The Merry Men Of Hedgehog Forest

O COME with me, gentle voyagers, back, back, back, back into fantasy's dreamland, and let me show you Hedgehog Mountain when it and I were small. Say AD 1922, which is near enough. I sat in school then, and when I turned my attention from the boundless vistas of education that roosted on my desk, I could lift up mine eyes to Hedgehog Mountain, which lifted its majestic crest into the bright azure sky of Maine to tease my desires into the realms of gold. Hedgehog Mountain was my Sherwood Forest.

So now I am looking at the local newspaper, and I am reading that funds are available, plans are completed, and our recreational administrators are to do some work at Hedgehog Mountain. There will be picnic tables, a new parking area, signs so folks won't get lost, and a fine chance to examine the environment without wetting the feet just as soon as footbridges are in place.

Hedgehog Mountain is where I went in the long ago after- school hours to renew my belief in the eternal verities. Sometimes I went alone with my bow-a-narrer and a packsack of nourishment, to vex the High Sheriff of Nottingham over the weekend. Sometimes three or four loyal brothers of the Secret Order of Paul Bunyan would support me. There had been a dwelling near the peak in early days, but it had lapsed, and while we knew where the old driveway had been, we preferred to skulk by a devious route and take the settlers by surprise.

Soon, naturally, we matured surprisingly, and gave over such imaginary derring-do; after that we just had a keen camping place to which we repaired for overnight or for over Sunday, or sometimes for several days. Once in a great while we boys would see somebody out for a woodland stroll, but we were friendly Indians and never scalped too many of them at once. We had our place to pitch a tent, and a fireplace to which we could come back and find our cooking pots and pans safe under our sailcloth. It never entered our heads in those days to wonder who owned the land - our land. We never knew.

Then on Monday mornings, we would be back in school and I could look out the window and see old Mount Hedgehog waiting for us. Let us hope that with the proposed expensive improvements another generation, at least, will admire and enjoy the simple pleasures that we boys found there so abundantly in our deprived youth. By the way - I'm told civilization has arranged a town dump close by, but it has since been upgraded to a recycling station and will have a separate entrance. People can still visit the mountain if the waste-disposal facility is closed.

There was one boy in our circle of gentlemen who kept pestering us to let him go ``camping'' with us. We liked the lad, all right, but he was something of a momma's boy, and we were leery about subjecting him to the rigors of wilderness life and the discomforts of roughing it. We had said no, and then modified that to a ``maybe,'' and things came down until we ran out of excuses, and Link Tuttle finally said, ``Oh, let's take him along; he won't want to come again, anyway!'' Fenley was delighted when we told him we had counted him in. We told him to fetch a blanket, a poncho, and some dry socks, and we all dreaded his waking in the night with a great desire to be at home a-bed. We had visions of leading him out of the woods as he whimpered about the dark.

We met after school that Friday afternoon, divided our plunder so each boy would have about the same weight, and took up the usual collection for beefsteak. Top-o'-the-round was something like 20 cents a pound then, and with reflector-oven biscuits or corn bread, it went well with camp-fried potatoes and sundries. After all, we were about 13 or 14 and didn't need anything lavish. We gave the money to Fenley and told him to go buy the steaks. As soon as he came back we started for Hedgehog Mountain, by our devious route.

When we got the tent pitched, a fire going, and the flame had simmered to cooking embers, we opened the package of steaks and found Fenley had brought only bananas. It was a glum feast. We kept our heads turned away, and we said not a word. Our assumption always was that Fenly didn't get many bananas, and with ready coin at his disposal he got carried away. We all ate fried potatoes except Fenly. He dined on bananas, and with such pleasure we couldn't bear to deprive him. Later, he did come with us a few more times, but we never sent him for steaks again.

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