Worth a Thousand Words: We don’t need  more cowbell

Last Saturday, I managed to arrange my schedule so that I would be able to help Kirsten, the editor of our sister paper the Kanabec County Times, with covering the annual Vasaloppet cross country ski race. I was happy to do this because it is a big event for the Mora area that I had not been able to experience before, plus I can’t remember the last time, or if I had ever, photographed a cross country ski race.

There was only one significant drawback to agreeing to do this – I hate cowbells! I’m not talking about all cowbells. I don’t mind when they are utilized as a rhythmic part of a song. In fact, I really like probably the most famous cowbell song – “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” by Blue Oyster Cult.

What I am talking about is the incessant rattling of cowbells. Now, I mean no disrespect to the Vasaloppet or to the Nordic skiing community as a whole. I understand that the use of cowbells is a deeply ingrained part of tradition, meant to help encourage racers on as they make their way along a grueling course. But for me, they symbolize something more negative.

You see, while I was playing goalie back in my youth hockey days, I could pretty much block out audible distractions – everything, that is, except for cowbells, especially when they were being rung in celebration of my opponents scoring a goal against me. And unfortunately, there were a number of games when I heard them a lot.

So, while the cowbells for skiing are meant to be encouraging, for me, they are very discouraging. And some things from your youth just seem to stick with you.

Knowing that, as Kirsten put it, the Vasaloppet was “cowbell central,” I did have a little trepidation about exposing myself to potential traumatic youth flashbacks. I even considered bringing my wireless earphones to drown out the annoying noise. But I stopped short of doing this, hoping that much like during a majority of my youth hockey games, my being hyper-focused on the task at hand of taking quality photos would negate the noise.

As it turned out, I was able to mostly block them out since this was more like a constant drone of noise, rather than a sporadic outburst at a personal low-point. Or perhaps it is a case where time does in fact heal all wounds.

Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Vasaloppet (the ideal weather didn’t hurt either), even spending a little extra time to take some photos that included a couple bell-ringers. And I certainly will look forward to covering this event again in the future. But just don’t expect to see me fully embracing the tradition and bringing a cowbell myself. I think that would still be a little too masochistic.

BILL STICKELS III is editor of the Isanti-Chisago County Star. He can be reached at 763-689-1181 ext. 107 or editor@countystar.com. 

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