I drive on this street almost daily and I’ve never noticed the trail leading into the woods just off the side of the road. The entrance is cleverly hidden in plain sight and on any given day I am aware that the boys in my neighborhood are somewhere in the trees, exploring, building, plotting in the Republic of Shady Woods.
I was made aware of this ultra-secret society when every afternoon my sons came home for dinner, sweaty and covered in dirt & grime. Upon inquiry, I was informed that they and their friends had formed a club, but the details were quite hush-hush. And one day, an official document was leaked through the laundry as the bi-laws for the Republic of Shady Woods was discovered in a muddy pants pocket. A new president is elected monthly. Club responsibilities include building a bridge, clearing brush, & preventive maintenance on a rope swing. The official code of conduct is stricter than Her Majesty’s Order of the Garter. I wondered if it was like Lord of the Flies, but what I envisioned was more like the He Man Woman Haters Club.
I was wrong on both counts.
Several weeks ago, I was informed that an official discussion had taken place. My credentials as a magazine editor and photographer were debated, and the decision was made that an invitation was to be extended for a tour.
Of course I had graciously accepted, and as I was escorted on foot to the guarded entrance, I wondered if I should ask permission to take pictures. Maybe I would be blindfolded so I could honestly say I don’t really know how to get there, should I be asked.
I was led down a narrow foot path along the edge of a creek bed, and was informed that the current drought had dried the creek up. Otherwise, minnows, turtles, crawfish, & the occasional snake are quite common. The path led to a small clearing at a bend in the creek.
The clearing was carefully marked by fallen tree trunks making a natural perimeter, as well as seating. Across the creek, the bank was higher and a small space large enough for one person to stand had been cleared down to the dirt and marked by a ring of large smooth rocks. “That is where our president stands.”
I realized that here, the creek had water deep enough to soak my shoes, yet a short distance upstream was completely dry. Perhaps the president crossed upstream? Oh no. The republic had constructed a crude bridge made of sticks and confiscated wood. I questioned the weight recommendation for the bridge and immediately got demonstrations of the bridge’s strength, followed by serious discussions of each individual’s weight. And immediately, each individual was questioned as to the accuracy of their weight.
Rather than be responsible for single handedly inciting a riot, I said the bridge was obviously built well so it didn’t matter, but was quickly informed that it most certainly did matter because they wanted me to cross the bridge. Turns out that the republic collects “treasures” – anything of interest that is discovered in the Shady Woods. The biggest treasure of all was across the creek, but seeing it is best.
They were rather persistent, so I agreed to cross the bridge, but not before they tested its strength again, reinforced it with additional branches, and offered to assist me in crossing – all at their insistence. My safety was most definitely their top priority. I was relieved to cross the bridge without a single creak or crack, especially since I suspected it was my only way back across the creek.
The biggest treasure of the Republic of Shady Woods was big indeed – a very old and long abandoned building of sorts. Some old newspapers indicate that someone was there in 1960, but the shoes that were strewn around seemed older. After sorting through some broken bottles, old car parts, and broken furniture, I was presented with an old juice bottle as my gift to keep and was escorted back across the creek.
I was further informed that the club had specific plans to continue developing the trails in the area. Each new president has a specific agenda for how the members should improve the club infrasctructure. Apparently, bathroom facilities are a continuing point of discussion. I was grateful to not be given a demonstration for how that particular issue is currently remedied.
As I said goodbye at the secret street entrance, I realized that the Republic of Shady Woods is a lot like The Sandlot with a little bit of The Goonies thrown in – a lot of good clean fun and a little bit of mischief.