Wednesday, September 9, 2015

In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle …

Hi Bill

Once again I have been thinking about the bygone days of my childhood and our homestead on West Plank Road. Although that neighborhood was not far from the city, it provided many aspects of a rural environment. You may remember the Hunt Club, which stabled many horses and held annual equestrian competitions. You may also remember the forested area behind (I believe south of) the Hunt Club. Now I like to call that area "Our Mysterious Jungle" because it was one of the most intriguing areas near my childhood neighborhood. You probably also remember my friends (Tom and Tim T., Pat H., Bob D. and others) who often accompanied me into that jungle.

Clark's 5th Grade Photo - 1959

The Hunt Club itself was also a wonderful place to me and my friends, because we could feed the horses and carefully pet their noses when they were outside in one of the corrals. There were wooden fences around those corrals with electrified wires on them. The horses certainly seemed to dislike those wires and so they mostly stayed away from the fences. However, us human critters could always get them to come to the fences with carrots, pieces of apple, and other stuff that the caretakers did not want us to give them. Maybe little boys back then were immune to electric shocks because we didn’t seem to worry about those little buzzes, even when we happened to lay the barrel of our metal toy six-guns on the wires. In fact it was something we just had to do when we snuck up to the corral fences to prove we were tough guys.

Anyway, the Hunt Club was on the way to "Our Mysterious Jungle", which was a favorite environment for make-believe wars, gunfights, monster attacks, and other exciting adventures. It provided an extremely dense forest with a small stream running through it. There were hardly any paths through that jungle, which made it easy to get lost and that happened to us often. However, we just roamed around until we found the winding stream and then walked upstream until we got our bearings.

Our expeditions into the jungle were always exciting and sometimes a little scary. This was “The Wild” and it was alive with creatures of all sorts. Of course the bugs were prevalent and they were ugly, beautiful, monstrous, tiny, crawly, flying, strange, and (most of all) hungry. Some of those bugs looked like big B52 bombers that were aiming to take us out. The parents always could tell when we had ventured into the jungle because of the red, swollen and itchy bites on our skin. Of course, we often captured the bugs (especially the strange ones) and brought them home where they were usually quickly executed by our parents. Then we got the lecture about not bringing bugs home and staying out of that wild forest. However, they didn’t sound like they really meant it and we considered it our duty to patrol those danger zones near our neighborhood.

Of course, we encountered more than bugs in those woods! All kinds of roving creatures including squirrels, skunks, snakes, deer, and many imaginary murderers, monsters and “Lions, and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!” were there to entertain or enslave us. Somehow we were able to fight our way to safety no matter what creatures were stalking and attacking us.

Probably the worst adversaries in those woods were the plants. They were thick, camouflaged, and ripe with noxious irritants that produced painful and itchy patches on our skin and thorns that pricked and cut us. Mercurochrome, Iodine, soothing lotions and salves were necessary after many safaris through the jungle. In addition, there were big cabbage-like plants that we called “Skunk Cabbage” because they dispersed an odor similar to skunk spray into the air and onto our clothing, especially when we kicked them. Our moms were not big fans of the skunk cabbages. However, we were men (well little men) and we didn’t cry when injured or worry about how we smelled, at least until we got home to our moms.

One of the main attractions in "Our Mysterious Jungle" was the stream that meandered through it. We would bring toy boats to float on that stream and have boat races. When we didn’t have toy boats, we would float pieces of wood. We also tried to build little dams in that stream, but they never held much water. In addition, we tried to build bridges over the stream using branches, which mostly resulted in wet boys in the stream. However, the best thing about the stream was the creatures that lived in it. We often brought small nets and containers (jars, buckets, etc.) that would hold water, which we used to catch small fish and crayfish (with multiple legs and pinchers). Then we would delight our parents by bringing them home, where we would put them in an aquarium. Unfortunately, they usually didn’t live very long but we kept trying. We also caught frogs and toads in (or near) that stream and brought them home. The toads seemed to last longer than the other creatures we caught. However, they required larger and more secure habitats. You may remember that Mom was not enthralled with me bringing toads into the house. However she did tolerate most creatures that could be contained in an aquarium.

Overall, "Our Mysterious Jungle" behind the Hunt Club provided a wonderful passage to a fantasy land for us young guys. We didn’t have many girls in our neighborhood, and the girls who were there were either younger or much older than our group of wannabe manly misfits. At that age we didn’t want to hang with the girls anyway. We lived in a man’s neighborhood and "Our Mysterious Jungle" was certainly part of that manly environment, discounting the crying from our poison ivy, bug stings, cuts, and abrasions.

Bill, I believe that you helped introduce us to "Our Mysterious Jungle" and I was proud (and happy) that you did. However, you didn’t really accompany us on most of our excursions. I wish we could visit that “Wild” place again together, but it is long gone. The entire area is full of retail stores including big-box stores now. Only our memories (as vague and insubstantial as they may be) can take us back to those wonderful days.

I hope you and your family are well and happy.

Take care.

 Sincerely Clark

My 6th Grade Class Photo - 1960
I'm the weird-looking child behind the teacher.

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