We used to have epic sports games in my neighborhood. We were lucky, I suppose, in that we had a critical mass of kids. It was not difficult at all to gather up a good eight to ten kids ready to hit the baseball, or grab a football, or toss a Frisbee at a moment’s notice, and the day would then be consumed with activity. A good game of Kick the Can could last two hours on a given evening after dinner.
The apartment complex was somewhat hidden off the main road and for a few years when I was little, we even had an in-ground swimming pool. I suppose the upkeep and maintenance was too much for the owners and the pool went to seed quickly, over a short period of time. Then it became just an odd place for us to hang out as a teenagers. We’d crouch down beneath the cracked walls just a few feet from the odd-smelling green slime of the water that collected at the bottom of the pool. I think we were all surprised that no one ever drowned in there or got some exotic disease from the murky liquid that would require us to go into medical quarantine.
When the weather turned cold, we would often head out to the bog, which was a swampy area a short hike away from our apartments, through some fallow farm fields and into a wooded area. Much of it was a true bog — with thick, rich black peat moss soil that would steal a sneaker or your entire foot, if you weren’t quick or smart enough when stepping through it. The mosquitoes were vicious in the summer, as it was always wet, and the bog was full of hollowed out tree stumps that were home to a wide variety of owls. Sometimes, we would see the owls sitting in the holes, looking out at us with bewildered eyes.
In the winter, the bog was particularly beautiful. The ice and snow would create little paths through the black-soiled area, and we would jump from vegetation clump to vegetation clump in a wild game of tag. If you fell, you were in trouble from the sticky organic muck.
When it got cold enough, the water would freeze solid and there was one spot that formed a little pond, surrounded by circle of little stumps of grass. This place would become our ice hockey rink for the season. The games were played with full of abandon designed with one thing in mind: score a goal. Checking was allowed, and fights often broke out, although never anything too serious, and everything was later resolved and friendships restored as we built huge bonfires on a little island just beyond the rink from the deadwood that lay all around the bog. (As an aside: this was a neighborhood of mostly boys but some girls did stray into the games)
It sounds worse than it was.
This is the time and place where I learned how to get along with others, whether I liked them or not. It was also a time when I realized that adults don’t necessarily make the rules of the world. There is a pecking order that develops when you gather a group of kids together with no adults around and it doesn’t always come out fair or end nicely, but there are still lessons to be learned: You need to be crafty. You need to be caring. You need to be resilient. You need to find yourself.
Years later, I learned that bulldozers came into the bogs and cleaned them out to make way for some new houses. I could not believe it and drove by there once on a visit back, just to see it for myself. Sure enough, there were houses right there where our hockey rink had once been. I learned from a friend that the homes that had been built in our old bog were full of problems, including sinking foundations and flooded basements.
Hmmmm. I wonder why?
And I wonder, too, what became of those owls.
Peace (in childhood memories),