The early morning rays of the sun bent toward the rainforest floor creating interwoven stripes of shadow and light, not unlike the Bengal tiger he had been pursuing. In these conditions, it would be difficult to spot the cat with sufficient warning to prevent a first strike. The hunter had become the hunted. Every sound had become a potential last moment; every movement a blurred leap. As he crouched down to lower his profile, he began to reflect on how he, the Great Hunter, had allowed the situation to turn. Perhaps his reputation had created an arrogant self-confidence; or his fearless nature…it didn’t matter, both were tattered.
His rifle, a gift from his grandfather, which had accompanied him on all his past triumphs, was gone. He had kept it close, grasped in his hand, always at the ready. But only moments before, his feet had given way under the rain saturated jungle floor and he found himself sliding toward a 100-foot sheer drop to the Zambezi River. Both hands…he needed both hands, and, with that decision, was able to take hold of an exposed root, only seconds before the cliff. His rifle…his partner…his friend…continued downward to be shattered on the rocks above the Zambezi.
Staying low, he anxiously reached to his waist side; his knife was still there. As the shades of darkness gathered together, he prepared for his last stand. A sudden movement came from his left…the snap of a twig…
The sound of the cowbell pierced the forest. As it echoed, the rainforest dissolved into a woodlot, which was situated near a small house with a wooden fence. Tennis courts could be seen in the distance. I rose from my crouched position and started my journey home. The rest of my adventure would have to wait. It was suppertime.
It was the ’70s. Our generation was driven to be outdoors…it was where we wanted to be. It was where our parents wanted us to be. We played in a world without video games. Sure, we had Pong, but after 30 seconds of superb match play, we were outdoors…creating adventure! And I can tell you, my neighborhood afforded ample opportunities and backdrops for imaginative adventure, as well as the supporting cast of characters.
For a time, we had the “Field.” You could see the Field from our backyard; it was an easy, quick walk…just one street over. Although soccer fields today, in our day it was an overgrown field surrounded by woods. In my mind’s eye, it was a blank canvas; a ready backdrop to be painted as a rainforest, distant planet, or medieval village. There were no limits to adventure…except it had to take place within a few hours after school or between breakfast and supper on the weekends (packing a lunch was optional). Don’t forget the cowbell. Those were the rules…jungle rules!
In the imaginative mind of a 10-year old, the journey to the Field (or to whatever it had transformed) was arduous; past the “Apple Tree of Death,” through the “Acid Grasslands of Higgins’” and eventually over the “Larkin Highway of No Return!” On any occasion, there was a high risk to encounter rabid hounds and other furry creatures (large and small, but mostly small) of unimaginable evil, or village folk pretending to mind their own business (when I knew better). There was Sir Zippi, a knight so tall he could see into tomorrow. I would ask, “Sir Zippi, will I succeed in saving the world from evil?” He would counter my thoughts and bellow, “DO NOT RIDE THROUGH MY YARD WITH YOUR BIKE.” I knew not of what he spoke and avoided him in future quests!
We did use real props…depending upon the adventure, perhaps a canteen, a compass, specimen jars or a net. My dad’s garage was full of props! I think I still have some of them. And I was seldom alone; superheroes need sidekicks, scientists need assistants. There was Davey…heh heh…Davey…see how long you last in the jungle. He was Jim to my Marlin Perkins. Do you have that snake under control Davey?! Then there was Christy…remember Christy…my assistant of choice! There were many others…family and friends alike. I was their leader, their captain, their king – well I never really got away with that status, but remember, it’s my blog.
We were our own stuntmen and women. Looking back on the famous scene with Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss comparing their scars in the movie “Jaws,” I am convinced ours could rival theirs. Adding realism to my adventures, I stepped on two nails, broke my hand and my wrist (on separate occasions), and flew over the handlebars of my bike (I mean spacecraft). 50 feet…heh heh! Supporting cast members survived the “golf club incident,” the “smoke bomb incident” (we know who you are), and several tree fort structural integrity deficiencies. There was also the “fence incident”…oh, the fence incident. In movie vernacular, we wrapped after that first take.” No really…it literally had to be wrapped after the first take! “Where’s my location manager? Find a lower fence…and advise casting that we’re going to need a new FBI agent for the chase scene…taller, longer legs.”
We also had the hill…no not the hill…the “Big Hill!” Strategically situated along a road providing access between “our” neighborhood and the upper neighborhood of “our rivals.” It was the only way in and out. “Stay away from the Big Hill” our mothers would say, as if that meant we would. To the “Big Hill” we went. In the real world of that time, I loved Steve McQueen. I don’t know why…maybe it was his name…he exuded coolness! In my imagination, I was Steve McQueen. On one occasion, I was Steve McQueen driving a 1968 Ford Mustang GT, just like the one from “Bullitt.” Correction, it was the one from “Bullitt” and I was heading down the “Big Hill,” having just escaped from the clutches of the upper neighborhood hooligans. In the distance, I heard a cowbell. Needless to say, I was in a hurry!
In most scenarios, there is hardly a match for a 1968 Ford Mustang GT; it was, and continues to be, a muscle car of choice with its 390 cu in (6.4 L) 4V engine. Reality, however, can suck and drive the imagination right out of you. On that occasion (and just that occasion), the 1971 Plymouth Cricket at the bottom of the hill was a worthy foe. The metallic green Schwinn stingray bike (I mean Mustang) came to rest in the grass approximately 100 yards below the crest of the hill. Steve McQueen, groggy, but unhurt, was 20 feet beyond. The experience was a close call no doubt, but invaluable as a learning experience. (And Mom, in case you are reading,…no worries. This event is likely the singular reason for my passing physics…can you say “momentum?” Well, I can and I have practical experience with its meaning! Isn’t physics cool!). Back to the story…the drivers traded pleasantries regarding the weather, before they recommenced their respective journeys. “Stay away from the “Big Hill.” “We will meet again” Steve McQueen may have retorted, although it was largely drowned out by the wind. “Yes Mr. Conklin.”
While the “Big Hill” is still there today, I must say it does not look as intimidating as it did in the ’70s. With perseverance, we tame the physical obstacles in front of us, which allow us to travel further down the road; slightly more experienced and ready for the next challenge. Life is funny that way; it’s filled with hidden learning opportunities. The Field, Sir Zippi, the Big Hill.
Life continues to be an adventure. It’s no wonder to me that some of the greatest discoveries and inventions of today were borne from the minds of our generation…the kids of the ’60s and ’70s. As kids, we used our mind’s eye to create imaginary worlds in which we wrote the script, painted the scenery, and selected the cast. We were the director, producer and stars. There were no limits to where we would go, whom we would meet, and things we could accomplish. These skills serve us well. As adults, our generation continues to discover by overcoming adversity; we imagine, then we achieve. In today’s fast paced world, we almost do this 24/7; but as kids, we were limited to a few hours after school or between breakfast and supper on the weekends (packing a lunch was optional). Don’t forget the cowbell. Those were the rules…jungle rules!
P.S. Pack a lunch, perhaps an egg salad sandwich with the crust cut off. And include a chocolate pudding cup; it makes the learning experience just that much more special!