Adventure: a full day's worth and more
I can still feel the warn tar of those Nebraska streets on days so deply into summer that I thought the roads would flow off into the river. That was how it had always been, as far as I could reckon. The children ran barefoot across the sun-softened roadway while adults drove down the street unaware of the pleasurable warmth they were missing.
Reservoir Hill, the hill near the edge of town that held the water tower, was frequently the starting point for a day's adventure. A strip of blacktop snaked up the hill to the summit from where yoy could look out over the treetops of the town to the fields of corn beyond. From this vantage point the town looked like an island amid a sea of Scottish plaid. The fields were laid out the geometric regularity of the surveyor's touch, but for some reason, no two rectangles of summer corn ever seemed to be exactly the same color. There was some Scots heritage in the county, but not enough to explain the phenomenon. My father once gave us a logical explanation about soil quality and rotaiton planting. But we promptly forgot, preferring to consider it some mystical quality bound to the land.
The top of the hill was the kite-flier's paradise. Despite the stifffling stillness in the town below, a summer breeze always blew by the reservoir. ON many a hot afternoon, my brothers and I escaped to the coolness of the hill to try out a new creation. IT might be a box kite with a diamond shape of some of new and daring dimension. But no matter how unsuccessful our airborne, experiment might be, the wind was never at fault.
The sunflower-studded meadows that spread out on the side of the hill away from town were, to my senses, the deepest wilderness imaginable. A creek, dry at all seasons but spring, divided the sunflowers from a patch of scrubby trees, and underbrush that blocked the view of the rolling land beyond. A few bored cows usually sat listlessly in the shade near the long dried creek, as if waiting patiently for the next drink.
There was little doubt that these Herefords meant no harm, but we used them as a good excuse not to wander too far beyond the "no trespassing" signs that lined the far side of the creek bed. Who wanted to go down in history as being the first person trampled by a harmless bovine? Toward the south, along the properties that hemmed the western edge of town, we eventually came to a place that couldn't be reached directly -- the culvert. for safety reasons, I now realize, the huge cement culvert that collected and directed the water from the town's storm sewers was fenced off from the nearby roadway.
The steep sides were just the right pitch for a wild slide down into the dirt and mud that lined the bottom. And the pipes that entered the culvert at the end near town were the source of endless stories about the subterranean adventures that waited in the rotting darkness.
The culvert had been built to siphon water toward the river several miles from town. Plans for a hike to the river via the culvert were mapped and remapped. It is hard to say why the crusade never got off the ground. Lunches would be packed and sneakers laced high, only to be forgotten when someone discovered an especially climbable tree or a discarded farm implement.
We once found an old hay wagon near the culvert that had been left with one rotting wheel still in the rut that had fractured the front axle many years before. Someone quickly surmised this to be a remnant of Sherman's army, which had camped near our town during something called the Civil War. Preposterous perhaps, but tolerable fiction for a gang of elementary-school historians.
Getting back into town beyond the culvert was a small-scale military maneuver requiring skill in the art of negotiating barbed wire. One person would put a foot down on the bottom strand of rusting coil, while holding the second strand up as high as possible. This created a small tunnel large enough for most members of our legion to pass. After everyone had stepped through (with frequent references to the dangers we would soon encounter behind enemy lines), the person who had held the fence would be helped through by someone mirroring his actions on the other side.
The old elms that lined the streets would already be casting shadows as we trod the soft tarred streets toward home and the supper that was waiting. It had always been a day filled with adventure. But when a thoughtful parent would inquire, "What have you been up to today?" all I could ever say was "Nothing."