April 8, 2012

Men, Boys, and the Wilderness

Four years ago, myself and a group of men started the Desert Men's Council in Tucson, AZ. It's been a fun and challenging adventure that has connected me to really good men, a pack of adolescent males, and occasionally, offered an outing in the desert wilderness or mountains near Tucson. I especially like going camping in the outback with a tribe of males.

I didn't have a father or other men in my life who took me camping. There was one outing when I was a Cub Scout that is still alive in my memory. We only went as far as a town park on the edge of the city where you could still hear traffic. But as a first timer, playing with other guys in the woods, grilling a hot dog outside, sitting around a fire under the stars, and sleeping in a smelly old army tent, all bordered on magical. I can still smell that old tent canvas. I was allowed to sharpen a stick with a real buck knife, and I learned how to start a campfire, put up a tent, and laugh when someone farted at the fire. All those memories come rushing back and the potency of that experience comes back to me every time I go into the wilderness with men and young males.

This last weekend, the men and young guys of the Desert Men's Council held their annual Council Rocks Campout (photos at this link). There were the normal pre-departure challenges to arrange transportation for our food, water, all the campers and their gear. It was sweet to watch the mom's hanging around and seeming to not want to let go of their sons. Finally, after counting off around the circle, a pack of twenty-four males, ages ten to sixty-eight, and a few dogs, loaded into cars and drove over pavement, dirt, and then finally a 4-wheel drive road to get to our campsite in the Dragoon Mountains near Tombstone, AZ.

It was a perfect young guy location. Not a house in sight, in the foothills of the mountains, huge boulders to climb on, and wall paintings and petroglyphs that pre-date the Apache Indians who used the place as a meeting ground.

On arrival we set up a first class camp by dividing into teams. Fire team, kitchen team, and even a team for digging the latrine! With camp prepared, we gathered in a circle to make sure everyone was accounted for (again counting off). We discussed how we were going to approach the challenging afternoon hike, covering the critical importance of hydration in the desert, what to do if we encountered a mountain lion (unlikely), snakes (very possible), and how to travel as a band of brothers, making sure everyone was OK, and that we'd arrive back together safely.

Before heading out we made sure water bottles were filled and then, just before departure, we all gathered around the latrine. It was a first class setup, with a long trench, privacy tarp, pile of dirt and shovel, a great view, and even a bag for used TP to honor our "no trace" intentions. The idea of using the latrine at all was a major shock for the city kids with us. Until that moment, the notion really hadn't crossed their minds. There was some basic training, lots of questions, and wary glances as they considered the possibility of this new experience. I'm sure that for more than one of them, that was the moment they decided they could "hold it" for two days.

I always like seeing a line of men and boys waling on a trail on the way to face a challenge. It's an ancient scene wired into the male DNA and somehow just feels right. As you can see in the photos, it was a challenging hike of about 3 hours in temps that approached 90 degrees. There was rough rock, mini-canyons to negotiate, and plenty of prickly desert plants to get the attention of those who went astray. The tired tribe returned to camp with a rock and cactus bites, great memories, some awesome shots for their Facebook pages, and serious bragging rights.

The fire team started the dinner fire, and the kitchen team assembled the meal. Finally, good food was shared, and the campfire conversations started. Jokes were made, stories from the hike were told, people were honored, and serious topics about male lives were also unfolded. In the process, new friends were made and our male community grew tighter. Tired bodies hit the sleeping bags that night. Most slept out under the stars with such deep quiet you could, at times, hear your heartbeat in your ears.

Dawn, 9 AM for most of the young guys, began an easy move into the day. A breakfast fire and the smell of food being prepared got even the sleepiest dudes out of their bags. Breakfast, and then a morning circle around the fire, gave each male time to check in with what they were feeling, what they liked the best, and what lesson they learned on the experience they would take back to their lives at home. It was a gentle time, where everyone had a chance to be seen, heard, and honored.

I know this is a long story. But if you got this far, it's because there is something in the story that speaks to you. Speaks to a part of you that knows this story, or maybe doesn't and possibly hungers for this experience still. You can believe the men who put on the event are just like you. We all had vastly different skill sets, none of us could have done it on our own, but together, we figured out the details and filled in the blanks to make it all happen. You could too.

If you and some of you male friends were to gather and begin to remember the camping you used to do, or wanted to do, remember leaving the women and children to head out in a pack, the time spent around the fires, the beauty of the night skies, and the "guy conversations" that always occur, you might just stir up enough interest to bring those gifts to some young males in your world. It really doesn't have to be far, elegant (think hot dogs), or in any way perfect. But you can be sure that if you have some young guys along, it just might be life-changing memorable for them. And it will be very good for you're masculine spirit too.

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  1. BRIAN M.2:19 PM

    Another ripper of a yarn, Earl. I enjoyed reading it, identified with bits as you expected many readers would, and sent it on to my son-in-law who already enjoys bush camping with his 5 YO son and family.

    BRIAN M.
    Melbourne, Australia

  2. Great adventure, Earl. It sounds like a wonderful learning and bonding experience?



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