It’s no secret that my experience with Boy Scouts had a significant impact on my life. Philmont was only the tip of the iceberg. Our Scout troop (the now-defunct Troop 322) had a core group of dedicated adults who helped create an environment where leaders could be equipped and mentored. We had the opportunity to succeed…and fail…as young leaders in a safe environment. One of the things that set us apart from other troops in the area was the fact that we ran our own Summer Camp.
We could do this for two reasons: 1.) a dedicated group of dads who gave up a week of vacation in order to serve as adult advisers and teachers during the week. 2.)A strong Leadership Corps: older Scouts who served as mentors and teachers for younger Scouts. Who better to help a younger Scout learn the ropes of Scouting than by learning from the example of older Scouts who had already navigated through the ranks of Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class?
So let me tell you about the time that I was teaching a bunch of visiting Cub Scouts some important safety lessons. I was 16 at the time. Our Leadership Corps had set up a large area to serve as our base of operations. Because we had limited time and a bunch of visiting Webelos Scouts* (5th graders who were transitioning into Boy Scouts) to accommodate, each of us manned a station and rotated smaller groups through each station. We had about 10 to 15 minutes with each group before they moved on to the next station. One station involved knot tying. I think another was about pitching a tent. Yet another probably had something to do with cooking or campfires or something in that realm. My mind is getting a little fuzzy about those details and I’ve forgotten what was being taught at each station. But I can tell you that it was all hands-on stuff. And I can also tell you without a shadow of a doubt what skill I was teaching that fateful day.
Yep. You think you might know where this is going. And you might be right. Then again, you might be wrong. Oh, so very wrong.
Before the Webelos arrived for their instruction, our own younger Scouts were going through the learning stations. I was busy teaching my students all the ins and outs of ax safety: how to handle an ax, how to properly chop wood, how to carry an ax, how to safely pass an ax, how to establish an ax yard, stuff like that.(+)
So my students have been doing a great job chopping into a log. They’ve kept the ax yard clear of anything (or anyone) that could be hit. They’ve been safely passing the ax, either by leaving it in the side of the log and exiting the ax yard, or properly handing it to the next person and waiting for that person to say “Thank you,” signifying that he has control of the ax and the other person can let go. Everything went without a hitch. Before I knew it, it was time for these young Boy Scouts to leave and move on to a different area of the Camp for some other class, like swimming, sailing, or some other important class.
As they left, I saw the Webelos groups coming down the path. I looked at the log my class had just finished chopping. They weren’t quite done. I looked at the group of Webelos and did some quick calculating in my head. They weren’t very far away and it really wouldn’t take very long to get a good start on a new log so the kids would get a chance to really chop some wood.
So I hurriedly took a few swings at the log that we were going to use. I made a pretty good start. They were going to have a great time and learn a lot from this hands-on demonstration.
Right before the Webelos arrived, I took the ax with one hand and swung towards the end of the log. That’s supposed to be the safest place to transfer an ax, remember. So I was thinking safety all the way. Except I was in a hurry. And I only used one hand.
Now, one of the important keys to ax maintenance and safety is to keep your ax sharp. Do you want to know why you want to keep it sharp? Because a dull ax can bounce off the wood.
And you know what happens when a dull ax hits the end of a log and bounces off the wood when you don’t have both hands on the ax handle?
The ax bounces right into your shin.
Let me say that again. It bounces into your shin.
That’s right. I cut my leg with an ax while preparing to teach ax safety to a bunch of kids.
Wait…I do remember one of the other stations that was happening at the same time. Someone was teaching First Aid. I know this because I hobbled over to that station as quickly as I could, frantically trying to find a bandage of some type so I could stop the bleeding. I couldn’t find any. There weren’t any.
That’s right. The guy teaching First Aid didn’t have basic First Aid equipment with him.
This had quickly become a comedy of errors. And it was very close to becoming a two-bit horror story: “The ghost of a teenage boy wielding an ax terrorizes innocent, unsuspecting campers every Summer as he tries to find a way to reattach his severed leg.”
Fortunately, it ended relatively well.
I found a red bandanna and hobbled over to a water spigot. I don’t really know why I got the bandanna wet. Maybe because I thought the cool water would ease the pain? I really don’t know, but I took that soaked bandanna and tied it around my leg. Then I tried to pretend like nothing had happened as I started my class with the Webelos and their Den Moms.
I don’t know how I did it, but I made it through all of the rotations and did my best to instruct these kids how to properly handle an ax. I should’ve just said, “Did you see what I just did? Yeah, don’t do that.”
Later that day, I was trying to relax in a hammock. Mr. G. walked over to me from the Adults’ camping area. He had a First Aid kit with him. “I heard about what happened. Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” I told him. I didn’t want to admit that my leg was still throbbing. And I didn’t really want to take off the bandanna to see what my leg looked like. And I was pretty embarrassed. I mean, how do you let something like that happen when you’re teaching ax safety?
“Let’s get that cleaned up,” he said as he made a move towards my right leg. He took off the bandanna and opened up the First Aid kit. He took out a cleaning packet and opened it. He rubbed it all over my wound.
It burned like the dickens.
He had used rubbing alcohol and put it all over my cut. “That’s to remind you never to do that again,” he said. And then he dressed my wound with a properly sized bandage. And he didn’t ever say anything else to me about it ever again.He didn’t have to worry about reminding me. I had already learned my lesson. And I’m glad I didn’t wind up earning some kind of crazy nickname like “Ax Boy” or “Master Ax Instructor” or something crazy like that. Instead, I just have this scar to remind me to slow down and make sure to do things the right way the first time.
I dodged a bullet with this ax-ident. I could’ve seriously damaged my leg. I guess there’s a chance I could’ve cut it off.
* We had set up camp at Camp Roy C. Manchester on Kentucky Lake. The Webelos were local Scouts, visiting from the area. I think a Day Camp was going on in a different part of the camp and we had agreed to teach them a few skills. Boy, did some of them have a memorable experience.
** Is it ‘ax’ or ‘axe’? Grammarist says that both are correct. ‘Ax’ is more popular in the States. So I’m sticking with ax.
(+) I know what you seasoned Scouters are asking: Why weren’t you using Totin’ Chip cards? I don’t know. Can’t give you an answer. We just didn’t use them.