Where The Wild Things Are

Dain Dillingham
Jan 9 · 5 min read

Little kids are wild.

At the lake Park a while back I saw a kid who must’ve been 10 or 11 and he was out on the water in a paddle board and I thought “man that’s really cool” because… Look, I loved growing up in Kansas but our water and park situation was just not how it is here in Seattle. I mean I go to one that’s about 400 acres with all kinds of trails and sits right on lake Washington, and it’s insane to my little kid head that one could ever grow up with that kind of access. Especially to water. All we really had was this man-made and too-murky-to-see-through Clinton lake and I’m convinced that not being around…”better”…water really contributed to my fear of both lake sharks and lake monsters (both of which are extremely real) and maybe if I’d just had that access things would be a little different.

I say all that to say: we didn’t have grand lakes sitting in the middle of vast trails and green oases BUT we did have Brook Creek Park just a short walk away and y’all… Ok let me explain-

Brook Creek was, to my memory, a one thousand acre magical wood that could serve as the setting for any book of Narnia, with a lazily flowing stream running through the middle of it where Bambi and Thumper could rest and drink from. In reality though? It was probably about 10 acres. Maybe 15. It was sparsely wooded and swampy, and situated directly next to an unending dumpster lot of used and broken down cars, undoubtedly seeping all of their rust and oil into the ground and runoff water when it rained that led directly to the Creek. There was no Bambi or Thumper. There were raccoons, poisonous water moccasins, mosquitoes, and any varying number of tents set up by our local transient population depending on the time of year. The stream was not lazy, nor pristine. It was always a muddy brown, and could be dead still or raging depending on how hard it had rained. There was trash that would run off into it and one infamous encounter we had with an alligator snapping turtle the size of my 8 year old self one summer afternoon. There was a bridge that ran across the creek and we used to climb underneath it and swing from the cross beams like they were monkey bars and try to cross the water and if it was dry, it made no difference, it just meant the fall was a little further.

But damn if that place wasn’t our little kingdom. Our Shire. Our place to build forts from the fallen logs or fashion make believe guns from the branches. We’d run the trails, we’d jump in the water, we’d flip rocks and run from the snakes that hid beneath. Sure, you could’ve told me that place was a potential EPA Superfund site, but what the fuck did that mean to me? I’m a kid. I’m invincible. I survived a snapping turtle attack. I once accidentally stabbed myself with a used hypodermic needle we found there, at the height of the AIDS scare. Rusted metal cutting me literally made me stronger. If you get a little bit of tetanus it protects you later on from the big stuff. THAT’S SCIENCE FOLKS. Truly I was immortal. The point is, we had enough imagination to make it work. Everything came true in those woods. And we didn’t care about what everyone on the outside could see, we only knew what felt real to us.

But eventually I got older. I went there less. There had been a field in the middle of the wood that had a backstop and vague outlines of where baselines used to be for a good kickball or softball game but gradually it had become overgrown. Maybe park funds ran short. Maybe they had other plans for it. Maybe the city just forgot we were there. It often did. I used to take my dogs up there to run and explore but I wasn’t a good dog dad and the summer I forgot to give my beloved blue heeler, sweet Sadie girl, her heartworm pills, she contracted them. I’m sure it was from one of those goddamn mosquitoes there. Her breathing became worse. She wouldn’t eat. I took her for one last park run and then sat with her and held her and told her I loved her and gave her lots of kisses as Dr. Lewis, our trusted and lifelong family vet, gave her that final shot and I tried to let her down easy on to the table. I never went back to the park after that. I wasn’t a kid anymore.

But still I look back on how fearless we were those days. Some could call it the reckless stupidity of youth and, sure, there’s a teaspoon of that, maybe two. But it was something more. We weren’t afraid to let the words that lived inside of us come to life. We weren’t afraid to give those dreams a voice. All we needed was some mud and a long afternoon.

We get older and we sometimes wonder where they went. Those dreams. We wonder how we survived all those terrible decisions when it seems like each one we make these days threatens to ruin us for good. The bridges I cross now seem to have so much more at stake. More than just dry Creek beds, they span heartbreak and trauma. Career change and kids. I’d long for just a fall in that filthy water and an extra washer load for mom instead of these ones that leave us broken on bedroom floors hoping the door stays locked and no one finds us.

On the other side of the woods was an old cemetery. We never really went there. Visiting the dead wasn’t exactly kid stuff even though we could have never known how quickly, and how often they would visit us. Some of us are halfway through that wood now though. Some of us less. Some of us more. But I don’t feel as afraid about seeing what’s on the other side. Maybe we’re still capable of some of that kid strength. More than we realize at least. Maybe those world’s and dreams still live inside of us and we’re just waiting to give them life. Maybe it would be good to go out and allow ourselves to be cut again. Maybe it’s ok to fall. Maybe we’re still those little survivors. Maybe we can still be fearless.

Little kids are wild.