Call of the Wild

***I want you all to know that if any of you ever, EVER, needs someone to put you down when you become a zombie, I’m here for you.***

I grew up on the edge of a national park in southern California. It was one of the few saving graces in what I perceived to be a nearly untenable childhood. But what child doesn’t think they’ve got it rough? Ah, but I was different. I (thought I) was smarter than my mother and grandparents, and so felt compelled to test every possible boundary with them as often as I could. The few parents who read my ramblings know what a joy that process is. Now imagine that it starts with your kids at age 7-8 years old.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, my parents decided to give each other some space when I was too young to remember anything. And by space, I mean opposite ends of the continent…indefinitely. My mother, who shall hereafter be referred to as “my mother”, was more than a little bit of a free spirit, and saw the addition of a life that needed constant caring for as an imposition. However, she did see the benefits in having a living fetching machine, channel changer (back when you had to get up and walk 2-3 feet to watch something different), butler, gardener and pet sitter (for when she decided it was time to dash off on one of her impromptu adventures). Add to this the tendency to remind me of how much of a hindrance I was to her social life and you start to get a picture of my growing need to pee on the electric fence that was my life.

Because my mother enjoyed such a carefree view of her world, it fell upon her parents to not only support her whimsical jaunt through her candy-colored life, but also to raise her children (my brother-from-the-same-mother and I). My grandparents likely never imagined finishing their own immediate voyage as co-captains of the USS Parenthood, only to find that the near-derelict PT-boats following them would require full-time management as well. As can be expected when you’re called back to active duty from a well-deserved retirement, there was some resistance, felt most keenly by the apparent deck-hands, my brother and I (why I’ve gone all naval on this is as much of a mystery to me as it is to you).

As we were pressed into on-going service as Pine Needle Inventory Specialists, Tree & Shrub Surgical Technicians, Weed Recon & Assault team members and the dreaded secret missions (just follow me and do what I tell you to do), tensions began to rise. With no visible end to our indentured servitude, my brother and I began to practice the fine arts of invisibility and teleportation. If you needed us for something, you’d better have a good set of hidden-kid goggles or an imaginary prize that we would be willing to break cover for. Otherwise, we would slip out and maybe leave a note as to where we might be found if anyone wanted to make the effort to find us. That’s when we’d get into the most trouble. Wait, scratch that. Since I was the older of the two of us, that was when I would get into the most trouble and he would be deemed the gullible “baby” along for the ride.

Here’s partial list of the atrocities that ensued:

  • Accidentally set an abandoned house on fire while playing “put the matches out on a shredded mattress”.
  • Enticed an entire nation of bees to pursue my brother when I convinced him to advance on it as I threw rotten oranges at the hive.
  • Convinced him to smoke fruit wraps while I tried not to laugh myself to death.
  • Taught him how to fly like Superman from a rope swing, and break bones (his own) like an osteogenesis imperfecta patient.
  • Lured him deep into an abandoned mine shaft (in earthquake country) then turned the flashlight off and ran for the exit without him.
  • Locked him out of the bathroom until he wet himself.

Yes, I was a mischievous scamp. I don’t think I genuinely meant any harm, I just wanted to see what I could and could not get my brother to do. It’s no great surprise that we’re not on cordial terms today.

My great refuge, my secret lair, was the mountains of the national park behind our house. Many hidden locations around that park (and a few obvious ones to emerge from when someone was about to go into a meltdown trying to find me) were my escape from reality. There were remote crawdad ponds secluded beyond Indiana Jones style obstacles; there were serene little valleys with deer (and the occasional bobcat, it turns out); a giant tree with a rope swing next to an abandoned water reservoir (where the aforementioned Superman training ensued); and peaks where you could sit and squint through the smog at the city all laid out at your feet.

My journeys into that magical world included many specimen retrievals (typically snakes, lizards and frogs) that would wind up as escaped POWs in and around the house. That tended to go over like a turd in the punchbowl with my mother, and she would demand that these hapless souls be recaptured and “dealt with”. Hey, if these critters were smart enough to escape confinement and avoid the perils of whichever random dog or cat my mother had snatched up off the street as “hers”, who was I to force them back into prison?

Sometimes I just liked to find a nice quiet glade and run around like a crazy person until I got tired. During one such chaotic solo-stampede, I decided it would be a good idea to climb as high up the mountain as fast as I could. In the course of scrambling up the rocks in the ravine I was in, I nearly had an adolescent heart attack. My hand had been about to lodge in a convenient nook in the rock above me, when I heard the sound that all hikers and climbers know, even if they’ve never heard it before: a rattlesnake buzz. Sometimes clever non-venomous snakes will imitate this noise by vibrating the tips of their unadorned tails in dry leaves or brush, but there is no mistaking that angry buzz from a real rattler.

Time seemed to slow to a near stop, and I found myself simultaneously mouthing “NNNNNNNOOOOOOOO!” and pushing back off the rock with my other hand. Fortunately for me, the snake really just wanted to nap in his warm hidey-hole and didn’t bother to follow me down the mountain. It’s a good thing for him, as I tumbled headlong over rocks and bushes, through tumbleweeds and sage and landed in a scratched, dirty and sweaty pile of flesh a good ten yards away. I learned a valuable lesson that day: look where you want to jam your hand or it might mean getting all bashed up (a lesson that served me well in my early dating years as well).  But the best part of this story is…wait for it…I was naked. Seriously. Try explaining why your body is all cut, scratched and bleeding, but your clothes are untouched. “A freak dust-devil tore my clothes off and scuffed me up,” doesn’t work. Believe me.

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One Comment on “Call of the Wild”

  1. Dad Says:

    Kev, there are times when you really scare me, but now I’m FREAKED OUT! Have you been to counseling? Why not? I’m not sure I want to find out what you were up to when MY kid-finder focus was OC-P. Love, ya anyway.


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