Paul Bunyan

My gardener is out in my yard right now, trying to cut down a tree. I have a terrible problem with “volunteer trees,” which are fast growing weed trees that spring up where you don’t want them. This particular tree grew to a diameter of 8 inches and at least 20 feet in height before I even noticed it was there. As we pondered how bring down the tree without destroying all the neighboring trees, I suddenly flashed back to a tree-cutting experience of my youth.

When I was about 12 years old and a Boy Scout, one of the more prized Merit Badges was the Paul Bunyan Woodsman badge.

To win the badge, you had to cut down a tree at least 4 inches in diameter, and cut it into 2 foot lengths using only a hatchet. Since we were just little kids wielding dangerously sharp tools, this could only be done under adult supervision at the annual Boy Scout summer camp. Much of our camping experience involved training with axes and hatchets, to learn the proper safety procedures.

I waited and waited for my turn to ravage the forest with my hatchet, which I always kept keenly sharpened with a whetstone. But the boy whose turn came before mine was even more impatient, when his turn approached, he ran off into the woods, without adult supervision, and started cutting down a tree.

He managed to fell the tree without difficulty, and began cutting the 2 foot long segments. But his safety training was obviously inadequate. Ignoring everything he had been taught, he held the tree trunk in position with his left hand, his hatchet missed the mark, and he chopped off his thumb!

Well, that was the end of the Paul Bunyan program at summer camp. I never got a chance to earn my Merit Badge. Recently the Boy Scouts completely revised the Paul Bunyan requirements, no more cutting down trees, you just clear brush for a couple of hours.

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© Copyright 2016 Charles Eicher