Saturday, February 6, 2010


One spring our boy scout troop participated in a "jamboree", a
camping trip and contest to show off our skills for all the troops in
the area. We all gathered on a piece of land adjacent to the CIA.
Two boys did get over the fence and into spyland, but that's another
The big shots organized inspections of our campgrounds, our
entrance ways, the monkey bridges or other rope constructions,
our cooking and our latrines. They also held contests on the
common area, such as a pancake-flipping contest. I was chosen to
represent us in the fire-starting contest.
Each contestant was given a small area to build a fire.
We were completely restricted to natural materials that we gathered
on site and we were given two matches. Our areas had been prepared
with two cotton strings at twelve inches and twenty four inches.
Our materials could not exceed the first string. We were each to
have, I think, 5 minutes to in which to burn away the second string.
Everybody went to work while the judge circulated. I was way
at one end, there were twenty or thirty contestants. I had carefully
prepared some green cedar branches and, underneath and inside,
some tinder from the shreddings of the cedar bark.
We all were instructed to light our matches at the same time.
After a couple of minutes the judge made his way down to my site.
By then, it already looked as though a few boys were going to be
successful but a large majority had already failed, probably for
lack of sufficiently small, fine tinder.
There was nothing but prodigious smoke coming out of my
green effort. The judge pompously proceeded to pronounce my
effort a failure in advance of the time limit. He patrimoniously
explained to me that green material would not burn, that I needed
to use dry material.
Just then, in the middle of his speech, four things happened
v.bery quickly.
First, the second string completely disappeared.
Second, the smoke disappeared.
Third, in its place suddenly burst forth the largest, biggest
licks of orange fire in the whole area.
Fourth, the judge stopped talking.

I was the first to burn through the second string. I was not,
however, awarded the first prize, because, the judge explained,
I had not done it according to the way he believed that it should
have been done. My frends and troopleader protested that I had
been ripped off but their protests were ignored.

The rest of my life is pretty much going along the same lines.

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