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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Arms and the Boy: From the Archives…

potential slingThe other day I bundled myself up and headed out for a Valley walk. Gladys stayed behind in the garage. The last time we ventured out together, I thought my face was going to freeze, strange because Gladys hardly moves fast enough to stir up a breeze. On the return leg I paused beside the willow tree whose scion I used to start our backyard pussy willow bush (now a small tree) to see if the rising sap had encouraged the birth of any furry kittens. Nothing to report yet; spring is still underground somewhere. Something else, though, caught my attention: a branch that forked nicely into the perfect slingshot crotch. That got me to thinking about primitive weaponry and my boyhood days growing up in the wilds of Douglas County.

The school bus had hardly dropped us off for summer vacation until our thoughts turned to summer armament. We were at that stage of juvenile male development that teetered between cap pistols and squirt guns to more serious weaponry. Those were the days of the Wild West: a boy needed to be prepared for a random encounter with some varmint, a rattlesnake, say, or a rabid coyote. You didn’t dare face summer without a single-shot slingshot holstered in the back pocket of your levis, so off we went to the nearby riverbank and the willow covert in search of  the perfect slingshot crotch. Each potential candidate received 360 degree close scrutiny…not easy to do in the thick brush and clutter of the thicket. One candidate after the other was rejected until finally…there it was; it beckoned to you like you were water and it were a witching wand. Leaving enough handle for a boyish grip, we’d hack through the branch with our Boy Scout knives, do the same with the two tines of the fork, and head home with our prizes.bean flip crotch

While the peeled crotch was drying, we went in search of sling material. The camp mechanic was certain to know the whereabouts of a castoff inner tube. We were ever hopeful the throwaway would be red rubber, the liveliest of all rubber tubes. Most of the time we had to settle for black tubes. Then it was a matter of finding the snappiest of these; some rubber, when stretched, was simply dead and wouldn’t do. When we found a functional tube, we’d scissor from it two strips of equal length, fourteen to sixteen inches long and a half to three-quarter’s inch wide. After carving a small notch in both tips of the fork, we’d lash a strip of rubber to each tip. The loose ends we’d bind to a patch cut from an old pair of jeans (or piece of leather cut from the tongue of an old shoe), a receptacle for whichever projectile we chose. During the course of a day’s play, we were ever vigilant for suitable ammo—round and smooth pebbles, marble-sized (there was always the kid who used his spring marble winnings as missiles…that was NOT this kid).a weapon just waiting to happen

It was an armed camp we  lived in during the summer. Regardless of  the threat, we were ready for it, armed to the teeth with a sling made from a willow fork, an old inner tube and a pocketful of rocks. If the threat were the size of a barn door, it stood a good chance of being pelted by a stone (a fifty gallon oil drum beyond the range of twenty paces needn’t worry about being dented). I can’t ever recall doing much damage with my “bean flip”…. Birds smaller than a peacock were safe, although I did wreak considerable destruction on the mud nests the cliff swallows built under the eaves of the packing shed….

Of course those were the days before mandatory background checks…but we did have to clear our pockets and check our weapons at the front door before we could take our places at the dinner table for the evening meal. primitive weaponry

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1 comment:

  1. What joyful freedom to explore, learn, and be free. We can only wish for the same for our kids. A life without such fears as the modern day city life presents, many self-inflicted...