Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wilderness Survival Camp

A week ago tonight (last Thursday), my son, Bryan went on his Wilderness Survival Camp. Bryan was all excited about this, because it would be his chance to be like the boy in the book " My Side of the Mountain", which he had recently re-read (all three volumes, 2-3 times each!) I had helped him assemble all the gear he would need. I had even left an extra sleeping bag for him. With all the rain they had been getting at the camp, I was afraid that his sleeping bag would get too wet and muddy on his survival camp night to use for the last night of the camp on Friday.

Here are the requirements for the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. Bryan had attended classes all week for this merit badge and had passed off all the requirements except:
  • Show that you can find and improvise a natural shelter minimizing the damage to the environment.
  • Spend a night in your shelter.
  • Even with all of his preparation, I was still worried. Bryan has ADHD, along with some learning disabilities. He is an intelligent boy, but he has some impediments in getting information into, and out of his brain. Once the information gets in there, though, it stays. He takes medication for ADHD that lasts until about 7:30 at night. Then he is on his own. One of the outcrops of his ADHD is impulsiveness. The medication helps him keep this impulsiveness under control, but when it wears off in the evening -- sometimes he just does things without thinking. It is during these hours that we have to pay more attention to what he is doing and make sure he doesn't get into trouble. He doesn't intend to do bad things -- he just gets sidetracked easily and finds it hard to stay focused. (Yeah, like me most of the time!) One of our greatest fears was that on his wilderness survival night, that he would wander off out into the forest, and get lost or hurt.

    Our fears were not baseless. Two years ago (2004), a young man named Garrett Bardsley wandered off and got lost only a few miles from where Bryan was Staying. He was never seen, nor heard from again. Despite weeks of searching (Until the snows came that year) no sign of Garrett was ever found. Last year (2005) another young man, Brennan Hawkins wandered off from the exact same area that Bryan was in - The East Fork of the Bear BSA camp. After a massive search, (In which the Bardsley family participated) this young man was found after spending 4 days alone in the wilderness. He managed to stray some 5 miles away from the camp where he was last seen. Fortunately Brennan was all right when they found him - other than being a little cold, and very hungry. Last year a scout left camp in a tiff, and hitchhiked his way home to Salt Lake City. Everyone was searching for him when the call came back to the camp director that he was home, and was all right.

    Of course, the Boy Scouts (BSA) are fully aware of these incidents. As it turned out, for liability reasons, they had their full staff of camp counselors (about 20 of them) staying at the boat house on the lake -- not too far away from where the Wilderness Survival scouts were sleeping. The scouts could call upon the camp counselors, should they run into any trouble. Bryan said that one of the counselors was playing his guitar during the night, and they could hear him from where they were camping. So they weren't too far away. And I'm sure the camp counselors made the rounds every once-in-while throughout the night to make sure everyone was present and accounted for.

    Naturally as parents, we worry about the worst possible things that could happen. I thought of Bryan many times during that day. Several times throughout the day, I offered prayers in Bryan's behalf. I remember looking at the clock at just before 7:00 pm, when the boys were to meet together to begin their Wilderness Survival camp. I called my wife on the cell phone, and asked her to remember Bryan in her prayers, as Bryan was just now about to leave on this activity. As I talked to her, she told me that she had been praying for Bryan all day too! We had hoped and prayed that he would get all the things that he needed for the night, and that he would be safe, and warm, and dry. (I had written out a checklist of things to take with him before I left.) We hoped and prayed that he would not wander off and get lost, or get hurt. We hoped and prayed that the rains my be held back, at least for this one night when he would not have the benefit of his tent to keep him dry.

    I worried about what I would do if something were to happen to him. What would life be like if he were lost. Actually, we have lost him in the past. One time we were at the E-Center for a hockey game. Bryan must have been about 4 or 5 at the time. After the game ended, he jumped out of his seat and ran for the exits - leaving us behind in the dust. The crowds quickly filled the concourses. Bryan was nowhere to be seen. We checked everywhere, up and down two concourse levels calling out his name. We checked the restrooms too - nothing. Finally, we reported our son missing to security. About 5 minutes later, they found him -- down on the main floor, just about to leave the building. I'll never forget how I felt while he was missing. The sheer panic and consuming worry that I felt. What if someone had snatched him away and run off with him? Many prayers were said, and many thanks were given when he was found.

    I wasn't panicked this time, but I was worried. I woke up several times throughout the night, wondering how things were with Bryan. Each time, I'd offer a little prayer in his behalf. Bryan is a sound sleeper. I knew that if once he got to sleep, he would be fine. He would be out for the night.

    Finally, morning came. As it turned out, the camp staff woke up the boys at 6:00 am and got them back to their campsites with their troops. I knew by the then that whatever happened had happened. I learned a long time ago that you can't change history. Either Bryan was safe and well -- or not. I still prayed for Bryan's welfare, but I knew even prayers can't change something that has already happened.

    I got up and got ready for work. Since the phone hadn't rung by the time I left, I assumed all was well. In this case, no news really was good news! At work, kept checking for phone messages all morning long -- in case a call came while I was away from my desk. No calls. Good news. Finally, by noon, I knew that if the camp hadn't called by now, that all was well. I finally relaxed, and offered prayers of thanks.

    Later, after Bryan came home, we would learn that he had a great time on the Wilderness Survival Camp. We learned that it was the only night of the week-long camp that there was no rain (only a few sprinkles). Another scout (not from our troop) offered Bryan a hoodie sweatshirt to wear for the night to keep warm. The other boy said he had more than enough warm clothing, and asked if Bryan would like to use it. He did, and it helped him stay warm during the chilly Uinta Mountain night. Heaven smiled upon Bryan, and had even sent an angel (in a scout uniform!) This night became the highlight of the entire week-long camp for Bryan.

    It is hard for a parent to let go. Especially if your child has some special needs. However, he needs to have some experiences away from home -- without mom or dad micro-managing his activities. Also, he needs to have some fun and adventure in his life too. Sometimes you just have to trust that all will be well. And the truth is, you can't control everything.. Heavenly Father heard and answered our prayers, and all was well.

    Thank you, thank you, my dear Lord.

    1 comment:

    another scouting mother said...

    Glad to see your come thru Wilderness Survival Merit Badge. To keep him interested in the out of doors suggest reading or listening on tape "Hatchet" series by Gary Paulson he will find a kinship to this youngman.