The Tree Fort
This is how Tucker told it:
In the spring of 1981, while I was slogging through classes and fast food jobs at the University of Maryland, Tucker was having fun as a senior in high school. On the weekends, and sometimes the weekdays, he and my brother Dylan were building themselves a tree fort.
I’m not sure if they had a clear endgame for the tree fort. Maybe Tucker thought he would be able to invite babes over to smooch. Or he could maybe drink a beer in seclusion. But I think mostly the fort was just a cool thing in and of itself.
In order to build the fort, they chopped down a lot of trees that were about nine or ten inches thick.
To hoist the logs into place at the right height between four trees, they built a pulley system. When they worked out the method, they would chop down a tree, hack off the branches, haul it over to the right spot, tie each end with a rope, toss the ropes up and loop them through their pulley system, climb up to their starter log, hoist the new logs, and lash them into place. It was a long process and they took a long time coming to it. Their first starts were not efficient.
After a while though, they started getting the hang of the process. They cut down tree after tree, dragged them next to the fort, and stacked them.
One time, when my brother cut down a tree that was over a foot in diameter, it was more trouble than usual for Tucker to drag. As they were coming to their site, his hands slipped. His end of the log pulled the other end out of Dylan’s hands after it pulled Dylan off balance. To make it worse, the middle of their big log fell onto the stack of logs. The top of the stack acted like a fulcrum. As Tucker’s end fell down, the other end rose up and crushed my brother in the chest.
Dylan went down, gasping.
“I couldn’t help it,” Tucker told me later, “ it just looked so damn funny.“
Dylan stayed down for a while. Eventually, Tucker stopped laughing and realized it was kind of serious. And Dylan recovered enough to get up. Then he got so indignant about Tucker laughing before that Tucker started laughing again at how indignant he was.
The two of them continued to work on the fort for another couple weeks. Each workday, they spent time stacking more logs beside their work site and lashing more and more of them into place. When Tucker had half of a platform built, he started to feel proud about it. The project had taken a lot of work. And brains, too. They had to figure out a lot of details.
Weeks later when the two were lashing more logs to the platform, Tucker slipped. The log that he was hoisting spun out of the pulley system. His right leg got flung up and out by the rope. A moment later, the rest of his body followed the falling log to the ground.
He could have hit the log that he had been working on and had his skull broken in a couple of places. Or he could have landed on the stack of logs and broken his spine. But instead, Tucker says, he landed on his back between the two sets of logs. His vision exploded in a burst of color, then blackness. For a moment, he passed out.. He blinked at the boughs overhead.
Dylan hopped to the edge of the platform. He pointed down at Tucker.
“Ha!” he yelled. “Now you know how it feels!”
Tucker was in no shape to reply for a long while.
“Eric,” he told me later. “He was completely right. And I realized that I was really lucky. That fall could’ve been a lot worse. People break their necks doing stuff like that. And I have no skull in the back of my head. It could’ve been bad. I had a headache for a while. But I really wasn’t hurt.”
He paused, lost in thought for a moment.
"And he was right. I shouldn't have laughed. But man, when that hit him, it did look like the coyote getting smacked around in a road runner cartoon."
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