Good morning dear readers. As your eyeballs move across this textual space you’re probably not interested to know I’m just in from walking the dog in what can be best described as an uncomfortably cold 20°. To quote the theme song from that quaint little animated children’s special, Jack Frosty the Red-Nosed Little Drummer Boy, “baby, it’s cold outside.”
Not as cold as last week, mind you, when the starting temperatures for the day were closer to zero, but still cold enough to be significantly less attractive than sunny Florida. And by the way, I’m happy to report we are leaving for a two-week stay in the Sunshine State in the near future. If you wish to tag along that would be fine, as long as you follow the two most important rules of interstate travel: only one carry-on per person and please, no flash photography.
To say I am not a winter person is an understatement. It’s like saying President Obama is not a conservative, poker is not a sport, and tofu is not food. As we used to say in the seventh grade at our Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt Catholic School in beautiful, downtown Lockport, New York, no duh!
No friends, my idea of winter fun is sitting on a beach somewhere and laughing at my fellow upstate New Yorkers as they dig out from yet another lake effect snow storm. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much winter fun in years. And speaking of fun, that reminds me of something I used to do as a kid and a member in good standing of the Boy Scouts of America.
Every year in late January or early February we Boy Scouts would all assemble together in the middle of a large-ish field in what our local council would typically bill as “a winter adventure combining camaraderie, scouting challenges, and lots of good, old-fashioned fun.” In reality it was two days of mindless torture that would’ve qualified as hell if it weren’t so darned cold outside.
We boys-to-men candidates would prove our soon-to-be manliness by sleeping on the ground, in the dead of winter no less, with nothing but a cheap piece of nylon or canvas as our only protection from the elements. We were told to dress in layers because it would keep us warmer, to which I say, “warmer than what?”. Looking back on it now, I think they told us that so they could laugh at us.
We had to wear so many layers to stay warm we could barely move around in the winter wonderland, let alone frolic and play like puberty stricken boys are wont. No, there was no frolicking and old-fashioned fun my friends; there were only a couple hundred Weebles that wobbled but couldn’t fall down, no matter how many times the adults tried to make it happen.
The weekend’s festivities were punctuated, by which I mean “thrust upon us”, by the belief that it would be fun to coerce young men to build a heavy dogsled which they would then, willingly and of their own volition, drag around the winter field all day like dogs looking for that next piece of raw meat. During the morning we dragged our sleds, complete with a person slightly resemblimg a patrol leader, around a bezillion mile course with various stations we were to stop at.
It would have been nice if these stations featured things like, let’s say, hot cocoa and pizza with everything. I would have even settled for a slightly warmish candy bar if that’s all the BSA could afford. But no, these stations actually required us to do something; something other than shiver like Elvis after a double espresso.
With each station we were presented with a challenge, for which we could collect points if successful. For example, one challenege was to build a fire tall enough to burn a piece of string suspended above it. Why? Because Indians (everything in the BSA was some how connected to native American-type persons) didn’t use sicssors. If they had to cut their string using fire then, by George, we would too!
Other challenges included reckless behavior involving hatchets, all-in-one Scout knives, tent spikes, large wooden objects, and tons of other implements we could use to harm ourselves or others. It’s a wonder no one poked out a neighbor’s eye or something.
So after the challenge course we would all return to our own campsites to enjoy a lunch of cold something, because there was no one left at camp to keep the fire going. Then it was back to action and, I kid you not, the sled race. Keep in mind we built our sleds ourselves, using scrap lumber of various shapes and sizes. And we were not engineers with degreees in aerodynamics and proper mushing techniques.
As teenage boys we thought, when construction began in November, that we would build the biggest and baddest sled the Klondike Derby had ever seen, only to be reminded on race day that we were, for better or worse, the sled dogs for the day. One year we brought the Gossamer Albatross II to the race. If it hadn’t been for the legal requirement to attend school we wouldn’t have rounded the final turn until July!
At the conclusion of the day’s events we gathered around the campfire and sang hokey songs about dead skunks, father Abraham, and a dumb cat that wouldn’t die. It was an evening never to be forgotten — at least until the middle of the night when we were wondering if this were the night we would freeze to death lying on a bale of hay in the middle of a field.
Needless to say I’m no longer 14 years old and gullible enough to believe it when folks older than me tell me it would be fun to do dumb things. Unless, of course, that includes walking along a Florida beach wearing a Hawaiian shirt, lemon-yellow shorts, and socks with sandals. Then I might be convinced.