Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

F-4 Phantom

F-4 Phantom
F-4 Phantom

Friday, November 25, 2011

Boys, Pocket Knives, Scars and Other Saga's of Growing Up

Seems there is a trend now days of people cutting themselves on purpose for whoever knows why.  I don't mean to sound insensitive or anything, but cutting myself growing up came natural to me...none of it was on just came with being a kid as part of growing up. Over the years I’ve managed to slash, smash, puncture, burn, scrape, cut, and split open various good layers of skin and other assorted body parts using a variety of sharp and blunt objects including but not exclusive to razor blades, broken glass, rusty nails, wire, hot coals, wooden splinters, metal splinters, various types of hammers, saws, thumbtacks, car doors, hot objects, briar patches, rocks, camera tripods, and lest we forget that staple of every young boy…the pocket knife.  Being right handed, my left hand has bore the brunt of that abuse and today I carry numerous scars as a result.  Each scar carries with it a gripping story of which over the years I have bored untold people to death telling and retelling of the ghastly details of how one scar or the other came into existence.   Now that I have raised your interest level, allow me  to fill you in on some of the more ghastly saga’s of these painful events before you move on to other less interesting agendas. 

Remember the days when you were a kid and you went through that phase of constructing model cars or airplanes?  Yeah…me too.  One of the more traumatic of the scars I received was the result of building a model car.  I was about eight maybe nine years old and was considered by many a veteran model car builder by then.  I was also considered a veteran at getting injured by then as well.  The two just seemed to go together…being eight or nine and getting injured that is.  Well, being the veteran model builder that I was, I decided to do an extra special job of putting this particular model together.  Most of the time I’d just twist off the plastic part from the assorted parts stick holder and squeeze out two or three times the amount of glue required and slap the part where it was suppose to go.  Never mind those annoying little plastic edges that remained where it broke off the stick…odds are it would not matter anyway once I blew up the model with a firecracker or cherry bomb. 

On this occasion, I decided I would actually try to put the model together according to the instructions and asked my mom for a razor blade.  Now…most ordinary mom’s troubles-a-brewing radar would start buzzing when their eight year old asked for a razor blade…but my mom was different.  I suppose her philosophy was …whatever he was going to do… it probably would not kill him…so she gave me one.  My intent was to use the razor to shave off all those annoying little flange’s that stuck out from where it broke off the parts stick.  What I managed to do was slice the end of my ring finger on the left hand clear to the bone. The first words out of my mouth were…you guessed it…’Mom!’

She coaxed me into the bathroom and started to clean and wrap it.  All went well until the floor slammed into the back pf my head. I woke up a few seconds later lying between the sink and the commode with my mom hovering over me yelling for my dad.  I suppose all that blood and the gaping end of my finger didn’t settle to well with my constitution.  Shortly thereafter the razorblade was confiscated not to be redistributed until I was around thirteen…at which time I promptly sliced open another part of my left hand.

Other than the occasional need for a tetanus booster shot I managed to survive several scaring events like slicing my hand open on the jagged edge of a broken bottle that was strategically placed in the sand at the local swimming hole, stepping on assorted rusty nails, smashing a thumb trying to hammer rusty nails, embedding various sizes of fishhooks into assorted body parts, or dripping melting plastic onto my barefoot while firebombing a fire ant mound using a burning plastic army soldier.  You can throw in a few hundred ant, tick, and chigger bites along with numerous wasp stings as well.  But to avoid boring you with those trivial incidents, let’s fast forward a few years toward some really gruesome and memorable skin slicing events.

When I was 12 years old, we lived in Delano, California and I attended the local junior high school seventh grade class.  The school building was fairly new at the time, single story modular in design with these cast iron hand crank windows that opened outward at a 90 degree angle from the outside wall.  On one memorable lunch period I was hanging out with a friend and we just happened to be sitting between some bushes that lined the area around the perimeter of the building.   Where we were sitting was also directly under one of those cast iron windows that just happened to be opened all the way out.  Two other friends came running by and yelled at us to join them for something obviously more important and fun than just sitting on the mulch.  We jumped to our feet…well, my friend jumped to his feet, I didn't quite make it all the way to my feet.  Seems the back corner of the top of my head managed to collide with the outer edge of that cast iron window frame that was sticking out.  Yeah…you’re right… it really hurt and I instinctively grabbed the top of my head.  My friend’s eyes grew about three times larger than normal as he sympathetically and very calmly yelled out, ‘Man…your heads bleeding all over the place!’

Sure enough I brought my hand down and it was covered with blood which started running down my face and neck and dripped off my ear.  Well, the nurse’s office was around the corner in the next building and so not knowing anything else better to do, we took off running in that direction.  When we came to the corner we simply cut across the grass as it was a short cut and reduced considerably the distance required to get there.  By this time I was getting somewhat light headed and didn’t feel too well.  We were about halfway across the grass and a few dozen yards from the nurse’s office, when the librarian stepped out of the library…which was next to the nurse’s office…and saw us cutting across the grass, a criminal offense that apparently carried some big time reprocussions for students that did such things. Schools back then seemed to frown on students running across grass...probably not so much to prevent us from exercising, but they figured if we were running it was probably because we had done something wrong and were trying to get away. She stopped us and started chewing us out for breaking the rules and told us to turn around and walk back to the sidewalk, stay on the sidewalk walking slowly all the way to the corner then proceed to where ever we were heading.

In our excitement, we both blurted out at the same time, ‘But (he’s/I’m) bleeding to death!’…which was quite obvious by this time as my face, neck, and shirt were covered in blood and I was turning quite pale as well.  She didn’t seem too concerned about my plight and ordered us to do what she said…which we, being from that generation that always obeyed their elders, obediently did. As a result, I almost didn’t make it to nurse’s office and had to stop a time or two because I felt like throwing up.  The librarian stood in a silent disgruntled stance the whole time, arms crossed with a stern expression on her face monitoring the situation to make sure we followed the rules all the way to the corner…the fact that I was about to pass out, was on the verge of hoarking up my recently eaten lunch, and was dripping blood all over the sidewalk had little if any influence on her determination to enforce school policy.

Having to backtrack like that almost tripled the distance and time required to reach the nurse’s office…but somehow I managed to make it without passing out and fortunately, the nurse was genuinely more sympathetic to my plight than the librarian was, and called my mom calmly telling her over the phone, 'Your son has split his head open and needs to have some stitches.'

It took a trip to the emergency room and indeed a few stitches to patch up the gash almost good as new.  I managed to get out of school for the rest of the day as a result.  The next day I was back at school romping and stomping like nothing had happened, although I became the center of attention at show and tell time as most of the kids had never actually seen real stitches before…at least not attached to someone’s head. By this time in my life I had already had various parts of my anatomy sewed up a few times and thought nothing of it.

Some 20 years later I retold this story to my dad…who happened to be a high school teacher himself at the time of the incident…and mentioned the part about how the librarian made us stop and backtrack in spite of the blood gushing from my head.  It’s not often I see my dad get angry, but he actually got angry upon hearing that and said he would have had that librarians job on the chopping block for having done such a fool thing.  Oh well…I lived through it none the worse for the wear, and managed to stay within the rules doing so...sort of.

By the time I was twenty six years old, I was a truly seasoned veteran at getting injured having perfected various techniques of self inflicted mayhem. By this time in my life I had spent four years in the military, was going back to college, and fishing had become a real pastime and I would take off as much as I could in pursuit of it. All three of those endeavors contributed to various other scars and scrapes…fishing being, if not the most hazardous then the most reoccurring, of the three.

As part of my fishing agenda, one thing I wanted to do was to use marker buoys so I could mark any submerged break lines where the big daddy’s hung out.  I was also very poor and consequently cheap and instead of coughing up the $3.95 it would take to purchase three or four of them, I decided I would make my own.  Seems there was this old plastic spool of $2.00 fishing line I had that was about four inches across and five inches deep.  It would make a perfect marker buoy…all I had to do was remove the old fishing line and attach some braided line with a weight…waahlah! 

Problem was, not only was I poor and cheap, I was also impatient and instead of taking the time to manually unroll the three or four hundred yards of monofilament, I decided I would simply cut it off.  Thus I pulled out the razor sharp Buck hunting knife I kept around for such occasions.  I held the spool in my soon to be unfortunate left hand spreading the fingers across one of the rounded ends and inserted the knife blade under the line on the other end…gave it a bit of push…and waahlah!  I managed to drive the end of the blade clean into the fleshy part of my hand that stretches between the index finger and the thumb.  Of course the first thing I did was stare at it in disbelief and what I saw was a gaping slice about an inch wide and two inches deep.  Just before the gash filled with blood, I noticed the bone being exposed in various locations along the slice.  The second thing I did was fill the air with various phrases and explicative’s that would have embarrassed the most hardened sailor…of which I used to be one thus I was well versed in that particular type of vocabulary.  That incident resulted in another emergency room visit…that cost considerably more than the $3.95 it would have cost to buy the marker buoys.

Speaking of sailor language…that brings up another…I promise the last…incident that generated another bout of colorful vocabulary.  During the four years I was in the U.S. Coast Guard I spent the majority of that time at the Umpqua River Lifeboat Station in Winchester Bay, Oregon as part of a search and rescue team.  We operated two of the venerable 44 foot motor lifeboats…CG44303 and CG44331…two of the best surf boats ever to grace the Pacific.  It was during my last summer at the unit at the time when hundreds of pleasure boaters, trailer sailors we called them, would invade this quiet little coastal community and mix with the couple dozen commercial and charter rigs that operated out of the harbor year round. 

On this particular day, the weather was moderate but overcast, and we had several hundred boats that had crossed the bar all hoping to tie into the salmon that migrated along these waters.  I along with two other crewmen were on a routine bar-patrol aboard the CG44331 when we received a call from the station indicating that someone had suffered a heart attack aboard the fishing vessel Poky…a twenty-five maybe thirty foot double ender that had a long history of being old. 

We jumped into action and started to track them down amongst all the other traffic out that day.  After several minutes we found them and pulled alongside.  It was my duty to board the other vessel and checkout the situation.  I found an older man well into his 70’s who was unconscious and not breathing…and three other adults and one child on the boat.  The deck space was very cramped so I instructed a young man onboard to help me reposition the victim so we could begin CPR.  It took a few seconds to make the adjustment and as I stood up to reposition myself so I could start CPR, a large swell rolled the boat to port (that’s to the left) and I almost lost my balance.  Instinctively I reached up and grabbed the nearest thing I could to keep from falling over the side…unfortunately it turned out to be the extremely hot exposed engine exhaust pipe that extended straight up from the engine cowling.  Not being familiar with the vessel, I didn’t realize what I was doing until it was too late.

My right hand was severely burned and the skin smoked as the hot metal seared the flesh.  I cried out from the pain using various sailor-language explicative’s (I’m not particularly proud of that fact…but it happened).  I grabbed my hand which had curled inward from the shock of the burn…all but useless.  From all the times I’ve injured myself, never had I experienced such a painful situation.  I looked with shocked eyes into the fearful eyes of the other passengers and none of them knew what to do…they were depending on me to take control of the situation.  The 331 had moved off and was positioned ahead of us. In spite of the pain, I began CPR as best as I could…eventually after about 15 minutes, we transferred the victim onto the CG44331 which was a faster boat and headed back into the harbor. Even so, it took close to another fifteen minutes to make it back in, all the while myself and one of the other crewmen on the 331 performed CPR.

An ambulance awaited us…I went with the ambulance to the emergency room and assisted the EMT on the way.  Once there and under a doctor’s care, the old man began to breathe on his own.  After all the excitement had died down my burned hand was eventually treated, and although it took several weeks, it healed completely with no scarring.  Myself and the other two crewmen on the 331 that day were credited with sustaining the life of this man until professional medical help could be implemented.  We received commendations for our efforts.  Unfortunately, a few days later the old man suffered another setback and did not make it…one in a series of setbacks he had apparently suffered over the last few years of his life.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this.   Growing up and suffering through various cuts, scrapes and burns, proved valuable lessons as I learned how to deal with the negative effects and keep going.  As a result, when faced with a very traumatic and difficult situation I was able to shake off the shock suffered from a damaging and painful burn, and focus on what had to be done.  It became the defining moment of my young adult life.  Growing up experiencing such traumatic things like getting cut tended to toughen that accident prone young boy, and in the long run…it paid off when it counted the most.  So a word of wisdom to all you young parents out there…especially those with boys…let them suffer a scrape or two as they grow up…it will help them learn how to deal with difficult and even painful situations…they will be better for it when they get older. A great Christmas present for any boy is to receive a pocket knife from his dad…when they eventually cut themselves for the first time using it, well…that’s one of life’s little pleasures to know that your son is taking his first steps toward becoming a man.

As I have grown older, I’ve mostly, but not entirely, managed to replace cutting, stabbing, and burning myself...with slipping, tripping and falling off things… especially ladders.  I have become quite adept at doing so scoring in the high 9’s and sometimes even perfect 10’s as I perform those acrobatic maneuvers with grace and style…but that’s another gripping saga better saved for another time.


No comments: