Whenever I ramble the beach with the husky and encounter an abundant supply of driftwood, I immediately size up the potential for a good fort and imagine what my friends and I would have constructed in our youth.
Forts excited our passion. We built them anywhere and everywhere. I remember the summer days of riding our bicycles (without a helmet) to the woods near the edge of Oregon City (without bottled water, a cell phone, music, or energy drinks). There we played war and nothing but war. It was always World War II, never Vietnam, an epic catastrophe nearing the light at the end of the tunnel.
We fought the Nazis and Japanese and dug trenches and bunkers. We built forts so tight they could've withstood a bazooka round. We executed basic squad tactics and stole butter knives from home to affix as bayonets on our toy M-1s and lied to our mothers about inexplicably missing tableware. Somehow, we all owned entrenching tools, flints, and canteens.
There was never an adult around to supervise. We came home at dusk, starving, exhausted. Then we'd get up in the morning, throw down some sugary cereal, improvise a sack lunch, ride out, destroy the old forts in a raid, then rebuild new ones, better ones. No one ever got hurt and we made our way into adolescence just fine without structured play dates. Building forts with your friends in the woods tends to do that.
Those summer days came rushing back to me a while back after discovering a fort on one of my regular beach rambles. It's truly a rare thing to see one these days. I could count on one hand the cool forts I've come across on Oregon's ocean beaches since I moved here in 1997. It's not like there's a lack of driftwood or kids either. What's going on with that? Whatever the sociological reasons, I do everything I can to arrest this depressing trend.
In my teaching at Newport High School, I weave in building forts as part of the curriculums for four different classes: journalism, photography, creative writing, and Writing 121 for seniors. You really haven't lived as a teacher unless you've build a fort along side your students. Four moments stand out in my career: 1) a poetry fort at the tip of Nestucca Spit in Pacific City; 2) writers' forts at Mo's Beach in Lincoln City; 3) a towering art fort at South Beach State Park; 4) romance forts at Oswald West State Park.
When's the last time you built a fort? The beach is definitely the best place, but if you don't have immediate access to free Oregon ones like I do, try the woods, a park, or your backyard. So, after reading this piece, gather up the kids, dogs, shut-ins, friends, family, partner, or random stranger you meet and build one!
Or build one alone. It might change your life.
It was October and the sky exuded a couple of shades of gray as I cruised the sandy berm of my local beach looking for limpets. In the distance I saw a structure of some kind. I walked toward it and soon recognized the bleached façade of a somewhat circular fort. From the outside I could tell it was solidly built, logs sunk deep into the sand. Built smartly too, because the creators situated it well above the wrack line, so conceivably it could have lasted well into winter. (It's not there anymore.)
Next, the husky and I went inside and made our inspection: a fire ring, benches, seaweed, shell, rope and feather decorations, alternating planks, pallets and logs, a rectangular window, more like a slat, with an ocean view. Then it hit me like a blow from a skillet — an advanced aesthetic was at work, or should I say, "tease," here.
The window beckoned me. I noticed an etched sign resting at an angle on some ancient logs. It read: "Fort Sex."
Ohhhh, the kids these days. Make love not war it is! Thank god some parents allowed them a little unsupervised play.
But wait. Maybe adults built this fort. Maybe this was some spontaneous therapy for a passionless partnership.
It hardly matters who built the fort. It's only important that it was made, and made well.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain