One balmy day in the spring of 1986, as I sat in an upstairs office somewhere in Everett, I was being asked interview questions by Tim Nicholson and Jay Miller. They wanted to know why I wished to be on the Fire Mountain camp staff and what Fire Mountain meant to me. At the end of the interview they asked about my tee-shirt size, so I figured I answered the questions to their liking - they never knew what they unleashed as they hired me!
Indeed, what does Fire Mountain and more specifically, camp staff mean to me? In eight years as a staffer, I have started to get a better feel for this, but certainly there will always be more awaiting me at the end of Walker Valley Road. Being a staffer is the best experience a person could have and yet some say it has its down sides -- long workdays often spilling into night, little sleep, and camp food (even the best food can only be eaten so many times!) -- although I'm not convinced. What would Fire Mountain be without these things? They are all important parts of the experience. Many times I have heard complaints regarding the pay-scale. I don't think most people understand the Fire Mountain method of payment. One of my favorite songs has a line, "There's something in a mountain that dollar can't give" and this is so true of being a staffer. How big would the check need to be to compensate for the feeling of watching a Scout's response after teaching him to shoot a bulls-eye, or swamp a canoe and right it with a buddy, or meeting a young Webelos and seeing him grow into a man and a great staffer? Fire Mountain has definitely repaid me more than the check writers in the office could stomach if they really knew.
Being a staffer is about family, camaraderie, and fun (of course everything about Fire Mountain is fun!) After 1986, I swore I'd be on staff for at least a year - seven or eight weeks at a time, and I did accomplish this a few years ago. There is a certain closeness felt between people living, working and breathing Scouting that is not present in other endeavors. Lasting friendships are built, jokes go back and forth (what about the time the canoe that was found in the trading post made its way to the top of the climbing tower!) We have great times like at Christmas in July or Independence Day celebrations, and in the process, lives of boys are changed forever -- mine was, and I still remember many of the staffers who did it.
Everyone has their favorite part of being a staffer, and it usually isn't putting up tents in the rain or assembling patrol boxes, (the most hated job in all of camp, generally falling far behind shower house clean-up). I love leading songs and being in campfire programs. If I had a crowd (well, I must confess, I often do it all alone too), I'd sing, "A Swiss Boy Went Yodeling" and "Mow the Meadow" until I couldn't anymore - and I probably will. And what about "The King, the Queen, and the Gate" or Fire Mountain Staffer" for all-time skits? I loved being in Order of the Arrow ceremonies, hiking and the old Wednesday Hike Days (and the Tuesday night sack lunch preparation parties), flippin' chicken on Fridays, and I loved being Program Director.
As Program Director, I was in a position where my decisions would truly have an impact on every person crossing the Fire Mountain gate - camper and staffer alike. This was a responsibility I took very seriously. I constantly reminded myself of that which was at the root of what I was doing, and this became my mantra to pull me through stressful times such as lost or injured campers and program delays. "We are here for the boys and to strengthen the unit. Everything we do is program. Everything should have an element of fun and we'll secretly change the lives of these young men!" I was there for the boys. EACH one, regardless of age or rank, was very important to me. More than once I interrupted a conversation with an adult leader, much to their chagrin, to deal with the concerns of a Scout. It is at the root of Scouting and the spirit of Fire Mountain to let 11-year olds know they are important people with worthwhile ideas and concerns.
Back in the days when canoe swamping contests were traditional, the fun competition between boys somehow evolved into an event involving staffers and campers. Of course with an age and practice advantage for the staffers, the competition results were always skewed. I often thought about this dominance and if I was there to prove something to the Scouts. O course I wasn't, and when I realized this my attitude quickly changed. I decided one time as I went up against some Scouts who were out to get wet and have a good time, that I would show them. I gave it my all to have a fair bout. Well, as I came up the loser and got wet, the boys and I all had huge smiles on our faces, and laughter as opposed to resentment filled that game.
Fire Mountain always has, and always will hold a special place in my heart. It affected my life in so many ways as a Scout and I have tried to give back just a little of what was given me, which is a theme common to many staffers. But every summer spent immersed in Scouting at Fire Mountain has only given me more. Fire Mountain is a place of giving and everyone who comes into contact with it goes away a little better, and so the cycle continues.....
Operation Flying Start
A tradition at Fire Mountain is that it always rains the first week of the camping season. In 1980, the second year of the Fire Mountain Standard Patrol program, was no exception. True to form, Mother Nature provided an evening deluge of flood proportions. The camp program staff eagerly looked forward to a shortened day with the anticipated cancellation of most evening activities on Monday evening.
During the evening SPL meeting a 12 year old Scout questioned the wisdom of canceling the message relay race in spite of the torrential rain. The race consisted of relaying a verbal message around the lake using runner, canoeists and row boaters (from the patrols).
After several minutes of heated arguments by older, more experienced SPLs the young Senior Patrol Leader spoke his piece. He argued that bailing was important boating skill, that true Olympic runners ran in the rain and that it would be a good experience for patrol members to learn to deal with wet weather in a controlled situation... the game when on as scheduled.
Fire Mountain has always been a very special place for me. When I was younger it was where I'd go in July or August and spend a week with my friends. I always looked forward to swimming, shooting .22's at the rifle range and having a good time at the Sunday and Friday night campfires. Fire Mountain reminded me how to have fun in the outdoors. As I grew a little, I wanted to be part of the staff. Mainly I just hoped to have some fun but, most importantly, I wanted to be like the staff members I had seen when I was a Scout. Staffers like Craig Adams, Pete Brady, Jason Walter, Eric Maynard, Ron Bromley, just to name a few, really impacted me. They demonstrated how to live the Scout Oath and Law. After spending a few summers as a "junior staffer," I applied to work in more leadership oriented roles. During my last three years at Fire Mountain I worked as the assistant water front director, then the water front director and finally as the program director. Each one of these jobs taught me different things about the camp, the Scouts, the staff and myself. Whenever I think of this special place several of us call "our second home," my heart and mind flood with so many special memories. But one in particular rings true to me.
I think we all, as current and former staffers, can relate to this story in one way or another. While working on the water front, there was this one little Scout, he was about 4' 11'' and maybe 90 lbs soaking wet, who was always at the beach five minutes before everyone and he always stayed 5 minutes after the rest of the crowd had left. In fact, this kid was at the beach on the rainiest, coldest days (God knows Fire Mountain has had a few) and he always showed the same zeal as an entire troop at evening swim after a 100 + degree day in July. Well as the week progressed into Tuesday then Wednesday it became clear to me I was going to be "stuck" with this Scout all week; truth be told, I kind of enjoyed having him around. During the previous summer, the water front director and I had a running joke. We dressed up in swim goggles, flippers, shorts and beach towels and became the ultimate crime fighting duo--"Tan Man and Lotion Boy." These caped crusaders made regular appearances in skits, at flags and during campfires. I felt my little water front groupie deserved the right to become one of us, to join our ranks. Before lunch one day I asked this kid if he wanted to be part of the Fire Mountain Staff lunch time skit. Judging by the look on his face, I thought I just gave him a winning lotto ticket. I outfitted him with the necessary wardrobe of swim goggles, oversized beach towel, etc and briefed him on what he was to do. When the skit started, he came parading in the dining hall behind me in front of about 200 screaming Scouts, their leaders and staff. I caught a glimpse of his face during the skit and he seemed a bit overwhelmed. However, I'll never forget how much he smiled when the skit was finished. He was smiling from ear to ear. It was clear he had a truly memorable experience. For about 1 minute, he was on the center stage and, in his eyes, he was really important.
Like all weeks at Fire Mountain go, the staff went home on Saturday for their well deserved 24 furlough (i.e. McDonald's, laundry and a clean, comfortable bed) only to return on Sunday by noon to do it all over again. I was happy, but not surprised, to learn that C.K. Eidem, our program director, had received this kid's application for Staff in Training. He came on for a few weeks during the rest of the summer but I never saw him much. That summer came to a close and I spent the next few summers at Camp before I closed that chapter in my life and moved onto other pursuits. I never really thought much about "Lotion Boy" until August 2004.
I saw a flyer posted at my job for this young man's funeral. After the routine shock and awe we all experience once we learn someone we know has died, I made plans to attend the memorial. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people packed the auditorium at Edmonds Woodway High School. While making my way to a spot in the bleachers the young man's former Scoutmaster greeted me and thanked me for coming. I really felt awkward and did not what to feel or say. I mean, what do you say to that type of greeting? Several speakers addressed the good sized crowd and there was even a slideshow which celebrated this young man's all too short life. Then, the emcee asked the crowd if anyone would like to share any memories. I had a stirring in my gut but I could not bring myself to lift my butt off my chair. The same Scoutmaster, who had greeted me outside about an hour ago, took the podium. It was nice to hear him recount some of the memories he and the other members of the young man's former Boy Scout Troop had with him while he was alive. Then, out of the blue, I heard the Scoutmaster start talking about "Tan Man and Lotion Boy." My heart spilled over as I listened to him share with the crowd about how this silly skit changed the young man's perspective on Boy Scouting and really gave him joy. This brief moment gave the young man a chance to forget about all the medical problems weighing his body down. "He had fun," said the Scoutmaster. After he had finished speaking I decided it was my turn to address the crowd. I won't ever forget the lump in my throat when I stood before them and tried to speak. I just keep thinking it was strange speaking at the memorial service for someone half my age. As I spoke about the young man, I won't ever forget the smile on his father's face. I realized, at that moment, I had done something positive which impacted this young man while he was alive.
I believe this is the type of experience which makes Fire Mountain such a magical place. Anyone who has spent a week, a summer or several summers on the shores of Lake Challenge can relate to this story of "Tenderfoot Timmy" who never stopped following me around and just begged for five minutes of my time. The staff at Fire Mountain has the amazing opportunity to change lives. I had no idea the five minutes I took with Tim Schnurle at the swim beach that day, would make such a profound impact on his summer.
God, Others, Self.
When Being a Staffer Pays Off
One day Charles Grewe, the Aquatics Director was sick and couldn't go to the beaches. I was drafted at the last minute to be the adult leader in charge. Charles had trained his staff well, so I really didn't have to do anything but watch. Later in the day, all the staff were busy doing their jobs, and Charles' beginning swimming class came for their daily lesson.
I was totally unprepared, and all the other Staff were busy. I told them to practice what they were taught the day before. They worked on their kicking and strokes and splashed around for a while, but eventually left early, since I could not really give them a lesson.
One young boy stayed. He was trying all the strokes, but kept sinking. When his head go below the water and he knew he was sinking, he would freak out and stop swimming and try to stand up. He was rated a non-swimmer on Sunday. He took swimming classes each day. This was Wednesday and he still had not made any progress. But he was still trying. I noticed that, swimming on his stomach, he couldn't get air. So I had him try it on his back. This was worse, since when he sank his face was quickly covered with water. But he kept trying. I finally realized that his real problem was that he didn't know how to float.
So, remembering my swim classes, I said, "Let's forget about swimming and work on floating." I spent the rest of the hour working on floating. Then he had to go to another activity, and I did too. I lost track of him. During the campwide games Friday afternoon, I found out that the young man I helped had learned to float, used that to learn to swim, had become a swimmer and got his swimming skill award and part of the merit badge. He even was in the swimming competition.
Everyone was proud of him. Me too.
I have had the rather rare opportunity to see Fire Mountain from three unique perspectives. Firstly from the perspective as a camper. Secondly from the perspective of a Camp Staff member and, thirdly from the perspective of Camp Director. Each of these positions has afforded me the opportunity to spend a great deal of time at camp and to meet many truly wonderful people. And, for me, it is the people who have made my Fire Mountain experiences most memorable.
As a Scout at camp, I was in awe of the Camp Staffers. What cool guys! What a cool job. What great role models. Staffers like Richard Stone, who helped me through the Small Boat Sailing Merit Badge. Knots and all. Every year they'd knock my socks off.
Also, every year, my Scoutmaster, Wayne Mitchell, took our troop to camp. I didn't realize at the time what an effort that was. But, now as an adult,I understand. Each year Mr. Mitchell used 50 percent of his vacation taking us to camp. To him and every other Scoutmaster who has ever taken a troop to camp, I say thank you. You really make a difference.
As a Camp Staffer, I found myself as part of an enthusiastic and highly motivated team. While my peers were bagging groceries or mowing lawns, I found myself planning and organizing activities. A lot of what I am today came from the guidance and leadership given by the Camp Director and Program Director I worked for at camp. People like Dick Weakly, Jack Siegal, Guy Thomas and Mike Armitage. Each of these people gave me and many other camp staff members the opportunity to take on big tasks and the support to accomplish them.
As a Camp Director, camp becomes a really big place. It no longer is bound by the property lines that define it on a map. But, it expands to include hundreds and hundreds of people taking on roles to insure the program continues. To the Scout at camp, these people are all but invisible, but, without them there would not be a camp. People like Gus Ducket, Pete Van Wagnon, Ted Carpenter, Dave Nelson and the many, many more volunteers who work both literally and figuratively in the trenches to maintain and improve the physical plant. Then the Council Board Members who help raise the funds to build and expand the camp. The Council Staff who deal with the day to day activities of taking reservations, processing bills and giving directions to that new Scouting family who is taking their son to Fire Mountain for his first Summer Camp.
Bottom line, when I think back on Fire Mountain I think of all the people who share their hearts and souls to use this chunk of occasionally muddy land to make a positive difference in the lives of kids.
Les Tracy, Camp Ranger, along with his wife, Alice lived at the "end of the road" long before Fire Mountain was a thought. As a matter of fact. Les was born at camp (before it became a camp) and has lived there all his life except for the time he was in the service. Part of the camp property is his former old homestead.
If my memory serves me right, regular running water came into their home, with the Fire Mountain Water System. Les and Alice had a small wood frame house, cattle, chickens, cats and dogs. Alice knew exactly where to find the real blackberries and although she would not reveal there hiding places, she was always willing to share her pies and great cups of coffee. Les and Alice purchased a Mobil Home during his tenure as Camp Ranger. Les is a hard worker and he spent many hours helping to make a great camp.
Les lost Alice a few years ago, but he continues to live at the end of Walker Valley Road. The Council was very lucky when they found and hired Les Tracy, without his expertise many projects would have taken longer and been been harder to do.
In one of the Council's Timber Topic's [Evergreen Area Council Newsletter], a column called "Spotlight On Service" highlighted Les Tracy: Here are a few of the comments made by adults and youths, when asked "What is your best memory of Les or most significant thing you can remember?"
- He's really committed to the boys, the program-and the camp. Always friendly and nice. I remember the stories of the history of the camp while sitting in his living room.
- His friendliness. You can always hear the tractor doing something, somewhere which shows Les is so dedicated to the camp and his attitude rubs off onto others. Alice's too.
- When I was a Scout, I remember Les all over the place, taking care of the camp.
- The coffee and late hours just talking with Les and Alice. We have become great friends.
- I guess it's him riding around on the tractor fixing everything in camp. Too many to chose from.
The feelings expressed were only a few of the many given as to how valuable Les and Alice, his wife, were to the success of Scouting in our Council.