Getting away to play
The Gullies easily garnered top honors as the main attraction at my childhood home. We lived on a 110 acre hog farm in West Tennessee. Neighbors dared not lay a foundation or park a trailer any closer than a mile away. Our farm was home to about 3000 hogs at a time.
Our land included a full size baseball field, a horse pasture, three-wheeler track, two lagoons, one pond, about 20 acres of bottom (swamp) land, a two floor tree house, an old smokehouse, two residences, three hundred foot long buildings, and trails galore. But when my friends came to visit, our primary destination was the gullies.
Playing in these red clay canyons about 20-30 feet deep required “gully clothes.” For me, this usually meant old tennis shoes, old jeans, old sweatshirts, and old t-shirts as specially designated “gully clothes.” Under the watchful eye of my mother, my friends and I would set off down the field road, across the garden, and disappear into the woods and down the trail. About 100 yards into the forest, well insulated from the civilized world, we entered the enchanted gully zone. Typically, we would climb around the top of the canyons clinging to tree roots, scaling around in rappelling like fashion. After a few falls and maybe a snake encounter, we headed to the “Grand Canyon.”
This gully served as our headquarters. From here, we could spy on imaginary enemies or dig out caves in the mix of red clay and sand. On more than one occasion, a friend of mine fell over the side of the “Grand Canyon” and got the wind knocked out of him. We, of course, thought he was dead or at least dying. After a tearful resuscitation, we would swear off dangerous risk taking and pledge our friendship forevermore. Then, we would proceed to do something equally as dangerous.
Over the years, we had encounters with snakes, giant turtles, coyotes, and wild dogs. It is hard to know the actual size or danger of our encounters, but from the recesses of my eight or nine year old memories, they were monstrous. As I sit in our spacious suburban home on a Saturday afternoon, I realize how sanitized and safe my son’s life is. Sure, we camp and hike and walk the greenbelt in our neighborhood. He has roamed free on his great grandparents’ 5 acres in Oklahoma and also on his grandparents 5 acres at the edge of a small town in Tennessee. He also rides the 4 wheeler on an 84 acre farm that has been in our family since the 1890’s. But, there are no gullies to disappear into for hours.
I think I would like to go play in the gullies this afternoon. Ruin some clothes. Scale around the top edges by the tree roots. Maybe even look danger in the face. And I would like to bring my son.
The mountains are calling and I must go.