We filled our backpacks with rations for a two-day journey. Cheese sticks, flashlights, a ball of string, carrots to lure rabbits, a picnic blanket, Kipling’s Just So Stories (for me), a Barbie (for my sister) and Oreos. We called out farewell to our mother as we walked out the back door, through the wash room, down the stairs and across the back yard.
“Shush, Charlie!” we said to our golden lab who barked at us, his dark eyes grinning, tongue lolling out of his mouth and his creamy tail wagging, wishing he wasn’t tethered to the old magnolia tree. He could not come with us on this journey. He would scare away our game.
We had just studied Lewis and Clark and their trek across the country with Sacajawea. We had no Indian guide, but we figured we were just as good as the two men who wanted to seek out new places and an adventure. The grasses were hip-high to our five and seven-year-old selves, and it felt like twenty miles to the forest’s edge. We stopped halfway and ate part of our cheese sticks, proud we had the discipline to save the rest for dinner. After all, the Cheerios from breakfast were still full in our bellies.
Once we crossed the tree line, the harsh Alabama sun was blocked by a vast canopy of leaves, dappled and streaking in here and there. We swerved through young, thin trees for hours, heading for the creek that we had found last summer. We knew we needed water, having forgotten to bring anything to drink. We had also learned that if it was running, it would be clean. Cupping our small hands, we scooped chilled mouthfuls, the grittiness of the sandy bank crunching between our teeth. We drank our fill and decided to make camp for a while.
We found a large oak with its roots exposed and raised high above the ground. It was like a massive cage, the cracks just wide enough for our tiny bodies to fit through. We could find no better place to claim for shelter and squeezed in to sit beneath its protection. I wanted to make sure we would be safe beneath this tree so I looped the string through, round and round, in and out of every branch until we were even more caged in, a string web of safety to eat our Oreos and wait for rabbits in peace. We began setting about making rabbit traps, using the remaining string to tie to a stick box held up by another branch waiting to be pulled down and on top of a hungry rabbit. Surely this was learned by watching cartoons as we were without guns or foraging knowledge given by Sacajawea to Lewis and Clark.
Hours passed and we never caught anything, never even spotted a puffy white tail. I grew bored with my book and Hilary could only pretend for so long that Barbie was on a safari. Eventually we broke camp and headed back home, our bellies urging us towards hot dogs and macaroni and cheese promised to us for dinner. We packed everything up but left the string. It was too tangled to recover but we justified its abandon with the vow we would return the next day to resume our hunt. Months later the string would turn yellow, the roots stretching it out as their arms and fingers grew larger. Autumn rains weighed the twine down, becoming dirty from the elements until it looked like some foreign vine claiming a space among the tree’s roots.