Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ScoutHOOD #2

In a prior post (ScoutHOOD #1 -- Dec 2012) I chronicled a scouting adventure when our troop attended the wake of a scout master from another troop who had been killed in an automobile accident. 

Further scouting adventures that same year would see me at Camp Istrouma in the summer of 1948.   Our troop would join many other troops for a one week camp-out whereupon our objectives included survival training and the pursuit of merit badges.  Nighttime campfire activities always involved the telling of ghosts stories and a review of that day’s activities.   Then we’d all retire to our assigned cabins and cots often continuing the ghost tales into the wee hours. 

The Comite River ran through Camp Istrouma* and was our official swim test venue.  At a specific point in the river we each had to swim across to the other side, thus winning another event toward achieving the coveted “Scout First Class” badge. 

On our last day that year I was determined to pass the swim test.  Having always suffered a fear of water, I had managed to fail 3 prior attempts.  This day would be my last chance.  Elvin McGuire, our troop master, agreed to witness my fourth attempt.  The designated crossing point was in a section of the Comite River that posed the least danger (soft even currents and a minimum of floating hazards).  I was to dive in and simply swim to the other side, a seemingly straightforward and benign task.   

I dove in and began a very smooth and satisfying American crawl toward the other side of the river.  Wow!  This was going to be a piece of cake.  Then suddenly I heard Elvin’s voice: “Jerry, watch out to your left!  I looked left and saw a piece of a tree trunk floating toward me.  At this point I was half-way across.  Fearing the log would hit me, I grabbed it and started floating with it toward a bend in the river some 100 yards further to my right.  Elvin was now running on the bank, keeping up with me saying “Jerry, let go of the log.  It is taking you into a pile of limbs and logs just ahead of you.”  I did let go, but rather than swim to the other side I swam back to the side from which I started.  Elvin held out a branch for me to grab before the current took me into the debris field.   Not wanting to miss my opportunity to pass the swim test, I chose not to grab the branch, but instead continued my strokes until I was safely back on shore.  Out of breath at this point I said to Elvin “Since I was half-way across can you give me credit?  I made it back without any help?  The log wasn’t my fault.”  He contemplated that suggestion for a few seconds, then agreed that I had essentially met the test.  Thank God! 

There was ample daylight left that day and because we were to re-board our buses in about 2 hours, I decided that there was still time to do some bird-watching.  I was an amateur ornithologist and was recognized by Dr Lowry of LSU’s Life Science department as a qualified  “Bird Study” merit badge counselor. 

None of my buddies were willing to join me on this bird-watching jaunt, so I went alone, carrying my notebook and trusty Wollensack 10-power telescope.  After about an hour and spotting and recording some 7 or 8 species, I was ready to return to base camp.  But which way??  Should I go THIS way?  Or should I go ….  Crap!  I was lost and the bus would be leaving soon.  Panic!  I took a wild guess and proceeded in the direction of the sun.  I had no idea if this was the right way.  I simply felt that I had to get moving.  Panic!  More panic!   

I was now realizing that I probably should have gone the other way.  But as I turned to go back the other way, I suddenly heard voices.  Another troop was returning to their base camp along this same trail.  As they passed, I joined ranks with them.  didn't know any of these guys, but that didn't matter to me.  At least I was among humanity once again.  

When asked by that troop’s scout master what I was doing, I admitted that I had gotten lost while bird watching.  I told him I was with troop 78.  When we got back to their base camp, this scout master was able to make contact with my scout master, Elvin, and after some series of communications between both troops I was re-united with my troop 78.   

Elvin said ”Jerry, you’ve been a genuine pain in the ass this trip.”  To which I replied: “But Elvin look (showing him my notebook) I spotted these 2 bird species which I had never seen before.”

*For whatever it is worth my statement regarding the Comite was challenged on Facebook.  Here is that exchange:
  • Bill Lewis Jerry , I think you may have moved the Comite River. The Amite River ran parallel to the Greenwell Springs Road but a fair distance from Camp Istrouma which was on the other side of the road. Sandy Creek did run along the back of the camp and you wereafforded the opportunity to earn a merit badge in Boating in the canoes the camp had there. The only swimming in Sandy Creek occurred if you overturned a canoe. Several years before 1948 we did all our swimming in the concrete pool that was located near the Mess hall. There was a rifle range, an archery range, a craft hut and we slept in one of several clusters of huts lighted by kerosene lamps and each featuring a wooden toilet latrine with a bucket of water outside to wash your hands in. The showers were located in the change room in front of the pool.
  • Jerry Leggio Bill, in 65 years I have to wonder if the geography may have changed. The Comite was indeed our swim test venue. It may have been that we were bused to that particular site from base camp. After 6 1/2 decades memory gets just a little foggy. Thanks for the reminders.
  • Bill Lewis It may have happened ion the comite and your troop may have been camped on the comite for an outing , but I grew up in and on the banks of the comite and it's a long way from Camp Istrouma where I spent summers from 1944 to 1947. I went to Philmont...See More

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