Camp Orr is a high adventure base for Boy Scouts located along the Buffalo National River in north central Arkansas, and it’s the closest place to home I’ve ever been.
There is something about being in nature that feels like home. Something about Camp Orr makes me feel like I’ve always been there. I believe this has to do with image and reflection; that is, the beauty of Camp Orr is a reflection of true beauty. It was a blessing to be there as the climbing director, and it’s a blessing to remember being there.
“Blessing” is a mysterious thing. It seems that we use that word all of the time, but what does it really mean? In her novel, ‘Gilead’, Marilynne Robinson’s main character, John Ames, reflects on baptism. He says, “There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that.” Baptism doesn’t enhance sacredness, but acknowledges it. Baptism is the primary reality in blessing. This is one of the most insightful things I’ve ever read about baptism and blessing.
In other parts of her book, Robinson suggests blessings come to us in retrospect, in memory. Scouting has been an immense blessing for me. I remember rolling boulders down the side of a mountain into the White River as a scout on one of our monthly camping trips. We would find a boulder about the size of the six or seven of us and then pile up behind it and push until it started rolling down the mountain. It would wreck its way down, leaving anything in its path shattered, and finally crash into the river with a loud splash. For me, the most exciting part was watching it catch another rock or log on the way down and ramp upward several feet into the air. The adults could hear our roaring and cheering from the campsite below. This isn’t a thing I should (not that I wouldn’t) encourage scouts to do, but we were young men being wild, as we should.
I remember climbing Baldy Mountain at Philmont Scout Ranch and breaking the peak 12,441 feet up after a long day hike. A cool breeze washed over my face when I became taller than the mountain. We had climbed the south face and were looking over the north face across a plain that prefaced the most southern end of the Rocky Mountains. I remember those mountains resonating, just being big and beautiful in the sunlight and clouds. I felt so small. I have trouble remembering images, but I remember that now as if I am viewing a photograph. I’ve heard people say God speaks to them. I’m not sure what they mean by that sometimes, but God speaks to me through creation. He has done so numerous times through thunder and lightning. He did as we rolled boulders down that hill and He did at Camp Orr this summer.
But in retrospect, the greatest blessings I received at camp this summer came through other people. We are most greatly blessed by blessing others. One of my biggest goals for the climbing program this summer was for the scouts to have as much fun as humanly possible. I wanted them to get “the bug” so that when they are old enough to climb on their own outside of Boy Scouts, they will. One young man in our program this summer walked up to me and asked: “Paul, do you think I have what it takes to be a good climber?” It was a blessing and an honor to answer a question that contained the words, “do I have what it takes” from a young man like him. It’s the kind of question I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to answer, and one I didn’t think I would be asked, until I’m a father. “Absolutely,” was my reply. And I meant it.