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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hide Outs

Refuge, hiding place, shelter, haven, sanctuary, Webster’s

   Since I used to spend most of my time wondering around in the woods I had several “hide outs” scattered around down home. Why? Most of them were places I could take shelter in if I got caught out in a storm. Some of them were places I could go to be alone and think about life and the troubles I thought I was having with it. Teenage brains are always full of the trials and tribulations that life puts us through. A few of them fulfilled my never ending obsession with being able to live like a mountain man, or at least what my imagination told me was the mountain man life style. Some were nothing more that prepared camping spots for Stanley and me. Good hideouts required a couple of things that made them different than a normal camping spot. They needed to have limited access. You had to be able to at least think you were the only one that knew about them. They needed to be close to a source of water for drinking and for cooking. They had to offer protection from the weather. That could be a hard one because of the storms we get in Oklahoma. You needed to stay out of the rain yet still be able to watch the storm, storm watching was a great pastime. There also needed to be a ready source of firewood close by because even in the summer and even though we might not need to cook anything there is just something about camping in the woods at night that requires a fire.
   There was a big hollow oak log on my uncle’s place. The tree had been blown over by a wind storm. All the limbs were gone and but the trunk was still attached and the hollow center of it was over ten feet long. It was laying with the broken end tilted down just enough to keep the rain out. It was a perfect place to wiggle back in feet first and watch a good thunder storm. I’ve even spent a few nights camped out in it.
   Another was an old cellar that hadn’t totally caved in. The only thing left of the original home place was a couple of walls. I cleaned out most of the caved in dirt from the inside and made a door out of limbs and brush. The good thing about that one was that it was cool in the summer and as long as I checked it out each time for snakes it made a nice place to take a break on hot summer days. The other good point was that there were still remnants of an old garden behind the house. I could find tomatoes and sometimes cucumbers and okra. One thing about Oklahoma is that there are lots of things to eat that grow wild but I would never pass up the chance for a few garden grown veggies to go along with whatever fish or game I could come up with.
   One of my favorite spots was a cave above the road on the way to the old Indian cemetery. It wasn’t a huge cave; actually it was more like a big over hand in a rock cliff near the top of a hill. There were only two ways of getting to it. One was to climb down from the top of the hill. As long as you were careful you could lower yourself down the cliff face and get your feet on a narrow ledge. If you kept flat against the cliff you could bring your hands down to a small crack in the rocks and kind of shuffle sideways until you were able to reach the ledge in front of the cave. That wasn’t a bad way to get there and I did it pretty often and only fell once. That time wasn’t too bad because it was only about thirty feet or so to the ground and some tree branches broke my fall anyway. The other way was from the bottom by climbing a big oak tree, shuffling out as far as I could get on the end of a branch and jumping over to grab the edge of the ledge. I fell a few times until I finally got the hang of that one.
    Once you were in the cave you had a nice flat bottom to sit on and admire the view. This was another good spot to watch the storms. There was enough of an overhang to keep the rain out as long as the wind wasn’t blowing too hard. I spent one stormy afternoon sitting up there and got to watch a tornado cross the valley to the north. That was the closest I’d ever seen one. It was also a great place for deer hunting because a well used trail crossed the hill side right below it. I spent many an hour laying up there and watching everything from squirrels to bobcats to deer pass by on that trail. The only live wolf I ever saw in Oklahoma was walking down that trail. I used to lay up there and wonder if any prehistoric hunters had ever lain in the same spot to watch for game. I never found any sign that anyone else had ever even in that spot but it was fun to dream.
   There was plenty of good fishing across the road in Salt Creek so I always kept hooks and line stored there. There was even a nice stand of cane not too far away so where I was able to cut a pole. I also stocked a couple of pots and a skillet there along with a few candles and a couple of blankets just in case I wanted to spend the night, which I did quite often.
   The nice thing about having all these hide outs was that it kept me from having to pack a lot of stuff with me when I went out prowling the woods. No matter where I went there was at least one spot within a couple of miles where I could hole up if I wanted and I tried to keep them stocked with whatever bits and pieces of camping gear I could find. I even learned to cook hanging out in these places. Well, I learned how to eat burnt or half raw food at least. Stanley and I had some good meals while we were out but it was mostly just dumb luck when they came out right. We do pretty well with fish by covering them with mud and burying them in the campfire coals. If you got them right you didn’t even need to scale them because you would pull off the skin when you broke the mud away. Stew wasn’t too bad; we’d through everything we could find in a pot and let it sit there bubbling away beside the fire until we got hungry and the good thing was you could always take a little bite to see if it was done.
   Stanley and I both lucked out by not being allergic to anything down home so one of our best hide outs was a camping spot in the middle of a huge patch of poison ivy. Most all the kids knew what that stuff looked like so we didn’t have to worry about too many people bothering us while we were in that one.
   I did make a small error with a hide out once. I had read in some book about Wikieups that some the Native Americans lived in and was forever trying to pile sticks together to make one. I found the perfect place to try again in a grove of persimmon trees. I came up with the great idea that instead of leaning a bunch of tree branches together I could bend the persimmon trees down and tie their tops together. I could make whatever size wikieup I wanted too by just picking out trees that were farther apart. The frame went really well. I had gathered up a bunch of baling wire from down where Charlie Condren feed his cows that I could use to tie the tops together. By bending the trees down, cutting off the tops and wiring what was left together I ended up with a frame that was about six feet across, roughly circular and about six feet tall at the highest point. That took me most of a day but I was pretty proud of it, now all I had to do was figure out a way to cover the sides. I thought about trying “wattle and dob”. I had read about that one also. It is the way people built houses in Europe and consisted of making a wooden frame and covering it with mud. I had to give up on that idea when I realized that the closest source of water was a tiny creek a couple of hundred yards away that I didn’t think had enough water to make mud. Plus I had only read about it and didn’t really have the faintest idea of how to do it and with the storms we had in Oklahoma I wasn’t sure mud walls would last past the first thunder storm. What I did do was stop by a couple of ponds of the way up there the next day and cut all the thin willow branches I could carry. I wove the branches horizontally around the frame then started gathering all the branches and tree tops I could find that had leaves and wove them vertically through the willow. It wasn’t a real pretty thing by the time I got done and I’m pretty sure no self respecting Native American would have invited me into their tribe based on my building skills but I was happy with it and couldn’t wait to spent the night there.
   I spent a few days laying up there for the next couple of weeks. I kept adding more leaves to it and found that it was a lot cooler just from being in out of the sun. I was beginning to think that the Natives had found a good house plan. I was finally able to spend the night in early May. It was a beautiful spring day when I left the house but by the time I got to the wikieup it was starting to could up in the west. I didn’t worry too much about it, I had a nice shelter with enough room to put a couple of blankets on one side and still have enough room to build a fire in the center. I had left a small opening at the top to allow smoke to escape and keep the air pretty clear. By the time I had gathered some wood and had a fire going there were some serious thunder heads building and it looked like they were coming my way. I was sitting inside trying to weave a seat that I could lean back in like I had seen in a movie when the storm finally got to me. I was really proud of what I had built at first because there was just a little rain and it was looking like I had managed to make the walls pretty water proof. The only rain that was getting was a tiny bit through the smoke hole which wasn’t enough to bother me. Next came the lighting and thunder and again I felt pretty good. It never even crossed my mind that I might be in danger from the lighting and thunder is just noise so I kept working on my seat. Then the real rain started! I found out pretty quick that in spite of all the leaves and branches I had added my wikieup definitely wasn’t one hundred percent water proof. I had to drag my blankets over to a different spot to keep them out of the rain. It was too late to do anything about the leaks, it was raining hard enough to have drowned me if I had tried to go out and add any more to the walls. I did have one spot that was still dry so I figured I’d be OK for that night at least. The one thing I had over looked about Oklahoma storms was the wind. When the first big gust hit and kind of moved the whole shelter to the left I didn’t get to worried about it, after all I had built the main frame out of persimmon trees with the roots still in the ground so I figured it would be strong enough to stand up to a little wind. The second gust got my attention because not only did it lean but I heard a kind of ripping noise and looked up to see that my smoke hole was about twice as big as it had been. It was raining a lot harder by then and that’s what gave me my first indication that I might be in for a rough night. There was a lot more rain coming in the smoke hole instead of falling in just one direction it seemed to be moving around the hole and falling in different areas. I figured that meant the wind was swirling around outside but I was scared to stick my head outside and check. The storm was really close by then, I tried to count the seconds from the flash of lighting until I heard the thunder and only made it to one. The thunder was so loud it hurt my ears and I was sure I heard lighting strike close to me. I scooted over as close to the wall as I could get and pulled my blanket over me trying to stay out o f the rain. By now the wind was blowing hard and steady and taking more of the branches off the shelter. My fire had blown out and there was no way I could stay out of the rain as more and more of the walls disappeared. I lay down next to the wall, pulled my blanket over my head and waited for it to end. I don’t know how long I lay there before the storm moved away. Me and everything inside was soaked through by the time the thunder had calmed down enough for me to hear again and when I peeked out from under my blanket my wikieup, which I had worked so hard on was gone. The only thing left was the frame and a ragged wall a couple of feet high. The rest of that night was just a little in the miserable side if I do say so. I managed to get another fire going and was able to dry out enough wood to last until daylight. The rain continued to fall the rest of the night which left me as a huddled mess, under my blankets hugging the fire. I used to really enjoy the storms down home but that night I think I got a little more involved with nature than I really wanted to.