With perfect sunny winter weather conditions, my sons, Tommy and Rein and I were able to join over 30 Estonian Scouts, Cubs, Guides, Brownies and Leaders together at the beautiful 450 acre Kotkajärve Camp near Port Sydney, about 30km north of Huntsville Ontario. Surrounded by hills and huge hardwoods, this was our first time at this popular and almost sacred place. Being of Estonian heritage and a Canadian Scout Leader with two boys in the Scouts and Cubs program, I was anxious to compare the ”Canadian Scouting program” with the customs and traditions of the 50+ year old Skautlipkond Toronto Kalev. We found that there were so many similarities in scouting skills, interests and experiences. There were also some very interesting differences in terms of customs and traditions. It seemed we were busy during the weekend fielding questions like, “how do you do this?” or “what is the meaning behind that tradition?” Of course there was also the translation of simple words for standard scouting, such as a Scouts, or Skaudid, and Girl Guides or Gaidid. Translating typical articles such as matches (tikud), knife (nuga), or campfire (lõkke) was fun to learn. My Estonian is poor but becoming stronger with every new word.
I have to say after a very quick comparison, the Estonian Scouting program is very similar with wonderful differences are unique to the Estonian culture. The sauna would be one perfect example. After a hard days scouting, skiing and tobogganing my Scouts are usually wet and tired from exercising all day. It is very difficult to get them warm and dry in the average winter temperatures (-15°C) and have to concentrate every minute to maintain their clothing dryness and comfort in order to stay safe. Usually it involves having to build a big fire and huddle around it for several hours to get changed into dry clothes and hit the sack. The Estonian Scouts have the perfect solution which is so ingrained into the culture. The sauna!
Kotkajärve’s sauna was located in the most challenging spot imaginable and requires a person to hike a fair distance down a steep hill, traverse over a bridge, walk around a small bay and climb up onto a craggy piece of granite about 40-50 vertical feet up from the lake level. You have to be fit and careful in the snow just to get there but it is worth the trip! It featured a huge change room, washing area and a screened in sitting room to view the lake and cool down. The water had to be bucketed from a small hole in the ice. Luckily there were plenty of Scouts around to tackle the job in a bucket brigade. It took a large effort to gather enough water for all the participants but it was well worth it. The Skaudid came out relaxed, washed, warm and refreshed and then participated in an indoor lõkke with the Gaidid around a fire place. They ran through the list of traditional Estonian songs of patriotism, humerous skits and long standing favorites. Most of the boys dove into their sleeping bags after a bit of social time!
As my contribution to the winter program, I brought up our competition “Scout Rescue Sled” that took 3rd place finish at last year’s Owen Sound Winter Camp among 280 Canadian and American Scouts. It is basically a Scout patrol powered dog sled outfitted with whatever the boys deem important enough be on there. Standard equipment included: First aid kit, fire starting kit, small cooking pots, spare warming supplies and emergency food. The Gaidid and Skaudid were invited on a ski / hike to test out their skills and compete using the sled and supplies. As they enjoyed their hike, a sudden first aid scenario was presented where two casualties were selected and deemed to have broken legs from skiing. (a very possible scenario at KJ) The youth had to work as a team to perform esmaabi - first aid and then transport the casualty safely back to the road to meet the “ambulance.” Of course once they reached the drop off point, the ambulance was to be delayed so they had to start a fire to melt snow and provide water for the poor casualty.
The Skaudid did very well at getting the casualty quickly wrapped in rope using ski poles as a splint and trucked off the casualty within minutes to the drop-off point with lightning speed. The Gaidid decided to take a bit more time and create a stretcher out of a sleeping bag and poles and carefully attended the injury before methodically leaving and pacing themselves. During the fire lighting scenario the boys quickly got a fire started with local twigs and had delicious stinky smoky water available within 10 minutes. The girls again were quite innovative with attempting to use steel wool and a battery. Unfortunately the cold made the battery useless so they struggled with other means of fire lighting. They eventually produced enough water to make a warm soup from one of the food supplies. Overall both the Skautid and Gaidid did a fantastic job of showcasing their skills. Their skill level certainly would be classified as competitive in the Owen Sound Winter Camp and their Leaders should be praised.
I had the difficult task of choosing the overall winner and announce the final award at dinner that evening. It was a case of “speed and agility” versus “slow and methodical. “ I took the casualty’s point of view and went with comfort instead of efficiency. The Gaidid accepted the award of 1st place which was a water/snow proof survival kit outfitted with first aid equipment, warming pads, matches and yes….steel wool with a newer battery!
My boys and I truly had a great first experience out at beautiful Kotkajärve.
I hope it is the first of many!
Kotkajärve winter camp 2012. Skautlipkond Toronto Kalev and Põhjala Tütred Gaidid “Daughters of the Nordic” Guides (1)