On a Sunday morning my ten-year-old friend Enrique (one of doña Lilia's nephews from a distant village) guides me downslope from Yerba Buena, to Linda Vista School, where we've been invited to hear the band practice. It's all downhill through thick forest in which pines and sweetgum trees are dominant. Each schoolday morning Enrique and his pals descend this steep, dirt footpath. Each day around noon they ascend it.
"There's a game we play each day," relates Enrique, his eyes shining with pleasure. "When you fall, then from now on, that's your terreno, and then later every time you pass by it, you have to pay. No, not money, just something. A rock, a stick, a feather. Look here, this rock we're going over has seven terrenos around it. Three belong to Nancy, two to José, two to Juan, and this spot, here, that's mine... "
Spots on the earth invisible to me are important landmarks to Enrique. Passing by one of his terrenos farther downslope, almost angerly he kicks a rock poking from the ground; earning that terreno must have hurt, or maybe the fall had been especially embarrassing.
"Ay, you stand there, to one side," he requests, using the formal or polite form of the Spanish word for "you." He climbs back up the slope about twenty feet, gets a running start, and then leaps from atop a particular limestone rock I hadn't noticed.
"Not as good as last Thursday," he decides, shaking his head after landing and appraising his distance traveled. "Last Thursday, ayyyyyyy, I just kept going, coming down real slow."
Near the slope's base a thicket of pepper-shrubs is cleared away to provide access to two forty-foot-long vines hanging like limber ropes from the top of a tall pine. The vines have been cut where they enter the ground so that now they can be swung on. Kids climb onto a fallen tree just upslope, then swing on the vines in an arc maybe thirty feet long. At the far end during their ride, they're about fifteen feet above the pepper-shrubs below them.
"Yeah, it's dangerous," laughs Enrique. "Once I fell right there in the bushes and everyone laughed, though I hurt a lot. But, when you're swinging, you go down for a while, maybe with your feet dragging on the ground, and then you go up and up, and then you just hang there out over the bushes, and that's scary. Then you start coming back down, and you have to figure out how you're going to stop yourself, for there's nothing here to grab on to. That's when it gets funny... "
And just thinking about all the sloppy landings he's seen, now Enrique runs on down toward Linda Vista, laughing almost as if someone were tickling him.