Saturday, June 23, 2012

Down With Gravity

A friend and I was talking the other night about things we did as kids.  Personally, I never got up on the roof with a bath towel, blanket or sheet convinced I could fly.  Honestly I can say my reluctance came from seeing other kids do this and the end result was usually painful. 

One year, back when I was 7 or 8, we had a real wet winter.  There was major flooding along all the rivers.  Creeks and ponds took over pastures and roads.  Before things got too bad, my dad moved all animal feed stored at ground level in the barn into the garage.  Feed is expensive.  Trying to replace it during the winter is even more expensive.  Next we moved the animals to the back porch.  People thought we had a huge covered back porch for entertaining.  Think again.  There was a creek between the house and barns.  As the water rose the animals would have been stranded on the other side.

When the rain finally slacked off me and a few friends got a brilliant idea.  We got a rope out of the garage.  Leaving shoes / boots behind we headed barefoot into the over-saturated west pasture.  There we played eenie-meenie to decide who would go first.  The first participant climbed as high as he could go in a sapling pine tree carrying one end of the rope.  He then formed a loop and tossed it over the top of the tree.  Those of us on the ground pulled back on the rope bending the tree.  And then we let go.

The object of the game was to launch the kid in the tree into the pond.  Never mind that it was winter and the air temperature was around 40 degrees.  Did it occur to us we might miss the pond?  Sure it did.  That was the beauty of picking then to play the game.  We all had experience in falling hard onto sun baked red clay and decomposed granite soil.  Trust me, it's like hitting concrete.

Not a one of us landed in the pond that day.  Several face planted and skidded.  There were full body flops.  We were literally in knee-deep mud.  No one got hurt save for a few scraps from tree bark.

We had so much fun the next day we opted to launch from taller trees.  One of the neighbors called my dad at work and squealed on us.  Allow me to point out it took Dad nearly a half hour to drive home.  He pulled in the driveway undetected by us.  We were having too much fun.  But we still hadn't achieved splashdown in the pond. 

To Dad's credit he did not yell at us to stop what we were doing before we broke our fool necks.  He stood on the back porch talking to the horses and laughed.  Only when he realized a tree we'd selected might put the launchee in danger did he shout for us to halt.  Dad was an engineer.  He knew all about vectors, magnitude and trajectory.  He gathered us on the porch, drew a quick sketch of the pasture and cautioned us to stay out of particular trees. 

Days later with the water level receding Dad donned his boots and took us out in the pasture.  Standing on the high ground above the pond he pointed first to the tree he stopped us from using and then to concrete blocks the tops of which were barely visible below the surface of the water.  The blocks were there to allow the pond to be drained onto the fire break protecting the house in the event of forest fire.  Dad realized certain trees would have launched us into harm's way. 

Remarkably I don't recall Dad ever saying "Stop that. Are you idiots? You're going to break something."  Maybe he was just thankful we all made use of the garden hose, washed off the mud and stripped to our underwear before going in the house.  I don't recall any of the other parents going ape shit and ordering their kid(s) to stay out of our pasture.  I do recall a supply of old clothes and towels in our servant's porch right next to instructions on how to use the washer and dryer.

A few of years later Dad put a stop to our winter time game citing we were damaging the trees.  We were heavier and older.  We were beginning to understand gravity.  Dad knew it was just a matter of time before a launchee panicked, tensed up before impact and got hurt. 

Now that I am older I believe I know why Dad let us play the game as long as he did.  I think that very first day he stood there on the porch telling the horses "look at how much fun they're having.  What I'd give to join them."  He was about the age I am now.  I imagine when he was a kid in Southeastern Washington, Dad and his brothers played similar games.  There for a moment while he watched us, Dad remembered being 7 and defying the laws of gravity.   

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