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Thread: Two Miles In

  1. #1

    Two Miles In

    Two Miles In

    Sharp stars turn
    framed by the treetops.
    A wood mouse churns last years leaves;
    the owl drops, and has a meal
    for an owlet in her hands.

    In the quiet morning
    the dew, the heavy cold dew
    covers everything.
    I shiver in my dew wet jeans and shoes
    through the meadow grass
    to the stream.
    The brook trout wait in the quiet narrow water.

  2. #2

    Re: Two Miles In

    ------------------
    Susan’s mother needed help. She had lost her husband to a heart attack a couple years earlier, and now she knew that she couldn’t keep the house alone. Susan went on Sunday to spend a week with her mother in the difficult work of deciding what to take to an apartment, what to give to the children, what to donate, and what to discard.

    For a week at least, I was alone in the house. The nightly phone calls didn’t make up for the quiet rooms and the lonely breakfasts and the dinners for one.

    It was high summer, and by early morning the city air was hot, heavy and gray. The slow and noisy commute to the office was a trial, the work day was a conviction, and the slow drive home was the sentence. My boss appreciated me for my work. I had seen that appreciation fade for other people when their contributions fell off for a quarter. I’m good at what I do. But it’s draining to know that at a division meeting, every other person in the room is hoping you fail, so they might take your place.

    By Wednesday life was intolerable. On Wednesday afternoon I squeezed my remaining staff meetings into Thursday morning. Most of my clients were at their golf resorts, or at their lake homes, and would not be trying to reach me. That evening I packed a small bag with clothes, and a backpack with what I would need to sleep two nights in the woods. I packed one banty bamboo rod in a fiberboard tube, and the little reel with the four weight line, and flies for a couple of days of fishing. That evening I told Susan where I was going, and we said we wanted to see one another for an early dinner on Sunday.

    Thursday was as hot and dismal as every other day. I made it through the morning, and left the office at noon. My bags were in the trunk. At a fast food place I bought twelve hundred empty calories to carry me through the afternoon. Traffic was light on the way out of the city, and I drove fast on the interstate, with the radio tuned to jazz.

    When the jazz station began to cut out, I hit the “seek” button on the radio. The small town station had, as the Blues Brothers once found in a bar in another state, “both kinds of music, Country and Western.” Two hours into my drive that station got scratchy, and I turned the radio off. I was on the county highway. I shared the asphalt with pickup trucks and a farmer pulling a hay baler behind a tractor. I drove past pastures with Holsteins and horses. I rolled down the windows and turned off the air conditioner. The air was hot, but clean and smelling like trees and fields.

    I turned right at the four way stop, and rolled downhill on the curving road. The small farms were all behind me now. From here it was hardwood forest, with an occasional pine plantation or a black ash swamp. A small river glinted silver through gaps in the trees. I pulled in at the River Road Store, and parked my car on the grass on the east side of the store. It was late afternoon. In the car I made plans for the next few days. I turned off my cell, and stowed it with my watch in the glove compartment. I rolled up the windows, got out of the car, and walked down to look at the river. It was in its summer lows. This was my first and last stop since leaving the city, and I stepped behind a tree and relieved myself on the ground.

    The covered porch of the River Road Store has a wooden deck, and my shoes hammered out my coming. When I walked into the store Glenn was getting to his feet.

    “Boozhoo, brother, here’s the city boy come to see the country.” Glenn came around the end of the counter and greeted me with a handshake and a big smile. Glenn was a big man, a little overweight in his forties. He was an Ojibwa neighbor from my youth, two years older than me.

    “Good to see you, Glenn.” I slapped my old friend on the back.

    “I saw someone pulled in and parked on my lawn. Didn’t recognize the car. New car, eh?” He was setting me up for a friendly attack.

    “No, that’s the car I’ve been driving for two years. You’ve seen the car before.”

    “Pretty expensive looking. Do the windows go up and down electrically, or do you wind them yourself?”

    “They’re electric windows, Glenn.”

    “I suppose you leave them up in the city, except when you’re getting in and out of paid parking ramps. Don’t want to breathe the air, right? I’ve heard that they have alerts, tell you not to breathe the air.” Glenn was having a good time teasing me about my city life. It was a game we played every time I came home.

    “I suppose you leave your truck windows up all the time, then?”

    “Nope. Crank them down in the spring, and back up when winter comes. No fear to breathe the air around here.” Glenn was ready to take a new tack. “When I saw you out the window, coming across the porch, I thought I was going to have to shoot you. Look at you. You’re wearing shiny shoes and a necktie. Government, I thought, and I was ready to go for my gun.”

    “Why don’t you go for something cool to drink?”

    Glenn kicked open a cooler behind the counter and pulled out two beers. He twisted the caps off, and we went out to sit on two of the chairs in the shade on the covered porch. “Have you been out past your place yet, or did you just get here?”

    “I drove straight here from work, therefore the necktie.” I took off my tie and put it into my pocket. Our home place was not ours anymore. After my parents died, my sisters and I sold it.

    “The new people, they painted the house, your old house, and made a green lawn out of the yard. Then they let the chicken coop fall down. I don’t know, Petey, the neighborhood’s going to hell.”

    The beer was cold and welcome. “How’s your mom doing?” Glenn’s mom had been in the hospital with a broken hip.

    “She’s slowed down, but she’s home. She’ll want to see you. When are you coming out to the house?”

    “I want you to drive me up the fire lane about five miles. I want to camp in the woods. I’ll be there for two nights, and then I’ll walk back here on Saturday. If you can give me a bed on Saturday night, I’ll make pancakes for you and your mom on Sunday morning. How does that sound?”

    “Sounds good to me, brother. You gonna camp in those shiny shoes?”

    “No, I’ll get my stuff out of the car. I’ll change here, and leave my shiny shoes in the car.”

    I walked over to the car and opened the trunk with the remote, to a long low whistle from the porch. I changed my clothes in the yard next to the car, lifted my pack out of the trunk and closed up the car. Back on the porch I asked Glenn, “Is there anywhere around here where a guy can buy a little food for a camping trip?”

    Glenn smiled. “You’ve come to the only place on River Road for that. Come inside.” We went into the store and I asked for four eggs, a half loaf of bread, and a half pound of hamburger. I had everything else I needed in my pack. “You rich guys never spend anything with me. How am I supposed to make a living if you won’t buy anything?”

    “You’ve got the best gig in the county, Glenn. Sit on your chair and have people drive over and hand you money all day. I’d like to have a job like that.”

    Glenn closed the store at five o’clock, and we got into his truck. A half mile up River Road he turned left onto the gravel fire lane. The bridge timbers grumbled as we crossed the river, and then we drove five miles on the twisting, uphill and downhill fire lane.

    “When are you gonna move back, Peter?” This is something Glenn had never asked me before. “Every time you come, it’s the same. You come with a big smile on your face, but you’re tense and tired. Then when you leave, you’re relaxed and loose, but the smile is gone. The smile is gone because you’re going back. Petey, you should just move home for your own good.”

    “I don’t know what Susan would think of that. Besides, I need to work. There’s no work for me up here.”

    “Josey Thompson is looking for someone to take over his business from him. Josey makes okay money.”

    “Glenn, Josey is a farrier. I don’t know anything about shoeing horses. Horses are big, and they scare me.” I laughed at Glenn’s joke.

    “Don’t laugh, brother. That’s no joke. You could learn from Josey. Besides, most of the horses around here go barefoot. They don’t wear no shoes. Just trim their feet once in a while, and the owners hand you the money.”

    “Stop the truck. I want to get out.” We had come to the top of a maple ridge that I would follow to the west.

    I promised Glenn I would see him on Saturday at his store. We shook hands in the road, and I took my pack out of the bed of the truck. Glenn turned around and started back toward the river. I lifted my pack to my shoulders and started to walk along the crest of the maple ridge.

    The forest was small hills and small valleys. In some of the valleys there were seepage lakes, small lakes with no inlet or outlet. I stuck to the top of the ridges, where the walking under the hardwoods was easy. After the first mile, the hills gave out and the ground was nearly flat, with a slight slope to the west. The trees were smaller, mostly aspen and birch, with black ash in low spots. At the deep gorge of Maple Spinner Creek, I held onto trees and bushes as I worked my way a hundred feet to the bottom. Maple Spinner Creek was a tributary to the river behind Glenn’s store. It was twenty feet across, with pools, runs, and riffles. It was too small to carry many fish, but they spawned here in the fall, and in the summer some of the bigger fish would come up to the cool water. I rock hopped across the stream. The west bank rose gradually into the forest, and I climbed the hill back into the hardwoods.

    Further on the ground fell away again into another small valley. The opening in the trees, the opening I was looking for, was ahead of me. I turned to the left, and stepped over a spring creek no more than three feet wide. The water in the creek was cold and clear, but stained by old leaves. The opening in the trees was an ancient beaver meadow. The beavers were gone, but the meadow remained, the floor of the dry pond. High summer grass hid the creek in the meadow. The water would be narrow but deep, as much as five feet deep, and moving slowly toward Maple Spinner Creek.

    On the west bank above the meadow I found my camp. It was late. I gathered wood for dinner and breakfast fires, and I tied a line between two trees and threw a nylon tarp over the line, making a low shelter. I put my ground sheet outside the shelter, so I could sleep outside, but crawl under cover if it started to rain. Over a small fire I fried my hamburger, and ate it with bread and an apple. I gathered my food into a nylon bag, and about forty yards from camp, I threw a line over a high tree branch and hung my food out of the reach of the bears. It was almost dark when I got back to camp. I lay down in my sleeping bag and looked up at the sky. I figured I was two miles from the road.

    The fire had burned down. I was tired, but I wasn’t ready to sleep. The stars came out one at a time until the Milky Way was all there, turning in the still night. Far away in the forest a barred owl called its distinctive four beat call. The inflection sounds like a question, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? Who who, who who?” An answer came from very close, no more than a hundred yards from my camp. “Whoo, whoo whoo. Who?” Owls will let you join the conversation, but I resisted. The owls moved and called from different trees, and I went to sleep in the cooling night air.

    Early in the morning the sky grew lighter across the meadow. The morning brought a heavy cold dew, and I was glad I had dry firewood under my tarp. I got out of the bag and pulled on my jeans and a canvas shirt. This was the cold part of the day, and I wore my warmest clothes.

    I pulled the banty rod out of its case and put it together, and put the small reel on the reel seat. I ran the line through the guides, and tied a Pass Lake wet fly onto the tippet. The walk through the wet meadow grass was cold, and I shivered in my wet jeans and shoes. At the edge of the water I watched for rises, but there were none. At the first outside corner I cast the fly into the water, and I had a quick strike. The brookie was ten inches long, dark and fat. The fish had the short snout of a female, and was gold along the belly. I killed the fish for breakfast.

    I only needed one fish, but I’d come a long way for this. I cast into the water at the second outside curve. The fly sank, and I pulled it back slowly. I could see the white wing of the fly in the water, and then I couldn’t see it. The white wing of the fly just disappeared. I tightened up on the line, and came up against a heavy resistance. Then the fish started to shake its head. It wasn’t the fast headshake of a little fish, but a slow back and forth shake, with weight behind it. I pulled back harder, and the fish started to move. I pointed the little rod at the fish, and the fish pulled line from the reel as it turned the next corner upstream.

  3. #3

    Re: Two Miles In

    I'm not pleased! - Ernest, you cut off the story just as I was more hooked than the fish that started to take line!

    Where's the rest of the story? you cannot end it there, surely! A brilliant piece of narrative. please give it an ending.

    M

  4. #4

    Re: Two Miles In

    Ernest, this is headed for the front page.

  5. #5

    Re: Two Miles In

    Ernest,

    You have mastered an art - and science - of the story. I always look forward to your posts.

    Ryan

  6. #6

    Re: Two Miles In

    Thank you, Mostyn and Ryan, for your kind remarks about the story.

    Ryan, I don't know that I've "mastered" anything, but I've had a couple of good teachers, and I continue to learn.

  7. #7
    Very well written and thoroughly enjoyed Ernest and at the risk of exposing my eccentric nature I like the way you ended it.

  8. #8
    Not judging it but man I like it so far.
    Japan: Tsuttenkai, Jolly Fishers, member since 2010

  9. #9
    Thanks, gentlemen, for the comments.

  10. #10
    Hey Ernest, another great story way to leave em dangling. Are you sure your middle name isn't hemmingway. Take care, Don.

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