It had been raining hard at our campsite for the past 24 hours at Paul B. Johnson State Park in South Mississippi. My son Andrew and I had taken the trailer out for the weekend to dust off the cobwebs and make sure all systems were working. The Airstream kept us warm and dry. We were finishing up our second cup of coffee on Sunday morning, when we noticed a pickup truck coming from the group camp area, towing a red trailer. “Boy Scout Troop 73″ was stenciled in yellow on the trailer side. A 15-passenger van followed; the windows were so steamed up, we could hardly make out its undoubtedly drenched occupants.
We were Boy Scouts once (or is it “Once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout”?). Andrew and I had spent many weekends huddled under the dining tarp, eating lukewarm oatmeal out of aluminum cups, while torrential rains pelted the tents and caused rivulets to snake their way into our gear. Tent camping in the rain was, in some ways, a rite of passage for young boys. We knew exactly what Troop 73 had just experienced.
When I was a young Scout in California at the age of 13 or so, our troop was invited to camp on a large cattle ranch in the coastal mountains. It was February or March when we drove up one Friday afternoon to camp in a flat meadow. Just after our tents were pitched and the “cow pies” cleared, it started to rain. And the rain. A deluge so long, it was hard to believe that we were living then at a time of a “California drought.” By Saturday afternoon, we were thoroughly drenched, but we were Scouts, and we could not leave (couldn’t get dry either). All attempts to start a fire with wet wood had fizzled hours before.
We must have been a sorry sight to the ranchhand who, on his day off, was asked by the property manager to check on us. He drove up in a rugged flatbed truck to find a dozen ponchos just standing around in puddles. The weathered cowboy pulled a stack of split cordwood from his truck and piled it high, where we had previously tried to light a fire. He doused the stack with kerosene, flicked a lit match, and left without saying a word. “Damn Boy Scouts,” is what he probably said under his breath as he climbed back in his truck.
In my adolescent mind, this registered as a lesson on “Be Prepared.” No longer do I stand around camp soaked to the bone. Some lessons are best taught this way, as I am sure the Scouts of Troop 73 learned this weekend.