Saturday, November 16, 2013

Life Underground

When I was a kid I lived in a neighborhood that overlooked a lake, and when we had nothing to do my friends and I would sometimes go down the hill to its far end, where there was nothing much but woods, and hunt for newts or tadpoles in the little stagnant pond that collected in the shadows just across the road. Trout-lilies and wild leeks grew around its edges, and there were trails that led off to places known and unknown.

Just up the road a group of older boys had excavated trenches twenty yards or so back in the woods, covered them with old doors and cast-off plywood, then concealed them under branches, dirt, and leaves, forming a network of winding subterranean passages we were strictly forbidden by our parents to play in, for fear that a cave-in might bury us alive. Naturally we disobeyed a little, and crawled darkly through, inhaling the smell of cool, raw earth. There wasn't much in the tunnels — a stray armored beetle that had fallen in was about all — and I don't remember ever seeing the older boys using them, but they exerted a fascination nonetheless, as if they stood ready for some unspecified but promising future use. It was the height of the Cold War, and people were going underground, digging fallout shelters, tunneling under the Berlin Wall, looking for places to hide. The trenches must have filled in long ago.

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