When I was a kid, fifteen as I recall — and that was long enough ago that I don't care to dwell on it — my dad, my mom, my cousin and I lived for three years on a small island off the northern coast of Maine. My dad was a botanist who worked for the state and he'd been assigned to catalogue as much of the flora of the islands as he could. Three years was all that had been funded for. So we moved to this little island for no other reason than it had an available house on state-owned property with room for my dad to set up a small lab in the basement. It wasn't really much of a house, as I recall but it was OK. I suspect the main reason we took up residence there was that the price was right. We didn't have to pay any rent.
My cousin, Jason and I shared one of the two bedrooms in the clapboard Cape Cod style house. He became part of our family when his own parents, Dad's brother and sister-in-law died. At least they were presumed dead when their fishing boat went out one day and never came back. No trace was ever found of them or their boat. After the initial period of getting used to each other, Jason and I became more like brothers than cousins. He was a week older than me so I guess that made him the elder son. Up until then, I was an only child.
It was originally planned that Jason and I would stay with my Mom's sister on the mainland during the school year but it turned out that wouldn't be necessary because we found a way for us to be home-schooled on the island and that resulted in an educational experience we could have never imagined in our wildest dreams. More about that later.
The island wasn't all that big; probably four or five square miles in all and there were only two other residents living on the other side. All Dad could tell us is that they were a woman and her son and he was supposed to be odd in some way. Dad didn't know if that meant he was learning disable, weird-looking or what — just odd. The woman piloted her boat sixteen miles to the mainland every week or so to collect her mail and do whatever shopping was necessary.
Except for her two-acre plot of land facing the open ocean, the entire island was state-owned and consisted of nothing but forest and rocky coastline. That may sound boring to today's young people who are almost without exception, tied together electronically and spoiled for choice of things to keep themselves entertained, but back then, for two guys in their early teens, it meant unlimited opportunities for exploration and fun. If you reflect back on your own childhood, I'm sure you can imagine the kinds of fantasies we created; hidden treasures, fantastical creatures, that kind of thing. Maybe we were a bit old for that kind of stuff but we were on that cusp between childhood and adulthood and imagination hadn't yet been squashed out of us by life's cold realities. On top of that, Dad considered television the bane of society, the biggest conversation killer ever invented so I guess it goes without saying Jason and I didn't spend our afternoons sitting in front of one.
I recall one of my personal favorite fantasies was that somewhere in the dense forest, there was a beautiful wood nymph just waiting for me to show up and ravage her body. I may have still been part child but I was toting around a full compliment of testosterone. To my discomfort and sometimes embarrassment, I seemed to be sporting a boner about half my waking hours. My only consolation was that Jason was plagued with the same problem. Being almost constant companions and sharing a room made relief from our condition inconvenient but we had an unspoken agreement to not ask why when one or the other of us would disappeared for a few minutes two or three times a day.
Dad was often gone for days at a time, island hopping in his state-owned boat to explore for new species of flora. During periods of good weather, he probably spent only two or three nights a week at home. Mom managed to stay busy around the house doing what moms do and left Jason and me pretty much to our own devices. She didn't seem to mind what we did as long as we didn't suffer grievous injury and we made it home in time for supper.
Of course, the mystery of the odd kid on the other side of the island was the first thing we set out to solve. It turned out to not be so easy; we spent hours peering through the trees from all sides of their house and never caught so much as a glimpse of anyone but the woman when she was working in her garden or hanging out the washing. It never once occurred to us to simply walk up and introduce ourselves. Where's the adventure in that? We didn't get close enough for a really good look at her but from what I could see, I guessed her to be about Mom's age, mid to late thirties, and kind of pretty in a plain sort of way. If Dad hadn't told us she had a son, we never would have suspected that anyone else lived in her house. After two days of squatting in the underbrush and learning nothing the least bit interesting, Jason and I got bored and gave up our surveillance. But the teenage mind is nothing if not fertile so we concluded the kid was either a basket case monstrosity or howling insane and chained to the wall in the root cellar.
We were soon totally absorbed in another project; building a tree house. There was an old storage shed behind our house that was on the verge of collapse and it wasn't all that hard to convince Dad to let us take it apart and use the lumber to build our tree house. We picked a huge old chestnut on the highest point on the island that we figured would give us a great view of everything. If I do say so myself, I think we did a pretty credible job. It was a lot of hard work toting the scrap lumber up the hill to our chosen tree but we persisted and within a week, we'd built a fairly solid, totally enclosed eight by eight foot house with window openings on three sides and a trap door in one corner of the floor. Essentially, what we really did was disassemble the shed and put it back together it in the tree. It was about fifteen feet above the ground and had a rope ladder for access.
For the first couple of days of occupancy, we just hung out but that gets old very quickly so we once again took up surveillance of the woman's house situated down the hill and clearly visible from our perch. I had a rather low-power telescope that I'd gotten for my tenth birthday. We dug it out of the back of my closet and hauled it to the tree house and set it up on its tripod. It may have been low-power as far as studying the stars but it was perfect for spying on people. We could see nearly all of the woman's property and even into two windows in the back of her house. One of the windows was in her kitchen and the other seemed to be in a bedroom. All we could see in the bedroom was a lamp and a typewriter (these were pre-computer days) sitting on a desk in front of the window and the foot of a bed.
Off and on for three days we watched the place with nothing to show for our efforts but achy backs from bending over to peer through the eyepiece. I suppose in the backs of our minds we were hoping she'd stand in front of the window and do a strip tease but we never saw anything more exciting than her cooking something or washing dishes. Our interest was flagging again and we were about to give it up as a lost cause when one day I was moving the view from the bedroom window to the kitchen and saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I swung the scope around toward the side of the house and my breath caught. There he was, a kid who looked to be about our age standing at the corner of the house. He lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and watched me watching him!
"Oh shit!" I said, backing away from the window. "We've been busted!"
Laying his comic book down, Jason stepped over and leaned out the window to see. I was about to grab his arm and pull him back when he waved at the guy. I stood behind him and looked over his shoulder. The kid waved back and turned to move around his house and out of sight.
The house was about a hundred yards away so I didn't get a good look at him. Jason asked, "You saw him through the scope; did he look weird or anything?"
"Um, not that I could tell but I didn't spend a lot time looking either."
"Well, he waved back," Jason observed, "so you can't say he's unfriendly. Maybe we should go down and talk to him."
"Are you kidding? Jason, he just caught us spying on his house and he's probably telling his mom right this minute! She's probably going to be talking to our mom and I don't see that going well, do you?"
"Your mom, not mine, Levi. And anyhow, what's the big deal? So she knows we looked at her house."
"Yeah, well suppose she takes it personally. After all, we were being peeping toms looking in their windows and stuff."
We nearly jumped out of our skins when "HEY!" was shouted from below. I leaned out the window and looked down. There was the woman standing right underneath us with her hand shading her eyes looking up at me.
She yelled again, "Can I talk to you guys for a minute?"
I was having visions of being grounded for the rest of the summer but Jason just leaned out the window and said, "Sure! We'll be right down."
"Shit, Jason!" I whispered, "Are you nuts? We're probably in it up to our ears."
"Grow up, Levi! She's not carrying a gun or a baseball bat is she? Besides, take a look around and tell me where you think we're going to run away to." He opened the trap door and started down the ladder. I followed reluctantly, steeling myself for the reaming-out we were probably about to get for being such creeps.
.... There is more of this story ...