Racing back into the campsite, with just minutes to get to the waterfront, you yank the flaps shut and in the gloom you change into your swim trunks. Grab your towel, slip on your shoes, and it’s a run down the main trail to the waterfront.
Coming down the hill, at the last turn the “H” docks of the waterfront come into view. Already Scouts are lined up at the gate waiting for a staffer to man the buddy board. You pull off your shoes at your troop tag board, find your tag on the “Out” board and line up with another Scout in your merit badge class.
Looking down at your tag, you feel a secret pleasure that this year the tag has red and blue markings, denoting that you passed the swimmer test the first day of camp. But swimming merit badge isn’t just about being able to swim. It’s learning different strokes and first aid, CPR, safety rules, how to run a safe swim, dives, and jumping in fully dressed. By the time you get swimming merit badge, you can swim with confidence.
The staff open the gate, and everyone files in, putting the tags in pairs on the “In” board. You and your buddy go down to the dock and find your instructor. Tanned to skin cancer brown, he is a 19 year old staff member on his third staff summer. You don’t know that he spent his first summer in the kitchen, getting up early and spending most of his first staff summer mopping floors and scrubbing pots. You only know that he can swim like a dolphin, and that standing on that dock with a reach pole in his hands, he looks like a poster for a summer at camp.
He puts you in the water, swimming laps between the platforms. The lake is cold, even on the hot afternoons, and if you dip down, the mud is soft beneath your feet. You swim back and forth, trying to hold a pace that keeps you swimming along with the group, working on breast stroke and crawl.
A whistle blast jars you from your focus. “Buddy Check! Buddy Check! 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1! You thrash over to your buddy and pull out on the dock. All the buddy pairs are sitting, holding their buddy’s arm in the air.
“Swimmers, give me the count.” “17 pairs, 2 staff.” “Beginners, give me the count.” “4 pairs and 1 triple, 2 staff!” “The count matches, the board is correct.” “Staffers, resume your classes!”
It is an abbreviated buddy check, with just a few Scouts in the classes, the buddy check goes quickly and class continues. Soon enough, it is time to head back to camp. Lining up, clearing the buddy board, showing your tag with your buddy as you exit, and then waiting for the staff to call the waterfront clear and closed.
You head back up the Troop campsite to get dressed in uniform for supper.
If I were dropped out of a plane into the ocean and told the nearest land was a thousand miles away, I’d still swim.