Friday, October 28, 2005

Clay Hills and Quicksand

Everyone called them the clay hills. They were slag heaps really. Left over from the coal mining that had been before it became a national park. It was one big field of clay hills and valleys. But not to us. My six cousins and I knew better. That dirt in between wasn’t black. It was khaki tan and cracked in wicked, wet squiggly cracks as far as a kid could see. It was the same between every row of clay hills. Only one thing looked like that—quicksand. It was quicksand for sure. Even our parents agreed.

How fast we returned to those hills year after year, cutting out after each picnic lunch to have another quicksand adventure.

Our stage, the clay hills went on for miles, clear to the bluff that you couldn’t see past. That bluff was something. Like the Great Wall of China, it went all the way from the river up north to the road down south. It made sure those clay hills weren't getting away. Scraggly and dry with branches growing out of it, it was the only bit of green in the western view. If you looked to the east you saw forest, to the west you saw only the sky and the bluff. We always wondered what was over that bluff.

That was a fine year when we decided to find out. That year we buried the banana, thinking we’d come back to find it the next year in those look alike hills. How silly we were. What fun it was too.

We found some rope. Where did we find it? We tied it ‘round us waist to waist. I still see us climbing up that first heap, walking along the top of a row, rows and rows on either side of us, walking west into the sun until it got too easy, too boring. Then we invented a reason to brave the quicksand below, to walk between the slag heaps. The ooohing and ahhing and be carefulling were whispered and very dramatic. The quicksand could take us all down, slowly sucked underground together, never again to be heard from. We’d seen it all happen in the free movies downtown on Saturday mornings.

But we were determined to make it to that last bluff. It was as if we were in some old Western movie—when you're a kid a movie's a real thing—and on the far side was the cavalry. So we tread our way one step at a time. Who knows how long it actually took? Each step was tested, tried, and cautiously put, hoping that no one would sink. By the time we were half-way there, problems forced us up on the heaps again. The little kids were getting whiny. They were starting to ruin all our fun.

We made it to the end of the row and down. Slowly we crossed the last bed of quicksand. The climb up that bluff was pioneer teamwork, seven of us roped together. We pulled each other up—one by one—until we reached the top. Finally after all these years, the bluff was not in the distance. It was no longer a giant backdrop. Finally we knew what was on the other side.

More clay hills and quicksand—as far as a kid could see.

The letdown lasted about a second.

We were still atop a kid-sized mountain, and there were clay hills and quicksand filled with danger to keep us busy all the way back.

—me strauss Letting me be


mojo shivers said...

I long for the days when my cousins and brother and I had adventures like this. Times like the time when the three of them tried to poison me in Lake Tahoe or when the three of them decided to ditch me while I was at Scouts make up a good portion of my happy childhood memories.

Not to mention those memories make great fodder for my blog.

Bluesky_Liz said...

Sounds like fun. I love to explore like that when I was a kid too.

I remember going into a reserve with my friend and we got curious when we saw this path going off the main path into the jungle. We went in for a while but dared not venture further, because it was getting darker, and there were quite a few horrors -- like lines of big red ants, and really big spiders sitting in the middle of their webs that stretch across branches. We both decided it would unwise to continue and backtracked out of there quickly and with care.

Jennifer said...

Ahhh and again my point is proven: kids see things in such a different and more innocent light. I love them and their ability to let themselves go and explore, inter a world of imagination.

I remember when the front yard tree became our home (my sister, friend and I) and we suddenly became the Swiss Family Robinson, complete with a bedroom and traps (to keep the bad guys out--i.e. my brother and his friends) Ahhh can I go back to those days?

ME Strauss said...

Hi Mojo,
It's great to hear someone talk about that kind of playing. Don't hear much about it anymore. It does make great fodder for the blog. I'll have to start recalling more of the "cousin stories." Meanwhile, I'm coming over to read your blog today no matter how much work I have.


ME Strauss said...

Yes, that it. We even talked differently. Sort of like the guy who introduces the TV show Outer Limits--everything was very dramatic and in character. We called it "going exploring" too. That was an official name of an official thing to do. Today it would be brought you by an official credit card, if kids still did it.


ME Strauss said...

That's not such an argued point is it? Of course they do.

Until about age 9 their brains won't even let them take on the abstract concepts the we talk about. At younger ages they don't really differentiate between real and fantasy.

Some people like you (and me) are good at remembering what that's like. THAT's the rare thing.


Cheryl said...

There was uproar after we moved house and my dad mowed the new back garden - it was much more fun overgrown.
Really well told, thanks for a lovely adventure. :-)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Cheryl,
I don't know how I ended up on this story. I actually wrote the title for a different one, but the picture I was looking at, ironically of the ocean, brought this day back to me . . . and there I was.

My son and I returned to the setting this summer and the park has filled in the clay hills and quick sand and seeded it with wild prairie grasses. So our playgound is gone.


Tanda said...

I love adventure! It wakes up your spirit.

That was a beautifully written memory. I really enjoyed being able to see what you saw, Liz.

Tanda said...

P.S. Love your new pic. You're skin is gorgeous!

ME Strauss said...

kcuhibeHi Tanda,
Great to see you around. Those mid term grades must have come out okay, because you don't appear to be grounded. :)

Thanks for taking this little adventure with my cousins and me. We did go back for the banana, but couldn't figure out where to look for it.


ME Strauss said...

Thanks for the compliment on my new pix.

smiles again.

Betty said...

I was actually transported to the clay hills and quicksand. (This is unusual for me!) Was it really quicksand? I was terrified, probably because I had an episode with quicksand in a past life or something... And I was awestruck by all the fun you obviously had during childhood. That's the way it's supposed to be and so often isn't. Maybe that's why you turned out to be such a cool adult, so full of beautiful, thoughtful, insightful, caring words to share with those of us lucky enough to know you.

Lots of hugs,

ME Strauss said...

Oh Betty,
I'm so glad you got to come along with us out on the clay hills with the quicksand. It wasn't really quicksand, but our parents did play along. Once I decided that every fallen leaf impression was a fossil. But that's another story . . .

Thanks for the nice words you said. They're very meaningful to me.

toadman said...

Childhood is such an inocent and magical time. I love stories like this, and have a few myself.

BTW - where was this place?

ME Strauss said...

Hi Toadmaster,
I just got finished emailing it to one of my cousins. She'll get a kick out of remembering it. It's a place called Buffalo Rock, about 90 miles from Chicago, where there are real bison and river views, but no more clay hills and quicksand.


dog1net said...

What a wonderful moment of childhood you have captured here by reflecting on a time where considering the possibilities and exploring what was beyond the realm created both a sense of trepidation and excitement. As children we are so willing to take necessary risks to discover what lies beyond our physical and spiritual boundaries, but some of us lose that natural inquisitiveness when we become adults. It is good to see that you haven't.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Scot,
Good to see you,
Thank you. There were many fine times to be had on those clay hills and many dangerous escapes from that quicksand. It was an eventful place to be sure.


Paula Lee Bright said...

Thank God you arose from the quicksand. It was a close call indeed!