April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Bud Herron: Unlocked imagination the key to freedom

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in The Hope Star-Journal.

I am not sure now how the idea for the trip was born. For a 12-year-old boy, the reason for doing something is not always a part of the process.

Pre-teen hormonal stirrings, emotional spikes and overactive imaginations must have played a part. Spring fever and boredom also had to be in the mix.

Or maybe the idea just arose from the fact that the father of my friend Don was building a house along State Road 9 south of Hope that spring and there were piles of lumber here and there suitable for building a raft.

In any case, Don and I sat on a pile of lumber one afternoon and decided to build a raft, launch it on Duck Creek and head for New Orleans.

Every night after school we dragged pieces of lumber from the construction site about 100 yards through a weed field and into a woods along the banks of Duck Creek. There we began constructing what initially was to be a 100-square-foot river craft with sleeping quarters. (Eventually we figured out Duck Creek was only about 10-feet wide and scaled the project back to a 5-foot square.)

During the day at school we detailed our travel plans with the help of maps from National Geographic magazines. The route was simple and clear: Duck Creek to Clifty Creek; Clifty to White River; White River to the Wabash; the Wabash to the Ohio; the Ohio to the Mississippi and on to New Orleans.

Don and I envisioned and discussed the trip over and over as we built the raft. Before the first two-by-four was cut and laid into place, we could feel the freedom, taste the jambalaya and see the sway of the women's hips along Bourbon Street.

We estimated the Columbus part of the trip would take just a couple of hours, so all we would need in the way of supplies was a couple of cream sodas and a large bag of potato chips. We could buy more supplies in Columbus and then repeat the process as we passed other towns along the way.

Two days before launch we secured the remains of a five-gallon bucket of roofing tar and sealed the cracks in the raft to assure it would float the required distance. We cut two long poles to be used for steering. All that was left to do was take a brief test cruise and we would be on our way.

The raft was heavier than we had estimated and it took several minutes to pull it down the creek bank and into the water - which was about three-feet deep and flowing along at a leisurely pace. Our hearts fluttered as the craft hit the water, momentarily seemed to go under, and then bounced back to the surface.

Don and I let out a yell and leaped aboard, our trusty steering poles in hand. The raft dropped under the surface again, as we knew it would while it adjusted to our weight. We waited a few seconds for it to bob back to the surface. It didn't.

We stood there chest-deep in reality and 1,500 miles from paradise.

* * *

I am not sure whether children still build rafts today and head down Duck Creek toward New Orleans. That trip may have gone the way of vacant lot baseball and all-neighborhood games of "kick the tin can."

Today children are a lot more organized and a lot more supervised. Games have real uniforms and schedules as well as fleets of mini-vans for transportation. There are good things to say about that. Structure is good. Parental supervision and participation are good.

An entire industry produces video games of canned imagination. Children can travel anywhere on their computers. There are theme parks where all the kids can have a group emotion programmed precisely at the same point on the space ship ride.

Still, there was something about that raft in the spring of 1957 that can't be duplicated outside the mind and heart of a 12-year-old. Parents really can't help build the raft or plan the trip.

I think there may be some benefit in giving children enough free, unstructured boredom to come up with their own dreamscapes and half-hatched plans. Without that, our world has more to lose than a little lumber.[[In-content Ad]]