Better Than You Found It

December 23, 2009

Part of my Scout Troop on a campout (I'm on the right in the red & blue striped shirt)

As a boy scout, camping trips were a monthly occurrence.  Whether in the dead of winter or the blazing heat of summer our leaders religiously found the sites and planned the weekend retreats.

Sometimes we were driven to the sites, sometimes we packed in; Sometimes we slept in a snow caves and other times we slept out under the stars, but no matter how different the activities were, there were always those things that seemed to be constants.

For example, no matter when or where, you could pretty much bank on anything the scouts cooked to test the most stalwart of constitutions, where the leaders had the uncanny ability to make things like tin foil dinners taste and look like fine dining. Every campout also came with a full on snipe hunt for those new to the troop, and a reminder about the importance of fire safety, followed by someone trying to start a fire with gasoline.

But, of all the guarantees, the one that held the most true was after the fun.

Once everybody had packed up, our scoutmaster would remind us to make sure that we’d cleaned up our area.  We would all take a few minutes to look over our own little piece of the site to make sure things had been cleaned up.

Then, just before we left, our scoutmaster would line up all the scouts at one end of the campsite.  We would hold hands, and then spread out to make sure we could effectively cover as much ground as possible. Once we were lined up and ready to go he would let us loose and have us slowly, and carefully cover the campground picking up any little shred of paper or loose piece of packaging we’d missed in our own separate clean-ups.

The whole time we walked across the site, he’d call out to us, “Boys, leave this place better than you found it.”

It never ceased to amaze me how improved the grounds were after we walked together hand in hand.

As I think of those days, now so long ago, I think the call still holds true.  Our assignment as brothers and sisters in this place is to do all we can to leave “this place” better than we found it.  Can there be any better compliment paid at the end of our lives than to have it said that we did our part in leaving things better.

If we ever want to have any real chance at doing so, I believe we must follow my scoutmaster’s instructions to the letter—Holding hands with our neighbors to make sure we can cover as much ground as possible, we must watch carefully and hear our own voice repeat, “Leave this place better than you found it.”

This Christmas lets each remember and renew our desire to do all we can to remove those things that can clutter and mess our lives and the lives of those around us.  Let’s work together to remove the suffering, and take away the grief.  Let’s take care to take away the suffering, and rid lives of strife. Then, and only then, will our world truly end up better than we found it.

Merry Christmas


The Sand Dune Solo

January 21, 2009

I have finally mended from my surgery and I’m back at my blog. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and concern.

Growing up in Boise, Idaho one of my favorite weekends of the entire year was our “Fathers and Sons Outing.” On this one weekend during the summer all the fathers in our area would take their sons for a camp out. It usually began Friday afternoon and finished on Saturday after a hearty breakfast. Every boy I knew always looked forward to this weekend with great anticipation. I mean, how do you beat a whole weekend with just you and your dad? It was the ultimate boy’s night out.

There was a spot near Idaho City that was traditionally home for this event. It was called “Pinetop” and it looked exactly the way it sounds. It was nestled at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains with lots of room for games and plenty of trails for hiking. However, I recall one of the years when “Pinetop” wasn’t available and our group ended up spending the night at the Bruno Sand Dunes.

It was Pinetop’s total opposite. It’s 4800 acres of sand. The state park includes desert, dune, prairie, lake and marsh habitat and is home to the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America (470 feet). When you’re there you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Climbing the dunes along with sliding or “surfing” down them always made for a great time, and we were sure that this year would be no exception.

We arrived on Friday, set up camp, roasted some hotdogs had a bonfire complete with “S’mores” and finally, after what I’m sure felt like 100 verses of “Waddley acha” followed by a rousing version of “Kumbaya,” went to our tents to hit the hay.

The next morning brought more pancakes, eggs and bacon then a young boy could ever hope to eat. After cleanup, everyone came together for some good old fashioned father/son games. There were three legged races, potato sack races and the ever popular tug-of-war.

With the games finished the group decided to make a mass exodus to one of the taller dunes. Our destination was in a different part of the park than our main camp and so everyone prepared for a hike that would take somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour.

As the group made their preparations I heard some of the older boys (16-18 years old) making a plan of their own. They wanted to break away from the group and use the shortcut taking them up the face of the Dune. I idolized these boys. Not only were they big and strong and popular at the local high school, but they had taken a special interest in me. It was a regular and frequent thing for them to pick me up and take me for an ice cream or to the park to play frisbee. They let me hang around all the time. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for me (a nine year-old) to ride my bike to their house, knock on their door, and ask their parents if they could play.

Most 16-18 year-olds probably wouldn’t react positively to someone five or six years their junior coming over to play, but they always let me come down to their room, listen to ABBA, and talk about my day.

So, as soon as I heard about their plan to break away I asked them if I could come too. They said that I could as long as I had my dad’s permission. It wasn’t long after my dad said yes that the main group went on their way and we went to follow the shortcut.

I was able to keep up with the older boys all the way to the face of the large dune. However, once at the dune, things changed. It was every man for himself, and as they sped up the face of the mountain I ended up left in the dust. They were all trying to leave their mark as king of the mountain and my little legs just couldn’t keep up. Before I knew it I was looking up the face of this enormous sand dune all by myself.

It was getting to be afternoon by this time and the sand was heating up. When we left camp none of the older boys had shoes, and not wanting to be “sissy” I hadn’t taken mine either. The sand and it felt so soft and comfortable under my feet just hours earlier was now scorching my skin. I tried to take off my shirt and wrap it around my feet, but it was no use. Not only that, the dune seemed like it went on forever.

Crying and a little unsure of how I got myself in this predicament I began to wonder if I would ever see my dad again. I continued to move up the mountain very slowly. I would take a few steps until my feet got too hot and then I would sit down until my rear end became too hot. Back and forth I went inching my way up the sand dune.

Finally, with tears streaming down my face I heard my dad’s voice. I called his name as loudly as I could and was overjoyed when I saw him coming down the dune. He carried me to the top of the mountain on his back. When we reached the top I was surprised. I expected to see the young men I wasn’t able to keep up with, but I didn’t expect to see the rest of the group all there and seemingly without incident. As we returned to camp I found out why it had been so hard for me while it seemed to have been so easy for everyone else to climb the dune.

What I didn’t know when we started the day, was that the best way to walk on the hot sand is single file, rotating people from front to back. Whoever takes the first steps in the new sand has to absorb the most heat. As you move back through the line, following in each others’ footsteps, the sand gets less and less hot.

Being that I had had such a bad experience walking in the sand (and probably because I was crying) they started me at the back of the line. I couldn’t believe how cool the sand was in between my toes. This was the same sand that was so hot on the face of the mountain that it had precluded me from making even one step. As time passed, and the rotating continued, I eventually made my way to the front.

The sand was hot there but because I was with the group I only had to be in the front for a while and just as it became unbearable I got to move back to the end of the line. When we got back to camp and the watermelon bust began, I thought about how much simpler the return trip was when everyone only had to endure the heat a little while.

If we approach our lives the same way we too will find our journey easier. When we set about our difficulties with this kind of mentality we increase our ability to succeed. There are times when we can endure the heat, and those are the times when we we need to stand in front of the line and take as much heat as we can. But there are times when the heat becomes too much. In those times if we will allow ourselves to move to the back and let others take the lead will find that we can persevere no matter how big the obstacle.

In order to truly travel the furthest and the best through the vast difficulties life brings, one must be willing to walk together–always humble enough to help another, never too proud to ask for help. We must stop trying to take do the sand dune solo and walk together all the way to a comfortable camp and wonderful watermelon.