On weekend camps, we did patrol camping. For summer camp, we always went to a Council summer camp. The facilities, the merit badge opportunities, the chance to interact with other troops, everything about an organized summer camp just seemed to fit our program.
Even so, there is a lot of planning. The date is picked at the Patrol Leaders Council in September. Merit badge and class selections usually had to be done and sent to camp by March. The tents and cots were provided, but there is still a trailer full of patrol gear and adult leader’s equipment to be considered.
The day before camp is usually a time for the Scoutmaster, his assistants, the Senior Patrol Leader and the Quartermaster to have one last meeting at the Scout hut. Final plans and final packing. Working from a list that had morphed into an Excel file, we would pack everything we thought we needed for the week, leaving room on the trailer for the locker boxes and assorted equipment the Scouts would bring the next day.
In keeping with tradition, there was always something important we needed sitting on a shelf as we drove off to camp. No matter, it could always be added to next year’s list. In a day or so it would seem unimportant in comparison to the things the Scouts would forget.
Check in at camp is a circus. Imagine 12 to 15 Troops of Scouts showing up on Sunday afternoon, everyone needs medical check in, swim checks, every Scoutmaster has to inspect and take responsibility for the Troop campsite. New Scouts have no idea where anything is, so an orientation hike around camp is necessary. All the gear and footlockers have to move from the parking lot to the campsites. All before evening chow and the opening campfire.
But soon enough, all that is over, and the first night in camp arrives. The camp staff puts on a rousing opening campfire, then the Troop makes it’s way back to the site. The Senior Patrol Leader reports to the Scoutmaster that everyone is accounted for, and heads off to his tent. The Scouts stay awake too long, talking and joking, finally fading to whispers and then to silence.
There is an final shift that happens with Monday’s reveille, your primary job is done. You got them here, the background work is completed. Now it’s time to step back and let Scouting happen. The Senior Patrol Leader starts by waking the Patrol Leaders and the Patrol leaders wake the Scouts. Duty rosters are already posted. The inevitable questions to the Scoutmaster are now met with a shrug and a smile, “I don’t know, better ask the Senior.”
After cleanup and breakfast, the Scouts all head out to their first scheduled activities and classes. There’s a fresh pot of coffee in the OA Lodge for Scoutmasters, and a meeting at 0900. It’s usually a weather forecast for afternoon thundershowers, a time to discuss any problems on both the Troop and the camp sides, and a reminder that it’s going to be hot so be sure to keep the Scouts hydrated.
With a fresh mug of coffee, you amble back to the campsite to find your assistants putting up the leader’s dining fly and arranging the adult equipment for the week. You sit down in the shade. This day seems connected to the last day of last summer camp, and that camp to the one before it. The intervening years has disappeared.
Because every Troop of any size is in many ways the same each year. The older Scouts are confident and in charge. There’s Patrol Leaders, finding their style as they take on real leadership responsibilities. Lots of young Scouts, away from home for the first time, some of them diving into camp with abandon, others homesick and unsure. In some way, you are connected to every Troop that ever held a summer camp. There is nothing outside of camp and no plans except what ever is on the Patrol duty rosters. It’s camp time.
Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem as eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it.