Arriving at age twelve was momentous. It was capped by a surprise party that was not just among friends and family, but in an auditorium in front of cub scout buddies receiving awards, parents, and friends and family. I was to receive the webelos (we be loyal scouts) badge, an honor at the time since it meant having earned all the previous badges and levels of cub scouting and signaled entry into the next stage of my life, the boy scouts.
Experiencing the outdoors, earning different skills of merit badges leading to Eagle Scout, that was scouting. But also, spending time at Boy Haven summer camp, hiking, swimming, helping in the kitchen, washing dishes after each meal, giving my finger a nasty cut, and whistling at the girls from a nearby camp who drove by in vans on Sunday morning when we guys were hiking to church, that was scouting too. The highlight at Boy Haven though was being selected to the secret Order of the Arrow.
Every two weeks, several boys were voted by ballot to be outstanding scouts. No one knew of the voting outcome until that night when scouts were aligned in front of a blazing camp fire, and an older scout dressed in breechclout and one or two feathers tied to his hair - typical warrior/brave attire – jogged the line in his moccasins, once, than on the second pass stopped abruptly in front of a chosen candidate, and swept his hand down hard on the candidate’s shoulder. Initiates were then led to a select area outdoors, where instructions were given. There would be no talking for the rest of the night and the following two days. Hard labor was the order of the day, with drinking water only until the evening meal of the third night, when they we were accepted as new members of the Order of the Arrow.
The imprint of scouting lies deep, as if ingrained and connected to an evolutionary process stretching far back in time. There’s a need to take back the hold of land, of air, of the water and relationships to all living and non-living things and to cultivate these connections that so nurtures our humanity. When waves of people disrupted by disorder, separation, and self-serving agendas are looking for guidance, for trustworthy sources, President Obama points to the importance indigenous tribes play as vital allies in re-establishing community, cohesion, and above all closeness with nature.
Scouting, energy giving as it may have been in my day, may not be the leading driver of this needed change. Contemporaries - understandably - shy away from, or out-rightly reject organizations. They are felt to taint integrity or sincerity of purpose. Perhaps what is needed is a kind of Order of the Arrow, a society of like-minded individuals counseled by elders and respected members of established councils that operate on principles tested by generations of hard won experience. Nothing, no one, is excluded. Living and non-living things, Order of the Arrow and non-members alike are included.