Recently a friend asked me to speak at a “Crossing Over” ceremony-a candlelight celebration in which Cub Scouts literally “cross over” into the Boy Scouts by stepping across a rope bridge.
I had 15 minutes to talk about what scouting has meant to me. (I was an Eagle Scout.) Thinking back on my scouting days, I realized just how those experiences shaped my future-right up to becoming Editor-in-Chief of outdoor life. I was also reminded of how lucky I was to have had troop leaders who were so willing to share their love of the outdoors with me.
Our scoutmaster, Mr. Gump, seemed to know everything about camping and fishing. He drove a pickup truck with a camper shell on the back and tied his own flies. He owned a Kelty pack and a down mummy bag-pretty high-tech stuff for the ’60s. Every summer he’d take our troop hiking in the High Sierras of California. He knew all about birds and wildflowers, and he carried a fancy 35mm camera and special lenses to photograph both. I still have a photo he gave me after one of our trips. It was of my father and me, fishing together off a big granite slab that jutted out into Benson Lake. We hiked 50 miles that week, ate pan-fried trout for breakfast and never bathed once!
When I looked out into the sea of eager faces the other night, I couldn’t help but smile in knowing that their best days in the outdoors are yet to come. With the right leaders and parental involvement they’ll learn to tie their first clinch knots, catch their first trout with a 4-weight and take their first game with a firearm-safely, responsibly and with reverence.
My own son, Jack, was with me. He’s still too young for Cub Scouts, but he loved everything about the evening, especially the Tater Tots we got to have with dinner and the glowing electric campfire the scout leaders set up in the middle of the high-school cafeteria. His favorite thing, however, was Akela, the Indian chief (actually Bob Rice of the local Scout Council), who presided over the ceremony in buckskins and a war bonnet. Akela ate fire (after warning the boys not to try this at home), gave out the “Arrow of Light” awards to the scouts crossing over and led us all in a rousing version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” as he danced around the campfire. Then we all had chocolate Dixie cups. (The kind you eat with tiny flat wooden spoons, remember?)
Wiping Jack’s chocolaty smile with a napkin, I was suddenly struck by how swiftly those years when our children are so young and innocent pass. And how quickly each of us crosses over-into Boy Scouts, into college, into marriage, into fatherhood and into grandfatherhood. I was also reminded of how important it is for all of us to take more walks in the woods and spend more afternoons in a rowboat with our kids. You may not get a nibble, but you’ll come home with a creel full of memories.
After we threw away our ice-cream cups and took one last photo with Akela, Jack and I headed home. As we stepped into the frosty night and I took his mittened hand in mine, Jack said, “Dad, this was the best night ever!”
Seven words never sounded sweeter. Todd W. Smith, Editor-in-Chief