My Halcyon Days Part 2 of 2
I have spent my entire life in the suburbs – my childhood in the fringe neighborhoods of Cincinnati Ohio and San Antonio Texas, my teen years in the outskirts of Cleveland Ohio, and my last forty years living in the Northern Virginia bedroom communities just south of Washington, D.C. My nearest neighbor has never been more than a forty-five second walk from my front door.
And yet, my recollections of boyhood provide me with bucolic, serene, and peaceful tablets of memory. I did not grow up with video games or cell phones. In the fifties you see, our enjoyments grew out of our own imaginations. And the woods down the hill behind our family’s home in suburban Cincinnati afforded me not only great pleasure, but rich and lasting impressions of life in an America that, at that time, still treasured liberty.
Today, I conclude the short story of my halcyon days of boyhood. When we last left off, I was found slinging smooth stones across the tranquil waters of the creek behind our home on Joliet Avenue.
Buckeyes, Tadpoles, and Vines for Swinging Part 2 (Originally Posted in 2004)
“Not far from our creek, on the other side from where we entered our woods, stood a stand of trees from which a plethora of vines hung, suspended. These were the kinds of vines found in the Tarzan movies—the movies where Johnny Weissmuller swung from tree to tree with Cheetah in tow. Our vines measured two to three inches in diameter, and had, over time, wrapped themselves tightly around the trees’ upper branches. When we first found these hanging vines, it was almost impossible to get to them. Undergrowth made passage in and out of that area very difficult. But over time we cleared it out.
“Once accessible, we grabbed those vines and swung for our lives. Anybody can swing on a rope tied to a tree branch, but this was the real thing. Tarzan swung on real vines. And now we did, too!
“Ours was an old growth forest. Everything was original. And our woods boasted some of the biggest trees around. Besides the buckeye, we found hickory, ash, oak, sycamore, and walnut along with others. Some of those trees made for great climbing. With low-slung branches, we could easily grab on and pull ourselves up. But the best climbing trees were the ones that didn’t grow straight up, but instead shot out of the ground at odd angles. Those trees made the best climbing trees. A good climber could get way up into the limbs and appendages of those gargantuan monsters.
“Trees are ponderous. Like humans, each one owns unique elements. The lowest branches of some are unreachable to the eight-year-old boy. But others invite climbing and exploring. Some are straight, others gnarly. Some are nearly symmetrical. Others are twisted, irregular, and lopsided—kind of like people.
“Our little trio of woods-loving pals often scoured the ground for unique looking rocks. We collected them. Like trees, they came in all shapes and sizes. And colors too. My favorites were the quartz stones we often found, with their translucence and near transparency. We also dug up flint and sometimes limestone.
“But our most wonderful finds transported us back to ancient history, to the time when great creatures roamed the wild. For in that uncharted, previously unexplored wilderness we called our woods, buried in the soil, we unearthed countless fossils—petrifications of plants, trees, and once-living creatures that peppered that Buckeye-State soil. And we happened upon them often.
“We also found arrowheads—Indian arrowheads. The Shawnee had been the most recent occupants of this land, before we white men came. They had once hunted in these woods—now our woods. The Shawnee—some of the bravest, fiercest warriors of Indian lore had roamed this ground. Blue Jacket, Cornstalk, and the mightiest of them all, Tecumseh, had hunted here—at least in our fertile imaginations. And now we—we the brave—held their weapons of war in our fingertips.
“I can almost hear their battle cry now, rising up from deep within the bowels of their terrifying manhood. It feels almost like the low, guttural groan of Tim, “the Tool Man” Taylor, expressing a virile, primeval masculinity.
“Such are the undomesticated fancies of a young boy—and a middle-aged man.
“One day my pals and I decided to leave our comfortable little paradise and go exploring. Just behind our creek rose a hill that sort of curved along with the creek’s contours. We had never been to the top of that hill, nor beyond, but often wondered what we might find on the other side.
“We struck out one morning and ascended that hill. We walked along the top of the thickety ridge for quite some ways. In our minds, that hill became a mountain. And then, suddenly, through a clearing in the trees, we saw something that stopped us in our tracks. Below us, spread out for acres and acres at our feet, we beheld a lush pasture carpeted in green. And beyond that pasture, more woods, more trees, more unexplored, virgin forest. It seemed to go on forever.
“Now I understood how those first pioneers must have felt. They crested ridge after unexplored ridge, standing again and again in awe and wonderment at the endless American forest and its hidden mysteries.
“Add to our great pleasure, that the pasture was populated with what must have been a hundred head of cattle. Now I had seen cattle before, from the window of our Chevy Nomad, driving through the country with Mom and Dad. But this—this wonderful, strange moment came so unexpectedly, so unpredictably, I had not been prepared. None of us had. Not a thing stood between those cows and three young wide-eyed city boys. Not a car window, not a fence, not a parent holding our hand, nothing.
“And the wonder of it all was this. Mark and Dennis and Tommy had found that place—that magical, enchanted place—all by ourselves. We, the great explorers of our virgin, pristine woods had stumbled upon this great discovery alone, by our own wits, our own cunning, our own forest-honed skills. We, the hunters and capturers of wild, exotic sea creatures—we, the builders of magnificent dams and creators of lakes—we, the clearers of great forests and the Tarzan-like swingers of vines—we, the climbers of huge, knotted trees—we, the wise archeologists, the conquerors who tread the same ground where Shawnee bowmen had once hunted for game—we the buckeye-wielding warriors, had now laid open the mysteries beyond that mountain.
“We never returned to that wild, distant place again. Time passed quickly, and we retreated back into our ticky-tack homes, our black and white television screens, our homework for school, and our manicured baseball diamonds.
“Those had been my halcyon days—my youthful days of joy and boyhood wonderment. Not long after that monumental discovery from the mountaintop, our family moved away—far, far away, to Texas, where a whole new set of adventures awaited this soon-to-be ten-year-old boy.”
Thanks for reading … I hope you enjoyed my story.