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What's All This Then?

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The Boy Scouts of America’s
The Boy Scout Handbook

Field-Tested by Rosecrans Baldwin

in Pound Ridge, New York

From second grade to twelfth, I was a Boy Scout in some form of another. This was a matter of fun — and also some pretty serious embarrassment-fun when there was fire-building involved, and embarrassment when I was 14 and marching in the Memorial Day parade in front of my entire small town, wearing a uniform that included a white sash across my chest with an enormous red arrow pointing at my face.

But The Boy Scout Handbook was always one of my favorite books. It was as well-thumbed as my Tintin books, my collected Sherlock Holmes, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman, or anything in the oeuvres of Margaret Weis or Piers Anthony. More than any of them, The Boy Scout Handbook was useful. I reread it multiple times. It taught me how to build an ice cave; how to tie a sheepshank; how to survive for weeks with just a reflective tarp. I used it to figure out how to rappel off a tree in my backyard, terrifying my mother. I loved all of its diagrams, its tone of thrifty cheer. I had this fantasy, for years, that with a Swiss Army knife, some waterproof matches, and a tarp, I could survive anything, anywhere. How many other young boys were fantasizing about tarps, I don’t know.

I remember it best from my first trip, a weekend camping trip in Pound Ridge, New York. I’d just bought my copy that week, and it seemed enormous, way too big to ever read, nevermind memorize (which is how I approached it: as a manual for life). But then there I was, in a field in a state park, probably nine years old, and it was me who knew how to build a log-cabin fire because I had read about it the night before.

Rosecrans Baldwin is a founding editor of The Morning News where he writes the Letters from Paris column. His stories have elsewhere appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and on NPR’s "All Things Considered."

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