Scouts-L Mail Archive for September of 1998: "THROUGH SCOUTING I FOUND MY LIFEWORK" - essay (long but worth it)
"THROUGH SCOUTING I FOUND MY LIFEWORK" - essay (long but worth it)
Sun, 27 Sep 1998 22:30:17 -0700
The following essay was found in the pamphlet Merit Badge Counseling,
(c) 1957, Boy Scouts of America. It is rather long, but I trust that
you will find it "worth it".
THROUGH SCOUTING I FOUND MY LIFEWORK
By Dr. Paul A. Siple
Deputy to the Director of the U.S. Antarctic Programs.
(Paul Siple was selected as an Eagle Scout to accompany the first Byrd
expedition to the Antarctic in 1928-30. On the second expedition, 1933-
35, he was chief biologist. He was the leader of the camp at the West
Base in 1939-41. During World War II he was advisor to the government
on protective clothing and equipment and later directed the Army
environmental research program.)
What a prophetic pattern of my life a merit badge sash has proved to
be! Needless to say, when I took the merit badges I had small notion of
their future value. But actually the story of my life could almost be
written in terms of some sixty badges.
For example, what a flood of memories the Weather merit badge evokes! I
vividly recall the crude weather station I set up and the exaggerated
sense of importance with which those first painstaking records were
kept. But a deep-seated interest in weather had been aroused, and my
mind leaps on to the many times on the first expedition with Admiral
Byrd when I dashed out to the weather shelter to help take thermometer
readings. I can recall how on the second Byrd expedition I erected the
instruments for the world's most southerly weather station at Advance
Base. The following summer I kept a detailed weather log on a three-
month dog-team journey into the unmapped mountains of Marie Byrd Land.
Memory flows on through years of exploration and study as I majored in
climatology, working toward a doctor's degree in geography.
The scene changes and I recall how I served as adviser to our government
during World War II and later, as a civilian on the General Staff,
directing the U.S. Army's environmental research program.
Of course, there were other factors in this choice of a lifework, but
there is no doubt in my mind that the Weather merit badge was the early
interest that set the direction.
Other merit badges also shaped my career. Seamanship was one. As the
youngest, and presumably the greenest, member of the crew on the first
Byrd expedition, I was assigned the most menial job available -- mess
boy. but the old Irish mate was surprised and pleased to discover that
I knew the rigging and nomenclature of a sailing ship, as well as
compass, knots, and splicing. I was soon teaching ropework to other
members of the crew, and I never went back to the mess boy job. the
Seamanship merit badge meant the difference between being a humble
servant and being recognized as a leader.
What I learned while working on the Taxidermy merit badge helped me earn
a position with the party that stayed od the ice at Little America.
Geologist Dr. Lawrence Gould, second in command in the expedition, had
promised to bring me back specimens of seals and penguins for the
American Museum of Natural History. but there was no naturalist ot do
the work. I got the chance, and it won me a regular berth at the base.
Because of my interest in nature, derived almost entirely from such
merit badges as Astronomy, bird Study, Botany, Conservation, Forestry,
Insect Life, Reptile Study, Weather, and Zoology, I was named as
naturalist on the expedition, since we had no regular biologist. Again
it meant being on the ice instead of aboard ship.
Naturally I majored in biology when I got back to college, and when
Admiral Byrd invited my to accompany the second expedition in 1933 I was
delighted to have him offer me the post of chief biologist. One of the
many thrills I got out of that expedition was leading a party on a dog-
sled trip into unknown country to bring back eighty-six new species of
lichen and several new species of moss. Little did I dream, as I
collected one specimen of lichen and one of moss for my botany merit
badge, that I would one day be collecting scores of unknown species in
the frozen wastes of Antarctica.
There were other merit badges that fitted neatly into the pattern of my
life, too. Surveying provided basic knowledge that was used both in
navigating and in mapping. This interest moved me definitely in the
direction of the geography major that I followed in graduate study.
The Photography merit badge fitted into the same picture. I first used
conventional pictures in mapping some of the territory and later learned
to handle an aerial mapping camera.
The know-how back of the Camping merit badge carried me through the
rugged outdoor life I led in the Antarctic. During and after World War
II, I was able to put my survival know-how to valuable use as I served
first as adviser on protective clothing and later as director of the
Army environmental research program.
Cooking was another merit badge that paid off. Cooking was a major
survival skill on those expeditions. It was more than accident that
frequently I drew the assignment as cook.
Many merit badges contributed basic skills. There was Carpentry, and
the ability to handle simple tools. Firemanship -- in our small self-
contained world on these expeditions a major fire could have been fatal.
First Aid -- how often I needed it.
First Aid To Animals -- which came in handy in working with dog teams.
Machinery; Personal Health; Pioneering, and the skills of primitive
construction; Safety, in a world where any accident might prove serious;
Signalling and the ability to communicate under wilderness conditions.
There were skills that spelled the difference, possibly between survival
and failing to survive, certainly between an enjoyable and successful
venture and frequent misfortune.
Can you see what I mean when I say that my sash seems to me an amazing
prophecy of my life? Again and again, because of these skills I was
prepared to meet a problem or take advantage of an opportunity. The
results of some of these situations have had determining effects on my
Without Seamanship I would have remained a mess boy, staying aboard the
ship. Without Taxidermy and the other nature merit badges I would never
have won a billet on the ice. Without Astronomy, Surveying, and
Photography I probably would never have got into the mapping field and
thence into geography and climatology and eventually a government post
as an authority on survival and adjustment to environment.
Most Scouts may not be as lucky as I was in the dramatic adventure that
fell to my lot. But every Scout faces unexpected problems and
unexpected opportunities, exactly as I did. Problems are barriers only
to those who do not know the answers.
To the boy who came up with the solution, a problem is a stepping stone.
Life for every boy is a series of opportunities, of doors into the
future, doors that open only to the key of preparedness.
The Scout motto, Be Prepared, is more than an idle phrase. Scouting is
the best all-round training I know. Basic Scouting provides the
background, and the merit badge program provides a broad range of
adventure into varied fields of skill and knowledge. Each merit badge
can be a thrilling quest for the Scout who masters it, and each may some
day prove the key to an important door.
Hope you folks enjoyed and can use this.
Chuck Bramlet -- I "used to be" an Antelope! WEM-10-95 Member DNRC
ASM Troop 323, Firebird District, Grand Canyon Council, Phoenix, Az.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of
comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge
and controversy. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.