Yawgoog Crime & Punishment

A short troubling incident of crime & punishment.
02 Feb 200902 Feb 2009 finished certainty: emotional importance: 0

For 2 summers, I worked at the Yawgoog Boy Scouts reservation. Yawgoog’s specialty was its summer camp: they were the best summer camp in New England, and likely in the top 5 in the USA (#1 being the challenging Philmont Scout Ranch).

Their summer camp program ran for about 12 weeks and handled hundreds of boys each week. If you were a scout on Long Island, you very much hoped that your troop would plump for Yawgoog, that you would pack up & take the ferry to New London, and spend an week in a rural part of Rhode Island where the sky is so clear that you could read by the starlight. (As opposed to going to the spider- and mosquito-infested summer camp the local Baiting Hollow scout reservation ran.)

The first summer, I stayed on after my troop left. I was 14, and that meant that besides finally being allowed onto the shotgun range, I was also eligible to enroll in the CIT Corps. CIT stands for ‘Counselors in Training’, counselors being the general job title of the scouts who actually lived at and ran Yawgoog.

It was rough being away from home for so long, sharing tents and the campsite with strange boys and marching around—marching loudly in cadence while following orders to sing songs is actually quite difficult and tiring, although there’s an interesting and pleasant feeling when everyone has picked up the rhythm. I knew from previous Yawgoog stays that it would entail many hours of walking, so I had good hiking boots and plenty of fresh socks and I didn’t suffer blisters like some, although events would show that I should have paid more attention to staying hydrated. The first week of training passed swiftly, and the succeeding weeks were spent ‘interning’ at various facilities.

But the pertinent point here is that the CIT Corps was quite strict. The tent inspections were the most rigorous I ever encountered as a scout; the campsite was, by dint of great labor, kept astoundingly immaculate; and our days were, well, regimented. Our marching and drilling were no less strict; they put the fear of god into us, and we never fidgeted at attention.

An anecdote will serves to illustrate.

One lunchtime, we were assembled at ramrod-straight attention in our columns under the burning sun for a quarter of an hour (we had to always get to the dining hall before anyone else). Quite suddenly, my field of vision slowly begins to fill up with a silvery mist, and—still ramrod-straight—I slowly toppled backwards and slammed straight on the ground.

Have you ever carefully balanced a long pole on its end? It wavers upright for a time, but then the quavering passes a point of no return and it painfully & slowly begins to incline to the surface. At the last few moments, it seems to abruptly accelerate with sickening speed and then it impacts. Well, I was that rod—slow at first and then shockingly swift.

You might ask, why did none of my comrades a foot or two away from me catch me? I don’t know. But I bore them no animus, for strangely enough, the impact didn’t hurt at all. My belief is that when the silver fully occluded my vision, I simply passed out and did not wake until the shock of landing. I remember the falling, certainly, but memories are unreliable and it could not have been a long fall. I can only conclude that my brain failed me there (as in so many things). The scoutmaster was solicitous afterwards, but the nub is that it was a rougher experience than your usual Scout camp. I enjoyed it though—I do not regret it.

At another point, a number of the other boys became a bit rambunctious. I no longer particularly blame them, as the older members of the CIT Corp were allowed to become full employees after their 2 or 3 weeks and were making a full salary (~$1200 a summer, a large sum for that age), while we younger members would have to wait until next year.

But the fact remains that they were awfully fond of turning their bug sprays into little blow torches. Are you familiar with the technique? The propellant in most aerosolized bug sprays is a petroleum derivative, and is extremely flammable when turned into a mist and finely mixed into air. So one would hold a lighter to the spray and be rewarded with a cone of flame about a foot long. Quite spectacular, and often abused.

I’ve always felt that in this day and age, if you are going to make an actual wooden fire, you might as well do it the authentic way: starting with piles of tinder and fuel-wood carefully arranged in a fire ladder, one of the classical arrangements like a teepee or log-house, and 1 or 2 matches. If you are willing to cheat with a miniature blowtorch, why didn’t you just bring an electric heater or stove?

Well, the assistant scoutmaster and scoutmaster took a dim view of the spray-torches. Spray-torches were dangerous, and a bad example for the regular scouts. They began to crack down on the torches. The offending parties were spoken to, and the illicit activities sputtered out. But one night, three of them stayed up late and broke out the bug spray. They were caught.

I should mention that everyone in my tent was asleep by this point, so this is all hearsay. Regardless, the next day 2 boys were packing up and leaving with their parents, and the 3rd one was shaken up and wouldn’t speak about it.

I personally believe this to’ve been a small injustice. They had been warned only the once, and the damage to their tent was minimal—a small blackened spot. I didn’t think it warranted being kicked out the CIT Corps forthwith and being sent home. Did they do wrong? Absolutely. As I said, it was a dangerous toy to be playing with, and a punishment was in order. But I meant one like cleaning up after meals for a week or having to sweep the campsite every day. Not what was Yawgoog’s equivalent of capital punishment.