I have recently watched two good movies about Christopher Robin of Winnie the Pooh fame. Both were about the loss of wonder, time, and innocence and a need to find them again. And it reminded me that although not as bucolic as Christopher Robin’s woods I had my own 100 acre wood growing up in a small town. My 100 acre woods was in Boaz, Alabama; it consisted of a vacant lot next door with weeds three foot high. A drainage creek behind the house. A bridge across the creek that led to a big backyard that while mowed did not have an obvious owner. A huge maple tree in the front yard. The big pipes the creek flowed through that went under the road that led to the other side of the road I was not to cross. The store at the end of the block. Football field across the street.
In the middle of the weeded lot my friend and I had dug a hole that literally was neck deep and wide enough to hold four people. It was our fort. When we first started digging we did think we might hit China but eventually we decided it must be further down than we knew. When we were in our fort (or as some might call it: hole) we could not be seen by anyone. Although there were a few trails through the weeds, we were pretty much the only ones who would bother to go into the three foot high weeds. Our parents would stand at the edge of the lot and yell it was supper time but they would never venture in to the weeds.
Our favorite exit from the weeded lot was a path we had created next to the drainage ditch or creek as we called it. When the water was shallow we could walk on the slope that led down to the water. This enabled us to not be viewed. We could hide from friends and families for hours without anyone knowing how close we were to them. After you came to the end of the path you would have my backyard which I thought was huge. In our backyard we had a basketball goal and a slab of pavement to play. Our dog was usually tied to a long chain next to his doghouse. And there was the old truck that was one day going to be repaired. This was the part of the 100 acre woods where if we were not quick or lingered we could be spotted and the demands of chores would come crushing forth. But if we hurried past and went back into the ditch three houses down was the bridge to cross the creek. Once you cross the creek we were in a neighbor’s backyard but they had subdivided their yard with a fence leaving an area that no one used where we could set up camp where we were almost invisible.
Because the bridge was not known, we could avoid even friends who knew of our fort and paths in the weeds. We became experts in stealth. On days we were more adventuresome we could go in the opposite direction from the house. The weeds would carry you all the way to the street we were not supposed to cross because it was ‘busy’. Two cars passed every half hour. But we did not have to cross the road because the creek had huge drainage pipes we could crawl or walk under the road. The only problem was we never knew if we would encounter a rat, raccoon, or dog. On occasion we were stuck on the wrong side of the street and needed to be home but our path was blocked by a territorial animal who thought we had no business in their cave. This led to us arming ourselves with sticks and stones and rushing at the animals but on two occasions the animals did not run but held their ground and we had to retreat. One time a dog charged us and we found out quickly that although we were loyal friends there were times when it was every boy for himself.
It was with fear and trembling that we would cross the forbidden road rather than go back through the cave. We knew if a grown-up or other family member saw us we were doomed. The caves were saved for exceptionally boring days.
There were two other parts of the woods. There was the huge maple tree that stood in the front of our house. It was an extension of the woods. I climbed high into the tree seeing the whole of my domain. But here you constantly were obliged to interact with family and friends as they passed. The other extension was the store at the end of our street. It was there we kept up our supply of baseball cards, army men, balls, and ice cream. To be granted the right and money to cross the road and buy anything we wanted was the thrill of a lifetime.
I sometimes dream of my 100 acre wood. Always upon waking I feel a joy. It was a mysterious time full of wonders. It was a break before the onset of responsibility and young adulthood. I know people say I still stay in the weeds and never come out. They also say that I can make drainage ditches into creeks. And some say that I like keeping out of sight too much. But no matter what may be said, that place that time shaped me.