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The Junction Tree

"That Injun bastard! The game is officially on,!" I swore. I had climbed to the highest part of the tree, where it begins to bend if you go any higher, trying to see Little Fox, and there he was, that sneaky little warrior wannabe, stashing some high grade dead branches in the weeds. He didn't know that I had suspected something like this and had gotten to the Junction early to see what form his deception was taking. I may be only twelve, I thought, but I was a savvy competitor, not to be taken lightly.

Two days earlier, we were lying on our backs in the tree, each on his favorite fat branch, plotting our next adventure. It was his idea to build two rafts and race them down the creek to the Confluence, where Turtle Creek joins Rock River. We would meet at Beloit Junction, race off to find raft building materials, and build and launch our vessels, first one to Goat Island the winner.

Playing dumb, I sauntered into the clearing and greeted the little cheater as if nothing were amiss. It was an ideal day for a raft race.

Both big Turtle Creek and little Willowbrook Creek were high and fast, and where Willowbrook terminates into Turtle the result was some awesome turbulence, enough to get the first raft a jumpstart down stream to the curve. Fall colors were at their peak, the shore flowers and grasses at their height and the tree canopy combined in to form a tunnel of color that could transport a young boy's imagination a thousand miles an hour into an adventure.

The Junction was actually an adventure unto itself. And the Junction Tree was its magic observation perch. Somewhere, in Aunt Lois' back yard on Hillcrest , just over the edge of her back hill, about twenty feet above The Junction, stood a wonderful tree, pretty tall and leaning out over the hill, looking eastward for the morning sun. It had huge lower branches, big and fat, and because of the lean, you could walk up the trunk and out on the big old branches and be standing, balancing twenty feet off of The Junction floor. Then, you could shinny out on your butt on two of the big branches, and lie down on the branch with your elbows resting on the V in the branch. The branches were fat enough so that it was pretty comfortable, and the V helped keep you from rolling off, and provided kind of a pillow, A kid could lie there for hours, even a bony kid like me or Little Fox.

When the leaves were gone, you could see for a few miles east, to where Walsh's ridge curved North, completing the big, beautiful arch formed by Hillcrest and Walsh's ridgelines. Willowbrook Creek drained Walsh's Ridge and flowed into the Turtle at The Junction, and then they joined, flowing around a bend, splitting the two ridges, passing through downtown Beloit and emptying at the Confluence into the Rock River.

I grew up on Hillcrest in the mid 1950's. Little Fox grew up at the the Confluence in the late 1820's. We met at the Junction.

When I hollered "Go!", I pushed the sneaky Fox toward the Crick and hauled-ass to his stockpile, snatching up the two prime outrigger branches, and sat on them, a universally accepted legal claiming technique. The Fox was beaten at his own nefarious game, and knew that no pile of smaller branches, however creatively woven and bound, could support a kid to the bend, yet alone, all the way to the mighty Rock and the beach at Goat Island, where the old Italians grazed their flocks.

I expected howls of protest, worthy of the finest coyote love call, but found only a smirk from my competitor. My mind raced as I thought of every scenario that I must have overlooked, until it hit me ..." binder twine"! In my haste to get to The Junction ahead of Little Fox, I had forgotten to stop by Mr. Davis' lumber yard on Colley Road and swipe some twine. It was a cardinal sin for a boy to walk around without twine in his pocket and a knife to cut it, and raft building required a ton of twine, the heavy duty stuff that the farmers used for baling. My pocket was obviously bereft of twine, as it would take a noticeable amount to do this particular task, Fox's bulging rear pocket obviously had ample twine, and he could legally reclaim ownership of the riggers if I went back to the twine bin.

A Hobson's standoff, I mused, ( a spectacularly mixed metaphor that twelve year old boys invent daily ) - Foxy can't build a worthy raft without his riggers and I can't leave my riggers and keep possession. A compromise was obviously called for, and he had the upper hand unless I wanted to sit there 'till dark and beyond. Boyhood impatience ruled the moment, and we agree to work together and build a marvelous raft, one which would be capable of transporting us down the Crick, around the bend, past the Confluence, past Goat Island, all the way to Hannibal, where we would meet up with Huck and Tom and have a great adventure.

Which we did.

But we came back. We always come back to The Junction.

Little Fox had gone off on a cool adventure once. When Chief Blackhawk had swept through The Junction with his Sauk warriors and other tribespeople, Fox's dad, Grey Otter, chose to join up with Blackhawk and his tribe so that they would not kill him He told Fox and Fox's mom to flee the village until the Sauk and the Yankees had passed through, Fox's mom left that next day, but Fox decided to join up with Grey Otter and Blackhawk. Despite her pleading, Fox left Turtle Village and followed the Sauk band up the Turtle and then North and West, always a day or two ahead of the Yankee militia. It was exciting. The militia had their Indian scouts run ahead to track Blackhawk, and Little Fox had some narrow escapes along the way. Eventually, near Bad Axe, Little Fox caught up with his father. As the militia closed in, Grey Otter and Little Fox tried to lead the Sauk women and children across the Mississippi, but found themselves no match for the mighty river, and perished together.

Foxy wasn't the only Junction Kid. He wasn't even the only Indian. We had some Mound Builder kids who lived here thousands of years ago. We had Indian boys from other bands who had lived here and left for unknown reasons. We know why they came here. The magnificent bluffs along Turtle Creek and Rock River, the fertile Turtle Bottoms savannah where corn and cattle and game and birds and wildflowers grew abundantly with little or no help. Imagine a bed of wildflowers stretching from The Junction to Fort Atkinson, with the Junction Tree like a mast rising above this sea of color. There was peace and quiet, where occupants could live in harmony within their God's nature.

All who came here longed for the opportunity and the tranquility that was so abundantly present, and for a place to raise children who could share this Eden.

Most left involuntarily.

We know that the Turtle tribe was probably chased out by Abe Lincoln, Zach Taylor, Jeff Davis and the Illinois Militia, or by Blackhawk and the Sauk. They fled to the north mostly and in subsequent years tried to return. But the white pioneer families now inhabited the Hillcrest Ridge and the Confluence and would not accept the Winnebago's rightful ownership claims.

The Mound Builders left mysteriously, driven by cosmic forces or cataclysmic natural events.

Some left voluntarily.

Boys left as boys to fight glorious wars and die painfully and heroically as men whose names we inscribe on stones.

The games and the laughter, the adventures, the soul-filling fun of boyhood, remain at The Junction, awaiting the newest bands of little boys. The creek beckons, and boys appear on the bluffs, and the games go on.

I don't go down to The Junction any more. Life beckons.

I did finally go down last month and it seemed so overgrown. The Tree is gone, replaced by some worthy successors, but none as easily accessed as the original. And saplings have grown up between The Tree and The Crick. I have half a mind to get some of the boys together, maybe Foxy and the Carroll boys and the Buffas, the Byrds and some Mounders, and chop down the trees that are obscuring the view. We can use the bigger trees as cover, protection against advancing Indians, or Nazis or Yankee cavalry.

I'll bet that the boys will all show when I get there and we will recapture The Junction, fix it up for boys to come and enjoy. And we will have a grand game of Marco Polo or Capture the Flag. What a fine time we'll have.

I will head down there soon. If you get there before I do, wait for me. I have to swipe some twine along the way.

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