The 'Chief Scout' praises outdoor life

Outdoor adventure, particularly camping, was at the heart of Sir Robert Baden-Powell's concept of the scout movement he founded. The Chief Scout of the World had a romantic, imaginative view of boyhood (Girl Guides - Scouts - came a little later), but it was probably no more so than the view of thousands of boys. As scouts they could play at being backwoodsmen - not too seriously, though; Baden-Powell himself often called scouting a "game." Camping called for self-reliance, with simple needs and provisions. The idea was to be close to nature, with sites as wild as possible.

By 1911, when the former soldier and hero was in his 50s, the scout movement had become his work. He was multitalented, and from his youth had been adept at acting and painting. He later illustrated his own stories, travel diaries, and books. British newspapers eagerly published his sketches of military campaigns abroad.

He was always ready with paints and a sketchbook. He painted wild animals and birds, Mont Blanc at sunrise, sunset in Kashmir, hunting scenes. He could paint with either hand.

In this charming watercolor of his "House in the Woods," he lightheartedly labels each item to show that all the luxuries provided by a civilized home are taken care of at a campsite. The year before, he had written eloquently about his relish of camping. In the Canadian wilderness, sitting by the campfire, he was moved by "a divinely calm velvety night with brilliant stars, moonlit woods, and a deep waiting stillness just broken now and then by the splash of a feeding trout, or the wail of a wildfowl ... while the fire glowed and smouldered into thin strands of smoke...."

He describes a deep mood instantly recognizable to anyone who has enjoyed the heady pleasures that camping at its best provides.

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