Forts

My van was in the shop last week for new brake pads. My office building is a mile down the same road as the dealership, so it should have been a straight shot for the driver of the courtesy car to get me and take me back to the dealership to retrieve the van when it was finished. There has been extensive construction work on the road, however, so he had to take me the winding, back way through a new housing development behind my work and the dealership.

The driver was younger, a mid-30’s guy who doubles as a mechanic, and he told me that he grew up in an older section of houses also right behind my work. He even pointed out his parents’ home. He remembered when the area of the new development was just tree shelter belts and bare plains. He reminisced with great wistfulness about the trees that were no longer there and all the “forts” he and the kids in the neighborhood would make among the trees and how they would raid the other forts and all the fun they had.

This put in mind all the forts my cousins and I would try to erect in and around the trees in the groves on their farms, trying to nail boards together to make structures and how exciting it was to sit in them. (Here, they are shelter belts. In Minnesota, they are groves).

Children love forts, even if they consist of blankets thrown over the sides of end tables. I remember my mother throwing a blanket over the sides of my crib, and how oddly satisfying that was. I couldn’t have been more than 3. Our children, too, loved blanket forts, and any small enclosure they could erect and escape into. We even had a book about innovative ways to make forts.

What are your memories of forts? Why do you think children like forts? Did you or anyone you know ever have a tree house? Any good tree climbing stories?

101 thoughts on “Forts”

  1. ari loves blanket forts in the living room and in the backyard. usually two chairs with enough space between for a pillow covered by a couple blankets

    i built forts with some serious kids in 7th eighth and 9 grades
    we had a tree fort with no door and a secret entrance by the railroad tracks in what was soon to be a busy area, it was a corn field where i picked corn but was soon to be a shopping center. the path that cut through was on the way to the new jr high
    along that same path there was a woods and grassland where we built a 4 or 5 room fort out of boards from houses being built nearby. guys would grab 2×4’s and sheets of plywood and a fistful of nails and get building then they started building the high school right there on our lot
    they brought in the bulldozers and cleared trees, flattened hills and left our fort as a solo freestanding structure out in the middle of what would be the football field for a day or two before the flattened it
    i think they were giving us tome to get our valuable club stuff out of there
    hammers, blankets playboys beer. all the essentials
    my kids remember my eyeballing tree branches and talking about building tree forts but not doing it. it scarred them. kind of like when we’d go to the sportsman show and i’d have them look at the travel trailers and rv’s and and pick the one we should buy
    it always involved bunk beds. they were always really disappointed that we didn’t buy one and take it home
    i thought the fun was in the looking. that was enough for me

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Great forts, Tim, we messed around and didn’t get much built.
      Went to sleep again fully intending to answer you about Sam Cooke, I knew what I was saying was revolutionary. I was always seeing articles about what a trailblazer he was, and he was. I can well see how there could be truth in theories about his death. Being an “uppity nigger” in those times. But the music doesn’t back up the legend. Twittery love songs, that’s all. OK, he was kind of shamed into writing a couple of “protest songs.” But Otis took his “A change is gonna come” and turned it into something deep and soulful, which raises hairs on the back of my neck. Something Sam can’t do, for me anyway.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. the tree fort was massive and was in a monster tree that was not obvious as to how to climb it. there were no ladders or steps just perfectly spaced branches for putting one foot here and one hand there and shimmying up or down to get to where you needed to be. when you finally got up there the entrance was not apparent it was in a little slot between rooms where a tree branch obscured vision of it from above and below and you had to drop down then pull yourself in
    i don’t think people who tried to get in ever figured it out
    the cops or the railroad tore it down and we rebuilt but they just tore it down again

    we headed for the back seat of bill henderson’s 59 chevy or jimmy sinnots 56 chevy and drank grain belt pony’s and colt 45 malt liquor and frequenting the mann france ave drive in to act cool and impress chicks

    i don’t think we ever took girls to our forts those were the original man caves
    card games and conversation kind of like coffee shops for old men’s groups today
    we had forts, dairy queen with monster portions of fries, richards bakery on friday nights the river bottoms and driveways to fix and modify cars
    bills 59 was just to keep it running and enjoy the 8 tracks
    jimmy’s cars always had new engines transmissions lots of chrome and welding and cutting holes to put a 4 in the floor transmission instead of the 3 on the tree your mom had
    327 or 427 with headers and thrush mufflers bondo to patch the rust holes paint to keep it looking good
    jimmy went into mechanics and became the corner gas station guy somewhere in town
    bill became a garbage man
    everyone remembers that time in the growing up process
    i’m not sure it happens the same anymore

    glad to hear your 30 year old has the memories
    i don’t think mine did

    Liked by 6 people

  3. It is remarkable to find that a cherished personal memory is something other kids also experienced. When I was four or five I invented a pair of forts. My sister and I played in them, and it is something I’ve never known that other kids also did.

    The foundation for the forts we made were card tables. My folks played bridge, and their two card tables were almost the only furniture we had that wasn’t used daily. Instead of blankets, I built our forts with newspaper that draped down. My second fort didn’t live up to expectations, although the first fort was a magnificent two-story structure that taxed my engineering abilities.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I can remember at least two tree forts my friends and I built when we were ten or eleven. They were rudimentary affairs, little more than a platform, but I remember the satisfaction of sitting up there. I think the greater entertainment was in the building of the fort, more so than in the occupation of it.

    Robbinsdale in those days still had a fair amount of undeveloped land and there was an expansive woods that ran as a right of way along the railroad tracks from Theodore Wirth Park all the way into Robbinsdale. We would bike there and spend our days building forts out of brush and detritus, sometimes digging out a pit and covering it over.

    My father also grew up in Robbinsdale. I remember him once showing me, in an oak next door to our home, some rusty nails where he as a kid had once built a tree fort when the area was all woods.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Forts: The original “shelter in place”.
    The significant treehouse for Jerry and me was a joint project to escape from our pesky sisters.
    It worked for quite awhile until the hatchet we were using accidentally fell and struck my sister’s head. Luckily, the handle alone hit her causing a lot of blood and requiring 4 stitches. No attempted murder charges were filed. The “accusation” has remained for 60 years.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. We never called them forts. There were tree houses and at ground level, they were hideouts.
    Chuggaton Cottage was paradise for me. I think I expected to live there until I was 20,and had my own farm. Neither thing happened. Yet. It was down an unsurfaced lane. Opposite our entrance there was a kind of stile into Buckingham’s field,and next to the stile a ditch came out through the hedge. It ran up into the field maybe fifty or seventy feet, and over the first part of it there was a mass of brambles. They formed a kind of cave over the ditch. An obvious place for a hideout. We got Dad’s spade, and I dug turfs from the side of the bank at the field end of the brambles, and started to block off the end of our new hideout. I don’t know what happened then. Maybe it was dinner time. Maybe Dad said we couldn’t do it. But we never worked on it again. I’d walk down there after the place was empty, and the bare earth where I dug the turf stayed visible for years. 60 odd years gone now, it’s evened itself out now.
    All the memories are coming on now.

    Liked by 5 people

        1. That’s right, also called a spinney, in Devon most people say “cover.” Because it’s good cover for pheasants, prior to Steve and his buddies flushing them out and doing their stuff. It’s a definite size down from a wood.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I would say a grove is similar to an orchard maybe? The fruit trees here are in what Jane (wife this time) calls groves. As an orchard is arranged. Room to get between each tree for picking and maintenance. Woods, copses, and their variants are just a bunch of non- fruit trees all together.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Clyde, it occurs to me that each different name could well have a specific definition, such as the one you mention. Devonshire is a lazy style of speech, witness my forgetting that we say “cover” when it’s really a “covert”. Pronounced in this case to rhyme with “cover.”

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Every space held the possibility of a fort or a hide out or a house (if it was girls, we built houses complete with tea sets). I remember playing in these kid structures in Grandma’s grove, in the hay mow of the barn, at the end of the driveway where we burrowed into snow banks, in blankets thrown over a table or pinned up on the clothesline. During my “Annie Oakley” phase they were my hideouts from which I shot at bad guys with my toy six shooters. When possible we drug pieces of furniture and even a radio into whatever we built. I think we built jails, as well. Building these, then playing in whatever the themed structure became, seemed to give our play some focus.

    There was danger involved, as well. I played in a wintertime straw bale fort once where we were lighting matches for warmth. That makes me shudder to remember. I think someone’s Grandpa came out of the house and found us lighting matches which he confiscated, thank goodness.

    My son did this, too, making forts out of string on chairs, blankets over the table and a refrigerator box.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’d forgotten about the clothesline forts, Jacque. And now snow forts come to mind. And a big appliance box was like gold!
      One friend and I would even rake leaves into lines representing walls of a house – with spaces left for doorways – from above it would have looked kind of like an architect’s blueprint…

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Bales, yes we’d make houses in the hayshed at Stowford. Harvest timd you’d stuff bales in right up to the roof, and they’d sink enough to get in and shift them around. One time we heaved bales through a roof truss into the next bay until it was packed to the roof again. Then we finally had room in the first bay to stand up.
      Trouble I always found was, it’s built now. What do we do now? I needed tractors to drive. Jane needed trees to swing in. Chris, Angus and Neil, I don’t know. But nothing much seemed to actually happen there. And I was an important workman on the farm. No time for that stuff really.
      And I seem to remember maybe Francis, the farmer’s son, would get funny about it.

      Liked by 4 people

  8. I remember as a little kid having card table forts, and then in the next house the tree “fort” was a couple of boards between two branches in the mulberry tree. The summers in Colorado, our trailer park was between two ball fields – the football grandstand was our castle, the baseball dugout another fort. Not to mention the ticket booths! And that 16-foot trailer lived in our back yard during one school year, and became our fort.

    Son Joel would make forts out of anything – a blanket on the couch would do it… Husband built him a little loft bed, and underneath was also a fort. Later, the big tree in Robbinsdale back forty eventually had some flat surface in it, and in teen years the back corner of the lot was the kids’ hideaway.. right by the railway Bill mentions above.

    Would love to see that book, Renee – may hunt it down.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. We built snow forts, blanket forts, and I built forts on my bed for my GI Joe army. I think kids are drawn to forts like cats are drawn to cardboard boxes that are a tight fight.

    Chris in Owatonna (who also had a very nice maple tree for climbing in his backyard when he was a kid)

    Liked by 6 people

    1. We were at end of county road. So snow plow piled up big piles along the driveway into the garage. Our snow forts were half built for us. One of the few things my mother photographed was the three of us playing in snow, forts included. My brother must have beem going along with the whims of his two much younger siblings.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. We built most of our forts at the end of the driveway too, Clyde, because of the plowing. Especially after we’d shoveled the driveway. Easier to start with a 5-foot pile of firmly packed snow than try to pile up and form the loose stuff in the yard.

        Chris

        Like

        1. I think of a castle as a place where royalty live in relative luxury. In some cases it’s also fortified against attacks with moats and drawbridges and such. I think that’s particularly true of castles built during the middle ages. A fortress lacks windows and its primary function is to guard something, no luxuries involved. At least that’s how I think of them.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. There are also, at least in Scotland, fortified houses like Cragievar that, although called a castle fall short, apparently, of actual castlehood.
          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craigievar_Castle
          Compared to your average home or even average mansion, I would call Cragievar a castle.

          Whether the occupants are royalty or nobility or wealthy businessmen, if the rockpile is a residence, I’d consider it a castle. If it’s manned by military, it’s a fortress.

          Liked by 2 people

  10. Dad got another job and we moved from Chuggaton, in the hamlet of Cobbaton, to the next hamlet, Stowford. We had a modern cottage which was OK, and it was on Stowford Lodge Farm, which eventually came, by divine right, to belong to my sister Jane and me. Trouble is, nobody seems to know it’s ours. I think it was 132 acres before it was amalgamated into the farm next door, then later joined to yet more farms. There’s a field called Narroway on the other side of the road from the cottages that forms part of the lower boundary of the farm. No, it’s not a narrow field, and neither is the Narroway at Chuggaton Farm. Not long before Isaac was bornl, sister Jane and I decided we’d build a hideout at Narroway. After all, it’s where I’m going to die and be buried. Now honestly, we did decide that. I made a special trip from Southampton, and we went over there, and Jane was straight into “what about where the old hideout was.” Huh? was my reaction. While I was busy helping on the farm, the rest of them had a hideout I didn’t know about. So we went and looked, and the hedge it had been in was gone. We looked all along the bottom of the field to see where to build the thing. All the masses of trees we pictured, weren’t there any more. And in fact, Narroway had included two smaller fields along the bottom, with hedges in bad repair, which used to obscure things a bit. The hedges were gone. Everything you might
    want to do in that field was now very visible, and therefore we didn’t want to do it.
    Another one we didn’t build.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. We were so poor I had to play in a gully.

    I remember playing on an upturned stump one summer; that giant root ball sat in the yard until it dried out enough dad could move it, so it made a great play spot.
    There was a lot more trees around the house as I grew up. Most of those died out, and some have been replaced by volunteer walnut trees. But it’s hard to climb a walnut; no branches low enough.
    My nephews had made a tree fort, nailing steps on to the trunk. It survived a long time, but it was also right next to the road and those maples, the hollow out inside and branches were falling off and I finally had to cut it down. Made navigating the road with large machinery easier, but lost some memories too.
    There’s still two trees causing a pinch point. An oak on the East side, and a Walnut on the West… I have to slow down and ease certain machinery through.

    Back to the gully; it was back behind the barn, and it was at the end of a grove of Pine trees that acted as a wind break. A friend and I took old metal tractor seats down there and had a place to hide out. Not sure from who, there was no other kids around. A few years later, in 1977, it was all torn down and a dam was built to control the erosion.

    Liked by 7 people

  12. Living right in the middle of the woods, which came within 70-80 yards of our house on two sides, of course we built forts and tree houses. There was a lumber mill about 3/4 of a miles from our house, but it was a five mile drive to get there. My father did some work for the man who owned it, so he lways took home a couple loads of slab wood, which we would saw up into stove lengths for kindling and the stove in the workshop. We were allowed to take some of them at full lengths to use in our tree houses. We also salvaged old buildings to reuse lumber. We were allowed to take a few boards to use as the floor in the tree houses. So we had lots of supplies.
    One of the symbols, in a way symbols, and motifs of my second novel is children building forts. Writing that allowed me to relive some memories.
    Two major constructions in Mankato were finished this week, which made some short routes long. Plus I now have another route to visit Sandra.

    Liked by 5 people

        1. My mother was annoyed by all accents from the British Isles. She considered them all too posh. She never liked watching “All Creatures Great and Small” because she said their accents bugged her and “all they do is go and look after sick cows!”

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Renee, the vets largely had posh accents, but the farmers and townspeople mostly had solid Yorkshire accents, which no one could mistake for “posh.” But I bet if I were to revisit British TV series from that era and earlier, I’d find many of them riddled with that awful condescending style of speech. There was so much of it at the time, it got in everywhere. I was just watching the BBC and others interviewing the Everlys on the occasion of their comeback at the Albert Hall as recently as 1983, and the sound of those interviwers and reporters was utterly horrendous even then.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. My friend Pete Morton is from Leicester, and he has the most delightful accent, though I’m wondering if dialect is the more correct term? At one point he was the voice on our home answering machine, that was great fun. He sounded like an English butler informing callers that we weren’t available at the moment, but we’d get back to them in due time. Friends would call us just to hear the message.

          Liked by 2 people

  13. I realise now that the older of our two armchairs was used as a hideout. You were safe there. No one could touch you, though no doubt that rule got broken. It also acted, as a horse, a plane, a car, any vehicle you wanted. The rule that didn’t get broken was “bagging” it. You couldn’t bag it if you were already on it, so if you were coming back, and wanted it again, you had to exit it suddenly and unexpectedly, yelling “bags that chair when I come back!” Everyone was watching like a hawk, and you had to be quick and loud. Everyone was waiting to bag it. There were rows about whether you’d actually let go of the chair, of course. But the law was the law, and was respected.
    I think it counts as a hideout.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Our lean-to forts were usually hidden in a balsam stand, and we used balsam branches as the cover of the walls. We ended up covered in balsam sap and then dirt stuck to the sap. But my how they smelled. One tree house was built at the top of a field. It overlooked Superior from Duluth to the Apostles.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. The Danish word for what we built is “hule.” It’s pronounce whoo-le, two syllables. It’s not so much built as it is a naturally occurring shelter from a tree with low-hanging branches or a thicket of brush in a grove of trees, sometimes enhanced with fallen branches and leaves. In winter, snow could be used. But my childhood tribes were pretty nomadic; we were scavengers, forever in pursuit of the next venture, so these structures didn’t get used much. The fun was in creating them; once completed, we lost interest and moved on to our next adventure.

    In Stubbekøbing’s major park there were two memorable trees. They are still there. One is a revered, huge, old, red European beech, it was planted in 1888. The other one is a large European chestnut tree, the source of thousands of inedible, but beautiful chestnuts that we used for all kinds of things. That was also a good tree for climbing by the older kids.

    I was hoping to find a photo of the red beech tree, but came up with these twos link to a series of photos. The first is the old core of Stubbekøbing; this is where I lived till I was twelve. The second from the surrounding area that we explored every nook and cranny of. What wonderful memories to have, I’m grateful:
    http://www.stubbekoebing.dk/de_gamle_gader
    http://www.stubbekoebing.dk/naturen_i_oplandet

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s how it’s been with Isaac and the village kids with their cabanas(there should be an accent on that second “n”, to make it rhyme with Espana. My phone won’t do it. They went back to the one they started before lockdown, and didn’t really know what to do once it was finished. They started another and were ordered off the ground. Another seemed to occupy a brief amount of energy, then no more was heard. Jane and I spotted a good tree, but were told they’d already built one there, then left it.
      Kids need a farm to grow up on. They don’t do that here, because fruit farming is boring.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In the larger street photo in the first link, the taller white building was the town’s poorhouse. The woman I think of as my Danish grandmother lived in a small apartment on the ground floor. I would ride my bike down to visit her, and she always had cold Danish pancakes (think crepes) for me in the icebox. It was a sad and pretty desolate place at that time. Talk about being dirt poor.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no, so your move is precipitated by the cost of Sandy’s care? I don’t suppose you have explored as yet, what lower cost housing is available for you? I am sorry to hear this, Clyde. This country does a dismal job of taking care of it’s sick and elderly people.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. When we lived in Southampton, we were in a row of six houses. There was grass up at the far end with a tree in the middle. Some kids got a whole lot of stuff from somewhere and asked me for some nails, which I gave them, maybe I gave them the odd piece of wood, I don’t remember. They made a pretty impressive house in that tree with wood and “galvanised,” as we’d call it in Devon. And made a colossal racket doing it. Next thing I knew Marion, along with her husband Pete, my favourite neighbour, was telling me off about helping these kids to look straight down into everyone’s gardens. I was already fed up with them for not sayjng “please” and “thank you.” They’d just grab it and go, it wasn’t the first time.

    So when I was in the garden and some kids in the tree started calling out to me, under the name of “Hey!” Have you got some…. whatever it was, I utterly ignored them. Ashley resorted to “Hey, you!” I didn’t like being called that and my ignoring started to become pointed. (Another day I explained: You never say please, you never say thank you. I wonder if they remember that.)

    A few days later the treehouse was thrown back on the ground, allegedly by some older boys. Pete told me how upset the kids were.
    Pete’s kind of young at heart. But I don’t think the general population was upset.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. When I was about ten to twelve years old we had something a bit different: huts. A hut is just some slapped together shelter outdoors, and I spent as much of my time outdoors as I could.

    We couldn’t afford to build large huts, so they were a lot like the forts kids built indoors. I remember one of them too well. It was small and shoddily put together. I remembered a teacher in fifth grade who said pioneers burned buffalo dung (buffalo chips) for heat. So we built a fire in our hut and fed cowpies to it. I can assure you, a green cowpie is a miserable substitute for a nice sweet buffalo chip.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. OT: I think I’ve said all the things I can remember on hideouts.
    I fell asleep with plenty of my musical stones unturned.
    I’ll just mention the two coolest cats that ever lived.
    Lightnin’ Hopkins.
    The Mighty Diddley.
    No particular order.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Regarding names of groups of trees and fortified buildings:
    I was once on river cruise (short one). During Q & A session people told speaker it was improper to call it a boat. A man said a boat is something that goes on a ship. Speaker started naming places where large watercraft are called boats. The man got argumentative with the speaker, who said that clearly a boat was a craft called that by people who were very familiar with it. The arguer was near me so later I ask where he was from. He said Oklahoma. He did not seem to catch why I asked. Sometimes when on the TH breakwater people would say it was improper to call it a boat, it is a ship. I never argued. One guy kept wanting me to argue. He used the word breakwater. I said that if he thought about it breakwater makes no sense. It should be waterbreak . He stepped right into it. He said that was what it always called. So I pointed at the massive freighter and said “ore boat” and walked away.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. A tree house, a free house,
    A secret you and me house,
    A high up in the leafy branches
    Cozy as can be house.

    A street house, a neat house,
    Be sure and wipe your feet house
    Is not my kind of house at all —
    Let’s go live in a tree house.

    – Shel Silverstein

    Liked by 5 people

  20. OT.
    The death of my Dad prompted my daughter to explore family history. I was already aware of a direct link to Eli Whitney of cotton gin fame but she found genealogy back to 189 C.E. No zeros. Three digits. How is that possible?! I thought it outstanding to trace Dad to 1360 among the Danes but this on Mom’s side knocked my socks off.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. One of my frustrations with ancestry.com is that if you find an error in someone else’s work, you can’t communicate with them about it unless you have a paid account. I have discovered a number of errors in the trees in familysearch.org, the LDS site that is free, and I can message the people who made the faulty connection and get it corrected. With ancestry.com, though, I only use the free library edition, which doesn’t allow that. So I can see how rife with errors it is, but can’t take any action to make it better. So I distrust ancestry.com on that basis.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. For what it’s worth, you can’t trust anyone else’s tree on Ancestry unless they have documented how they came to their conclusion. Many of the tree makers copy other tree makers indiscriminately so that errors are rife. Most of those tree makers aren’t interested in being corrected, I would presume, because their trees would crumble like a house of cards. Ancestry provides access to public records that once were accessible for free but now have been sequestered behind a paywall. Those records are what I mostly rely on Ancestry for.

          Just about anyone can find an ancestral trail back to the first millennium, if that’s what you want. All you have to do is find a link to royalty, and just about everyone is related to a third cousin of some king or queen if you go back far enough. Once you are tapped into a royal line the genealogy is established.

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.