In the summer of 1966 my mom & I moved to Kenya. My dad was already there; he'd gone on ahead to get everything ready for us. We'd already sold our house, and we were living in our next door neighbor's basement apartment. Before we left I went to Philmont Scout Ranch. Philmont's a huge (140,177 acres) Scouting wilderness near Cimarron, New Mexico.
Swimming camp. In the summer of '65 I'd gone to sleep-away camp for the first time. It was closer to home, in for the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was miserable, or at least I was. There we were in a mountain wonderland, enticing trails luring me in all directions; let's go hiking! Huh uh. There was also a lake, and everything we did was was about the lake. I hated the water as a kid. And here I was in a fucking swimming camp.
As soon as we arrived they got us into swimming trunks and lined us up down at the dock. They needed to see us all swim first thing, because that would determine our fate. We had to jump off a dock, one by one, and swim along the dock so they could watch us. It was the fucking softball throw all over again.
Minnow. They told us we'd be divided into 3 groups: the Sharks, the Flying Fish, and the Minnows. The counselors got a game going: call the candidate's group before he actually hit the water. I think my foot was still on the dock when I heard 'em yell "Minnow! Minnow!" It went downhill from there.
Scouts. So why Philmont? Despite my athletic incompetence, I loved being in Scouts. I loved being out in the woods, hiking & camping. I'd hiked with my dad, he was good for that. I'd had backyard campouts, and one maybe two real ones on the Chipola River with my brother, places where we boated in. The mosquitoes ate me alive, but I loved being out there, really out in the woods at night.
Underachiever. I did fine in Scouts but was not a big achiever; I stalled at Star Scout, never getting enough of the right kind of merit badges to make Life, much less Eagle. I had no designs on high rank; I just loved to hike & camp. So Philmont.
Tebo. The bus trip out from Asheville was an oddly charmed passage. Our driver was Tebo, a friendly guy, and this was his favorite gig as a driver, Scouts to Philmont & back. We spent the nights on military bases where we slept on the floor & ate in the mess. The food was good, by my unsophisticated palate. I learned about take all you want, but eat all you take. Tebo knew everybody, wherever we went.
Fairies. We had an 11-day hiking itinerary; I think we hiked every day but 2, so plenty of practice setting up and breaking camp. I developed a reputation as a weirdo because I would always take off by myself whenever there was down time, and hang out where there was a good view. They laughingly accused me of communing with nature or talking with the fairies, but it felt like friendly joshing. I was a tolerated weirdo.
I loved the time I got to spend out in that gorgeous wilderness, and to this day I kinda don't get it. Why didn't they wander around and enjoy the wilderness? Doesn't everyone like that? But they were much happier in a clump, teasing and punching each other, yelling, and talking about masturbation. The wilderness was just something they marched through.
The Order of the Arrow. For our last night at Philmont we were back at headquarters, eating fresh food again, showering, resting tired feet. There was a council meeting around a bonfire that night, and after the closing ceremony a few Scouts got tapped out for OA; I was one of them. The Order of the Arrow is a service-oriented secret honor society within the BSA; you can read all about it if you like that kind of porn. I have no idea what possessed them to pick me. Maybe they thought it'd make a man outta me, so I'd give up my fairy-talkin' ways? It was all academic anyway. Being tapped out just meant I was invited to undergo The Ordeal, where they tested your mettle to see if you truly measured up to OA standards. There were no ordeals scheduled before our departure for Kenya, so all's I got was a stapled mimeographed copy of the secrets, like what WWW stands for, and the secret handshake. I mentioned OA in my endless tiresome kvetching about leaving my beloved Asheville, but it was half-hearted. I think I knew even then that I was a poor match for OA. I'd be a slacker there just like I was in Scouting. I was only there for the outdoor fun.
I lost all interest in backpacking and camping out when I moved out of my marriage and started a new life. I no longer needed an excuse to get out of the house, and nature, well, it's actually everywhere. And I enjoy it tremendously.