Friday, October 07, 2011

A Scout Is Trustworthy

I learned to build campfires at age 17.  By that time I had been an Eagle Scout for three years, had served in various scouting leadership positions for years, had gone on many campouts, and had sat around many campfires.

My 18th summer found me working on staff at Camp Loll.  One day I was assigned along with several others to build the campfires for the evening program that would kick off a week of camping and outdoor events for a couple of hundred scouts and leaders.

I dutifully headed to the campfire bowl with my crew and we began haphazardly throwing together piles of wood in the two fire pits.  Fortunately, our camp director, Delose Conner happened to wander onto the scene.  (I later realized that he was wisely checking on us.)   He looked at our work and asked whether we thought that the fire lays we had built could be started with a single match and whether they would burn nicely for an hour.

Assuming that we'd apply some kind of liquid accelerant to the stack of wood, I replied that the fires would start if they were sufficiently doused in "scout juice."  After all, that's the way I had always seen campfires built.  Delose explained that at Camp Loll we used only natural elements in our campfires and that the use of accelerants was not permitted.  My crew and I quickly understood that what we had built wouldn't work.

Delose then carefully instructed us in the fine art of building a 'council' campfire.  He showed us how to build something that looked kind of like a log cabin fire lay, but where every other layer was a fairly solid floor of wood.  We started with larger diameter logs and gradually worked our way up to small sticks.  Atop our structure we built a tepee of very dry, thin, long sticks.  We filled the tepee with masses of very fine, dry tinder.

The fire would start small at the top.  As the top layer of sticks burned through, the fire would fall to the next layer.  There was enough space between each layer to allow enough air to reach the fuel for the fire to burn well.  A properly constructed fire, it was explained, would burn brightly for about 45 minutes and would then diminish to a lovely bed of coals that would provide just the right ambiance as the program wound down.

Our director carefully explained that each campfire needed to be completely dependable.  He had to be able to trust that the fire would start with a single match, stay lit, and burn as long as needed.  The scouts in attendance had to see that it was possible to start a fully natural fire if the fire lay was properly prepared.  In short, he said, the fire had to be trustworthy, just as each scout promised to be trustworthy each time he recited the Scout Law.

Trustworthiness is something that is proven and earned.  Not only must it thrive inside the individual, others must be aware of it as well.  It is something for which one gains a reputation.  Once trust is violated, it is extremely difficult to regain.

My camp director was also the professional scout executive for the district where I lived.  He later told me that one of the reasons he hired me to work on camp staff was that I had proven myself to be dependable as a youth Order of the Arrow leader.

Delose reminded me that some months earlier our O.A. chapter had agreed to do a camping promotion presentation for a large troop.  Weeks later, Delose looked at his calendar and realized that the event was supposed to start in a few minutes.  He had no time to remind chapter members.  He hurriedly gathered supplies and rushed to the meeting, only to find me already leading the event.

Trustworthiness means keeping one's promises.  It means being where you have promised to be doing what you have promised to do.  It means being truthful, even when it might be more convenient or profitable to be otherwise.  And it is the first point of the Scout Law.

A Scout is trustworthy.

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