I was whistling (sort of) as I pranced through the woods, staff in my hand and my golden retriever Max at my side. Today's mission: deep forest exploration, following the creek back to the rear end of our property. Since we'd only lived out on the farm for a few years, and various events, insects, plants, and injuries kept interfering with my plans, I didn't quite have the whole woods mapped out yet.
...all right, all right, Maxie was sort of "at my side." He was more like "in my general vicinity," being only slightly less ADHD than I was at 12. (To be fair, I really haven't mellowed out with age, either.)
"Hey, Maxie, check this out!" I yelled, about fifty feet down the hill from the forest border.
Maxie wildly misinterpreted my command. There was the pattering of paws, followed by an ominous, one-second silence, followed by a mighty thud as airborne dog collided with the unaware kid holding the staff that the retriever wrongly considered to be his rightful property. We rolled down the hill, almost all the way to the creek, at which point I wrestled my errant buddy into submission (Max always did love a good romp) and retrieved my staff. "Not what I meant, Maxie!"
Max gave me a toothy grin from flat on his back, then licked my face.
"Ahh! Dude! I did not need a bath!" I yelped, leaping off of him.
Maxie regained his feet and cocked his head. I looked down at the mud covering me and sighed. "Okay, maybe I do, but this is totally your fault."
He sniffed my jeans before wandering off to the creek for a drink. I thought about joining him, but I remembered what he'd done the other day, upstream, and decided to pass. Ew.
"Come on, doofus. I gotta show you something," I tried again, trudging back up the hill. The dog followed my this time.
We made it to the tree that had caught my attention. It was a monster, probably thirty or forty feet tall, overlooking a steep drop off to the right. Down in the valley, I could see another tree; this one had collapsed, part of it sticking up at an angle from the ground. Must have had a y-branch thing going on...
Gotta be honest, I really only noticed all of that peripherally. What had my full attention was the vine arcing its way up into the branches in the top of the tree.
"I've so always wanted to swing on a vine," I confided in Max. He licked my hand in response and tore after a cat that had appeared in the undergrowth.
"Fine! Don't be adventurous!" I yelled after him, before reminding myself that dog paws weren't really meant for clinging to vines anyway. I yanked on the aforementioned creeper before discovering something interesting; the vine was firmly anchored to the ground.
Huh. I'd always thought that they grew down from the treetops and not up from the ground.
Oh well. I had this covered. I yanked out my pocketknife and set to work.
After ten minutes, I was in the middle of my sixteenth or seventeenth vow to sharpen my bloody knife when I finally cut all the way through. Wiping my slightly-sappy knife off on my jeans (they were a lost cause by now anyway), I closed it up and grabbed the vine firmly, yanking on it.
It held. Nice.
I jumped off the ground, wrapping my legs around it. It dipped slightly, the branches of the trees shaking...
It held. Wonderful!
I took a little test swing, arcing a ways out over the drop before swinging back the other direction.
It held. Awesome!
Time for some fun. I took a running start and hurtled out over the drop, yelling like a maniac. This was even more fun than the rope swing! Better yet, the tree was angled just enough so that there was little danger of me smacking straight into the trunk on my return, so I could swing freely. Life rarely worked out that well. I was beyond pleased, and forthwith claimed both the tree and the vine as my own personal property. My siblings would be so jealous!
(Note: we kids had a habit of laying claim to anything interesting that we found in the woods. For instance, I owned a whole island in the middle of the creek. Nemesis had another one, while Quill and Squirrel laid joint claim to the last. We each had our own special trees and literal tree houses, while I also had a sort of runoff cave that I was very jealously protective of. This would just be the latest acquisition.)
I scooted back up to the house and summoned anyone who would listen, refusing to impart my grand secret but demanding that they "come and see." The only ones who turned out were Nemesis and Quill, Squirrel being elsewhere. After looking askance at my clothes (and after five minutes of assuring them that my discovery was in no way--well, indirectly, anyway--related to my find), they agree to join me.
We marched out to the woods (I may have skipped) posthaste, where I triumphantly unveiled my find.
"I saw that the other day," Nemesis started.
I settled into a combat stance, staff at the ready. "But I set it up. Care to challenge?"
Given that I was the undisputed master of the quarterstaff, they had both forgotten to bring their staffs, and my staffs were lightyears stronger than any deadwood they would find on the ground (my secret shall follow me to the grave), they declined to challenge my claim.
"What are you gonna call it?" Quill asked.
Huh. "Um, haven't decided yet," I stammered. "Here--you gotta see this, though! It's amazing!"
I seized the vine, backed up, and took a running start, sailing over the drop.
I didn't hardly have time to register that I was suddenly going down, not up, when I slammed hard into that downed tree, wrapping up on the higher branch. Sudden loss of breath made me a little dizzy, but not quite as dizzy as the upper end of that damn vine smacking me in the back of the head, as if to emphasize the more crueler aspects of Murphy's Law.
I expected that my siblings would come to my aid--but as I peeled myself off the branch and fell in a heap on the ground, I realized that I'd apparently crashed harder than I'd thought. Of course my siblings wouldn't come to help; the official Midway Sibling Code stated that all brotherly or sisterly mishaps must be handled with uproarious laughter, since that was clearly the best medicine. (Our code didn't say whose medicine it was. In this instance, it clearly wasn't mine.)
Anyway, Quill and Nemesis were rolling down the hill, laughing so hard they weren't making any noise. I wished sourly that they'd end up in the creek (Midway Sibling Code, Paragraph 35: Karmic wishes were better than beating the tar out of each other, but the tar shall be held in reserve) before taking stock of my injuries. My left leg had impacted the lower branch, but since my legs were used to abuse of all sorts, nothing broke. I hoped irreverently that I'd at least get a decent bruise this time. I never had visible bruises, which was annoying.
My rib felt weird, though. I carefully rolled up my shirt to behold the massive swelling forming on my right side lower ribcage. Careful experimentation (I almost passed out) yielded the conclusion that I'd definitely cracked at least two of them. Well, guess that was why I was having trouble breathing.
Ugh. I picked myself up, kicked the vine resentfully, and walked slowly back up the hill to meet my siblings' incessant teasing about my "Tarzan-like" abilities (or lack thereof). The general consensus was that any career I had as a "professional jungle dude" was officially out. I managed to hide my injuries from Mom for about three days, at which point she walked in on me changing and saw my multicolored side. Needless to say, there was minor freaking.
Yeah, now I get a bruise. Yes, I do understand the irony.
...on the plus side, it was quite impressive.