piped up with a twist, “I want you to sing me a new song.”

I was surprised and a little nervous. I’m not a singer, and I just don’t know the words to that many songs — at least not ones appropriate for singing a 6-year-old to sleep. Bit it was late and we were both physically and mentally exhausted, so I sang him a new song: R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” which is one of my absolute favorite songs and the first one I learned to play on my guitar close to 20 years ago and — most importantly — one of the few songs I know most of the words to.

“Driver 8” is a great song, but not really a lullaby from any direction you approach it. It could be about a deranged train engineer, a long ago failed relationship, just pastoral scenes from the South, or lots of other things. Michael Stipe’s lyrics in the the early days were often obscure and difficult to understand even when you could decipher which words he was singing.

So, I sang this great but possibly inappropriate song to a tired and frustrated little boy who was trying to fall asleep in a strange bed for the fifth night in a row.

And he loved it.

It didn’t really put him to sleep, but we had a long talk about “floaters” and why they would be on powerlines, which lead to a conversation about cropdusters (and trains, of course).

We got to go back to our re-electrified home a couple of nights later, and things returned more or less to normal, including the same old couple of bedtime songs.

But when he’s really tired or maybe not feeling great, he asks for “Driver 8” and it seems to help him get to sleep. It’s even more my favorite song than ever now.