“I’ve got an idea, ” I told Jeremy. “We’ll build a nest. A huge one, way back in the woods in the top of a tree. And we’ll spend the night in it like giant birds.”
“OK, ” he said. He was my guest. What choice did he have?
I could think of no reason why it wouldn’t work. I imagined us in a soft mat of pine needles high in the tree canopy, gazing up at the stars.
My mother wasn’t worried about two 12 year olds pulling an all-nighter in the woods across the highway. When the Bay was windy and rough, I spent most of my time over there anyway. I’d even spent a night alone with my old dog, Joe.
It was late spring and already hot. But I knew we needed jeans and long-sleeved shirts and waterproof boots to go where I had in mind. A place I’d never been. As far back into the woods as we could get. Where I imagined no one had been since Indians. There was no telling what we’d find.
After lunch, I lent Jeremy some of my extra hunting boots. We each had a pocketknife, flashlight and sleeping bag. For food, we packed two cans of Vienna sausages, some crackers and a canteen of water. Then I snuck Dad’s machete out of the toolshed, and we raced for the trees.
We soon found ourselves in briar tangles that had us on all fours. Our boots filled with muddy water and our jeans got caked with mud. We crossed shallow ponds, wading through pitcher plants, in blackwater streaked with rainbows of strange marsh oil. Sweat dripped in our eyes and our boots sloshed hot and wet. But I was certain no one had ever gone so far. Not even Indians had made it into such a place.
After several hours we broke from the dense underbrush into some relatively open pines and cane.
“We made it, ” I said.
The sun was just slipping below the canopy when I found the perfect tree. A large pine had fallen and hung so that it rested at a 45-degree angle. It was just right to walk up and get into the top.
“Up there, ” I pointed. “Let’s start making the nest before it gets too dark.”
We spent an hour cutting and hauling pine limbs and cane up into the tree. As the frogs began to cheep, we carried up armloads of pine needles to cushion our nest.
The woods slipped into twilight, and I began to feel uneasy. I couldn’t stop studying the dark shadows falling around us. We decided the bird nest was complete and hauled our sleeping bags into the tree.
I felt better once we got off the ground to safety. Sweaty and proud, we relaxed and ate our Vienna sausages and crackers.
After dinner we lay on our backs and stared at the sky. The stars weren’t out yet, but the pine boughs rocked gently above us.
“We did it, ” I said. “A real bird nest.”
“Pretty cool, ” Jeremy said.
“Nobody’ll ever find it way back here.”
We lay there quietly, thinking about it all. But after a minute or two I heard a dog bark.
“Where’d that come from?” Jeremy asked.
I felt the back of my neck tingle. “I don’t know, ” I said. “Must be a wild dog.”
“Yeah, but they can’t climb, ” I assured him. “Nothing can get us up here.”
Darkness fell, and I trained my eyes on all the strange sounds pressing into us. There wasn’t much to do or talk about. I was nervous about moving or making any noise anyway.
The dog barked again. I sat up and looked behind us. I saw a light through the branches.
“Jeremy, ” I said. “I think I see a house.”
He sat up and looked. As we focused on the dense tangle of trees, we began to make out more lights. Then we heard a screen door slam.
“Somebody came outside, ” Jeremy said.
My scalp tingled. Our eyes stayed locked on the lights. Then one of the lights flickered a bluish color.
“What’s that?” I said.
Jeremy didn’t answer.
In few seconds, familiar music reached our ears.
“Sounds like ‘The Dukes of Hazzard, ’” I said.
“I think that’s your house, ” Jeremy said.
All of my fears dissolved instantly, replaced with an overwhelming sense of defeat.
“We didn’t go far at all, ” I said. “That’s my sister watchin’ ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’”
We both turned back and lay down again. Frogs cheeped. Cicadas buzzed. The stars still weren’t out.
“But we walked for hours, ” I said.
Jeremy didn’t answer me.
“You like ‘The Dukes of Hazzard?’” he finally asked.
“You wanna go watch?”
“If you do.”
I sat up. “I guess. It’s pretty hot up here, anyway.”
text by watt key • photo by Sherry stimpson frost