There is a place on the east edge of Lisbon, North Dakota that served as a magnet to kids…boys mostly…for as long as I can remember.
No amusement park. No carnival rides. No pony show.
But this was a special hill and it’s still there today. I can’t attest to its’ attraction to today’s electronically implanted youngsters who can’t seem to move without a wire of some sort dangling from a body part…but I’m sure a few brave souls venture to this hill.
We, me and my puberty-free friends, called the hill “The Cuts”.
We gave it that name because it looked like it had been cut in two and a railroad track laid between the two halves. In fact, that’s exactly what had happened…long before my clan and I discovered it.
Thinking back, I don’t think I was allowed out of the yard alone until I was at least four years old. Yes, I’m sure I violated the rule a few times.
My neighborhood was located about two blocks west of the railroad tracks on the east side of Lisbon. Thus, it was an easy jaunt to the tracks and a turn due north for about a third of a mile and we were at the Cuts.
So what’s in a hill, you ask?
The Cuts were really the cliffs left behind when the railroad got through clawing their way down to a level grade for the track to be placed. The remaining cliffs were easily six stories high…steep for the first half of the climb, then “straight up” for the next half.
Oh yeah…this was a bit of heaven on earth for grubby little rug-rats who looked at scaling the clay ledges as a challenge similar to taming our own Mount Everest.
We slipped once in a while. Okay a quite a bit, but we always got right back up and immediately shouted…”I’m okay”.
Over several years we spent many a sunny day climbing and exploring this mini-mountain. We would stand on ledges slightly wider that our shoes, if we were wearing shoes, and take a pointed stick to make new stepping ledges in new directions up the cliff face.
It was an adventure…and many times we imagined ourselves exploring never before lands in places that no man had ever seen before
The Cuts were kind of our Star Trek.
From six stories above the railroad tracks we would hurl small chunks of clay and pretend they were cannon shot as we defended our mountain fort from an enemy. On many a sunny afternoon, my best friends and I would lie on our backs in the grassy pasture near the cliff edge and talk.
The topics of our conversations did not solve any world problems.
They did however identify countless images in the clouds overhead. The trick to seeing shapes in clouds is to find more that one shape in a single cloud before the wind erased the images.
Your cloud discovery had to be, of course, confirmed by a second party before you were credited with the find.
Usually before we finished our in-depth discussions we spent some quality time talking about other kids and how we were obviously tougher and smarter than they and then we concluded the lie-on-our-back-and-look-at-the-sky round table discussion be planning out tomorrows itinerary.
Today’s activities weren’t over yet, but it’s always a good idea to plan ahead.
If you haven’t done it, you can’t even begin to imagine how much fun a hill of clay can be on a summer afternoon.
We didn’t visit the Cuts as much in the winter. Just on special days.
Special Day were determined by snowfall.
Without exaggerating one bit, I can remember snowfalls in Lisbon that allowed the accompanying wind to create drifts that were six or seven feet high…higher in some places. We had a two story house with a porch across the front and I remember a couple of times when my brother Duane and I could climb up a snow drift to the porch roof and slide down all the way across Rose Street and into Mr. Skaadens yard.
Major FUN !
Back to the Cuts.
When we would get a major snow storm, all us kids new the railroad would be sending an engine with a humongous snow blower on the front to clear the tacks in the Cuts. A heavy snow could pack several fieet of snow onto the tracks. And, this massive snow blower would throw snow fifty to a hundred feet up the slanted banks of the lower half of the Cuts.
As soon as my gang an I knew the railroad had cleared the tracks, we grabbed cardboard boxes we had pulled open at the seams and headed for the summit of the Cuts.
You had to get a run!
Remember the top half of the Cuts was pretty much straight up and down. But with regular snowfall and following a heavy dumping of white stuff, the drop to the bulk of the snow pack wasn’t too far. And besides, it was snow so it was soft.
You grab your cardboard chunk…get a run about fifteen back from the edge…and leap out as far as you could maneuvering your cardboard beneath your belly before landing the field of white. Then you rocketed down the remaining hill, across the tracks and part way up the other side before slowly slipping back down to the tracks.
You laid on your back in the snow looking back up at the next adventurer to come flying over the edge. You were smiling.
It worked most of the time.
There was this one day when the plan didn’t go quite the way we expected.
I was probably eight or nine.
There had been a snowstorm. A big one! My friends and I walked to the railroad tracks the next morning when we heard a locomotive working hard in the direction of the Cuts.
We smiled at each other and then scattered to find some new cardboard. I usually check behind J.C. Penny’s first because they regularly got a lot of boxes. However I always took a quick look behind Moll’s Appliance store for refrigerator boxes. One of those boxes could be cut up for all the gang to get a piece and…these boxes had a wax coating on the inside.
We’re talking “Lightning Fast”!
We reconvened near the tracks to wait for the locomotive and the industrial sized snow blower to finish its task and as soon as it passed by us we began our assault on the summit.
Eureka! Never had we seen this much snow. The locomotive had thrown a massive drift to within ten or fifteen feet of the top.
Before disturbing even a flake of this dream sight we stood side be side, holding our waxed cardboard and just gazed at the field of white.
We didn’t cry…mainly because we didn’t know at that time that crying could also be an expression of joy. Had we known that, we could have spilled enough liquid to make a hockey rink.
Time to fly!
Remember I mentioned our descent didn’t always go as planned?
This was one of those times.
There was a wind up high on that hill. Not a gale, but very noticeable.
I was in the on-deck spot as my buddy Lauren broke into a full gallop and flung his sixty-seven pound body into the frozen air below.
He adjusted his cardboard for the wind. It was squarely below his torso when he created a puff of white as he piloted his make-believe jet to the base, across the tracks, back up the other side and the slowly slid back to the tracks.
Lauren rolled to his back. We could see his white teeth gleaming even brighter than the snow he had just plowed as he gave up a thumbs up!
We returned the gesture in approval.
I’m on line for take off.
Smiles all around.
I began my self propelled catapult with a run to the cliff.
I worked to place my cardboard beneath me in preparation for my landing.
Where did that gust of wind come from? Why am I flying on my back and my cardboard is above me looking down? Why am I heading head-first into the loose snow that is rapidly approaching me?
Where is the sunlight?
It is the middle of the day, it shouldn’t be dark. But, it is. Where am I?
I hear noises…talking I think. Something is pulling on my overshoe. Now there is a bit of light. There’s some more. I can see my friends.
I think I cried in joy at this moment…probably for the first time in my life.
You have figured it out.
Loose snow…many feet deep…flipped over by the wind as I jumped from the cliff and “swan dived” head first into a powdery mountain of white. I didn’t jump anymore that day.
We shared my adventure with other kids when we got back to town. Of course it was my story so each time I told it…it got better. My friends who were with me at the Cuts when it happened were happy to hear me tell the story over and over again too. They were amazed at how it changed every time I told it and, even though they witnessed the entire event, I seemed to mention things…items that enhanced my obvious bravery… they apparently didn’t see as it unfolded.
All was good.
I loved the Cuts.