An Ode to Girl Scout Camping

A firepit, which is about as close as I get to ye olde Girl Scout camping these days.
A firepit, which is about as close as I get to ye olde Girl Scout camping these days.

Every year, when the weather veers sharply into what I call “true fall” (after the lazy autumn slow dance known as Indian summer), when you wake to find an entire tree of leaves on the ground, when a chill wind cuts through your coat despite the golden rays surrounding you, when you inhale suddenly to try to catch whatever hint of wood smoke just teased your nose – that’s when I want to go Girl Scout camping.

Most people associate Girl Scouts with those ridiculously addictive cookies (apparently soon to be a General Mills cereal).  But the harsh winter months of sales pitches, careful calculating, and misery-inducing delivering (always in snow) were by far the most unpleasant part of being a Girl Scout.  Certainly because I could never really compete with the other girls in the sales goals, which was very frustrating to top-of-the-class, competitive me.  No one else had to sell cookies with their two little sisters, who inevitably raked in more sales than me because they were so “cute” (if you only knew…).  Also because my dad relished making us do it the “right” way, on foot, by ourselves, through our neighborhood and his workplace.  With us girls (a.k.a., me) completely responsible for calculating totals and counting the money and separating the orders and delivering them in the wagon.

Don’t get me wrong, my dad was very loving!  Just very strict.  And delighted to require us to “build character.”  Props to Dad, he was right to be so hands-off – many of those skills are integral to my life and career today.  But…yeah, Girl Scout cookie season was never my favorite.

Girl Scout camping was.

I’m not quite sure why I enjoyed it so much.  It had all the elements I typically shy away from – biting cold, awkward social situations, and bugs.  And when I say cold, I mean COLD.  Our troop always managed to go camping on the coldest weekend of the fall.  I never had the right clothes or boots.  And we were in these little cabins with absolutely no amenities.  Just wood floors and canvas keeping you from the weather, though not the wind, and squeaky cots with those classic camp “mattresses.”  And as a bonus, it often rained!

And yet.

We sang songs (loudly and giddily).  We hiked (which, as we know, I love).  We made plaster prints of animal tracks (which appealed to the crafter in me, I guess?).  We told stories.  And we sat around campfires.

Oh, the campfires.  My guess is the campfires were the main reason I loved Girl Scout camping so much.  The smell.  THE SMELL.  I love a good fireplace roaring, but it pales in comparison with a real campfire.  I love the way your clothes smell like smoke for days, and the way you have to lean in to get just that hint of warmth.  And cooking over a campfire.  Oh, I have the BEST memories of the food we ate!  Piggies in a blanket, banana boats in tinfoil, and obviously, s’mores.  It was indulgent comfort food at its best – hot off the smoky fire.

I suppose I also liked the challenge of a fire.  Creating something from scratch, having to be patient as it all came together.  The survivalist pioneer in me was just squealing with delight at the practical skills, I’m sure.

Maybe it’s generational?  Apparently fire pits are now all the rage for backyards and colleges and other millennial social scenes.  I helped christen one at my sister’s new house a couple weeks ago, and it was quite fun.  I can totally see the appeal of having a super-safe version of a campfire around which to chat for hours while attempting to roast the perfect golden-brown marshmallow.  But if I’m honest, it just left me craving a good weekend of Girl Scout camping.

I guess it wasn’t miserable enough.

*A huge shout-out to our incredible Girl Scout Troop 589 leaders, Robin Shipman and Patty Kruming.  I give them full credit for all the great memories!*

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