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When Oliver Jensen Was Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, And Reverent
A memoir of Boy Scouting in the youthful days of the movement
February/march 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 2
Camp, of course, was the heart of the matter to the founders of Scouting, who meant to transform pasty-faced youth and incipient cigarette smokers into rugged outdoorsmen skilled in handicraft, wise in the ways of nature, and familiar with the life of the frontiersman. So it was stated in the Handbook , and so we tried to be in our summer Boy Scout camp, called Wakenah, where all the troops in the area gathered under canvas on the edge of Gardner’s Lake, and whither 1 went with my pup tent, my bedroll of army blankets, flashlight, compass, bugle, and other impedimenta. This was real woods, which I approached my first summer with apprehension but enjoyed beyond any expectation. My first year, according to a postcard my father saved, I passed such tests for first-class Scout as “cooking, law and order, map making, map reading, judging, nature, and swimming.” What “law and order” was, memory availeth not, but that ominous-sounding “judging” turns out, I discover in my old Handbook , to have been exercises in judging “distance, size, number, height, and weight within 25 per cent.” The main events I recall were racing in canoes and an effort by all eight members of the Beaver Patrol to build a small log bridge without nails. We felled and trimmed young trees, notched some parts to fit in other parts, braced it, and lashed everything together with manila line. The bridge got you across the brook but it quaked like an aspen.
My second year at Camp Wakenah, attested to by the large “W” patches sewn on both shirt pockets, 1 remember as the Year of the Bugle. It must have been preceded by a Winter or at least a Spring of Pain for my family, even though I learned to play the bright, shiny thing in the relative solitude of the tower of our house. Thus I became the camp bugler, arising by alarm clock at dawn to dash cold water on my face and flex my lips for a while until I dared attack the “Reveille” call. The upper notes are a little hazardous if the performer is not wide awake. This was followed at set intervals by “Mess Call,” “Assembly,” “Sick Call,” and similar quavers and blasts until the sunset (“Retreat”) and lights-out (“Taps”). To this day 1 have great sympathy for the poor, nervous military buglers on whom falls the duty of playing this long, repetitious, and somewhat limited tune at great funerals and other state occasions. All the world is waiting for them to blow it, that being just what they are likely to do under all that silent pressure, especially when reaching for that high G at the end. Like the fatal glass of beer of the proverb, the bugle led me to the cornet, and its elongated sister the trumpet, and the school band and orchestra. That was all very well at the time, but never since being camp bugler at Wakenah have I enjoyed either the same instant authority or general early morning loathing it brought me. The next camp I attended, for two seasons, was a wonderful private one where you could learn to ride horseback or study up to pass school entrance exams—but we were summoned here and there by bell ringing. And 1 am told that at some Boy Scout camps I have been replaced by a recording. Probably it is activated by a computer and never misses a note, which must take some of the fun out of camping.
The Boy Scouts of America at seventy-five is, in the modern argot, “into” everything of the computer age—the environment, ecosystems, conservation. From the slender British-style movement of 1910, it has grown like wildfire, reaching out to both younger and older youth, to Campfire Girls, and to other races and ethnic groups besides the predominantly white Anglo-Saxon boys of the 1920s. In The Boy Scouts: An American Adventure , the new American Heritage book by Robert W. Peterson, I read that in America today there are, working up by age groups, 140,000 Tiger Cubs, 1,603,000 Cub Scouts, 1,170,000 Boy Scouts, 800,000 Explorer Scouts, and some 1,130,000 adult leaders, mostly unpaid volunteers, as the movement enters its jubilee year.
Altogether it is estimated that over 70,000,000 boys have passed through Scouting. The organization itself has moved with the times. In what we called the Great War, American Boy Scouts collected peach pits for use in making gas masks; they saved tinfoil and sold Liberty Bonds. Their British brethren served as coast watchers against German incursions, releasing men to join the colors, as it was phrased then. Nowadays Scouts collect wastepaper, aluminum, and glass for recycling, and they have gone beyond our Arbor Day tree planting to serious efforts in fighting erosion and pollution. They restore vast numbers of littered and mistreated urban parks to their natural beauty.