I was born to be a scout. I remember Cub Scouts, Webelos, and Boys Scouts and I loved them all! Despite the pitfalls and fights, peed sleeping bags, and fire-burnt chili still in the can, I had fun. As the youngest in my family of nine, scouting was always a release for me. It was the sole activity beyond the reach of my stringently straight-laced parents and the hawkish eyes of my older brothers and sisters. In scouts, I could be king of the hill and the 12-year-olds; scolding and overbearance could never oppress. But then it all changed. My father became head scout master. Pangs for guilty scouting pleasures would now be choked by parental-induced-nausea. As scouting rapidly morphed from lighthearted to regimented, all future joys were to be eternally pricked by the presence of my briery father. My scouting lifestyle now faced stark setbacks as responsibility dethroned fun in an unlawful coup d’état. I hated my dad!
As the superlative fog of adolescence has since lifted, I have come to see this season of my life as one forcefully devoted to character building. Many hard lessons were learned during this time with my father. The best of these came at the end of all scout camping trips.
After all the hiking, the mess kit meals, MREs and fishing concluded on the final day of each scouting trip, it was time to pack up and head for home. ‘Just packing up’ was never really an option for my father. In reference to the campgrounds, he would incessantly belch out his pithy one-liner, “Leave it better than you found it,” as he packed his gear. And when my father said “Leave it better than you found it,” he meant it! Like a junior search ‘n rescue squad in search of lost city slickers, the scouts lead by my stubborn father, would scan the woods until every boy had found at least one thing foreign to the forest. Most often this demand was met with a stray beer can, a Dorito’s bag, or an abominable piece of crusty toilet paper. This was definitely the last thing me or my friends wanted after an exciting weekend of outdoor adventures, but because of the encouragement of an eager leader, we did it. We left that place better than we had found it.
Today the lesson, “Leave it better than you found it,” means a great deal more to me than it did then. As a direct result of boyish pleasure pursuits our world will indeed face bleak times ahead. Whether it is the war in Iraq, the financial bailout, divorce rates, or pollution we see littered campgrounds with every glance. As it was with the campgrounds of my childhood, these problems were not caused by you or me, but rather by an irresponsible few who came before us. In order to move forward today’s generation must accept responsibility. This is our earth and our nation, filled with our homes and our families. We owe the responsibility to each other and to our progeny, to leave it better than we found it. We can do it! This I believe.
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