Bob Mitchell: Riding the saplings with Ma Fields

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Bob Mitchell Ozark Views & Comments

Young people these days don't realize how much enjoyment they might have out in a field full of saplings. Riding them was once a few hours of enjoyment for young people, as an individual or in a group.

This experience first came to me during my tenure in the Cub Scouts with Cubmaster Ma (Mrs. F.O.) Fields. She had one thing going for her in this position -- she was a stern teacher who didn't intend for her charges not to learn something from their experiences.


Pack activities during inclement weather were indoors in the photography studio, located in the upstairs-back portion of what was then the Economy Store. This was located on the southwest corner of the square, later Hull's OTASCO, now Barry County Abstract. The spacious studio was a perfect place for meetings, with some challenges and interesting happenings always in store by watching the photography process.

There wasn't much room for noise or activities during a setting, but it was always interesting to watch Ma in the process of getting a smile on a youngster's face by using the Pluto dog she would operate, or with the tickle of a yardstick.

Learning sign language

One of the indoor activities included learning sign language. In those days, being able to carry on a conversation with your hands.

Each of us (there were 10-12) were required to learn the signing, and then respond individually to signings from Ma. It was one of those things that most of us didn't think we would ever use, but came in handy in later years.

Even today, if it were possible to use about one third of the signing I learned, it would be possible for me to get an idea over to someone without hearing.

Other skills learned

This pack was possibly the most skilled in projects throughout the various levels of Cub Scouting, as we went from book to book.

Safety was always something that was stressed in all activities, and the Cubmaster always kept this approach in the forefront of her leadership.

Somewhere in my belongings and always in the gear that goes with me pheasant hunting, there is still is the hatchet that my mother reluctantly bought for me at Barth's scouting department in Springfield. Luckily, there weren't any fingers lost with this tool -- mine or anyone else's.

Back to the saplings

For those who don't know, a sapling is a small tree -- usually an oak -- that was plentiful in grasslands 75 or more years ago. There were plenty of them at the Fields home on East 13th Street in those days.

The idea was to climb to the top of the sapling, grab the top and swing out into space. If the tree was the right size or you were big enough at the time, you got a real ride to the ground, where you would release the tree to spring back into an upright position.

Then, the task was to climb this sapling or another one, and repeat the process -- often in an effort to get the most rides during this particular meeting.

In later years, the saplings either became large oak trees or were removed to make more pasture land for the area's growing cattle industry. Many of them fell before the brush axe -- the ideal tool to take them down in those days.

Remaining outdoors

After the sapling riding was over -- usually in early fall, before the leaves departed the trees -- there were other activities outside for the pack.

The always-present campfire was at hand in a safe place on the land, usually at a location where a previous pre-evening gathering had been held. This meant cooking something light usually resulted, with the Cubs bringing the treat of their choice to prepare over the open fire.

Even in those days, the fire had to be doused with water, stirred, and then doused again to make sure it was completely extinguished. That was another lesson that was carried in the book and stressed by Ma Fields.

Lessons carried over

Lots of those lessons, learned as a Cub Scout, naturally came in handy during the few Boy Scout years that were experienced. In later years, as one of those participating in Boy Scout Troop 76 activities, memories of those days under Ma Fields and her Cub Scout program were handy, to say the least.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.