Boy Scout snow caves and Tom Sawyer

By Daris Howard

I couldn’t get off work until almost 5 p.m., and since it was February, that meant I couldn’t get my scout troop to the campsite until after dark. We had prepared everything we could the Tuesday before, so it was pretty much just a matter of loading up and heading on our way. But by the time we arrived at the campsite, all the other troops were already there. They all had their tents set up, and we learned we were the only troop that planned to dig snow caves. As my scouts set about digging, I started dinner. I had planned ahead and had everything for fajitas, so all I had to do was heat it up.

As I worked, many boys from the other troops, as well as some leaders, came over to tease us about digging snow caves. I tried to ignore them.

After everything was cooking, I went to check on my scouts’ progress. I found all were busy digging, with the exception of Gordy and his partner. “Gordy,” I exclaimed, “why aren’t you digging your snow cave?!”

Gordy just rolled his eyes. “Because, if a person is smart, he can find better ways.”

I thought he was inferring that we should have put up tents, but I was wrong. As I was about to question him further, a small scout from another troop came wandering by,and started teasing Gordy about still needing to dig his snow cave.

“Yes, that is true,” Gordy answered, “but it is you that I feel sorry for.”

“Sorry for me?” the boy questioned, “Sorry for me, why?”

“Because you will grow up to be only half a man because you never experienced what it is like to dig a snow cave. No one is truly a man unless he has experienced digging one.”

A shocked look came across the boy’s face. “I had never thought of that.”

“Well, it’s true,” Gordy said with a false air of concern, “But you know what? I suppose I could let you dig some on mine just to help you out.”

“Really?!” the boy said excitedly.

“Really,” Gordy said. Gordy then leaned over and called into the hole that I had not noticed in the dark. “Hey, John. You’ve had all the time I can spare. There are others that want a turn.”

Another small boy poked his head out. “But I haven’t even finished throwing out the snow I’ve chipped loose.”

“Well, you better hurry,” Gordy said.

With that, loose snow started to fly out of the opening.

I returned to my meal preparations and watched as a steady stream of boys came to take their turn digging Gordy’s snow cave. At times I would check on how the caves were coming. My assistant and I ended up helping some of the boys who were not in very good shape. We didn’t want them to get too sweaty in the freezing cold.

When I went to check on Gordy’s cave, there was still a line of boys waiting their turn to dig. But I had to put an end to it. When I looked inside, the interior was big enough to put our whole troop in, probably three times as big as anyone else’s cave. I reminded Gordy that if a cave was too large, there could be a chance it would cave in.

The boys from the other troops all groaned as Gordy told them he was sorry that he wouldn’t be able to let them help dig.

“Maybe another time,” he said in a tone of voice that artificially expressed his empathy for them.

My assistant and I still had our snow cave to dig, and I almost offered to let those boys help me, but somehow I felt I probably ought to dig my own.

As I called all my scouts to dinner, many of them came stumbling over to the fire, exhausted from their hard work. Gordy, of course played up how tired he was. No one in our troop besides Gordy, his partner, and myself had seen what had happened, and the others were therefore taken in by his theatrics.

As the boys were finishing their fajitas, for dessert I made hot scones with raspberry jam or honey butter. As we finished for the night, I told them I was proud of them for the good job they had done. But all of them looked at me with anxious expressions when I told them I did have one major concern. I’m sure they all wondered if I felt their snow caves were unsafe.

“What is your concern?” Mort asked.

I grinned. “It’s just that I’m afraid that Gordy might grow up to be only half a man.”

Daris Howard is an award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author. Contact him by emailing

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