I picked up a long straight stick; it was just shorter than my shoulder and about ½ to ¾ inches round. It wasn’t yew, but it would work just the same. I pulled out my pocketknife and proceeded to whittle off the bark and the knotholes. Finally notching both ends of the stick, I drew out my piece of string and firmly wound and fastened it to one end. Then pulling the string taught I bent the wood, winding and fastening the string to the opposite end of the stick. I tested it. It didn’t quite twang, but it was pretty good for such a quick job. I scavangered for some small sticks and then whittled them too, forming a point at the end of each one.
I ran inside and scrounged for a green shirt, threw it on atop of the others and charged outside, hollering something about important, be right back, before my mother could give me a list of chores to complete. I went down the hill to the barn where my brothers were waiting, with their green shirts on. “Ready?” they asked and I gave a nod of my head.
“Then off to Sherwood!” they shouted and we began to tramp past the barn and across the pastures to our little wood. Had we been toting our swords and the shields of King Arthur’s nights we would have battled the dragon at the edge of the forest. On tree rose far higher than the rest and the top of it was curled and bent into the shape of a dragon. It was appropriately named the dragon tree and on some nights, when it was silhouetted against the red sky as the sunset, it would almost come alive. But that was not our destination this day. We were headed into the heart of the wood to a tree we had dubbed the “Monkey Tree.”
It was twisted and gnarled and charred near the top, having been struck by lightning some time in the past. It was the perfect tree for play and climbing with branches leading out in all different directions and sloping up or down. Someone had made a tree house at one point, for there was a ladder nailed to the tree. Dad had made that the stopping point. We couldn’t climb higher than the bottom slat of the ladder. We understood and didn’t mind, we still had most of the tree to swing from and climb and eat apples in its recesses.
We hushed our riotous laughter as we neared Sherwood and swung our bows from off our backs. We each knocked an arrow into place. Snap! I whirled around searching for the unseen enemy. Kimball whispered what we all knew, “Sherwood has been discovered! There is a spy among us!” Our arrows flew sure and true striking the enemy and taking many of them down. But there were too many and we found ourselves pressed back to back against the tree. “Climb! We’ve got to climb, it’s our only escape!”
We frantically began to make our way up the tree until we were well above their heads, showering arrows down upon them. We were standing on a branch. Kimball pointed to our only escape route, a branch just a ways above and in front of us. My eyes alight with fire I nodded to show I understood. I slung my bow on my back and we prepared to jump. “One! Two! THREE!” We leapt across the gap and grabbed hold of the branch, soldiers shouting below us warning of our escape. We swung once, twice . . .CRACK! The sickening sound filled our ears as we fell through time and space until we crashed to the forest floor. Kimball landing upon my head, or at least something of his colliding with my head. The world exploded into a myriad of color. Groaning I tried to sit up. “J, you dead?” I heard him mumble as Paul came running up to us laughing.
“If I’m not dead yet, I will be soon. We’re surrounded and my bow is broken.” I held up my pitiful bow the two ends hanging limply from the once taught string. My brothers shook their heads and laughed as we staggered back to the house.
Some years later our adventures were ended permanently when the tree was struck again by lightening and it went down in a blaze, scorching a good portion of our little wood along with it. Sometimes I yearn to see the places we played and imagined as children, but then I am afraid I would find it so altered by time and nature that I would only see the ghosts of memories racing through the trees.