Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Yankee Wisdom

From time to time I like to watch Norm Abram build cool stuff on the New Yankee Workshop on PBS.  Norm Abram really is a master craftsman - he knows his medium, he knows his tools and he knows what he can do with them. There's something he always says when introducing a new project: "Be sure to read, understand and follow the safety rules that come with your power tools.  Knowing how to use your power tools properly will greatly reduce the risk of personal injury."

I think that the Lord has provided some powerful tools, including Scouting, Duty to God, For the Strength of Youth, Faith in God, and Personal Progress, for guiding our Youth reach their potential.  By reading, understanding and following the rules that come with those tools, Church-written and otherwise, the likelihood of success is greatly increased, and the risk of physical or spiritual injury goes down, too.

Monday, July 30, 2012


I sent my oldest off to camp for the first time at Camp Steiner in Utah's Uinta mountains this morning.  For me, there was never a question of whether I'd go with him, Scout Camp is a time to get away from Mom and Dad.  He needs this time away from home.  He still needs help packing, though (not that I could tell him anything he doesn't already know, what with his 12 years of experience and all that).  Yes, you need clean socks!!!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sharing the Trail

Last weekend, I took the boys to Camp Tracy up Mill Creek Canyon east of Salt Lake City. One of the events on our agenda was a five mile hike. This is a pretty tough trail, climbing 2,500 feet in 2.5 miles, it's one, long switchback to a great overlook of the Salt Lake Valley. We were in a group of about 50 other Scouts, and it being a weekend, we got to share the trail with plenty of other hikers and their dogs.

We were about 2/3 of the way back down the mountain, when someone ahead of us called out "snake!" Curiosity being a huge part of Scouting, we all tried to spot the slithering serpent.  A little movement along the ground revealed this Crotalus oreganus lotusus, or Great Basin rattlesnake slithering past.

Crotalus oreganus lotusus, the Great Basin rattlesnake

This two-and-a-half footer was on a leisurely, er, stroll, paralleling the trail about 4-5 feet from the edge of the trail. The image above was taken with a 18-55mm lens, at the 55mm end (which approximates the field of view of a human eye), so you can tell we were pretty close.  One of the boys asked, "Can I make it rattle?" and of course the answer was, NO.  Stretched out like this, the snake is not dangerous - he doesn't feel threatened; he wasn't even racing to get away from us.  Coiled and rattling though, he's angry and a potential threat.

And that's the thing.  You can often neutralize a threat by maintaining a safe distance, by staying out of range of its effects.  We were standing several feet away from a 2.5 foot pit viper. Venomous, yes; dangerous, no.  He wasn't threatened by our presence, and we were content to just watch him pass.  And this encounter is a great illustration of staying safe by staying away.  Whether it's heroin, porn, lying, or what-have-you, keeping a safe distance (which is different for each threat, for each person) will go a long way toward eliminating that threat.

This is more than "Just Say No,"  It's Keep Away.  In general, you can control how close you are, and that will in large part determine how much of a threat it is. It's as true for Surface-to-Air missiles as it is for rattlesnakes.  Know what the threat is, what it's capable of, what it looks like, and how it works. Know what constitutes a safe area, and stay there. Either let the threat pass, or walk away, but keep your distance and stay safe.

ADDED:  The harmless, common gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer), or bull snake, is a close mimic of (and is easily mistaken for) the Great Basin rattlesnake, and will even shake its tail to scare off threats.  It has very similar markings, shares a black tongue, and can grow up to five or six feet in length. Both species exhibit a great variety in coloration and markings, too.

Pituophis catenifer, the gopher snake,
which I photographed in someone's front yard in Ogden, UT.
(shot with a Nokia phone, edited with Picasa).

For comparison, here's a shot of the more surley Texas Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox), that I took at the County Fair last year. With a piece of glass between me and her four feet of angry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Time for Camp

Tomorrow I'll be at camp with my two Scouts.  We go to Camp Tracy each year for instruction and  practice with most of the early rank skills, so there's knots, compass, safe swim, edge tools and other "book stuff," but there's also climbing, .22 shooting, archery, geocaching and team-building exercises.  The first day ends with us going home to pack for the overnighter the next day. All in all, it's three days of Scouting through the fire hose.

I was nervous about having to cancel the whole thing, because of a lack of two-deep leadership - the other 11YO leader was released, and no replacement had been called.  But, things fell into place at the last minute.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hit the trail

Just a few hiking resources:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Down time

Last week I took my family camping and hiking up Big Cottonwood Canyon east of Salt Lake City.  After spending the Fourth watching parades, relaxing at the water park, treating my sunburned feet (oops), chowing fried chicken and (safely) lighting off ground-based fireworks in my driveway, we spent the next four days dodging downpours, eating from Dutch ovens and otherwise enjoying the woods.  The kids took a fancy to one corpulent ground squirrel they affectionately named Fatty McSquirrelface (the Diabetic).  We were also fortunate enough to have good friends with us, Nick el Cartoonista and his family.  No work, no Church, no Scouts for five glorious days - I even turned off my phone the whole time.

Cyber CHIP

This article about kids and their internet use underscores the need for the new Cyber Chip.  I think I'll make it a part or the Tenderfoot-to-First-Class trail for my boys.  (Read that, I'll make sure that it's covered and earned, along with Totin' Chip and Firem'n Chit, within the first year, not as a condition of earning a rank, but an aid to it.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

GSLC fire ban and 2012 safety incidents

I just got an email stating that the Great Salt Lake Council will prohibit fires on any of its properties - to include charcoal.  In light of a letter read over the pulpit yesterday, I'd say we ought to pray that everyone is prudent in their celebrating and recreating for the balance of the summer. Fires and boys with sticks is just a bad idea right now. 

Here's from the email I received from my WB Scoutmaster:
"I would take it one step further, and advise you as a matter of common sense, not to allow any open fires during any of your camps or scouting activities, whether they be on Council property or not. It seems very difficult for some folks to maturely deal with this concept/challenge. I understand that a camp fire is a big part of camping, and it is a challenge to change our mind-set, however; the consequences are staggering! Our Governor stated that all firefighting and related expenses will be paid by those responsible for starting the fire, whether it be intentional or accidental. While some may disagree, I am not in a position to argue. I would love not to see any more bad press related to our BSA program.

"Please stand with me and accept the challenge of eliminating this awful risk for the balance of the fire season."
I would also like to take a moment to mention safety.  In the last month alone, there have been several fatal accidents involving Scouts/Aaronic Priesthood groups:
  • In Colorado, one boy drowned and two nearly didn't make it back to shore when their canoe capsized. None were wearing PFDs.  The info I got (from the LDS Scouts Yahoo group) said it was a "CJCLDS High Adventure Camp" but the original source was not cited or linked;
  • Last weekend, three Woodland Park CO Scouts, one adult Scout leader and a toddler died in a head-on collision on their way home from Camp in Wyoming;
  • a 16yo Scout from St. George drowned at the Havasupai falls area near the Grand Canyon.
It's been stated, (though it's tough to find published stats) that LDS make up ~20% of registered units (Boy Scout Troops, Varsity Scout Teams and Venturing Crews), but account for ~60%-70% of fatalities.  Brad Harris (author of Trails to Testimony) said that in 2008, 5 of 8 fatalities were LDS. We're very over-represented in these statistics.  We have to ask ourselves, why?

Reading and following the Guide to Safe Scouting will go a long way toward mitigating risks, whether Camping or Trekking.  A cursory analysis of the above incidents shows clear violations of the Guide, especially concerning water activities. Safety is everyone's responsibility, but lawsuits go after individuals and organizations.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Evaluating your Boys' program

Twelfth and final in a series of monthly Ward Scouter Training Topics.

Every once in a while, it's a good idea to take a step back and make an assessment of your work. In our professional lives, we get evaluated based on goals and expected outcomes. Naturally, we expect to be recognized and, hopefully, compensated for our improvement and contribution.  New goals are established, and the cycle begins again (if the boss is happy, that is). This assessment process encourages one to strive to be better than before, and to be an active contributor to the group's success.

A few years ago, BSA had a program called Quality Unit that measured particular metrics to assess the effectiveness of individual units.  That program has been replaced by Scouting's Journey to Excellence. The objective is the same: to encourage excellence in providing a quality youth program, and provide Committees with the tools to assess their programs' effectiveness in the lives of the youth they serve. Amongst the evaluated criteria are such diverse elements as:
  • Advancement
  • Retention
  • Trained Leadership
  • Patrol Method
  • Service Projects
  • Camping program
There's a score card for each Family of Scouting (see last month's training topic for information on Scouting families), and each provides three levels of recognition, based on meeting established benchmarks. In breaking with BSA tradition, Gold is the highest achievement level (instead of silver). Decide which one to shoot for, and then go out and do it.

And now for something completely different.

In the last year, I have attempted to provide my Unit committee with information and training to help improve our boys' Scouting experience. However, I recently realized that we never really asked the Youth what they thought of their program. Since LDS boys and their leaders are automatically assigned to their troops, et. al. (hey, that solves the JTE retention problem, right?), rather than joining an organization that interests them, we have boys at all kinds of commitment levels. In an effort to analyze why they do or do not participate, I developed a survey to assess their attitudes toward Scouting in general. It's intended to be used by the adult Troop/Team/Crew leadership (or a ward/stake Young Men Presidency) and asks boys to honestly assess their experience. Based on an analysis of their responses, it should tell you where your unit's strengths and weaknesses are, thereby providing a road map for improvement.

One last idea regarding unit evaluation is for your Committee to identify which awards the adult leaders qualify for, like the Trained ribbon, On My Honor for Adults, or the Scouter's Training Award (green square knot), among others. A leader who meets the various qualifications and is publicly recognized for his commitment likely already has a "quality unit." Youth who see their leaders recognized will hopefully see it as emblematic of a personal commitment to individual improvement, but not as grown-up badge-chasing.

(Bonus Arrow Points if you can identify the TWO Monty Python allusions in this post.)

Tools for assessing your Troop/Team/Crew: