Categorized | The Past

Life in Town

The first 12 years of my life was spent living in a small town. This was so, but I was decidedly ‘in’ it…not ‘of‘ it.

 Dad built a small house on a new lot that was on the fringe of town. Across the street from our house was a forest. That was my most desired place. I went to school, did my chores, and then hit for the bush.Snowy winters were rough on my plans to build willow forts and investigate the trails. Before spring hit, I would be out there beside the big pines, my mind dwelling on the patches of dry grass that were emerging around the trunks. The trunks of the trees were dark brown. They drew the sun’s heat to them, and this melted the snow sooner than the surrounding area. The smell of the warm wood was sweet and heavenly. I imagined while standing on a little dry area under a tree, that the whole forest was ready for my summer dreams. It was so hard to wait for leaves and blueberries.

Spring brought such excitement to me. The school day would seem excruciatingly long, but the moment the bell rang at the end of the day, I had my boots in the mud.


 I wandered in the general direction of home. My whole mind was on draining pools of water trapped by mud and snow, making dribbles into ‘creeks’, and then into ‘torrents’, which flowed into, what I imagined to be, rivers. From the perspective of a super giant creator, hovering over these water passages, I was draining the winter out of the soil. No icy ledges should remain for the next day. No pond should be held back.  If I could have found a shovel, the bush would have been cleared of the white stuff.

The fuzzy little pussy willows were picked to adorn my pretend kitchen under an evergreen tree. The moss and dead grass was drug up to dry for my bed. Then I would bend the lower branches down to the earth to make a hiding spot from all peering eyes. “I could stay here all night”, I would think. No animal would know I was here. The scent of the needles would cover up my human smell. I could drift off to sleep on my cozy bed with the smell of the spruce wafting around me. In the morning I would be ready for the coming day. If the coming day was a Saturday I would make my kitchen bigger, and find some…food.Hmmm…food! It was just about supper time. “I’d better get home”, I’d think as I came back to reality, mom might not be too happy with my drawn out absence. Yup, I’d better dash for it.



Summer. Yes! Once the leaves were on, I could make a fort to be envied. I remember a fort that I made in a willow thicket beside a well trodden path. The thickness of it gave me ideas. I would be covered from sight, and yet be able to secretly peer out at those that passed by. I spent a lot of energy on that one. I cut off leafy branches and laid them against one another until I had something that looked like the shape of a beaver house, but much greener. I etched a place to sit near the inside of the hovel and made a secret back trail to the inner parts.

When it was time to leave for the day, I stepped back to view it with pleasure. It was very private and blended into the forest well. Tomorrow I would set up camp. As I walked home, I schemed about how I could expand the fort into several rooms.

Forest Path

Forest Path

After the chores were done the next morning I planned to get back to the bush “camp”. Mom always insisted that work came first. That really annoyed me, but it was the law. I thought I was pretty clever about condensing a big job into a short period of time. To me, it was counted as ingenuity. To mom it was considered to be slothful. When I washed the floor, I was also supposed to wash the baseboards - every time! When it was time to wash the dishes, they had to done to perfection. Hiding things under the bed, when you cleaned your bedroom, wasn’t allowed. She would find them. The closet had to be kempt, the dresser tops in order, the bed made without lumps, the floor swept or washed if it was needed-the whole bit. It took forever.

One time I had been banned to my bedroom to finish a cleaning job properly. I thought I would escape for a time out of my bedroom window. I had craftily figured out how to remove the window screen, and I planned to replace it on my return. After the swift exit, and the drop to the ground, I realized I had a bigger problem. I wasn’t high enough to get back into the window. This is the kind of situation that improves a person’s thinking and judgement. Think before you leap, plan ahead, and be prepared to create good explanations. Develop explanations that a mother would understand when you weirdly appear in the entrance of the house, when you are actually supposed to be in the bedroom. After trial and error and a few scrapes, I managed to find some building materials to stack up, so that I could shimmy back up the wall and through the window. Interestingly, it felt good to be back inside.

Mom spent a lot of breath on trying to convince me and the others that getting chores done quickly and early was to our benefit. I feel I should thank her. It took me too long to overcome my misguided desires. Without her pressure, I would have skipped the serious and necessary things in life. Ambition is only good if it has balance.

By the time I got back to my bush camp, the hot and dry sun had been out for several hours. I wilted in disbelief when I saw what the heat had done to my shelter. The leaves had shrivelled from the lack of sustenance, leaving the brown branches looking more like a rat shack than I could handle. I decided that I would have to find some better methods for disguising my handiwork. Later, I discussed the matter with dad, who was a master of backwoods survival activities (he’d been through the depression when his family lived in the boonies of Alberta) to see what he recommended. In reference to my willow fort, he said “You made that? I was wondering why someone would be doing that!” His surprise wounded me slightly. Indignantly, I felt that he’d forgotten about, and deserted, the ‘past’.

 Hollow Tree TrunkI saw a movie later on, where a young man ran into trouble in the wilderness. With his genius and a lot of luck (plus a film director that was good at skipping details of reality), he managed to stay a whole winter in the forest. He discovered a large hole in the bottom of a dead tree. He stashed dried berries and roots, etc., inside this trunk. He had successful encounters with wild animals and found that he could use animal fat to keep a fire going. He kept this fat to make light and heat in his little hole of a home. An animal skin was used to cover the doorway.  

I was quite engrossed in this adventure. He was me. This was exactly how I pictured my keenness in the wild. Then, as the story goes, there was a huge dump of snow overnight while he was sleeping inside this abode. He was running out of oxygen in his tree hole because the snow made such a complete covering, that no air was filtering through. His candle went out. The boy awoke fighting for breath. He was suffocating! He dug and scratched with anything he could find to try to get out. What a fright! I’m sure it leant a lot to the plot to depict such intense excitement, but it chilled me to the marrow. I then realized that the wilderness can be a tenuous place, and nothing to be spit at. Shifting for myself through a winter of desperation, wouldn’t be something I would ever do by choice.

 We should never lose the imagination of a child, but should redefine its purpose.

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