childhood memories

Tradewater near my parent's house

Tradewater near my parent’s house

Earlier this week my wife shared a message with me which she had received on Facebook from an old friend of ours. I won’t go into the details, but she had found my blog while looking for photos of the Tradewater River which runs through our hometown. Then she figured out who I was, and asked me to post something about the railroad tunnel. So here you go. 🙂

I have no idea when this tunnel was made, but it goes under route 672. My brother Steve, a few friends, and I would sometimes go through the tunnel on the way to Bandit’s Cave, so named because the name “Jesse James” had been carved into one of the rocks there. I have no idea if it was carved by the man himself, but that is a real possibility. And now that I have introduced Bandit’s Cave, we’ll have to explore that tangent before getting back to the tunnel.

The cave itself was very high (maybe 100 feet), very wide (again, about 100 feet), and not very deep (maybe 30 feet). It was more of a scoop out of the side of a bluff than a cave, but it was leaned over such that its interior was sheltered from the rain. One time when we went there, we scrambled up the hill to get to the top of the bluff and were tooling around up there when some other kids we knew arrived. It became fairly apparent that they were pretty stoned, especially when one of them came tearing down the hill towards the edge of the bluff in a full run. As he neared the edge, he did not slow down. When he did get to the edge, he extended an arm, grabbed a tiny 4″ diameter pine tree, and swung out over the edge, landing again on the other side of the tree. It would be an understatement to say that I was somewhat alarmed by this antic. Right up until he grabbed that tree, I was sure I was witnessing a suicide. We decided we would leave before something else crazy happened that we a) did not want to get sucked into, and b) did not want to witness.

And thus ends the Bandit’s Cave tangent, and we can get back to the tunnel. Once again, Steve and I were in the vicinity of the tunnel, although this time, it was not on the way to or from Bandit’s Cave. I think we were visiting someone on Route 672, but I don’t remember anymore. Not having a car, we had ridden our bikes to the tracks, stashed them, and then walked the rest of the way there, first by going down the tracks to the tunnel, and then climbing the hill that the tunnel went through. It wasn’t far by foot, if one were willing to climb the heavily wooded and very steep hill through which the tunnel had been dug. By road it would have been a very long bike ride, and there’s no way we’d want to haul a bike through the thick woods up that hill. Not to mention that it would have been no fun to try crossing the Tradewater (via the railroad bridge) with bikes in tow.

On the way home we decided to go through the tunnel. Going through the tunnel was exciting because it was risky. It was, after all, an active railroad track, and if one were caught in the tunnel when a train came through, one would not likely survive. It was just big enough to let a train through. We were always very careful to listen for a distant train, and we would even press our ears against the rail to listen for one before entering the tunnel. Then we’d dart through.

Now these woods on the hillside were so thick that it was impossible to see the tracks from the road above. You just had to know where they were, and we pretty much did. We picked our way through the woods down the southwest side of the hill, hoping to come out on the east side of the tracks. When we got to the bottom, we could still not see the tracks, but since we were east of them, we knew that we should go west to get to them. Only we were already west of the tracks.

That was the densest, most thorn-infested patch of Creation I have ever laid eyes on. On top of that, it was also pretty swampy. It was quite the bushwhack. We kept going, and going, and still no tracks. Then we’d come to an impenetrable barrier of green briars and have to go around them, only to hopefully pick up in the same direction again on the other side. We did OK (except for getting farther and farther from the tracks). After a while we figured out that we had come down the hill on the wrong side of the tracks and were headed away from them, but the thought of backtracking through that tangle was unthinkable. So we pressed onward. After about an hour of bushwhacking, we broke through to the other side and found Montgomery Creek, which feeds into the Tradewater pretty close to where Route 672 crosses it. We followed the creek to the river (and bridge), and then followed the road to where we had stashed the bikes. Then we rode home.

Talk about going the long way around Robin’s barn!

Tradewater near my parent's house

Tradewater near my parent's house

This next story occurred a year or two after I took an accidental March dip in the Tradewater.

It all began with a deep snow (for Kentucky, anyhow). I guess we got about eight inches or so, which is not unheard of there, but is quite a lot for one storm. School was cancelled, so my brothers Mike (older) and Steve (younger) and our friend and constant companion Sam Brown decided we should go for a hike.

It would have been an excellent day to use snowshoes, but none of us had those. A good second choice would have been boots, but none of us had those either. We had sneakers, and thought nothing of it (until later). We loaded a pack with bacon, eggs, matches, a skillet, plates, and some forks and we were off.

We started our trek by hiking down Route 109 until we crossed the Tradewater on the bridge there. Then we walked along the river bank all the way to Lake Beshear. I guess the outbound portion of the hike took us about an hour. We messed around at the lake for a little while and then headed back, retracing our steps along the same path.

There are a lot of bluffs along the river there, and we chose a place under one to build a fire and cook the bacon and eggs. It didn’t take long to get the fire going, and once it was nice and hot, I sat down on a ledge and took my soaked sneakers off. I set them on the stone ring around the fire with the hope that the fire would dry them out a little. My socks were likewise soaked, so I took those off too, and held them over the fire with the same hope I had for the shoes. My bare feet were also dangling over the cheery flames.

Mike was busy cooking the bacon, and it wasn’t long before it was ready. He used a fork to take each slice from the skillet and laid them on a plate situated on the stone ring right next to my soggy shoes. With all the bacon cooked, it was time to cook the eggs. But there was just too much grease in the skillet! Mike did that which comes natural to a teenage kid when faced with the dilemma of too much bacon grease and a campfire. He poured it right into the flames.

Maybe you can see where this is going. I wish I could say that I had the same foresight at the time that you do now.

With the addition of 15,000 BTU’s of bacon grease, the flames roared upwards, immediately reaching a height of about three feet. And those three feet were plenty to reach my two feet which were still dangling over the campfire-turned-inferno. Quick as a flash, I swung my legs out of the way and leapt down from the ledge, landing in a bank of snow in my bare feet. I don’t remember what I did with my socks. As I leapt, I manged to knock about a pint of dirt off the ledge right into the bacon.

Our tempers flared to match the flames. I was yelling at Mike about torching my feet, and he was yelling right back at me for ruining all the bacon. Yes, all of it. That’s when I looked down and noticed that my shoes were both on fire!

I plucked the flaming sneakers out of the expanded fire and began beating them against the snow on the ledge in a successful bid to extinguish them. But they looked terrible. So here I was, out in the woods, an hour’s hike from home, practically shoeless, and with eight inches of snow on the ground.

We cooked up the eggs.

After assessing the shoes, I decided they were still largely functional. Not pretty mind you, but functional. The rubber around the toes was blackened and melted, but there were no major holes in them (other than the ones that were there when we set out earlier in the day). I put my sopping wet socks on my even colder feet, and then jammed them into the shoes. Yes – this could work.

We hiked home.

I continued to wear those shoes for another couple of months. They seemed to do the job. I told Mom I needed some new shoes, but since the damage to them was largely cosmetic, new shoes slipped down a couple of notches on the priority list. I did not press the issue, and I bet Mom forgot. I was (and still am) fine with that.

I learned that day what will happen when you pour grease on a fire. I also learned something about the importance of hiking with adequate gear, and planning for the unexpected.

As Roald Amundsen said, “Adventure is just bad planning.” I think that applies pretty well to this adventure.

A fellow NH blogger has been writing about the Ashuelot River, and how he spent his boyhood along its banks. You can see his series here, here, and here. And of course, he got me to thinking about the Tradewater River where I spent part of my childhood. It flows through Dawson Springs, KY where I lived in high school (and when I was home, during college too).

My parents live in a house situated in a bend in the river. They have a strip of land that is bounded on both ends by the river. Route 109 divides it into a big lot and a tiny (and steep) lot, and I spent a lot of time on the banks at either end. This stretch of the Tradewater is downstream from the tiny strip, and upstream from the big lot. Lake Beshear drains into the Tradewater downstream from here too (but upstream from the big lot).

Tradewater near my parent's house

Tradewater near my parent's house, August 2010

We had a 17′ fiberglass canoe, so when we moved in to this place (I was in the ninth grade) we decided we needed a boat dock of some sort on the river. We had an old steel ladder from our triple bunkbed, and since it was now a double-bunk, the ladder was free for other purposes. My brother Steve and I pressed it into service for our dock. There was a tree growing out from the bank – sideways first, and then curving upward. It was easy to stand on the horizontal portion of its trunk, and we figured, “trunk+ladder=boat dock.” So we fastened the ladder to the tree. We accomplished this by driving a pair of 16-penny nails on either side of the ladder’s uprights, and then bending them around so that the two nails clasped the steel posts and held it to the tree. Four nails later, we had our boat dock. We did not use it very much though.

One March (probably in 1978), Steve and I decided to take the canoe out on the river. We headed upstream, as we always did. That way when you get tired and turn around, it’s downstream all the way home. Going downstream first is a Bad Idea, because then when you get tired and turn around, you have to work to get home again. That is still how I do rivers in a canoe.

I don’t remember much about that trip itself, but I vividly remember the take-out. We landed the canoe, and Steve got out to haul it up onto the bank. There was a flat shelf on the bank about two feet wide, and about a foot higher than the water (on that day). Then the bank rose steeply until it gained another six feet of height before flattening out again. That’s where the trail was. Once the bow was on the first shelf, I climbed out. Steve had scrambled up to the next shelf and started hauling on the rope while I pushed on the stern. The keel got up on the break in the bank and Steve gave it a good tug. The whole canoe pivoted around on its center, with the effect that the stern came flying around right at me. As I was balanced precariously on the lower shelf, when the stern made its hasty introduction to me, I lost my footing and fell splash into the river.

Now Kentucky is not a cold place (especially when compared to NH), but it is cold enough that you would not want to swim in a river in March. Yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing, and fully clothed at that. They say that the cold water will make you take a very deep breath and then not be able to exhale – and I know that that’s true from experience. I quickly swam to the bunkbed ladder and started climbing up. As I was coming up, I noticed that those 16-penny nails were straightening themselves out! In milliseconds, I was climbing ever faster, but not getting any higher. The ladder, meanwhile, was doing the equal and opposite thing – straight to the bottom (where I presume it is still resting). I joined it shortly afterwards.

I found myself fully immersed in the drink again, never having fully regained dry ground in the first place. This time there was no ladder, and the bank was slick with mud. I somehow scrambled up. The house was only two or three hundred yards away. I left Steve at the river to secure the canoe, and I made my way through the pasture to the house post haste for a nice hot shower.

Never has a shower felt so good!

I didn’t take any photos today, so I’m going to post one I took while I was in KY. This is a mimosa blossom:



These do not grow in New Hampshire, and I don’t recall ever having seen one when I lived in Virginia. But they do grow in Kentucky and in Arkansas.

Mimosa trees were one of my favorite “toys” when I was a kid. The branches form very low to the ground and angle out at 45 degrees or less. This makes it incredibly easy to climb, and I spent many hours in the branches of these wonderful trees.

When we lived in Arkansas (from when I was four until I turned eight), whenever Mom would come home from the grocery store with bananas, my brother Steve and I would each grab one and run to the nearest Mimosa so we could pretend we were monkeys.

The nearest mimosa was in Mr. Ham’s yard. He was a widower who lived in the house next door, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a finer man. Mom was worried we would break a branch, so she hollered for us to get out of his tree. Mr Ham heard this and hollered back at Mom, “If they break a branch, I’ll just saw it off! You let those boys play in my tree!” What a guy!

We moved away from Arkansas after four years, as Dad was transferred to Grand Forks, ND. We moved back to Arkansas again four years later, but Mr Ham had died while we were up north. He was as much my grandpa as my real grandpa’s were.

The leaves of the mimosa are bipinnate, and the little leaflets can be easily stripped off and turned into whatever a kid’s imagination calls for. Soup anyone?

The flowers are fantastic, and they smell great too. The one in the photograph was growing at Virginia’s Dad’s place, and as you might be able to tell, it really took me back. A great deal of my childhood revolved around the mimosa.

Beth playing in the dishwasher box

Beth playing in the dishwasher box

Tonight I looked up and saw Beth playing in her new “house” and had the idea that I should take a picture. This one came out best. She had rigged up a flashlight to shine through the gap in the top. That gap was actually a little too wide and the flashlight would slip through, so she found another box with a narrower slot. She stacked that one on top (open side up, slot down), lined up the slots, and placed the flashlight over the smaller slot. Yay! Engineering at work! Or at play.

I took a few shots of the yard tonight when I got home. These days the sun isn’t quite up when we get out of bed, and it’s not quite down when I get home from work. There’s still about an hour of daylight when I do get home, so it makes for a nice walk outside. This shot shows part of the path I made through the woods last summer:

My path through the woods

My path through the woods

This path is along the western border of our property. There’s a small beech tree right in the middle of the path. I was going to cut it down, but Beth asked me to leave it. I did trim the lower branches off though, so we could walk by it without getting slapped in the face.

When I got to work this morning, I found an inch of water on the kitchen floor. Normally that would be somewhat alarming, but we’re lucky in that our building doesn’t have any level floors in it anywhere. Last year they “levelled” the kitchen – or tried to. The south end of the kitchen is level now anyhow, but the north side slopes away to the south. That leaves something of a valley in the middle, so the inch of water was “only” about four feet wide. It did, however run the length of the kitchen and beyond into one of the offices (where my office was in fact, when we first move to NH).

This is apparently the last straw for our company founder, so I’m thinking we can expect some action. I had taken a picture of the floor as one of the VPs was mopping it up, and that photo has been turned over to the company now (by request). I asked if maybe they could do something about the window in my office while they were at it, and was assured that that would go on the list too. If it’s the last straw, after all, it’s the last straw.

When I moved out of the now-flooded office into the one I’m in now, there was a day when the downstairs tenants were cleaning the floors or something. Whatever they were doing involved plenty of volatile liquids which came wafting into my office and just about overwhelmed me. I made the foolish mistake of trying to open the window. I have one of those completed idiotic windows consisting of narrow slats of glass that louvre open with a crank. When they’re closed, they block about 60% of the wind. It was covered over with a storm window, but only barely. I had to remove the storm window, and to do that, I loosened the screws holding the clips down, rotated them out of the way, and began to pry on the window frame. It was stuck tight, so I pried harder. With all that prying, I managed to torque the frame, and glass does not like to be torqued. It shattered. Our landlord was called, and he “fixed” the problem by removing the glass. Done! At that point all I had were those idiotic slats with their 60% wind rating. So I covered the window with foam padding from a shipping box, and covered that over with cardboard. It has been like that for three years.

Hopefully that will change soon.

This morning I got a call from Va. It was skating day at Beth’s school – the last one I believe. Va wanted me to come out and get a few pictures. So at 11:26, I bugged out of the office and hustled to the skating rink. If I had thought of it sooner, I would have walked (it’s about a mile and a half from the office).

Instead, I drove. I got there just as the school kids were arriving. Beth loves to skate, but it took her a couple of laps to get her “ice-legs.” It would be more accurate to say that she more runs on the ice with skates on her feet than to say that she skates. But she was clearly enjoying it.

Beth on the Ice

Beth on the Ice

All this makes me think I should build an ice rink in the backyard like we did when I was a kid in North Dakota.

First we’d shovel out an area as big as we wanted the rink to be. We’d pile the snow we shovelled out around the edges of the rink to form a low wall. Then we’d douse the wall with water and let it freeze overnight. Next day we’d fill it with a couple inches of water, and then came the hard part – staying off until it was frozen solid. If we walked on it before it was thick enough, it would break the ice and then the jagged shards would freeze in place. We did not have a Zamboni, so those jags were there for the rest of the winter. My brother Steve nearly gouged his eye out on one once.

I don’t have a large flat place in my yard is the only problem. There’s not really anyplace on the whole two acres where a 30’x30′ area doesn’t fall off by at least 6 inches. But I might give it a go one of these days anyhow. If I can get a nice (enough) rink, I’d start looking for some used skates – both for me, and for Beth.

I ran several errands today after work. First I went to the garage where I had left my car. It needed a state inspection and an oil change. Then I went to the vet to pick up a 12-month supply of Heartguard for (who else?) Penny. Then I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I wanted to get some rain pants for the campout this weekend, and maybe a topographic map of southern VT. We’ll have the afternoon free on Saturday, and I thought maybe a five mile hike might be in order. Dick’s had some acceptable rain pants, but no topos. I had tried the bookstore downstairs from my office already. They have topos, but none for VT. Bummer.

I’m taking the day off tomorrow to get ready for the camporee. I will need to go to Lowes and WallyWorld. David needs ten poles and five blankets for a relay race he’ll be in charge of on Sunday. I plan to rip five 2×4’s to make the poles. Maybe I’ll round them off with a drawknife, but we’ll see how that goes. One blanket plus two poles will be used for making an improvised stretcher in his relay race. It will also involve toilet paper bandages, but that’s about all I know.

He was asking me where he could get some blankets, and suggested that taking them from the beds might be a Bad Idea. I agreed, and shared an embarrassing story from my teen years.

In Kentucky they have annual “graveyard cleanings.” They probably have them elsewhere as well. In the old days, people would come to the graveyard cleaning and… clean the graveyard. These days, it’s more or less a picnic with a collection to cover the costs of professional landscaping. So we were going to go to one when I was in high school, and it fell to me to procure some blankets. I grabbed one off my bed. I didn’t notice until AFTER I spread it out on the ground and sat down to eat that there were pubic hairs on it here and there. As I recall, my older brother Mike noticed too, plucked one off, and displayed it for everyone. Thus the embarrassment! So. Taking blankets off the bed definitely falls into the Bad Idea category.

Steve called me at work today, pretty close to lunch time. We had a nice long conversation. He’s about to go nuts (well – he might be over he hump now) because he is supposed to not do anything while he recovers from his back surgery. Hang in there Steve! Va can probably relate to that better than I can, because she was on bedrest for three weeks before Jonathan was born. It was supposed to go for five, but Jonathan came two weeks early. Steve is scheduled to be out for six weeks (I think).

Tonight I need to take down my one-man tent. I pitched it in the basement after our last campout so it could dry. This campout promises to be even wetter. But I guess I’ve come to expect that. Thus, the rain pants.

On the way to work this morning, a wild turkey crossed the road in front of me. I stopped the car, grabbed my camera, and looked for its tracks. I found a few, but they were faint. I took a few pictures, but none of them turned out very well. I may have to sketch and scan rather than use photos, or maybe see if I can do the sketching on my computer.

I took another lunchtime walk, this time with the express intent of photographing those pigeon tracks. It was a wasted effort. I guess I took a dozen pictures, and not one of them turned out well enough for use in the Animal Tracking honor. I turned off flash, but that made the pictures blurry. I tried manual settings, but I just couldn’t hold the camera still enough. I might hafta draw these too!

On the way home I stopped by the Merrimack River in Canterbury. There used to be a functional bridge crossing the river there, but it no longer has a deck. My GPS thinks it’s still a valid route though, and it’s alway trying to send me into the drink. I parked the car and walked down to the river bank looking for flowers and tracks. I found a new-to-me flower (mabe it’s forget-me-not?) and several tracks: chipmunk and coon, and two kinds of bird. The large bird tracks were undoubtedly made by a great blue heron. I have no idea what made the smaller ones. And wouldn’t you know it, I already have decent pictures of all of those.

When I got home, I ate dinner and then took the dog outside. I was raining lightly, but she didn’t care. There was plenty of thunder in the background too. I checked the burned stump, and the bright yellow slime mold I wrote about yesterday was creamy yellow – just like the first photo in that series. I’ll keep an eye on it and see how long it cycles. We came in just in time, and the sky opened up. Fifteen minutes later that was over. So Beth and I took Penny for a walk down to Sandogardy Pond. I saw that the Kalmia angustifolia, Nuphar lutea and the Dianthus armeria were still blooming, so I logged those when I got home. That white lily was also still blooming, but I still haven’t got a positive id on that.

On the hike back to the house Beth was wanting to know what games I played when I was a kid: Hide and seek, tag, baseball, hockey, bike riding, Monopoly, Risk, basketball. She asked me where people hid when we played hide and seek, and the one I remember most fondly was when Dad was playing with us. My friend Wally was “it”, and Dad thought it would be funny if we all hid in the camper on the back of his truck. We piled in, and Dad locked the back door. When Wally found us, he locked the back door from the outside and then went around to the front to start tagging us with the Nerf football (that’s how we played – tagging with the ball vs with a hand was a lot more fun). Dad opened the window, and tore the screen out! To my 12-year-old mind, that wa just awesome! He would have killed us if we had done that!