The Woods

The Woods


Sometimes it’s not what you actually do that matters at all; but rather in the final analysis it’s the cover story you come up with that really counts.

In stark contrast to our summer home beach surroundings, the environment around our winter home was a juxtaposition of housing developments abutting tertiary-forest woods. There were large tracts of undeveloped land, some of which surrounded lakes that were protected as part of the New York City watershed and were off limits to the general public. We lived near one of these large reservoirs that still had an open spray aeration system with a concrete infield that attracted sightseers to its magnificent beauty in the daylight while serving as a lover’s lane after dark. It was like a Drive-In Yosemite Park with dozens of Old Faithful geysers.

All the protected areas were marked with No Trespassing signs, but the tracts were so extensive, they were impossible to completely fence. They were laced with wheel-rutted dirt roads for the Rangers to ride trucks over when they went out on one of their rare patrols. The primary goal was to catch and to stop anyone who might sabotage or pollute the Big City’s water supply.

However because the woods quietly beckoned my friends and me to explore its private uncharted domain, we simply ignored the prohibitive warnings and potential punitive consequences by tromping around in them on almost every day when had nothing else to do. We hardly ever saw a warden or a ranger, or if we did, we could hear the truck coming in enough time to scatter and hide until he passed by.

Pretending to hunt big game with our BB guns, we trekked around, usually steering clear of the lake edges, where the rangers had relatively clear panoramic views, and although being sorely tempted, we never tried to go fishing. We did however make campfires because we liked to think of ourselves as wild he-men explorers, but in retrospect the habit was probably not too smart regarding the potential risk of starting a forest fire.

At this time I was still friendly with Eddy and Timmy, making it usually the three of us who tromped around together. In fact on the day Timmy shoplifted some cigarettes it was by one of our campfires where I enjoyed my first smoke. I nearly gagged and then chewed about two packs of shoplifted gum in fear my mother might smell it on me later, never trying another smoke until I went to a college located in a tobacco city where they practically gave the things away for free.

Johnny, another boy of contemporary age or a little older who frequently hung out with us, lived next door to Timmy. Sometimes we tried to avoid him because as well as being a little slow on the intellectual side or possibly even suffering mild mental retardation, he also had epilepsy which was not well controlled. This subjected him to frequent seizures which were usually precipitated by stress, a fact that made his teachers learn the hard way never to call on him in class.

He practically lived in a tree behind his house such that when we rang his doorbell his mother would typically shrug and say she did not know where he was. We would then simply go in the back to call for him up in the branches. His mother did not seem to care at all that he could seize, or fall out of the tree and risk a very serious cranial perch, which made her casual diffidence seem to convey that she had long ago given up on him.

On one particular day Timmy, Eddy, Johnny and I were out in the woods sitting around our campfire when we were completely surprised by a Ranger who had become aware we were there and had managed to sneak up on us.

  • Stand still. Don’t move you boys. You’re under arrest for trespassing and arson.

We were four very frightened little woodsmen leaving me with an instant sickening vision of begin locked in a cell and never seeing my room again or maybe being shipped off to reform school like some other bad kids I knew. How was I ever going to explain this one to parents who already said on numerous occasions that if I ever went to jail they would simply leave me there?

How was I going to explain to the Ranger that I really was a good boy and not a common criminal?

However while I was in the throes of despair, the unexpected excitement triggered one of Johnny’s seizures, something I had never seen before and it seemed that neither had the Ranger. It was spectacularly scary as Johnny fell to the ground, foamed at the mouth; stopped breathing, turned blue, twitching and writhing while at the same time the Ranger stood frozen in his tracks, stopped breathing himself and with his mouth agape started to turn the same grayish pasty white color as Johnny.

I thought Johnny was dying, but Timmy apparently had some prior experience with his friend and grabbed a twig to put in Johnny’s mouth. He said:

  • Help, help. We can’t let him swallow his tongue.

The Ranger then came out of his catatonic stupor and began to help too, but it seemed like an eternity before the spasms stopped as Johnny started to breathe again while cheerful pink coloration flowed back into his cheeks. 

When the dust finally settled over this post-ictal scenario and everything was under control, the Ranger told us to get the hell out of there and “never come back.” I don’t think he wanted any part of having to be responsible for Johnny’s health or lack thereof, or having to deal with any complicated paperwork, or worse a potential repeat performance down at the police station.

We scattered like pigeons fleeing an open coop and waited at least another week before we recouped our nerves, then of course went back into the woods. 

After that, any time we did trespass, we always asked Johnny to come along, making a pact that if the Ranger ever did catch us again that we would run like hell in three different directions but leave Johnny behind as a distraction.



Epileptic neural pathway

Photo © Pfizer



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