As a Den Mother I was a Failure,
then came the baptism by fire.
Somehow it didn’t seem right. I was still quite young; my wife and I had young children. So from my perspective it was not seen as an appropriate calling. I just couldn’t see it. Much to my dismay the bishop had called me into his office and asked me to be a den mother. A den MOTHER? I thought den mothers were supposed to be mothers not fathers.
Now I admit that I hadn’t had any Scouting experience, except as a young man, but this calling at the time seemed to me to be a bit out of the ordinary. I wasn’t given much direction or training and I’m afraid I never did get into the spirit of it. I didn’t know much about being a Scout leader and, at that point in my life, being a Scout leader didn’t come to me easily. It just wasn’t my thing.
I muddled through being a den mother for a while working with the Bear Scouts. But I didn’t give it much effort. I wasn’t trained, no one told me how to go about getting trained, and, honestly, I didn’t want to be. I didn’t do a real good job. It seemed to me to be a joke of some kind.
As I look back on that experience now I do so with a nagging regret. I did a terrible job. And as I think about my Scouting career since I always look back at that time in my life and see it as a big black hole. I see it as one of those times when I wish I had done a better job. I certainly wish I had done more. Tried more. I could have been a better influence for good in the lives of those young boys. But back then I didn’t care and I didn’t give it much thought.
A Second Chance
A few years later my wife was called by Jay Bawden, the Scoutmaster at the time, to be chairman of the ward Scout Committee. She enjoyed this calling and was starting to get into it with a lot of enthusiasm. However, we soon had a new Scoutmaster as Jay was called to be in the high council. Four or five months afterward, in the early spring, I was called as the Scoutmaster. Normally when you’re called at that time of year, and you want to take the Scouts to a Scout camp, it’s too late if arrangements are not already made, and they hadn’t been. Every camp gets filled up early. And that was the case that year. The Scout camps were already booked full and we couldn’t get a reservation for our little troop.
So, with my assistant Scout masters and using what little I knew about Scouting, we decided to hike the Old Spanish Trail in Southern Utah. Scouting had been kind of hit and miss with the older boys, the 11, 12, and 13 year olds had been somewhat active, but the older boys had not. So when we decided to go we decided to take the older boys with us if they wanted to go.
To prepare, we did our research and determined how many miles we would need to hike to complete the trail, where the water holes were, what food to take, and where the camping spots were along the trail. This was all new. I’d never done any backpacking like this. The boys had never done any backpacking and we were going to hike 35 miles from just outside of Cedar City down to a place near St. George. You had to take enough water and you had to know where the springs were. After we worked all of that out, we got some parents to take us down and dropped us off out in the desert. In the middle of no-where.
I Started to Feel Like a Failure Again
As we put our backpacks on we took out the map which we hoped would help us get where we wanted to go. It was hot, but for a while things went reasonably well. It wasn’t long, however, before the younger boys were having trouble carrying their heavy backpacks. The weight of everything we were carrying turned out to be more than their young, undeveloped bodies could handle. The older boys, realizing what was happening, stepped up and began carrying their packs for them. Some boys carried two packs. Other boys found poles they could use to hang the younger boys packs on and carried three or four of them between them, like you would game, with one of the older boys on each end of the pole. It was amazing and heart-warming to me to see how these boys were willing to take care of each other; to make sure that everyone was able to continue with our hike. They did it that day and the whole second day out in the sun as well. Those boys from that time on became my heroes.
We hiked about 10 miles that first day in order for us to get to that first spring. It honestly seemed like more than that. We were drinking our water and trying to stay hydrated. By evening time we didn’t know how far we had gone or if we were in the right spot. We were a bit uncertain as to our position on the map and it was devastating. Everyone was thirsty and we weren’t at all sure how close we were to that first spring; or, if we were close at all. We were quite low on water. We hiked around a bit to try to get our bearings, but in the end we still didn’t know exactly where we were or where to find that water. We were in trouble and I felt like I was failing AGAIN. I can still feel the emotions that were so thick it felt like a blanket smothering me. It was a difficult evening. I didn’t want to be a failure again.
As we set up camp we found a gulch that had some standing water in it. We were a bit desperate so we boiled some of that water to drink and to cook our food. That evening we prayed earnestly for direction come morning; that we would find the needed spring. One of the feelings I had, that any Scoutmaster would have, is that I didn’t want to lose anyone to an accident or a mistake I had made. I’ve never been concerned about myself, but I’ve always been concerned about somehow losing a boy. That was my greatest fear as I tried to sleep that night.
The Spirit Stick
The next morning we got up and got our things together. We only had enough water to fix some hot chocolate for everyone. Then we headed out in what we felt was the right direction after having morning prayer. We hadn’t hiked more than 200 yards when we came upon the springs. Talk about excitement. You would have thought it was Christmas morning. We drank all the water we could drink, filled up our canteens, and took off again following the plan we had put together before leaving home. That second day of hiking was about as grueling as the first day. Our destination that day was the Mountain Meadow Massacre monument. Fortunately we arrived there without incident. It was a good hike and we had plenty of water. That evening around the campfire we talked about what had happened at the place where the monument stood and then had a testimony meeting.
Before we had left home I carved out of a stick of wood about 10 inches long what I called a Spirit Stick. It wasn’t anything fancy. As we sat around the campfire sharing the Spirit Stick we bore our testimonies, talked about Scouting and our love for each other. We had a wonderful bonding experience. We talked about the process of taking a rough stick and shaping it into the Spirit Stick something that was far more useful and worthwhile; we compared that to how Heavenly Father molds us, knocking off the rough edges, and making each of us more useful and worthwhile. We passed it around. If someone took it and didn’t want to speak that was okay. He would pass it along to the next boy. Those who did want to share their feelings with us did. It was a memorable experience.
Get Out! A Fire is Coming
The next morning we were getting ready to continue our hike when one of the Scouts came to inform me that one of the boys was having trouble with his foot. I helped him take off his boot and his sock was all bloody from blisters. I asked him why he hadn’t said anything the night before and he said it didn’t hurt. Well I knew otherwise. So I carefully bandaged up his foot and got his boot back on.
Having taken care of the boy’s immediate problem, we put on our packs and started to leave camp. But just as we were heading out a Ranger in one of those nice green trucks came barreling into the area yelling, “Get out! Get out! There is a fire coming up the canyon. You can’t stay here. Get out! Now!” Then he jumped back in his truck and took off down leaving us all standing there.
I turned to the boys and I said “Well, I guess we better get out.”
As we looked down the canyon, the direction we were planning to go, you could see the fire coming and the wind was blowing in our direction. The fire was headed straight for us.
What Do We Do?
Again those fearful emotions concerning the boys began building in me. Tears still come when I think about it. The danger was real and we knew it. We held a quick Scoutmaster conference that included the assistant Scoutmasters, our senior patrol leader, and the other patrol leaders. I asked them the question: “What do we do? That fire is coming toward us and we can’t make a mistake. We’re still 10 or 15 miles from any community. If that fire really gets going and keeps coming our way we’re going to have to drop everything and just run.”
My Senior Patrol leader turned to me and said: “Brother Taylor we need to pray. We need to ask for guidance and protection.”
We all agreed and gathered in a circle and knelt down to pray. Two or three of us prayed. We prayed that we would be safe and that we would know what to do; that none of us would be hurt in any manner and that we might find escape. When we had finished our prayer we all stood up and looked down the canyon to see what the fire was doing and to our amazement it was gone. The wind had suddenly shifted around and was now blowing down the canyon. We were dumbfounded. All you could see was smoke. No fire.
We looked at each other and said: “Now what do we do?” The Senior Patrol Leader said, “Let’s finish our hike just like we planned.”
The feeling quickly became unanimous. If this young man had that kind of faith then so would we. It felt like the right decision.
“The fire looks like it’s out, so let’s go finish our hike like we planned,” everyone said. So we hiked right down through the middle of that canyon, right through the middle of where that fire had been. The ash was about calf high, 10 or 12 inches deep. Some bushes were still burning a little but posed no danger. But we had no problems.
That Night Every Boy Took the Spirit Stick
When we got close to where the fire started, the trees were getting greener, and we could see we were about out of it. Just about then we could hear some ATV’s coming up the trail in our direction. So we stopped there at the edge of the fire, where it was cooler, and waited for them.
Three three-wheelers drove up and stopped, took one look at us, and their mouths dropped open.
They asked us where we had come from and we told them we had just hiked down the canyon.
One of them said, “But there is a fire up there.” I told them.”There’s no fire now. There are a few things still smoldering here and there, but basically the fire is out.”
One of the guys on the three-wheelers told us we looked a mess and that if we would continue another five miles down the canyon we would run into his place. He said he had a large yard where there was water, a fire pit, outdoor showers, and basically everything we would need to camp that night. He said we could make ourselves at home there.
That night we held another campfire. Every boy took the Spirit Stick and expressed love to Heavenly Father for His blessings of safety and for the experience we had shared together. We were grateful to know that Heavenly Father was looking out for us. We all acknowledged Heaven’s help in keeping us out of danger. The Spirit was very strong that night as we sat around the fire together and shared our feelings. We had been blessed. Our testimonies grew; and we bonded with a bond that continues today.
They Treasure Those Experiences Now
That hike and camp, our first together, was the hardest hike we were ever on. Immediately after that camp a number of the boys said they would never go again, but of course, they did. And, now, years later, when I see them, they always say with a big grin: “Brother Taylor, do you remember the Spanish Trail hike? That was a great camp.”
That trip brings back what are now wonderful memories of our time together. They loved that Scouting experience. They didn’t particularly love it at the time. But they treasure those experiences now. Those things we did together, our time together, built for them a foundation of faith and courage that continues to serve them well today. They won’t forget those growing experiences we had together in Scouting. And neither will I.
Joseph Cassell (JC) Taylor: My Introduction to Scouting