Friday, May 12, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Imagination and Inventiveness Equal Barreling

Never underestimate the imagination and inventiveness of kids.
Set them loose in their environment and watch
what they come up with to entertain themselves.

I don't know who thought of the brilliant idea of barreling,
but surely it was the Ojibway boys;
for I, certainly, 
and Roy, unlikely, 
would not have conceived of such a thing.

Some of Dad's Ojibway Boys
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Current thinking is that judgement is not fully developed
until twenty-five years old.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it is definitely not developed
by seventeen or eighteen years old.

Barreling was one of the most exciting and dangerous things
I have ever done and perhaps one of the stupidest.


Quoting my twelve-year-old self:
"As the mud disappeared we turned to other amusements.
Looking around we saw only the dried up slope
between the nursing station and the playground,
the grassy spot at the bottom,
and several hundred empty oil drums.

Oil Drums:  Hauled in and Out by Tractor Trains
An early cat train in Alaska.   
A tractor pulling sleds of fuel drums, somewhere between Anchorage and Fairbanks. 
It appears there is a second tractor following. 
Credit: Mr. Floyd Risvold, USC&GS, 1923

We looked no further.
Seizing ten drums apiece, 
we lined them up several feet apart
at the top of the slope.

Then with a whoop,
we flung ourselves unto the barrels
and rolled down the slope.
We looked like logs bumping down a conveyer belt.

Logs on a Conveyer Belt
Painting:  Lumber Industry, 1934, oil on canvas by William Arthur Cooper

We did not sound like them, however.
We shrieked, screamed, laughed, and groaned.
What fun as the end of the ride approached!

We did a very unloggish thing.
Gathering our nerve,
we somersaulted off the drums
and rolled to the side
as ten, heavy, huge drums lumbered quickly by. 

What a thrilling game! 
Needless to say, our mothers soon put an end to this!"

Rolling Over Barrels

Can you imagine?
I remember the thrill, the taste of death,
as I flung myself face down and straight out on the first oil drum,
and the rush as I flew from barrel to barrel.

As I hit each oil drum, it began rolling down the hill,
gathering speed as it went,
closely followed by the oil drums I had already rolled over.

Those steel drums were hard and unyielding,
and I can still feel my chest and hipbones banging from drum to drum
and see the purple-blue bruises the drums raised.

We flew so fast!
Before we knew it we were shooting off the last barrel
and rolling to the side,
completely aware of what ten 45 gallon oil drums rolling over us
could do if we did not get out of the way.

And did we go down the hill one by one?

It was much more exciting to have two or three of us
lined up side-by-side at the top of the slope
and throwing ourselves on the oil drums at once!

That meant twenty or thirty oil drums barreling down the slope
between the nursing station and the school,
and two or three of us splayed out on the ground,
gasping for air, and congratulating each other on being alive.

Our undoing in this exhilarating drum sport was the nurse, Mike O'Flaherty.
We managed to enjoy ourselves for several recesses before we were caught.

I'm sure we only got away with barreling as long as we did
because it took so long to round up the 45 gallon drums,
roll them up the slope, and line them up at the top just so.
We couldn't get many runs in during our short recesses.

Rolling Oil Drums
Ground crew rolling drums of petrol to Hawker Hurricane Mark IVs of No. 6 Squadron RAF,
during refuelling operations at Araxos, Greece.
Date:  between circa 1944 and circa 1945

At some point Mike happened to glance out a nursing station window
and saw what was going on.

He was likely pausing in his work for a quick cup of coffee
like my father, blissfully ignorant, inside the school.

Mike came flying out of the nursing station
and brought barreling to a screeching halt.

He marched us all into the school
and told my father that this dangerous activity must stop immediately.
He made it graphically clear what could happen if one of us got injured
and just how ill-equipped he was to deal with it.

And for good measure he paid a visit to my mother
and the mothers of the Ojibway students
and repeated his graphic tale of broken bones and crushed heads.

And that was that!
No more barreling in the spring of 1961.


Roy and Me ~ No Fear!
School Photos, Fall 1960

When I look back on my childhood and remember
some of the escapades my brother, sisters, and I got into,
I wonder that we ever made it out alive.

But we did and, dangerous or not, I wouldn't have missed
the excitement and wild joy of barreling for anything!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Shore of the Annapolis Basin
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
July 24, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga


  1. Barreling sounds fun. I would love to give it a try.

    1. It was some of the best fun I ever had as a kid, Rachna! Have a good one!

  2. The closest I did ever get to barrelling was to skid down a hill that was pitted with cow tracks across it, sitting on a huge palm leaf, rather like skiing on snow but a lot less exciting. We made our own fun, my 2 cousins and myself those days. but I am sure not one of you thought of any danger at all. Adults know all about that side of things, and fun is stopped immediately. Funny thing though, all 3 of us had HUGE spinal problems at about 40 to 41 years old, my male cousin who didn't join in had no troubles in his back. And all 2 of us had spinal surgery!!! Just goes to show, even gentle sport can show up damage later on, so Louise, do tell, how is your spine? your bones? your head? and anything else? Good to know you arrived safely home again.

  3. Should be " all 3 of us had spinal surgery " !!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your childhood memories, Jean! I can see you and your cousins skidding down that hill on palm leaves, and it makes me smile. I'm glad that we had to make our own fun. But then your parents were probably like mine and said "Get outside and play!" so we wouldn't be underfoot ~ unless they had chores for us first.

      I'm not happy to hear that you and your cousins may have damaged your spines by doing that. Spinal surgery is serious!

      My spine and bones are fine, but people sometimes wonder about my head, LOL!

      When barreling, we egged each other on with dire warnings at the top of the slope. Anticipating the splat we'd become if squashed by the oil drums was part of the excitement. But you're right ~ we really did not understand the danger, and certainly we thought we could pull off the stunt without anything happening because it would be the other guy who didn't get out of the way fast enough, not us.

      It was great to get home again! I spent much of yesterday unpacking and taking care of essentials. I couldn't get to my post until 8:30 pm, so I didn't have a chance to polish it like I normally do ~ especially slowly reliving my memories to recall every detail I could. Such is life! But we're home for a while, and I plan to get a lot of things back on track.

      I'll be catching up again ~ It was impossible to do anything online this past week while we were staying with friends and exploring the retirement communities in the Surprise area outside Phoenix. Our friends are in the process of moving BACK to Colorado, and they'll be here within a few weeks.

      I hope that you are feeling much better and that all is well with Hugh. Sending you lots of hugs and love!

  4. lmao well that sounds like something I would have done. We don't truly realize the danger as the fun takes hold.

    I'd say the 25 thing is right, not sure how the heck I didn't break my neck a few times, but so far still alive to tell the tales.

    1. Still alive to tell the tales ~ LOL! That's a very good thing! Anyone who reads your books knows that you have a terrific imagination and must have had quite a childhood, Pat! Wishing you and felines a great weekend, although I think the kitties have a great day, every day!

  5. Replies
    1. LOL! I'll bet there was a little hooligan in you when you were a kid, Debra! Have a great weekend with your Rare One!

  6. Oh my gosh, Louise, did this remind me of my childhood. Being in oil country we braced ourselves inside a huge oil barrel on its side and had our friends roll us around. Were we crazy or what? I remember doing such dangerous things like digging out a cave in the dirt bank going inside and having our friends jump on top. Did we not think that it might have caved in and trapped us inside? How foolish we were. it's a wonder we survived our childhood. But I guess modern children can't get off their devices long enough to have such adventures. You have always been a great writer even since your teenage years. Bravo!

    1. I got suck a kick out of your comment, Peggy! The things we did as kids! I have to admit I never dug a cave in a bank and had others jump on it when I was inside! Our barrels were all sealed except for a small hole, otherwise we would have been rolling inside too. I feel sorry for a lot of kids today. They are so disconnected from nature. I hope that you are enjoying a lovely spring weekend!

  7. Death be darned! You were having fun. I can think of a lot of stupid things we did that weren't the safest or smartest ideas in the world.

    1. Having fun for sure, Alex! I miss those wild free days! Enjoy what's left of your weekend!

  8. Your beautiful photos and memories bring back some great childhood memories for me, Louise!

    1. Hi, dear Linda! I hope all is well with you. I'm back home, and it is wonderful to be here. I'm glad that my photos and stories remind you of happy childhood memories. Sending you love and hugs!

  9. ha - This brought back some memories of things I did as a kid. The beauty of kids is that they are imaginative and fearless in many ways. Funny, I can see you doing this as you have a free spirit. I really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing. Today, kids don't know what to do outside, that is so sad.

    1. It is sad, Truedessa! I felt sorry for many of my second and third graders because they rarely got to spend time outside just being kids. Some were in school from 6:30 am until 6:00 pm because they were in before and after school childcare. Kids have trouble with unstructured time inside or out. I hope that you are having a fun weekend!

  10. What creative mischief! Good thing nurse Mike intervened --I doubt he had facilities for reinflating flattened schoolkids. Good memory well-recounted.

    1. Hi, Geo! Mike certainly did not the means for reinflating us. There must have been some sort of doctor in Nakina, but the nearest hospital was 200 miles away in Sioux Lookout ~ 200 miles by bush plane, if the planes could fly. But of course, we didn't think about that! LOL I hope that you and Norma are enjoying your weekend!

  11. I wasn't as 'adventurous' as you, Louise. But I can really appreciate the fun you all had barreling!! You all certainly had a great time up north.
    Now of course kids are not allowed to be so 'careless'. I really think we have gone too far the other way.
    Have a great week ahead!

    1. We had a great weekend, Jim! It feels really good to be home, and I have nothing major for a whole week!!! Actually Terry's sister is coming to spend the night, and we haven't seen her since last summer when we were in England. She's great fun, and we will have a good time.

      I agree that we've gone too far with organizing and structuring kids' lives these days, especially with urban and suburban kids. And schools have become ridiculous. We had one principal who would not allow kids to run at recess!!! It's a different world now. We didn't have to worry about things like drive by shooters or people entering schools and shooting children.

      Wishing you and Ron and Ms SD a happy, healthy, and fulfilling week + sending you love and hugs!

  12. Most of us, I expect, did stupid things growing up... the difference between most of us and you is the availability of medical technology!

    1. Very true, Sage LOL! We kept the nurse on his toes with some of our shenanigans! Have a good one!

  13. Oh my goodness! Reading this as a mother, I could die of horror, but as a kid, wow. What a crazy, fun adventure--but I'm glad a stop was put to it before anyone got hurt.

    1. My mother had the exact same reaction, and guaranteed we never went barreling again! Of course, kids never think like mothers! LOL Have a good one!

  14. That would have been so much fun! LOL! OMG!! I was laughing just imagining you doing this! I'm glad no one got hurt! But, I have to make sure what I was reading, you were on the outside of the barrels, as they were going down the hill, or were you on the inside of them? If you were on the outside, you guys were crazy! LOL!
    I would like to thank you for the comments on my blog and the link! I am so behind in blogging this week! But, I do manage to catch up, sometime! LOL! We were without hydro for 7 hours today. The day, I thought I was going to catch up! LOL!
    Big Hugs!

    1. We were on the outside of the barrels!!! Catch up seems to be a permanent game that I play! good luck with your catching up! Sending a big hug to you!

    2. Outside??? You dare devil! LOL!

  15. OHMYGOSH, Louise! I laughed out loud with this one. (Of course, knowing no one got hurt made it funny, otherwise...cringe thinking of that...). But that's kids for you, isn't it? Doing crazy things without a sense of fear. I would have done the same as a kid and scared the heck out of my mother!

    1. You've gotta love kids! It's all okay if you come out without too many bruises. Have a good one, Martha!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.