“The knowledge of the world is only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet.” – Lord Chesterfield.
Childhood is a time to make small mistakes so we can avoid big ones later on. Allowing children to play in the street or with matches and gasoline is not a good idea but it is important that children be allowed to make some mistakes that won’t cost them too much. Better a skinned knee at 6 than driving 100 mph at 17 and losing $10 on something stupid at 10 than to take out a $5,000 loan they can’t afford at 20.
“It is going to be cold at night”, I told the boys several times during our planning meetings in advance of the campout and our Scoutmaster and I provided some specific instructions as to what to bring and how to prepare. None of the boys were listening. It was just the normal adult chatter.
Southern Idaho is a desert. Even in August temperatures plummet after sunset making for uncomfortable and sometimes dangerously cold nights for the unprepared.
When the boys arrived to go camping I saw no coats and thin sleeping bags. It was a pleasantly warm day so why would they need a coat? The boy’s average age is 12 years old and none of them have been on more than a handful of campouts. In our first world comfort, cold nights are not something most of us experience very often. The gas furnace keeps our homes at a comfortable temperature. We knew that they were in for a lesson in preparedness.
At dawn I heard numerous loud complaints coming from the boy’s tents about how cold it was and how cold they were. It was about 28 degrees at dawn. The tents had a nice layer of frost on them. Lucky for the boys there was not even a light breeze. The temperature was perfect. Cold enough to be uncomfortable but not cold enough to do any damage given their activity level and the fact that the temperature was rapidly increasing since the sun was now over the horizon.
I took my time getting a fire started to let the lesson sink in a little. Soon enough they were warm, fed, and busy throwing rocks into the lake.
They cooked breakfast and packed up. We climbed the large sand Dunes at Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park as part of a five-mile hike. The boys enjoyed rolling part way down the big dune then running back to the top and doing it again. One of them was a little scared but make it through fine and a few learned that it is good to have something to carry your stuff in when on a hike. Some other leaders and I paid the price for too much sitting and too many generous meals as we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the dunes.
The boys formed some bonds of friendship, got some great exercise, and learned lessons that no video game could teach them. As they progress in Scouting over the next five or six years they will build friendships, make memories, and learn valuable life skills that they can then pass on to another generation. In the coming weeks, they will be the ones planning the campouts. They will be better prepared for cold nights based on this experience. The life lesson of that cold morning will sink in much better than my nattering ever could.