Dikes are a result of man’s decision to make the Black Swamp of northwest Ohio into farmland. Consequently, the trees were leveled, the land was drained, and we all moved in. Mother Nature, however, has other ideas. The land is the perfect clay-ey consistency to hold water, and during an especially rainy season even the large fortresses of land, dikes, cannot keep the floods at bay.
The marshlands are home to a wonderful patchwork of wildlife. I grew up with wood ducks, mallards, canvasbacks, Canada geese, whitetail deer, assorted warblers, and the chorus of bullfrogs as my companions. When the bird banders came in the spring, I helped them set up their nets and sometimes I even got to help them band the warblers that come through in a swarm of yellow, hurrying to their nesting grounds in northern Canada. My dad took me duck hunting a few times, and like any good daughter, I watched him skin at least a few hundred muskrats.
One of the best adventures of my childhood, however, happened in junior high, at that gray hormonal point in every person’s life when nothing is right with the world. No one understands you, strange things happen to your body, and in my case, my dad got remarried. My new stepbrothers, in spite of being goons, were wonderful for extrapolating my creativity.
In our summer wanderings in about seventh grade, we happened upon a fallen willow. From the looks of it, lightning had struck it right down the middle. Rather than just falling and rotting, the six-foot base kind of leaned over and kept on growing. It made a huge bridge, with nooks and crannies on the ground. In the course of reading a fantasy novel about druids and tree folk, I imagined I was one of them.
The tree house was hidden from view because of the overgrown path and brush. We managed to clear a path, although it took at least a week of solid clearing. We used the branches from the brush we cleared away to mask the booby-traps we built into the path…to keep people away, of course. And to lure our unsuspecting friends too. 🙂 I remember when my dad discovered the path, thinking it was a shortcut to get behind the pole barn, and he got the tractor stuck in one of the holes we had dug.
There was a kidney-U-shaped pond beside the tree. The tree was at the closed end of the U, and though the pond often dried up in the summer (another great place to explore, with deep cracks and critters), it made for a much-need escape for me and my inevitable book. After a time, my stepbrothers tired of the tree, and so did I. Before long, family situations changed, we moved, and the tree was forgotten in all but my infrequent dream visits. I find myself wondering, as I am surrounded more often with children these days, if any child or young person has rediscovered that tree. Is the tree still alive? Have the branches been used lately as swings or slides or shade?