Mormons are wild about scouting. Our prophet has won every award scouting can offer, every male member of the church is shunted into scouting the moment he turns twelve, and it is not uncommon in Utah to read in your local paper about thirteen thirteen-year-olds getting their Eagle the same weekend.
Being a scout is a big deal. There is a lot of cultural pressure to do scouting in the church. I, however, had a small problem.
“Hate” is such a powerful word. I should have used “despise, loathe, filled with disgust at the mere mention of,” when describing my feelings towards scouting. I deliberately remained a Tenderfoot (the lowest rank) to spite everyone.
I was a quiet, bookish child. I enjoyed the outdoors, but I wanted to do it on my terms.
It also didn’t help that everyone my age in the congregation were all your stereotypical males. They loved hunting, cars, fast cars, tractors, castrating bulls with their teeth, etc.
I was into none of those things.
Once, in a desperate effort to help me feel included, my leaders did the Astronomy merit badge and let me teach it. I had a Powerpoint presentation, a beautiful telescope in which to see Jupiter’s moons…it was paradise.
Then I turned around to look at my audience.
By the time I was seventeen, my poor bishop had given up any attempt at merit badges or learning to tie knots. Our scouting activities consisted of hunting catfish with pitchforks in the marshes outside town.
I was terrible at it. But it was AWESOME.
There was one scouting activity, however, I thoroughly enjoyed. We nearly killed someone. To protect the innocent, (heavy sarcasm) all names in this story have been changed. It is that awesome. I call it “Potato Scouts of Doom.”
I was fourteen. My leader had decided to participate in an activity where scouts take mirrors to the tops of mountains and flash each other. (With the mirrors, though in Scouting the other type of flashing happened too.)
We got permission from a local farmer to drive up to the top of a mountain, where we camped overnight. The next morning we hiked up next to a heavily fortified US government tower, which had warning signs plastered all over the fence.
If I ever get cancer, I am suing the Trapper Trails Council for every cent not nailed down.
Our leaders were in a state of ecstasy as scouts on other mountains sent pinpricks of light our way.
None of the actual scouts gave a fig’s leaf. Sensing defeat, the leaders decided to take everyone to the canyon down the ridge.
A bit of a geographical background: the mountain range outside of town is split by a canyon into the next valley. The side we were on is essentially a thousand-foot cliff. The other side is owned by my Grandpa, and is far less steep.
The government has dammed the canyon, forming a nice reservoir for electricity and recreation. Personally, I think the government is partially to blame for what happened next-they didn’t have to dam the canyon, after all. They could have built a nuclear plant or something.
But I digress. There was a kid in the group named “Ryan.”
Ryan was crazy, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. He had no fear, and often no common sense.
Because the idea of sending specks of light did not appeal to him (or anyone else) he had brought his potato gun.
This was no ordinary potato gun. I think he may have stolen pieces from a tank. It was ten feet long, powered by napalm, and was probably big enough to use pumpkins as ammunition. I remember one day coming out of my house to see Ryan in his backyard two plots down shooting potatoes over our house and into the next block. My mom had been weeding the garden, but hurriedly rushed inside as the artillery barrage began.
It was a thing of beauty, glory, and testosterone. It was more of a cannon than a gun. I don’t even enjoy shooting, and I lusted after it.
Ryan had also brought about fifty pounds of potatoes. We stopped at the edge of the cliff, and Ryan declared war on the opposite bank.
It was at this point that an innocent, naive jetskiier rounded the bend and entered the canyon. He was enjoying his Saturday, drinking in the scenery, and feeling the wonder of God’s creations.
Ryan’s friend “Bill” spoke up. Bill was crazier than Ryan. If a normal person were say, Switzerland, then Ryan was Russia and Bill was North Korea.
Ryan said, “Bet I can!!” and reloaded.
None of the leaders, including our bishop, said anything. And I get why. The odds of Ryan actually hitting this guy were something like ten billion to one. It would have been easier to hit a fly fifty feet away with a spitball. He was a thousand feet below us and a half mile away.
Ryan unleashed a barrage of potato artillery towards the oblivious jetskiier, and missed. He reloaded, and tried again. He still missed. The jetskiier was clueless, and having reached the dam itself, started to turn around and go back the way he came.
Ryan took this as a personal affront. Swelling with indignation, he selected the largest potato from the rapidly shrinking pile and stuffed it into the barrel.
You know how spurts of desperate adrenaline allow women to lift cars off of their children? I think the same sort of thing happened here.
This was going to be the one. We could all feel it. Birds stopped singing to watch, the wind died, and even the sun dimmed as Ryan hefted the cannon onto his shoulder and took aim.
Too late, a couple of the leaders tried to intervene.
With an almighty BANG and a spurt of blue flame the potato erupted from the cannon.
This vegetable of death rocketed through the canyon, getting smaller and smaller…
We all watched with bated breath as it soared towards its target. Clueless, the jetskiier sailed on.
The scouts erupted into wild cheers as we watched the man tumble off his Jetski, spread-eagled in the water. We may have even lifted Ryan onto our shoulders and carried him around for a bit while he fired more potatoes in triumph.
We aren’t touching him in this picture because we’re throwing him in the air. It’s not because I have the drawing skills of a drunk monkey. Honest.
Our leaders however, were in a terrible state. Our bishop, a very wonderful man I’ve known for over a decade and who has never once raised his voice in anger, looked physically ill.
The jetskiier didn’t move for ten minutes.
I honestly don’t know why someone didn’t seize the cannon from Ryan, but nobody did. I think all the adults were paralyzed with fear and terror. He could have been dead for all we knew.
Eventually a dazed and confused Jetskiier crawled back onto his machine. By now Ryan was out for blood.
He let out a spectacular barrage at the retreating Jetskiier, laughing hysterically, his voice echoing back from the canyon walls.
A boat came around the corner, and the jetskiier flagged them down. They stopped for a moment, clearly conferring, as potatoes rained down from the sky. Then the boat turned around, and both boat and jetskiier vanished around the bend.
Thankfully no one showed up at church the next day covered in bandages. No police report was ever filed.
I don’t think our leaders wanted to risk jail time to flash mirrors at each other, because our scout group never went camping again.