Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Fantastic Finish!

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

Our week at Camp Geiger has come to an end. It was a fun, exciting week filled with vigorous activity, learning, and inspiring ceremonies. It went by far faster than we wish it would but we are eager to return home and be reunited with family and friends.

In recognition of our intense week of Scouting, by the way, there will be no Troop Meeting this coming Monday, July 6th.

Saturday began even earlier than usual, just as the sun was rising, owing to the need to strike camp and load our gear onto the truck. Some of our Scouts, especially this year’s new Braves, were moving rather slowly in consequence of the late night of ceremonies that followed their 24-hour ordeal. Others were up and at ‘em right away.

The striking of camp began last night, after the final campfire, with disassembly of our campsite gateway and the temporary flagpole we erected to permit us to perform our daily flag ceremonies (raising in the early morning, lowering as sunset approached). Some folks took the time to get mostly-packed-up but others, occupied elsewhere in the later evening, had to move extra-quickly in the growing daylight.

Several adults, led by the able direction of Mr. Koonce (Guards Falcon), got the truck loaded carefully enough that all of our considerable impedimenta made it safely on board. We loaded foot lockers, cots, sleeping pads and bags, dance and regular Mic-O-Say regalia, and the miscellaneous gear we bring to enhance out campsite (such as the poles and lashing ropes for our campsite gateway).

This giant game of jackstraws is quite the challenge, even in the civilized context of the parking lot of First United Methodist Church, Lewisville. It is that much more challenging  after a week of camping. Nevertheless, many hands pitched in to make light work of this daunting task. By the time all the gear that was going on board was on board, the 20-foot truck was filled floor-to-ceiling, front to back. It was an incredible job and everyone (adults, at least) gave a grateful sigh when the door came down smoothly and locked in place. One more of the tasks required to bring our Troop home safe and complete, was finished. Whew!

Then it was time to feast on the homemade cinnamon rolls that are Saturday breakfast at Camp Geiger. These are delivered to campsites by one of the camp commissioners so that Troops needn’t delay their departure with a trip to and from the dining hall. Our boys made short work  of those rolls, accompanied with water or Gatorade.

Next, the newly-inducted Braves left to attend an important meeting at Tribal headquarters, while the rest of our Tribesmen retired to a certain spot for our Troop’s own recognition of last night’s achievements. There are several such sites around Camp Geiger and all are beautiful but in differing ways.

At 9:30 AM, each of the 22 troops in attendance for this, the fourth session of the 2015 camping season, gathered, along with the camp staff, at the Handicraft Corral for closing ceremonies. Most of the 483 people in camp this week attended. There, after a few final remarks from the camp Activities Director and Director, the week’s awards are distributed.

Just as in previous years, Troop 451 was well-represented among the session’s honors. The Leatherworking Award went to our own first-year Scout Ethan Gardsbane, while Jace Westfall garnered the Metalworking honors. Recipients of the Mile Swim award from our troop were Steve Kral, Rusty Miller, Samir Rahman, and Darryl and Thomas Sorensen. Congratulations to our physically strong Scouts and Scouters!

As for the Shooting Sports awards, Kevin Lee won the 5-stand Shotgun Powder Puff award. Brady Jones won the ‘Lock of Hair’ award from the COPE Area for his rapid and able ascent of the (big) COPE tower.

Several of our leaders earned their Camp Geiger “Scoutmaster ‘Merit’ Badge”. These were Kevin Bryant, Eric Bussey, Jessica Harris, Kevin Hollenshead, Steve Kral, Darryl Sorensen, and Jay Turner.

The capstone of this week at Geiger was winning the ‘Triple Crown’ of weekly recognition once again. Just as we were last year, this year we were recognized as the “Sharpest Unit”. This came despite much stiffer competition than we faced 12 months ago. Intriguingly (and gratifyingly) we won the “Cleanest Campsite” award. This, despite the somewhat disappointing results we faced in each daily contest. We all should be pleased with our Scouts and they should be proud of themselves. They didn’t slack-off on keeping the campsite ship-shape even when the daily recognition was not forthcoming. They focused on our goal of keeping camp neat and clean, leaving the recognition to look out for itself. For this, they were rewarded with the week’s top honors. Congratulations and thank you Scouts!

Lastly, we were again honored with the “Spirit Award.” Thus, we made a clean sweep of the big three weekly awards. Again, congratulations and thank you to everyone who was able to spend the week at Camp Geiger with our troop. We have set ourselves a very high bar for next year.

This was a fantastic finish to a week filled with fellowship and fun!

AT 10:30 on the nose, our bus appeared. After a role call to account for everyone, we boarded the fancy transportation. Now, we look forward to an uneventful return trip, punctuated by our traditional stop at Pizza Ranch. This all-you-can-eat buffet offers much more than simply pizza, such as fried chicken, vegetables, a salad bar like that at Camp Geiger, and (brace yourself) FROZEN CUSTARD! Doubtless, our Scouts will return home well-fed, if not that well-rested.

It has been a delight offering the many friends and families of Troop 451 a glimpse into our week of Scout camp. It is my fond hope that, for those who have not had the good fortune to share a session at Camp Geiger with the troop, this meagre effort at describing our week may afford them some sense of why we love coming back summer after summer.

Best Wishes!

A Great Night for Mic-O-Say and Troop 451!!

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Friday night was a great night for Troop 451 and the Tribe of Mic-O-Say!

We gathered on  a pleasantly cool July evening to celebrate the accomplishments of our Troop members.

Our Scouts and Scouters who are actively involved in our Troop and the Tribe of Mic-O-Say earned many important advancements. Briefly, advancements include (listed by rank acheived: name - Tribal name:

New Braves:
Brandt Goodrich – Stands for Man
Ryan Gunning – Open Prairie
Ayrton Harried – Spirit Bow
Nick Harris – Crazy Talk
Samir Rahman – Little Man Called Wolf
Jacob Samson – Little Borrowed Image
Thomas Sorensen – Little Red Coyote
Alex Tyson – Stands by Fire

New Honorary Warriors:
Kevin Bryant – Big Coyote Mandan
Dennis Goodrich – Big Stands for Man
Jessica Harris – Ina Crazy Talk
Jay Turner – Big Swift Turn
Hitesh Dave - Big Iron Fights

Braves to Warriors:
Alex Brock – Trade Soldier
Austin Curtis – Heart of Honor
Ian Hollenshead – Little Diving Eye
Stephen Lampe – Little Leads with Arrow
Jay Jay Rawson – Little Spirit Paint
Jack Tyson – Takes Many Feathers
Jace Westfall – Makes the Star

Warriors to Fire Builders:
Alex Adams – Speaks with Man
Cameron Breding – Stone Fort
Ben Bryant – Coyote Mandan
Drew Gonzalez – Little War Flight
Josh Hatter – Black Medicine
Brady Jones – Red Sun Trail
Neetin Khadka – Sacred Mask
Chad Kral – Little Village Blade

Tom Tom Beaters to Runners:
Ellis Covington – Little Iron Wheel
Kaleb DiCiaccio – Little Three Lakes
Wes Williams – Little Proud Flight

White Coup of Service:
Steve Kral – Village Blade
Rusty Miller – Lost Light
Sachem to Medicine Man:
Gary Lueking – Big Spirit Mist

Congratulations to all our Troop 451 Mic-O-Say tribesmen!!

A note on Tribal names: You may have surmised that there is typically a convention to the way these names are given. The first member of a family is given a name based on some distinguishing characteristic or experience. For example, let’s say a Scout is inducted into the Tribe and given the name “Rabbit Bear.” Then, perhaps, his younger brother is inducted ina later year. That Scout would be called Little Rabbit Bear. If their father were next inducted, he would be Big Rabbit Bear. Their mother might be inducted as Ina (mother of) Rabbit Bear. A younger brother still would be Least Rabbit Bear. When a parent is inducted before a son, it is they who receive the unmodified base-name. The first son inducted then becomes “Little”, while a second would be “Least.” It can get very interesting (and a bit confusing) when a grandson is inducted.

While the convention is not absolute, most names bestowed by the Tribe of Mic-O-Say follow these patterns.

After the induction ceremonies, we returned to our campsite, Sioux Lookout, for a bite of pizza and a good night's sleep!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Tapping Fire!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Without a doubt, the high point of a week at Camp Geiger comes on Thursday night. This is the night of the “Tapping Fire”, when new candidates for admission to the tribe of Mic-O-Say are publicly selected. As we went into in greater detail in yesterday’s post, the Tribe is the honor camping society of the Pony Express Council, the Heart of America Council, and Camp Geiger. Again, it is similar to the national scout camping honor society, Order of the Arrow, but Mic-O-Say is unique. For example, the Tribe of Mic-O-Say has greater adult involvement in its leadership.

Thursday can seem to drag by as everyone waits for the Tapping 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. We regathered together at lunchtime for a meal of sliced turkey breast and cheese sandwiches with potato chips and deeply-colored 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 tastier by the robust appetites worked up in the course of moving all around this hilly terrain.

Back in camp, some of our Troop 451 Tribesmen worked on headbands or leggings, while others made essential repairs to back bustles or arm bands. Everyone stayed busy.

Last evening, we were treated to a brief rain shower around dinner time. Fortunately, the rain stopped by the time the evening’s ceremonies began. While current tribesmen busily tended to their various duties, everyone else enjoyed dinner (burgers and fries) and then assembled for the evening’s events. 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.

For first-time campers, and for those who may be tapped, this is an evening of excitement and awe. The troops attending the session assemble in the Handicraft Corral. Wearing their full Scout field uniforms (aka ‘class A’), they form neat lines while awaiting their guides. When the guides arrive, the excitement begins.

Now, Tapping Valley is almost right below the Handicraft Corral but, the night of the Tapping Ceremony, the path from the Corral to the Valley is roundabout and punctuated by several stops where 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. Tribesmen lead the campers across the camp to a glade where a small fire is burning in the gathering dusk. There, an elder of the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, decked in full Native American dress, tells a story about the tribe and its history while his audience listens in rapt silence. Accordingly, this is known as the Story Fire.

From Story Fire, the campers are led back across camp to Tapping Valley. This time of year, dusk is falling then, around 9:00 PM, and the fireflies come out in great abundance. Their surprisingly intense flashes of light, which can be seen from all the way across the Valley,  make the vegetation look alive in the dimming light. They offer a nice counterpoint to the growing blaze at the center of the Valley.

There, tribal Firebuilders have constructed a huge and elaborate bonfire that looks something like a giant wooden tipi built around a ‘log cabin’ type of fire. By the time campers arrive from the Story Fire, the bonfire is already beginning to blaze. Approaching it from a distance in the evening dark, the fire looks like a small torch. Up close, one can see that this session, it reaches almost 16 feet in height! What looked like good-sized sticks from the distance 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. The flames continue to get bigger as the campers move closer. The sounds of tom-toms and native chants grow louder and the silhouettes of the dancers become visible as they move about the fire in a ring.

The campers walk silently, arms crossed, towards the fire. As they near their destination, they are flanked by two long lines of older members of the tribe  all decked-out in their Native American-style finery. While the simplest Honorary Warrior’s costume is nevertheless quite elaborate, many costumes are far more impressive. All have required great effort on the part of their builders, ranging from tens to hundreds of hours.

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 even more hours of painstaking detail. Many Tribesmen elect to sport optional items to dress up their already-fancy garb. The effect is truly stunning.

By the time the campers reach the fire, the blaze grown so large that it lights up the whole of Tapping Valley, casting an orange light on the hillsides and trees and on all the scouts and friends in attendance. In the past, I have described this as a flickering light but so large a fire does not really flicker. Instead, it casts a fairly steady glow all around, despite the intricately dancing flames.

Braves and Warriors of the Tribe have also worked hard constructing their elaborate costumes, based on Native American models. For a new brave, constructing such regalia may take all year. Now, at the Tapping Fire, they get to display their handiwork. All the Braves and Warriors sport breechcloths over their gym shorts, arm bustles adorned with elaborate featherwork, knee bells, moccasins, a rattle, and back bustles. This last item is often spectacular and these large fan-like feather appurtenances accentuate the dancers’ every move.

A back bustle is an array of feathers arranged in a circular fashion and attached, of course, to the dancer’s back. The choice of colors is as varied as the young men who make the bustles. Some are made of unadorned natural feathers, such as the fan feathers from a Tom turkey. Others include many different types of feathers, ranging from primary wing feathers (typically domestic turkey), to hackles and fluffs, which are usually vibrantly colored. Sometimes, the feather tips are further decorated with streamers of horse hair or ribbon. The back bustle is usually the pride of a Brave’s first year with the tribe. In addition to the back bustle, Warriors sport a neck bustle. This is a slightly smaller version of the back bustle and is usually made along the same pattern. However constructed, they all look great!

The leg bells can be a simple leather garter to which sheep bells, hawk bells, beehive bells, sleigh bells, or some combination of these are attached. Some ‘bells’ are made from natural materials, such as deer toes (hooves). Other warriors create Apache leggings. These are essentially knee bells further dressed-up with fur that drapes from the bells to the dancer’s ankles. As a result of wearing the knee bells or Apache leggings, the dancers’ every move can be heard as a jingle-jangle.

In the course of their first year as Braves, the Scouts have learned some of the Tribes dances and their knowledge is reinforced by mandatory dance practices at Camp Geiger. These are held in the later afternoon. Thus, by Thursday night, all the Braves and Warriors in camp are ready to perform together.

The Indian dancing is a fantastic spectacle. The dancers perorm in a ring, circling the enormous, blazing Tapping Fire. The sight of a hundred or more young men in full Native American dance regalia, dancing to the sounds of chanting in native tongues and the rhythmic boom of the tom-tom is truly impressive. (You can view photos here: Hollywood has not offered better entertainment.

All the light comes from flame and the sound, though considerable, is unamplified by any electronic means. Standing in the firelight, immersed in the sights and sounds of the fantastic performance, one imagines that one feels what it must have been like to see such a gathering a century or two before. 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.

Once the dancers leave their ring around the Tapping Fire, tribal leaders briefly address the gathered crowd before the night’s real drama begins. All scouts and leaders who are not members of the tribe of Mic-O-Say are arranged in a large ring around the bonfire. The ring is quite large since there are a couple of hundred such scouts and Scouters at any given summer session.

A group of tribesmen stand on a steep hillside above the valley known (not affectionately) as “Cardiac Hill”. Two lines of young men, holding aloft brightly burning torches, form a gauntlet through which the night’s Tapper dashes. The sight of the blazing torches illuminating the tribesmen in their fascinating regalia again makes one feel a bit as if transported to another time.

A chilling and surprisingly loud ululation rings out and from among the torches, the Tapper emerges at a run. Holding a tomahawk high in one hand and a blazing torch in the other, he races down the steep hillside, through the ring of scouts and all the way around its inside one time. Then begins the selection itself.

No one outside the tribe knows who the candidates for admission are. While candidates are typically third-year Geiger campers who have earned the rank of Star Scout, these qualifications are not hard and fast. Thus, any scout at the fire can hope to be selected. The tension is palpable as the tapper circles the ring once more. This time, he stops in front of a scout and ritually taps him twice on the chest with the tomahawk. Tapped, the scout is now recognized as a candidate for admission into the tribe of Mic-O-Say. The Directing Medicine Man directs them to the West side of the ring where the candidates form in lines. Watching the elated Scouts tear across the ring to join the line of candidates is thrilling.

The drama is repeated again and again by the dancing orange firelight, with the tapper running around the ring, tomahawk in one hand, torch in the other, both held high, until every candidate has been tapped. Adding to the suspense, scouts are not necessarily tapped in the order in which they are standing. Sometimes the tapper passes a candidate two or three times, tapping other candidates around the ring, before finally circling around once more to tap him. Thus, even if the Tapper has run by you several times, you may yet be tapped. The suspense is unmistakable, as is the candidates’ relief and excitement at being selected.

This week, 60 young men were tapped. Surely, some scouts who had hoped to be tapped are disappointed not to be but the candidates, naturally, are thrilled. Many have been looking forward to this moment since the first time they attended a Tapping Ceremony two or three years before. Seven Scouts from our troop were tapped this year.

After a review of the candidates, involving ritualized questions from tribal elders about their fitness and suitability for membership, they are led off to be instructed in what will be expected of them before they are admitted into the tribe. As of that point, their status is that of “Foxman,” a rank before membership. As Foxmen, they are charged with silence and challenged to work to improve the Camp. Then, carefully-trained tribesmen known as “Runners” take charge of the Foxmen and lead them off to do what Foxmen do to demonstrate their worthiness to become part of the Tribe. The dancers then reform a ring around the fire to perform a dance of joy, celebrating the fine new candidates who may become new braves. The whooping and ululations are visceral as they dance about, bathed in the orange firelight. The world then looks black and gold. Again, one gets a sense of what it might have been like to belong to a tribe long ago.

Adults who were not admitted to the Tribe as youths are also eligible for membership. Young men are admitted as Braves while adults are admitted as Honorary Warriors. This is in contrast to the earned rank of Warrior (the hard way) to which braves may advance. Selection of adult candidates recognizes their service to their units and to Scouting. The elaborate, dramatic tapping ritual is reserved for the boys, however. Adult candidates are called out by name rather than by being ceremoniously tapped. This preserves the very special nature of the selection process for the scouts themselves. This year, four adult members of Troop 451 were selected as candidates. Like the younger Foxmen, the adult candidates are given charges and tasks to accomplish as they demonstrate their merit for membership. The adult candidates are likewise led off while the remaining scouts and leaders enjoy the concluding ceremonies of the fire. For the public, that is the end of the ceremony though for the Foxmen, their night is yet young.

Before the Scouts and Scouters in the audience are dismissed, the Chief and Directing Medicine Man address them. New campers are encouraged to return and strive to merit membership in the Tribe. Those who may have hoped to be tapped but were not are reassured that they have a chance next year. Not being tapped this year does not bias their chance of selection next year. There are no 'black marks' against anyone's name.

After 90 years of practice, the Tribe of Mic-O-Say has perfected the process of inducting new members in ceremonies that are dramatic, spectacular and meaningful. Membership remains a major goal for most campers at Geiger and it is a strong motivator for many boys to remain in Scouting and advance in rank. It also keeps older Scouts actively involved with their troops; even after earning their Eagle Scout award, they may still advance within the Tribe as long as they remain in Scouting.

The fact that membership in the Tribe promotes the ideals and goals of Scouting is not by chance. Mic-O-Say is not a group alongside Scouting but, rather, a group within it. It exists to support the principles of Scouting and promote retention and advancement. At this, it has been remarkably successful; members of the Tribe attain Eagle Scout at a rate far exceeding the national average. Mic-O-Say is a great tradition for our troop to be a part of. Again, if you have the opportunity, attending a Tapping Fire is an experience well worth having.

Again, this morning was an extremely early one, as this writer was awakened at 4:22 AM by the sounds of Runners yelling encouragement and instruction at the new Foxmen. Then it was off to the dining hall to help cook breakfast. Like last night, tonight may be a very late one. Therefore, a post recounting Friday’s adventures may not appear right on time, though it will appear. I promise!
Tonight, we will learn which candidates have successfully completed the challenges placed before then and thus have earned membership in the Tribe. We wait with bated breath!