2009-10-21 / Columns

Don Lively

AMONG THE TREES

The Woods.

That's what we called the thousands of acres of forest that surrounded our homeplace.

There were plenty of fields of course and, over time, Daddy persuaded many hundreds of new acres of trees to become fertile planting grounds with the help of three strong sons toting, piling and burning stumps.

But there were still plenty of places to roam where the stream beds and ridges were swaddled with trees of all kinds. Oak. Pine. Maple. Cypress. God certainly exalted the Blessed South when He flung down the forested mix, along with plenty of sweetgums, hickories and hollies added for good measure.

Thus, The Woods, and all the adventures that Southern country boys could possibly dream up.

Out in the woods near where I live there was once a huge sawdust pile. One particular day the massive heap of wood chips was serving as the final citadel in our continuing make believe war against the Yankee hordes. None of us would suspend our dignity and volunteer to be northerners though, so we resorted to just throwing bark and sawdust at each other. Somebody found an old Indian grinding stone that had been dredged up during the milling. The smooth rock made a tolerable cannon ball so somebody hurled it up the side of the pile. Unfortunately, cousin Davy was directly in the line of fire and caught the missile squarely in the family jewels. He was in considerable pain, but miraculously, he went on to father several kids later in life.

Most of our woods games involved warfare of some sort, after all we are of Scottish descent, and pine thickets provided the perfect place and an abundance of weaponry. Pines cones by the thousands. Many Sunday afternoons sides were chosen, battle lines were drawn and screechy, pre-pubescent Rebel Yells emitted from a dozen boy kids and one tomboy girl. It was all great fun till somebody got hit in the eye. A scratched cornea. Cousin Davy again, poor kid. Individual family whuppings occurred with the Daddies doing the honors because, of course, we'd been told repeatedly not to throw pine cones.

Vines flourish all over the South and were utilized in our woodland escapades. We all idolized Tarzan so we'd create our own bows and spears, make up our own jungle names and spend hours swinging through the trees and over gullies on the thick natural ropes. Even back then it seemed almost surreal to watch TiLi The Jungle Boy with his flaming red hair and wearing Bermuda shorts and paisley surfer shirt riding a vine over a gorge shrieking his best ape call.

An abundance of fallen trees, not yet rotten and still sturdy, provided walls for our forts. The structures became The Alamo against Santa Anna. Fort Apache against the flaming arrows of the attacking Indians. Fort Sumter against, once again, Yankee interlopers.

Woods activities were unlimited.

We crossed snake infested swamps wearing nothing but cut off blue jeans and never gave a thought to the copperheads or cottonmouths. Until we actually saw one slither by. Then we became log walkers, timbermen of the Mighty Mississippi, until we reached dry land again.

Hide and Seek contests lasted all day long and some hiding places were never located and never revealed.

We wouldn't come home till the Mamas yelled out the back doors or the Daddies sounded the horns on the old trucks.

Later in life, in the teen years, the woods served a new purpose, though with considerably less success. Having no clue where the local lover's lane was located, driving a few hundred feet into the darkness of the trees provided somewhere to attempt to sneak a smooch and risk a slap. Of course my nervousness during those forays, something akin to a cat after ten espressos, and the girl's inevitable, or maybe feigned, fear of the dark, rendered those fleeting moments calamitous at best.

I learned I was better at playing Davy Crockett as a ten year old in the woods than I was at playing Don Juan as a teenager.

Over the years I made sure that my own kids got to experience life in the family woods. They have built their own camps and have hiked over every acre. My son has cooked and eaten squirrels on a spit over an open fire. All three of them know the local trails as well as I do.

And at some point each of them has disappeared into the trees on the four-wheeler or on foot with a sweetheart in tow and didn't come out until I yelled out the back door or sounded the horn on my truck.

Some things never change.

In The Woods.

Don Lively is a retired police officer and freelance writer. He lives in Shell Bluff. Email Don at Livelycolo@aol.com.

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