So when my teacher announced that our forth grade class was taking a field trip to a ranch, I was in heaven! My maverick destiny had arrived, I reckoned.
At the ranch, we were each assigned a horse. My horse—named Joker—was taller than I had imagined, but it was a hoot 'n' a holler to ride at a relaxed trot.
But as the horses sped to a run, I was suddenly overwhelmed with panic.
So I jumped.
A ranch hand told me how dangerous it was to jump off a moving horse, and to please get back in the saddle. Holding back tears, I did.
But when my horse regained its fast gallop, my reflexes took over: crying, I jumped off again.
And once more.
After that, my classmates watched the ranch hand lead me and Joker back to the barn. There's an Old West saying: "Never walk when you can ride."
Humiliated, I rejoined some classmates at the pier, where the next outdoor lesson seemed simple: row a boat.
I stepped on the side of the boat, it pushed away, and I fell in the water.
While I shivered by the campfire, I witnessed my third ranch-related trauma.
My schoolmate, Tim, was screaming while his runaway horse tore down a steep hill. A ranch hand was yelling for him to "Pull the reins! Pull the reins!"
He survived, but our outdoor spirits had not. We barely cared when the ranch hands gave us unlabeled cans of orange soda.
I took a sip.
My day at the ranch was filled with vivid memories. But I'll always remember that orange pop most clearly.
After that field trip, I never wanted to be a cowboy again. As a grown-up now, I prefer the comforts and joys of the great indoors.
But what if I had stayed on that horse, or stepped into that boat, or if my schoolmate pulled the reins?
Things might have turned out very differently:
Howie "Howdy" Woo
UPDATE - Nov 13, 2009: Here is my class journal from when I was ten years old, describing that day at the ranch: