Tag Archive: camping


“Bring up Tank!  Come on, hurry up there!”

I hurried at a run, my two guys behind me, ignoring the flames running up and down my legs.  The squad leader, a youth of about fifteen, stood silhouetted in the darkness of the woods beyond which lay a street light on a road.

I was dressed in shorts – not a wise choice for this kind of mission, but it was what I had been given: shorts and a tee shirt.  My half torn old tennis shoes flopped, one sole half torn lose.  I was steaming hot yet soaked to the bone.

“Tank!  Hurry up!  We need you!”  The squad leader didn’t bother to hide his impatience to get going.

I redoubled my efforts, my girth hampering me some.  I had grown during my years here – mostly around.  The briars and nettles raked me – it was impossible to see them, except when we’d cross the occasional field under a spotlight moon half hidden most of the time by darting clouds.  It felt like it would storm again at any time.

“Where’ve you been?”, he asked, crouching as I came nearer.  A few other guys – kids my age – were crouched down around him.

“I had to pee – and we had to finish setting up the deadfall.  Remember?” I told him with a bit of anger in my voice.  We had set the latrine up as a trap – a pit someone might fall into if they came scrambling over a certain log, and if they missed that there was the deadfall to get them.  Or so we hoped.  Everyone was certain our camp would be raided again tonight; they always did, those raiders like us: other kids who were being trained in the guerrilla art-form of warfare.  But we wouldn’t be there – instead, we would be out raiding them, at their camp.  Or so we hoped.

Our fearless Leader had come up with this: the idea of an early offense, striking earlier than was anticipated, and thereby hopefully taking out their camp while they were there – beating up a few kids (maybe), striking many with the sticks we held in our hands.  Nobody was allowed to actually do anything – the use of knives or guns of any kind was strictly prohibited.  Injuries were to be kept to a minimum.  However, our boobytraps – some of those could be quite deadly, if you were foolish enough to get caught in them.

This was while we were overseas, at a camp – I don’t know, some military camp around there, over in the Eastern part of Bavaria.  We were always moving around, and this was a larger camp I’d found myself – there were plenty of amenities and plenty of woods for the G.I.’s – and us – to ‘play’ in.

“You, Tank – you take the lead,” the squad leader said, pointing his finger at me.  The other boys smiled and nodded vigorously while my heart sunk.  I hated going first sometime.  First was always a precarious position – and they were using me as their ‘Tank’ – someone to take the lead, pushing through all the nettles, briars, and bushes – busting a trail while running, not knowing when someone (or something) might take offense to your actions.  But that was what I was known for: my toughness, ability to stand pain.  I could pick a path out through the dark before I was ten and I never got lost.  If I knew where the target was (or home was) I could keep on going (albeit in a straight line) until I got there.

They depended a lot on this unfailing quality about me.  I could guide them to our campsite in the dark – and I could take them through the brush to the enemy.  (This quality was to come in quite handy – and profitably! – when I entered the Corps – escorting Marines through the brush to the theatres.)

We crept slowly up the hill – me sensing more than seeing the paths ahead.  I had been practicing my Indian walking for a long time – about two years, ever since I’d studied it at about age eleven.  My tennis shoes, worn as they were, offered a hope of feeling a branch before I crunched down on it.  I could ‘see’ in the dark rather well compared to some of my peers (a quality I regret to say has been going with age).  I was a good leader.

And I made a good tank in the woods.

Bursting forth with a run, I ran screaming and waving my club through the last dozen feet of woods.  There, in front of us (my legs still burning from the nettles) sat our startled enemy – sitting down, cans out, food half eaten by a small fire who’s light I’d seen.  Behind me, through the hole I’d carved – I’d intentionally went through the thickest set of bushes, figuring they wouldn’t set any boobytraps in there – poured the rest of my squad, the leader behind them, taking up the tail.  With a bunch of Indian screams we ran around, punching in the tents and snapping some of the poles with our clubs.  The kids, startled, jumped up screaming and ran helter-skelter through the woods – I watched as one of them got caught up in his own trap – a net that swung up from the ground and bore him aloft – all the while raising my club and screaming and shouting . . .

It was great, and it was fun

but I’ll never forget how my bare legs would burn and burn for hours to come . . . the deflation after victory, the long march back home . . .

marching through the nettles, to the place we called home
for now.

Castles In The Sand

Castles In The Sand

While we were overseas one summer in Europe, my parents decided to take the Green Eggs and Ham down to Spain for an extended stay on the beach. Rattling our way through Luxembourg and France, we avoided most of the major cities, sticking to back roads and small towns. Trickling down through high Alps, then across the rolling Spanish hills, we found ourselves at a large Spanish campground located on the Mediterranean.

The countryside was poor by American and Northern European standards, but rich in diversity. Ancient architecture, grand cathedrals, and Roman aqueducts competed with woman hauling buckets and baskets full of straw, rough paved roads and low slung rows of dirt colored buildings. Colors were either extremely bright or earthen, depending on whether you were looking at the people’s clothing or the houses they lived in.

The campground we found ourselves in abutted the Mediterranean shoreline, and was filled with a mix of gaudy tents (folks from Germany and France), mid-sized shelters, and lastly us in our ghastly green VW camper with its bright yellow bumpers. Pitching the Army pup tent outside, we settled in for a protracted stay.

I spent the first few days turning red as a lobster, then the remainder of the week shedding my skin. I’ll never forget the extant of that sunburn – how my shoulders and back were covered in huge blisters, how the tears would run down my face as my mom applied the “standard cure” – a sponge bath with cooling vinegar, which would leave me stinking and reeking for hours on end. This was long before the advent of sun-block, and before they made the connection between sunburn and cancer.

We lived simply, feasting on sandwiches and hot dogs and sampling the local fare. Most of our cooking was done next to the van on an old Coleman stove – an explosive affair, given to unequal scorching and bits of raw meat. But eventually my mom mastered the thing, allowing us boys to “pump up” the tank, and producing reasonably fried eggs in the morning and hamburger based meals in the evening. During one of our forays across this foreign land we slipped into the local restaurant where, gathering my courage, I tried what was to become one of my most favorite of seafoods – fried calamari. After a single bite I was hooked.

It was strange, yet beautiful, living there in the sand beneath the trees. We didn’t have anyone to talk to except ourselves – I didn’t know a lick of Spanish – and the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean beckoned just beyond the edge of the campsite. One thing I didn’t like about the Mediterranean was that it sometimes smelled like sewage, especially near a breakwater that had been erected near the far end. I suppose this was due to the practice of releasing untreated sewage into the ocean. Even as a kid I knew this was bad, and we tended to stay away from that particular part of the ocean. But the water – bluer than the Atlantic, with gentle crashing waves – called me from morning until night, and I found myself staying on the beach, day after day, diving through the surf and riding the rolling swells. I turned brown – a deep brown which reminded me of my days in the ‘hood, and lost some weight, trading in my fat for some muscle.

It was during our last week while I was there, sitting in the sand on the beach while struggling to build a sandcastle, that I met her.

She was a small Spanish girl with skin the color of aged bronze, and long black hair that fell down her back in curling locks. She was a few years younger than I, with thick black lashes and big expressive eyes, and she squatted next to me, watching what I was doing. Having no “beach toys”, not even a plastic shovel, I was scooping up handfuls of sand and clumsily attempting to form an outer ring of walls. She would look at me, look at my hands, then look at my ragged construction as though it was something to be pitied. And then she showed me a better way.

Without a word, she began to dig, forming a shallow hole. Unable to speak a single word of Spanish – and she evidently knew no English – I settled back to watch, curious as to why this girl had chosen me, my place, to dig a hole. Glancing up at me from beneath her eyebrows, she waited until water began to seep into the hole, then she began dipping her hand into the water, stirring it around. I watched as she withdrew her hand, the water sheeting from her fingertips in a shimmering cascade, and then she did something amazing.

Pulling out dips of mud, she began “pouring” a sandcastle. Letting the mud flow along her graceful brown fingertips, she showed me how to make a drip” or “dribble” castle” – one in which you let the mud flow out of your hand – soupy and thin – and wherever it would land, it would start to build up. One by one she constructed miniature minarets, graceful towers, and moving her hand back and forth in a steady line, built a connecting wall. Encouraging me with her other hand, she guided my clumsy movements until I, too, began trickling sand in the appropriate fashion, learning the proper consistency of sand and water to make these marvelous tool-free creations grow. And after that I was hooked.

We met each day at the same time and place – I don’t recall a word ever being spoken between us – letting our love of building sandcastles bind us together. She couldn’t talk to me, nor I her, yet we did not let this barrier to our communication stop us. Silently we would work – her smiling when she saw me (for it seemed I was always the first one on the beach) – and me smiling back as she ambled over across the hot sand, my heart warming at the sight of her. Yes – she was much younger – perhaps eight or nine? – and I was thirteen, but after what she had shown me, I knew but did not feel any disparity in age. She was teaching me something – and something more than just building sandcastles – for I grew quite fond of her presence there at the beach, teaching me, guiding my hands, and sometimes softly laughing at my failed attempts. We worked together constantly, sometimes for hours on that beach, listening to the waves crash and silently enjoying each other’s company under the blue sky and blazing sun.

Since then I’ve sometimes wondered about that little girl who taught me so much; what happened to her, how I may of affected her life – for she surely affected mine. I learned that it doesn’t take words to form a relationship; that nationality and ethnic background makes no difference when it comes to certain things. Forming a common goal, and working towards a single creation has more to do with life and loving than anything such as words can describe; she taught that to me, as well as teaching me to build sandcastles using nothing except my hands.

As a result, when I go to the beach, I build sandcastles – even to this day – in the way that that little girl taught me. (I wonder if she’d be surprised to know how highly I regarded her, our relationship – and that I still build sandcastles now, here some thirty-seven years later.) I’ve since learned to construct bridges and and balconies, and using my hand to support thin arches of sand, make those famous flying buttresses I had seen in Europe. People come from all over the beach to take pictures of my four foot high towers, the sweeping turns, the miniature minarets; kids wander about amazed, peering down into the hollow towers, wandering around the mud formed walls. And all the while in my mind I’m taken back to those days on the Mediterranean, building sandcastles in the sand – with a little girl beside me, showing me the way.