Saturday, July 2, 2016

Saturday - Gone to Texas

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

If Friday is bittersweet at Camp Geiger, Saturday is more so.

Our Scouts deserve recognition and praise for the effective, efficient, and enthusiastic manner in which they struck camp this morning.

Our Scoutmaster, Steve Kral, made the rounds to awaken everyone starting about 5:45 this morning in order that we might have time to get all our gear packed and loaded ahead of the oncoming rain storm. Your correspondent heard no complaints, though many Scouts and Scouters enjoyed but four or five hours sleep owing to the events of the night before. Sleeping bags and pads were rolled up, cots folded, and foot lockers packed in good time, if not, perhaps, with all possible care.

Loading the truck is always a team effort and the need for speed made that fact even more important than it normally is this morning. It seemed that everyone pitched in, from our newest First Years to our longest-serving Scouters. Foot lockers were loaded first, and this is when you see why we specify certain dimensions for these items. They are stacked and stowed quickly and with comparative ease. They are stacked three-high, to help keep the load stable, and on top of these goes the 'soft' stuff: cots, sleeping bags and pads,
folding chairs and suchlike. This continues until everyone's gear is on board. Then comes troop
equipment, such as the poles for the campsite gateway, water coolers, ice chests, lanterns, etcetera.

The truck was loaded in near-record time and properly too. This happened none too soon, by the way. As the last items were stowed, a light drizzle began. Soon, a good steady rain was falling but, with all our gear (except that we carry on the bus with us, such as back packs) safely packed away, the rain was no problem. We gathered under the spacious pavilion to enjoy our breakfast of fresh cinnamon rolls and to wait it out. Cards and conversation passed the time.

A little after 9:00 AM, the rain let up, briefly, and so the Session Three closing ceremonies were to go ahead as scheduled. We gathered in the Handicraft Corral at 9:30 to acknowledge various successes of the week. Each "area' (Handicrafts, Nature, COPE, etcetera) awards recognition to an especially accomplished Scout of the session. For example, Alex Brock was awarded for his outstanding photography.

After the area awards came camp-wide recognition. There are three important awards that, together comprise a kind of Geiger "Triple Crown." They are "Sharpest Unit" for the session, "Cleanest Campsite," and "the Spirit Stick." When the first was announced, we found we had tied with Troop 21 and this was no surprise. Starting at dinner Sunday evening, it was clear that Troop 21 was a very sharp outfit as well. In fact, just as we have something of a tradition of sweeping the 'Big Three' awards, so too does Troop 21. This was the first time we had shared a camping session.

"Cleanest Campsite" was next announced and we were pleased that we had garnered top honors there too. Keeping a clean campsite has positive consequences and recognition is but one of them.

The "Triple Crown"
When the senior Camp Commissioners stepped up to announce the winner of the Spirit competition, the tension, among us, at least, was palpable. The announcement was preceded by a brief encomium to the qualities that made the winning unit stand head and shoulders above the rest of the troops in attendance for the session. We were therefor all the more gratified when "Troop 451" was said aloud.

Once again, the efforts of our Scouts and Scouters earned public acknowledgement in the form of the Geiger Triple Crown. Your correspondent feels honored to be a part of such a fine Scouting unit.

Those ceremonies wrapped up Third Session, 2016.

Then, our bus having arrived, we boarded for the long drive home, made all the less monotonous by a stop at Pizza Ranch in Emporia Kansas for an all-you-can eat buffet lunch.

Now, we are heading down Interstate 35, eagerly awaiting our arrival home.

Thank You!
Your correspondent would like to thank Kevin Lee and Chris Samson for the use of essential equipment, without which, technical difficulties would have made this Blog impossible this week. Jay Turner and Venkat Kodali also offered expert advice during the trouble-shooting phase. Thank you all!

Most of all, thanks go to Steve Kral for his excellent efforts on behalf of our Scouts. A good Scoutmaster, of course, has good Assistant Scoutmasters and so it is with Steve. All of our ASMs also deserve thanks for their hard work in making this summer camp successful. We are fortunate in Troop 451 to have a great crew of leaders delivering the Scouting program to our boys and each of them deserves our gratitude. This correspondent is proud to serve alongside such dedicated, accomplished colleagues in support of their efforts. Rest assured, we will be delighted to welcome you among them.

There is not time or space to thank every 451 Scouter - so many people contribute so much. Yet one person must not be overlooked. Words cannot express our thanks to Julie DiSalvo for eight years and nine camping seasons as our Summer Camp Coordinator. The delights of which you have read this week could not have happened without her dedication. Julie, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart. Your service will be missed but it will be missed with the understanding that you have already given more than we should have asked of anyone. Truly, this summer marks the end of an era for Troop 451. Best wishes in all your future endeavors!

While this post is the last for the Troop 451 2016 Geiger season that is actually written during camp, look here for occasional updates and further focus on topics of interest. This writer is pleased you have taken the time to peruse this humble literary effort and hopes you have enjoyed it.

Until next time, best wishes!

Friday - The End Draws Nigh

Friday, July 1st, 2016

Where has the time gone?

Fridays at  Geiger are bittersweet. The prospect of home and one's own bed is sweet, anticipating leaving camp is not. For those who have not yet had the opportunity to spend a week at this exemplary Boy Scout facility, its appeal is hard to explain. Sleeping accommodations are somewhat Spartan, the food, while decent is nevertheless camp food, and going anywhere involves climbing hills, lots of hills. And yet, these very features make Geiger special.

For example, the prospect of a half-mile walk to get to breakfast might not fill everyone with joy but it is  a commonplace of the Geiger experience. To get from our campsite, Sioux Lookout, to the dining hall, one goes via "Silver Eagle Trail." This broad footpath makes truth of those old stories about walking uphill - both ways!

Uphill, BOTH ways!

From Sioux Lookout, one descends to the nearby Flaming Crow trading post. Just beyond that is the Silver Eagle trailhead. A simple gateway marks this spot. From the trailhead, one descends rather rapidly for the first 50-or-so yards to a level stretch shaded by lovely, stately trees.
Even at noon, the glade is cool and, if the air that day is still, muggy. This shady stretch makes up for the steeper, sunnier slopes ahead. For, to proceed onward to the dining hall, one must needs climb another declivity to reach the level of the dining hall.  The climb on the dining hall end of the trail seems to get steeper and steeper as one rises. Thus, one arrives at one's meal with a feeling of having earned it! Truly, this route embodies "uphill both ways!" It is, notwithstanding, decidedly a part of the charm of summer camp.

Friday morning we dined on biscuits and gravy with hash browns, accompanied by orange-yellow liquid (your correspondent can offer no surer description, not having partaken of this or similar offerings).

The candidates for becoming braves in the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, styled "foxmen", are busily engaged in the various challenges set before them and even the adult candidates are kept busily-employed working on a service project for the camp.

Black Powder
Your correspondent, as mentioned previously, spent the morning assisting at the rifle range since an additional certified Range Safety Officer was wanted. Even when cleaning the rifles (the last step in qualifying for the Rifle Shooting Merit Badge) with the bolts removed, full safety precautions are still in force. There was a camp staffer present to do the actual instruction but a Certified RSO was also needed.

The Area director was otherwise engaged with the boys from the 'buckskin games', teaching them how to load, prime, and fire .50 caliber muzzle-loading rifles. This process involves filling a 30-grain brass 'measure' from a brass flask of powder and pouring that down the barrel. Next, one places a .50 caliber lead ball on a cloth patch over the muzzle (it is a muzzle-loader, after all) and pushes it down the barrel with the short ball starter.
Next, one pushes the ball and patch further into the barrel with the long starter. Then, with the ball and patch well into the barrel, comes time to use the ram rod. And ram one does, firmly tapping the ball, patch, and powder in place. The ramrod itself is aluminum while its business end is brass. Why all this brass? It is not just because it is pretty. Brass, like other copper alloys, does not spark when struck. Thus, it offers a safer alternative to iron or steel when handling flammable or explosive materials.

With the charge loaded, the rifle is ready for the primer. These are cap-and-ball rifles so, rather than being a touch of powder on a pan, the primers are small brass caps filled with a small amount of a concussion-sensitive explosive. Traditionally, mercuric fulminate was used. The percussion cap
is gently fitted over the corresponding nipple on the firing mechanism. The hollow nipple directs the small blast to the powder, which it will then ignite. Now, loaded and primed, all that remains is to aim and fire. As always, once the charge is loaded, the muzzle is kept pointed down range, even before the cap is on. This is just elementary gun safety - treat every firearm as a loaded firearm.

Brant Goodrich and Ian Hollenshead were official participants and both loaded and fired the rifle twice. In view of his evident amusement while observing the proceedings, Ryan Turner was also offered a chance to shoot. As with every
shooter on a BSA range, close supervision of all participants is the rule. Lastly Lynn Hatter and your correspondent took their turns. Running through the loading sequence, one can hardly believe that men used to do this while under fire. Yet, we are told that disciplined, well-trained troops could fire three rounds a minute using muzzle-loading muskets!

Every session of shooting necessitates a session of cleaning and this is all the more true since the propellant used in muzzle-loading firearms is much 'dirtier' than that found in modern cartridges. Interestingly, the preferred cleaner is a 1:1 mixture of Murphy's Oil Soap (the number one choice in America for washing elephants, we are also told) and alcohol. Swabbing the barrel is a vigorous physical experience.

Lunch Friday was chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Again, simple, filling fare. A highlight of the mealtime was our First year Scout Akhil Kodali being selected to play "Peanut butter sticker." This silly test of unnecessary skill involves flicking cards at an open-face peanut butter sandwich. He who sticks the most cards wins.

Showing unexpected expertise at flinging playing cards, Akhil won by the margin of a single card, upholding our troop's "honor"!

Activities resumed after noon as our boys wrapped up their week's Merit Badges. In the lulls between activities, many boys returned to Sioux Lookout for a break. Many boys, having completed their costumery, indulged in card games along the lines of Crazy Eights and such. The powerful fans were greatly appreciated in the warm afternoon.

Friday's dinner is always barbecue al fresco n in Scoutcraft Valley, not far from Tapping Valley. We dined on pulled pork sandwiches, along with potato chips, pickles, and a cookie. Next came time for the closing campfire at the Running Horse Council Ring. After this, many of our Scouts returned to our campsite to begin the necessary business of striking camp. Members of the Tribe of Mic-O-Say repaired to wherever it is they go, doing what tribesmen do on a summer's Friday night.

As for Mic-O-Say, this was a great week for Troop 451. Our three candidates, Alex Jansen, Nick Jansen, and Randy Lee were admitted to the Tribe as braves. Eric Bussey and Kevin Lee were inducted as Honorary Warriors.

Brant Goodrich, Ayrton Harried (who is serving on Camp staff), Nick Harris, Thomas Sorensen, and Alex Tyson advanced from Brave to Warrior (the "hard way" as opposed to those of us who are Honorary Warriors).

We also had Warriors advance to Fire Builder: Alex Brock, Austin Curtis, Ian Hollenshead, Jay Jay Rawson (staffer), and Jack Tyson.

Fire Builders who advanced to Tom Tom Beater were Alex Adams (staffer; advanced 1st Session), Cameron Breding, Ben Bryant, Andrew Gonzalez, Josh Hatter, Brady Jones, Neetin Khadka, Chad Kral (staffer), and Andy Turner (staffer),

We had no Tom Tom Beaters eligible to advance to Runner this year but we had two Runners who advanced to Keeper of the Sacred bundle: Ellis Covington (staffer) and James Koonce (former three-year staffer at Camp Geiger). These last two are Assistant Scoutmasters with Troop 451, having previously been Scouts.

Others among our Scouters also received recognition for their service to Scouting and to the Tribe.

David Gonzalez and Rob Rawson were awarded the coveted White Coup of Service while Mark DiCiaccio and Jim Koonce were elevated to Sachem in the tribe and are thus now members of the Tribal Council. In recognition of his long and outstanding dedication to Scouts, Scouting, and Mic-O-Say, and to the dance team, Richard Covington was made Medicine Man Big Iron Wheel. You may recall that this signal honor was awarded to Gary Lueking last year, recognizing his similar service.

It would not have been possible for so many of our Scouters to attend these momentous ceremonies had it not been for the good offices of Chris Samson, Roger Branson, and Venkat Kodali. These gentlemen stayed in camp to provide the required two-deep leadership that ensures the safety and security of our Scouts. Not all of the boys who attend Camp Geiger with Troop 451 are yet tribesmen. Thus, while the tribesmen go off to do what they do, these Scouts need leaders too. Our sincere thanks go to these dedicated Scouters. Special thanks to tribesman Chris Samson, who forewent the ceremonies so that others, including the listed honorees, might attend, confident that our Scouts were properly served. These Scouters helped oversee our younger Scouts as they began the complex process of striking our week's camp. Thank you for your service to our Scouts!

Tribesmen returned to Sioux Lookout in the wee hours of Saturday morning, greeted by cheese and pepperoni pizza, procured by Janice Hatter and Angie Kral, with help from Jordy Hatter. We thank them for a nice wrap-up to a busy, long, and demanding day.

In all, it was a great week for Troop 451 and the Tribe of Mic-O-Say. With five of our Troop 451 Scouts and one of our Scouters on staff this summer, it has also been a great summer for Camp Geiger!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Thursday - Tapping Fire!

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Tapping Fire

Today’s blog is a bit delayed. Your correspondent was needed elsewhere this AM as the rifle range was short a Range Safety Officer. Mr. Hatter also served in this capacity once he, Mr. Kral, Mr. Bryant, and Mrs. Harris had helped pull pork for our Friday night al fresco barbecue. In the interests of time, some of the descriptions of ceremonies that follows appeared previously.

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

For many, perhaps all, 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 acknowledged. Mic-O-Say 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, to become part of 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 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.

It seemed as though we had barely finished our various morning duties (not true, actually) when it was time to dine once more. Lunch, in a break from tradition, was hamburgers and waffle fries rather than the traditional sliced turkey breast and cheese sandwiches with potato chips and purple bug juice of indeterminate flavor. That menu was reserved for later Thursday. 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 being outdoors all day, moving about this hilly terrain.

After lunch, as typically happens, we had a little while to rest and relax before returning to camp. There, current tribesmen put last-minute touches on their various Mic-O-Say regalia. Some worked on headbands, cuffs, or leggings, while others made essential repairs to back bustles or arm bustles.

Soon, it was time for a dinner of turkey and cheese sandwiches. 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 (your own Troop 451 Scouters, this year) 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 16 feet in height! What one took for good-sized sticks are actually the size of telephone poles and larger. Take a look at the photos of our scouters assembling this burnable behemoth to get an idea of just how large some of the lower logs are. 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 year, the especial honor of lighting the Tapping Fire was bestowed upon a member of Troop 451 who was then a Fire Builder in the Tribe. Josh Hatter climbed the carefully constructed ladder provided by our Scouts and Scouters who built the tapping fire and set it ablaze. 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. This year, Troop 451’s own Nick Harris was the first brave or warrior into the dance circle, leading the rest of his dancing peers. 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 when a dense column of sparks soars 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. This year, Jim Koonce was called upon to speak for the Honorary Warriors of the Tribe.

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

Troop 451 had 3 Scouts tapped and two adults as well. Our candidate Scouts are Alex Jansen, Nick Jansen, and Randy Lee; our adults are Eric Bussey and Kevin Lee. Congratulations!

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