Saturday, 16 October, 2004

Boy Scout Campout

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve Boy Scout camp outs.  The whole Scouting experience gave me the opportunity to learn things that most city boys aren't exposed to.  Along the way I learned a thing or two about responsibility and self reliance, as well as little bits of information about astronomy, radio, woodcraft, model rocketry, bicycling, whittling, fire making, hiking, camping, and many others that I don't remember.  I lost my merit badge sash, one of my most cherished possessions, during a move somewhere along the way.

What makes Scouting work is the involvement of parents and other interested adults who are willing to spend time with the boys and impart their knowledge on young interested minds.  Debra's boss is one such:  father of two boys and assistant Scoutmaster of a local troop.  Knowing that I am involved in amateur radio, he asked me if I could put together a Radio Merit Badge class for his troop's camp out this weekend.  This coincided with Jamboree On the Air, an annual event in which Scouts from all over the world join up with amateur radio enthusiasts and make contact with each other.

I'm not qualified to teach the merit badge class, nor do I have a license to operate on the HF frequencies that JOTA uses, but I put out the call and got help from another ham who is a merit badge counselor.  He packed up his portable station and met us out at the camp site on Saturday morning, where we set up a dipole antenna, went over the merit badge course work, and proceeded to contact stations all over the U.S., as well as in Japan, Australia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Great Britain.  We even heard, but were unable to contact, a station at the Palmer Station in Antarctica.

I camped overnight on Friday, and got to sit around the cracker barrel stargazing.  It was a perfectly clear night, the moon set early, and being 60 miles away from the city reduced the light pollution.  The sky was brilliant!  One of the other adults had a star chart, so we were able to point out the major constellations.  (Which, by the way, are much more difficult to pick out when the sky is full of so many stars.)  Boys being what they are, we got on the topic of interstellar travel.  We had a difficult time impressing on the boys just how far those stars are.  100 million light years doesn't mean much to kids who've been exposed to television and movie portrayals of instantaneous interstellar travel.

The boys had planned an "adults versus kids" game of capture the flag for Saturday night.  Unfortunately, I had to leave Saturday afternoon.  I would have enjoyed teaching those kids a thing or two about that game...