Part 7 in the Growing Up Kansas Series: Mostly True Stories of my Youth

The first time I got in trouble for exploring, I threw the family dog under the bus. Wanderlust took over my little four-year-old mind and I grabbed the dog, Boo-Boo, and headed out across the pasture. Mom alerted the Lollipops (Little Old Ladies of the Partyline Society) that I was missing and they called all the neighbors to rendezvous at the McNary house to look for that stupid little kid. Someone soon spotted my head bobbing in the ravine in the pasture a hundred yards from the house and I was rescued. When quizzed, I responded, “Wasn’t me. Boo-Boo made me do it.” I learned early the power to deny and make counter accusations.

In the early ’60’s, parents didn’t live in total fear of child abduction like they do nowadays. When the Lollipops sent out the Mayday signal, not one person thought I’d been kidnapped. Eaten, maybe, but not kidnapped. Mountain lions, coyotes, or cows might have got me, but not a two-legged critter. The cows were always suspects in anything that had to do with the torment of little children, but they were at least honest when interrogated. They happily confessed to inflicting physical and mental harm on our young souls.

In those days our parents booted us out the door in summer as soon as the breakfast dishes were done. Even on good days they didn’t let us back in until dinner. That was okay; we didn’t want to go back inside anyway; the Generals hung out in the Command Center and nothing good happened in there that concerned us little kids.

Although the aforementioned escapade with Boo-Boo was before my memory bank started storing things in the gee-that-was-fun-let’s-do-it-again vault, I’ve always had a desire to explore.

A desire to explore is a mixture of curiosity, mischief, danger and mayhem. If you can’t get hurt then you’re not exploring. If that rock doesn’t have the chance of a venomous viper coiled ready to lunge, then you’re not exploring. If that cave doesn’t have bootleggers ready to chop you up in little pieces, then you’re not exploring. If pirates can’t make you walk the plank on Hobson’s Pond, then you’re just goofing off. Exploring has to involve varying degrees of pain.

We created various categories of explorers. See where you fit.

Whiny Butt Explorers- Although we weren’t allowed to say the word butt, the Whiny Butt explorer commenced grumbling at the first suggestion of let’s-go-exploring! They came up with more objections than federal regulators about why it was too cold or too hot or too many bugs or gee-I-could-lose-my-legs. Whiny Butt Explorers grew up to be Discovery Channel devotees who watch shows about the Amazon and suddenly become experts on the jungle. But one glimpse of their soft hands and tender underbellies lets you know the riskiest adventure they embark on is Black Friday shopping.

Mickey Mouse Club Explorers; These lucky ducks stumble on buried treasure by accident while planting trees for Arbor Day. They really aren’t explorers, but they discover the bounty for which explorers search. Then the Mickey Mouse Explorers march right out and buy an Indiana Jones hat and bullwhip. We loathed them and made fun of their hats until they bought us ice cream.

He-Man-Woman-Haters Explorers: Like the Little Rascals club of the same name, their curiosity is about one degree warmer than their fear. They nervously lift up rocks looking for snakes; they get stuck in caves and bloat like a toad gorging on June bugs; they go coon hunting in the dark with a 100K watt floodlight strapped to each arm and one on the head. I’ve done each of these. The HMWH explorer is a conflicted person often conned by a Daniel Boone Explorer or, heaven forbid, a Mount Everest Explorer. They splurge on exploring books, then splurge on exploring, then splurge on therapists or medical doctors to heal whichever wound is most life-threatening.

Daniel Boone Explorers: They’ve done their research, poured over the maps, then wander off believing they have a strong chance of returning home alive and relatively unscathed. Other than having to wrestle bears on occasion, they’ve stacked the odds in their favor and know they will live another day to explore. They might have a few bullet holes in their coonskin caps, but their scalps are still in tact. Daniel Boone Explorers instill confidence in followers with well-narrated stories of adventure. 

Mount Everest Explorers: These are the die-hard adrenaline junkies who, by the time they are forty, have broken every bone in their body and go through snakebite kits like they’re M&M’s. Mount Everest Explorers are best admired from a distance. If you get too close, they will suck you into their adventure screaming like a cat with its tail slammed in the door. Mount Everest Explorers often end up being boiled in pots by cannibals.

One day my nephew Kendall and I decided to explore unchartered territory. We poured over maps, checked weather conditions then pointed our Zebco 202’s east and trekked to a pond in the middle of untamed pasture where we expected large fish to be waiting on us. This pasture seemed less dangerous than Hobson’s Pasture because none of our mortal enemies, the cows, lived there. Hobson’s Cows spotted us leaving and rushed to the fence to offer encouragement and advice.

“Hey,” Marge mooed, “come on back this way. We promise we won’t chase you this time.”

“No,” I defied her, “you told us that the last time and I still have scratches on my back from diving under the barbwire to get away from you.”

“Well, suit yourself,” Gertrude sneered, “You’re going to die anyway. There’s rattlesnakes in that pasture.”

Hobson’s Cows were more annoying than Kanye West at the Grammys.

The new pasture was more difficult to navigate because no cows had eaten or tromped the grass so it was a veritable jungle of tall grass and weeds. Neither the Generals nor the Commander-in-Chief trusted us with sharp objects like machetes so we bare handed it through the prairie jungle with our Zebco 202 fishing poles held high.

Either the fish saw us coming with our Prince Albert can of worms or the cows had telepathically warned them to go into submarine mode and run silent, run deep, because our bobbers never showed a nibble. Not even the chubbiest night crawler dancing like Little Richard could get a rise out of the catfish inhabiting the murky depths.

We fished an interminably long time – at least fifteen minutes. Then we decided to go slashing back through the grass. About thirty feet into the grass I heard the distinct sound of a rattlesnake; those dumb cows were right.

I hadn’t learned to cuss yet or I would have said that word that describes what you do in your underwear when your ten-years-old and hear a rattlesnake. The wind was blowing hard enough to rustle the grass so my little mind tried to ration that it was just the grass but then… OH CRAP THE COWS WERE RIGHT THAT’S A RATTLSNAKE! To make things worse, I couldn’t see it and since all reason had vacated my imaginative mind, I could not figure out where it was.

Little kids don’t have much normal reasoning capacity anyway, but shoot a little fear-laced adrenaline in their veins and they turn into hyperventilating morons. We levitated like cartoon characters then shot off across the pasture running on the grass tops. Mel Brooks, in the interview with the 2,000 year-old-man, said it best: fear is the fastest form of transportation.

I could hear the other rattlesnakes giggling like a bunch twelve-year-old boys at an R-rated movie:

“Hey, Larry, you got them real good!” the mouthy one, Jimmy said, “Each time you rattled they trembled a little bit more! They shook more than our rattles! You scared them so bad they left their fishing poles behind, but what is that godawful smell? Smells like someone, OH GROSS, I JUST SLITHERED IN IT.”

Served him right.

Exploring is an adventure and an adventure is something you sit at home in your easy chair dreaming about. However, when you’re out having an adventure, you wish you were sitting at home in your easy chair.

All this writing about adventure has me itching to go explore. I’m surrounded by acres and acres of wide-open country in Kansas, I think I’ll lace up the hiking boots and start walking. I should be okay. It’s still winter and the rattlesnakes are hibernating. But I think I’ll traipse down the old abandoned railroad bed instead of thru the pasture full of cows. I’m too darn slow to outrun them anymore.

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Photo: 29 Cents a Gallon

I captured this image in Fall River, Kansas

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