Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ice, Water and Mud

It may never be as popular as Earth, Wind and Fire, but it gave us a few laughs as children. I am, of course, referring to the title of this story: Ice, water and mud. There was a lot of it my childhood. They are, after all, some of the basic play elements of the universe. Almost every child loves to play in the snow or walk out on a frozen pond. It's also a joy to take a swim or dance in the rain. Most of us have made a mud pie or gotten in a mud fight. All these things show up in most childhoods (at least where the climate allows for ice.) and they certainly showed up in mine.

The dawn that rose up over this first tale was cold and frosty. I can't remember if we had been snowed out of school or if it was just Saturday. However, the these two facts stand out: We were not in school and we were in one of those winter wonderlands that are so rare in the south. The main thing that I do remember was that Folk's pond was frozen.

That pond was a central theme for many of our childhood adventures. It was easily accessible and it was right down the street. It was also a place where we were allowed to trespass. That is to say that we thought we were sneaking onto the property. I found out years later that Mr. Folk knew all about us going onto his land and had OK-ed it with Dad. Even without the adventurous edge of sneaking around the pond it was a pond and therefor a lot of fun.

As I said, on this particular day the pond was frozen over. We had decided to take Prince with us that morning, so I had him on the leash. (Prince was a dog we had that was born on my eighth birthday. He probably deserves a set of stories written about him, but I haven't gotten to it yet.) We reached the frozen edge of the pond and started to walk out on it's solid surface.

“I'm going to see how far out I can get.” I said leading Prince out on the ice with me.

“Be careful, I think the ice get's thinner out there.” Sam said as he was carefully walking around the edge.

“Thinner? No man, it's as solid as rock!”

“Prince doesn't seem to think so.”

Prince had started to fall behind me. In fact he wouldn't get off the very edge of the ice and I was just about at the end of the leash.

“So what? He's just not used to it.”

“No, dogs can tell where the thin ice is. They won't step on it, so you can follow them safely.”

“You're out of your mind Sam. You pay to much attention to old wives tales. How can a dog tell...”

At this point I broke through the ice and was standing in close to knee deep, ice cold, water. I looked up at Sam and saw he and Josh and the dog staring at me with knowing smiles.

“Oh, shut up!” I said as I stormed back to the bank and started for home. Fortunately I didn't have to go much more than two blocks. By the time I got home the water on the outside of my shoes was frozen. Needless to say, my feet were a bit on the chilly side, but I was no worse for the wear. I was also able to put the entry “In case of being stranded on the ice try to find a dog to follow.” in my mental survival guide. All in all, the knowledge was worth the cold. Still, I suppose it could have been a coincidence, but it's not a chance I'll take again.

We now need to make the transition from winter to late fall. There wasn't ice anywhere, but it was still cold. Once again Sam, Josh and I had headed down toward the pond. On this particular day we decided to creep down to our old fishing hole and poke around. For whatever reason we decided not to go fishing that day. It seemed enough that day just to wander around looking at this and that.

Our fishing hole was right off of Folk's pond. In fact, it was where they had dug the spillway out years and years before. The pipe that formed the spillway was probably twenty feet above the land it came out into. The force of the dropping water had dug out the perfect fishing hole after a few years. It was one of the few places we went fishing where we always caught fish. Although, that is really beside the point at the moment because, as I mentioned, we weren't fishing.

I had walked down the hill to the edge of the little spillway pond and was messing around on the beach. There were all kinds of little creatures digging in the soft mud. It was more than enough to keep me interested for a few minutes. Sam and Josh had stayed up on top of the hill and so were out of my direct line of view. I could have seen them had I bothered to try to keep and eye on them, but I was busy with other things.

I'm certain Sam could have also seen me had he taken a moment to look, but taking a moment was never Sam's thing. He had found a huge piece of concrete laying there in the woods. It was like a cement bolder and was probably left over from the building of the spillway. Having found it he realized there was only one logical thing to do with it. He needed to throw it off the edge of the hill down into our fishing hole. If that doesn't seem the obvious thing to do then your mind doesn't work like Sam's. That's something to fell good about.

Here I have to underline the fact that this was a bolder. I don't just say that for effect. It was almost as wide as Sam's chest and probably weighed close to one hundred pounds. It's important to understand that, so you can imagine the size of the wave it would create if dropped into a pool from a height of around twenty feet. You can also apply your imagination and form an image in your minds eye of that wave heading strait for the pond bank, not ten feet away from it. Do you have an image of the wave? Good! Now keep it there for a moment.

“Lookout!” Sam screamed as the boulder flew out of his hands and he realized that I was on the beach below.

I looked up to see this giant concrete blob hurtling for the surface of the water. I knew there was no time to move so I bundled myself into a ball and awaited the inevitable. Now, take your imaginary wave and smack it into my small crouching body with everything you've got. What it looked like from my point of view was a tidal wave reaching far above my head. Fortunately my bundling technique had worked. After the wave had gone back out to pond I was still dry. That is to say, the fronts of my upper thighs were still dry. Everything else about me was soaking wet, but if I hadn't reacted so well and so fast I could have had soaking wet upper thighs as well.

“Why did you do that!” I yelled up at Sam.

“I'm sorry, I didn't see you.”

“Well, I was here all the same. Look at me!”

Sam and Josh took a moment to look at me and burst out laughing. Needless to say I had to walk home to change. Again, it was just over two blocks, but I was freezing cold by the time I got home and was done with the fishing hole for the day. At least I learned something I can share with other people. If you're ever about to be hit with a tidal wave pull yourself into a ball. That way your upper thighs will stay dry and warm.

Fortunately this next tale opens with everything dry and warm. It was a beautiful Spring day. It might even have been early Summer. The exact date slips my mind, but I can still see the green grass and the oak leaves blowing in the warm wind. So that takes Fall and Winter out of the running anyway. Once again, we had decided to sneak out onto Mr. Folk's property and take a walk. His land was beautiful and it was a gorgeous day so the obvious thing to do was to go out there and wander around.

It happened that this was a work day out at the Folk farm. That meant that there would be workers out there doing their jobs who might spot us. Normally we didn't go out there if anyone else was there doing anything, but that day was too good to let pass. We were just going to have to sneak past the guards. It is also important to note that the pond had been drained at the time for some repairs or cleaning or something. (Don't ask me what repairs or cleaning a pond could need. I just know that people around here drain them some times and when you ask why you get answers like “Repairs”.) So, what was usually the pond was a small sea of slick black mud.

“How are we going to get in?” I asked crouching down in the woods at the edge of the road watching a truck full of workers pull through the gate.

“Well, not by the gate.” Sam replied.

“We could go around the fishing hole and just step over the barbed wire fence.” Josh suggested.

“Nah, as soon as stepped out of the woods on that side we'd be right out in the open.” Sam pointed out.

“Well,” I said, “we need to stay close to the gate. If we go too far on either side our options are crossing swamp land or stepping out in the open.”

After a moment's silent thinking Sam spoke again. “We're going to have to army crawl through the pond.”

“What?” Both Josh and I replied.

“Yea, that's what we've got to do. We can cross the road real quick and throw ourselves onto the mud. Then we'll crawl along until we reach the fence on the left side of the gate. From that side we can easily cross the work road and be in the woods again before anyone sees us. We need to go one at a time. Josh is the youngest so I think he can go first.”

This plan actually seemed reasonable. Who would be looking over the edge of the road expecting to see a person crawling through the mud. Josh took on the mission like a soldier. He waited for a moment to make sure the coast was clear then he ran to the edge of the road and slipped over like a snake. From where Sam and I were we could see him, but only because we knew right where to look. No one driving along the road would ever have spotted him. This clear view of my brother is what gave Sam and I pause.

“He's doing great!” Sam said as we watched from the woods.

“Yea, but the sun is beating down on him.” I replied.

“That's true and it's very slow going in that mud.”

“And it looks pretty nasty too. It can't be pleasant slinking along in it.”

“No, I'm sure it's not. Plus, if we all three take this long it's going to be a while before we can get to exploring.”

“We need to find another way in.”

“I agree, but how?”

“We could just run up the road and jump over the gate.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We'll be careful.”

“You're right. We just need to time it right.”

With that Sam and I made a dash through the woods beside the road up to the gate. We looked around and no one was there so we hopped over and hid in the woods opposite the road where Josh was supposed to come up. After what like seemed like an hour we saw Josh's head pop up below the fence and look slowly left and right. We started waving at him from the woods and whispering for him to hurry up. He jumped up, crossed the fence and jumped in the woods with us. He was entirely coated with mud.

“How did you guys get in here?” He asked as he was brushing some of the moist back dirt off of himself.

“We jumped the gate.” Sam replied.

“You jumped the gate? You let me crawl on my stomach through five hundred feet of drained out pond and you jumped the gate?”

Josh went on for a while, but I'll spare you the details. Josh usually felt that we did things like that on purpose, but we didn't. That's just the way the cards fall sometimes. In life there are going to be times when you're the guy crawling face down in the mud and times when you're the guy jumping the fence. You have to take each as it comes.

In any event, ice, water and mud. They always were a lot of fun. It's something mothers need to remember. With my own brood I sometimes have to overrule Mommy's decisions about playing in the rain or wallowing in a mud puddle. I've heard it said that girls grow up to be women and that little boys grow up to be big boys. For my part that's true. Just because I don't go around building dams in the rain doesn't mean that I've forgotten how much fun it is. It's just that a wife can give her husband more trouble about dirty cloths than a mother can her son. So here I sit recording all this history with clean cloths on. I'm sure my mother will be pleased to know.

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