The Woods

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.