Can you sleep when the wind blows?

Revealing certain Scouting traditions may invite the scorn and disdain of leaders with shared experience who wish to protect those rites of passage for future generations. However, the positive impact of some traditions is too significant to suppress, and similar Scouting programs today no longer include the same activities.  So…what the heck. Here’s an activity that left an indelible mark on my personality, and who I am today.  Read it and reply with condemnation if you must.

Buckskin TLT 1980

The premier youth leadership program in the summer of 1980 was Troop Leader Training, known as “Buckskin” in my council. Topics of this week long course included utilizing the resources of the group, communications, needs and characteristics of groups, managing learning, evaluating, counselling, planning, and controlling.  Heavy stuff for Scouts aged 12 to 17, designed to prepare us for unit and community leadership.  Of course, the textbook sessions were equally balanced with outdoor topics; pioneering projects, campfire programs, a natural history expedition, and an outpost camp.  By the fourth night of camping, cooking and carousing together, the patrols of six Scouts fell into expected teenage routine sans maternal oversight, and campsite conditions began to suffer. Prime opportunity for a lesson, readily administered by the staff guides!

I’m not quite sure when I was shaken awake, but remember struggling out of my mummy bag as our Troop Guide began pointing out every flaw and indiscretion with our sloppy housekeeping.  The pasta and sauce from dinner still adhered to the pot, attracting insects as it aged in the patrol box next to the filthy utensils.  Chipmunks had visited the open trash, feasting on our scraps and leaving trace evidence around the campsite.  The hatchet was improperly stowed, the lashings of our pioneer project were undone, the cook stove was left out, various clothing items were strewn about.  As he highlighted each failure, the Troop Guide directed our correction of it.  Boil water to wash and sanitize the dishes! Carry the trash to the dumpster! Retrieve your clothes! Pick up the camp! Put everything away, and lock up the patrol box!!  No going to sleep until everything’s done!!

We finally satisfied the Troop Guide after enduring at least an hour of cleaning and organizing while half dressed, and half asleep.  Six-thirty reveille came too early, as we stumbled through breakfast and gathered for assembly.  A weary and bloodshot troop we were, standing before the Course Director who overnight seemed to morph into a Patton-like character, ready to pounce on his men. He scanned the patrols with a serious eye, in a prolonged silence that heightened our expectation…and our trepidation. When the moment felt right, he quietly began to tell a story.

A young man approached a rancher about a job, and when asked what skills he had for ranch work, the young man explained that “he could sleep when the wind blew”.  When the rancher asked him what he meant, the man just repeated, “I can sleep when the wind blows”.  Since the rancher was in need of help, he decided to give the hand a chance and hired him.

Things were going well with the hand, until a storm kicked up a few days later. The rancher woke with a start and raced to the bunkhouse to check on the hand, who he found deeply asleep.  No matter what he did, the rancher could not get the hand to wake up. Angrily, the rancher hurried to the barn where he found the horses snugly put away and fed. He found the cattle and pigs in a similar, protected state, and all of the windows were locked tight.  Despite finding everything to be in perfect order, the rancher returned to bed angry that the hand was not awake to check on things.

In the morning, the rancher demanded to know why the hand failed to react to the storm.  The young man politely asked if the rancher had found anything out of order the previous night. After the rancher admitted that everything was as it should be, the hand smiled kindly and said, “I told you.  I can sleep when the wind blows”.

Having drawn closer to the troop while telling the story, the Course Director slowly walked the line of Scouts from left to right, making stern eye contact with every youth willing to hold his gaze.  Returning to the center of the field, he proclaimed with a biblical tone, “Gentlemen.  Last night the wind blew.  How did you sleep?”

Kids, your mom and I have worked hard to ingrain in you a sense of pride in your environment, the discipline to clean up after yourselves, an ability to organize, and a desire to contribute to household chores.  We know from experience that these are habits and character traits that will support your success. Sadly, in this goal we have yet to succeed.  Perhaps it’s time for the wind to blow?

Love, Dad

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