I found myself very amused by my first taste of the wild once, after holding up a church at gunpoint.

True story. When I was seven(ish) years old, my friend Dallas McAlister and I held up our local church. This was nothing near a joke. We were one hundred percent serious. We went in guns blazing with our authentic replica cap guns and held the place up. It was the mid 1980’s and Hattiesburg, Mississippi—a sleepy little country ghetto—was still deeply mired in traditional values. Our somewhat strapped-for-cash folks were far from from ungenerous, but we felt we deserved our own little slice of Heaven, and if they were offering it up like pie on a plate every Sunday, we wanted our fair share, regardless of how we got it. Besides, we needed that cash for such things as copious amounts of candy, baseball cards, comics, and other childish accoutrement.

Back in those ancient times, there were these firecrackers called “cherry bombs.” Cherry bombs, incongruously, were circular shaped, resembling bright red gum balls. When thrown and struck against any surface they would explode with a rather loud report, like a gunshot, or even worse, war. Unbeknownst to Dallas and me, the Hattiesburg Baptist Church administrative staff had ample amounts of cherry bombs, and other fireworks at their disposal. So when we stormed in, seven years old going on seventeen, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and dirty business on our mind, one team member and quite possibly, many more, began surreptitiously tossing those little juvenile roadside explosives everywhere.

Without so much as a warning, we found ourselves under surprise attack. We had been ambushed by God himself. Panic stricken, we fled, limbs flailing, thoroughly convinced there were real live bullets whizzing just above our heads. We ran all the way down main street until we reached the end of town, we high-tailed it through the hills, across the river, and into the wild, where we hid our over-exhilarated selves. We were certain the cops—or possibly even, a mob of lynching men with blood hounds—were quickly on the hunt for us.

In more ways than one, that day on the lamb from the so-called law turned out to be one of the more finer days of my childhood. We gorged ourselves on wild blueberries and succulent honeysuckles. We even went so far as catching a fish without actually catching it, instead we forced it to splash itself out of the water and onto the sandy banks of the shallow creek. The trout was no bigger than a sardine, but we, being cub scouts, built a little fire and cooked it on a twig, we bothered not with the formalities of properly filleting it. We devoured it’s fins, scales, eyes, guts, and all. Yes, we ate it with a wild and childish gusto.

In that little piece of paradise, where which we hid—from living an apprehensive life behind society’s bars—that one fine day, there was a fairly out of place waterfall for backwoods Mississippi. And, according to the old folks, several children had been severely hurt throughout the years, while horse playing on what they called, Hopscotch Falls.

One rural myth even went so far as to have it that a seven year old boy had fallen to an untimely death one summer day, and some said he still haunted the falls whenever darkness fell. That afternoon, Dallas and I climbed those waterfalls without so much as a worry of heights. (Later, unbeknownst to our parents and to the horror of our younger siblings, we would scale those waterfalls and dive into the pool below, over and over again.)

Above the falls, I barely discovered a spiral ring of wild rhododendrons. In the center of the spiral ring, was a clearing, the mossy ground as soft as late 70’s shag carpet. The spacious clearing was protected by a wall of soft and tall bushes, as well there was a rocky sort of grotto. I had found the ideal hideout, one which would come in handy over the next few years for escaping myself, and even, my first tasteful touch of the female anatomy. And although our life of crime was to be mercifully short-lived, I had found what I was looking for, a place to hide, more importantly, a place, to call my own.

Eventually the daylight started to grow dark. An owl started to hoot, a pack of coyotes howled away at the first sign of the moon. The wind picked up something fierce and spooky, unidentified noises began to go bump in the night. Dallas swore he saw a ghostly figure peeking at us from behind the veil of falling water, like one would through curtains.

Satisfied, scared, chilled to the bone, blissfully exhausted, and no longer satisfied by the gastronomic charm of honeysuckles and blueberries, we lost all heart to hideaway forever in our own little Heaven. So cleverly we circumnavigated down and around the falls in the dark, out of the wild, across the river, and over the hills. Sheepishly, we made our way back to where we belong, that being good ole home sweet home.

Apparently all afternoon, the now so-called adorable and sweet story of our little “stick-up” had circulated its way between each and every edge of town, and, to their well-mannered and polite credit, everyone, including the pastor, and our parents, seemed more happily amused that we made it home in one piece, rather than being absurdly upset about our childish antics.

Wrists not bearing cuffs, ankles without shackles, necks no longer demanding a noose—the “Bandits of Hopscotch Falls” were instead, demanded a hearty dinner, a nice warm bath, and an extraordinarily stern, yet much needed lecture, and then, they were tucked away into a comfy bed and sent to sleep and dream up little dreams to their hearts content.

So, you see, it may or may not be true that crime doesn’t pay, but our cute little caper was blessed with a happy ending, the best part of which was an introduction to life in the wild. From that day forth, I have spent as much time as within the wilderness as I am able, finding there the kind of inner nourishment that others are said to find in the church. But we found that day—in that lovely little wild—our own little slice of Heaven, or rather, we were home…

Til the next time,

Ryan

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