No matter how many times you walk in the woods, it’s a new experience every time. My woodland companions and I were explorers in the truest sense of the word. We were out to discover new treasures and be the first to stand on earth where no man had been before, even the Susquehannock. I have Indian blood; my father’s grandfather was Lenape, of the Turtle Clan. I guess that makes me, what … one-sixteenth Indian? Whatever, but I’m proud of it. I have always felt a kinship to the Indian ways and to the spirits of the forest.
I still revel in the many wonderful things I encounter there. I’ve sat beside a baby fawn curled up in a bed of grass, looked into a bird nests filled with hungry gaping mouths, held a shut-tight box turtle until it opened and been awestruck by the beauty of a scarlet tanager lighting onto a branch just above my head and listened to its song. Nature has always been a precious abode. The trees frame my walls, the sky my windows, the moss covered stones my furniture and autumn leaves my carpet. Home sweet home.
When I’m in the forest or sitting laying on rock by the side of a lake or swimming with my eyes open in a clear creek I give thanks to God for his wonderful gift.
I could wax poetically about nature forever, but I want to get back on the trail I started on earlier. However deep into the forest we went, I seemed to have an innate ability, a built in compass, I guess, so I could find my way back from wherever I roamed. We went as far as the main trails took us and followed our whims from there. We searched every rock face for a secret cave, climbed every hill to see what was on the other side and up-turned rock piles in search of buried civil war soldiers and rusting musket balls. We followed the creek and caught a hundred bullfrogs and ran from just as many snakes. It was paradise.
On one of our long treks deep into the forest, beyond the main path, we picked up a deer trail and followed it to the edge of the woods on the south side where it came out behind a restaurant along Pulaski Highway. It was a seafood joint, don’t recall the name, but I sure remember the smell. A hundred yards behind the building, well into the woods, we discovered a monstrous heap of shelled blue crabs. The pile was well over our heads. The newer freshly cooked shells were carrot red toward the top and gradated to bleach-white midway down. We approached it from up wind and couldn’t appreciate its full-bodied aroma till we were within a few steps. I knew it must have stunk because Blackie was already rolling in some of it. It was worse than any foul perfume that Blackie ever carried home. Like pungent ammonia, it burned our sinuses and made us tear up. It was a thick physical presence that enveloped you. You could taste it just breathing. Overcome, we retreated immediately and kept a safe distance while we decided what we’d do with this unusual challenge. There was only one thing to do … we would have to smash it to bits.
We threw everything we could find at it— rocks, sticks, boulders and logs. We even toppled over a dead tree right through the middle of it. When the tree crashed through it, the pile exploded like a grenade. Crap from inside the fresh shells splattered everywhere. Suddenly the wind changed or something because the stench was so bad I started to gag. I was going to be sick and had to get out of there. I ran fast as hell but I couldn’t outrun the stink. Still in a run, I gagged then heaved my breakfast. I stopped and bent over to puke again as Blackie moved in … and ate it. “Uuuhh!” That made me even sicker so I ran again. But I could not get away from the putrid reek. I stopped this time to catch my breath and retched as my friends caught up with me. They were laughing so hard they couldn’t speak. Wayne kept pointing to his nose then at me.
Stuck to the side of my nose was a rotting gob of crab guts.
The Plane Crash
On the evening of December 8, an airliner, Pan AM Flight 214 from Puerto Rico was in a holding pattern on its approach to Philadelphia when it was struck by lightening. The myth that a plane could not be brought drown by lightening was dispelled that windy night. The strike ignited fuel vapors in a wing reserve tank and the plane exploded. The crew somehow managed to send a final message – “Clipper Out Of Control!” – before it crashed just outside of Elkton. You can look it up in the Guinness Book of World Records as the worst death toll in history from a lightning strike. Eighty-one people died.
I didn’t hear about it until the next day, my dad told me. Hundreds of Navy recruits attending training at Bainbridge, where he worked, were hustled to the crash site and helped to search for, mark or bag any remains they could find. It was so traumatic that the Navy began a ten-year study of the sailors who participated in that search.
The crash wasn’t that far from where we lived. I couldn’t get it out of my head after hearing about the body parts and luggage and people still strapped in their seats out there in the woods. They couldn’t have found everything that fell from the sky. I looked, hoping I would find a wallet stuffed with a thousand bucks or maybe a purse with smuggled diamonds sewn in the lining. What I really wanted to see was a dead body. I’d never seen one and was wondered what that would be like. Or if I was lucky, I’d find the only survivor, someone they missed on the passenger list and everyone could read about it in the paper the next day: “Boy Finds Sole Survivor of Deadly Crash ‑Gets Major Award!”
But that didn’t happen and I never found a thing. That was probably for the best.