“You cannot stay on the summit forever”

As we are in the Order of the Arrow’s Centennial and I prepare to head to my first OA event in years next weekend at the W3N Conclave.  I wanted to post my 2005 Conclave Speech (at the time it was Section W3B).  I delivered this speech at my home Section’s conclave as the sitting Western Region Chief.


I attended my first Conclave in 1999 and from that moment onward embarked on a journey that now has me standing at a great personal peak – serving as your Western Region Chief.  I’ve been to a lot of different places this year.  Although in each city I made new and experienced great events, it feels good to be back home, here in Section W3B.  If this were any other section at any other conclave I would have looked at our theme “How Uncas Got His Arrow Back” and tell some story about how either I or someone I know lost the arrow once.  I would then ask you to think if you know anyone who has lost their arrow.  If it was you I would that this conclave let you find it again, if a friend I would challenge you to help him find his arrow.   But, this isn’t any old section, its Section W3B and because of that my message this evening will be a little different.

There is a quote by Rene Daumal, “You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.  There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” 

Six years ago W3B showed me the trail to the peak I have now reached.  The quote made a lot of sense to me when I first heard it at Northern Tier this summer.  I also believe that those who have seen from the peak have the responsibility to share their sites with those who haven’t.  Dr. Goodman asked for Brotherhood, in a day when there was too much hate in the world.  This summer at OA Voyage I experienced true brotherhood when as darkness and rain fell upon my crew still traveling down the river, one crew member, Andrew, began the quick dive into serious hypothermia.  Now Andrew is from New Jersey and had managed to push everyone’s buttons throughout the week but as he became unresponsive and it became clear he was in serious trouble every member on the crew came together.  We set up tents quickly in the pouring rain, raised a dining fly and got warm food and water ready.  In the late hours of that night we became brothers, bound together in a purpose to save another. The Brotherhood Urner talked about thrives today in the OA.

Our founder also asked for Cheerfulness, in a day when the pessimists had the floor.  Earlier this year the waters of the Delaware river rose above its banks.  Treasure Island, the birthplace of our Order was flooded.  The camp was unable to operate this summer.  It looks as though the events planned to celebrate the 90th Anniversary  of the OA would be diminished.  Yes, as July 16th came closer the Arrowmen of Unami Lodge pulled together to celebrate their rich past.  As I took the boat from the shore to the island, every face had a smile.  The members of Unami present were cheerful even with the knowledge that it would be at least another year before their beloved camp became operational.  They look to the future with optimism that the came will rise to its great reputation once again.  The Cheerfulness asked for by the original member of Unami lodge is still clearly strong today not only in his lodge but throughout the nation.

Finally, Goodmand asked for Service, when millions were acquiring the habit of getting or grasping rather than giving. In the midst of the humidity and under the Virginia sun an Arrowman rose to perform an act of service rarely matched in selflessness.  As preparations for the opening Jamboree arena show turned to chaos, heat exhaustion and dehydration led to hundreds of scouts and scouters passing out or requiring medical attention.  I watched as a grand event became a war zone.  Troops and staff were told the show was cancelled and to head back to camp.  OA Service Corps member John McCourt from New York noticed a young that was too tired and dehydrated to make the trip back on his own.  John lifted the scout to his back and carried him to his camp.  The approaching thunder storm and the fact the scout’s camp was a little less than a mile in the opposite direction of the Service Corps headquarters did not deter him from service. John’s actions assured me that the spirit of service is still alive in the OA.  Watching as the John adn the scout bumped into each other at The Outdoor Adventure Place assured me that the service’s impact is greater than we can imagine.

Those who rise to the tops of mountains must acknowledge two groups of people.  The first group are those who traveled the trail before.  For me these people included Arrowmen like Mike Moss, Matt Griffis, and even Chris “doofus” Schoenthal.  These individuals must be thanks for the trail to the easier and less frightening because of them.  The second group is those who continue to push you up the hill, walking with or cheering from a distance.  Arromwen like Travis Wicks and Kevin Fromherz, my father, my advisers Larry, Andy, Dick, and Steve as well as my family.

Arrowmen are products of their lodge, they push, cheer, and lead the way – thank you Tannu Lodge.  Damual never said why one must come down from the peak and I believe no one ever would, except for the knowledge that others will ascend and see the view from up high.  Finally this evening, I know what is below and what is above. I have climbed, I have seen.  I will descend and see no longer, but I will have seen.  There will be a way of conducting myself by a memory of what I saw higher up.  When I can no longer see I will at least still know and for that my brothers, I thank you”


For Official Use Only

Apparently my car has graduated

A photo posted by nevadaross (@nevadaross) on


I travel a lot for work.  Luckily, I get to drive a work car when the travel is far enough so I don’t have to put the miles on my own car.   When I worked down in Pahrump I had a car assigned just to me.  A gold Ford Fusion that was perfect for zipping up and down US95.  Once I transferred up to Reno, no more assigned car so I get the luck of the draw at fleet services.  There are times when I’ve lucked out and gotten an upgrade and there have been times when I really get the short end of the stick.

Pure modern class. #okmaybenot #so90s #wood

A photo posted by nevadaross (@nevadaross) on


There was the time I ended up with a super huge truck complete with a caged camper shell thingy (technical term) to head to Hawthorne and I’ve had a time ward into a brand new Impala that felt just like I was back in the 90s.  So here is my mostly complete ranking of cars  from best to worst assigned based almost entirely on ease and comfort of drive (a USB plug for music is always a plus):

Toyota Camry (hybrid or not)

Ford Fusion (nice all around, a little light when passing trucks)

Ford Focus (despite the graduation cap, one of the better drives)

Chevy Cruze (best of the smaller sedans but not too spectacular)

Chrysler 200 (what’s with the weird clock in the middle)

Toyota Prius (spaceshipesque)

Toyota Rav4 (gas guzzler)

Ford Expedition (basically a tank)

Chevy Impala (flashback to fuzzy seats and digital text)

Chevy Malibu (modern but not fun)

Ford Fiesta (basically going to die on the highway)

Huge Ford Truck with cage camper shell (was feeling so butch when I could keep it in the lane)

If I’ve forgotten one then it certainly wasn’t memorable.

The End of the BSA’s Anti-Gay Policies is Near

The true beginning of the end of the BSA’s prohibition on gay leaders occurred in December of 2010 when Congress voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  In the summer and fall of the next year with certifications from President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially dead and the beginning of the downfall of the BSA’s anti-policies.  See, the U.S. Military was the last mainstream widespread ally of the ban on gay membership.  The BSA could simply point to our armed forces and say “you aren’t calling them bigoted too are you” or “if it works for our military it works for us”  That ended with the fall of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Shortly after that the pressure began to build on the organization in a way it hadn’t before.  There was pressure from big donors and big partners to drop the policy.  More and more corporate donors began pulling their financial support, the policy was now costing them money.  With the launch of Scouts for Equality, individuals both inside and out were given an organizing arm, prepared to pounce on the BSA when stories of moms getting banned or kids getting kicked out popped up across the country.  No longer was the pressure from just liberal interest groups but mainstream America.  The Boy Scouts of America were no longer representative of the mood of the country it claimed to represent.

In 2013 the organization announced it would be looking into it’s policy and it looked like the ban would once and for all be lifted. It seemed the most likely compromise would be one where each troop’s chartering organization could set its membership standards.  This was the change so many had been waiting for, not an outright ban on discrimination but no requirement of it either.  A conservative LDS Troop could still ban gay youth and leaders while a more liberal church could allow whoever it wanted.  The organization did a survey and adjusted it’s policy.  In 2013 it announced it would allow gay youth but keep the ban on gay leaders, a compromise so absolutely lacking in merit and values.  It appeared to be just a compromise to appease the corporate backers and the right-wing supporters at the same time.  The official message from the BSA was tone deaf and asinine, stating that gay youth should be allowed to join the organization because they were youth after all but by the time they reach their 18th birthday they better wise up and choose to be straight.  The other underlying message remained that the BSA still considered gay adults somehow dangerous.  The position was almost as repulsive as the original ban itself.  The bright side of the decision is that it completely eroded the organization using Dale v. BSA as a shield; as I previously wrote, the factual underpinning of that case were undone with the policy shift. 

If the BSA thought the compromise would get the public off its back, it was completely wrong.  More negative stories hit the press as parents continued to get kicked out of the organization, the most sympathetic story lines involving lesbian mothers who just wanted to be a part of their sons’ lives.  I joking wrote to some friends that the BSA, an organization that loves its ceremonies, would need an Expulsion Ceremony, to discard those out gay youth upon their 18th birthday.  Sure enough, as gay youth were summarily kicked out for doing nothing other than turning 18, the American people once again shook their heads in disbelief.  How could such an American institution be so tone deaf?  One major tipping was recently when the State of New York announced it would be investigating the Boy Scouts for violating ant-discrimination hiring policies and the Greater New York Council announced it would be hiring an openly gay adult staffer for camp.  Just two years after the great “compromise” solution of 2013, it’s clear that the policy did not help fix any of the problems the old ban invited.

It was only a matter of time that the entire ban would have to be lifted.  I had some beers with a friend of mine last summer who had two about-to-be scouting aged.  He had the conundrum of whether or not to sign his kids up for an organization that he loved but could no longer support.  I told him to put his kids in, that the good of the organization outweighed the current bigotry (a bigotry largely standing alone in policy and not in the hearts and minds of the organization’s members) and that my guess is that the ban on adults wouldn’t last more than five years.  Still, I was surprised when Robert Gates, Scouting’s current President, announced at the annual meeting last week that the ban on adults was no longer sustainable.

Nothing at the National Meeting is unscripted so those in the know, knew the speech was coming.  You have to understand that the National Meeting is attended by those most dedicated volunteers and professionals and the members who attended were likely the very ones who voted for the compromise plan a few years ago.  So his disappointing wording that we must live in the world around us and not the world we wish we lived in (insinuating he and the rest of the room would love to live in a world without gays) makes sense.  It also makes sense that the speech was not an announcement of a change of policy but a frank confrontation to the group likely to vote to lift the ban next Spring, that will be the next time the group will take up and vote on the policy.  My understanding is that Gates’s speech was well received in the group.

My guess is that we have just one year left of the ban and that the final policy will be what many thought we’d get two years ago.  Units may decided their own membership standards.  Where a conservative Catholic Troop may ban gays outright, the Gay and Lesbian Center can charter a Troop and let anyone in it wants. If it takes longer than a year, the organization is in for continued bad press, law suits, sponsors fleeing, and formal investigations.  The organization can sustain any blowback from opening its doors to all much more than it can sustain being continually dogged by the public for their out-of-touch current policy.  For many this has been a long drawn out and painful process, for others the change is too late to change their minds about an organization that has endured great losses as a result of its policies.  For everyone, we’ll want to keep a close eye on the organization leading up to next year’s big annual meeting.

When you lose a legend…

There are moment in your life when lose legends…death does not escape those that you view as legendary.  Death strikes us all.  This month I lost one of those men in Jack Sheen. Death sucks.  It’s been a reality for me since my class mate in 6th grade was struck dead in a car crash.    There are shocking deaths…a car crash…a violent death…pure anticipation.  There are less shocking deaths…cancer…a 90something year old…etc..  Shocking or not, what happens when you lose legend???

Three things happen.  1) the initial stun 2) assessment of impact and 3) plan to honor the legacy.

This month was not the first the legend I’ve lost.  About a decade ago I got a call that one of my closest scouting advisors had had a medical episode.  I called the hospital asking to speak to him…the nurse on the other end clearly interpreting my age told me things did not look good.  That life support had been ceased…it was time to say goodbye.  I sobbed and then…with reality setting in, made it my goal to drive any kid that wanted to to the hospital to say goodbye.  The stubborn bastard kept it going for a week or so before he passed. I made no less than three trips to hospital, each time less attached the actual happenings and more focused on  letting others say their goodbyes.  The stun was gone.

When i got the text about a week ago from a good friend that Jack had passed, there was less stun.  I had heard that he had previously struggled in health but I wasn’t quite ready, you’re never ready.  In this case I think it was most difficult because the legend wasn’t a singular legend..he came in a package with his wife and to think of a team split in two was harder to handle than just the loss of single man. It was always Jack and Pat, together, as a package.  Those two things, at least in my mind, could not be separated yet in mortality here it was, a splitting of un-splitable things.

Everyone has their favorite Jack memory,  My best friend Travis remembered Jack teaching him to light a fire without a match, even stopping by Travis’s house to help him figure it out.  Of all the memories that stuck out in my mind, one dominated.  In 2005 I traveled the country for Scouting.  in May of that year there was the annual BSA meeting in Dallas.  On registration day I was walking through the hotel mostly to get my barrings for the events ahead and I ran into Jack and Pat just after they had checked into the conference.  It  was a taste of home in the middle of Dallas in the middle of a year when I spent more time on planes than with Scouting in my own home.  He was a friendly face in a distant land, at that moment it was exactly what i needed.

His celebration of life was one of the few I would not have missed for anything. It was a damn reunion of my most formative years.  Awkward given the BSA’s current stance on homo adults? Yes.  But nobody gave a damn.  Because that’s reality, not policy.  I saw old Scoutmasters, Scouts I had helped turn into responsible adults.  Pat looked exactly as she did the last time I saw her; she was surprised but pleased to see me.  The celebration was a reminder of Jack’s propensity to tinker and his impact across the Scouting program…Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, OA, Day Camp, etc.  It was all there…an important reminder of the people who made me who am I yet keep me at arms length.

The stun, having worn off is done.  It was less stunning that other only because of the grapevine and other such means of keeping up with other.  It was still there but not a full gut punch.  Jack’s impact on me may be surprising to most but what I learned most from Jack and Pat is that you’re true match in life is out there.  It may take awhile to find that match but don’t quit looking.  There is someone who is the perfect match, just have patience.  How to honor the legacy? I can’t yet.  But some day I’ll be allowed to contribute the organization that gave so much to me and when I do so, it will be part of Jack’s legacy each and every moment I give back.  Anything less wouldn’t be honoring the legend that has passed, and I have no intention of forgetting his legacy.

News in the Rurals

I travel to rural Nevada quite a bit for work.  I try to keep up with the news from the local papers to keep a good pulse on the communities I serve and appear in front of.  Rural Nevada newspapers have varying degrees of user friendly websites.  Below are some of the ones I regularly read with notable stories recently that I think give you a flavor of what is going out in the rurals:

“Outhouse Races, melodrama among Wild West events” – Pahrump Valley Times

“Nevada Legislature: Panel recommends elimination of state workers longevity pay” – Nevada Appeal

“Body found in suitcase along I-80 in Utah” – Elko Daily Free Press

“Control of railroad could shift hands after upcoming special meeting” – The Ely Times