This neighborhood fort is just around the corner from our house. I’ve been watching it this winter, as kids helped it take shape. I feel happy every time I notice a small addition or change. I grew up in a fort-building world.

My brothers and I grew up outdoors. Our home was surrounded by orchards and vineyards. Dad was always working nearby, or on a tractor within earshot. We learned to tag along and create our playgrounds where ever we were.

After pruning season in the spring, the orchards would be full of branches and the new growth that was pruned from the trees. Before Dad would shred everything, we’d build forts. We pretended we were Indians. Paul was always Daniel Boone. We made some fine cabins out of sticks–with 2 strong sticks stuck in the ground on each end of a wall so we could fill the space between them with sticks up as tall as we were. We’d form windows and doorways and roofs. We cleared areas for our cook fires, where we would plant two forked sticks into the ground with a branch across them to hold a pretend cooking pot. We played for hours builiding these forts.

Sometimes we even slept out in the orchard. I remember having my best friend, Donna over for an orchard slumber party. We slept in sleeping bags and made a camp fire. We felt like we were miles from home.

We also made forts in the junk shed. Dad’s junk shed was as big as a house and contained enough junk to build a house. There were shelves full of junk in every variety, shape and size–boards, pieces of tin, great rolls of wire, props, pallets, old tools, broken machinery, buckets, and wood, wood and more wood. I once made a fort up on top of the junk shed in a stack of rail road ties. I went up there to read. I kept my treasures there.

Grandpa’s big old shed nextdoor was a good place for forts too, but it was mostly filled with wooden grape trays, stacked from the floor to the ceiling. They were not safe to climb on, and we were not allowed. And there were lots of black widows there. We did explore a lot, though, in the barn and in Grandma’s chicken shed and wash house. Those places had old smells in them and lots of interesting old things from when my Dad was a boy.

I feel sad that most kids today don’t know what it’s like to build secret forts and return to them again and again. Or to watch a fort come down to make way for a tractor pulling a shredder. It’s a good thing to have a place of your own, built with your own hands, to escape to, even if just for a single day.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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