Some of my best memories are Summer nights spent with a friend or maybe two or three, in a lonely wooded area, beneath the trees, beside a shallow creek near my Midwestern home town.
I was 16, Eddie was 14, David was the same age as I. Having little more to do in our small farming community, we three very often packed up the old tent, some blankets, a few hotdogs and buns … once in awhile a stolen beer or two from my parents’ refrigerator … some cigarettes (Anybody could purchase cigarettes at any age back then for 19-cents a pack).
Yes, we packed up that tent and a hunting knife and an air-powered rifle, a camp axe, stuff to start a fire with …and the food I have already mentioned … and we would trek the two miles out of town, along an old abandoned railroad track to that secret place in the woods where few people ever went.
There is something about the solitude of a natural surrounding place … a kind of peace that is hard to find and sometimes even hard to imagine … if you have never experienced it. We loved it … we treasured it, we gloried it and in our youth.
We always departed for our trek to the woods just a little before the evening began because we really did not like the place in the heat of the Summer day. Besides, the cover of the darkness we all knew would come would provide us with extra insulation from the cares of life …it would act as an extra comforting dark starry blanket to wrap our imaginations in …
However, prior to it getting dark enough to require flashlights, we did build a small cooking fire for our hot dogs or what ever else we had brought along to eat.
After the evening meal, we would make our way to a tree where someone had left a strand of rope dangling from the branches above. The rope was situated conveniently and probably by design over a pool of water in a place where the nearby creek had branched off into the field around us.
The rope was fairly long and we all took turns swinging in it over the pool of water until we tired of the game.
Having tired of the rope swing, we tried out a couple of natural grapevines which also hung from surrounding trees. Some of them would give way under the weight of our bodies, slamming us to the ground as we laughed. None of us ever got hurt doing this. We were adventurous. That much is for sure.
We spent some time skipping rocks across the water of the larger pool in the creek.
We upended rocks in the running stream and watched as the crayfish swam out of them in a flash of mud that had been stirred up when we lifted the rocks.
The creek water was inviting but we never would swim in it during the evening trips to the woods. It was a little muddy, and the creek bottom was really slippery and none of us were too enamored of the idea of encountering a water viper snake as we swam… so we just didn’t! It was bad enough having to watch our every step as we navigated the waist-high grass along the trail on the way to our camp site because we did not want to step on a snake either. (We never did, by the way but we could occasionally hear them slithering away as we made our way down the trail.)
Sitting around that small campfire, totally surrounded by darkness, the pale moon peeking out from behind clouds, the infinite star field against a patch of blackest blue… the smells of the night air …freshness everywhere …the trees breathing out their life-giving oxygen … the wildflowers scenting the air …the splish-splash of the creek water running lazily over their rock bottom bed …. the chirping of the little green tree frogs … the distant barking of a dog somewhere miles away …the friendly snap, crackle and pop of the campfire …the camradery we shared ….magic! Pure unadulterated magic! The stuff that memories are made of … lasting memories! Forever memories!
We smoked our cigarettes and shared the beer … feeling all the time like completely grown adults … yet still with the awe and wonderment of the early teen years … sitting there together …in a cocoon of the night …I think sometimes as I look back on those nights in the woods that we almost shared a bromance. There was a deep affinity, not quite a romance, a sense of inseperableness but not really “Love” in any carnal sense …a feeling that I believe is reserved for the young and the young at heart. It was palpable there in those outdoorsy adventures we shared so often.
Did we do a little bragging about our female conquests as we sat there in the woods? Yes, we did! Were we lying to one another for the most part? Yes, we were? Did we know that we were all lying to one another? I am sure we did but wanting to feel macho and manly to the core, nobody was going to admit it. We just did the best we could to out-do each other in our tall tales about the ladies we had entertained in a corporeal manner.
Did we get a little woozy from the beer? I am sure the fizzy, foul-tasting beverage, all warm in the bottle added to the intoxication brought about by the hot blood of youth and the magic of the surroundings. Yes, I can admit that.
Soon we were overtaken by the need to lie down in the tent … the Hoot Owls were hooting now …. the night sounds were overtaking us … time to crawl into the tent and listen to the sound of the dew striking the canvas roof … falling in droplets like a steady minor rain from the tall trees above …
One last surge of energy as we traded stories about what haunted the old deserted streetcar tracks on top of the ledge a few hundred yards away from our camp …stories about what was lurking in the darkness … waiting to sneak into our tent while we were asleep. Imaginations run wild in such surroundings.
But before we knew it, the sun had risen. The night had gone. We arose groggily to face the new day.
Years have passed since those days in the woods. Many years have gone by. But in my mind, I still go back there once in awhile …