Long range update

Haven’t had much time to do a lengthy update since I started working for the Boy Scouts, a month ago. Yikes. Barely able to keep up on my poetic self-committments — so many pieces of poetry a month, etc. That kind of thing.

So… here’s the basic skinny.

I’m working (officially) at the boy scout camp from 7am to 3pm. In practice I arrive about 7am and work until 4:30 pm. I usually arrrive home around 5:00pm, either here or at ‘s place, and crash into bed sometime between 9:30 and 10:00pm having done nothing more elaborate than make dinner, fuss around online, and read maybe a dozen pages. Sometimes there’s been cuddle time and nookie, but more often than not, there’s not much energy for it.

Despite the energy I’m putting out, for not much salary, I can’t call it a wasted summer. Rather, I’m having a glorious time. I’ve learned a huge amount about teaching. Show, don’t tell is an adage spoken by many writers and writers’ workshop leaders; it applies equally well to teachers. The first day at camp, I led kids into the woods and pointed at trees like white oaks and red oaks — familiar shapes, familiar names. Learning these plants isn’t enough, though. One, the kids know them, at least some of them do — and it doesn’t make sense to them how these things interact. Today I took string with me, and tied a loop with a strand of yellow embroidery floss, and dropped it on the parade field. We found nine plant species on the parade field, and six insect species, inside that loop. Then we took that loop into the woods, and in the same amount of ground, we found twelve plant species. In the grassy verge where the woods and parade ground met, we found twenty-six plant species, and thirty bugs, including three distinct forms of ants. Great gods, what diversity! Few of the plants from the three areas were the same. We’re not sure about the insects. The loop of string made the point about biological diversity a whole lot better than I ever said to them in the earlier weeks, or that the booklet they read before they came (or should have read) could have explained.

I knew very few plants by name when I came to the camp. Now I point at indian pipes, and maple-leafed verbilions, St. John’s Wort and Heal-all. I can show partridgeberry, and I can show you the difference between sumac and spruce. It’s not like my mom’s old joke, that I can’t tell a oak from an oriole. I’ve seen garter snakes, a Northern Water Snake, four different types of frogs, six different toads, a turtle, twenty types of birds. It’s amazing how much living with this stuff every day for a few weeks will do for you.

I’ve also done more things than I would in a typical classroom situation. My Indian Lore classes have been building a house out on the island. It’s about four feet high, and large enough for me and five boys to sit in comfortably. Next year we’re going to build it right, with bark and insulation and all. I’ve made dream catchers, and bow drill fire-starters (ok, that one wasn’t very successful) and medicine badges. I’ve shown Scouts how to put down corn meal when they cut a tree or harvest a plant. (I should talk to C, ‘s roommate about taking her dog’s fur for doing cordage experiments with the Indian Lore group…) Maybe I can get Handicrafts to help me make a big stencil of the Scout fleur-de-lys and lay down a cornmeal rangoli around their council fire for Friday nights… Ok, that’s INDIAN Indian, and not native American, but still demonstrates another way to deepen experience.

I’ve also gotten to use some of FGL’s words — Interaction is more important than existence, I keep saying to my environmental science class. Interaction is more important than existence, I keep saying to my archaeology class. The interaction of plants and animals makes possible the existing environment, I explain. The interaction of objects in an archaeological site explains what the story of a site was.

Then there’s the matter of the Scouts themselves. A number of people have come up to me specifically to say, “We’re not the national organization. We’re not hunting homosexuals and atheists. That’s the main office, in Texas.” Not in so many words perhaps, but that’s the gist of it. I hung up the World Religions flags I got at the Sufi retrreat center, the Abode of the Message, in the Scouts’ Chapel. There have been lots of questions about the flags, and all have been about “what religion does this symbol represent” rather than “what is this idiocy doing in our chapel?” There’s a surprising diversity of political opinion, with conservatives and liberals in clear balance, and willing to talk sanely to each other, rather than shouting each other down. During orientation week, the staff marched out to the flag pole, and saluted the American flag as it went up the pole. I thought at the time, Uh, oh, can I deal with such militarism? Then the kids arrived, and it became clear that they didn’t stand at attention, or even remove their hats, for the flags ceremony — they just sort of slouched less. I’ve used my skills as a versifier to construct a couple of cadences to march out onto the field: one of them celebrates the glories of Tall Socks Tuesday; another champions the good hearts of members of the Order of the Arrow, which is a national public-service organization within the boy scouts (among other things, they’re financing the construction of a handicapped accessible tenting site for handicapped scouts to use.

I would like to take the cook and all her assistants to the Abode of the Message for a weekend, and see how they do cooking. OK, it costs more to do the Abode for a weekend than Scout Camp for a week. But I would like the Scouts to learn about the joys of a rich and varied menu (OK, I’d also like to bring the Rectory kitchen staff to the Abode. But these things take time…)

There are also a couple of people, here and there, who are clearly thinking within a pagan-esque model or world-view, even if they don’t know how to articulate it or speak it. I find that I get a lot of deep respect from the senior staff at the camp, and from the campers I interact with; the junior staff, who don’t have much chance to interact with me, and the scoutmasters, like me — but there’s not so much instant respect, because they don’t have so much involvement with me and my teaching methods. I’m STRONGLY tempted to do a blessing in chapel next week using an invocation of the quarters, but I’m vacillating about it. I know I’m going to do something — I’m just not sure what, yet. We’ll see what I come up with between now and Saturday; I’m not going to do anything without practice.

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