Oh, blow ye winds over the sea,
Oh, blow ye winds over the ocean,
And bring back my bonny to me.
It’s our last day at the Brinton Center. We’re going home. Check-out seems a bit chaotic compared to Philmont, or even summer camp back home. After breakfast, we hang our Crew number in the galley with the help of our Mate. Troop 119 is already there; Julie added the Venturing patch to differentiate us from our sister unit.
And then there was much shopping.
Reaching for the heights
Hanging our Crew number in the galley
Venturing Crew 119
Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!
We pulled out about 9:00, heading up the keys. We had had a long discussion about whether to tour Key West or head for the Everglades. We decided that as far down the Keys as we were, we needed to be in control of our time and heading back north worked out better.
We stopped at Burger King for lunch, then hit a sandals and t-shirt outlet and played tourist. When we finally got back to civilization (if Homestead, Florida, counts), we tanked up at Starbucks. There, we turned off for the ‘Glades. By the time we got there, Jeffrey was half looped on caffeine from his super-gooey choco-shake-latte-whatever with the extra shot of espresso in it.
We piddled around the Visitor Center and got our bearings, then headed on into the Park. Total cost of admission: $10 for the whole van. That made our entire Everglades experience come to $1.25 per person. After some of the pricey features of this trip, this was the best bargain you could find. We wound up hiking the Anhinga Trail, which promised the prospect of gators in the wild. It was only three-quarters of a mile, but it went out on boardwalks into the waterways.
Some of the bugs were just enormous. We also saw cormorants (big deal), and two green-backed herons on their nest. Finally, we started to see gators. In fact, we saw three in all, all relaxing in the shade or under the water. I saw an enormous dragonfly and said a prayer for my friend Beth Ann, who was moving that day to a new parish and for whom dragonflies are very special.
Meet my little friend
He kind of bugs me
On a nest
Gator in the wild
Said a prayer for Beth Ann
The Anhinga was an impressive waterfowl with a pattern on his wings that looked like an embroidered Japanese silk robe. I noticed apples growing over the water. A sign identified them as Pond Apples and warned us that they taste like turpentine. We saw fish and turtles and ravens. One raven stole a turtle egg from its nest under our very eyes. There was also a great blue heron. All in all, it was a very rewarding walk.
After we finished with the Anhinga Trail, we got in the van and drove west for the overlook on the Pa-hay-okee Trail. This was barely a quarter mile long. It stood on a very slight rise, looking out over the marl and river of grass that is the Everglades. It was stunningly empty, and yet also immensely full of life.
River of Grass
Everglades National Park
I’ve mentioned how the more forward boys at Sea Base tried chatting up our girls. Thankfully, our crew has been blissfully free of boy-girl stuff for quite a while. No current dating pairs populate our crew. The girls and boys are comfortable with each other, in a non-romantic sort of way. Still, sometimes things bubble up that surprise one.
Jeffrey, who turns 19 next month, was saying something about taking something neat home from the Pa-hay-okee Trail. Dakota, who just turned 18, was razzing on him, as she did much of the time, but this time it took on an interesting tone. “No, Jeffrey,” she said. ”No touch, no take. Not like me – I’m NOT no-touch-no-take. You can touch me. You can take me home.” When she got no response, she said the whole thing again, verbatim.
I turned around and said to her, “Dakota, THAT was a truly BLATANT flirt.” She blushed and shrugged. Then, turning to the still-clueless Jeffrey, I said, “Man, you are soooo dense.” He looked startled and said, “What?!” And then his jaw dropped. I think he finally realized what had been glaringly obvious to everybody else the whole trip, God love him.
Dakota has a boyfriend at home. I think she was just trying to get a rise out of Jeffrey. But who knows? One thing’s for sure, it’s never dull working with the Venturers.
This pretty much sums up South Florida
Once we left the Everglades, we drove to the airport. The drivers in South Florida, especially on the Turnpike, I found a bit annoying. Not wanting to curse with youth present (or really any time, truth be told), I found myself responding to one driver by invoking the dying curse of Molly Malone and her nine blind illegitimate children to chase him so far over the hills of damnation that God couldn’t find him with a telescope. My passengers were duly impressed.
Everything went well at the airport, except for Zach forgetting to empty his water bottle before going through security. (Yes, he’d been told.) He now joins his brother T.J. in Crew lore (T.J. brought an apple into the country from Scotland and almost brought the entire crew to a standstill trying to re-enter the USA). But other than that, everything went smoothly. Flight to Atlanta. Connection to Indy. Matt and Kara picked us up and drove us home, arriving after midnight.
I suppose some wisdom is in order as I finish up this travelogue. Here are some lessons learned, or maybe just random thoughts I’ve been chewing over.
1. The Out Island Adventure is, day for day, MUCH more physically challenging than Philmont – at least for us old guys. Swimming is a more strenuous, whole-body exercise than hiking, even with backpacks. Also, the days’ activities go on and on at Sea Base, whereas once you reach camp at Philmont, the evening winds itself down. Several advisors were talking about this.
No doubt some Sea Base veterans would find Philmont exhausting. Philmont lasts a lot longer, and that presents its own unique challenges; plus the elevation adds a whole 'nother element. A lot of stamina is required. It’s all in what you’re used to. Still, I think I’d find it easier to climb mountains in full pack than swim and snorkel and paddle several times a day.
2. Teaching leadership is a big part of what we do in Scouting and Venturing. And key to that task is the unique relationship between the adult leader and the youth leader. It’s a mentorship. But when you go to a high adventure base, the first thing you’re told is that you (the adult) are now on vacation. It’s time for the youth to learn to lead themselves.
Which is all right and good, but there is another unique relationship that comes into play here, and that is the relationship between the Advisor and the Ranger (or Mate, in the case of Sea Base). The Ranger/Mate completes your training both in terms of skills and group dynamics. The difference is, at Philmont, your Ranger stays with you only three days out of ten, then turns you loose to find your own way; at Sea Base, your Mate stays with you for the entire experience.
In either case, this can be awkward. The Ranger/Mate is taking over the mentoring position with the Crew and Crew Leader normally occupied by the Advisor. Nevertheless, for the good of the youth, the Advisor has to give way to the staff person in order for the youth to get what they came for. This requires some self-abnegation after the manner of John the Baptist: “I must become less in order that he/she may become greater” – all for the good of those we both love and want to see grow. But there is a catch to that. Replacing an omnicompetent Advisor with an omnicompetent Mate does not necessarily help the Crew leader become more competent.
Our Mate, Sarah, was very good. I would be happy to ask for her again. And I fancy that I’m a good Advisor. We got along well. So I’m not particularly speaking to our situation, except in the case of trying to assert our ordinary routine of devotions and worship; that was made harder because that wasn’t something the Center or our Mate were normally attuned to and I had to insist on it. Other than that, I’m just making a general observation.
I saw Sea Base as a very Mate-centered program. The Mates kept the schedule. The Mates were in charge of the program. Even back at the Brinton Center, the Mates did the programs, the flag ceremonies, even served the food in the galleys. It was kind of like church camp. And that means that your experience is highly dependent on what your Mate is prepared to do. Some of the Mates I met at the end of our experience I don’t think I would have been as comfortable with as I was with Sarah.
Another example of this Mate-centeredness, perhaps: At no time were the adults ever thanked publicly for what they had done to bring the youth to Sea Base or what their contribution to the youth during the program meant. (At Philmont, the Crew Advisor presents the Crew Leader with the flag denoting his or her leadership throughout the trek, and both are publicly thanked and praised for their contributions.) Come to think of it, I don't remember Crew leaders being recognized, either.
I’m not trying to gripe. I had a wonderful time. I’m just saying that managing the relationship between the Mate/Ranger and the Advisor is key to having a successful high adventure experience. Sea Base seems to work very well, but to my eyes there is an imbalance there that ought to be talked about. The Mate should be a coach who not only develops leadership in the Crew Leader, but who helps refine the relationship between Crew Leader and Crew Advisor; merely replacing the Crew Advisor with the Mate is not, in the last analysis, all that helpful to the Crew after they get home.
3. Speaking of our Crew leader, Cora did well in a challenging job. She is very quiet and doesn't like to force her views on people. At times, it was hard for her. She went straight from Sea Base to working at Maumee Reservation. So she should be well and truly stretched as a leader by the end of the summer.
The other Venturers had a lot of fun. They are a good group to work with. Abby had the hardest time; it was her first big trip, and she was sick for much of it. But they're all hyped up to go back some day. So that's a good thing.
I like working with Venturers. I like working with these Venturers. We have a great program in which all kinds of unique personalities can find a place of flourish. Sarah said she'd never had a truly co-ed Venturing crew in her care before. She noticed how different everyone was. "We are a den of uniquity," I replied.
4. We traveled by private car, by airplane, by foot (2 miles’ hiking = 1,527 miles lifetime hiking for me), by light rail, by rental car, by paddle (canoe, kayak, paddleboard), by powerboat, and by swimming. It was something new every day.
5. Finally, I share with you this piece of wisdom from living on Munson Island:
Shoes are required, underwear is optional.
It’s good to be home.