Tag Archives: Black Book of Great Adventures

Memoir-in-progress: Stay out of the river

Welcome to part three of a four-part story from July 26-27, 1978, when my best friend, Mike, and I realized our lifelong dream to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River. Look for the conclusion on Thursday. And keep the term “lifelong dream” in perspective. I wasn’t yet 15.

Our favorite spot of all was The Cave. It was really a limestone/sandstone overhang on the south-facing hill in Mike’s woods, but I never doubted that if we ever found an entrance big enough to squeeze through, we’d discover that the entire hillside was a network of caves or maybe even one enormous cavern.

We could sit comfortably under the overhang and there was just enough room for two sleeping bags side-by-side, with open air on the east and west sides. A small campfire a safe distance from our bedding illuminated the dark depression in the hill and the heat radiated off the sandstone “ceiling.” I’m not sure how we avoided carbon monoxide poisoning. We spent an entire summer selecting 2- and 3-inch diameter trees that we cut and leaned against the opening of The Cave.

Perfect camouflage.

We planned the hike to the river during one of our campouts in the cave. Based entirely on uncalculated speculation and wishful thinking, we made a list of the provisions we’d need and mapped out the journey. We figured that eight, maybe nine hours – easy – would get us to the Gasconade River. Somehow it made sense that if we had our plan written out and every possible detail checked, that would make it much easier to convince our parents to let us go.

My parents had been divorced nine months, so it was my mom’s call. Mike’s parents ran the Golden Rule Café’ on main street in Belle. His dad wouldn’t object, but his mom, Mabel, would resist. My Black Book of Great Adventures contains no written account of how we did it, and there’s nothing in my memory that I can draw on for evidence that what made sense to us apparently also made sense to our mothers.

“Stay out of the river” was the only stipulation I wrote down. Of course, it was the first condition that we broke, but at the time of negotiation, with our life-long dream of hiking to the river within our grasp, we agreed to the “stay out of the river” prohibition.

My mom would drive us to the hike-in point on  Turkey Creek on Wednesday morning, the 26th, and we’d stay at the Rollins Ferry Access until Mike’s dad, Raymond, picked us up on Saturday.

As planned, my mom drove us to the Turkey Creek bridge just after 8 a.m. She drove on to Linn where she was assistant principal at the middle school, which would begin the new school year a couple of weeks later. And so we began the trek to the river, already eliminating the long, winding stretch from the back of Mike’s house to the spot where we were starting. From the start it seemed somewhat anticlimactic, and it also seemed more difficult than it should have been. We’d never hauled that amount of stuff on a hike. No doubt we looked more like cross-country panhandlers than explorers. What didn’t fit in our backpacks we tied to our belts, looped around our necks or simply carried. Fishing equipment, hatchets, cooking utensils, food, sleeping bags, an assortment of extra clothes, rope, first aid kit – and it was blistering hot.

We followed the creek east from Highway 89 through several large farmsteads, armed with the very wrong impression that it wasn’t trespassing if you stayed in the creek or pretty close to the bank. Never mind that we climbed over fences, crawled under barbed-wire or encountered a few cows, we were on a “wild” hike through the hinterland of southern Osage County — until two hours into the hike when the creek wound right back to the highway, probably less a mile from where we started.

Tired, hot, hungry and literally weighed down, we made a joint executive decision: flag down a passing car and just get to the river. We hopped in the first car that came along and we were at the river in five minutes.

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A true story: Stay out of the river, Part 1

Join me for a four-part story about the summer my best friend and I realized our lifelong dream (I was not yet 15) to follow the creek behind his house to the Gasconade River.

A perfect assortment of driftwood practically begged to become a make-shift raft, and a few minutes and several feet of rope later, we had a raft. My best friend, Mike, and I weren’t exactly Tom and Huck – only one could ride on the rough, roughly four-foot-square river vessel, while the other held on to the side, floating and guiding our creation – but our sense of adventure knew no bounds.

So much for the one edict from our moms: “Just stay out of the river.”

Just stay out of the water? Right. After all, Mike and I were making our long-dreamed hike from a creek off Highway 89 in Osage County to the Rollins Ferry Access about 10 miles away – as a crow flies – on the banks of the Gasconade River. Our mothers, finally worn down from two straight summers of pleading, finally relented and reluctantly agreed to give us three days to have a hike and a campout at the river.

“Just stay out of the river.”

July 27, 1978 – From the Black Book of Great Adventures (a.k.a. the personal diary I kept as a kid) … “Our hike to the river was a success. Sort of. I’ll explain later.”

The next entry didn’t come until Aug. 30, 1978, and it referenced a separate essay, “What I did on my summer vacation,” which detailed one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

Mike and I hiked every inch of the thick woods behind his house about a mile north of Belle, Mo., off Highway 89. One of the coolest hikes we ever took – until that trek to the river – was a route south from his house, through the woods, across a county road (and countless private properties, no doubt), to a little slice of childhood paradise we called Horseshoe Falls, on the northern border of my hometown. Horseshoe Falls was so named from the creek that spilled out from under a pile of boulders, then forked into separate arcs that formed a horseshoe.

I’m not sure who named it Horseshoe Falls. There was a tiny waterfall, a thin stream that poured off the side of a boulder before splashing onto rocks about four feet below. And I suppose the creek formed a horseshoe. I was told – again, can’t recall by whom – that aerial photos showed a horseshoe shape in the woods behind the elementary school.

I didn’t see the aerial view for myself until several years later – and still can’t swear it’s a horseshoe – but by then a lot had changed. Several locals called the creek a wet-weather stream, and yes, it was much slower and much lower during dry spells, but I knew Horseshoe Falls. I knew that it was spring-fed and I knew when a nearby farmer suddenly had a pond when he dammed the creek way upstream. There were small fish in the creek: shiner minnows, small sunfish, crawfish, tadpoles and frogs, mean water snakes and a wonderful assortment of bugs that, years later, I identified as excellent indicators of good water quality.

Horseshoe Falls was not a dry stream. At least not until the spring was dammed.

Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River. Jodie and Mike followed the creek. How could we get lost? A U.S. Geological Survey map and microfilm details of the area – just the things a nerdy 14-year-old managed to get from the USGS office in Rolla ‑ showed that the creek that spilled through Horseshoe Falls was the same creek that ran at the bottom of a valley behind Mike’s house, about two miles from Horseshoe Falls. The stream also seemed to be connected to the larger, wider Turkey Creek that flowed under a bridge on Highway 89.

Turkey Creek snaked and meandered back toward the highway and then northeast until finally uniting with the Gasconade River.

Our creek exploring/hiking trips almost always included a pause for pondering the yearning of our hearts: Someday we should follow this creek all the way to the river.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Stay out of the river”

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Good at catching, bad at keeping

Last night I held granddaughter Kianna (33 days old) and I told her about finding a praying mantis egg case on one of the oak whiskey/flower barrels on Sunday. Granddaughters need to know this kind of thing because praying mantises are cool. An intact egg case is even cooler. Leaving one or more praying mantis egg cases on the window sill to absorb warmth and energy is something every little kid should do.

(Shhh, Kianna. Don’t tell your mom. And don’t let her read what comes later).

If you want confirmation of how Kianna responded to my praying mantis stories, Grammy and Kishia can verify: Kianna laughed. Her eyes sparkled as she looked into mine during the natural history lesson.

I wonder what it feels like to be a billionaire.

Probably nothing compared to knowing that Kianna’s quiet laugh and sparkling eyes were for me last night.

Check out this praying mantis and learn what a praying mantis egg case looks like. Then read more about my catch-but-can’t-hold adventures.

 

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Rock Island snow tunnels, ‘Little Fenway’ and other stories

Memoir-In-Progress

 

From my Black Book of Great Adventures

March 5, 1975 — Four days ago I went fishing. Today is the fourth straight day of snow; about 18 inches on the ground, but not real cold. Our dog Mo-Mo is pregnent. Build more tunnels beside the tracks. Fritz got killed by the train, Leroy buried him. I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …


Rock Island Rail Snow Tunnels, March 1975, Part 2/Conclusion

Any account of my life at the green duplex and tales of adventures along the train tracks is incomplete without at least a review of my back yard at Eighth and Swanson. I called that lovely lawn Little Fenway, the best Wiffle ball field in the history of the planet. We lived in the house, of course, but the green duplex’s most important function was filling the role of Little Fenway’s “Green Monster,” our version of the left field fence at Boston’s Fenway Park.

My brother, Robert, and I played our most epic, one-on-one Wiffle ball games there.

Occasionally, other neighborhood Wiffle-ballers gathered for a game or a tournament. In the summer of ’78, just weeks before we moved to the house on Johnson Street – where the oversized yard and empty lot became Little Wrigley – Stephen White hit the longest home run ever in my Wiffle ball experience. His one-handed-swinging blast connected with the most perfect, fastest fastball I ever threw. The ball sailed over the house, err, I mean the Green Monster, across the front yard, over the street and halfway into Beulah Phelps’s front yard.

A hundred and fifty feet.

We silently formed a circle around the ball. A few of us recognized the sanctity of the moment, something so incomprehensible, powerful and reverent that all we could do was gaze at the ball the same way we would have stared in awed silence if someone had stumbled up on a vintage, 1927 Babe Ruth baseball card. It was that profound.

I felt tears well up from the surge of emotion, but I knew Stephen would probably beat up anyone who cried. My best bud Mike Thompson did cry. And Stephen beat him up.

Ah, good times.

The week-long snowstorm of March 1975 delayed the start of Wiffle ball season. We missed the entire week of school and spent Monday and Tuesday making tunnels down the side of the clay piles (small mountains of clay deposits from mining) in the field across the train tracks. One tunnel was large enough to actually take a sled through. The other was traversable only with your body laying flat with arms tight to the chest.

Both tunnels were absolutely terrifying.

And exhilarating beyond description.

The tunnels were on the west side of the steep, rocky hill. The east side was forbidden because it sloped down to the bank of the many-feet-deep clay pit that was covered with slushy ice.

Just west of Stacy and Lacy’s house, we made tunnels that connected two or three haphazard snow domes (similar to igloos) in the deep ditches that ran parallel to the north side of the railroad tracks. On Saturday that week, March 5, the three of us celebrated our week of snow-sculpting creations with a picnic — inside the snow domes.

Our constant companions that week were Stacy and Lacy’s dogs, Hobo and Fritz. Hobo, a terrier-mix mutt, was the most intelligent, bravest and smelliest dog I’d ever known up to that point in my life. His name was fitting for a dog that lived near railroad tracks. Fritz was a young Dachshund, a red wiener dog that was always a step or two behind us and light-years behind Hobo in terms of brain power.

Hobo and Fritz were outside the snow dome when we heard the Rock Island locomotive coming. Lacy shouted for the dogs to get in the tunnel and rejoin our picnic, and Hobo was beside us instantly. Lacy poked his head out of our snow bank hideaway and screamed at Fritz to “come.” The wiener dog was clumsy in the snow, so he preferred waddling between the rails where the snow wasn’t as deep. Lacy screamed again as the train barreled past.

Fritz didn’t make it.

A little while later, we had a short funeral for Fritz. Stacy and Lacy’s dad, Leroy, chopped at the soil and dug the hole. We all cried. Even Leroy.

I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …

Songs of the 70’s …

Television in the 70’s was full of “variety shows.” The Carol Burnett Show. Donnie and Marie. Sonny and Cher. Those were real productions with choreographed song and dance numbers, and comedy skits that often went awry (I’m thinking Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show).

Saturday night, March 5, 1975, was The Tony Orlando & Dawn Show. (No, I didn’t write about it in my journal. I had to Google this). Special guest star was Tony Randall. Charo was one of the performers. Tony Orlando and Dawn – Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent-Wilson – sang a “40’s Medley” and “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You).” 

The No. 1 song on the pop charts that week was Have You Never Been Mellow by Olivia Newton-John.

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Rock Island Rail snow tunnels: March 1975

This is a two-part story about the house where I lived in March 1975 and the perfect snow that cancelled school the entire first week of that month 37 years ago. Look for the conclusion on Tuesday.

Memoir-In-Progress

From my Black Book of Great Adventures

March 5, 1975 — Four days ago I went fishing. Today is the fourth straight day of snow; about 18 inches on the ground, but not real cold. Our dog Mo-Mo is pregnent. Build more tunnels beside the tracks. Fritz got killed by the train, Leroy buried him. I said the prayer and thanked God for little dogs …

My list of Top 10 Weather Events of My Life, honorable mention, includes the heavy, wet snow that fell during the entire first week of March, except the 1st. The depth of the snow was memorable; but barely freezing air temperature created the most perfect snowman-building, tunnel-making snow of my life. My friends, Stacy and Lacy, lived just across the street, and the Rock Island Railroad ran within an easy snowball’s throw behind their house, chugging through Belle, Mo., on its route from Eldon to Union.

The rail was our ready-made path to adventure: animal bones (some complete skeletons of opossums, raccoons and similar critters, and skulls and other bones from deer and coyotes) that encountered the Rock Island train); the old vacation village of Gascondy and the Gascondy Railroad Trestle seven miles to the west, just south of Summerfield; and the much-closer Belle City Park Lake where we caught more than our share of bluegill, sunfish and bass for the better part of four years.

It seems like my family lived there so much longer, because when my mind goes back to the very best years of my childhood, I usually go back to the green duplex at the corner of Eighth and Swanson. The distance from my south-facing bedroom window to the railroad tracks was 25 paces. (Measured in 11-year-old boy paces).

That house was where I slept and ate and performed all imaginable – and unimaginable — chemistry experiments in my bedroom “laboratory.” If chemistry set Bottle A specifically warned, “Do not mix this chemical with Bottle B,” well, guess what? I’m pretty sure I passed out once or twice.

My “lab” shared space with two or more aquariums/terrariums that provided habitat for the snakes, field mice, crawdads, tadpoles, lizards, salamanders … well, everything I could catch. “My side” of the duplex is where my mom told me after school one day, “You know your father and I are getting a divorce.”

Some locations, some events — some exact moments — you never forget.

Just like I’ll never forget the joy and tragedy of the first week of March 1975.

Continued tomorrow …

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What I want to be when I grow up …

Memoir-in-Progress

Before I take you back to March 1, 1979, for a peak at my “dreamlist” of future occupations, I refer you to the current and newest job of “Grandpa.”

During the great “Countdown to Kianna,” I speculated about what it would be like to make eye contact with our baby granddaughter.

I can’t describe it.

But I am absolutely certain that when Kianna has all the words to say it, she’ll ask her mom and dad, “What’s wrong with Grandpa’s eyes? Every time he looks at me they get all watery?”

Every. Single. Time.

The chronicles of me

My habitual note-taking, record-keeping and character-sketching isn’t something that hit me in my adult years. No, those traits go back much farther.

Sometime during 1974 — before my 11th birthday — I began jotting down my observations of hikes, fishing trips and similar adventures. I refer now to my Black Book of Great Adventures, no less important to me than the journals of Lewis and Clark.

March 1, 1975 – My turtle died. His name was Snaps. Had him since June 16, 1974. It died at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. Found it dead in aquarium. Same day: Went fishing with Volund R. I caught 1. We discected it.

My note: Hey, even Lewis and Clark misspelled a few words. Great explorers can’t be bothered with trivial things like spelling, punctuation, etc. By the way, on March 2-3, 1975, there was this entry: “Blizzard conditions. 13 inches. missed School.”

Wednesday, March 1, 1978 – John G. had a problem and wouldn’t tell me because he was afraid I’d laugh. I assured him I’d listen and wouldn’t laugh. He tells me flatly, “My dad (stepdad) tried to kill my mom last night.” Now what kind of person would laugh at that? … His mom was unhurt. … Also, I’ve been evaluating my relationship with a girl I love very much, Kelly Drewel.

Note: Four years and three months later, I married that girl. Today I call her “Grammy.”

My March 1978 “life list” (professions I aspired to) …

1. Writer, 2. Major League baseball player, 3. Radio broadcaster, 4. Herpetologist, 5. Research biologist and chemist, 6. Woodsman, 7. Teacher-lecturer, 8. Preacher, 9. Zoologist, 10. Police officer.

March 1, 1979, “Dreamlist”

1. Writer, 2. Naturalist, 3. Major League baseball player, 4. Herpetologist, 5. Chemist/Researcher, 6. Conservation agent, 7. Microbiologist, 8. Director of Environmental Protection Agency, 9. Politician, 10. Entomologist.

March 1, 2012 – Here I am, a writer/reporter/journalist since forever. Just doing my job sometimes makes people angry. But director of the EPA? Politician? What was I thinking? That would have assured public hatred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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