Growing up in a big house that sat on a big lot came with a lot of perks. One of them being that our personal space to run around was enormous. We had close to 1/2 acre of lawn, trees and an area we called "The Jungle".
The Jungle was a grove of trees at the very back (south end) of the lot that were so thickly spaced that the only thing that grew beneath them were weeds such as poison ivy, itch-weed and sporadic saplings that made an attempt to shoot up to any remaining space in the canopy to begin their own journey as a young tree. The rest of the floor of the Jungle was dirt and exposed roots and fallen dead branches.
It was dark and cool in the Jungle. Often, in the hottest of summer days it would become unbearably hot and humid in the midst of all the shade as any breeze drifting across the flat South Dakota prairie would pass around this huddled mass of vegetation. Some days it was the perfect place to hide out and play... on those hot days, though, it was the last place you'd want to be.
It was the perfect area for building forts and digging holes. From my youngest days I remember going down into the Jungle to try to help Chris and Tom Schreurs piece together a make-shift hut out of left over lumber from something that Dad had torn down. There were times that even the adults helped pitched in and would supply us with pieces for a nice place to build. Tom's dad ran Splitrock Telecom and he gave Tom and Chris a large wooden spool (about 6' diameter) and Chris and Tom put the circle sides to use as the floor and the roof to a cylindrical fort/building. 2 x 4's were placed as supports and the whole thing was wrapped in 70's wooden paneling. A salvaged door was installed and the entire thing was painted a brick red. It was an awesome creation. I think we even hung a leftover phone from the telecom in the room.... not hooked up to anything, but I'm sure Chris and Tom and hopes of hooking that up to some phone line that ran near the property somehow. Over time, the fort gave way to the elements and decay. Other younger kids found their way onto the back of our property without detection and would vandalize it and at some point, we knocked it down to see what pieces we could salvage from it for another newer fort.
Later, and I still don't know the details of this build, but a tower was constructed. I suspect Chris and Tom again, but I'm not certain.Basically, this time it involved 5 telephone poles placed into holes in the ground in a clearing in the middle of the Jungle. Four of them in a perfect square about 5' x 5'. The fifth just a couple feet over from one of the squarely place poles. At the top of the four, a square platform or deck was built and then the fifth pole was used as the right side of a ladder using one of the corners of the tower four. They were not the TALLEST poles available, but they were tall nonetheless. I would estimate that the deck was about 15 feet off the ground... not the safest idea in the world for a bunch of kids. A quick climb would put you right up into the sun in the midst of the canopy of the trees growing around the tower.
I don't remember that tower ever coming down, so I'm curious now how long it lasted. I feel like it was still up there in 1991 when I moved out. I'll have to do some research and find out from the people that moved in there and that live there now.
Besides those few forts, we'd also dig tunnels and put together contraptions in the Jungle. We'd attempt to dig holes to China. I think we made it 6 feet deep once. I remember we needed a ladder to get in and out of the hole. It was at about 4 feet that we realized that the removal of dirt became exponentially more difficult. We had grand visions of how big the hole could get and the things we could do with an underground cave built as a sort-of bomb shelter or hangout for us kids. We even speculated on how to get power down to the hole through a ventilation shaft that would also supply fresh breathing air as we knew that the candles we had planned to use were only going to burn up the oxygen. I mean, we weren't COMPLETE idiots.
Many tools were left laying in the midst of the weeds. Hammers, shovels, screwdrivers, nails, screws, all left for the archeologists to discover and try to interpret what was going on in this little chunk of space. 'Clearly this was a working area as we found tools of all sorts and countless metal objects. There was multiple burn pits, so we think this was an area of lodging AND working. We think it may have been a military trading fort as there was various buildings and a tower that could have been used for line of sight or for defense.' We certainly did our best to confuse them.
We would sleep out down there from time to time. Matthew, Jeff Hove, Arvid Machino and myself. We'd set up a tent, get a fire going and be real outdoorsmen. Often we'd run around until the wee hours of the morning... scouting out the entire town as it slept. Doing our best to avoid being spotted by the policeman on duty. Which now makes me think about who the policemen were that served our fine town. Jim Martens, Patty Ferguson, ______ Koens, Steve Kirten, maybe others could comment and fill in my missing blanks. Those are the few that I can remember.
I remember sneaking around and even going up on the roof of the drug store and watching the cop car drive by on Main, worried that he'd see or hear us and corner us up there. We never got caught.
We'd sit by the campfire and make jiffypop popcorn... always so good, even if it burnt. We'd steal some of dad's pipe tobacco and make our own cigarettes and all take turns becoming masters of not coughing as we learned how to properly hold a crappily made cigarette without burning ourselves. I remember being fascinated with trying to come up with some version of our own cigarettes. We'd try taking brown shopping bags and roll them tight into a solid cylinder and smoke just the paper, or maybe try adding lawn clippings or pipe tobacco. None of them tasted good but we felt so cool as we did what WE wanted to do. I think only a couple times did we ever dare get our hands on ACTUAL cigarettes. We were really adventurous when we did that. We knew that if caught, that would lead to serious trouble.
We'd wake up in the quiet cool mornings with summer dew around us. The light smoke smoldering off the fire pit still and if we were really ambitious we'd get the fire going again and I'd run inside and grab a few eggs and we'd make scrambled eggs. For some reason, I'd also grab the sliced green olives and tabasco and thus began my love of adding those two things to my scrambled eggs.
Packing up the tent after those nights usually took a couple of days. Partly out of laziness and procrastination, partly out of the hopes that maybe we'd stay out multiple nights in a row. Also, the tent just needed to get aired out from the smell of smoke and sweaty kids.
The Jungle was OUR hangout.... Chris, Matthew and mine...but we also invited our friends in and we all enjoyed it. Be it camping or playing army, building forts or digging holes... it always seemed to be the "place to be" when we looked to seek out some sort of adventure.
But there were times that it also was invaded by unwanted guests. Kids from around town made their way there and would vandalize our work. One particular kid comes to mind and Arvid and I did our best to keep him at bay.
Arvid and I were probably 12 years old or so (maybe 14 at the most) and we'd still be hanging around in the Jungle from time to time as we just enjoyed chopping trees down and building things still. This younger kid would come snooping around and demanding to play with us, even though he was probably 8 years old or so. We knew he was coming in there when we weren't around because he was spray painting our tower and forts and we were not happy. So we decided to set some traps... things to deter him from WANTING to come around. I remember the "spider web"... quite simply, a spool of fishing line strung along the side of the Jungle that we assumed he entered. We emptied the spool. Cross-wise, high, low, up, down, back and forth we strung that sucker out. If he was going to come in there, he was going to have to work for it. Then we also blocked certain other pathways that led into the middle. we used logs and boards to force him to walk to certain particular pathways were we would then set the final traps. We took trips straight out of Vietnam. We dug a few holes and covered them up with thin sticks and leaves and grass. We pulled back saplings and rested them on other trees that would spring out into his body if he brushed against any part of it. Then the best ones I remember, and these were genius... we'd dig a shallow hole and put a board down half over the hole and half behind the hole. Cover the hole side with leaves and the side resting on the ground with dirt, sticks and other hard objects. The thought was that he'd step on the hole pushing the the board down into the hole and like a see saw, the other side would flip all the dirt into his face. We built and test multiple designs before we perfected the size of the hole and board and how much crap we could put on the throwing side to be effective. Lever angle and length, weights, forces applied... all these were factors into the resulting desired outcome. It took a lot of work and if we had documented it, we probably would've received some extra credit in school. Instead we were basically being mean to a little kid. It wasn't my proudest moment, but we had to teach him a lesson about coming into the Jungle and defacing our crap.
Soon, our prediction came true and he came along to see if he could hang out with us older kids. Most any other time we didn't want him around but now we wanted to see how our defenses held up. We climbed the tower and watched as he came strolling towards the Jungle. He immediately solved the riddle of the spider web and walked 15 feet around it. "dang it", Arvid whispered to me... we wanted him to get tangled and hung up in the string where we'd have to cut him out and he'd go crying home in frustration. No, he just walked around it. The blockades did divert him towards the pathways we wanted, but he then didn't trip our whipping saplings. Thanks for nothing nature. He then continued right towards our pits of death. He walked right past all of them. He didn't fall in any of the holes and he didn't set off any of the "Lever Traps". Within about 10 seconds he was at the base of the tower looking up at us asking us what we were doing.
We climbed down an told him we didn't want him spray painting our stuff. He denied doing it, but his name was right there painted on the tree.... kind of hard to deny unless there were more of kids with his name around, and there were not.
Arvid and I went to fixing up the traps to make it more likely that he or anybody else would step in them and we didn't care if he was there watching. We figured if he wanted to help us, we'd get him to help us to further test the traps. When we asked, he gleefully obliged... just happy to be helping.
We took him to one of the lever traps and explained it to him and even demonstrated on another how 'press down HERE, the stuff flies up HERE and it looks like an explosion and the person is scared off. He thought it sounded pretty cool and wanted to test one of them. Standing right by the pathway where we had set the other traps I reached over with the shovel and pointed at the pile of leaves and loose dirt covering the hole-end of the lever trap and said "jump on this... right.... here." ..... as Arvid and I stepped back. He looked at us with a look.... like, really? I GET to do this?.... We stared in anticipation, not really certain HOW well it was going to work. He took a slight step back then sprang, both feet into the air and JUMPED directly onto the hole. All the while looking right down at the spot and making sure that his feet hit right where I had made a mark in the dirt.
What happened next was beyond Arvid and mine predictions of success. That lever threw everything directly up and slightly back directly into his face. More specifically, into his mouth. He dropped to the ground and spit out a mouthful of dirt and leaves and let out a whimpering scream. As soon as we were sure he was ok, he got to his feet and was blinking his eyes rapidly getting the remain dirt out and still drooling and spitting out dirt. We couldn't hold back our laughter and as he ran home, Arvid and I quickly cleaned up our tool and got out of the Jungle before that kids' parents came looking for us.
Just another day in the life of the Jungle.
I'm just a creative guy that's looking to throw all this spaghetti onto the wall and hope something sticks.