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On Being a Boy

Once upon a time, I was a boy with nothing to do but explore the worlds I found in my imagination, and decorate them with little bits of mundane reality. I lived for free time and fairy tales.

That doesn’t really narrow the context at all, does it? Very well. Let’s say once upon a time I was about ten years old, and my family lived on a hobby farm outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I got much more use out of our forested fourteen acres as a playground than my parents ever got out of it as farmland.

I’ve talked about it here before. Way back in the earliest days of the blog, I talked about my Blackberry Fort. I was reminded of it last week when I posted my poll asking what topic should I focus on in the non-fiction book I’m writing this fall.

I asked the same question over on Facebook (as you can see in the illustration above), and my childhood friend Josh suggested I do an autobiography. Specifically, he suggested:

Tell the true tale of how you once created a zip line down into the valley as a way to escape from your hideout made out of a sticker bush!!! ­čÖé

And if you’ll look back at the other post I linked, you’ll see I already told the story about making a hideout out of a sticker bush (and a couple other hideouts to boot). The zip line was kind of a funny story, too.

See…I got something like an allowance when we lived on the farm. We were allowed to earn some spending money by working. Cleaning our rooms and household chores didn’t count, but working on the farm┬ádid.

So when we spent our Saturdays gathering rocks from the fresh-tilled garden and throwing them down the hill, we made a few bucks. If I went willingly to gather the eggs from the henhouse, I might end up with walking-around money.

And then I had to figure out what to do with it. My favorite destination was always the feed store. The Co-Op in town, with its wall full of handy tools and its weekly discount flyer. I can’t count the number of hours I spent staring at the handheld welding torch, calculating how many chores I’d have to do to bring that thing home one Saturday….

I never actually bought it. I did buy a pulley. I knew all about pulleys from one or another illustrated physics books I’d collected somewhere along the lines, and I thought having one around could prove quite handy. Turned out…I was wrong.

I just didn’t have that many things that needed lifting. So I ended up paying out several weeks’ worth of allowance to buy a big block of shiny steel I couldn’t really use.

As the Blackberry Fort story goes to show, I never let anything go to waste. I was constantly thinking, figuring, trying to find a way to turn my boring life into something amazing.

I suspect I was probably watching an episode of G. I. Joe when I finally got my brilliant idea, but somewhere along the way I’d caught a glimpse of a zip line in action–some reckless adventurer hanging suspended hundreds of feet above the ground, flying along at incredible speeds as he descended safely from a great height. And my thinking went: Well, I’ve got this pulley. And there’s plenty of rope….

So one Sunday afternoon when Josh was over hanging out, I borrowed some laundry rope from the shed out back, grabbed my pulley from its customary place in my desk drawer, and headed to the far end of our property where some shale cliffs towered high (eight feet or so) over the majestic river (muddy creek) that carved a path across our pasture.

We found a tree up top of the cliff and tied off the rope. I had along the ’50s-era Boyscout Handbook my granddad had once given me, and I double-checked all my knots for the sake of our safety. Then we threw the rest of the rope over the edge before taking the long path down and around to the base of the cliffs.

Then we stretched the rope as far as it would go, and tied it off low around the trunk of a tree growing by the stream bed. We stood back and stared in admiration. In all, it was probably a fifty-foot length of rope, but it looked like an awfully glorious run to us.

So we scampered back around and up to the top of the cliffs. We realized we’d made a mistake so we untied the rope, slipped the pulley onto it, and tied it off again. I double-checked my knots one more time. This was our safety we were talking about.

Josh found a stick that would fit through the loop in the top of the pulley, so we threaded that through for a bar to hang from. I held the pulley tight while Josh tugged on the branch with both hands, to make sure it would hold our weight. We didn’t want it snapping while we were in mid-flight!

But everything seemed ready. I don’t remember which one of us was brave enough to go first, so I’ll just say it was me. I stepped up to the edge, reminding myself not to look down (never look down), but I could feel the yawning abyss stretching out beneath me.

I tightened my grip on the makeshift handle. I peered down the length of the line to make sure there were no obstructions, but it seemed safe. I caught my breath, steeled my nerves, and I jumped forward off the cliff.

Funny thing about clothesline: It’s very stretchy. We might as well have used bungie cord. I jumped forward off the cliff, my weight dragged down on the pulley, and the line bent straight down to the ground. I landed hard about two paces away from the cliff face.

Legs and hands all scraped and bruised, I looked up the cliff face to see Josh peering down. His eyes were wide with excitement. As I hauled myself painfully to my feet, he called down to me, “That was so cool! My turn.”

I went to fetch the pulley, where it had settled some forty feet off at the bottom of our line. “Okay,” I called back up to him. “But then it’s my turn again!”

2 Responses to “On Being a Boy”

  1. Bungie cord. *gigglesnort*

    ; )

  2. Heather says:

    Okay….
    1. I can not believe how much you sound like Dad in this post. Can’t you just see him telling this story about a day in the woods with his cousins. Scary.
    2. Well… Now I forget number two thanks to the incredible distractibility of point number one. Dang it!
    3. Let us never suggest to our sons that once upon a time you dreamed of having a welding torch. Scary stuff!