Stick Forts and Survival Stories, Part 2

The white mulberry is a tree that keeps on giving. They grow in odd spots around my yard, along fences, shooting up through the middle of bushes. The lobbed leaves look like hands catching sun. In autumn, I choose several to lop down to the ground, but don’t apply poison to kill the stump or dig the roots out. Some of the mulberry trees have three or more little stumps; new growth continues to find a way. We’ve found it useful to have trees that sprout out slender trunks from below the cuts and reach skyward year after year.

We pile the cut mulberry trees and other trimmed branches next to the kids’ stick fort under the spruce tree in the front yard. Mulberry leaves blanket a section of the fort where this spring my son and daughter twined the young, flexible trunks among the dead sticks. The stick fort is an ongoing project started two years ago in the backyard during my son’s 11th birthday party.

A walk at Edenbrook Conservation Area planted the seed of the idea. During that walk, on a sunny September afternoon, I spotted a large stick fort set back in the woods. How wonderful that kids muck about in the woods to build a shelter together. I had been thinking about birthday party activities and realized building stick forts would be perfect. We had our own branches from recent tree trimming and the party could be in our backyard.

My son loved the idea and helped us gather all the branches together and fetch more from the woods behind our neighbor’s house. One day on a walk around our block with my husband and dog, we saw a woman lopping branches of the maple trees lining the boulevard. Beautiful autumn maple boughs.

“Do you have plans for these branches? Can we have some?” I asked, “We are having the kids build stick forts at our son’s birthday party.”

“Sure. Take as much as you want. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them,” she said. We walked home, dropped our dog off, grabbed a tarp, and hustled back to pile the branches on the tarp. Brilliant red, orange leaves. Like treasure. Long branches two inches in diameter, sturdy yet pliable. We carried our treasure home and stacked them in the backyard with the rest of the sticks.

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On the day of my son’s birthday party, ten kids gathered in our yard. Building the forts was their job, but we wanted to give them some framework to start. My husband used twine to bind three or four of the thicker, longer branches together in teepee shapes. He made three of those. We needn’t have bothered. While the kids started on those, ultimately they took them apart and built one long low fort across the backyard, draping burlap and blue curtains around the outside.

For more than an hour, the children ages 4 to 11 worked together on the fort, leaning and weaving branches. “This is the best birthday party ever!” exclaimed one of my son’s friends. We enjoyed cake, ice cream and presents before everyone headed home.

That evening I stood in my yard pondering the stick fort, remembering the natural forts of my youth and wondering how long it would last.

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