A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Man Scout: Crowing wolves, plotting cows and angry wasps all introduce themselves to a city boy

By Chris Cole
Special to NKyTribune

We arrive this week at the section of the 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook that covers grassland, forest and desert exploration, and the various plant and animal species a young scout might encounter during an exploration of their neighborhood.

Growing up in Newport, my exposure to plants and animals was somewhat limited. The grass in our small front yard and a few neighborhood cats is all that comes to mind.

So when my family moved to Grants Lick when I was in fifth grade, a whole new world was opened to me. Here I was, a city boy suddenly dropped into the unregulated wilds of rural Campbell County.

By the time he discovered one of his favorite movies from the 1980s – The Journey of Natty Gann – the The Man Scout had figured out that wolves do not, in fact, cock-a-doodle-doo.

Two quick stories illustrate my Weren’t No Boy Scoutness at the time we made the move.

First, during a drive south through Kentucky to visit family in Jackson, I spotted a sign that read Wolfe County. Excited at the prospect of encountering an actual wolf (I know, right?), I told my family I could hear a wolf howling in the distance. When my mom asked me what it sounded like, I responded, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”

Sadly, I wasn’t joking. This was before the Internet, mind you, and apparently before I had discovered The Journey of Natty Gann, an early John Cusack film that would become one of my favorites from the era. I simply had no clue what a wolf sounded like. Or a rooster for that matter, I suppose. And thus, the elusive crowing wolf.

The second story is maybe even more embarrassing. Living in Grants Lick, I discovered that I was afraid of cows. Not quite the same level of fear as fire, but for a boy suddenly surrounded by bovine creatures of all shapes and sizes, it was unsettling.

In my city boy brain, I imagined how bored the cows must be, standing out in a field all day, day after day, rain or shine, eating grass. I convinced myself that they were actually biding their time and plotting something nefarious. Whenever I was near one, I was sure it would attack at any second.

But anyway, we moved to Grants Lick and suddenly, my brother Billy and I were spending every waking hour playing in our neighbor’s barn or hiking down to the Licking River. The hike seemed like miles to me then, but the river actually butted right up to our property, little more than a stone’s throw from our back porch.

Dead snakes on the road, deer, tobacco farms – it was another universe.

My closest encounter with my new critter neighbors came one cool fall day when Billy and I decided to play war games in the woods behind our house. I was “it,” and I had just begun searching for Billy when not far into the woods I saw an old wooden ladder leaned up against a tree. “I’ve got you now, Billy,” I said to myself as I slowly ascended the ladder, eyes skyward looking for any signs of my older brother in the canopy above.

Chris still remembers the sound of hundreds of wasps swarming on him after he stepped on their nest while playing war games in the backyard with his brother. (Photo by Larry Wong, Postmedia Network)

That’s when I heard the strangest sound I’d ever heard in my life. I can still hear it now, as I write this. It started as a soft hum. Maybe a small motor? If I hadn’t been so laser-focused on finding Billy, I may not have even noticed it.

But the hum quickly grew louder and within a few seconds it was all I could hear. I was only two or three rungs up the wooden latter when I looked down to see if I could figure out where it was coming from.

What I saw didn’t fully register at first. I was wearing a pair of grey sweatpants, and when I looked down, the legs of the pants looked black. And they were sort of vibrating back and forth.

A moment later, I realized that my legs were completely covered in wasps. They’d made a nest on the first rung that I’d stepped on as I climbed the ladder. And they were not happy.

I jumped down from the ladder and froze. I had no idea what to do, so I just closed my eyes, hugged the tree as hard as I could and screamed bloody murder.

Billy popped out from behind another tree and sprinted for the house to get my dad.

The thing is, my dad weren’t no Boy Scout neither, but I think maybe something changes a man when he becomes a father. He got from our house to that tree in about five seconds, marched right through a swarm of angry wasps, yanked me from that tree and tossed me over his shoulder.

He ripped my sweatpants off as he carried me back toward the house, leaving a trail of stubborn wasps in his wake. My parents gave me an oatmeal bath and then rubbed on some of what my family called Snake Oil. It was a bright red cure-all elixir that came in a neat little bottle I still have saved somewhere in my house.

Snake oil or not, it worked. My parents didn’t even take me to the doctor. We stopped counting the stings when we got to 100, and I added spheksophobia – the fear of wasps – to my rapidly growing list.

Until next week, Do a Good Turn Daily!

Chris Cole is Director of Enterprise Communications at Sanitation District No. 1 and a deacon at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler. He lives in Highland Heights with his wife, Megan. The Man Scout chronicles Cole’s journey to acquiring some of the skills of the head, the heart and the hand he failed to learn as a child of the 1980s growing up in Newport. His field guide: a 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook he found on eBay.

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  1. Brenda melahn says:

    Loved loved loved.

  2. Bernie combs says:

    Where can I find more stores from The Man Scout

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