Last weekend I took the Pathfinder Club on our annual spring camping trip. We camp four times per year, twice in the fall, and twice in the spring. Twice with just our club, and twice with the conference (camporees). Yes, four twices makes four, and I’m sure you can figure that out.

We had several goals for this camping trip. The first was to prepare for the competition at the upcoming conference camporee. We’ve been working on this during the last couple of meetings, but there were some parts that just had to be done on a camping trip.

For this competition, the kids are divided into teams. We will be fielding two teams. They are each given a series of compass headings, and if they follow them correctly, they will find their victim. The first order of business is to render first aid to said victim, who has suffered a simulated head wound, burned hand, and sprained ankle. Unlikely as that is, it could still happen.

While part of the team is doing that, another part of the team must build a fire and brew some pine needle tea (which is not bad!) They also need to build a shelter using a 6’x8′ tarp and not more than 25′ of rope.

Then they take down the shelter and use the tarp to build a make-shift stretcher, on which they carry the victim out.
They are judged by how well they do each task, not on how fast they do each task.

So we learned the first aid, navigation, and shelter building during the past three meetings. I saved the tea-making and stretcher-building for the campout.

I had seen plans for a DIY backpacking stove online and thought it would be perfect for the tea-making part. I asked the conference if it would be OK, and they said it would be, provided I sent an email out to everyone with a link to the plans (so it would be even). Here the link if anyone cares.

One of my friends works at a place where they build stuff out of sheet metal, and since I wanted a couple of these, I thought I’d build one, and ask him if he wanted to build one too. He passed the request to a co-worker who punched the plans into one of their laser cutters. Bingo, out came a dozen stoves. 🙂

We tried it out over the weekend, and it worked remarkably well:

Stove in action

Stove in action

The advantage it affords over a DIY alcohol stove is that you don’t have to carry fuel – it burns pencil-sized sticks, and those are lying around all over the place. The disadvantage is that wood fires make a lot of soot which blackens the cookware. So we’ll need some bags for these.

A second goal was that we invited Peter Wannemacher from the Limington Lanterns (a Pathfinder Club in Maine) to join us for the weekend and teach us the Sign Language honor. He is an excellent teacher, and we learned a lot of ASL. I almost think I could communicate with a deaf person. The kids really enjoyed having him, and they learned an awful lot as well. Some of them already knew quite a bit which surprised me.

The third goal was for us to finish the Wilderness Living honor we started last fall. For that we needed to collect drinking water using two methods. In the past we have collected rain water from a tarp, and we have filtered water from a stream. But I like to mix things up a bit and try new things. Since I was a child I have known about the solar still technique, but had never tried it, so we gave that a go.

To make one, you dig a hole, place a cup in the center, and add a bunch of wet material around the cup. Then cover with transparent plastic, weight the edges of the plastic with rocks, and place one rock in the center of the plastic sheet right over the cup. The sun evaporates the water which condenses on the underside of the plastic, runs down the the weighted center, and drips off into the cup. I bought a nice, large piece of crystal-clear plastic for $4.00. We got about a fifth of an ounce of water. Yeah. $20.00 per ounce is a little pricey!

Maybe if it had been hotter outside it would have worked better. Too bad I didn’t take any pictures of it.

Last weekend I went on our annual spring camp out with my Pathfinder Club. I was afraid I was going to have an adventure since I did not have as much time to plan as I usually take. But there were no adventures, so all was well.

We camped on my friend Ken Haggett’s farm. We have camped there many times in the past, but this time we moved to a new area since we discovered last year that our old camp site is prone to flooding. I wrote about that last year so I don’t need to rehash it. The new area is quite a bit drier.

I had several goals for this trip. Every year we make plaster casts of animal tracks. Sometimes we find tracks out in the wild, but in a pinch, we will take our old casts, impress them in some sand, and cast those. We do this to meet one of the class requirements for the Companion class, but don’t have time every year to earn the full Animal Tracking honor. I like to make the time every 3-4 years, and this was one of those years.

The Haggett Farm has a lot of wild turkeys, and sure enough, we had no trouble finding their tracks.

Turkey track

Turkey track

I have been wanting to cast a turkey track for a long time. I have even stopped the car a couple of times when I’ve seen turkey’s cross the road in front of me, got out, and looked for tracks. But that never came to anything. But now we have cast this turkey track in plaster, and have added it to our collection. We also made casts of deer, frog, squirrel, and coyote tracks over the weekend, but we already had examples of those.

On the way back from casting these, I took a photo of some Bluets (Houstonia caerulea).

Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

I hadn’t seen them yet this season, but now I can check that box.

Another I hadn’t seen yet this year was goldthread (Coptis trifolia).

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)

I only took one shot of it and got lucky. It’s hard to concentrate on photography when you’ve got 12 kids in tow.

At one point during the trip, I aimed my camera at two of the girls. They decided to pose for me by kicking their feet up and trying to put them on one another’s chairs. That led to a slight imbalance which led to an all-out tumble.



Those are the same two girls who were wading in the ocean last year on Pathfinder Fun Day when they began splashing one another. It ended much the same way then as it did this weekend (only there was less water this year).
Fun Day 2011

Fun Day 2011

I managed to catch these flies in the act on our kitchen window screen.

Flies on the tent wall

Flies on the tent wall

They were oblivious to my lens which I got to within less than an inch of them.

On Saturday evening, Ken came down to visit with us. We had a nice fire going, and I asked Ken to tell us a story. He reluctantly agreed.

Ken getting ready to tell us a tale

Ken getting ready to tell us a tale

The first time we camped on his farm, Ken came down and told a story that was just hilarious. We have camped on his place several times since then, and until this weekend, he had not been able to make it down for a story. I was so glad he did this time.

He makes these stories up as he goes along, and it’s mostly about how he hung out with Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, John Colter, and Jason Grimes, the one-armed mountain man as they explored the Yellowstone area. These are all real people, and Ken knows his material (he teaches history at a nearby high school). As the story progresses, it gets more and more ridiculous, ultimately building up to a point where he scares the kids. They love it. Last time he told a story, it involved the legendary two-legged fur-bearing trout. This year it was the giant warm-blooded black fly (and I know exactly where that inspiration came from – the tiny, cold-blooded variety were thick).

After the story the kids played a game in the woods in the dark, so they were clearly not seriously scared. I let them stay up for a while and then sent the pre-teens to bed. When I was about to drop myself I sent the teens to bed and turned in myself. Then we had a gentle rain that lasted through the night. By morning it was pretty much done and the temperature had dropped into the 50’s. That was enough to tamp down the black flies, so it was very welcome to everyone.

After breakfast we worked on the Camping Skills honors as well as Wilderness Living. We finished Camping Skills and made a sizable dent in Wilderness Living (we’ll finish that one up in Maine in two weeks). We also practiced building a ladder from poles and ropes. That’s the other competition we’ll have at the Camporee in Maine (along with the cardboard boats).

After lunch on Sunday we started to break camp. Since we were on Ken’s farm and not at a public campground, we decided to leave the tents up to give them a chance to dry out. Otherwise the kids would have taken them down, and I would have had to pitch them again at my house when I got home. Then strike them again after they were dry. Sometimes the drying part takes 10 days, and it looks like this might be another one of those times. The forecast is calling for rain every day for the next week. Sigh. I might go back to the farm and move the little tents into the kitchen tent. I think I could get six of them in there. Then they’d have a shot at drying out before we take them to Maine.

I took the Pathfinder club camping at Russell Pond this weekend, and the weather, which I can describe with one word, was perfect. Usually when we camp, it is either wet, or cold, or both. But not this time. When I woke up Sunday morning there was not even one dewdrop on any of the tents. For once I did not have to pitch them when I got home to dry them out. Hooray!

I had been worrying about one aspect of this campout for a couple of weeks – none of my female staff were able to come, and the club has more girls in it than boys this year. Cheryl was inspired to call our friends Robbie and Coral, a retired couple who worked with us in Mississippi when we went down there in February 2006 to do hurricane relief in the wake of Katrina. They will be joining our club on a trip to Arizona this coming February, and they were excited to come camping with us.

What a delightful couple. I love these people! Robbie is such a cheerful person (ex-military, so he loves order as much as I do), and Coral is so tremendously helpful. She insisted in helping in the kitchen at every meal, even though I had assigned other staff members to do that.

On Friday night I introduced the kids to a game I had kind of made up. The purpose of the game was to get them to memorize scripture, and it was pretty effective at that. In this game we had the “good guys” and the “bad guys” as two equal teams. The good guys had to memorize a scripture at one base, and then sneak to the other base to write it down without getting tagged by any of the bad guys. If they were tagged, they had to go to jail. When everyone on their team was in jail, we switched sides. The bad guys were not allowed within 20 feet of either base. This game was a tremendous hit, and the kids begged to play it on Saturday night was well. I was happy to accommodate them in this request.

After a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, we packed up some sack lunches, piled into out vehicles, and drove north to the next exit on I-93 to Lincoln. About a half mile before the exit, there was a long line of cars on the shoulder – this was the exit. 😦

Leaf peepers.

It took another 45 minutes to get to the Lincoln Woods trailhead where there were exactly zero open parking spaces and at least a dozen cars orbiting the lot waiting for one to open up. We had three cars, so I figured we’d orbit for an hour before our last car could park. Luckily, I knew of another (nice, but not as nice) trail near our campsite, so we headed back down the Interstate and found the trailhead to East Pond instead. All told, it took 90 minutes for us to go from our campsite to our eventual trailhead. If we had headed straight to East Pond to begin with, it would have taken us 15 minutes, tops.

The trail to East Pond is not very long, but it makes up for that with its steepness.

East Pond trail

East Pond trail

This was one of the less steep parts. We persisted climbing though, and were rewarded with the view at East Pond itself:
East Pond

East Pond

The last time I was here was about five years ago when David, Jonathan, and I went camping with another Pathfinder and her father. He had camped here before (though not at the pond – that’s not allowed) and led the way. It poured rain on us five years ago, but luckily, it waited until we had broken camp and were hiking back down the mountain to the cars. This year though, we had no rain at all.

We used my water filter to refill our water bottles. This fulfills part of a requirement for the Camping Skills IV honor, so we were sure to have our Camping Skills IV candidate do this.

We got back to our campsite a little before dusk and were treated to a beautiful sunset featuring a cross:

Cross in the Sky

Cross in the Sky

All the kids that had been to the Camporee in Oshkosh in 2009 remembered the “cross in the clouds” we saw there. I’d post a photo from back then, but… I’ve archived that photo away. If you’re interested you can find it on Youtube.

On Sunday morning I was planning for us to cast animal tracks with plaster, but we ran out of time. We had another leisurely breakfast, and then made our lunches and began breaking camp. It took a lot longer to break camp than usual, and I don’t really have an explanation for that. We finished at noon, and that was checkout time. So instead of casting tracks, we drove home exhausted. We’ll get the tracks next time.

This week I went to Castle in the Clouds with my employer and several customers. I enjoyed it very much, and managed to get this sunset shot. I’m not very good at landscape photos, so from me, this is as good as those get.

Sunset at Castle in the Clouds

Sunset at Castle in the Clouds

I have another big weekend planned… actually, the next three weekends. Tomorrow the Pathfinders will fan out across a neighborhood in Concord and execute phase one of our annual food drive. We distribute bags with notes in them explaining the purpose of the bags. Then on Sunday (after our regular Pathfinder meeting) we will go back out again and collect the bags (and presumably the food people have donated). The food is given to people who ask our church for help.

To that end, I have made up some maps dividing the target neighborhood into seven sections. Actually, I found the maps I made last year and printed them out. We will only have five teams this year, but that’s OK. I also bought another thousand T-shirt sacks at Sam’s Club (that is, those plastic grocery bags that say “Thank you!” on them. Va made 100 copies of our plea, and I made another 200 after work. The copier at church will not make more than 100 at a time or it overheats and jams. Thus, the two phases.

Tomorrow the Pathfinders will staple the sheets to the bags and then distribute them.

On the following weekend we will go camping (just our club rather than the whole conference), and the weekend after that will be our Induction ceremony during the church service. That’s a lot of stuff to plan, but luckily… I like to plan things.

Drying six tents

Drying six tents

I set these tents up in my yard Monday so that I could store them dry (otherwise they will mold). They were nearly dry Wednesday, but I didn’t manage to take them down before it rained. It rained all day Thursday, and a little bit this morning. It’s supposed to rain basically every day until Thursday, so I thought I should do something else.

This evening I moved four of them into the garage and one into the basement. The sixth one will not be used by us next weekend (one of my Pathfinders left it in our trailer last spring, so it was accidentally used last weekend). I sent a couple of the kids to the trailer to fetch the “four person” tent, and they found his instead. I didn’t notice until they had pitched it in the rain, and since it was already wet by then, I figured it would be best to just use it and then dry it out with the others. I will leave it in my yard and let it dry after this week of forecast rain passes.

I am back from the NNEC Pathfinder Fall Camporee, and sufficiently recovered now that I can type without falling over from exhaustion.

Executive summary: it was a huge success.

We arrived Friday evening about an hour later than I had intended. One of the kids was running late, and I didn’t think to force her onto the “late train” until it was too late. The “late train” is the vehicle that leaves last to pick up the kids who can’t get out of school early, and I know there was one seat available there. I got as far as calling the late train conductor and reserving a seat, and then calling the parent of the kid who was late. But by then she was within minutes of arriving, so we just waited.

It was pouring rain when we arrived. Luckily, our camp site had a lean-to on it, so we were able to pitch our little tents in the dry and then move them out into the rain and stake them down. I love using little tents, and I will add this to my long list of reasons why.

It poured all night and was raining when we woke up. I got everyone up at 6:00am and got the breakfast crew started on breakfast. Even with an early start like that, it still took forever to get breakfast ready. I am still trying to figure that one out. I think I am going to try to recruit a cook for the camporees. Most of the other clubs do this, and I understand that things go much more smoothly that way. I will still have the kids cook when we’re having a club campout and I am in control of the scheduling though, because they need to know how to do that. It’s just that I don’t think they need to learn that skill when we’ve got a ticking clock racing us.

We made it to flag raising on time, and three kids from our club raised the American flag. Then we had Sabbath School and church in a pavilion. During one of those service, the refugee girls from our club presented a song in Kirundi – the language of Burundi. It was very well received, and they did a great job.

About the time church was over, it finally quit raining. Then we had lunch. Mike Ortel, the president of our conference ate with us, and I enjoyed chatting with him. He’s a great guy. We also had Kurt Amos over for lunch. He’s a new area coordinator with our conference, and he was running this camporee. I really like him too. He was unable to stay for lunch though, as it was once again taking the kids an eternity to get the food ready, and since Kurt was running the camporee, he was unable to stay long enough to eat. I hope he found food somewhere.

By the time the kids finished eating, it was already time for the afternoon activities to begin. They had not yet washed their dishes, so I made the executive decision to send them along anyhow, and I did their dishes for them. David offered to stay behind and help me, and I very much appreciated that.

When we finished the dishes, we had the choice of finding our group in the activity rotations, or just relaxing a bit. We decided to relax, so we kicked back for half an hour and chatted. Then we caught up with our group as they finished the last two rotations.

Then it was time for a supper of grilled cheese, which seemed to go a lot smoother than the previous two meals. Maybe that’s because grilled cheese is so easy to make. Also, my friends Robbie and Coral were cooking for the Portsmouth club and had way too much soup. They gave us about two gallons of it, and it was delicious. That saved us from having to open our canned tomato soup (we’ll use it on the next campout).

We went to the evening program, the highlight of which is always a talent show (well – without awards or judging). David had written a skit (including lots of easy-to-learn parts for the kids). It was mocking an infomercial advertising “Stench-B-Gone” a fictitious deodorant. His skit was hands down the best one presented. If there had been awards and judging, this would have won.

We went to bed after that, and got up early Sunday to get ready to work the hurricane relief project I had lined up for the conference. Somehow, breakfast was ready in record time and we were ready to go when we needed to go.

Paul, David, myself, and two teen boys from my club drove up there together and checked in at the Chamber of Commerce where we met Sarah Shippee, who was our contact. She took us down to the park and explained what needed to be done.

I had intended to take lots of pictures while we worked, but found that if I did that, I couldn’t get much work done. It’s hard to shovel mud or pick up debris with a camera bag slung over the shoulder. I did get a few shots though.

Tennis Court

Tennis Court

This is the tennis court where the bulk of our work was done. We had about 90 Pathfinders there. The court was covered with mud about two inches deep, and we shoveled all that out. We also cleared the debris from the fence. The water line went up about 8 feet on the fence.

Two of my girls (one being Beth)

Two of my girls (one being Beth)

Here are two girls from my club (one of them being my daughter, Beth) picking up sticks, leaves, and trash all embedded in the fence and caked on with mud. We did this for a while when Paul decided that having 90 people in this one spot was not terribly effective. He asked me to take a group to the other park Sarah had shown us and work on that. I think it was a brilliant move, as there was a lot of crowding in the tennis court and its surrounding area.

Here is the trash we removed from the other park.

Debris pile

Debris pile

There must have been a hundred miles of yarn in that debris. My guess is that a low-lying yarn store was just upstream. We also found a lot of fire wood. I found that particularly heart-breaking, thinking about some guy diligently cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood to warm his house this winter, only to have it all swept away in one night. We stacked the firewood in a separate pile. I hope somebody picked it up and will use it, even though we only found a small pile. Still it might have been enough wood to heat a house for a week.

Around 11:30 we headed back to the tennis courts. A lot of people from Wilmington stopped and thanked us. Some honked and waved, so we waved back.

A thankful resident with her two kids, Harry Sabnani, and Sarah Shippee

A thankful resident with her two kids, Harry Sabnani, and Sarah Shippee

The lady on the left in this photo walked to the site with her two kids. She is a resident of the area and was just beside herself with joy that we were there. She cried and everything. The guy in the middle is Harry Sabnani, our conference Youth Director. Paul answers to him. The woman on the right is Sarah Shippee who arranged the project for us. She was fantastic too.

By lunch time we had finished clearing debris from the park as well the tennis courts. It was an amazing difference, and I failed to capture that difference with my camera. Sorry about that!

Some people from Home Depot had set up a free barbeque and invited our group to come and eat all the food we wanted. Little did they realize that most of our group was vegetarian, and that eating pork is against our religion. But they also had sodas, cupcakes, cookies, and bottled water which the kids gleefully accepted.

I talked with some of the people there while the kids ate cookies. He wanted to know who we are, so I gave him a briefing. He thanked us several times for coming out, and I thanked him for feeding us cookies.

Then we all headed back to Molly Stark State Park where we had been camping. We had our closing ceremonies, broke camp, piled in the car and ate a sack lunch on the way home.

I heard several people tell me that they thought this was the best camporee they had ever been on (in spite of the rain). I was absolutely thrilled that we were able to serve that community. I think it would have been a crime for us to camp in the middle of a disaster zone and do nothing more than roast marshmallows.

When I got home I had six wet tents to pitch, but I just tossed them onto the deck too exhausted to do anything about them. I pitched them this evening though, and when they are dry, I will take them down again.

I am still pretty tired! And now I need to go down to the basement and see if I can figure out why the washing machine doesn’t spin. :-/

The Pathfinders had our annual club campout this weekend. The verdict is in – it was very mixed! I am reminded of Roald Amundsen’s statement that “Adventure is just bad planning,” and I have to confess that a great deal of our problems were self-inflicted. Mostly by me I guess.

When we got there and were setting up, Ken (on whose farm we were camping) pulled me aside and told me we might want to stay clear of the barn on Saturday. One of his cows had broken a hip. They were planning to butcher her after she had weaned her calf, but she moved those plans up a bit by falling on her calf and killing it. Normally, they have their butchering done elsewhere, but since they had an immobile cow, that was not possible. OK – we’ll stay down in the woods on Saturday, no problem.
With that, our campout saga begins.

One of our staff members was planning to join us Saturday morning, so she wasn’t there when we pitched camp Friday evening. Last fall, she had taken the griddle for our propane stove home with her to give it a good scrubbing, so we were without that. That in itself is not a catastrophe, but it goes a little deeper than that. The griddle is stored in a canvas bag along with the propane regulator. Without the regulator the stove is pretty much useless.

The plan was that we would have grilled cheese sandwiches for supper on Friday evening, and a “feast in a foil” Saturday evening. Since the feast in a foil is prepared over a camp fire and grilled cheese is grilled on the griddle, we decided to switch the two around. That was a good decision.

The menu and shopping list was planned by our Ranger unit (13 year-olds). David (who is in the Guide unit), guided them through this. I provided them with a spreadsheet into which they could enter ingredients for each meal they planned as well as the number of people who would be dining with us. It figures out how much food to buy based on that. They copied the ingredients from the spreadsheet to paper, but not the amounts! Then their grandfather (Mr Stokes, another of our staff members) took them to buy it, but none of them knew how much of anything to get. And their guesses were not exactly “spot on.” So we were a bit short in the food department. I have to take the blame for this though, as I did not review the shopping list. I did see the menu, which looked pretty good, but clearly I need to look over the list from now on. My bad.

After any meal we need to wash dishes, and not having a tap with hot running water, the way we handle that is to heat some water and put it into three plastic tubs (pre-rinse, wash, and final rinse). Not having a stove meant we needed to heat the water over the campfire. So I put the kettle on the fire for a bit. When I went to take it off, I donned some heavy, padded leather gloves, which unfortunately proved to be insufficient for the task. I ended up with a blister on two fingers. Ouch! My bad again!

I sent the pre-teens to bed around 10:30 or so, and the older kids and I turned in about an hour later. The plan for Saturday’s breakfast was French toast, but since our griddle and regulator were still missing in action, we opted for oatmeal and cold cereal instead. Again, we adapted.

After breakfast, we started our Sabbath School and church activities. The Rangers were working on the Camping Skills IV honor, and for that, they needed to prepare a one-hour Sabbath activity. They thing that they came up with took all of five minutes, so I sent them back to the drawing board. It wasn’t a bad activity – it just didn’t take as long as they projected it would.

I presented a few worship thoughts for the kids to take up the extra 55 minutes, including how the furnishings in the wilderness sanctuary are arranged in the shape of the cross. To illustrate this, I had a kid stand where each item of furniture was located. When I asked what shape it made, they could easily see it. One even noted that the altar of sacrifice where the Israelites confessed their sins was right at the foot of the cross.

After church was over I got a call from Va. She shared some tragic news with us. One of my former Pathfinders had lost her baby after an 8-month pregnancy, and she was at that moment struggling for her own life. A lot of the kids in our club knew her, so this news hit kind of hard. We (and many others) prayed for her of course, and I am very happy to say that she has now turned the corner. She may be released tomorrow.

Lunch was our first uneventful meal – haystacks. There was plenty of food for everyone, and everyone was hungry. When we finished that, we headed off for an afternoon hike to see a massive beaver dam. When we got to the pond (but before we got to the dam) we took a short break. Mr Stokes and his granddaughter were sitting at the edge of the pond when Mr Stokes thought he’d grab her suddenly as if he were going to push her in. But instead of grabbing her as if he were going to push her in, he accidentally did push her in! She only got one leg of her pants wet though, and it was really funny. Mr Stokes was somewhat embarrassed about that (which is why I’m posting it here?) I had my camera in hand when this happened, so I now have the opportunity to deepen that embarrassment:

Mr Stokes "rescues" his granddaughter

Mr Stokes "rescues" his granddaughter

While we were there, I found my first fully blossomed trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). I promised here a little while back that as soon as I saw some, I’d pop one into my mouth and report back to my readers. And today, I am fulfilling that promise. It tasted… meh! But not bad at all. I will not likely make eating TA blooms a habit any time soon.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Out in the middle of this beaver pond are several dead snags, and one of them sports a blue heron nest. We were lucky in that the blue heron came by and stayed long enough for me to get several shots of it. My little Canon does not excel at telephoto-ops, so this image isn’t really the greatest, but I will share it with you anyhow:

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

After our short break, we had to bushwhack a little more to get to the beaver dam. Here it is from the top:

Massive beaver dam

Massive beaver dam

This dam was about six feet high in the middle, and at least 200 feet long.You can see a satellite image courtesy of Google Maps here.

Trailing arbutus was not the only flower in bloom, but you had to look up to see the others.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

These are red maple blooms. The chronology I am noting this year is that the silvers bloom first, followed by the reds. I haven’t seen any sugar maples in bloom yet, but I’m sure they will be coming along very soon.

We got back from our hike without further incident and worked more on the Stars honor (which we had started Friday night). I had the kids stand in for celestial bodies this time. My favorite thing to do with this is to have them re-enact the motion of the earth, moon, and sun. I start by having the moon orbit the earth, being sure the kid playing the moon is always facing the kid playing the earth. Then I set the earth into spin about its axis. Finally, I instruct the earth to orbit the sun while the moon tries to keep up. That’s always a lot of fun, and the kids like it every time.

We finished off the day with a new “one-hour” activity that the Rangers planned during our hike. It didn’t quite last a full hour, but I’m going to give them a pass. At any rate, this exercise should give them a pretty good understanding of how carefully the staff plan their activities.

We had our grilled cheese for dinner.

Around 8:00pm Saturday evening we had a bit of rain mixed with sleet. I think I can now say with certainty that my least favorite camping weather is raining and 35 degrees. Not a good combination. But with the sleet came warmer temperatures, and the sleet turned into a downpour. I was pretty exhausted by then, so I sent the pre-teens to bed around 8:30. The teens and I hung out in the kitchen shelter until 9:30 or so when I found myself continually waking up in my camp chair. They were pretty tired too, so we all went to bed before 10:00.

It poured all night.

When I got up at 7:00, this is what our kitchen looked like:

Deluged Kitchen

Deluged Kitchen

The water in our kitchen was two inches deep in most places. Deeper than that in other spots. Two inches doesn’t really sound that bad until you stop to consider that it’s a bit deeper than the top of your shoes. Then it seems really deep. We considered relocating the kitchen, but there was no way it was going to move more than six feet in any direction without disassembling and reassembling it. Also, there was not an abundance of dry places nearby. So I decided we should try to drain it. Since this property belongs to my good friend Ken, and two of his kids were camping with us, I knew that he would not mind at all if we did a little excavation. So we dug a small ditch and raked leaves out of the path of the water. The kitchen was drained by about 9:00 (well… kinda), and we were finally able to begin cooking breakfast. Pancakes! The first order of business was to heat some water so the dishes could be done afterwards. Then we mixed up some pancake batter (oops! Our shoppers bought pancake mix that called for eggs & milk, and not our usual “complete” pancake mix!). Then the kids went to light the burners for the griddle (which had rejoined our party), but they were having an awful time of that – because we were out of propane. My. Bad. Again.

By then, our dish water was nice and hot, but I decided we could put it to better use in making oatmeal. I heated a little more water for the dishes over the fire, which was lit by our Ranger unit – in spite of the previous evening’s deluge. I was rather proud of them for that, and grateful that we were able to wash the dishes in hot water.

Sometime during the morning, one of my Pathfinders came to me with a tick embedded in his abdomen. Out of all the kids in my club to get a tick, and indeed, out of all the kids I have ever known in my life, I could not have selected a worse one to suffer that fate. This kid has an irrational fear of ticks. He is terrified of them. I washed my filthy, kitchen-draining hands, went to the first aid kit, and got some tweezers. I was intent on pulling this parasite out firmly and slowly (like you’re supposed to), and he was screaming the whole time. He was also pushing my hand away. I don’t think I can justly blame his panic on what happened next, but the tick’s body came loose from his head, which is exactly what the firm-but-gentle pull is supposed to prevent. My panicked Pathfinder went into an even greater panic, which I did not think was even possible. I worked on him for another ten minutes, but I was not able to get the tick head out of his tummy. His mom managed to do that when he got home, and I have nothing but admiration for her for that.

We spent the rest of the morning working on the Camping Skills I-IV honors, with my older Pathfinders teaching the younger ones. That really went pretty well. Around 11:00 or so, one of my staff members (Ken’s wife) offered to make PB&J sandwiches up at the house instead of having us suffer through doing that in our flooded kitchen. I did not hesitate to accept her gracious offer.

While she was up making lunch, Warran, Mr Stokes, and I took the kids back into the woods to construct a rope bridge over one of the many puddles in our camp site. This was so we could finish off the Pioneering honor. The kids absolutely loved doing this. They had a blast. I don’t like to show pictures depicting the faces of other people’s kids on the Internet, so instead, I will show one of myself (Warran used my camera to take this shot of me):

Jomegat crosses the rope bridge

Jomegat crosses the rope bridge

When we were finished with this, we headed up to the house to have lunch (outside!) Afterwards, I began herding the kids back down to the camp site. As I was doing this, Ken called out to me. One of his cows was calving! Did the kids want to see that? I figured. “why not?” Three of the girls in my Friend unit (10 year-olds) were very interested, so we detoured into the barn. The calf had already been born, and mama was standing there cleaning it off, with all the attendant grossness hanging out of her back-end. Eeewwww! The girls didn’t seem to mind though. That’s when Ken’s youngest son asked them if they wanted to see two other newborn calves (one of which was his own). Why not? So ff we went to a second barn. The first calf was standing, and it’s mother was licking the kids’ hands. Then we moved to the next stall where the other calf was. But not its mother.
The calf was sleeping? Nope. No breathing action there. Turns out this is the calf that had been crushed by its mother. Ken hadn’t yet had a chance to take care of it, and his son didn’t know any of this had happened. He called out “Hey Dad! Where’s this calf’s mother?” I don’t think this affected him too much – he does live on a farm, and mortality is certainly a part of that life.

After this minor fiasco, we headed back down to the camp site to strike camp. Everything was soaking wet, but the sun had come out for a bit. We had moved the tents into the pasture to let them dry some, and some of them were actually pretty dry. Unfortunately, the field was still pretty wet, so driving back up to the house (and driveway) was something of a challenge. I thought I was going to get stuck for a few minutes, and I was also very concerned that I would tear up Ken’s pasture. I don’t think I did too bad though. Unfortunately, Mr Stokes did get stuck. We tried to push him out, but I could see all we were doing we digging him in deeper. In the hope of not making a bad situation worse, we called for Ken (who was still busy with his newly minted calf) and he came down and pulled him out with his truck.

I brought all the still-wet tents home with me, and David and I pitched them in the north yard. Of course it’s raining again now, but as long as they’re not folded up and packed away in a trailer, they won’t mold.

I guess this post is about long enough now, so I’m going to turn it loose now. Hope you all enjoyed reading it.

I bought a new tent yesterday from a guy who listed it on Craigslist. I think it was a pretty good deal. The tent is a four-season, two-person model that had never been used, but it was ten years old. He bought it for an expedition to Baffin Island, but he lost his job just before they were to set out.

The first thing I did when I saw the tent was open it, jam my face into the fabric, and inhale deeply. I needed to know that there was no mold, and that is really the best test I know of for detecting that. It was clean. It had all the (important) parts. It was perfect. So I bought it. New tents with these specs start at about $500, and I paid a quarter of that.

I set it up in the living room when I got home, and am still very pleased with the purchase. It is missing a couple of guy lines (which are easily replaced), and the bottle of seam sealer was empty (but that’s also easily replaced), so I am pretty stoked about this. Though it’s billed as a two-person tent, I think it’s about the same size as the three-person tents we’ve been using. It looks to be plenty roomy for two people anyhow.

I’ve probably written here before about why I am switching the Pathfinder Club over to three-person tents, but that won’t stop me from enumerating those reasons again!

Kids today refuse to change clothes in view of other kids of the same sex. So when we’re at a Camporee and we have to get into full dress uniform, they each take turns getting dressed. Each kid takes at least five minutes to do this, so if I have six kids in a tent, there goes thirty minutes. With two kids per tent (even in three-person tents), that only takes ten minutes.

It’s a lot easier to find four small tent sites in the woods than it is to find one large tent site.

Small tents are better for backpacking trips. Large tents are still very heavy even when divided into three packages. Kids just can’t handle the additional weight in a backpack.

Kids take ownership more readily if it’s just them and one other person in a tent. They take better care of their quarters that way too.

Before an inspection at a Camporee, I do my own inspection. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a stray pair of tighty-whities in the middle of a tent floor, that no one will claim. With two kids per tent, that’s a more tractable problem to solve. It’s either yours or yours. Deal with it.

Eight two-person tents are more easily allocated among 16 kids than two eight-person tents. If I have eight girls and eight boys it doesn’t matter, but if I have six boys and ten girls, I have a problem. With eight small tents that problem goes away.

So there it is, probably for the second or third time. I’ve got three more tents on order from L.L. Bean too, so I think we’re finished with big tents now. The three on order are two-person, three-season tents. I expect them to ship next month sometime. Too bad we aren’t scheduled to camp again until April!

I took the Pathfinders camping this weekend, and tried something new that worked out remarkably well. First let me describe the problem this scheme has solved.

When I first started leading in Pathfinders, upon arrival at a camp site, I would survey the situation, figure out what should be done first, and then assign a kid or two to carry it out. Then I’d figure out what else needed to be done and assign another kid or two. This would be repeated until everyone was busy with an assignment. Then I’d see kids having trouble with their assignment, and I’d jump in to help. In no time at all, I would become absorbed in the task at hand and not notice that the other kids were horsing around instead of discharging their duties.

So I started carrying a clipboard around to prevent myself from fully engaging in the task. This forced me to tell the kids how to do something rather than jumping in and doing it. Except that it didn’t always work. As I gave my attention to one group of kids, another group would finish (or abandon) their task, and I wouldn’t notice until the horsing around started again.

The beginnings of my new scheme were exercised two weeks ago when we camped at Bar Harbor, ME. I made up a list of tasks ahead of time and assigned kids (and adults) to each task. That worked better, but it was still imperfect as the kids had no incentive to execute. But it was useful, because I got a nice list of tasks out of it. As we set up camp, I ended up adding a few tasks that I was unable to think of ahead of time. I wrote them down.

Before we camped last weekend, I turned that list of tasks into a dozen cards. Each card had a title and a somewhat detailed description of the task. The twelve tasks were divided into three groups, A, B, and C. The A tasks needed to be done first, followed by the B tasks, etc. Each card also had a number of points printed on it. Difficult or unpleasant tasks were worth more points than easy, fast, or fun tasks.

Then I divided the kids into four teams. Each team had an adult mentor, and a mix of kids (teens, and younger ones). The idea was that the teens should be able to teach and direct the younger ones. If they had questions, they had an adult mentor to turn to.

The team with the most points was to be dismissed to eat first at every meal, followed by the team with the second highest point total, etc. The team with the fewest points was dismissed last, but even then, they weren’t really “last” because the staff receives that designation (with myself being the very last).

Before we started, I had them all pitch their own tents and stow their sleeping bags & luggage in them. As they finished that, they were to assemble at the trailer. When their whole team was finished, they could choose a task A card. When they finished their A task to their mentor’s satisfaction, they could choose a B task, and so forth. When they finished their C task, they could choose another C task if one was available (and if they wanted more points).

This worked like a charm. For the first time ever, I had kids coming to me to get set-up tasks. They worked quickly, efficiently, and without complaint. Cool.

One idea I had and abandoned was that each kid would choose a task of his own. If a task needed four people, they would have to wait for four people to choose that task. I am convinced that the team approach was way better. First, I only had to remember the order of four teams rather than the order of 20 kids. Second, they had the opportunity to develop teamwork. Third, they knew that if they slacked off, their whole team would eat last. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing.

I did end up adding one more incentive. On our weekend campouts, we typically eat six meals (Friday supper through Sunday lunch). Since I had already divided them into four fairly balanced teams, I decided that the two teams with the most points would get kitchen duty once, while the other two teams would get two shifts. That’s not even a horrible punishment, because in the past I would divide them into three teams and everyone would get two shifts.

I was also careful to remind team four that they were indeed not last to eat, because they were still eating before the staff did. Plus we’re always careful to have enough food, so no one goes hungry on these trips.

After we had finished setting up camp, the adults there remarked on how smoothly everything had gone. They were pleased that they had to do no prodding or cajoling. I must say that I was pretty pleased as well.

I’m back from the campout. The beautiful numbering job I did on the tents didn’t stick. When we woke up Saturday morning, the temperature was 27°F with a nice thick coating of frost on everything. And most of the numbers had simply flaked right off, completely intact. Huh. Wasn’t expecting that.

Saturday afternoon I took the kids on a hike. We were going to try for five miles, but the morning program went about an hour longer than I was expecting, and the kids were taking their own sweet time cooking their lunch, eating it (especially eating it), and washing up. I had intended to get off site at about 1:00, but we didn’t leave until 2:45. No way we could get five miles in with a start like that.

Instead we did what I always do when I’m hiking with time constraints. I figure out when I want to get back to the trailhead, and hike until we’re halfway to that time. Then we turn around. That system works pretty well, but I suppose it ought to be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a second or less. The trick is to remember to check the time when you set out and do the math. And then stick to the plan. Here’s a scene from our hike:

Smart's Brook Hike

Smart's Brook Hike

When we got back from the hike I had a bit of trouble from one of the kids. I don’t think I’ve written about this before, because I don’t like to share a kid’s problems, but I have a feeling this is going to absorb a lot of my time in the future. I won’t go into his problems except to say that when he becomes unhappy about something, he deals with it by fleeing the scene. This is very dangerous behavior on a campout or a hike.

I am very happy I recognized this tendency during our first meeting of the year and had the foresight to formulate a plan. I met with him and his mother and went over it. Unfortunately, I had to activate that plan yesterday, but fortunately, we all knew the consequences ahead of time (a 30-day suspension).

We were camped about 30 minutes from his house, so I had him pack up and I took him home. I hope this will be a learning experience for him.

I got back just in time for the evening program. This is always a lot of fun as the kids from the various clubs put on something of a talent show. Our group was the first up. David and another kid had written a skit on our way home from Oshkosh last month.

The gist of the skit was that a bank robber (the other kid) came to rob the bank where David was the teller. The teller informs the robber that he cannot complete any transactions without a bank identification card. So the robber fills out an application. That part contained my favorite gag:

Teller: “Social Security number?”
Robber: “Man, I can never remember that.” (digs out wallet). “Here it is. 123-45-6789”

No one ever accused a bank robber of being smart! In the end, the teller assesses half a dozen (successively higher) fees, including one for performing a transaction on a day ending with ‘y’. Here they are:

Bank Robbing the Robber

Bank Robbing the Robber

Afterwards, I went to a director’s meeting and Paul shared lots and lots of info with us about upcoming events. His planning skills are very impressive (and very much appreciated). During that meeting, someone burst into the tent (actually, an “instant garage” canopy) and told us that a drunk, shirtless man had burst through the woods into one of our clubs’ campsites. He asked “Where’s the store?” and was directed that way. Then he disappeared into the woods again. That was a bit… alarming? Police were called, and all the adults in our organization were on alert. As it turned out, he had been camping on the other side of the creek (same campground), got drunk, and assaulted his own mother. She called the cops. He fled into the woods, removed his shirt, jumped into the creek, and swam across to our area. He was apprehended after a couple of hours.

David’s observation was something like, “Drunk guy, no shirt, hiding in the woods in New Hampshire on a cold September night with a 100% chance of rain in the forecast. Not very smart from a survival skills perspective.” I heartily agreed. A very large percentage of the wilderness tragedies we hear about in these parts sound remarkable similar (especially where alcohol is involved).

We stayed up pretty late and had a nice fire going when Paul came by and told us the guy had been caught. We all went to bed feeling quite a bit less apprehensive. The forecast was true to its promise too, with the rain commencing at about 3:30. Joyce was up when it started (she was on her way back to her tent from the bathroom). I didn’t notice that it was raining until 6:00am, and that can only mean one thing: I slept soundly from 3:30 to 6:00. And by soundly, I mean I was probably snoring pretty loudly!

I got up at 7:00 knowing that the day’s events were almost certainly cancelled. Paul came by and confirmed that soon enough. So we finished breakfast, struck camp, and headed home.

When we got here I learned that our microwave is broken. A cable in the door snapped, and we cannot retreive Jonathan’s burrito. It’s still in there. Normally, I would attack such a problem with my large arsenal of tools, but microwaves are another kettle of fish. If you mess up the seal, it can easily begin emitting microwaves into the environment, and you can’t really tell that until one of two things happens (or maybe both): people in the family get sick, or (worse!) the wifi quits working.

We’ve had this microwave for something like 22 years. It has been good to us. But maybe it’s time for a new one. So Va and I went and bought one. My suspicion is that no one makes microwave ovens capable of lasting 20 years any more. I put the new one in its place and we tried it out. When it’s running… no wifi! Aaaaagggghhh!

After I got the microwave set up, I donned my rain pants and rain coat and pitched four tents in the yard. I know they won’t dry tonight (still raining!), but as long as they’re set up they won’t mold either. I still need to pitch my little one-man tent though. I’m thinking living room.

Today after work I ran about eight dozen errands.

I was going to go to a pet store first, but there’s an L.L. Bean in that same plaza, and I have some birthday money (thanks Mom!) So I went in there first and looked around. But I didn’t buy anything.

Then I went to the pet store. I was looking for a dog whistle. Penny has been getting after Beth, and we need to do something to disrupt that. The only whistle I found said it was shrill and loud, and that it was meant for dog training, but I wanted something beyond the range of human hearing, and this didn’t look promising. So I went on.

Next stop was to drop off a blank permission slip for one of my Pathfinders so she can come on the camp out this weekend. Check. Then I was off to her cousin’s house to do exactly the same thing. But as I left the housing development, cousin’s mom was driving in. So I did a U-turn and caught up with her. Check.

Then I went to Ken’s farm to take down the tents I had suspended beneath a tarp last week. I saw Ken’s mother (Emma) and visited with her for a few minutes. She’s really looking good. She had been shucking corn and snapping green beans. Ken and his two sons (both Pathfinders) were busy putting Tyvek up on one of the barns. I chatted with them for a few minutes. Then I headed down to the woods and got the tents.

Then it was off to a different pet store to see about a dog whistle. While I was there, I also wanted to price out a training collar (the kind that delivers an unpleasant electrical stimulus to the dog when you press the button on the remote control). Those things are expensive. I may end up getting one anyhow though.

They had dog whistles. I got the one labelled “Silent Whistle.” Then I went across the parking lot to a sporting goods store to look for camping chairs. We threw three of those away in Oshkosh, so I needed to replace them.

It took an eternity to do that though. I found the chairs quickly enough. Problem was that none of them were marked. I chased down an employee, but he was busy with another customer. I eventually gave up on him and made my way back over to the chair section. When I got there I saw another employee and snagged him. They had three styles of chairs at three different prices: $10, $20, and $30. The $20 and $30 chairs both claimed to be capable of support a 350 pound occupant. The $10 one was rated at only 225 pounds. I went for the $20 model.

Then I set out for home. As I was waiting at a traffic light, I opened the “silent” whistle and gave it a test blow. It was most decidedly not silent. I read the instructions – it has an adjustable pitch. Unfortunately, it looked to me as if it were already adjusted for its highest pitch. I made adjustments anyhow, and as expected, the pitch went lower. Bummer.

When I got home I had Beth give the whistle a try. It didn’t seem to faze the dog AT ALL, so I’m going to take it back. Also, it is NOT silent. Next step is to try one of the remote trainers. I guess. I’ll price them online though, as they are far from cheap.