The Horse Field, the Woods, the Barn

School. Church. Home. 

The Family Project had its contexts, and out of those came a tacit meaning: “School is where you learn about the world,” “Church is where you worship God,” “Home is where you feel safe…”

Our parents liked order: Dad was an early riser and off to his office in Bethesda; Mom, between hustling to her night shift at Montgomery County Hospital, made sure we received music lessons.

But outside there was another world, one that was starting to fascinate me—even to the point where I considered becoming a naturalist. It likely began, ironically, watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on TV. Nature, wildness, the woods, freedom—all informed a personal mythology that began in the late 1960s.

After moving to Minnesota in 1971, it would be taken to the next level with campouts on lake islands, explorations of northwoods lagoons, Lake Superior’s shoreline, pine tree forests, and all open spaces.

Just past our garage in Maryland (pictured below, the doors of which I drove the riding lawn mower through, with Dad’s VW Bug and the family station wagon parked out front), there were hedges, dogwood trees, honeysuckle bushes, and a playhouse with a garden area.

Past that was the far backyard of 17119 Old Baltimore Road, bordered by a wooden fence between Mr. Harrison’s yard and ours, and full of old apple trees. In one of those trees, Dad helped us build a treehouse. Every kid should know what it’s like to hang out in a treehouse.

The backyard ended with another wooden fence, beyond which was the neighbor’s horse field. Can’t recall the horses’ names, but there were three—two mares and a stallion, I think.

To the right, a big red barn; to the left, a path on the other side of the fence that led down to the woods.

Brian and I quickly learned that, if you wanted to get to the woods, you had to take that path on the other side of the fence. You jumped the fence and ran as fast as you could because the horses—particularly the stallion—would chase you. Think I feared nothing more than getting bit by that horse.

The path lead down to bowl-shaped area in the woods that kids had cleared out to make a ground fort. The Alywards, Matthew and Peter, along with Dr. Yates’ kids, my brother and I, and other neighbor kids, used to meet down there. It was our secret place away from the Other Big Three places central to our lives.

One time we met up in the barn to look at John Gottschalk’s older brother’s Playboy magazines. It was the first time I’d ever seen a naked woman—and I was intrigued.

I recall us trying to keep the younger kids away, who we felt weren’t ready to gaze openly upon the untrammeled female form. Seriously doubt we were either, but someone had to be in charge.

The women in Playboy were like a window into a confusing future, but also an exciting one—I equated adult nakedness with the sort of promise nature and the woods afforded: the “real world” was beyond dress codes, rules, threats of eternal damnation, sin, and social order. It existed in and of itself, and could be enjoyed like any of the other pleasures in being alive: eating good food, getting a warm back rub, swimming in a pool, laughing at a cartoon, reading a book and imagining all that was happening beyond the words and pictures.

This is the end of the good times, until the late summer of 1969. (Photo, left to right: Brian, Donnie Fox, me, Bart Fox, on vacation in Maine with our parents. That July we were in a trailer-tent camping when the broadcast of Apollo 11’s moon walk came over the transistor radio—I was furious because I never got to see it on TV.)

In the fall I’d start middle school, which meant changes I couldn’t begin to imagine, and the start of a bad patch in my young life.

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~ by completelyinthedark on January 17, 2011.

One Response to “The Horse Field, the Woods, the Barn”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Blast from the past this week, then all-new post next Friday.

    Like

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