It took quite a bit of effort, and more than a few stumbles, but I was finally able to scamper up the tree trunk. I did my best to avoid using the thoroughly rotted ladder made from 2-by-4 planks of wood nailed to the wide trunk. No telling how sturdy—or tetanus-filled—those are, I thought.
On reaching the first landing I gingerly reached out with my left foot and carefully shifted more and more of my weight onto the increasingly warped plywood. Ever since we spent that summer building it in middle school, the fort had always had a haphazard feel to it. The plywood, ranging in thickness dependent on how much we felt it needed, was hastily nailed together and spanned across three trees, forming an irregular triangle. Opposite the ladder, a narrow ‘bridge’ (if you can call it that) stretched across to another platform about ten feet away. Now standing on the decrepit landing, I found it incredible that our parents had ever let us hang out here—then again, it had been a strictly ‘adult-free’ establishment.
Bits and pieces of broken wood was scattered across the landing. Looking up I saw that the make-shift plywood roof had caved in. If weather and rain could do that, what the hell am I doing standing on this thing? I worried. Despite any structural short-comings, we had thought this fort would last forever. We had built the rural Michigan equivalent of the Great Wall. I sighed as I witnessed the toll of Time on the impregnable fortress of my childhood.
But then a thought came to me, it’s still here. The fort may have grown more and more fragile with time, but it remained standing—at least strong enough for an idiot like me to reminisce upon its landing. What’s more; the fragility had come with a renewed sense of how precious this spot was. Like an ancient ruin, it held the mystique power of a bygone era. How much time had we spent playing capture the flag in these woods? Or using shovels (our parents wouldn’t give us axes) to chop down trees and build a BMX course?
This is where I kissed Jill! I suddenly remembered. My first kiss. So tenuously was that memory dangling in my mind. Like the fort, it too had become mossy and indistinct with time. The memories we made up in the trees flooded back to me. They had a rustic, aged feel like the ladder and landing. I was afraid to focus too intensely on any one in particular for fear of fall through its rotted floor. But inevitably, each memory came back to me in time: fragile yet with the same immutably precious feeling as the plywood I stood on.
It was a long time before I was ready to climb down—partly from fear of falling. Alas, the sun was setting and the darkness of night was spreading quickly throughout the forest. Carefully making my way down the ladder, I was filled with nostalgia and contentment. As I walked out of the forest, I turned one last time to look back at the fort and gaze into my past. You’re not going anywhere, are you, ol’ buddy? I smiled.