The old wooden bridge echoed each step as the heel of my black leather boots tapped the slats that stretched the width of the winter river below. As I walked, my slender piano fingers glided over the splintered railing to the rhythm of the rushing water underfoot. My fingers searched for the smooth silvery heads of the nails amidst the weathered splinter wood. With each needle-sharp snag my hand jumped slightly to avoid sticking myself.
I had spent most of the day poolside to escape the almost unbearable hot and sticky weather, which frequented the summer days of Indiana. As the afternoon wore on the air became cooler, especially above the river. The breeze seemed to rise up from the vast watery bed as the icy river rushed over the rocks and boulders that had been precariously strewn about by some act of nature or God.
I stopped for a moment to watch the white caps slap the large rounded rocks embedded in the smooth silvery-gray clay soil. The icy spray of the river stung my face like tiny shards of glass. Yet, it was still refreshing. It felt good standing there. The air smelled of spring, with its various fragrances of dandelions, poppies, wild violets, pink roses and wet grass. The song of the blue jay and sparrow harmonized with the rushing wind sounds of the river and the distant screech of a hawk. My eyes were treated by the brilliant greens that lined the river bed. The long reeds of the pussy willow and cat tales were beautifully decorated by white and yellow lilies. The wild strawberries looked like spots of blood against the black twisted trunks of the pines and great oak trees.
The breeze and icy spray chilled my skin, causing goose pimples to erupt up and down my bare arms. Anxious to warm myself, I quickly resumed my walk across the bridge to the dirt road ahead. My right foot faltered as I stepped down onto the gravel. The crunching reminded me of the sound inside one’s head while eating “wheat thins.”
The road before me lay parallel to the river. I looked to the left and saw a long dry shade-less journey back to camp. To the right lay a path I had not yet traveled. The idea of adventure and a trip down a green canopied road was inviting.
The crunching below my feet, the babbling river and the songs of birds mingled with the occasional rustle of oak leaves above me. The rushing sounds all around had a hypnotizing effect as I floated up the road.
As I wandered aimlessly, I didn’t notice the gradual narrowing of the road into a path winding through the dense foliage of fern and stinging nettle. The damp black trunks quickly closed in around me creating a prison cell effect. Soon all sounds of life seemed to dwindle into soft whispers and only an occasional rustle was heard in the brush. Off in the distance the winds on the plains could be heard, like the sound of the ocean in a sea shell. I stopped to look around and noticed that the path was leading into a green mossy swamp.
I bent over to feel the velvet like covering of the swamp and jumped back when a football size bull frog croaked. Just a few feet away sat a couple more bull frogs on large plate size lily pads.
The musty stale air tickled my nose every time I inhaled. Looking up, the sky appeared to have a green tint and all light seems to be coming from all that was green around me. Feeling a little like Dorothy visiting the Emerald City, I was excited for what might come next. Wondering if the swamp would glow a luminous green at midnight with the occasional flashing star-light of fire-flies. Would it be as bright and brilliant as it was at that very moment?
Wanting to see what was beyond, I gingerly crossed the path to the other side of the swamp, trying to avoid the puddles and mud, so as not to dirty the boots. It seemed to get warmer the further I walked away from the river and up the hill. I could barely hear its rushing waters. The path must have detoured away from the river.
After fighting my way through stinging nettle and various other irritating plants like poison oak and poison ivy, I stepped out into the bright sunlight and came upon a clearing about the size of a small dining room. It may have been 10 feet in diameter. The towering trees provided shelter from the heat and the distant breeze of the plains. In the middle lay a small fire ring, obviously arranged by someone not too long ago. The fire pit smelled strong of smoke and wet ash.
I poked around in the remains to see if there was anything worth taking or examining. There wasn’t much, just scraps of a magazine or newspaper, a match book from the Hilton in Lafayette, a couple cigarette butts and a rusted old can. This didn’t tell me much, so I began to explore the surroundings. Among the dense growth of fern and vine that twined around the massive trunks of ancient trees I found beautiful raspberry bushes laden with ripe red and purple berries. They were sweet with a bit of a bite and had lots of tiny seeds that would weasel their way between my molars. Little red beads of blood simultaneously appeared as my searching fingers were punctured by the tiny thorns that covered the branches and stems of the raspberry plants.
After taking my fill it was time to move on. I started back the way I came when I saw out of the corner of my eye a path going up hill. At closer examination, a crude staircase of old logs and railroad ties ascended to the top. Still in an adventurous mode, I climbed the hill.
Bright light blinded my vision as I stepped out into an open field. I staggered slightly as the oven like air of the open field enveloped me. After a few moments I realized that I had stumbled onto the backside of the archery range of Camp Carey. This was the end of my adventure… at least for this day… a summer day in my youth.