Orienteering Lessons — T.F. Stern

By T.F. Stern,

Wednesday evenings is reserved for the 11 year old Boy Scouts and this week’s lesson was an introduction to Orienteering , a chance to see if these young men understood how to use a compass and work with a map. I figured their imagination would kick in if I told them they were looking for treasure, kind of like finding a pirate’s map tucked away behind an old picture at a garage sale; remarkable how being the oldest 11 year old in the group makes my job so much easier.

Pirate maps are hard to come by so I took some time off in the middle of my work day to swing by the church in order to create an Orienteering course for the boys to use that evening. My sister sent me an inexpensive compass several years ago and all I needed was to map out a path which could be followed using easily identifiable landmarks.

There I was charting how many paces ESE, then 23 paces N and so on, my wandering around both inside the church and along the parking lot next to the softball field when a friend took notice of my activity. We talked about how much the boys would learn from the experience and it was then my friend reminded me of how it helped him when he was in the military.

He’d been involved in scouting early in his life knew how to read contour lines marking elevation changes. The lessons he’d learned as a young man helped him understand map notations and how to measure distances in rough terrain. Orienteering skills have value long after the boys leave the Scouting program.

I too remembered having used some of the same skills while on a combat course in the Army. It was a long time ago and most of the details elude my memory. One lesson learned on the combat Orienteering course came to mind almost immediately; make sure you finish the course.

The team of soldiers I worked with did an excellent job navigating through planned distractions and pitfalls. We spotted all the booby traps, snipers and charted a safe path through hostile territory for our patrol. Our field training officer congratulated us for having accomplished our mission; collecting our clear plastic visors and ear protectors as he directed us to a table where we would be debriefed.

We collectively breathed a healthy sigh of relief as we walked down the path leading to the table; we’d relaxed a little early. One of us caught a trip wire and set off an ear crippling blast that sent us all to the ground. The lesson our field training officer wanted to drive home, “It ain’t over until you’re home sleeping in your own bed”.

The Scouts all laughed as the story was told and they eagerly lined up, map and compass in hand, to find the pirate’s treasure. The directions had been written in paces rather than standard distances so I explained how they would need to figure out how much distance was involved, either walking or running since that would alter things considerably.

It was fun watching them huddle up around the compass holder, some wandering one way while the rest bolted along a different compass heading. This was a team event and they all had to work together, sometimes going back nearly to the starting point to figure our where they’d gone astray.

Eventually they found the “X” on the map; but were confused, “So, where’s the treasure?” A couple of the boys were wandering all over the softball field while others moved a large chunk of tree limb thinking it might be hidden underneath.

One boy asked about the instructions on the map as he read aloud, “Look around for treasure, have key handy. What key?” I smiled and reached into my pocket for my keys. I’d placed an old padlock halfway up the chain link fence for them to find. All the boys were excited at having turned the key in the padlock.

“What kind of treasure do we get?”, a reasonable question.

“Knowledge.” I went on to explain how these skills would be handy later in life. I then explained that I’d brought Tootsie Roll Pops as a special treat; each boy got to finish the evening with a bit of tangible satisfaction.

Are we all not on a similar Orienteering course, this mortal journey taking us through rough terrain with pitfalls and snares? Just when we think we’ve made it, up pops yet another challenge. Many have trouble and wish they had better instructions while others complain the instructions are vague or don’t seem to apply to their specific problems. Some don’t even know where to find these instructions . A few grow complacent as they near what they perceive to be their goal, a Life of Riley free from the rat race where it’s time to relax, enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Many relax too soon, not having learned the lesson, “It ain’t over until you’re home sleeping in your own bed”. The doctrine might be more familiar if I changed the wording a bit, “Endure to the end”. Our compass is the Iron Rod and our map, the scriptures.

We are promised great blessing if we endure to the end , follow the commandments and learn to do things the Lord’s way. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from a simple Boy Scout lesson on Orienteering? You’ll have to get your own Tootsie Roll Pop; mine were spoken for, oh well.

The Moral Lib­eral asso­ciate edi­tor, T.F. Stern, is a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer, self-employed lock­smith, and gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since Jan­u­ary of 2005.

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