While in high school, my friends and I took every opportunity to head for the woods that surrounded the village of Germantown.
About three miles west of town is the Germantown MetroPark. When we were young, it was simply called “The Dam.”
The dam was built 100 years ago as part of the Miami Valley flood control project after the disastrous 1913 flood which destroyed a huge part of Dayton and much of Southwest Ohio.
The dam is about a quarter of a mile long and 100 feet high. It spans Twin Creek, which is usually a gently flowing waterway.
At normal water levels, Twin Creek has some of the best swimming holes in all of Ohio. We knew them all, but you had to be careful after a heavy rain.
Even today, following a hard, flooding rain, the water behind the dam backs up forming a huge whirlpool. It can be frightening to get near the water’s edge when the whirlpool is sucking down fully grown trees.
We always enjoyed riding across the dam to the large park. The park was perfect for picnicking and enjoying nature. The loop-drive at the park was about two miles long. There were plenty of trails, hills, and Twin Creek was there to wade through and play in.
Adventures were just waiting for young boys at the park.
Most of our biggest adventures started off as a simple, tame outing. However, a simple day of “playing in the woods” could quickly take a turn toward the dangerous by simply finding a large oak tree growing near the edge of a steep bank.
By the end of the day, covered with scrapes, scratches, grass stains and mud, we would sometimes look each other in the eye and ask, “What in the world were we thinking?”
One day in mid-spring, we crossed the creek and started jogging the hills on the south side of the park. One of the guys (either Mike, Lynn or Rusty) said we should slow down and look for mushrooms.
It seemed like a good idea. The trail we were on led up to the edge of a steep, grassy drop-off. Perched at the top of the ravine was a large oak tree. Hanging from one of the thick, lower branches of the tree was a sturdy grapevine.
We never went into the woods without our pocketknives. In no time, we had cut the grapevine free and took a few timid swings from the top of the bank.
Time after time, we would swing out and back to the safety of the grass-covered bank. If you have ever spent time hanging out with teen-aged boys looking for adventure, you soon realize that timid and safe thoughts do not linger long.
On one of my turns, I walked the vine as far back as I could. I was well past the base of the oak tree. Hanging on tight, I ran toward the drop off and dove over the edge. The vine was as thick as a sturdy rope. I hung on as I floated over the edge.
Near the end of my swing was the top of a pine tree that was growing up from the small creek bed below. The tree was probably about 25-30 feet tall. I was close enough to the tree to reach out with my foot and touch the top of it.
Not surprisingly, with each swing we strived for faster and further. On my next swing, I was far enough out to grab the top of the pine tree with my right hand. I gripped the skinny top of the tree and let go of the vine, not knowing what would happen next. I was delighted that the tree started bending back toward the grassy bank.
As my feet touched the bank, I let go of the tree and it immediately sprang back up. Again, it was straight as an arrow. It stood straight up as if waiting for our next swing. It did not have to wait long.
The next guy did the same thing. We were getting braver and braver – swinging harder and harder. It was Mike’s turn again. He started back even farther. He ran faster and swung like a half-crazed Tarzan.
He was going so fast that when he grabbed the top of the trusty old pine tree, instead of bringing him gently back to the bank, the tree started bending the other way.
I have a recollection of Mike sounding like Goofy falling off a cliff. The last I saw of Mike was him hanging upside down from the top of the pine tree. He was still yelling as he disappeared into the gorge. The next thing we heard was laughter.
That time, the old pine tree didn’t spring back. We decided that we had taken our grapevine swinging as far as we should go.
We returned to our bikes laughing and making the adventure sound more dangerous with each retelling. Thank God for good friends, good luck and our guardian angels.
That day was not the last time I took a “Leap of Faith.” There have been many others since then. Thankfully, God has seen me through them all.
I should probably apologize to all the parents and grandparents who will read this and wish that I had not planted this seed of adventure in the minds of their youngsters, but trust me… the idea was already there.
They just need to find the right tree.
They also need to keep their guardian angel on speed-dial.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.