By Ed Lange
Marching in the forward ranks of the baby boom generation, I was eleven years old when the totally cool ’57 T-Bird hit the streets. That same year, I sobbed inconsolably when my folks told me we were moving from Albany to some hick town hamlet of 600 in the Heldebergs—which may as well have been a galaxy far, far away, cuz it sure was the end of the world as I wished it.
But after about only one lunar cycle in the hinterlands, it finally dawned on me that we had relocated to “boy paradise.” Within less than a mile of my bedroom was a gorgeous gorge with waterfalls, swimming and fishing holes, secret rocky hideouts, and cliffs we’d climb, our fingers and toes precariously hoping the next rock or root would hold our weight and keep us from tumbling broken-boned into The Crick. Our backyard looked over a vast woods where the guys and I chopped down small trees to make lean-tos and “log cabins,” camped out, and (if you can communicate with the dearly departed, don’t tell my Mom) – had B-B gun fights with each other. Boy, does that sting! Less than a mile from our front yard, loomed a mighty mountain rising to 1,100 feet beckoning us to climb it—which, of course, we did many times.
Half a mile up the main road sat a Mobil gas station where they actually did car repairs and gasoline sold at 24.9¢ a gallon. Across the road was a general store with all the same great stuff as the little corner stores I had left behind in the city—and lots more, too. It was run by a round, apple-cheeked woman out of a Franz Hals painting who wouldn’t tell your mother if you ate a whole box of Freihofer’s glazed donuts. A couple hundred yards farther up the road you could turn off into another woods, trek into its secret depths and find yourself staring into a deep, scary pit. At the bottom of that pit lurked a narrow hole that opened among jagged rocks. The air flowing from its darkness smelled not of Hell’s brimstone, but of cool, mossy moisture. A cave. Not some commercially developed cave, but a real, honest-to-gosh, natural cave with a stream running through it in the spring, a small pond at the far end, imagination-inspiring vaulted rooms with unnerving shadows, dripping crevices, chillingly narrow passages and crawl-on-your-belly-in-the-mud spaces; and when you switched off your flashlight, the blackest black that ever was—anywhere. You could hold your hand an inch from your face, wiggle your fingers and not see a doggone thing. Nothing. Which made us worry about what might happen if our flashlights quit. Would they ever find our bodies? Maybe someday, long after our corpses had shriveled like a shrunken head from New Guinea.
And so my boyhood was spent in outdoor adventure, exploration, imagination, and of course, baseball. We wielded knives, hatchets, B-B guns (and later, rifles), ropes, baseball bats and mitts, and occasionally a tool or two pilfered from our fathers’ workshops. Some days we were Indian fighters, pirates, Lewis and Clark, desperadoes, Mickey Mantle, pioneers, Edmund Hillary, and in the winter, Admiral Byrd or Roald Amundsen, struggling to survive in the frigid wilderness. Our days and nights were spent in places with wonderful, evocative names: Pinnacle Bank, Indian Head, The Lair, The Path of the Serpent and the Impassable Pool. But the cave was always just, “The Cave.” It didn’t need any more cachet than that. Video and computer games weren’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, cell phones were science fiction at best, and VCR, DVD and HBO were nothing more than letters in the alphabet.
Today, I live in the suburbs. Behind our house stands a small patch of woods, with its own little stream—one of those many Dutch kills we have here in the Capital Region—that wends its way along the bottom of our small hill, topped with its red pines, sugar maples and oaks. Across the stream is a section of the neighborhood that is somewhat isolated from the rest because of the stream. The kids who live there have a long walk to their school bus stop, the ball field and their friend’s homes on our side of the stream. Sometimes in the summer, when the stream draws shallow, the kids struggle to cross it on stepping stones, but as often as not, they’d get their sneakers soaked or drop a baseball glove into it. And a soggy baseball glove is darn near useless.
So, my imagination remembered my boyhood and I built a bridge back into my past. Among the trees in our little back woods were some dead pines with their nice, straight trunks. I cut a couple of them down, stripped them of their bark with my trusty ol’ hunting knife, and built a simple little bridge for the kids to cross the stream, lashing the logs together with knowledge learned as a Boy Scout—back when being a Boy Scout was still a grand thing in the eyes of the young. And since I was already out there building bridges between today’s youth and my own, I also built a loveseat with the same pine logs for my wife and I to hold hands on.
The kids use the rustic little bridge all the time, and one especially thoughtful teenage girl stopped by our door one afternoon carrying her lacrosse stick, and said, “Thanks for building the bridge.”
You bet, Kaylee.
Ed Lange is an award-winning writer, stage director, sailor and new student pilot.