Monday, August 22, 2016

The 2016 Season Redux

Now that the dust has settled from the 2016 season (the Scout dust that is, not that kicked up currently by a bunch of co-eds) I had a chance to reflect on the recent summer season.  In a word, it was "simple".  That is not to be derogatory but instead to reflect that camp operated as it should have; minimal drama, great staff/directors and generally good to great reviews.  We had our usual challenges such as the water supply and of course interference from Mother Nature for certain events, such as strong winds canceling our canoe race one week.  Our kitchen septic system was challenged by an electrical failure, but all these things were managed by Ken who always seems to know what to do given any facility challenge.  The water challenges hopefully can be cured by the addition of a "well" producing source which we hopefully can do this winter season.

The troops we hosted this summer came from near and afar; all seemed to enjoy themselves, particularly those from Alabama, Texas and California (think it had to do with the weather).  We did not have to deal with any issues stemming from having 400 adolescents mingle about camp; usually there is some troop to troop interaction that requires our intervention and this was noticeably missing this year.  The number of "loud suggestions" were proportionally related to the number of adults attending camp but nothing was considered "outrageous" though some were frustrating.  We publish a leader's guide book, have a website, and we have a pre-camp meeting.  If that is not enough, we call the individual listed on the reservation and ask "we have information for you, are you the leader coming to camp and if not, do you want us to call them?"  Still...."pre-camp communication could be better" is something we hear from time to time.  I know that the online daily and advancement schedule may change or may have different versions depending if you look on our website or the council's but c'mon, saying you didn't know that you had to have a roster of attendees when you came to camp?  Where in life do you show up and not give a list of names of attendees?  Hotel?  Airline? College?  Really, that does not seem far from reasonable, particularly when we call and tell you.  "Wish you supplied a menu for cookout", OK, fine, but hot dogs for lunch and stew meat for you really need advance prep for that?  It is supposed to be the scouts cooking, not the adults, I am pretty sure the boys will figure something out as cooking meat has been part of the human ethos for sometime.  Then of course the "Yin and Yang" of evaluations.  "Program too busy" vs "Need more merit badges"; "You waste too much food" vs "scouts went hungry"; "Need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich bar" to "peanuts should be banned from Boy Scout camp due to allergies"; and the usual, "Canal too cold", "too windy", "not enough wind"....usually these opposing comments are made during the same week.

I digress as usual when it comes to adult comments.

I had a great staff.  80% of them were 18 years of age or older, that is a lot when compared to other BSA camps.  We had a very talented group of young men that could sing, play instruments, ham it up for skits and plays and then turn around and provide a very professional program that well served that scouts that attended.  Although there are always sub-groups (cliques) in any large organization, I felt the staff was cohesive for the most part.  We were stretched somewhat given the lean number of staff members we had but the boys pitched in where they had to (with few exceptions).  I say the summer was "simple" partly because the staff made it easy for me and a big part of that had to do with Curtiss being our Program Director (third time in his eleventh year of staffing).  Whatever frustrations he had in moving the "chess board" of staff, he certainly kept it to himself and was constantly engaged with the staff.  It is one of the reasons why he is an excellent Program Director.  Finally, congratulations go out to Tracy Wright who was selected by his peers as "Staff Member of the Year".  Tracy joined our staff in 2010 and has served in various positions, most recently our Tower Director.  He graduated from college last year and is now going on to be the full time Camp Director of Camp Sheppard.  He is already trying to poach staff members for winter service.  He will do a great job but if he corrupts my staff.....well, that will be another blog post.

Now we turn our attention to the 99th season of continuous camping on Hood Canal.  Sign ups are already underway for that as well as our 100th.  A number of our current staff have talked to me about returning for the next season so I am glad to see that we are already looking good.  This season came and went quickly, I suppose the next one will as well.  Either that or it is true that as you get older things seem to go quicker.....that is unless you are stuck in a meeting (which is why we move ours at camp very quickly, there is more to do than that).  2016 is all but in the bag......but it was very good......and simple.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Looky Loos

We had a Scoutmaster opine about the false sense of ownership one has on things that are seemingly yours but really are not.  His example is that he has a house on the Puget Sound right on the water.  During crabbing season he sees a lot of crabbers dropping pots right off the beach in front of his house.  "Hey, that is my water" he would say subconsciously knowing of course that he has no right to that "piece of water" or the land it covers.  We here at camp share that same affliction.

Hood Canal and the Olympic Peninsula are a very popular destination, particularly in the summer months so it is no surprise that we get our share of tourists around camp.  It could be as simple as people walking along Bee Mill Rd that stop and gaze down onto the parade field in front of the SMG or an individual that parks his camper on the side of the road EVERY morning to walk his dog along the road parallel camp.  Out of interest one time I asked him what his routine was thinking that he might have some connection to camp.  "It is a county road" is the response you would get.  True.  Some times we have folks brazen enough to drive right into camp, get out of their vehicle and walk down to the beach and start taking oysters or walk on to the pier and start fishing.  Despite the fact that we have "No Trespassing" signs posted all over and a big "Camp Parsons, Boy Scouts of America" sign at the only drivable entrance into camp, I still cut these folks a little slack as they just might be THAT stupid to ignore the obvious; a bunch of boys in BSA uniforms (or some similarity to uniforms) running around with abandon, and believe that they do think it is a public facility.  This is one of the several reasons we have adult leaders wear identification bracelets around their wrists.  What is annoying though is that when you bring it to these intruders attention you get indignation in return.  "It is a public beach" is the usual retort.  No, it is not and even if it was, it is still illegal to remove oyster shells from the beach.  Usually it is the threat of law enforcement that gets them on their way.  The other mode of transportation is a little more tricky and annoying for us.  That is the canal itself.

There seems to be very few working piers in the northern part of the canal and even fewer public stops for restrooms and fuel.  It is not surprising that people mistake us for one of those stops.  Usually this manifests itself as boats which eerily motor by the pier with everyone on board staring at the boats, pier or beach.  What makes it even creepier is when we have active programs with young boys ongoing.  It is one thing to motor by at a distance to read the camp sign on the end of the pier, it is another thing to actually come in between the sailboat line and rowboat line, particularly when there are young scouts in kayaks, canoes or rowboats milling about.......wouldn't anyone with "common sense" think that they were out of place.  Still, they are not breaking the law.  A few even try to tie up at the pier.....that usually does not last long.  Then we have the kayaking tourists.  These are folks that come in close to shore, use our pier pilings as a slalom course and curse at the scouts fishing from the pier as their lines are interfering with their kayaking.  Even better is when they pull up to shore and ask about bathroom facilities.  During the "off" season we are fairly lenient with these folks (as to be good neighbors) but with scouts in camp, not so much.  This is in contrast to when our scouts are on High Adventure Kayaking through the canal who get threatened with shotguns should they step foot onto someone's private property.

Then we have the truly malicious people.  These are folks that will park off our beaches and play music at a high level with the specific intent of disrupting our program or driving by at various times on the road demonstrating their engine's lack of a muffler.  Luckily these incidents are far and few between but they certainly set up an environment for confrontation.  Luckily, an obvious call to law enforcement with the ready information of the boating registration tag or license number is fairly effective in banishing those individuals for some time.

It is hard to be here and not feel that this is "my stuff" or "my property" when you have a personal and emotional investment into a program and facility.  Many of my staff echo that same sentiment; "those kayakers went under our pier", "that boat drove right by the pier".....we usually have to remind them that a) this is not "ours" but the Chief Seattle Council property, b) we don't own the water or county road, c) we are Boy Scouts, be helpful.  I know that can be rough for me, but hey, at the end of the day I feel that we have the better deal than others and I am happy to show it off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Warm August Days

As I walked down the pier the other morning around 6:15 AM, I was taken by the fact that the temperature of the air was downright comfortable, not the usual early morning chill that comes with some dew.  I was looking forward to my early morning swim as it appeared that I would be alone (my younger staff talk big, but when it comes to this...ha!).  However, when I rounded the end of the pier and headed down the ramp, I saw one of our staff members lumbering down the pier intent on the same activity I was about to undertake.  As I lowered myself into the canal (I don't dive anymore....not sure how the old ticker is going to take a "joke") I thought to myself, "well the air is warm, shame the water can't be that way as well".  I moved away from the pier and swam along the rowboat line towards Constance point, well "swimming" is a word, it was more side-stroke and breast stroke (but no fancy diving) at a leisurely pace.  When I was half way out, I rolled over on to my back and gazed onto Green Hill whose summit was a lit with the early morning sunrise.  As I watched the top of that hill, I could see, albeit slowly, the light make its way down the hill as the entire camp transformed from night into morning.  My thoughts were with myself as they usual are when I swim, thinking about the things that needed to get done or the issues that needed to be dealt with both in camp as well as out of camp.  I can't recall how many times over the decades I have swam this route but I do know that I have never regretted getting up early to swim.  Although I don't do the usual mile I did when I was much younger and relegate myself now to swim to the end of the rowboat line and back calling it "exercise" I still feel that "refreshment" and "vigor" at the end of the swim.  When I exited the canal, I once again admired the warmth of the air around me.....easy to when you are numb.

My thoughts that morning centered on how the season has gone since the beginning in June.  When we entered the 2016 year, we were fairly lean with regards to staff.  This was born out of hiring the right people not necessarily the lack of individuals.  Regardless, it was a challenge week to week to move the staff around to satisfy the kitchen, merit badge classes, high adventure, program, etc.  I have many times joked about the "chess table" of a work schedule that is posted behind my chair but it truly is a game of chess making the right moves to "win" the end game.  Thank God I am not the one in charge of keeping that schedule, I only approve it.  Despite our challenges, we have had a very talented staff this summer and the Scoutmaster evaluations reflect that as have my personal take on their performance.  However, despite those positive remarks I am uncertain that what we do is really making a difference, ultimately, to the scouts particularly when it comes to the mission of the BSA.

I must admit, this summer I have seen a lot more "Dads" and "Moms".  By this I mean that I see a lot more involvement of adults in what should be (as I term it) "Scout's business."  Here are the common things that I have observed; adult leaders signing up for merit badge classes instead of the scout himself; adults cooking the cook out meal while the scouts play AND THEN do the dishes afterwards; adults being waiters and cleaning up (routinely, not as a special event); adults taking a loaf of bread and walking around the table to let each scout take their slices of bread instead of passing the food around the table.  There are more and more observations that I see that unfortunately appear to be logarithmically increasing each summer.  The patrol method appears to be a punch line in the Scouting vernacular rather than a method.  I am not sure how someone builds character at a young age when someone else is taking the "hits" or "falls" for you and allowing you to only bathe in the success that they set up for you.  I know this is a harsh statement, and believe me I am hoping that my perception is not indicative of the reality which exists.....but it IS what I see.  I really think we need to get back to the basics and that will involve the engagement of trained adult leaders.

All that being said, I know that the Scouts are having a good time and that is one of the main purposes behind summer camp, after all, it is not "school".  Despite my machinations, I do believe that the Scouts are developing experiences that will last them a lifetime and I credit that not only to my staff, but to the adults who take time from their lives to attend camp and allow those Scouts to come.  I may seem to pick on adults more, but hey.....we are adults.  The sun is up, and it has been a warm week so far.  Think I will plan for a swim tomorrow as well.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Measurement

Mother Nature keeps throwing curve balls at us.  This past Sunday we greeted a new group of troops to camp under partially gloomy skies with intermittent showers/rain.  The temperature was acceptable, pretty much in the mid to upper 60's and the wind died down as the day went on.  As we moved into the evening the wind completely subsided but we continued to have intermittent showers and rain.  As we neared our campfire time it seemed like the weather would lift; the skies to the south were breaking and all of the radar apps on multiple phones suggested we would have a shower-free campfire.  That was not to happen.  As I stood behind the campfire bowl with an ongoing steady drizzle I kept looking south (where the inclement weather usually comes) and things were not looking good but there was no wind and the ambient temperature was hovering at 60.  "We are Scouts" I thought to myself, the campers had rain gear and I felt we could weather the 35 minute least I thought.  As the program rolled on the drizzle turned to steady rain, nothing horrible like a downpour, just the usual light rain we the winter.....and I thought, "OK, it will ease off."  It continued.   Finally, as it seemed the enthusiasm was waning with the audience I told our crew to cut it off and move quickly and jump to the last song then closing.  The minute the decision was made and the information was disseminated (which is not easy with roving staff members and those seated in the crowd) the rain subsided. least I comforted myself by the fact that the program was going to run long anyway and I would have had to cut it off at some point.  Still, once again....nature wins.

I mention this as we do not like to have outside influences change our program as it feels like it takes something away.  We have had to do this in the past; cancel Hullaballoo due to an active lightning storm and torrential rain; cancel a canoe race due to waves comparable to those seen on the Deadliest Catch.  Smart decisions but unfortunately it takes away from the program even if we scramble for an alternative.  I am not sure if many people understand but we are harsh task masters when it comes to the presentation of the program and although facilities will always be mentioned as "deplorable" we always try to control the immediate "controllable" to present a quality program through the excellence of our staff and how they interact with the scouts at camp.  We cannot control the weather, we cannot control the state or county mandated fire ban (always great getting a complaint about not allowing someone to break the law) and we cannot control unexpected events (power outages, broken pipes, etc.) but we can control the presentation of the program through those who present it.  The only way we know if we are doing it right is by measuring the response.  Long term measurements are in the form of seasonal attendance; if you do not provide a good product, people will not come back.  However that does not help us in the short term so we rely on the daily conversations we have with the adult leaders and of course, our weekly evaluations.  There are many (actually most) things that do not help us on those evaluations such as marking staff services "poor" due to the lacking of one staff member out of 51 or the comparisons to other PNW camps whom we know very well and understand that there will always be difference in presentation and that is a reason to visit a variety of camps.  It is the thoughtful observations about our various programs that has helped us change some of the processes in how areas run and managing the staff to provide better services.  It is this form of measurement that helps us evolve our presentation and then hopefully improve it as the seasons go by.  Of course it is sometimes a daunting task when you read one evaluation that says "Hullaballoo enjoyed by our scouts; fun, challenging and entertaining" and turn to the next evaluation, "Hullabaloo chaotic, get rid of it."  However to give you some perspective, one of those evaluations is written by a troop with 40 scouts in attendance, the other is a troop with 8.......guess which one.

The real measurement for me is what the scouts think.  I received an e-mail from a young scout who attended camp last week.  In that e-mail he wanted to thank individual staff members for the help he gave him in merit badges or various skill areas but what I will share here is his final summation:

" .......To the whole and rest of the staff I would like to say that, thank you for your hard work and cheerful attitudes, the week wouldn't have been the same without you. You guys made the week, and deserve a round of applause...."

What made this even better is that it was from a scout in a troop that traveled a fair distance to attend camp.  I hope this is the same for others.  So let the rain, wind, lightning come......we will manage what we can manage and do our best at the end.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Good Eating!

There are many banes of existence when one runs a BSA camp, one of which is the food.  Either quality and/or quantity, it always seems to be a point of discussion.  In the past we would get comments on evaluations such as "well, it IS camp food...".  However I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the outstanding work that Dan Mhyre and his crew do producing 600 meals, three times a day from our kitchen.  Not only do they prepare and serve these meals, they also prepare substitutes for about 40-50 different adults or scouts that have either allergies or are vegetarian or vegan.  They do this on time and with minimal effect to the main meal.  I know that I could not do that if I was in charge of the kitchen, heck I would be lucky to get something out that was hot and semi-appealing and even then it probably would be late.  I don't think we have ever really had to stall a meal due to preparation, at least when Dan is in charge.

Dan is a fabulous chef and it is not that he is doing anything strikingly different with the food, it is just that he knows how to add flavor to standard institutional cooking which must be painful for a professional chef to have to cook just institutional meals to maintain a budget.  From making soups from scratch to taking a can a soup and "doctoring" it up; it is all fantastic.  I always say that we can get by with anything, but when it comes to food I am not too sure.  There was one week were Dan had to be gone for a few days at the end of a week due to a family commitment.  He planned the meals for the few days he would be missing and they all went well thanks to work of the kitchen staff.  However I had to chuckle when I saw in an evaluation at the end of the week with this comment; "the food was fantastic, are you running a 4 star restaurant?  Well, at least until Thursday, then it seemed like camp food."  They figured it out, but still were happy.  Dan and his crew do a great job.

It is sad then when I see a comment that says "a few of the meals went by that the boys barely touched.  You should have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich bar like other camps."  I would certainly hope that any adult leader would encourage their boys to try different foods, particularly when it is a well cooked meal.  Sure, it may not be what mom cooks, but then again mom will not always be around to cook your food; be adventurous, you might find something different you like.  I certainly did as a young boy particularly with vegetables.  More interesting to me though are all these "other camps" that seem to get away with even saying the word "peanut" in their camp let alone placing it with PB and J or Honey Nut cereal, or tree nuts or whatever.  The vitriol we have received from a very vocal minority about even having peanuts in trading post let alone the dining hall makes me wonder if scouts are going to other camps.

There are always alternatives on the table or we have oatmeal in the morning and usually a salad bar at lunch and/or dinner.  A salad bar consisting of lettuce, a few added accoutrements (sorry, it is not a whole other meal) and a variety of dressings.  If that is not enough for a scout (or even an adult) then come talk to us about alternatives which make nutritional sense.  There are a variety of different meals that are served and if a scout is too picky, then is unlikely we are going to make anyone happy (my opinion).  Luckily, this has not been the case and is truly the rare exception that Dan seems to deal with easily.

So for a Scout camp we do eat well.......for a Scout camp.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kamikaze Swallows!

I was standing in the staff line prior to a recent flag ceremony when a "whoosh" went by my head (something like heavy fluttering).  I got my daily Cardio in as I ducked instinctively when I heard that noise and then saw that it was a small sparrow that went by my head which was interesting as it was quite low and there were a lot of people around.  I looked around to see if maybe there was a nest nearby that would have prompted the fly by but I could see nothing.  Then I looked out onto the parade field and there were a lot of sparrows swooping in and out in the middle of the field like there was some sort of avian "hullaballoo" going on.  I thought it may be due to the fact that there were a lot of mosquitos and other flying insects around but I then remembered that the same thing was happening near my cabin with birds zipping by me with abandon.  It was almost to the point where I thought "If I had a badminton racket with me I certainly could decrease the bird population quickly" but that evil thought quickly vanished as my Boy Scout side took over.  Still, there have been a lot of bold birds this summer.  Maybe it is because the Eagles have retreated to the edge of the cove to get away from the never ending murmur of scouts and they feel bold or maybe it truly is just a feeding flurry.  Regardless, stay away from my head.

I received word the other day that there was a Scoutmaster that thought my ruminations here were inappropriate and may be taken to mistakenly reflect the views of the BSA or the council.  It was second or third hand information so I cannot speak specifically to the concern.  However, as I have made it abundantly clear (particularly with what I perceive to be controversial posts) that these are my opinions based on my 42 years of association with the CP staff (I did not work every season for that time, but I was here at some point) as well as a longer association with Scouting as a young boy, Eagle Scout and former Scoutmaster.  What I write here does not reflect the opinion of the BSA or the Chief Seattle Council, indeed I am sure they disagree with many of the things I opine here.  I really never thought about maintaining a blog until many of my previous staff encouraged me to do so and when I began to stop posting years ago I received more encouragement from adults to keep doing so.  Although I seem to pick on adults more than anything else, the one thing I have always made known is that what I write here is more about the extreme than the norm.  It is unfortunate though that the minimal extreme can affect the majority norm.  The only reason I stay with the program is that it is one of the few programs for youth that really tries to stay true to its mission and I see that in the quality and caliber of young people that work for us and what they go on to do in life.  It is not about what I think, it is what the program and its methods tell me to do.  Sure, my experience as well as other adult's experience will temper some of the things we do, but it should never temper the methods because if it did then the program will falter as will the mission; Scouting will become just a club with no purpose and the achievements will lose meaning.  Being an Eagle Scout means something as there is a standard to adhere to, not just try to adhere to.  The blog also allows myself and by extension my staff to "vent" a little on an impossible task of pleasing everyone and by "everyone" I mean adults more than scouts.  Everything from being called a villain and a danger to allergic children because I will not ban peanuts to a 100 mile radius of camp to being chastised for not having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich station at all times in the dining hall.  From being told that our vespers is as meaningful as a "glass of warm spit" to being a venue for fundamental Christianity.  There are many more of these extremes that we see.  The worst of our reviews are an example of hyperbole at its best and although we are used to many things, you do want to have a venue to address some of these.  The sad thing is that we have to wade through some of that hyperbole to get the real, constructive comments that will ultimately improve our program and what we offer to the scouts and troops.

Maybe the birds are angry at me as well but I doubt they take time to read my ramblings  here.  I think I will have to put my tall staff members around me in the future when I am standing in line.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Getting My Calisthenics

It is amazing how much of a work out you can get by just being at camp.  Just by  walking the trails a staff member can easily put in 4 to 7 miles a day just walking back and forth the length of the camp.  Then there are areas that test you as well.  On the beach, you are in and out of the water, lifting boats, lines, etc.  In the kitchen, you can put in a lot of miles with the floor plan we have now along with a lot of lifting of cases of food, pots and the fact that since you work with and smell food all the time, you just don't eat as much.  I think I lost more weight working in the kitchen than I did any place in camp that I worked in the past.

This season it has been calisthenics; essentially walking, stopping, bending over and picking up litter.  I walk from the SMG down to the pier roundtrip probably about 10 times each day and I probably stop and pick up something about 16 times on each trip.  The good news is that my mild back pain is actually improving and the camp is cleaner, the bad news is that there is so much litter in camp.  I am not talking about a little piece of paper here or there, I am talking about full candy, chips or ice cream wrappers which are multi-colored and quite large.  Now I understand that scouts are generally oblivious to any and everything in camp while they are there....after all, they are scouts.  However to see adults and more importantly my staff walk by and not pick things up does annoy me somewhat.  I appreciate the opportunity to "work out" but I would be happier to have it as a group activity.  My Craft Lodge director is getting a syndrome as I stop in every time I walk to the pier, "is everything OK ?" he would ask not knowing that the reason I am stopping by is to dump what I picked up walking down the hill.

"Close the trading post for a day" one adult would advise, "charge them a penalty" another would say, "provide an incentive for them to pick up garbage, like some reward" would be another suggestion, "Adhere to leave no trace" would also be a throw out suggestion as well.....really?  Yes, yes....we have been there, done that, blah, blah, blah......  Giving penalties outside of the troop structure is nothing more than hazing unless we deny the scout access to an area until he "cleans things up", incentivizing them can just encourage cheating (making garbage to pick up) and closing the trading post just hurts us financially.  To you purists who think that type of thinking is too capitalistic and not as aesthetic as the BSA should be remember margin, no mission.  We need to pay the bills to run camp, not everything is donated.  Even the local fire department is annoyed that we are a "not-for-profit" when it comes to property tax yet we hold a liability for them to defend.  What it comes down to is setting the example by our staff and our adults.  Call out scouts you see litter or make it obvious that you are picking up litter when others are around.  Sometimes I will do that on the parade field prior to flag ceremony.  If there is obvious litter in front of a troop I will make an exaggerated effort to pick it up and then casually shake my head to no one in particular.....nothing like provoking a little Scouting guilt.  If I do it in front of my staff I will stare at them directly and say "Seriously?"

I shouldn't complain too much, at least it is an attempt to keep myself "physical fit".  Between this and the early morning swims, maybe.