Once again I am going to take you all on a journey of my youth. Some of you, my Dear Readers, will remember the Fish and Finn stories from the past two years. This is another glimpse into my youth only it takes place about three years after my family and I had moved out of Green Bay. This is going to be a series so make sure to come back and discover what misadventures I am up to.
Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's
Lean On Me
By; Bill Withers
It was 1982, my mother was newly married to her second husband and they had moved me and my sisters out of Green Bay and into rural Wisconsin. We had all left behind everything we knew about our lives and where we fit in the world. Our friends, our enemies and even a part of ourselves, quickly became ghosts of memories. These ghosts seemed to become friendlier and kinder as the distance from the reality of our former lives increased.
Our move took place in stages, the first of which was to sell the house in Green Bay and move to a temporary home while our new home was being built. While in the temporary home, in a small northern Wisconsin town mostly populated by second and third generation Polish immigrants, we tried to make friends and fit into the new community. I met a few kids my age and attempted to befriend them, which ended in a disastrous night that involved some purloined alcohol, plants from Mexico, girls, and an abandoned school.
This is not about that night, nor is it about the first stage of moving. This is about the second stage. A stage, where we all moved into a house in a new neighborhood with, as I recall, only three other homes that had kids in the general age vicinity of me and my two older sisters. Don’t misunderstand me, there were several housing developments within five miles of our new home looking to change its image, yet they mired in its geriatric memories of a more innocuous time.
I can’t speak for my sisters in how long it took them to make friends and fit in with others in our new surroundings, but I know it took me only a few weeks of exploring the woods and surrounding areas to meet a gang of scruffy, outdoor, latchkey kids who had similar interests in life as I did.
Interests… I suppose that’s what you could say bonded us together.
I met Kevin while I was swimming, fishing, hunting and camping on the reforestation property. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but then again, I didn’t really care. I was pretty unhappy in my life, where I was, and my inability to fit in with the people around me. I was like a schooner stuck at sea with no wind. I was floundering in teenage awkwardness and the people I had relied upon for years were in Green Bay. Living their lives, and offering the emotional support that only close friends, who’ve been tried by the fires of life can present.
So, alone, angry, misplaced, frustrated and misunderstood, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I withdrew from my family. I would like to say I felt a certain amount of pain and loss when I withdrew, but I did not. It had been years since I felt close to the people I shared square footage and holidays with. I really had nothing in common with them. My mom worked and in her off time she was trying to be the good wife, my sisters were busy with their own friends and boyfriends and my latest father figure never really struck me as sincere when he and I hung out together.
So, with my copies of “On the Road” and “Call of the Wild” along with my fishing rod, camping back-pack, my pup-tent, two packs of Marlboro red’s and a map of all the hiking trails within a twenty mile radius, I headed out on what was supposed to be a three day respite from my uncomfortable life and into a wilderness where I felt comfortable and at home. The only thing I left behind was a note on my bed, so that anyone in my family who was interested in my whereabouts would know I had gone off on another camping excursion.
I entered the reforestation property through a break in the barbed wire fence that separated our neighbor’s yard from the fire access road of the state protected land. Once on the fire road it only took me minutes to locate the deer trail that led to the pond where I knew I would be spending the next few days communing with nature.
I had discovered the pond shortly after my first visit to the site where our house had been built. While my family was walking the land and my mom’s second husband was pacing out the footprint of the house, I snuck away to explore my future surrounding. It was early spring when we did this, so early the trees had yet to start decorating themselves from the previous falls shedding of leaves. The bareness of the woods and slowly melting snow made it easy to spot animal droppings and tracks. In no time at all I found a small path off the fire road and headed down it.
Walking down the winding trail I spotted signs of deer, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks and opossum. I also discovered some large droppings which gave me a start, since I assumed they belonged to fiercer and more protective animals that I had overheard some of the kids at school talking about… bears. I scanned the woods looking for signs of any creature close to me, but I knew in my mind I had been making too much noise while stomping through these unfamiliar woods for anything, large or small, to stick around and witness the source of the noisy visitor.
But knowing something in your head and feeling something else in the pit of your stomach are two totally different things. I could feel my heart start to race, sweat started to form on my forehead and I knew I was becoming skittish myself. I tried calming myself down and continued to walk down the path. I listened out for any large creatures tearing through the woods and slowed my pace a bit. Within ten to fifteen minutes I had put a good distance between me and the evidence of a larger species. I was just getting comfortable on the trail again when I came upon a copse of trees and I saw the path I was on took a left turn not far after the evergreens ended.
As I approached this turn I slowed my pace even more, it was a blind turn and in my young mind a family of bears had set up an ambush for me and as soon as I turned the corner they would pounce upon me and have a nice Skip-flavored snack to help bolster the loss of energy from the winter hibernation. (Like I said, I was a bit naïve in some of my animal knowledge and the fact I had all the horror stories from the kids at school racing through my mind didn’t help my mental state either.)
As I slowly rounded the trees, I could see where some bushes and bramble had encroached on the path. I could also see tufts of fur and hide stuck on some of the sturdier branches. It appeared many of the creatures used this trail and as evidence I promptly stepped in some fresh droppings of one them. I let out a quite curse and wiped my shoe off on some semi-decayed leaves. When I had finished I heard a sound I was not expecting.
As I turned to look down the path, I saw through the skeletal remains of brush a pond with fish jumping out of the water and into the asphyxiating oxygen of the day. I rubbed my eyes and shook my head a bit. Sure, I’d seen fish break the surface of their sanctuary in the past, but this was different, it seemed as if there was some sort of contest being held by the local chapter of Large Mouth Bass Union Local 4156. When one fish broke the water and twisted its body in an acrobatic display of Olympic proportions, another quickly followed suit. But with more style and energy than its predecessor had shown, as if they had to outdo each other, or else they would perish.
Fascinated, I hurried my pace so I could witness more of this odd and captivating behavior. I did not notice I had walked past the copse of pine trees, nor did I notice I had stopped at the edge of the water and my feet were getting soaked. I can’t say how long I stood watching this conduct, but it was the bone numbing coldness of my saturated socks that broke my reverie. I quickly turned and raced my way back to where my family was, hoping they had not noticed I had disappeared.
I needn’t have worried.
This was to be my sixth visit to my own private “Snug Harbor”, as I had come to think of it, since we had moved into the new house. But this was to be my first time spending more than just a day there. I had decided this spot on God’s green and blue marble would be my “Walden”, my safe place to call my own, but like most things in life, it didn’t quite work out that way.
It didn’t take me long to get there, but it took me longer to set up camp. On my previous excursions to my isolated sanctuary I had built a fire pit near several pine trees and I had cleared a patch of earth big enough to pitch my tent but within twenty feet of the pond. Once the tent was up, my bedroll laid out I went right to work getting a decent fire going and making sure my Boy Scout pots and pans were clean and ready for use.
Once the necessary chores were finished, I checked my BB gun to make sure it was loaded, checked my tackle box for proper lures and headed down to the pond to try and catch a proper lunch instead of eating some of the canned goods and sandwiches I’d brought as emergency rations. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I also took my Boy Scout pot to fill with water so I could boil it and then drink it later.
I had just finished getting a pot of water over the fire and had headed back to where I’d left my fishing rod when I someone standing right where I had left my fishing gear. This guy had my fishing rod in his hand and it looked as if he were reeling in my line. My sanctuary had just been invaded and I did not like it one bit.
“HEY! What the hell are you doing?” I called.