I am, and was fortunate enough, to have grown up with a father who enjoyed the outdoors. Around the time I was 8 years old my father started taking me on campouts with the local Boy Scout troop, of which he was the Scout Master. To be honest those early years of camping were difficult for me due to my age. Being a young child I was still in Cub Scouts which included boys up to the ages of 11. Once you turned 12 you could join the Boy Scouts. But that didn’t stop my Dad from taking me on all the campouts with the older boys.
As you can probably imagine I was picked on and teased a little, being the youngest, and weakest, but I loved being in the outdoors, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. Sitting by a warm fire, far away from any city lights, I could look up into the sky and see too many stars to count. Being outside brought me peace. Being in nature I felt safe.
Being around humans, specifically older boys was another matter entirely. Being the youngest and smallest I was an easy target. One campout I remember I was picked up into the air by an older scout who was probably 16 or 17 and literally body slammed down onto a protruding stump. I was lucky that I wasn’t seriously hurt, and the scout that had picked me up soon saw the fury my Father could wield as he came out of no where, and “calmly” explained to the young man what he thought about him body slamming his son. I wish I could say that experiences like this “toughened me up” but they didn’t. I was just a naïve little kid who just wanted to be left alone, and allowed to enjoy going on campouts with his Dad.
Thankfully not every campout that I tagged along on was bad. For a few years my family lived in Hollywood City FL, and the church we attended had an annual father and son canoe trip. This was one of my favorite annual activities, and I always looked forward to it. One year, after we had made it to our campsite for the night, me and some of the younger boys were sitting near the edge of the water listening to what we thought were frogs. We were talking about how big these frogs must be because the night air was filled with their sounds. That was when one of the fathers of the group came over and shined a flashlight out onto the water, and suddenly we could see all the glowing eyes of many alligators floating in the water. As you can imagine, me and the other boys decided not to sit so close to the water after that.
A few years after that my family and I moved to Plano TX, and eventually I was old enough to join the Boy Scouts. This meant that I could now earn merit badges, and go to summer camps. Now I am not really sure why, but at this time in my life I had decided scouting was not for me. Maybe it was the endless and never ending bullying I had received, or maybe I just wanted to stay home and read more comic books. Who knows, but I wanted out. Now you can imagine, my Father was not a fan of this new found desire to leave scouting, and he made it very clear that I was not allowed to leave scouting until I had earned the highest rank scouting offered its members, the Eagle Scout Award.
To obtain your Eagle Scout Award at the time there was a long list of requirements that a scout had to meet. This included earning many many different kinds of merit badges, going on a certain number of campouts, doing a certain amount of community service, and completing an Eagle Scout Service Project.
The merit badges were not a problem. Much to the irritation of my fellow scouts I sort of collected merit badges with ease, and very little effort. You see, like the Eagle Scout Award, merit badges had lists of requirements you had to do in order to earn the merit badge in question. These requirements, and more were always listed inside the specific topics merit badge book. Now most scouts who were going after a merit badge, say wilderness survival, would obtain the wilderness survival merit badge book and study it. Each book would be filled with helpful information on the specific topic, like how to build a fire with no matches, and how to make a shelter out of sticks, and the information would relate back to whatever the requirements of the badge were. A lot of scouts would spend a lot of time reading and studying these books before they would ever even think about trying to “pass off” the checklist of requirements for the merit badge. I however, had a different approach. I had a reputation within my troop of NEVER reading the merit badge books. Just wasn’t my style. When I wanted a merit badge I would just find the list of requirements, and I would just figure out how to “pass off” each and every item on the list on my own. I didn’t need a book to tell me how to do something, I would go find someone who knew, watch them do it, and after seeing it once or twice I would inherently know how to do it myself.
An example I remember vividly was during a week long scout camporee. I had decided that I wanted to earn my sailing merit badge, and as one might expect, one of the requirements for the merit badge was to actually show a certain skill for sailing. Easy…There was just one small problem…I had absolutely no idea how to sail and had never done it before. So I went down to the marina, and watched. For hours I watched every kid sailing out on the lake. I watched how they moved, the knots they tired, and how they steered these small little one man sail boats. The requirements for the sailing merit badge were pretty straight forward. You had to show you knew the proper safety procedures in case something went wrong, you had to pass a swim test, show basic understanding and demonstrate skill with tying certain knots, and then you had to sail a boat, on your own, out and around a buoy, and back. Easy right?
So after spending the better part of the day watching all the kids sailing I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. So the next day I walked down to the marina, found one of the leaders who could sign off on my requirements, and told him I wanted to pass off all the skills for my sailing merit badge. The leader must have been having a slow day because he was willing. I passed the swim test with both hands tied behind my back and my eyes closed. My parents had put me in swim lessons practically the day I was born and I was a natural in the water. Afterwards the leader called out a few basic knots and asked me to tie them, which I did. I do recall getting one of them wrong, but the leader showed me my mistake and allowed me to do it again. Once the knots were out of the way he questioned me on the safety procedures of sailing a boat, and I passed, having memorized the list the night before in my tent. Now came the big check off item. Now I had to actually sail a boat. Something that I had never done before, and for which was the big main requirement of earning your sailing merit badge.
As you can imagine, I was a little nervous, but I had watched carefully the day before and I was confident that I could sail this boat. I pulled the boat down to the water with the aid of the leader, and set about inspecting the boat, the ropes, and the sails as I had seen the scouts do the day before. Finding no damage I jumped into the boat and the leader shoved me off into the water. Copying the movements of what I had observed the day before I got the sail up, and within a couple minutes the wind caught the sail, and I was moving. I remember being REALLY surprised at how much lean there was to the boat, and for a split second I thought how silly I would feel if I tipped the boat over. But I managed to steer the boat straight, and the wind wasn’t strong enough to pull the boat over. After a few minutes I reached the designated buoy and steered my boat around it and back towards shore. I had done it.
About 10 minutes later I was back on shore pulling the boat up onto land with the leader, and after it was tucked back into storage properly he signed me off on all my skills for the sailing merit badge. I had accomplished in 2 days what most scouts took all summer to do, and I was pretty proud of myself that I had found a loop hole in the system.
Looking back on that now as an adult I shake my head with a smile. Had I found a loop hole, yes. Had I found a way to use my skill in learning to my advantage, also yes. Had I missed the point of what earning merit badges was all about, you betcha! I was so focused on getting out of scouts, which required me to earn my Eagle Scout Award, that the only thing I was paying attention to was the long list of requirements I needed to accomplish. Had I technically done everything I was supposed to to earn my sailing merit badge…Yes. Did I actually learn how to sail? No. A classic case of being too focused on the destination, not the adventure of the journey.
While I had found a loop hole in the system, my friends spent all summer out on the water. Each time out was a new memory, and a new story to tell. Their summer was filled with learning something cool, while I was busy figuring out how to cross something off a list.