Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tarzan Time

   Ever notice that boys walking through the woods find it impossible to just walk? They always have to high kick a tree, jump up and grab a limb to either swing on or try to do a chin up. Heaven forbid if there are vines growing in those woods because that is one hundred percent sure to bring out the Tarzan gene in every boy (and some girls) which makes it totally imp0ossible to walk by a vine without trying to climb on it or swing from it.
   There are some good swinging vines down home but there are a whole lot more that aren't and for anyone that had small brains like Stanley or myself, telling the difference between them seemed to be just out of our reach. Now the ones that hung straight down the trunk of a tree weren't too bad as all you could do with them was to get a running start and swing up a foot or so then you would head right back to the tree. Since you never got your feet to far off the ground there wasn't much that could wrong other than hitting the tree if you didn't turn loose in time. Of course there are ways of getting into trouble with vines besides swinging on them. There was a big red oak growing on the hill behind Charlie Condrens place with what I was sure was a coon den at the top. The problem with that tree was the same as a lot of oak trees; the first branch was a good fifteen feet above the ground and since I was only about five foot three back then you can see the problem. I wasn't one to give up when there was a den tree to check out thought and it so happened there was one good size grape vine running up the side of the trunk. Grape vines put out these little shoots as the grow that burrow into a tress bark and hold them up but if you can get your fingers behind the vine you can rip them out enough to be able to climb up it just like a rope. I yanked this one out until it was loose up past that first limb and figured I'd have no problem climbing up it until I could get into the limbs and then be able to shinny my way on up to the den. I've always said that one of the main problems Stanley and I had back then was not being able to think out a plan more than five seconds which is the reason we tended to run into problems about six seconds into whatever it was we were trying. Well this time I had just the opposite problem. All I could think about was getting to the top of that tree and seeing what I might find in that den so I wasn't paying much attention to anything else. Pulling yourself up a vine, hand over hand is hard but if you can get your feet against something it's a lot easier cause you can use your feet to kind of walk up the tree while pulling on the vine which is the way I always did it. I started out pretty good. The vine was thick enough to get a good hold of and the bark was rough enough to give good traction. I was up high enough to just reach the bottom limb and was thinking of how neat it would be if there were baby coons in that den. Just as I put my hand on the limb the vine pulled loose from the bark and I dropped down a few inches. Because I had my feet against the tree I was now stretched out flat. I had just enough time to think "Oh" before the vine broke. Thank god that limb was only about fifteen feet off the ground. I only bounced twice when I hit and that second bounce moved me just enough to keep the broken end of the vine from poking me in the eye when it came down on top of me. It took a few minutes of laying there gasping for breath before I could even finish my though and I'm sure I don't need to tell you the second word. I learned something that day (again) "make sure the vine isn't dead before you try climbing it". I have to admit that both Stanley and I learned that lesson many times over the years, the problem was that it just never sunk in and it surprised us every time.
   The best Tarzan vines were the ones that hung down from tree limbs and the best of the best were on trees that grew close to a creek or the river. These were so good because you could really get a really good swing going especially if you got a running start. Our goal was swing at least as high as the limb they were attached too. We never quite made it but it sure wasn't from lack of trying. Another good thing about the ones that were close to a creek or river is that it didn't hurt quite as much if the vine broke, as long as there was water in said creek or river! Now, the smart thing to do when swinging on an unknown vine would be to talk someone else into trying it first. That way if the vine wasn't strong enough to hold a person you could be the one standing back laughing instead on the one laying on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. The problem was that most of the time it was just Stanley and me and since we were just a little bit competitive about some things each of us always wanted to be first. Of course we didn't always end up flat on our backs when a vine broke. There was the time Stanley got the vine first, pulled it back as far as it would go and took off running. He would have made a really impressive swing if only the vine hadn't broken just as he was starting to take off. He just kept right on running with that vine trailing back over his shoulder right off the edge of the creek bank. I'm not sure, and he wouldn't tell, if he tripped at the edge or was trying to dive into the water to make the landing softer but he ended up doing a back flip and hit the water feet first still holding the vine, then he just fell over backwards. I guess it was a god thing he didn't manage to complete a dive because the water was only ankle deep. He had to crawl back to dry land and we had to hang out there for a couple of hours until his ankles, knees and hips quit hurting enough for him to be able to walk back home. He also bit his tongue and had a gash in the back of his head from hitting a rock when he fell. I don't want you to think he was stubborn or anything but he did make another wild Tarzan swing the very next day.
   I can't say too much about Stanley's' almost swing because about two weeks later I was down on Salt Creek doing a little squirrel hunting when I tried one that came out pretty well the same. I was a really hot day and I decided to take a swim in the creek to cool off. Normally on days like that I'd just wade out in the water far enough to lay down and just float around but that day while I was floating I noticed a good size grape vine growing up a cottonwood tree that was leaning out over the creek. There use to be a rope swing down at Skyrocket (our main swimming hole) that I loved to swing on and drop into the creek and this vine looked enough like that rope that it was just too hard to pass up. I remembered what had happened to Stanley on his creek swing so I gave that vine a couple of hard yanks to make sure it was strong enough to hold me. I even cut the bottom off the vine so there wouldn't be any chance of tripping myself. I figured that if I got a good running start I'd be able to swing out as far as I could, let go of the vine and land just about in the middle of the creek where I knew the water was deep. My take off was perfect if I do say so myself. Off the bank I went and up and over the creek I flew laughing my butt off the whole way. I went so high that looking straight ahead all I could see was the sky and was just thinking about turning loose when the vine broke. No warning it just broke. To say the least it was a kind of sinking feeling but I still figured I'd be Ok after all, I knew the creek was deep enough that the worst that was going to happen would be landing on my back in the water and I was right, kind of. If Mr. Short (our math teacher) had of been there I'm sure he could have explained my miscalculation but since I was never very good at math I will tell you what happened and you can figure out the math. I didn't take into account how far or how high I would get and I also didn't even think about how narrow that creek was so instead of landing on my back in the water; I went all the way across the creek and planted both feet into the opposite bank. Not on top of the bank although I only missed it by about six inches and fell straight down. I was right about the water being deep enough but since the only part of me that actually hit the water was my head and shoulders that wasn't much to brag about, the rest of me was stuck in the mud. I also had a really hard time getting back home that day and had to wear an Ace bandage wrapped around my ankle for the next two weeks.
   You would think that after a few results like these we might have figured out that maybe, just maybe trying to swing through the trees might not have been such a good idea but you would be wrong. Some folks are just slow learners.