Calling All Beach Urchins

The interior framework of bushes is inspected and judged for its suitability to act as a fort.

That’s a quote from a book I’m reading. When I have time to read it, that is. Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. I know exactly what it means. Do you?

  • There was a clump of cedar trees down by the pond that did form what looked like actual rooms. It was right above where Pete’s gazebo is now. In fact, I think it’s still there, although maybe unrecognizable after all these years.
  • In front of our cabin was a triangle fort. The sides of the triangle were formed by several large, ancient decaying logs with various species of moss and other things growing on them. The points were defined by three young pine trees. I can’t find the triangle fort anymore.
  • The old log pile outside the old cabin was most often used as a train, if I remember right. There were “seats” carved into it. We hung out on and around that train for a whole afternoon once, waiting for Grandroobly to bring home the puppy we very quickly named Tigger. The log pile is gone now. (Right?)

We had many other forts that I either can’t remember or can’t adequately describe. And then there were all the hydro-engineering projects down at the pond and the forts we built on the beach out of the pulp logs that used to float in. We stacked those logs higher than our heads, without fastening them together with anything, but I don’t ever remember them collapsing, even when we climbed on them.

I still sometimes look at the woods in a similar way. A few years ago, the path in the little woods behind my house became obstructed by a big tree deadfall. The Ann Arbor Public School District, in its infinitely superior wisdom, saw no reason to remove the obstruction. It was certainly physically possible for me to climb over that mess but I got tired of doing that, especially when it was wet and/or slippery. So, I found an alternate route through the middle of the woods. I identified the entrance to my path by a particular configuration of twig-sized branches on a little sapling. It was my “door” and that’s what I called it. To myself. I figured anyone else might think I was nuts. Eventually, the GG went out there and committed chainsaw massacre to clear the regular path once again. But I still see my door every day.

Beach urchins of all ages, what forts did you have and what other beach games do you remember? Rum Runner and Coast Guard anyone? And “beach urchin” is to be taken VERY loosely. Anyone who reads this is very welcome to comment about their own childhood haunts. I know the Courtois family kids and others have probably had some similar experiences.

11 Responses to “Calling All Beach Urchins”

  1. Webmomster Says:

    Hm. I recall “The Lakehouse” (what is now known as Blue Lake Estates, Meredith, MI).

    Down at the shoreline – it wasn’t a fort, per se. But there was a birch tree with roots that had been undercut by the water, so that the roots formed a sort of “dome”, shall I say? And one day, while I was studying (at the age of “early grade school”) the teensy bit of “beach” we had, I noticed a sunfish hiding in that set of tree roots. All that summer, everytime we were up there, I’d go to our “beach” and either find that sunfish under the roots, or pat the water and that sunfish would actually come to me and let me “tickle” its belly!!

    I have no real memories of “forts” or such, otherwise. It was always just my brother & me – I never got to know the folks around us, as we’d be there for a night or two, then back home. Never really got to explore, as too much of that area was already “owned” in the White People’s sense…

  2. Jay and Rey Says:

    The log forts and the cedars of the pond came to mind first. But Jim and I had a place back along the old road – to the swamp side of the fox holes. It had a moss floor surrounded by ferns.
    In A2 there was a remenent of a dump of some sort on the west side of Crest, across from the Slauson football field. We used to explore the voids between chunks of concrete that formed the base of the forest at that time. I don’t know if Mom really knew where we were, but she always commented on the smell of my clothes when I returned.

  3. Isa Says:

    remember the fort dad ‘built” for us in the back corner of the woods by 812? when we were in first grade, mouse, lizzy, molly, matthew and i made a wonderful fort by squashing down a small section of those break ferns in the woods… i think we thought we were invisible until the day the grumpy growler scared us of our skins…

  4. Sandy Says:

    Not really a fort, but I remember playing for long periods of time by big tree roots outside the kitchen of the old cabin. Little cars drove everywhere, had parking places, etc. I, too, am amazed that none of us had any injuries building or using the pulp log forts. Great memories!!

  5. Pooh Says:

    I remember playing in the bracken fern next to Don and Katy’s cabin. For some reason they seemed bigger than the ones near our cabin – big enough to sit under, if you were a small beach urchin. This was before the garage was put in. There was some place between the old cabin and Jack and Fran’s where I remember going when I was in a snit — maybe that is the triangle fort Anne described.

    I also remember the Crest hillside “dump” Jay mentioned, and the “Indian Trails” on the South slope of the Slauson football field. We also used to ramble around in some old orchards further west, which were later developed into the properties near the park, is it Virginia Park? I’ve temporarily misplaced the name – but the Park where we discovered that teeter-tottering w/ Jane required more finesse due to the greater discrepancy in her mass and her older sisters’ mass! And a 10 from the Russian judge on that back flip dismount. Sorry Jane!

    And in Grand Rapids, w/ its lake effect snow, we used to build snow forts.

  6. gg Says:

    We hung out in the swamp at Houghton Lake. Some of the best fun was hunting each other with BB guns.

  7. Isa Says:

    leave it ti my dad to ice the cake…

    …needless to reiterate, i missed out on so much, not being born.

  8. joanny Says:

    When I was little, our dad, “Gumper”, bought rocks for the beach at Houghton Lake, and a truckload of sand. My older siblings confiscated our plastic pools for rooftops, and built walls of sand, and I felt like the tunnels went on forever. That was the best ‘group effort” fort at Houghton Lake. A lot of the neighbor kids cam over, and I think greg and Jeff were there too. The swamp was always fun to go wandering around in. That was where the GG shot his first dinosaur……. ( he and his other half put coins in trees, and shot at them… one had a dinosaur on it ). I used to catch frogs in there, and put them in the minnow buckets. Sometime GG would set up pools for me and we would fill them with frogs, salamanders or minnows, and let them all go after dinner. Some of my best times at Houghton Lake were when the GG took me places and did things with me…. even after I grew up. I miss that.

    Back in Royal Oak, the lilac trees on Vinsetta Blvd. went on forever. Nobody could see us in there. Sometimes an older kid would come along and tell us to get out of “their spot.” Occasionally you would wake up a bum sleeping in there. There was the “Twisted Tree” (crabapple) that you could climb up, that even had a “seat” in it. If you were quick you got to the seat first. You could meet your friends after school at the twisted tree, or just sit a half dozen or so of us up in there, and talk all day, play pretend…. and just waste a whole day up a tree……… The old man across the street didn’t want us in it after awhile, and slathered vasoline all over the spots we used to climb on, and eventually, he cut our favorite branches off….. so we sat on the ground under it anyway. The flowers in the spring were pretty sitting up in there. It was sad one year to see the tree gone, and somebody cut back all the lilacs, and now most of them are just gone.

    On Woodsboro Dr., the Hendersons had a cedar bush by the sidewalk just where our properties met. I used to climb up in there until just your head stuck out the top. Nobody knew if you were in there either, until mom called out the front door, and said “come out of there, it’s time for dinner.” She knew….. Our dad had a pile of dirt in the corner of the back yard on Woodsboro Dr., where Jimmy and Scott Henderson would drive trucks and cars, dig holes….. my and nancy used to sit there under the tree on hot days… it was cooler there. Those were the days, where a kid could play for hours on a pile of dirt, and be happy. The back porch of Woodsboro house had all those desks with the flip tops and inkwells. A few blankets on those, and me and Suzie could fit a lot of friends in there. I still have 2 of those desks.

  9. Dan Says:

    As a kid we had several places to go hang out. When i was in latchkey, me and my friends would hop over the low stone wall on one side of the playground, and on the other side was a strip of undeveloped land between the school and the auto repair lot next door. It was only 15 feet wide but ran the entire length of the playground. It was filled with High grass and bushes and small trees, and we would cut twistin paths in there, and hide from the older kids and the counselers, or hang out in the large opening under a particularly large size honey suckle tree. for a couple of years there was even a Mulberry bush back there. We also had a “gross Jar” which was a good sized jar we found intact and with the lid, that we would pour in a little bit of any liquid we found back there from the myriad of garbage. Things like soda, beer, cool aid, motor oil, gasoline, and anything else we might think to find. We also once found hypodermic needles before we could understand what those were, and were completely bewildered at the way the counselers freaked out at our find. Later when i got a little older i would walk along the network of storm drains that criss-cross their way through the area, although by that point i knew not to touch what i would find, but you had to be careful, if it rained even a little you had to get out of the storm drains as fast as you could because they would rapidly begin to fill, and it was fast moving not to mention filthy water.

    As far as the cabin though, when we were younger i remember the 2 creeks (back when they still flowed pretty constantly,) were the place to spend afternoons, building and destroying a network of canals and damns, or catching frogs.

  10. jane Says:

    First – Pooh, I forgive you for the teeter-totter “dismount” incident at Virginia Park. That, combined with oh so many other physical ‘opportunities’ over the years! I often wonder how the heck I surivived my childhood with nary a broken bone or stitch. Sure, a few concusions, but who’s counting.

    And on to forts – Lisa, Otto and I played in the cedar fort at the creek tons! We had whole story lines that would span the entire summer. And I also remember the fox holes on the path thru the woods to Doelle’s — they were definitely big enough to hide in for the littlest G3. But the ‘big’ log fort between Jack and Don’s was also great — that’s where Jimbo gave me my first taste of root beer.

    Anyone else ever climb up a big pine tree half way to Doelle’s and sit in the v-shaped ‘seat’? I have no idea who built it. Seems like a Mac and Mike project – definitely would take big kids. I think a few planks are still up there…. hmmm, perhaps next summer I’ll see if I still have any tree climbing skills.

    Jay – do you remember one time when we had a huge snow storm and we walked over to Sherry’s house? We went across 7th and carved out a snow fort in the drifts! Ah yes, the halcyon days of a youthful tag-along. 😉

  11. kayak woman Says:

    This is a bit off-topic because it’s about a recurrent dream that I used to have. I think the foxholes made me think of it although the dream happened earlier in my life than the foxholes. Anyway, I used to dream that there was an underground tunnel from about the Three Sisters to Doelle’s. It had elements of that double-ended closet in Grandma’s house that ran between the kitchen and the hall. I don’t remember that you could actually walk through it though (the closet, not the tunnel). Maybe that’s why it was so intriguing. Also the door leading into it (the tunnel, not the closet) that I think I got from an old elevator in a store somewhere in Siberia, Cowan’s maybe? One of those collapsing grids, not unlike those old baby gates that they don’t sell anymore because they’re dangerous.