A Little Knotty

This week’s post gets knotty. Feel free to stick around.

You can always cut short, you can’t cut long.

I tell that to my children all the time. It’s a good life lesson.

Years ago, I worked at Thunder Ridge Scout Camp. A summer camp for Boy Scouts. I had a great time of it. Made some fantastic friends. Memories that might outlast me. And life lessons that I am ever so grateful for. One of which I already mentioned: You can always cut short, you can’t cut long.

This was learned the hard way. Over and over again and again. My first job with Thunder Ridge started off with an interview that went something like this: Them, “What can you do.”
Me, “Tie knots, burn things, and blow stuff up.”
Them, “Perfect. You’re hired.”
Them again, “You don’t need to blow anything up.”

And like that, I was introduced to the world of the BSA—when (in my opinion) what it did was pretty good. I really enjoyed what I did. I worked hard in my program area to help teach survival skills and knot tying to teenage boys. It was a good time. That last one, knot tying, I just dived into full force. For some reason, I couldn’t get enough knowledge about ropes, rope making, history of rope, knots, knot tying, knot theory, and so much more about ropes and knots that even a die-hard fanatic would say, “Okay… You need professional help.” and walk away. But I loved it! I truly did.

My camp staff uniform with the translator strip.
That strip is a way of informing others that I speak the language of ropes.

My area assistant, Mathew (one of the finest people I have ever known), even got in on it. Once he brought a faxed plan of a ladder lashing that we both flipped out over. It was a technique on how to lash a ladder together using logs and only two ropes—one for each side—instead of a bunch of small ropes. The simplicity of it was what was truly amazing. We tried it out. It was so easy and worked so very well.

Somewhere, I still have a copy of that paper. Somewhere…

At my peak, I had a tremendous knowledge base of knots and a perfect knowledge of lashings. It sounds very arrogant, I know. That doesn’t make it less true. There would be Scout Masters that would attempt to correct me on certain aspects of my teachings. Then, I would have to correct them. They were taught wrong. That sounds super arrogant, I know. Again, it doesn’t make it less true.

Here is a photograph of mine and Mathew’s hands pointing out the sign we burned into our knot tying log. Scout Masters would come to our class, see the log, and assume it was to sit upon. The log was a tool used for our Boy Scout students to practice their knot tying skills on and around—knot a chair (I know what I wrote).
This photo hangs on the wall of my studio.

I wasn’t going to teach a practice if it was wrong. I would study. Find the real facts. Then teach. It was that simple. It went that simply. It is a tenant I still use today. I find out what truths there are and teach them as such. If I don’t know, I say, “I don’t know.” and then try to either find out for myself or help guide the student to find out for themselves.

The love for crafting and design I have mentioned before, they are two of my passions. While learning more and more knots and rope skills I went on to build in my program area (with help) some really cool stuff. One of which started with a couple of camp chairs.

The idea started with a plan. A literal plan for a chair made of fabric and logs. The materials were found and so, the plan was executed. Mathew and I built two camp chairs made of logs and canvas. They are still one of the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat in. We had them set perfect. I really mean it. Perfect. The height, distance, tensions, everything. Perfect.

Knowing we could do it. The next year we did it again. Only more. We build a whole shelter area around those chairs. We wanted our area to be the perfect example of what camping could be like with ropes and logs and basic stuff. And, we did it.

Taken on a cool and early morning with a disposable camera. From left to right you can see a totem pole, a fence with working gate. Behind the gate is my chair, then a firewall with a small fire pit behind it (the wall reflected the heat back toward us—it worked very well), then Mathew’s chair, a small table was built between the two chairs (not visible). A small stump for a table, and a windbreak wall with a couch built-in using woven rope for the seat (the couch could also double as a bed—it was surprisingly comfy).
Note: Both the firewall and windbreak used the ladder lashing—slightly modified—to build.
A better picture of the same area shown above. From left to right: I believe his name is Josh (one of my staff members for a year), a junior staff member whose name I cannot recall (he is sitting on the table that was mentioned in the above photo), and Mathew (a staff member and friend for many years).

I mentioned before that at my peak I had a large knowledge base of knots and such. I actively knew—meaning not only could I tie the knot, but I could also name it and several of the other names it was known by—almost 200 knots and lashings. About 60% of those had up to four, or more, different names. I had also learned many a good rope trick that on more than one occasion caused a male staff member to accidentally drop themselves to their knees in their attempt to figure said trick out.

See, the trick involved a length of climbing rope. I would weave the rope about my hands, and with a quick flick of the wrist, would toss the rope off from about my hands, and tie a knot in it without ever letting go of that length of rope. As staff members would attempt to replicate the trick, it would never work—for them (it is a trick, after all). Unfortunately, when executed, many of the staff members would hold the rope at about waist level, and when they would whip the rope off of their hands and pull it taut, the rope would snap back and… well… Let’s just say one of them almost buckled over, from the intensity of their failure.

Over the years, through lack of use, that information has not only slipped but has become lost. I still very much understand the principles behind how it is all done—and can still do most of it—but, I don’t think I could teach 80%+ of it without a few days to seriously brush up on the topic. It’s just not that needed in my day-to-day routine anymore.

At the point in my life where I am at now, I only use a few knots. They are, in my opinion, the basic knots that everyone should know. One of which is commonly referred to as the square knot (its real name being the reef knot, as the real square knot makes a square). This knot is easy, sturdy, and simple to tie.

Image curated at 101Knots.com.

Another is the butterfly knot. When used in combination with other knots it can make handles, loops for fixtures, pulley systems, and all manner of other things. I use it all the time. The main reason I enjoy it is due to how little it will reduce the load-bearing capacity of the rope. It is quite impressive.

Image curated at 101Knots.com.

One more of my personal favorites is the two half hitches. Most people I know call it the double half hitch. That is not its name. A double would make it a whole hitch. This is one half hitch followed by a second half hitch. Now, I know that sounds like I just repeated myself saying it in two different ways, but I didn’t. It is not the same thing.

Image curated at 101Knots.com.

The last of my go-to knots is the bowline. In all the years I would teach this knot I would have scout after scout after scout tell how they already knew how to tie it. They all knew the same trick, but, they could only do it around their own waist. Useless. Utterly useless. The knot creates a fixed loop. If you can only do it around your own waist, it’s useless. I tie it all the time in all sizes and in all sorts of strings and ropes. It is exceptionally handy.

Image curated at 101Knots.com.

The motto of Be Prepared is a good one. When I knew all those knots I could tie anything—and do it the right way. On more than one occasion those bizarre knot skills have come in handy. I once had to secure a barrel. Like one of those wooden ones, you see in the movies and cartoons. Everyone present was unsure how to securely tie a round object without it rolling out of the rope. I knew the barrel knot. A knot designed to do the job we were attempting to do. When asked why I knew it, my reply was, “Boy Scouts. I taught knot tying.” Again, they asked why (as in more specifically, why the need to know how to tie up a barrel), I pointed to the barrel I had just secured and smiled. The response, “Point taken.”

I used to know hundreds of knots. Now, I can only recall maybe ten or so.

Again, you can always cut short, you can’t cut long.

Sometimes you need to learn, or do, more than you think you need to. Sometimes you need more than you think you do. It sounds like a hoarder mentality, almost. That is not what I am intending to communicate. My point is simply this: If you can prepare yourself, life can be easier. Events that seem rough, may not remain that way. Sometimes all you need is a good secure knot to hold you fast until the storm is past.

This rambling may have gone on too long. Maybe this post—like a rope—could have been cut short. Then again, maybe knot (I know what I wrote).

Yeah, I used to be quite knotty. Now, I’m only just a little.

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