“Rojo the Indian boy
Loves all the animals in The Woods...”
Like most kids, I had an alter ego when I was young. His name was Rojo and he was an Indian boy. He ran thru The Woods, singing that song, loving nature and relishing the freedom of being an Indian and young boy in Massapequa, Long Island, a suburban Indian village, near the shopping mall. The Woods was only a few trees in a small field behind a school yard, that replaced the old potato fiends, but it was Rojo’s world.
I may have made Rojo up or I may have seen him on a black and white TV but I ran around the only woods near my house, jumping over logs and streams, clubbing trees in vicious battles or throwing sticks at imaginary enemies, saving the day for my family and tribe.
One day Rojo threw a big stick at a small bird on the ground and killed it. He spent the rest of the day crying and burying the bird and resolved then to be a friend of all the animals in the Woods. When he went home for his nap his mom asked him what he was crying about he just shook his head silently. He thought she wouldn't understand.
Late one night after bringing home, in a bucket, a few fish Rojo had caught in a pond, he went out to inspect his fish friends and one was belly up and the other did not look so good. He woke his mom up and got her to drive him and his fish back to the pond to set them free, no questions asked. She understood. She was Rojo's mom.
Rojo also had an imaginary, invincible companion dog - Woody. There were dog prints ensconced in our driveway, placed by a stray dog when the concrete was freshly poured and he saw them as proof that Woody was there, he was real and he was invisible. They jumped the fence behind the house together every day and ran wildly, nilly-willy thru the Woods with no shirt on, in his PF Flyer moccasins.
One day Rojo woke up and there was an elephant tied to a tree in The Woods. When he and Woody jumped the fence to investigate there were horses and goats, lambs and livestock milling around among tents and machinery, rides and games, concession stands and a food court. The circus had come to town. Rojo was willing to share The Woods for a week with all these animals and people but he was glad when they left and he had his sanctuary back.
This clump of trees was big enough for Rojo, for a time, and since he was not allowed to cross the street yet, the Woods was his home. He would spend hours laying in the grass with Woody under Eisenhower skies, by a Kerouac stream, looking up at the clouds and making animals out of the patterns or wondering if the kids in China were looking at the same clouds. In the spring he frolicked in the mud under the budding lime green leaves. In the fall Rojo would play in big piles of colored leaves and in the grey winter wind he would track animals and build a snow fort for protection, warmth and napping.
Then one day, several big yellow machines that looked like dinosaurs came and started digging up The Woods. They knocked down the trees and dug a big hole. Then they filled the hole with foundations and big sprawling concrete buildings. They paved the parking lot and put up a big neon sign and christened the new strip mall Massapequa Park. Rojo wept wordlessly and retreated into himself.
Every day my mom would tie my shoes and ask me what I was going to do on such a glorious, sunny day. Play, I would say. Then one day my mom taught me to tie my own shoes, easy as pie but the tide had somehow shifted. Then my dad taught me how to cross the street (look both ways, twice) and my world expanded beyond my backyard and The Woods. Rojo was forgotten.
Eventually all the fields went away, all the lots were filled in with more sprawl and progress, all The Woods were razed for something new and necessary. All the roads got bigger and busier. All the people got busy and bustled around like ants. I did too.
Soon I was going to school, riding a bike, making new friends. In fifth grade I got a job delivering newspapers, by seventh grade I discovered girls. Soon I was going to prep school in the city in a jacket and tie. Then it was designer colleges far from home and then a huge road trip out west to start my own life with a job, a trophy home and a family of my own.
One day I was hiking in the snow in the woods near my new home and I just started, inexplicitly, running, delicately, dynamically, effortlessly, joyfully, up and down and all around. I jumped over logs and rocks and threw sticks at big trees and rocks. I was energized by nature, the sunshine, the wind, the snow, the cold climate and my surroundings, my freedom and just the fun of being young and healthy and alive. I was feeling my inner Rojo again and I loved it. I found myself doing it more and more often to keep my life in balance, for my sanity and for my own real sense of self.
I consequently structured my life to maximize my inner Rojo; to ski and ride and hike outside in the hills as much as possible, to simplify my needs and desires and find pleasure in just getting out and about, to treat people and animals with kindness and to revel in nature, preserving and protecting it. I still spend a lot of time in my back yard; the woods of the West, the slopes of the Rocky Mountains and the deserts of the Colorado Plateau, channeling my inner Rojo.