How I wish I had a fort. Nothing too grand or military, mind you, just some kind of little protected place of my own. I suppose I could go to Home Depot and buy a Tuff Shed or something and plop it in the backyard, but it would be either too hot or too cold or too damp, it would quickly be filled with spiders, and two seconds after I got in there someone would be banging on my shed door asking for some sort of snack or wondering where a shoe was. I would need a button I could push that would activate a water cannon, I believe.

I used to absolutely love building forts, any kind, anywhere. Because I am both clever and lazy, I could often get other kids to build them for me, to my architectural and Napoleonic specifications. Most often these constructions were some compilation of sticks, branches wrenched from trees, big gray stones from freshly-plowed fields, grass, hay, mud, and leaves. Sometimes we would get piles of sand or dirt hauled back in a wagon from a real construction site, along with scrap lumber, broken bricks, tar paper, bits of copper wire, or metal or plastic tubing laying about. No one put fences around sites back then, so when the construction guys left we kids would pile in, sit inside the diggers, play inside the half-built house, marvel at the fantastic drop from the unprotected stairway to the basement, and at all the nails laying around to give you jaw-locking tetanus death. DON’T PLAY OVER AT THE NEW HOUSE, my mother would shout as I left the yard. Ha ha, yeah right, BYE MOM.

We never had a tree that was large enough for a tree fort, and I was very envious of those kids who had one, even if the fort was nothing more than a shaky wooden platform a few feet up with pieces of wood dubiously nailed to the tree trunk for a ladder. I would will our young trees to grow grow grow so I could build a fort, but my exhortations were for naught. I think they are probably big enough now. I won’t go back to look. I want to remember everything as it was when I was there, including the skinny baby trees, shored up with a metal rod and rope tied to stakes in the ground.

In the winter, it was all about the elusive success of the igloo fort. This was often frustrating, as it was either the wrong kind of snow, or too fucking cold to be out there at all. You needed good packing snow, the heavy wet kind that made killer snowballs, not the flaky powder that fell apart even as you tried to pick it up. Every so often with a team neighborhood effort, some decent snow forts were constructed, more snow bunkers really, and a major Snowball Battle could then ensue. It would continue until everyone was pummeled and soaked, red-faced and laughing with at least one good hit to the head, which was quite hilarious to view. Sometimes some kid would get an ice ball to the gut or face and set up a major wail, and the battle would go underground for another day.

I think the last fort I made was in a minuscule stand of small trees across from my house. There were some rocks big enough to sit on, and enough leaf and weed density in the summer to cover the occasional thrill of a snuck cigarette stolen from my dad’s pack of Salems, before I even knew to inhale. After I discovered that my fort was wrecked up by some rogue neighborhood guerillas one day, I vowed with steely evil determination to protect my castle. I spent a whole weekend alone with my dad’s big shovel, digging random holes in the ground surrounding the fort. Some of them were probably at least two feet down and about a foot wide. After I did that, I gathered up several small but sturdy sticks, got my brother’s Swiss Army knife, and whittled each into a nasty sharp point. I then jammed the sticks into the bottom of the pits, pointy sides up. Next was to get my mom’s old yellow Playtex gloves on, and carefully gather up some poison ivy leaves growing a short ways away, and place the terrible leaves in with the sticks. Finally, masterful covering of the holes with tiny dry twigs, just enough to hold a placement of grass and weeds as camouflage. It was a damn good job, I thought, as I stepped back and looked at my hard work. No one could tell where those holes were but me. Heh. NOW TRY TO MESS UP MY SHIT.

My plan was successful, too much so. My mother got a very irate phone call from one of the mothers of a snot-nosed interloper, whose invasion efforts were indeed met with a messed up leg, a fat lip from the fall, and a decent case of poison ivy. HAH! I thought to myself as I was grounded and sent to my room, HAH! WIN! I was also made to fill the holes back in, with the explanation from my mom of HOW DANGEROUS THAT WAS. I smirked as I dumped the black dirt back in. All’s fair.

The best I can do now to construct a fort is purely mental. It really is not the same as sitting inside some little cave that smells of wood and green and fresh air, ready to collapse at any time, ungainly yet elegant in its child-made simplicity, something unique and silly and private. Who would not want to defend such a thing?