Normally, I would think that a screaming Scout indicates something is wrong. This troop outing taught me something new.
As part of the Wildlife Management program feature, our overnight trip included a service project: Inspecting a problematic segment of riparian fence on the Portneuf River in Idaho. The fence is intended to keep cattle from destroying river bank habitat.
We had agreed to inspect the fence on both sides of the river, but we had no plans of where or how to cross. Having reached the upstream limit of our assigned inspection area, we needed to get to the other side. A wadeable section was soon identified.
The river was about 25 feet wide at that point, with a maximum depth of 12 inches. The gentle current would not sweep anyone off their feet, but I expected the water temperature to be uncomfortably cold.
That expectation turned out to be very accurate.
I removed my boots and socks, zipped off my removable pant legs and tested the route. No problem. "OK guys, come on over!"
By far the most trepidation was exhibited by our youngest troop member. He is a unique boy who is extremely young at heart. Halfway across, he spotted a large, flat-topped rock breaking the surface. here he stopped stayed, uttering no words except a kind of whimper.
I swiftly reentered the river. Another Scout and I each took an arm to guide him the rest of the way. As he leaned forward over the water, I began to wonder if his feet would go into the river or if he would lift his legs up to be carried! Out popped the legs and his now very-cold feet were thrust back into the frigid spring runoff.
I didn't quite have the heart at that moment to point out that we would eventually need to cross the river again before returning to the car.
After lunch, we located the site for our second crossing. I tested the route as before. Again, no problem, maybe 10 inches at the deepest. However, this crossing was about twice the distance of the previous one.
I waded back across. To my surprise, there was my previously stuck boy inching his bare feet toward the river. He took my hand and purposefully walked into the water. The calm lasted about two steps. And the rest of the way, he howled and screamed but kept wading. I soon gave up my efforts to help him choose where place his steps, and instead simply repeated as much encouragement as I could muster. He howled and waded until we reached the other side.
Myriad questions flew through my mind. Have we pushed him too hard? Have I set myself up for a "mother bear" attack at church tomorrow? My answer came less than two minutes later as the now-calm boy sheepishly uttered, "Steve, thanks for helping me cross the river."
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Reflecting on that experience as we finished the route back to the car, we spoke of a recent priesthood lesson wherein we learned that doing difficult things helps increase our spirituality. We also recalled the valiant young men who carried the handcart company across the Sweetwater. Our young friend agreed (if grudgingly) that he had learned he could do something uncomfortable but necessary.
We all need to stretch and grow to obtain our eternal goal. The next time I need to do something uncomfortable but necessary, I'm sure my memory of the river crossing will spur me on. I hope the same is true for our youngest troop member.
Steve Larsen is the Scoutmaster in the Highland 3rd Ward, Pocatello Idaho Highland Stake.