Saturday, June 21, 2014

Wrapping Up and Heading Home - Farewell to Camp Geiger and Session Two, 2014

In addition to striking camp and loading our gear onto the truck, the best part of Saturday may be that we learn who has been inducted into Mic-O-Say. The new tribesmen for this session were part of the absolutely largest class of new inductees in the history of the tribe! This year, Troop 451 had a record-setting number of new braves inducted: Jacob Belknap, Alex Brock, Jonathan Byers, Austin Curtis, Tommy D’Arcy, Roshan Dave, Ian Hollenshead, Andrew Jansen, Stephen Lampe, Jay Rawson, Caleb Thakur, Jack Tyson, Bryan Wawczak, and Jace Westfall. We also had six adults inducted as Honorary Warriors:  Michael Curtis, David Jansen, Amin Rahman, Darryl Sorensen, Kenneth Thakur, and Michael Wawczak. Congratulations to all the new tribesmen!

The last ceremony of the session is Closing. This is where the week’s achievements are recognized. Here too, Troop 451 was very well represented. Both Misters Rebodos received multiple recognitions for their accomplishments in the Geiger 60 games and Ian Hollenshead got an award for SCUBA diving. The dining hall staff accorded special recognition to all of the adults who helped out in the dining hall this week. Several of our Scouters earned the Camp Geiger Scoutmaster Badge. Our troop was awarded the weekly “Spirit Stick” for outstanding participation and service. The Camp Director, Tony Sasso, presented the adult leaders of Troop 451 with the ‘key to Camp Geiger’ for service above and beyond. We also earned the ‘Clean Sweep’ award for our performance in the campsite inspection contest. Our Campmaster, Ken Kleid, received this award for the Troop. We also won the overall Sharpest Unit honors. It feels good to be recognized for our efforts.

What a fine way to cap-off a fantastic week of learning, fellowship, and fun!

Friday at Camp Geiger

Friday at Camp Geiger is bitter sweet. It is the time when the week’s effort wraps up and Scouts look forward to the recognition they have earned. It also means one last night before returning to the luxury of hot showers and clean sheets, all enjoyed in air-conditioned, insect-free comfort. It is also the time when Foxmen endure their ordeal and work their way towards becoming braves in the Tribe of Mic-O-Say. But, it is the last whole day of summer camp and very nearly the end of an exciting, productive week.

As the audience learns on Thursday night, the Foxmen are charged with silence. They are expected not to speak for 24 hours (unless safety demands it). One sees them running around camp (Foxmen run everywhere) and working on a service project to improve the camp. This year, they extended the steps that run down the slope behind camp headquarters.

Dinner Friday is served al fresco below Tapping Valley. Sandwiches of pulled pork were accompanied by potato chips, pickles, and peanut butter cookies. For those so inclined, seconds, and even thirds were on offer. One salient feature of this meal is that it is served on disposable dinnerware. Thus, the adults from Troop 451 were not needed for clean-up afterwards!

Once the campers have consumed their meals, it is time to repair to the Council Ring for the closing campfire. Here, senior tribesmen describe the purpose of Mic-O-Say to those who are not yet part of the tribe. They then entertain a wide range of questions from the audience. Several other items of especial interest to scouts in the Pony Express Council of the BSA are presented as well. Soon, it is time to conclude the next-to-last public ceremony of the second Camp Geiger session of 2014 and return to campsites. Every Scout, naturally, went straight to sleep. . . (naw. But a couple did).

For the Foxmen and members of the Tribe, the night is far from over. When Saturday morning dawns, many Scouts will have become new Braves in the Tribe of Mic-O-Say.

An otherwise-wonderful week at camp was marred by one of our Troop 451 Scouters experiencing a medical problems. We are delighted and thankful that prompt, skillful attention on the part of other Troop 451 Scouters, the Geiger medical personnel, and the Saint Joseph medical professionals, proved successful. We expect to see everyone back in Texas soon, and in good health.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tapping Fire

Thursday was a fantastic day for the Tribe of Mic-O-Say and for Troop 451

For many at Camp Geiger, the high point of the week comes Thursday evening with the Tapping Fire. This ceremony is where candidates for membership in the Tribe are publicly announced. The Tribe is the honor camping society of Camp Geiger. Its origins go back to the 1920s, a time when many honor camping societies stressing Native American themes came into being. Most of these were later subsumed within the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor camping society but the tribe continued its independent existence, as did some half-dozen others around the country. All of these have the mission to work within the BSA to improve Scouts and Scouting.

After nearly 90 years of experience, the Tribe knows how to put on a show.

Thursday can seem to drag by as everyone waits for the ceremony to begin. Our day started with a breakfast of scrambled eggs and apple juice, after which all of our boys headed to their specified locations. The adults, of course, stayed in the dining hall to help wash dishes. With many hands to help, this potentially-onerous chore is completed as quickly as possible.

It seemed as though we had barely finished (not true, actually) when it was time for our lunch of sliced turkey breast and cheese sandwiches with potato chips and purple bug juice of indeterminate flavor. Camp food has a reputation for being somewhat foul but here at Camp Geiger, it is decent, hearty fare, the flavor of which is made all the finer by the substantial appetites worked up in the course of moving about this hilly terrain. Those who did the Mile Swim on Wednesday, such as Mr. Rebodos, Mr. Sorensen, and both Misters Wawczak (if I have omitted you, let me know and I’ll fix it), must surely have worked up even greater appetites. Likewise for our COPE course participants.

The Thursday lunch dishes proved to be a quicker job than breakfast’s and we had time a little while to rest and relax for a moment before returning to camp. There, current tribesmen put last-minute touches on their various Mic-O-Say regalia. Some worked on headbands or leggings, while others made essential repairs to back bustles or arm bands.

Soon, it was time for a dinner of burgers and fries. As before, the salad bar was popular. After dinner, tribesmen headed off to wherever it is that tribesmen go on the night of tapping fire, to do whatever they do. The rest of our troop returned to camp until it was time to gather in the Handicraft Corral to prepare for the long hike to Tapping Valley. Now, the valley is right below the corral but, the night of the Tapping Ceremony, the path to it is roundabout and punctuated by several stops along the way where various details of the history of Camp Geiger and the Tribe of Mic-O-Say are presented to all the Scouts and Scouters attending the session.

In the center of Tapping Valley, tribesmen have built an enormous bonfire.  From a distance, it looks much like any other, ordinary, campfire but up close, one can see that it nears 18 feet in height! What one took for good-sized sticks are actually the size of telephone poles and larger. Many families and visitors attend Tapping Fire to cheer-on their sons and spouses; others come just to enjoy the spectacle. As I mentioned, the Tribe knows how to put on a show.

The Scouts and Scouters approach the valley just around 9:00 PM. While they are still in the distance but in sight of the valley, the fire is ignited. This time of year, dusk is falling then and the fireflies come out in great abundance, their surprisingly intense flashes of light making the vegetation look alive in the dimming light. They offer a nice counterpoint to the growing blaze at the center of the valley.

As it grow darker, the valley grows lighter because the fire is growing bigger. The braves and warriors start to dance around the fire, accompanied by chanting and drums. The sight of the dancers, decked out in full dance garb (including the large, fancy feather bustles each boy makes), is dramatic indeed. The dancers circle the growing inferno, silhouetted as they pass in front and illuminated as they pass behind, all accompanied by the thrumming thump of the giant tom-tom and chanting in native tongues.

The campers approach, flanked by two long lines of older members of the tribe bedecked in their Native American-style finery. While the simplest Honorary Warrior’s costume is nevertheless quite elaborate, many costumes are far more impressive. The Sachems are there in their Mandan headdresses and the Medicine Men in their plains war bonnets, as are the chiefs and chieftains. Many sport elaborate beadwork requiring hundreds of hours of painstaking detail and many include optional items to dress up their already-fancy garb. The effect is truly stunning.

The campers circle the fire, one deep, facing the flames. Among them are the young men who may be called to be candidates for membership. Once everyone is in place, two lines of torches appear on the precipitous slope of Cardiac Hill. At the head, between the torch bearers, is the Tapper. This prestigious role requires that a young man be able to run down that declivity brandishing a flaming torch, held high in his left hand, and a tomahawk, held high in his right. With a mighty war whoop, he charges down the steep slope and into Tapping Valley to enter the enormous circle of expectant Scouts and Scouters.

A crowd of nearly 500 campers makes a very large circle indeed and the tapper makes a complete circuit, both arms held high, before he begins to tap out candidates on his second pass. When a boy is tapped, the Tapper stops in front of him and taps him once on the left side of his chest. This is a ritual tap and the word tap describes the action accurately. The candidate is then tapped on his right shoulder and sent to stand before the presiding Chief in front of the roaring fire. The Tapper may circle past a candidate several times before he decides to stop and tap him. This only increases the palpable suspense that potential candidates feel as the watch the tapper making his rounds.

The Tapper continues making circuits until every candidate has been tapped. Then the Chief, Chieftains, and Medicine Men give the candidates, now styled “Foxmen” several charges before they are lead off by the runners (senior Scouts in the Tribe) to experience their Mic-O-Say ordeal. The speaking parts demand elocution and a truly stentorian voice; no electronic amplification or lighting is used in the ceremony. All the light is from flames and all the sound is that of the human voice or the giant drum. When the chants are sung, several voices in unison fill the valley but when a lone Chief or Medicine Man addresses the crowd, it is that voice and that voice alone that must be heard. It helps to be in a valley but, more crucially, it helps that the crowd is prepared to be silent and listen while the speakers are passing on their messages.

The braves and warriors then gather around the fire to perform a dance of joy, celebrating the fine new candidates who may become new braves. The whooping and ululations are thrilling as they dance about, bathed in the orange firelight. The world then looks black and gold. One gets a sense of what it might have been like to belong to a tribe long ago.

A spectacular moment comes as the fire burns down a bit and the upper parts collapse onto the lower ones. This sends a dense column of sparks skyward, burning bright against the darkening sky. The brightly-glowing sparks rise upward until they seem to merge with the stars scattered across the heavens, making it seems as though the Tapping Fire is the source of them all.

Then it is time to call out the candidates for Honorary Warrior. These are Scouters who have served their units and Scouting. They are not ritually tapped (that honor is reserved for Scouts) but instead, the Chief calls them forward by name. They too are given explanations and charges before being led off.

For the public, that is the end of the ceremony though for the Foxmen, their night is yet young.

Troop 451 had a record 14 Scouts tapped and seven adults as well.

Yes, Thursday was a fantastic day for the Tribe of Mic-O-Say and for Troop 451.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hump Day (if this were work or school; at Geiger it just means less time left!)

Wednesday, our flag continued to grace the dining hall owing to our earning “Sharpest Unit” honors on Tuesday. After breaking our fast with pancakes and bacon, everyone headed to their various activities: the First Year Scouts headed off to Trail to First Class, older boys attended various merit badge classes, and the adults tended to their respective responsibilities.

One new responsibility for which we volunteered this session is helping out in the dining hall. For various reasons, the dishwashing chores require more man hours and the camp is relying on volunteers. A Scout is HELPFUL, after all. With so many adults to pitch-in, this task goes fairly quickly but cleaning dishes for 520 people does take a bit of time.

At lunch, we were delighted to learn we had again garnered the top score for campsite inspection. Thus, our flag continued to grace the flag plaza. We are doing our level best to uphold our troop’s proud tradition of excellence.

Wednesday is ‘family night’ at Camp Geiger and we had several 451 families who made the long trek from Texas to Missouri. Among these hardy souls were the Covingtons, the Curtises, the Gonzalezes, the Hatters, the Koonces, the Krals, the Lampes (including an uncle and two grandparents), and the Turners. Apologies to anyone who traveled all that way but whom I didn’t mention. Given the considerable distance involved, it was a fantastic turnout of families supporting our Scouts. Many families brought in dinner. For the rest of us, the dining hall ordered in Pizza and ice cream.

The centerpiece of Family Night is the evening campfire. Troop 451 was well represented. Our boys presented three different skits and Ian Hollenshead wowed the crowd with his rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes.” Mr. Williams wrote Camp Geiger-themed lyrics for some popular tunes and the songs of each branch of the Armed Services. He, Mr. Lampe, and another adult performed their “Tribute to Camp Geiger” for an appreciative audience.

After the campfire, those whose families were in attendance joined them while others returned to camp and a much-needed night’s sleep.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

PeeWee, King of Camp Geiger

After lunch today, it was announced that once again, Troop 451 was the top scoring unit for the campsite inspection. Once again, our flag will adorn the flag plaza on Wednesday.

Dinner was followed by another top-ranking in the evening’s “Sharpest Unit” honors. We may have a substantial advantage since, in order to be considered, the unit must be in proper Scout uniform. It is a shame that not every Scout can easily bear the expense of a full, official BSA uniform. Yet one suspects there are others who simply do not feel the need. We are fortunate that our boys show up properly-uniformed. We know we are fortunate as well as hard-working; all the same, it sure is pleasant to win!

A part of the Camp Geiger experience is indulging in some uninhibited silliness. Thus, one highlight of any session is the “King PeeWee” contest. This event has long been an annual tradition. It involves identifying the smallest Scout at camp during the session and then elevating him to the coveted position of “King PeeWee.”  This is by no means demeaning or belittling and is honestly done in the spirit of fun. If a young man were disinclined to participate, he would be gladly excused and no one would think the less of him. The contest is decided by the expedient of weighing the candidates with the title being awarded to the least-massive Scout.

Each troop selects a member to represent them in the contest.  Typically, this is a Scout who has recently joined, for obvious reasons. Older boys simply are not in the running. Nevertheless, sometimes a troop, knowing they have no competitive members, will send an adult. Such was the case tonight.

The candidates line up roughly by height. Thus, the head of the line this time was the leader from a troop we assume has no reasonable candidates. Keeping fully in the spirit of the event, he ‘taunted’ all the other, more plausible, contestants by claiming that he was sure to take the prize. He, of course was immediately eliminated from the competition.

Our emcee was, as usual, Aaron Lewis, the camp Program Director. He is a superb showman and can really get the crowd going.  We waited, anxiously, as one young man after another was found wanting, the best score dropping from 106, to 85 a few boys later, to 78, to 64, to 62, then 61 pounds!

The next to last potential King PeeWee was the candidate from Troop 451, a first-year Scout, Alex Jansen. We were biting our collective fingernails as he approached the scale. When the report was read, he weighed-in at 59 pounds. The last Scout was a hefty 72 pounds. Our Troop had won yet another of the camp-wide competitions.

Another highlight of Tuesday evening is the “Geiger 60.” These are contests of athletic prowess held after the dinner festivities wrap-up, involving various activities of running, jumping, and calisthenics. Congratulations are due for Troop 451’s own ‘Iron Man’, Lee Rebodos, who took top honors in the adult category in sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups. Connor Rebodos also garnered the top place for the under-18 crowd. Great work, Misters Rebodos.

While it is a wonderful feeling for our troop to come in at the top each day and we hope this will continue, we will be careful not to gloat. The satisfaction of being a sharp, disciplined unit, learning and having fun, should be our greatest reward.