Matt Jarpe’s Chicken Hunt

(Originally Posted Saturday, October 20, 2007)

A couple of years ago, my big sister Patty chilled my blood by telling me that my middle sister Mary had dimed me out by buying a copy of Meditations on Middle Earth and reading my essay, “A Changeling Returns,” to our mother.

Here’s the specific passage it alarmed me to have her hear:

You grow older, you grow more wary. As a boy in Vermont, I spent almost every day of one summer fishing in the Winooski River. I didn’t tell my parents that my favorite spot was a backwater just below the hydroelectric dam at the head of a stretch of river bounded by high, steep cliffs to either side, which we all called the Gorge. The river churned wildly as it went through the Gorge, and every few years a teenager died falling from the cliffs. And I certainly didn’t tell my parents that the way to the backwater was through the old power plant, and involved scrambling down the jagged, rusted-out remains of iron stairways and a running leap over a gap that would have, at a minimum, broken bones if I’d slipped. For all that, those long summer days spent with my best friend Steve, fishing and talking and playing cards and reading stacks of comic books from each other’s knapsacks, were one of the best times of my life. I wouldn’t trade the memory of them for anything.

I shudder, though, to imagine my son risking his life the way I did clambering through the power plant. Or racing leapfrog across the wrecked cars in the automobile junkyard at the edge of town. Or breaking into abandoned houses to explore their spooky interiors. Or getting into rock-fights. Or going out onto the reservoir, as I did every year when the ice was beginning to melt and there was open water at its center, and jumping up and down to see how much of the ice could be made to sag under the water without my actually breaking through and drowning. Or… well, things look different when you’re a grown-up.

“I didn’t know about any of this!” my mother exclaimed.

“Well, of course not,” Patty said to me. “That was the whole point.”

What brought this to mind was a conversation that Matt Jarpe and I had at Capclave over the dangerous and wonderful harum-scarum youths that boys used to have and mostly don’t anymore. I told Matt the above story and he told me about a chicken hunt he and his brother once had. Or, rather, he almost told me it, because we were interrupted before he could finish the story and didn’t get the chance to get back to it all that weekend.

Luckily for me, Matt has just blogged the chicken-hunt story. I recommend it. The man has good chops. He knows how to tell a story. And he can deliver a moral without getting maudlin.

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