When I was little, I was a master fort builder. We had woods behind my parents’ house, and at the time it was the most sprawling expansion of woods the world has ever known. Lewis and Clark would have found it daunting.
When we moved there, I was four, and I quickly got lost in the unforgiving rough terrain of my backyard. By my estimate, I was lost for about 17 years and had to subsist off of nothing but earthworms and cleverness. My mom seems to recall she could see me from the porch and simply called my name to direct me home. I find that hard to believe, as her version doesn’t even include wolves.
Point is: Woods. With lots of fort building opportunities.
So you can imagine my delight when a tree fell in my parents’ yard during a recent storm, crushing their fence. Wait, that sounds bad. I took no delight in the fence being crushed. But I did take delight in seeing my kids and nephews see this newfound tree exploration experience presented right there for their enjoyment.
As we surveyed the wreckage, the kids quickly learned two quick facts: (1) The downed tree was awesome for climbing and (2) the crushed fence had turned into a rather nice impromptu trampoline, on which you could bounce, bounce, bounce and bounce until springing yourself into a pile of branches. Who doesn’t want to have that fun?
After a short while of enjoying the newness of the downed tree, I told my son he should build a fort. He looked at me with a quizzical look, one that told me I had failed as a father. “A fort?” he said.
Now, my son has built forts in his day. Couch cushion forts. Cardboard box forts. Forts that required a dog to stand very, very still. But for some reason, he had never had the opportunity to build an honest-to-goodness in the woods downed tree fort, mainly because we had never had the fortune/misfortunate of having a giant tree crash down in our yard.
I explained to him that it was simply a matter of finding two logs that were up in the air a smidge and lining up branches across them, forming a roof of sorts. You could then cover that with leafy branches to hide it and, if you were really feeling spunky, develop a front door with a large branch that you could use to cover you once you got inside Fort Awesome.
After a short while, the fort was coming together nicely. The choice of logs to make the roof were perfect. A few branches on top provided a nice touch of camouflage that every good fort needs. And my son, who is 10, fit nicely inside. A perfect hiding place – your own little camp in the middle of the wilderness.
Proud that my work of guiding the fort construction was done, I began to stroll back to the house. Then I heard my son call, “Dad, you should get in here!”
Now, I’m not one of these people who can’t get his inner-kid going. I love a good trip on the swing set. I can light up a slide. And I have no qualms about taking a scooter for a whirl.
But these are all activities that are easily done by someone who is adult sized. A fort that snugly fits a 10-year-old? Not so much.
He saw the hesitation. “Dad, you’ll fit. I promise. There’s really a lot of room!” Parker popped out of the fort and presented a welcoming wave to the entrance. I glanced at the entrance, which had about two feet of clearance. I peered back into the back of the fort which, I have to confess, was a bit roomier than I had realized.
So in no time I was down on the ground, backing into the fort. By the time I got my way mostly inside, I realized I still had some room to go. “See!” he said, quite proud that I was fitting in his fort. Granted, no other folks were getting in said fort, so we agreed that I would extricate myself and he could get back to having awesome adventures deep in the heart of the jungle. I enjoyed my few moments of childhood flashbacks, but in the end, it was better that he man the fort. For one thing, he had to get away from the wolves.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.