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A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Abandoned in the Night Woods (nytimes.com)
162 points by vnglst on July 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 116 comments

I too have fond memories of droppings in my boyscout times (Belgium) ... I remember a particular one where we had to find our way through a forest before midnight ... it was then followed-up by midnight (catholic) mass at an abbey close to the edge of a forest to calm us down (bummer) ... another one was a multi-day thing where we had to find our way in small groups. As described in the article there were adults observing us but refusing to help. There were also staged “kidnappings” where we had to free the kidnapped at night. Pretty crazy thinking about that today but it was pretty much normal at the time (eighties) & I am sure a lot more vivid for impressionable kids ... overall I give a 9/10 rating ... “would recommend let your kids get kidnapped at night in the forest”

Yeah same here, fond memories of the 'droppings' I did as a kid.

It's probably worth pointing out that Belgian (and Dutch) woods are relatively safe: it would be difficult to get truly lost. The wooded areas are never more than a few km from civilization. I wonder if there is a spot that is more than 10 km from the nearest road/house/suburb. Also, there are (almost?) no acutely dangerous animals. The only thing we were watching out for were wild boar, but there weren't that many of those around back in the 80's/90's. These days there may be more wildlife to watch out for.

When we went on a 'dropping', there were no cell phones nor gps receivers. Just 'stafkaarten' (topographic maps) and a compass. It's easy now ;)

We did 'escape and evasion' orienteering courses that ran 12hrs from 6pm to 6am from about 13 years old in the 90s. This was through bush and farmland in Australia.

There were always incidents like cases of hyperthermia, being chased by wild pig, running into things blindly etc. But the 1000's of kids partaking always ended up ok at the end.

>> ‘escape and evasion’

From who? Wow. I can’t read the article because I used up my free, so I don’t know if this is mentioned, but ee sounds paramilitary, and not just orienteering skill. What is the reason behind this?

Nothing that dramatic. Was school camp for cadets. Kinda like Boy Scouts but with more of a military bent. Guys in older years would try, and usually succeed, to catch you.

"Night Infiltration" is one of the coolest activities I've had the pleasure of doing and I'm in my 30s now. I'm not sure how many troops do it. In my area, only our troop did it on our monthly camp out and I'm fairly certain our troop invented it, but that could be false.


The above blurb does it poor justice though. Imagine a boy-led troop with around 60 scouts on a camp out and nearly zero adult involvement outside of transportation. We had a leadership group of boys in highschool (usually 16 & 17 year olds) and they performed the roll of sentries (~6 boys) and they had flashlights. These represented sniper rifles. Each sentry got one shot (straight line...they can't wave it around) before having to loudly count to 10 representing reload time. I'm from the American south where hunting is big, so it wasn't uncommon for full on camoflauge from nearly all participants...even those rediculous suits you see snipers wear in movies. There is one hidden individual making a quite noise every 20 seconds or so (you'd have to be pretty close to hear it). There are two teams and each scout (X or O team) tries to sneak their paper message (X or O on it) to the hidden individual if they can find them. At the end of the game, the team with the most messages wins.

This is always at night and very dark in pretty thick woods. Running is absolutely forbidden as so many scouts have twisted ankles or even broken collar bones by running at night. If you get "shot" by a sentry, you have to go back to base to get another message (like respawning) and I think there is a wait period. If someone in your group finds the hidden agent, they'll naturally want to get the word out to all their fellow group without letting the other team notice, but it can sometimes be difficult. A fascinating and super fun game. In all the years I played as a non-sentry, I only found the hidden agent on my own a few times and with help a few more times. There were games when I never even found him and had to ask afterwards and was blown away by the location sometimes (inside a thorn thicket wth). It was always an amazing experience though. We played on a very large area too depending on forest density. The thicker the foliage, the smaller the need for additional area. Keep in mind that this is a pretty dangerous game from an injury frequency perspective. I'd also recommend the buddy system is used to prevent someone from getting injured and lost (think unconscious). I'd also only recommend playing in areas with no predatory animals (I wouldn't play this in New Mexico where bears and cougars exist).

in germany, games like these are common. though more often during the day than at night, and usually with an elaborate backstory. think LARP. also each game was usually developed new, either from scratch or as a variation of a previous game. rarely the same game was played multiple times, though some groups have developed traditions to play the same game at each camp.

That sounds like a lot of fun to be honest.

I used to be the 'bad guy' kidnapping kids from my sister's girl scout troop who were camping out somewhere in the Ardennes. Early nineties, I think?

We had midnight droppings during the week-long school outings as well. It's been a long time, but I think a teacher would indeed stay back 50m to observe but not intervene.

So much fun. I don't think I ever heard anything about parents having issues with it.

Just to confirm, this still happened in the early 2000s for sure. It didn't stay in the eighties :)

We had something similar in school in Sweden. We were to walk a path in the woods at night to get back to camp. And the teachers would jump scare us along the way. In retrospect I wonder how well that would be received today. We were 12 or so, in the 80s.

Also from Belgium, but a whole lot younger. This still happens.

Don't think of this as dropping your kids in say, the High Sierras or Death Valley ;-)

This is actually an extremely safe thing, nothing much can go wrong. Some supporting facts:

Our entire country (The Netherlands) measures roughly 161mi by 93mi and is densely populated. There's always a dwelling nearby. Consequently it's impossible to get really lost.

We also have no natural dangers to speak of, no deadly animals, no dangerous terrain, no raging rivers (we don't have mountains).

There's a small 707 acre park in the middle of a small island in Canada (Gabriola island, next to Nanaimo city), you wouldn't believe the number of people that get lost every year and don't get found till the next day or two.

I think it is important to say this indeed. I also did "dropping" as a kid, and later with kids, but the only thing that "spoiled it" was cheaters that find a phone in 1 hour and call a cab.

I haven't heard It being done for a while now, is it still a thing in this time of fear and smartphones?

Yes, their own phones are confiscated (for most of the camp).

TBH last time we did one each group just had one adult with them, they'd just stay silent the whole time and follow along. So it was a bit boring. But we did that because we only had a few people and one car, and couldn't keep track of the whereabouts of the groups otherwise.

Well, I can understand that, it depends on the age of the children also.

>We also have no natural dangers to speak of

Except for the eikenprocessierupsen

For the English speaking folks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_processionary

This particular caterpillar has seen explosionary growth and when it sheds its copious hairs, they cause extreme irritation.

Sounds like it needs a sign. Beware of attack caterpillars!

Fun fact: You may find signs warning of the oak processionary moth in some of the woods in Vienna, Austria[1].

[1]: https://www.vienna.at/2018/05/eichen-wien-16-9-017650366-650...

Drug addicts are known to keep attack caterpillars locked and loaded, protecting their stash. Rumor has it they’re distantly related to attack porcupines

"Our entire country (The Netherlands) measures roughly 161mi by 93mi.....Consequently it's impossible to get really lost"

You aren't really lost until you aren't in the country you thought you were in. Its possible to lose yourself to Greece say, without crossing a hard border. So the area to get lost in is quite a bit bigger.

It's really obvious when you cross the NL/BE or NL/DE borders though, signage becomes different, houses look different. So unless you cross the border in a wooded area, you will definitely know.

I once did a dropping where we started in NL and found out we had ended up in Belgium in the morning. We didn't notice because we never left the woods. And we were way too drunk to notice anyway (I was a student then, not a small kid)

"houses look different"

Really? Just over the border? I would have thought cross pollination over the years would have rendered housing styles identical. Plus aren't there streets where one half is Dutch, the other half Belgian?

Edit: Like here for example


Yes, just over the border. I live really close to the German border and you instantly notice, everything suddenly looks, well.. German.

A lot of things don't cross-pollinate because they are decided on a national level. So things like the style of signage, traffic lights and other 'street furniture' are all different. Germany also still uses a lot of above-ground cabling which is another instantly obvious difference. Building codes are probably different too, which affects how buildings look.

It's not just the country, it's the people too. Living in a city near the German border we get a lot of people from Germany shopping on weekends. Often you can spot the Germans simply by how they are dressed, especially older people. I can't really put my finger on what is different (as an IT guy I'm kind of oblivious to fashion) but there must be some subtle differences as even I subconsciously pick it up.

> Plus aren't there streets where one half is Dutch, the other half Belgian?

It's even easier to spot when you're crossed the border into Belgium, if you suddenly feel like you're driving off-road you're in Belgium.

Yes, really. Regulations in the Netherlands are much stricter than in Belgium. In Belgium you van have a row with 5 completely different houses, sometimes you have a free standing rowhouse (yes, really) next to bungalow. In the Netherlands, houses on a street will usually look very much the same and everything is planned. In expensive neighborhoods with big houses it's more differentiated, but even there you have to adhere to many rules.

Baarle-Hertog is indeed a bit of an exception to this rule, but generally you can see it quite clearly.

>> (we don't have mountains).

Woah, you forgot about the Vaalserberg?

Technically not a mountain, since mountains start at >500m and Vaalserberg is only 322m high...

On the other hand, we do (technically) have mountains, as Saba has Mount Scenery (887m) and Sint Eustatius has The Quill ( 601m)...

There is no universally accepted definition of what a mountain is. For whatever it's worth, Wikipedia says things like "official UK government's definition of a mountain, for the purposes of access, is a summit of 600 metres or higher", and "At one time the U.S. Board on Geographic Names defined a mountain as being 1,000 feet (300 m) or taller, but has abandoned the definition since the 1970s".

"is a summit of 600 metres or higher"

I didn't think this had been officially metricised (metricated?), I was wrong.

Anyway, found an interesting related article.


Broken link, has a quote at the end that's too much. Here's the right one: http://metricviews.org.uk/2008/09/what-is-a-mountain-mynydd-...

Thanks, fixed mine also.

Also, what about that boterberg I used to hear about?

Are you referring to an actual butter surplus or the eastern peak of Storm King Mountain in New York (Butter Hill, but known as Boterberg when the area was a Dutch colony)?

we just call that a mountain :')... it's hardly a hill :D

I did that a couple of times in the last classes of primary school and it was fun.

One time the organizers, seeking to spice up the proceedings, had planned a mock-kidnapping. One of the kids (who was in on the joke) disappeared during the hike and soon enough we received something of a ransom note. Kids excited, kids crying. At the climax one of the organizers jumped out of the bushes with a nylon stocking over his head. The biggest and strongest kid in the group (who if memory serves me went on to become a bouncer at a local pub) hit him on the head with his flashlight, almost knocking the guy out. Good times indeed.

Of course nowadays the school would get sued into bankruptcy by angry parents for a stunt like that. :-)

It's kind of the same with "apekooien", no? At least I heard that's no longer done either. I don't know why adults don't understand that if there is one thing kids love more than running around screaming, it's running around screaming while risking sprained ankles and other minor injuries

The Dutch woods are not very big and not very far from the cities. You could get lost but you can always hear the highways and there is cell coverage everywhere. And the most scary thing you could come across is a wild boar, there are no dangerous animals. There were 2 or 3 wolf sightings the past 2 years, but they stay away from noise. Anyway I think Dutch kids are balsy enough to scare any wolf away. (Or a human predator, if they would even roam the woods..)

I've always enjoyed "droppings" as they are called. There were no cell phones when I did it as a kid..I can't remember if we had a compass or not..

Oh and its not exclusive for scouting, it's also done on birthdays, I guess it happens more in places where there are woods nearby, so more towards Germany and Belgium.

Back when I was a kid, at the ripe old age of 12, we did this at the Hoge Veluwe, and I can assure you that there were no highways in hearing distance and we didn't have cellphones yet. It was also a pretty good experience, if a little cold.

The Hoge Veluwe might be one of the few places where this can happen. And even then, the Hoge Veluwe is 55 sqkm. Worst case scenario you walk for a few hours to reach one of the edges. Just keep walking in the same direction.

Hoge Veluwe, one of the few things I miss from my home town. Such a great place to hang out as a kid.

> Just keep walking in the same direction.

AFAIK this is surprisingly difficult, many (most? all?) people end up walking in circles when placed in a forest without any clues for orientation.

Edit: Some random sources: https://www.livescience.com/33431-why-humans-walk-circles.ht..., https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2009/08/why-we-walk-circles, https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(09)...

"participants repeatedly walked in circles when they could not see the sun ... participants walked in often surprisingly small circles (diameter < 20 m), though rarely in a systematic direction"

All Dutch woods have man made paths. Most forests even have some sort of grid of roads for logging. Check a random dutch forest on Google Maps to see it. As far as I know we ware the only country that has this in almost every forest..

Looking at the above-mentioned Hoge Veluwe I do see the grid of paths and roads you speak of, though there also seem to be a bunch of places where there is plenty of room to go around in 20 or even 200 meter circles without hitting a path.

Nobody said that that you can get lost in a Dutch forest forever, but I can totally believe that you might not immediately find out if you're dropped in the wrong spot in the middle of the night. After daybreak you'll be out in no time.

The Hoge Veluwe might be one of a few, if not the only place in the Netherlands where you d find a road of some sort when you walk straight ahead for a few kilometers. I live near Eindhoven and I can't imagine a place where that wouldn't happen.

I guess it depends on the winds, but it was mainly my point that it's not really far from the main roads..

Are Euro wild boars not dangerous? So much for that Black Forest Ham premium!

Boars definitely attack people in the US, and the wounds can be bad to the lower body and gut. Lots of blood loss isn't uncommon.

We have them in Poland and from my own childhood spent around Polish forest I remember the rule being - if it's a single boar, you have good chances trying to scare it away, but if it's a mother with the young......make for the nearest tree and climb like your life depended on it(because she will attack you).

OK, that's my experience as well. Thanks!

They are, they are found in France, Germany, Belgium and Poland in the wild. Haven't seen or heard from any in NL but there is a good chance we have some here as well. Don't get between mommy and the cute little ones.

There are lots in the Netherlands, around the Veluwe they are a bit of a plague animal, ploughing up gardens et cetera.

But groups of kids on a dropping are very noisy, they don't get to see any.

> Are Euro wild boars not dangerous?

They are, if you run into them and they feel threatened (especially mothers with babes). But it's super rare to run into them, as they avoid people. A group of teens out at night staying quiet enough to stumble across one seems infinitesimally small. Which is probably why I don't ever remember ever hearing of anyone attacked by boars...

Just curious, does this density across all of the country lead to a desire amongst Dutch people to find true wilderness every once and a while? For example travelling to remote national parks in the US or Australia/NZ? Or does it lead to people preferring built environments and feeling anxious in true wilderness?

To both answers I would think no :) The Netherlands is very much a designed and architected country, there is no true wilderness here anymore. We don't seem to miss it, most people don't even talk about it as something they miss. We can go days and weeks out to the countryside, and call it a good holiday.

There are people who like to travel to the true wilderness, like Australia or Canada or backpacking in Scotland, but I don't see any connection to the density of our country.

And being anxious in true wilderness, well, it really is dangerous, right? :) So you should be anxious. But in this context, I can imagine we do like safety. When traveling through Australia, always stay on the road for example. Going into the desert off-road is a big no-no to us.

Great info, thanks. The Netherlands is truly amazing with the types of infrastructure which have been built for safety and health. I am pro-safety, one of the reasons I left the US! Would love to explore the Netherlands.

Of course in a proper dropping you're not allowed to have a cell phone. There's got to be some challenge in it.

I approve the provision of a cell phone for that age group (early teens). Provided it's a dumb phone with only call service available in case they really need to call for help.

I'm much more dubious about giving them GPS. It's a lot of fun figuring out where you are on a map and GPS takes that fun away.

We always received an envelope with a dumb “emergency phone” and were expected to hand it back in closed afterwards unless we had used it to call them.

Yeah, a phone for emergencies is sensible. I mean they don't get to take their smartphone with GPS.

We did it in gymnastics camp, no cell phones, no compass. But indeed, it is difficult to not run into a road within an hour or so usually.

> ‘It shows you, even in very hard times, to keep walking, to keep going,’ [Stijn] said. ‘I have never had to do that before.’

I recently read Dinner of Herbs and Going to the Wars, two books by a fellow who was a British commando in the Second World War who was captured by the Italians, escaped and had to make his way across country, living off the land and thanks to the kindness of local peasants.

One of the things which really struck me was the mettle he & his comrades showed. I don’t know how many folks nowadays would have the same character — but I think young Stijn has a better chance than most. AS do probably many other Dutch kids.

I found the book you mentioned - A Dinner of Herbs by John Verney. Looks good.

Somewhat confusingly there is another book called Dinner of Herbs by Carla Grissman which is also a travelogue describing close contact with 'peasants', but this time in Anatolia in the 60s. It also looks good.

(There's even another book with the same title, but it's a fiction novel by Catherine Cookson).

Edit: I've just found that the title is a reference to Proverbs 15:17, ‘Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than feasting on a fattened ox where hatred also dwells’, which explains its multiple use.

Going To The Wars on Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/goingtothewars027493mbp

Is that a fancy “i'd rather eat crumbs with bums than steaks with snakes”?

i might be inclined to argue that the number of things fancier than two pairs of contextual rhymes which present a clear principle of morality in one simple sentence could be infinitesimal.

We regularly did this in Scouts in the UK in the eighties. We would have map and compass and know where we were supposed to get to, but there was general disorientation and disinformation about the starting location. IIRC we were always dropped somewhere such that the obvious path would lead us away from roads and there were certainly adults and/or venture scouts (16-21?) keeping some kind of track of us, but usually done subtly enough that we weren't aware that they were around

We did it in the late 90's/early 2000's as well.

I hope they still do it but I guess they don't.

My kid had a Palo Alto summer camp around 2009 where they did this. It was a new camp for kids too old for Foothills. Just a week, and they did several things, the last one being dropped away from camp and told to find their own way back (in groups of three). One group made it in 45 minutes, a couple more in an hour, and the rest...ranged from 3-5 hours later.

He thought it was great, but Palo Alto being Palo Alto that was the only week that particular camp operated. Sadly.

Can confirm (Dutch). I've been on a few droppings at night. Notice the woods in Holland are incomparable to an American scale forest. I can even nuance that you don't need to be a scout. This is fairly normal even to do on school trips or any other group/club of friends. We didn't even have GPS at the time, but just a map and a compass. You just need to have enough volunteering adults to catch any kids that go rogue. As long as you instruct the kids to stay together (they will, as they are typically a bit scared) it should be fine, especially if you place a few volunteers not too far out.

Yes, I have fond memories of these. These were often seen as the highlight of a week of camping. In my youth we did not have mobile phones, even not everybody had a phone at home. Because the Netherlands is so densely populated, it is very difficult to find a place where there are no lights visible. I remember that usually, we knew within 10 minutes where we were and in which direction we had to walk. Never met any wild animal. Never felt I was in danger. I remember that in my youth, it was very normal to be away from home on your own. When I was about 12, I would go on biking trips of 20 miles and more, all on my own. When I returned after some hours and my mother would ask me where I had been, I just told her that I had been biking and she would be happy with the answer. Of course, she knew me and knew that I was careful person and would not do stupid things.

I also remember Austerlitz. Camped there in the woods two or three times. One time in the winter. I also remember that we biked there from our home town, a little more than 20 miles. This was when I was 14-17 years old.

This gives me a little hope, knowing that some societies are still raising their children rationally. While we never had anything formal like this, when I was younger we were allowed to hike into the woods with a chance of getting lost. Of course, even when I was a kid, some parents of children I went to school with were far too protective. -- Late 60s, early 70s

A little bit tangential to this: bushwalking at night can be a very beautiful experience. I remember doing a ~15km section of the Abel Tasman track in New Zealand during the night so as to catch the early morning low tide for a tidal river crossing. It was glorious being on the track (and briefly losing it at one point), tramping under the night sky.

U.S. scouts have a special society known as Order of the Arrow ("OA", https://www.cityonahillpress.com/2008/04/10/the-secret-behin...). There are various ceremonies and rituals involved, but I remember the trial my father described to me -- being sent out into the woods overnight with an egg, a single match, and not much else.

It's been ~25 years since I was initiated and went through the "Ordeal".

Your father's story sounds about right. We were led through the woods (in the middle of the night, after the "tap out" ceremony, with no flashlights) all the way around to the other side of the lake at our summer camp and that's where we spent the night. I think we were given a light blanket to sleep on/with but I might be wrong. The next morning we were "picked up" and began the physical work part. The entire "Ordeal" lasted ~24 hours -- during which you were not allowed to speak.

Honestly, it's a lot scarier than it sounds. I grew up out in the country and spent a lot of free time as a kid out in the woods so that was no big deal to me (later, I participated -- as "Kichkinet" -- in other initiation ceremonies). Many of the "city kids", though, did not sleep a wink that night.

I've still got my "Brotherhood" sash somewhere around here. Around the time I received that, I "discovered girls" and my time in the Boy Scouts quickly came to an end.

My ordeal ceremony was around 15 years ago and was pretty similar. IIRC I had a sleeping bag plus tarp and and no tent (you are definitely not allowed a tent when participating). I remember this rather vividly because the night of the ordeal it rained and I had to roll up in my tarp like a burrito to stop from getting wet.

Yes, you are not allowed to speak during the labor part. I remember this vividly also as we were assembling large teepees as our given task (~20ft in height) and we were very briefly given a rare exception of being allowed to speak if there was some imminent danger of the teepee falling over and injuring someone.

What they fed me in terms of food was honestly pretty gross. IIRC I didn’t get any lunch and only got basically a nasty green hard boiled egg plus a tiny mandarin orange for breakfast. by the time you’re allowed to talk again when the ordeal is over there is a feast shortly thereafter though.

The “brotherhood” second stage ordeal is actually a whole lot easier, it basically involves a night ceremony with a lot of rituals and a handwritten letter to your local “lodge” if I am remembering things correctly.

Acitve OA member here. To provide an update to the article: The OA is removing Native American references and imagery from its program.

Do you have more information about this? I'm wondering what the new program will be like, given as a member says in that article from 2008, “OA is very Native American-based”.

When Canada wanted novel ritual for their engineering schools, they hired Rudyard Kipling. He adapted the story of Martha, Mary’s sister.

The Masons too fictionalized the story of Solomon’s Temple.

I think the OA could do worse than to hire Gaiman or similar to produce them a ritual set with historic resonance and good meter.

Yes, as a Dutch scouts leader, can confirm we do this at least once a year. When I was a youth member, no GPS and no cell phone either as far as I remember.

At our yearly JOTA-JOTI event we up the ante by going 'hunting' for the kids by cars or bike so they try to not get spotted by the leaders until they reach the main camp site.

For Dutch scouts here: http://www.hikeandseek.nl/ is super awesome (but typically fully booked).

Quite topical as Jamboree starts this week. I was flying out of Ecuador late last week and saw a bunch of excited scouts on their way to Jamboree and it made me smile. Are there any other bizarre coming-of-age scouting traditions that other countries follow? This article immediately made me think of USA’s similar tradition, the snipe hunt:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipe_hunt

We had a tradition of sending new scouts over to other camps to ask for a "left-handed smoke shifter" to better control the smoke coming off of the camp fire. No such thing exists of course, but sending off new boys (and receiving similar new boys from other camps) was a hilarious tradition and a bit of light hazing that nobody ever broke.

One older scout even crafted a piece of equipment he instructed the newbie to take with him to ask for a replacement part.

Other professions have similar initiation rituals: automotive mechanics get sent out to get boxes of blue sparks and people in the clothing industry have to find a spool of yarn with some specific pattern on it.

That’s really funny. I always assumed that was a troop specific joke. No one ever reacts when I mention the need for one around a campfire :)

the US shout shop at one point sold fly-squatters labelled "left handed smoke shifter"

“with only a primitive GPS to indicate the right direction”

... so these kids are more at risk of being kidnapped than they are of getting lost.

I’ll admit that I think it’s a bit weird to make kids walk home in the night, but the author does a terrible job of making it sound suspenseful. This activity has gotten a lot safer since GPS became widespread. I kind of feel bad for anyone that went through this in the 80’s, they might have actually gotten lost and had to knock on a farmer’s door for directions.

Kids being kidnapped is not the first thought of Dutch (and Belgium?) parents.

Example: We were at the Zoo with friends from the US and one of their small kids was out of sight for minute at the very large playground.

My first thought: Will show up, but is there any water nearby? Their thought: he's kidnapped!

(kid did show up few seconds later)

I guess you're far more likely to drown than to get kidnapped in The Netherlands... (Most children learn to swim before they are 6 years old here)

Droppings were really cool by the way and in the eighties when I grew up we only got a compass or nothing at all (no gps or cell phone). I was no boy scout, it also happens at school trips and birthdays.

I just got back from visiting a friend in Amsterdam, and it was a delight to see how much everybody just assumed kids would be safe on their own.

I'm pretty sure the US had the same attitude when I was growing up; I know I spent the bulk of my summer days roving the neighborhood. It's weird to me how much that has changed. Especially given that kids can be constantly tracked and contacted via cellphones, you'd think that they'd be roving farther!

Current Scout leader here.

In the 80s we were sent out to knock on farmer's doors to ask for a place to sleep, and we did it just over the German border so we had to ask in a foreign language too. I actually want to reintroduce that (but farms have fewer places fit for a few sleeping bags).

The fact they are in groups makes it super safe anyway.

a group from germany did that on a regular basis. all the trips were by bike. for weekend trips the whole group would stay on a farm. for holidays it was two weeks into the netherlands or denmark. groups of 3 would walk door to door to ask for a place to sleep.

i then adopted the idea for trips on my own travelling through europe. but instead of knocking on any door i'd search for local scout groups and ask them.

> ... so these kids are more at risk of being kidnapped than they are of getting lost.

Keep in mind that they're 12+ and travelling in groups of 10 to 20 kids. Kidnapping a group that big is...not easy :)

My scouting group was fond of "dot-arrow" droppings. We were dropped blindfolded in the woods and only given a piece of paper with arrow symbols on it indicating the turns to take on the route. Of course we missed turns and got lost, but we had a radio for calling in for hints. In bigger forests, we would get survey maps of the area. Then it was a matter of figuring out where you are on the map at the drop point.

I have fond memories of those nights.

Grew up in the U.S. mid-atlantic, and spent many weekends camping out during my teens with the boyscouts -- at various levels of difficulty. The culmination was the annual "winter survival" campout where we were dumped miles off in the woods in the middle of the winter for 3 days with food, a sleeping bag, a box of matches and our pocket knife and had to survive for three days.

As it was often at freezing and sometimes snowing, we had to build warm shelter (fast), start a fire, dig a latrine, find water, and get a meal prepped before dark on the first day and basically survive the cold with everything we knew. Our shelter had to be weather resistant, warm and sustainable enough to make it a couple of nights.

Boys below a certain age and rank weren't allowed to participate as it was simply too dangerous. Night temperatures often went far below freezing and I remember waking up with my camp mates to see who's shelter had fallen in under the snow, and who had the most leaves stuffed into their sleeping bag for warmth -- despite that we'd all not be able to feel our feet for a few hours until we got moving. It was an amazing lesson in how the body's survival mechanisms work.

We had two adult chaperones along who "glamped" in full gear and were available for emergencies. More than once boys had to leave early due to the cold, or a shelter falling in on them or simply giving up and throwing in the towel.

This was all way before cell phones were common. At the end we'd have to break camp, clean it up as if we had never been there (leave no trace), hike and landnav our way back out of the woods with a rough map and directional reckoning using nature (no compass!) where we'd be treated to a hot meal, a hot shower (in that order) and an immediate blow-by-blow of what went right, what went wrong and awards were given out for exceptionalism in various facets of the camping arts. Most boys also earned various scouting badges and things during the event just by way of making it the entire way.

I didn't care much for the Boyscouts, but I eagerly looked forward to that activity the years that I could do it.

I'm pretty sure we were all secretly being trained for a Red Dawn scenario. The in-joke in my troop was that the Scouts were America's premier youth paramilitary organization.

> The in-joke in my troop was that the Scouts were America's premier youth paramilitary organization.

... That's not terribly inaccurate, actually. Baden-Powell was influenced by his experiences in the Siege of Mafeking, where boys of that age were organized in effectively a military unit, albeit a noncombat unit that was operating closer to a civil defense role. There's a heavy military context to scouting, and it shouldn't be surprising that a lot of scouts go on to join the military or that a lot of military brats end up joining scouting.

I am an instructor (for the scout leaders) for that kind of trip, and love winter camping. It's a lot tamer than that these days. But some of the kids get excited and take it up "on their own time". We've had some great sub-0 F trips with some of the more adventurous kids.

US scouts are always shepherded around by adults. In Germany you see them moving around autonomously.

Many fraternities do this in the us, but here it's considered hazing and gets you expelled if you're caught.

This isn't done in other countries (except Belgium)?

Who knew!

I did droppings many times as a kid. Never did I feel unsafe. We did walk quite far. I remember it was 4 hours, we walked next to a highway for quite a while once. Since I was a kid, I have no clue whether we actually walked 4 hours.

The writer calls it peculiarly Dutch, but then describes it taking place in Belgium, as well.

As a dutch I've only been dropped in Belgium forests.

You can find plenty of Dutch scouting troops doing their annual summer camp in the Belgian Ardennes.

They also describe how the Belgians do it wrong.

This remind me of the Wilderness Survival merit badge in the boy scouts. We had to survive a night in the woods with no gear except a pocket knife and the clothes on our backs.

Good call on that merit badge! I remember vividly we got to bring along a hot dog and a fire starter (maybe flint and steel?). We had rain so the forest was soaked. Despite our best efforts there was no fire and we dined on cold hot dog.

You got food? Pretty sure ours was without food. But our forest was dry (Camp Winton in the Sierra Nevadas, in the summertime).

Ah yes we would do this in the Ardennes with a compass and some instructions! Few hours of hiking and drinks and snacks by the campfire at the end. Good times!

These sound like night exercises from infantry school.

As someone that would want this for their kids: Is there am equivalent in the United States? Perhaps through scouts, or another org?

I left this in a sibling comment that we (I’m an Eagle Scout with long history of scouting) used snipe hunting as a somewhat equivalent rite of passage: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snipe_hunt

In my experience it was somewhat less dramatic than described in the article (I wasn’t left alone more than a half hour hike from camp and the few times I did it I never let the “victims” out of sight). It seems like these teens from the article are expected to put in a good few hours hike before getting back to a certain location. It was still a similarly formative and fun experience for me, especially because I got to do it with a couple other kids my age.

Years ago I did this kind of thing through the boy scouts, but I don't think it was official programming. The den leader, the scouts, and the parents all conspired to do this kind of thing. I should mention it was through the LDS church, too.

The excuse was that it was training "orienteering." But really it was just fun.

How very beautiful.

If I ever have kids, I'll drive them off a thousand kilometers or two. A measly forest next door is no challenge.

It is suprisingly easy to travel without money nowadays. But it takes some communication with the world, and children must learn that. I'm of opinion that hitch-hiking is one of the most effective solutions.

So, make them travel 2Kkm in a weekend, repeat that some times.. like we had back then. There even were sports - competitions over 3-4-8K km distances.

In Belgium we do this as well. It does sound a bit strange perhaps, but for us it's not something worrisome.

I have a premonition what Ari Aster's next film will cover.


I imagine "primitive" may mean a device that shows you longitude and latitude only. Or keeps a track of where you've been.

Without maps, you'll still need some knowledge of how to use the thing. Yeah, not as difficult as a compass and topo map alone, but also not as easy as Google Maps.

The photo in the article appears to show a Garmin GPS60, which is a solid if dated GPS receiver that might be considered primitive to the extent that it can't show you a map of where you are.

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