When I was 12 years old I won a dutch oven by beating a grown man in a “mountain man run”. Technically we tied in the run but I broke the tie by shooting a gong that was placed 300 yards up on the side of a mountain.I won with a flinch. The first time I pulled the trigger the hammer just snapped back to half-cock and I flinched so hard I almost fell over. When I reset the hammer I was shaking so bad I should never have hit anything. But I did. The gong made its noise and despite the groaning and laughing of everyone involved, I was crowned the victor.
That was the last mountain man run I ever entered.
My Uncle Tommy was never really my uncle but my step-great grandfather. My great grandma went through multiple husbands and he was the one that lasted the longest. He was a giant man whose shoulders appeared to attach right to his ears with hands like bloated catchers mitts. He who would sit in a chair at my house and just talk at whoever crossed his path.
He would talk about things like how he was the direct descendant of an Old West outlaw called Kid Curry that used to run with Butch Cassidy, about how he used to cook for the mob in Vegas, and how he once choked a man to death when he was in the army. That last one always kind of freaked me out because his victim was a fellow American soldier. It only sorta freaked me out because like most everything Uncle Tommy said, we didn’t believe him.Uncle Tommy owned more than a dozen hand guns, most of which he kept in velvet Crown Royal bags. My Dad tells a story of how one day he had heard enough of Tommy’s tall tales and that it was impossible for this ogre of a man to be as good a marksman as he claimed.
Tommy arranged for the two of them to go out to the desert with a Smith & Wesson revolver and a bag full of pre-school building blocks. You know, the multi colored wood blocks that have letters on their sides.
Dad would throw a hand full of blocks up in the air and while they were flying Dad would yell out a letter. Tommy would raise his pistol and shoot that letter out of the sky before the lot of them hit the ground.
He did it again and again to make sure all doubts were put to rest.Uncle Tommy passed away before I got a chance to see this trick first hand. I could just trust my dad but he has a trophy on his shelf that is shaped like a bull. He won it for telling stories.
I am quite skilled at a number of things that have no practical use. Like most suburban kids, all of my time and efforts during youth were spent acquiring those abilities. But unlike those other kids, my dad never taught me how to properly throw a spiral, I don’t think we ever played a single game of catch.
But he did teach me how to throw a tomahawk.There really isn’t much to it. The secret is all in your distance, the number of paces you are away from the target. At five and a half paces I can stick a hawk in block of wood every time. So can my little sister. At seven paces I flip the blade around backwards and the hawk sticks upside down.
I have labored to teach my daughter about things like oligarchy and the risks of confirmation bias but I was recently excited to teach her something much more important.
A young woman must be prepared to defend herself against the onslaught of tree stumps.
I’m not exactly sure why throwing a hatchet at a tree is so satisfying but trust me when I tell you that it is. It feels primal, is only slightly challenging, and makes a nice little “thunk” sound when the blade buries itself in the wood. It also makes a disturbing “ping” when it ricochets off into the bushes.
But perhaps the most satisfying thing about the tomahawk is that I have yet to find a tournament in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Maybe there is one in Portland but I haven’t heard about it. Not that I don’t like Silver Lake, I rather like the place, but I also like that I have something in my roots that, much like my youth, lacks any social cache’ but is packed with personal enjoyment.
Special shout-out to my brother-in-law for pulling off the perfect tomahawk version of the “Robin Hood”. You owe my Dad a new handle.