BE PREPARED – The Heartland Series

In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.


The moon is in its rightful place in the sky, when the members of Boy Scout Troop 137 and I arrive at Camp Wapello. While we search for our campsite, I think of all the scouts who have gathered here since the camp’s founding in 1932. As we unload our gear in the dark, I try to envision what awaits me at the Annual Fall Jamboree of the Tall Corn Council that starts tomorrow. This being my first jamboree, I cannot. Nonetheless I know something memorable is about happen.

Our troop leader, wanting us to win the Jamboree’s Best Campsite award and the trophy that comes with it, stretches a 180-foot rope, in an L-shape, on the ground. Along it, he places, at ten-foot intervals, one bag with a tent in it. Eighteen boys, eighteen tents. Fifteen-feet outward from the elbow of the L, he places a stone. A campfire goes there. A flagpole goes at one end of the L. My tent goes at the other.

I unfurl my tent. Then crawl on the dewy vegetation that covers the ground, to square my tent to the rope and make it perpendicular to the tent that stands next to it. I stretch out the tent’s guy ropes and secure each with a tent peg. I crawl into the tent, where I stand up the rear and front poles. When I peg the front and rear guy ropes, my tent is finally up. I will be my shelter for the next two nights.

Dirty and sweating, rather than soil my shorts, I wipe my hands on nearby plants and then dry my face. Next up, I roll the ground cloth from the rear to the front of the tent, crawling on the ground vegetation as I do. Then I unroll my sleeping bag. After which, I bring my gear—backpack, hatchet, compass, food, utensils, and the Boy Scout Handbook— inside.

When the leader says that the site set up meets his approval, I head to the campfire. I am eager for the scary stories, tales of adventure, popcorn, and s’mores. I take a place by the roaring fire, savor a gooey s’more, and partake in the heartwarming fellowship that comes with boys being boys.

A while later, a gentle breeze encourages me to lie back on the ground. I look up at the stars. There is Sagittarius, the archer, the V of Andromeda, and the dipper Ursa, with her North Star. Oh my, did the North Star just wink at me? I think so.

As the fire burns down, I bid my fellow scouts good night, and head to my tent for some much needed sleep. Glancing skyward, the North Star tells me to dream big dreams. She really does.

In the tent, tucked away in a sleeping bag, I listen to the sounds of the night. I hear leaves rustle as a night wind sneaks through the trees. The ooo-eee-ooo-eee of thousands of chirping cicadas and katydids serenade me from the treetops. Off in the distance, a wise old owl tells me that, yes, she does give a hoot.

The sound of fingernails scratching skin inside the tent, interrupt the woodlands sounds outside it. I itch. My legs, my arms— I am in such misery. The more I scratch, the more I itch. And the more I itch, the more I scratch.

I want to fall asleep, but cannot. I am too busy scratching my legs, arms, and now my stomach. I want to listen night wind, cicadas, katydids, and the owl but my mind is unrelentingly focused the itches I must scratch. Oh no, my face, now my face is itching.

To prevent myself from scratching I clinch my hands together. Squeezing them tightly to stifle my instinctive urge to scratch. My hands ache for morning. I hope I live that long.

Sitting outside my tent, with eyes sore from lack of sleep and campfire smoke, I watch the sun rise slowly. In the breaking I look at the skin on my legs, arms, stomach, and face. It is red, swollen, and raw. Oozing blisters cover me.

Desperate, I grab my Boy Scout Handbook. The relief I seek must be somewhere in its often read pages. There, under poisonous plants, is a picture of the ooziness that covers my body. Next to it a picture of poison Ivy. Reading on, the handbook says to wash the afflicted area with soap and water. Where is the nearest shower? Words that have never before crossed my lips

Rubbing alcohol, calamine lotion, and frequent showers get me through the day and night. Thank you handbook! Reading further, I learn that Poison Ivy is the most common poisonous plant in the United States. That the oily sap in its leaves, stems, and roots is the source of my irritation and itching.

I look at the picture of Poison Ivy, under it, “leaves of three, let them be.” Then look around me. Leaves of three are everywhere. Oh how I wish that I had let them be. Next time, I will Be Prepared.

On this trip to Heartland, a memory of my first, and most memorable Boy Scout Jamboree awaits my arrival. It is a fascinating juxtaposition of the joy of a boy in the woods with other boys and the itchy-hell that he unwittingly encounters while setting up his tent. In the darkness of that fateful night before my jamboree, the darkness of my knowledge about the woodland world puts me in danger. Though the shower and lotion provide relief, the oozing sores that take months to heal, and the scars they leave behind are painful reminders to Be Prepared.

Over the years I have come to understand that I can never be too prepared. Despite my best preparations, there will always be circumstances beyond my control. As was the case of the jamboree, where I thought I was prepared, but the darkness of the night, prevented me from seeing the Poison Ivy upon which I was pitching my tent. Further, my limited knowledge prevented me from even recognizing that possibility.

I now understand that the best way for me to prepare for the worlds into which I step and the lives I encounter there is acknowledge each as splendorous and all as having poisons and risks. I must see them for what they are and call them by their true names. By honoring them in this way, whatever adversity befalls me, I am ready.


Note: This is the 22nd post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.