By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Baden-Powell, the founder of the world-wide Scouting movement, preferred to learn his lessons from nature rather from a classroom. B.P. was not an academic success. His school reports read:
1) Classics: Seems to me to take very little interest in his work
2) Mathematics: Has to all intent given up the study of mathematics
3) Science: Pays not the slightest attention, except in one week at the beginning of the quarter
4) French: Could do well, but has become very lazy; often sleeps in school.
Baden-Powell was a bit of a loner in school, somewhat reserved though never unpopular. Given a choice, he preferred the solitary pursuits of exploring the woods round the Charterhouse school in Surrey, England. There he learnt how to snare rabbits and cook them in secret with a smokeless fire, how to use an axe, how to creep silently through the bush, how to hide his tracks, how to identify the different kinds of animals and plants, and how to climb a tree and hide from the school authorities. B.P. said that it was in those woods that he gained most of what helped him later in life to find the joy of living.
It is no wonder that years later Baden-Powell that the object in Scouting “was to wean (the boys) from indoors and to make the outdoors attractive to them.” B.P. described Scouting as a school of the outdoors. Scouting, said B.P., was not a science, nor a military code. Rather “it is a jolly game in the outdoors, where boy-men can go adventuring together as older and younger brother, picking up health and happiness, handicraft and helpfulness.”
As Scouting was first developing, B.P said to his adult leaders: “… give your boys all you can of woodcraft and Nature study…The Nature study should be a real close touch with Nature, far beyond the academic dipping into the subject which passes under the name in school. Collecting, whether of plants or bugs, and investigation, whether of beasts or birds, are all-absorbing studies for the boy and mighty good for him.”
Why was Baden-Powell so exciting about Nature study and Outdoor camping? Because B.P. saw it as a “golden chance to bring the boy to God through the direct appeal of Nature and her store of wonders.” Nature study for B.P. was a character-building, and spiritual exercise. Nature study, said B.P., “gives the best means of opening out the minds and thoughts of boys, and at the same time…gives them the power of appreciating beauty in Nature and consequently in art…” Nature study helped “the realization of God, the Creator, through His wonderous work, and the active performance of His will in service for others.”
I believe that Baden-Powell might have really enjoyed living on the North Shore with its unforgettable beauty of mountain, forests, and sea. B.P. would have reminded us that “the mystery of the sea and the heavens, and the fascination of the colouring of the scene, and the modelling of the scene” all point to God’s handiwork. Baden-Powell saw all of nature as gifts from God. We all teach our children to say “thank you” for birthday and Christmas presents. How much more should we say “thank you” for God’s gifts of nature? B.P. said “We teach the boy that a gift is not his till he has expressed his gratitude for it. His attitude to God is, therefore, thankfulness for benefits received; and his method for expressing this is through service, in behalf of God, to his fellow-men.
To Baden-Powell, the question was not what can I get from life, but what can I give in life. When dealing with conflicts in the Scouting movement, B.P. recommended that people “…ask themselves the simple question, `What would Christ have done under the circumstances?’ and be guided accordingly”.
In a last message found among B.P.’s papers after he had died, he said: “Dear Scouts,…I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, not merely from being successful in your career, not by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it…”
My prayer is that we too, like Baden-Powell, may be filled with gratitude to God our Creator for the wonderful gift of Nature.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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