A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


To tell you the absolute truth, I wasn't a very good Boy Scout.

I just didn't see the point. Camping? I was planning on living indoors for the rest of my life, thank you. Hiking? I'd rather drive. Making fires by rubbing sticks together? Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that why we have matches?

The thing that really got me, however, was knot-tying. What was that about? I mean, if I was going to be a sailor, I guess I'd need to know how to tie all those knots. Or if I was going to be a cowboy or a lumberjack or a circus performer, I could see where knot-tying would be handy. At the time, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was pretty sure that whatever it was, it wouldn't have anything to do with tying knots.

All of which was lost on my Scoutmaster.

"You never know when you're going to need to tie something down," he used to say. "And when that time comes, you'll be glad you know which knot to use."

The only thing I was interested in tying down was a date with JoAnn Southwick. Unfortunately, my Scoutmaster didn't have that knot in his repertoire.

He did know every other knot in the rope-tying world, however, and we practiced them until we could do them in our sleep: square knot, clove hitch, two half-hitches, bowline. There were Scouts in my troop who could tie a bowline knot around their waist in three seconds flat. I couldn't buckle my Scout belt that fast.

“Over-under-around-and-through!" my Scoutmaster shouted encouragingly as I tried to remember the bowline drill.

“Tell you what," I huffed as I worked to extricate my thumbs from the granny knot into which I had inadvertently tied them, "if I ever need a knot tied, I'll send my butler to get you."

He laughed. Then he made me keep working on the bowline until I could tie it properly.

Believe it or not, I eventually passed off all my knots for my Scoutmaster. Then I figured I could just forget them, because I was sure I would never need to know them again. The funny thing is, throughout my life I keep stumbling upon reasons to tie knots. A shoelace would break, and without even thinking I would tie the two loose ends together with a square knot – “the joining knot," as my Scoutmaster used to call it. A load needed to be secured to the back of a truck, and all of a sudden I'm tying half-hitches. My friend pulls his boat into dock and tosses me the rope, and before you know it I've tied it down with a clove hitch. And not too long ago at work I had to hang a banner, which had to be held in place by 17 short pieces of rope.

You guessed it: over-under-around-and-through. Seventeen times.

It’s amazing how often that happens: Stuff We Thought Was Stupid becomes Stuff We're Glad We Know. It may be a bit of biology, an obscure equation, a minute fact of life learned experientially at the School of Hard Knocks or the name of the character known as The Professor on "Gilligan's Island." Whatever. The fact is, there's no such thing as trivia. It's all important somewhere, sometime, to someone who doesn't care who you know, but what you know.

Oh, and in case you're wondering: The Professor's name was Roy Hinkley.

Scout’s honor.

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— © Joseph Walker

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