Letting your kids do dangerous things is a very hard thing to do. "Dangerous" is a relative term. Wandering alone in the woods could be construed as "dangerous". Driving alone could be construed as "dangerous". But we all need to let our kids get out there and do stuff at some risk. That first summer up north my dad gave me some things that every young boy needs; weapons.
My dad’s first big risk up north was giving me a double edged hatchet. I was only 7, so it seemed pretty big to me. My job was to ruond up scraps of 2×4 and split them into kindling for the fire. I got pretty good at it. There were plenty of scraps, and I enjoyed doing it.
My dad was an EMT, and knew very well how to care for any mishaps, and had an excellent medical kit on hand. He showed me how to take care of myself if anything happened, how to deal with being hurt alone in the woods, and how to find my way out if I got lost.
I first fell afoul of the hatchet one day making kindling. My dad was on the other side of The Clearing, and my mom and the girls were away somewhere. Once the stick gets small enough, you have to hold it until the very last second. One time I held it one second too long. I caught my thumb diagonally across the nail, and cut deep enough to make the blood gush and a good bit of thumb flop around, but nothing actually came OFF.
My dad had told me to squeeze a cut, so I grabbed my thumb around the base and squeezed. It seemed ludicrous to me to actually squeeze the wound itself. That would HURT.
I know it was moderately serious because it didn’t hurt right away, and it didn’t occur to me to cry. I just started runnnig toward my dad, calling querilously "DaAaAaAD!". He came over and looked at what I was doing and said "That’s not how you squeeze a cut, you’re making MORE blood come out!". Then he showed me to how to squeeze a cut. And I remembered to cry.
We went back to the trailer and he wrapped it well and told me to lie down. I remember doing so, but I don’t remember anything about the wound after that. I don’t even have a scar, so presumably it healed well. I still have the hatchet, and have cut tons of kindling since then.
Also fairly early that summer I got my first bow and arrows. The bow was a 15 lb draw fiberglass Bear that was my grandmothers. I’m still amazed that she had one, she was a very petite genteel lady. But apparently she and my grandpa used to go target shooting together. I eventually got my grandpa’s bow too, but that’s another story.
My dad bought me 3 cheap arrows at Riebow’s hardware, and gave me the bow with an arm guard. He showed me how to hold it, draw, and aim, and gave me The Lecture about not pointing it where there are people etc.
I don’t think I ever killed anything with it. I had great plans of bringing down a mighty stag, or at least a squirrel. My only real chance came one day when there was a squirrel sitting on a log about 6 feet into the woods from The Campsite. He sat right up tall on that log and looked at me. I drew back my arrow, aimed it right at him, and held there. I was thinking about what I’d do after I shot it. Eat it? Maybe. But we didn’t need the food. Why kill it? I looked at it for a while, then let the bow down.
My only wound from the bow wasn’t actually related to the bow itself. I was shooting my arrows in a high arc to see how far I could get them to go with that bow. I shot one to the far side of The Clearing, and it came down in the branches of a young poplar tree. The tree was only about 3 inches around, so I started to shinny up it. Now poplar trees let their lower branches die as they get older, since they don’t get enough light to help anyway. After about a year they break off, and leave little point nubs sticking out. I was sort of using these, and sort of not. I had my feet on them, but kept most of my weight on my hands.
At some point it all fell apart. My feet started slipping and my hands couldn’t hold. I slid all the way down the tree. When I got to the bottom I noticed that one of the points had grabbed my belly and torn it. I had no idea how bad it was, it was just bleeding a lot, and hurt like crazy. So I went running back to The Campsite where my dad and Troy were doing something or other.
My dad cleared off The Picnic Table and laid me out. He opened up his med kid and pulled out what looked like a catsup packet. He ripped the top off, and squirted it onto my cut, and it was dark red and pasty, just like cheap catsup. Then he put a 3×5 bandaid on it and helped me walk to The Barn and I slept it off. I don’t remember much more than that either. I do remember Troy found the arrow in the weeds near the tree. It hadn’t even been up there in the first place. I still have a nice scar.
The BB Gun
For my 8th birthday, in July of 1979, I got my first BB gun. It was a Daisy Model 105 Buck. It wasn’t even an air rifle, it was spring loaded. I loved that gun. It wasn’t all that accurate, but it was close. I don’t think I ever killed anything with that either. I’m not sure it could have killed anything. In high school I used to stalk deer with it and shoot them in the butt. I could see the BB bounce off, so I know it didn’t do anything to them. They were more startled by the noise of the spring in the gun.
The worst thing that ever happened to me with that gun was also in high school. We’d put some targets on the end of the wood shed and were just trying to see if we could hit anything. A BB bounced straight back at me and hit me in the chest. It went "thwap!" against my jacket and I was able to catch it with my hand before it fell to the ground. I’m pretty convinced it couldn’t have broken skin at more than about 6 inches, which makes it a pretty perfect gun for little boys.
Ironically, for all the weaponry I got that summer, my dad wouldn’t get me a knife until I was 10 or so. Who knows why?
View all posts in this series
- Chapter 1, Heading North - June 24, 2005
- Chapter 2: The First Summer
- Chapter 3: The First Summer Part 2 - June 27, 2005
- Chapter 4: Childhood weaponry
- Chapter 5: The First Fall and Winter - July 6, 2005
- Chapter 6: Setting up house - September 7, 2005
- Hunting - June 14, 2007
- Young Judoka - April 23, 2008
- UFO! - May 18, 2009
- Living Life With Tourette Syndrome - September 23, 2019
- Thoughts on turning 50 - July 17, 2021