When I was little and even when I was medium-sized, I would go out in my yard for hours and play. My play was all about creating things. We had these hedges that ran the length of one side of the yard that butted up to the chain-link fence that separated our yard from the Poodle-groomer’s yard.
The Poodle-groomer was a short stocky fellow with one arm longer than the other and he walked like Warwick Davis. You know, the little guy that played Wicket the Ewok and Willow in that Willow movie? He was in Harry Potter as well. The Poodle-groomer had an equally small wife. She wore thick glasses and had wild and tangly red hair. They had two really tall children. Like basketball player tall. I asked my Mom about his arm once and she told me it was Agent Orange or something that caused it to be that way.
Anyway, the hedges ran along side that neighbor’s and our shared fence. Because they butted up to the fence, you could crawl under parts of the hedges and it was like a secret forest. Our dogs had made little trails in and out of them. The leaves were abundant and soft. I’m not sure when I started, but I would prune them. Outside and inside. Between each shrub I created a “room” big enough for me, my brother and two Pomeranian Poodle mixes and maybe one or two other people our size. Because they grew together and some had spawned others, some rooms were smaller than others. We had something like 15 different rooms eventually. We even had a bathroom. Sometimes, you didn’t want to go in just to pee. The brush was so thick that the Poodle-groomer couldn’t see into the center, so we never worried about being exposed, although we always made sure they were not outside, nor were their giant children. The fact that we had dwarves and giants next door might have influenced my love of fantasy early in my life.
I would sweep the dirt until it was down to the clay. It was like stone in the Summer. Cool stone. The forest houses were a nice way to stay out of the relentless Oklahoma summer sun. I would sit in the biggest room for hours, peeling bark from branches I had pruned. I got really good at peeling bark from branches. I would take my fingernails and get up under the part of the bark that separated the woody outside from the solid wet wood inside and pull it off in unbelievable long strips. I always wanted to make paper from it. I tried a few times but never really got the quality I was looking for. I saw a special Globe Trekker episode on the Silk Road a few weeks back and they showed women doing this. Exactly the same way I had as a kid. They added something to the wood pulp though that helped it adhere. Something natural, but something I never had access to in the vast expanse of my backyard. Part of me wondered if this was a place my ancestors came from.
I would take the sticks I had peeled clean and I would do all sorts of things with them. Sometimes I would carve them into little snakes. Sometimes I would make arrow shafts and tie a handmade arrowhead to them and make slits to slide feathers into the back. Sometimes I would make tribute sticks. I was never exactly sure what god or goddess or creature of nature I was creating it for until I was done. They were extremely elaborate. I would paint them, carve designs into them, braid the bark strips around them, wrap a hand grip for them from black electrical tape or canvas athletic tape. I was always getting in trouble for using all the tape. I still to this day don’t know if other people ever did this. Made tribute sticks.
Sometimes I would sharpen them into a weapon. A weapon for hunting or a weapon for battle. I fantasied about tribal battles a lot as a kid. Barbarians and warriors and Indians. Fur covered, leather-wearing, horsemen tearing across long expanses to find some adventure. Trading and stealing and finding kindred souls to share meals and a night of passion with. The passion part didn’t figure in until I was a little older.
I created so many of these things. Funny, I don’t have a single one left. I never saved one. I broke several in battles with my brother. Poor kid. He was always having to defend himself from his battle loving sister. I even made some for him, so he could defend himself properly. Sometimes I fought dragonflies with them. I was delighted the first time I imagined a dragonfly as a dragon and myself as a knight defending my castle. As I swung at it, it countered and came directly at me as if in challenge. It was on. That first dragonfly battle was epic. It was a huge Green Darner dragonfly. It would zip past me, buzzing loudly by my ear, only to turn around and come at me again as I swung my wooden sword or tribal stick shouting threats of demise if it didn’t leave my land. Eventually, after what seemed like hours, it tired of my game and flew away. This happened on so many Summer days. There would be a challenge, the Dragonfly would either be vanquished away by my fancy sword play or it would tire (what I always decided was a win for the Dragonfly) and I would go back to my forest house or Mom would call my Brother and I to dinner.
I started the same sort of shrub in my backyard last year. Just one single shrub. Maybe as a reminder. This spring, one popped up on each side of it. So, now I have 3. Maybe soon, I’ll have a forest house again, and I can create my barbarian dragon-fighting stick, and properly defend my land before I tear out across the plains in search of adventure. Man, I hope T is ready to defend herself.