Sometimes You Can’t Watch

Just down the trail from the campsite, on the way to the Nature Lodge, was the Handcraft Lodge. There, industrious Scouts learned Basketry, Woodcarving, Woodworking, Leatherwork, and Metalworking merit badges.

With the possible exception of basketry, these skills all have something in common. Sharp and pointy tools. Metalworking has the added bonus of working with sheet metal, shears, punches and metal heated to the tempering and annealing point.

As a Scout Leader in camp, one of the things I tried to do during the week was visit all the program areas. I usually looked at the SPL’s activity roster for the Troop and went to the program areas when our Scouts were in class.

Striving to not be voted the Scoutmaster that the Staff most wanted to use as a pinata, I would slip in, sit in the back, and watch the class without speaking unless the Staffer spoke to me. I understood his job. I taught merit badges, too.

If you looked at the link for Metalworking, you can see there are two primary areas, one is knowledge. The information necessary to pass the requirements is found in the merit badge book. The other is practical application. The making of things, using tools. The aforementioned sharp, pointy tools.

So, one hot July morning in camp, fortified with coffee, I took my hiking stick and one of my assistants, and began a tour of camp. The archery and rifle range, the climbing tower, a stop at the trading post for pogie bait, and then back along the trail past our campsite to the Handicraft Lodge.

The 10 AM class was just beginning, and we sat at an unused picnic table under the shelter. The table top was gouged with tool marks and splattered with the paint from a thousand projects, along with some deliberate carving of initials, Troop numbers and dates.

One of my sons, then twelve, was in the class. We watched as the instructor, an eighteen year old Scout, went through a quick rehash of tool safety, then had the Scouts get out the projects they were working on. Sheet metal, tin snips, punches and hand drills were brought out. They were making candle holders. Striving perhaps for something like this:
The can had to have the top and bottom cut off, then be cut up the side and hammered flat to get a starting rectangle of metal. It was then punched out to make the patterned openings, reshaped with mallets and riveted together.

I watched for a few minutes. One young Staffer working with eleven Scouts, my son among them. I watched him struggle make the cuts, leaning over his project, the ends of the can curling as he worked. Finally I nudged my companion, “Let’s go,” I whispered. We got up, gave a wave to the Staffer when he looked up and headed back to the main trail.

As we got out of earshot of the class behind us, he looked at me and grinned, “Couldn’t stand to watch that, could you?”

I shook my head, “No, I couldn’t, but I couldn’t say anything, either. This week, I’m the Scoutmaster. How many Scouts take that merit badge in a summer, 40, maybe 50? How many get cut?”

He laughed, “Probably all of them.”

I laughed too, “Ok, but how many of them need stitches, or a trip to the emergency room? None. I’ve never had a Scout get badly hurt at camp. Probably not going to happen today, either.”

We walked along in silence. I shook my head again, “It’s Scouting. He has to have his own time, and I have to let go. Let’s walk down to the waterfront and see if our SPL is finished the Mile Swim.”

You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.
–Abraham Lincoln


One thought on “Sometimes You Can’t Watch

  1. One of the greatest pleasures I had as Scoutmaster was watching Scouts work on their merit badges and sneak pictures when I could.

    We would stop in every day, in every class to view their progress. One of the things you didn't mention was the incredible amount of walking Scouters do at a summer camp.

    I would watch, make mental notes on what the Scouts covered. Later that day or in the evening, I would start talking to the Scouts about what they learned…how they liked it. It was always amazing to get the Scouts to open up, to hear the excitement and enthusiasm about their classes.

    Great post, brought back lots of memories.

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