Back in the early 1960s I lived in Annapolis the first time around, and played with kids who happened to live up and down the length of Weems Creek.
I lived, with my family, in an old neighborhood called Rogers Heights. It consisted of a single dirt road that ran parallel to Rowe Boulevard, between the Lutheran Church on Farragut Road and a turnaround in front of the house where the Rogers heirs lived.
I don't rememebr exactly how many houses there were, but two or three were very similar wooden, two-story dwellings with wraparound porches. Built into the slope, they had walk-in basements at the back. Ours had two, the lower of which was a very spooky hole.
Behind the houses, a trickling stream full of orange water made its way along the bottom of the shallow vale toward Weems Creek. In the patch of woods on the other side of the stream, a gang of larger boys was supposed to carry on its savage rites. They did shoot me with a bb gun once. I felt a stinging flick at my chin and pulled away a drop of blood when I put my hand up to see what had happened.
I never saw the boys themselves. We would cross the stream to go down to the big creek, past the gang's tree fort, with their name or slogan drippily painted in red on an old cloth diaper. One of the neighborhood kids said they called themselves the Woman Haters, but he could have gotten that from television.
Our trail let us out under the high bridge over Weems Creek. We could climb up the orange dirt slope under the bridge to hear the cars and trucks rumble over us. We considered climbing out on the huge girders of the bridge structure itself, and may even have done so, but never all the way across.
On the creek bank we could go either way. The shore was not almost completely armored with bulkheads then. Expensive boats did not hang from electric hoists on burly piers. It was the old relationship of human and waterfront. Docks occasionally got damaged by ice, because the creeks still froze for some part of the winter. A fringe of sand ran around the entire shore. Fallen trees lay across it. This was our lawful path, between high and low water.
We could not always stay in the intertidal zone, but the bluffs along the creek rose up along most of the shore, so we could hike higher without being seen from the houses up on top.
There were occasional boathouses and more elaborate docks, but in most places the house was still out of sight atop the bluff.
Little patches of salt marsh filled any area where a stream entered through a V in the bluffs. We might have to bushwhack inland to pass one of these, or we might find solid enough footing to let us hold the shoreline and hop the stream where it entered.
A neighborhood called Admiral Heights was growing steadily around the headwaters of Weems Creek. When we played up there we could go into Spooky Forest, where the pines were close and dark. Every year there was less of Spooky Forest, as dirt roads stabbed into it, and dark trees gave way to churned, brown earth, then a hole, then a foundation, then a house, a family, fences, forbidden entry. Maybe a new playmate would come out of it, to explore the vanishing woods and the swampy shore. Maybe not.
Even in the late '60s, when my family returned, the shore had not changed too much. I could still wade through the shallows on a summer day, finding the occasional horseshoe crab. I could traverse the bluffs, above the swamps, but below the line of sight, traveling the disregarded slope.
There is an age of presumed innocence. Once a boy is older than that, real innocence is harder to establish. Big kids look like they're skulking, even if they're just exploring. The best I could do was try not to be seen. I was pretty good at that.
Adults develop all sorts of motives for things. I still go exploring in the same spirit I did back then. But I understand why people aren't comfortable when they see an adult apparently wandering aimlessly in their neighborhood or carefully observing something they can't quite discern.
As an adult in the Weems Creek basin, I took to the water itself. Paddling a kayak, I was obviously doing something, and something boring to boot. I wasn't about to do rolling demonstrations or other eye-catching antics. I could flit along in the dusk, or surf the chop and boat wakes on a pleasant afternoon, getting a little exercise, seeing the neighborhood.
Imagine having enough money to buy a big powerboat. Now imagine how much money you'd have left if you bought a kayak instead. You might be able to afford to work less.
Neighborhood wildernesses like Spooky Forest used to be an essential part of growing up. Obviously some people grew up near real wilderness and others grew up in cities, but I lived in a lot of different places, and we always found as near to a natural place as we could, in the small towns I generally inhabited. It was not a park, with rules and rangers. It was just nature, one on one. We did some damage, building trails and forts, but our small powers kept us from altering anything permanently. It took big bucks and big bulldozers to do that. Someone would put a dollar value on the place, someone else would agree to pay it and then it would be ruined, as far as we small savages were concerned.
I'm bigger now.