When I was a kid I really wanted to join the Girl Guides but my mother wouldn’t let me. She said they peddled in home making skills, not outdoor adventure. After leading a Beaver troop for many years she tried to get us into the Beavers but no luck was to be had. It was boys only.
Instead, she found the best alternative available to us. The Junior Forest Wardens were co-ed. They had red shirts and we got to use pocketknives. From time to time we went on hikes or built lean-tos. Still it wasn’t what I had wanted in a childhood outdoor group.
The Junior Forest Wardens were stingy with badges. We got one for memorizing a pledge and a then a couple more for showing up but that was it. Otherwise we had to stop a forest fire. The odds of this were low.
My red shirt remained simple and unadorned. I wished for a sash filled with wonderful round badges obtained by finishing simple tasks like sewing or playing guitar. There was no task I imagined myself unable to complete if such a pristine reward stood at the end. Except for stopping a forest fire (unless I’d somehow been responsible for starting it in the first place).
To be honest I had no idea what the Brownies or Girl Guides did aside from selling delicious cookies. None the less I was deeply dissatisfied with the few badges I could earn as a Junior Forest Warden. The grass had to be greener everywhere else.
In my free time I sketched hypothetical badges and tried to convince my friends to join clubs dedicated to the distribution of merit badges. None of them seemed as excited as me. Maybe I was the only one who was unfulfilled and badge free. Perhaps their parents had let them join an organization that gave out real badges.
Eventually I grew out of my disappointment and my red shirt. Still over the last few years I’ve found myself buying patches. The first came in the mail as part of a Fields Notes order. I slapped it on a backpack with a sense of pride. The next one I bought at a bagel place my sister and I love to go to.
I promised myself I’d stop at two. That was enough. If I wasn’t careful I’d become one of those people whose backpacks proclaim how well traveled they are. Subtle, very subtle. Or I’d stumble into that too familiar trap of taking something too far.
My self-control was tested by the badges made by a local clothing company. Their apparel is the perfect rustic hipster chique but way out of my price range. The only thing they make that I could justify buying was a badge. Or more like a four pack. I picked out my favourite out and it joined my growing collection.
My backpack is starting to wear out and I’m planning the patches I want to sew on the new one. There will be a Vancouver one from a hole in the wall store fun by an industrious immigrant lady that sells various DIY supplies. It has an orca and the outlines of the North Shore so I had to buy it. Then there’s one of the last from the four pack of the rustic hipster chique patches. They’ll look good. A reflection of taste they’ll say I’ve done things, I’m going places and I earned this.