Friday, January 4, 2008

I Think of the Woods

I shift the Cat and head through my front yard to Route 47. Out of habit I look both ways down the vacant road. I can see the horses in the neighbors’ corral across the field standing dejected, ribs visible and looking at me with pitiable eyes as I turn south.

After a couple of miles, my numb mind shifts. Maybe it is a defense mechanism triggered by my state of emergency only read about in books.

I timetravel.

When I was a kid, my brothers John and Aaron and I, along with most of the Kelly kids next door – Brian, Mike, Jack, Bonnie, Erin and Kevin – ruled the expanse of woods behind our houses. We were Marine snipers, Robin Hoods, ghost-hunters, archaeologists, builders, motocross racers, and land governors in those hilly woods. A group of 8 to 14-year-olds with more imagination, resourcefulness and drive than most adults.

I am almost to DuPont, ready to make the right turn I have made a thousand times before.

One of the many innovative projects we put together like a junior A-Team was an underground dwelling that seated about 5. There was an old tin hunting shanty in the woods, which was about the size of 3 outhouses. Its floor was two large plywood panels. About fifteen yards away was a large hollow stump. It held an opening wide enough for all of us to slip through. As a team that worked more diligently than most modern-day contractors, we all took shovels and dug a deep square pit into the earth, roughly 7 feet wide, by 7 feet long and about 5 feet deep. This pit was positioned between the hunting shanty and the old tree stump. Once the main portion was carved out, the guys began to dig trenches just as deep and about 2 feet wide; one leading under the stump and one leading under the shanty, where one of the guys cut a square out of the plywood in the floor, making a trapdoor. Us girls took buckets to the creek and dug up gray clay with our hands which we used to form around rocks in the main portion of the underground fort, forming and sculpting a working fireplace with a chimney. Once the groundwork was complete, pieces of plywood were put over everything and dirt covered them, then brush.

I turn onto DuPont. Another vacant road. An overturned grain truck lies on its side in the ditch up ahead. A streak of blood paints the road beside it, but no zombies in sight.

It was an amazing thing to run through the woods that winter like Lost Boys, being chased by friends unfamiliar with our project and we’d laugh and then jump up onto the stump and slip down through the corridor trenches as our friends stopped mouths gaping in amazement before following. Glow roots dotted the earth as greenish white against the pitch black as one army-crawled through the trenched tunnel. Anyone with claustrophobia would have died. In reaching the main pit, you could see the orange glow of the fire and several of our gang sitting in this Hobbit’s room with their winter jackets off. Because one could not back up while crawling to the main area, they would simply go through the main room and continue through the corridor that led to the trapdoor in the hunting shanty. It was perfect.

I realize I am crying at this point. I want to be that kid again hiding out in an underground fort from nothing dangerous, but just for the sake of being able to hide out. I want to be in an ingenious underground fort fashioned by babes again, warming myself against a makeshift fireplace, roasting marshmallows.

I am apexing the dip in DuPont road. Woods flank each side of me, but not My Woods. I am heading towards My Woods.

It was a few years later that the plywood used as the fort’s roof eventually rotted and caved in. In hindsight, admittedly, the whole idea of kids constructing this type of fort would be seen as insanely dangerous today. It was a different time then. The shanty was eventually dismantled and the ground cleared. But I think if this catastrophe of humanity had happened when we were kids, we would have been ok. Like the survivalist boy in My Side of the Mountain or the kids in Lord of the Flies, but with democracy. We watched out for each other. We were a well oiled machine. And now the only machine I can rely on was made on an assembly line.

Only about 5 more miles until I reach Gorham Road. I’m only going 18 miles per hour. God, let there be no problems. Let my family be ok. Let this big machine not draw attention to its loud self. I’m so tired…

I hope I can muster up the ingenuity that I partook in as a 9-year-old to build a defense against these undead enemies. It might not be underground and made of dirt. It might not even be made of tangible materials and moved with hands. But maybe simply a psychological defense. A mind fort. An underground mind fort. I plead to my 9-year-old self. I plead back to my brothers and friends and I plead to the woods to provide me with safety and resourceful once again…

Yes, I think of the woods.

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