Small Squad Tactical Deployment
Kids Running around in the Dark
Back in the days when there was still a large horde of kids Up the Lake, confined on the mountain for the entire summer, one of the main (legal) evening insanities was Manhunt. Manhunt is a kind of team hide-and-seek, similar to Ring-a-leevio, and other childhood gang violence type pastimes. When our mob played, it was always down by the lake, and in the surrounding tree and mud filled swamp (which we called “woods”). The looking team got one flashlight, and everyone else had to depend on their innate nocturnal vision. This often resulted in any movement noted in the woods, be it human, animal, tree, rock, or hallucination caused from running into one of the other elements of the list, leading to the peaceful night air being split with the cries of, “bring the flashlight, he’s getting away!” The rules were simple, if undefined. One team hides, and the other team finds them. (Well, duh.) When a hider is caught, he must wait on base until all of his team are caught, or until he is tagged by his own team mate, and is then free. Considering the level of stealth required to move, unnoticed across an open beach, one would surmise that this would be a quiet game. One would, however, be outstandingly wrong. The level of noise and activity on that beach could only be compared to what would occur if you opened all the doors in a lunatic asylum, put wasps in everyone’s strait jackets, and lit the place on fire. Part of the problem came from a total lack of defining what “caught” was. Originally, any contact or tagging counted. This lasted an infinitely short period of time, and was replaced by the equally unsuccessful: “touch the person and say Manhunt manhunt 1-2-3". As this was unanimously voted to be pathetically lame, it was finally replaced with the requirement that you have to stop the person from moving completely, pretty much beating them into submission. Then, they would gladly go to the bench that was base, lick their wounds and pass out.
This game was taught to us by our predecessors in the Up the Lake kids positions, three guys named Joe, and Nick. I believe this was the same summer they taught us the definition of the word “wedgie”. Although we grasped the concept almost immediately, they seemed to feel remedial lessons were often needed, much to the dismay of many an elastic waistband. Manhunt is also the reason my wardrobe today continues to be almost exclusively black. After being stuck a couple of nights trying to hide my less than lithe hide while wearing a Clorox bright, white shirt, I refused to be caught in a similar situation again. Many of us became Raider, Steeler, and Yankee fans, for the sole reason of the acquiring a dark wardrobe. The Joe’s and Nick told us, originally there were enough kids to play in the daytime, using the entire “Up the Lake” area (acres of fun filled, untamed, beast infested, wilderness) as the field of play. Several people were reported to have remained hidden completely through puberty. Due to my glowing wardrobe, and lack of general stealthiness in my youth, I was able to hide well only once the first summer. The aforementioned Nick freed a bunch of us from base and actually carried me several steps. (Due, again, to my less than litheness, this was feat only possible that first year.) As he ran, I was revving up my legs like the old zip cord crash up derby cars. Therefore, I hit the ground traveling well above safe operating speeds. I shot uncontrolled into the woods, and into a Paul Bunyan sized fallen tree. As I collapsed under it, my lungs squirted out and went looking for help. When I was able to breathe again (possibly weeks later) I heard everyone saying that my whole team was caught except for me. I then discovered how well admired and respected my hiding abilities were, when everyone decided that, since I wasn’t found, I must have gone home. Triumphantly, I ran out and freed everyone (before I was abandoned on the dark beach - no flashlights for the hidden), and then began a high speed dash back to my accidentally discovered hiding space. Thanks to my stunning speed and agility...the dash lasted all of two steps, and I was caught while everyone else vanished into the underbrush.
After a few years the older guys stopped playing, leaving our group in charge of "educating" the younger kids. This included teaching them the subtle differences between someone being really well hidden, and being hopelessly lost in the forest. (The difference is: it’s easier to find the lost people due to their incessant screaming.) The combination of total darkness, loose sand, deep forest, and a surprisingly hard to see lake, caused many delightful adventures. I, myself, was described by my cousin Eric as resembling "the Bionic man" as I leaped over him to avoid a tag. This was because I continued to run in the air in slow motion, like a spastic long jumper, into the awaiting dark (and WAY COLD) waters of the lake. My sister had a similar episode, where she did a remarkable “stealing second base” slide across ten feet of mud into the weeds, for reasons which are still not entirely clear to me. Afterward she invented a new gymnastic song and dance, the refrain of which was, "Ow! My Spandex Pants Are Shrinking". The addition of younger players caused much entertainment as well. Much like many other forest dwelling apes, the Up the Lake kids are more likely to clamber into the trees then their larger and slower elders (hello!). Another younger cousin, Vincent, who only showed up for one or two games a year, consistently fell off the water shed. As it is impossible to remain unseen on the shed, I think he just enjoyed the sensation of short term free fall. Another kid, Geoff, was "hidden" at least fifteen above the ground in a birch tree. Once spotted and surrounded he apparently formed the brilliant plan of leaping from the tree over and around his stunned pursuers, hitting the ground running, and rocketing to the base to rescue his captured comrades. It was truly a great plan, with one small flaw. He hit the ground in shapeless pile of Geoff, and remained motionless except for the occasional twitch. My sister touched a part of him that didn't seem broken and compassionately said, "You're caught, when you can move, go to the base."
Regardless of how many fights had erupted during play (usually somewhere between “a great many” and “a whole bunch”), we all became members of the same team under one condition. If anyone saw, heard, smelled, or thought about an approaching car, we instantly unified. A car could very easily mean the owner had heard the drunken octopus tap dancing on cymbals levels of noise we had been generating. The oldest, most unchanging, and unarguable rule of Up the Lake, in place long before my mother's childhood up there, is, was, and always shall be, "NO ONE AT THE BEACH AFTER DARK". However, this is also the most scoffed at, broken, and ignored rule, since the dawn of time, when the first children had the urge to run around in the dark and hurt themselves. Therefore, at any hint of the owner’s arrival, everyone quietly snuck into the woods with the same levels of stealth and silence of a panicked herd of wildebeests. Once we were hidden, though, there was crypt quality silence. After all, we had all heard the NO ONE AT THE BEACH AFTER DARK speech (as had our parents and grandparents before us) and there was no sense hearing it again. Since we didn't listen the first hundred times, the likelihood of it having any impact now was minimal. On a good night we could hide dozens of people in an infield sized area of plants and rocks, sometimes up to a score of kids behind a single tree. Finding everyone afterwards...now that was a challenging game.
As time passed, the overall numbers of the herd of kids thinned, and many of the little kids were joining in. Manhunt became somewhat impractical, as we grew tired of deciding between getting in trouble for coming home late, and getting in trouble for saying, “Well, he’s bound to find the beach by morning”. We switched to a daytime version of Capture the Flag in the fields and some surrounding woods. It was at this time where the simple idea of wearing black to hide in the dark became sorely outdated by the incoming popularity of camouflage clothing. AJ (who became a trainer in an airborne division, to no one’s surprise) had a complete tree bark camo outfit and hood. His demonstration of its abilities was in the form of yelling, "watch this", running three steps into the woods, and then vanishing from the planet completely. If Manhunt continued as the primary injury causing game, he'd still be hidden. Fortunately much of Capture the Flag involved running out in the open, and the rest was yelling at each other concerning exactly where the boundary line between the two side’s territories was. (In retrospect, defining the "line" by a single tree may have been a mathematically unsound judgment.) My little cousin Eric and his two friends got WAY into the army surplus stuff one time. Not only were they in complete jungle camouflage outfits (in case they took a wrong turn by the pine trees and ended up in Bangladesh), but they also had the black make up, to continue the blending pattern on their exposed faces. They had a little more desire than experience, however, so when we began the game we were greeted by the dynamic Army Special Forces Team of Groucho Marx, Al Jolson, and Peter Chriss.
One of my least proud moments came during a game of Capture the Flag. I don't mean the time I jumped into a large patch of poison ivy after little Rich. (Try explaining that to your doctor: Doctor- "It looks like poison ivy, have you been in the woods lately." Me (age 20) - "Oh I know it is, I jumped in a big patch chasing after an eight year old that captured our washcloth." Doctor-"I see," as he writes many many many things in my file.) That pretty much was a minor goof compared to the time my sister got our flag. As my memory of the events are a tad fuzzy due to cranial trauma (shucks, I gave away the ending) I shall have to consult with her essay of Up the Lake stuff she wrote for high school English. (That's my sister, always tryin' to make me look good in public.) Now while she does mention that I was alone guarding the base when she and her friend tried to distract me, avoid being tagged, and grab the flag, she leaves out the highly important point, that our cousin Eric was captured on base at the time. (He always seems to be present at my finest moments.) He threw her the flag (heinously against the rules) and yelled an inspirational "GO!!!" If my relatives were a little less inclined to cheat, I'd have one less bump on my head. (Not like I'm bitter or anything.) She then took off toward her base with me in Roscoe P. Coltraine style "hot pursuit". She wrote, "I thought it was hopeless as he started to gain speed. It was like a lion chasing a wounded deer." There are three problems with that statement: 1) Deer are taller than lions, 2) Lions don't lumber and 3) Lions watch where they’re going. If any of these differences did not exist, she would have been easily caught. When she was a hair’s breadth out of my reach, she ran just under an unseen (by me) low branch, which I loped directly into with my forehead, (and with both feet off the ground, as I was in mid lope.) Thick headed though I am, my skull was no match for this young seasoned branch which caused me to do a half flip and land unceremoniously on my face, with a forest shaking thud. I think Kim asked if I was OK, to which I replied, "ahhmmhhmhmppphhhhh". Then there's a large hole in my memory where she apparently ran back to her team and gasped, "I got the flag.....we win....Jeff's dead". So the rest of the group (after their victory dance, no doubt) expressed curiosity as to my non-living condition. When I came out of the coma, I heard footsteps and voices through a green haze (not to be confused with Purple Haze). Finally, I could make out the cry of, "Jeff where are you?" My quick and witty reply was, "I don't know." "What do you see?" they called back. "Ferns...lots of ferns", was all I could get out (or see for that matter). Eventually they found me. As we walked back to the cabin I realized three things, A) I shouldn't trust my relatives. B) It’s impossible not to laugh when someone says, "You've got to watch out for those trees, they'll just jump right out at you", when you are still dizzy from said tree jumping out at you. C) Dad wasn't kidding when he said, "Look where you’re going". So I went to sleep that night with ferns stuck in places I didn't even know I had places. The bump on my head didn't stay prominent for long, and it quickly mixed in to become indistinguishable from all the others. The longest lasting effect of the incident was the large, Jeff shaped crater mashed in the center of a defenseless fern patch, next to tree, which I swear to this day, was smiling.