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Building Forts

A fort, indoor styleNo doubt, some psychologist has taken notice of the fact that we need a place to hide away, sometimes with our friends, and has declared it to be a fundamental human need worthy of extensive scientific study. And that may be true. But all I know is one of the common bonds I had with my childhood friends was the desire to build various forts.

The fort could take many forms. The simplest was perhaps the depicted indoor model, consisting of chairs, couch cushions, blankets, and any other raw materials which could be corralled within the confines of your home.

Winter time brought on the opportunity to create a splendid, but temporary structure: the snow fort.

If you were raised in a northern clime, you probably know a lot more about childhood snow forts that me. Winters in northeast Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas afford one or two snowfalls of four or more inches on average, and these tended to disappear within hours. But we got an occasional foot or more of the basic building substance with infrequent snowstorms. When the dice were rolled so fortunately for us, we quickly sprang into action.

The snowfall would usually be in temperatures within a few degrees of freezing. Therefore, it would pack well. You could quickly form it into makeshift blocks and create walls. These would make for excellent protection in snowball wars.

Deep drifts would often form in ditches and such. This afforded a truly wonderful opportunity: caves. You could dig cavities big enough to get your entire self inside! Of course, if you stressed the packed snow too far, a collapse would inevitably occur. But our snowfalls were too meager to ever produce any consequences worse than some snow down the neck. Brr!

We also built forts out of limbs, leaves, and grass. I have fond memories of an effort by most of the fourth grade class at White Rock Elementary in little Jane, Missouri circa 1969. There was a stand of trees at one edge of the school property, including some short locust and osage-orange (or bodark apples, as I knew them) species. It turned out that there was a stand of three of the shorter trees that just happened to form a good fort frame with their branches.

There were ten or so of us boys who banded together and harvested good fort-building material: branches, dried sage grass, pine needles, etc. We created as a team the most bodacious fort that there ever was. It had a roof made of thatched sage grass, walls made of limbs and filled in with grass and pine needles, windows for spotting the enemy, and even a floor of pine needles.

That proud structure was the spot we all ran to when the recess bell rang. It lasted an entire fall, being abandoned when several days of rain washed most of it away.

Today, I work in a Dilbertese cubicle that is quite fort-like. It has an offset entry, forcing the enemy (i.e. manager types) to make a tight turn to get inside. In the meantime, my strategically located wall-mounted hard drive platters with their brilliant mirror finishes have given me a preview of the invader. By the time they make it to my physical presence, I am prepared to deal with the intruder with no surprises.

My fourth-grade fort lives on.

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