Behind my childhood house, there was an immense city park, roughly following the contours of a creek that sat between the cul-de-sac my home was on and the parking lot of the Indiana Bell office building about 500 yards away. The sides of the mostly-gentle hills leading into the valley were uniformly suburban-lawn length grass, cleared years ago and mowed by the city every three weeks or so. In the bottomlands and down some small defiles leading to the creek (unambiguously pronounced ‘crick’) were a few remnants of what may well have been old-growth forest – a stand of about four immense knotty cedar trees, a couple of beautiful and immense oaks, and a forty-foot stump of a tree that may have been oak.
This stump was entirely hollow on the inside. There was an opening at the base of the trunk large enough to admit a full-grown person, and the interior of the tree was about three feet across. The insides of the trunk had been burned smooth at some point in the past. We referred to it as “the lightning stump,” and throughout my childhood I assumed that a stroke of lightning had burned out the trunk’s interior.
However, at some point after the tree had been burned out, someone had nailed foot-long two-by-fours to the interior of the trunk all the way to the top of the trunk. For years, one could clamber up the inside of the trunk and perch atop the hollow cylinder, gazing at the brambles and trees and across the park to the inviting spectacle of the half-filled Bell parking lot or onto the undeveloped lots abutting the parklands. To the east, the second growth forest of Mary’s farm overtopped the stump.
Other industrious predecessors had likewise labored long over the design and construction of ambitious treehouses in the two tallest of the cedars. In one of these gnarled giants, platforms large enough to hold three kids each had been erected at three heights within the tree, the highest of these large platforms easily 60 feet up. There was one more platform in this tree, at the fey top of the branches, nailed into a multiply-branched juncture where the limbs measured as much as three inches across.
Climbing into this crow’s nest caused the entire top of the tree to sway mightily, and a gust of wind would whip the platform back and forth in an arc which certainly seemed to be fifteen feet in section.
It’s my understanding that the hollow tree is no longer accessible, the brambles having overtaken the entrance, and the boards on the interior having long fallen away. One would also expect that the wood of the trunk itself would have begun to soften and rot into nothing, forty years down the road. Likewise, the treehouse platforms were largely gone the last time I visited the park, well over ten years ago.
The brambles that formed the underbrush in the defiles were large, arched pricker bushes whose limbs brushed the earth in an apparently impenetrable curtain. To a kid, though, the branches could be pushed aside with care, revealing a natural shelter around the base of each of the plants. The plants clustered and provided extensive tunnels large enough to stand upright within over a bare dirt floor, unencumbered by any undergrowth. These natural clubhouses became a base of operations for the neighborhood kids, storehouses for the peculiar treasures uncovered in the park. These treasures primarily consisted of weatherbeaten issues of Penthouse magazine and the occasional dropped or discarded bag of pot, pipe, lighter, or on one memorable occaison, a peculiar blue device which was embossed with the words “Power Hitter.”
It took me years to figure out that this was also a marijuana-consumption tool.