Finishing my pipe and downing a couple cups of coffee I head back in and slosh some water around in the mug and hang it on its nail above the sink. Grabbing the pot off the stove I pour what’s left into my porcelain basin a wash up. Molded candle wax mixed with pine needles makes for a great soap bar. Even cleaned up I’m nothing to write home about but you got to make do to do what it is that needs to be done.
With my woodsman beard brushed as well as it can be, hair tucked behind my ears, and yesterday’s clothes put back on I grab my walking stick finished from a knotty pine branch, very light yet strangely stout, and head for the door. Reaching the door I turn and slip back to my bed and from underneath I pull out my revolver, can’t believe I nearly forgot that.
Sometimes the whiskey puts your mind three steps ahead instead of two steps back.
Back to the door again and flipping the latch I step outside and lock the antique padlock with the key I wear on a chain my dad gave me; my second family attachment. Not that the lock could withstand much abuse if anyone truly wanted in but the mere appearance of it decorating the planked door is enough to keep most people out. And if it isn’t the intruder may never leave my home until I return; those damn dogs do have their ways of keeping an eye out for such events no matter how far off they wander. Makes one wonder.
Standing once again on my shy porch I reach for the fox and beaver pelts hanging high on one of the oak cross beams.
I’ve got to keep them up high and out of reach of those damn dogs and any other pesky investigators that wish to secure them for themselves.
Pelts in my bag and a quick glance upwards at the growing daylight I start my journey to town, passing by the litter of scraps that the dogs have either decided to save for later or have chosen to ignore for whatever reason. My walk will carry me six miles away up and over two ridges and on one small trail that sees mostly the animals of the forest save for myself and the dogs.
It’s one of those trails that can play tricks on your mind in certain light, the kind of passage that always pops up in children’s fairytales as a warning to the youngsters to never stray too far off from the known. However, in the other kind of light it can be as enchanting as a painting that is never quite finished giving up its beauty. Right now, though, the light is somewhere in the middle of those two, quietly balanced on the decisive edge of time itself. A strange time to see the forest as it is deciding its day’s mood. Deciding rather it should show its weaknesses or jump forward and lash onto whomever dares to cross into its territory. At this particular moment the coin has been tossed and is still flipping its way through the cool air and which side it lands nobody can ever know until you venture into her canopy of whispering reaches.
After about forty-five minutes along my trail, I call it mine simply because it ends at my front door and there’s no reason for anyone else to be traveling along it, I come across my usual resting spot on a downed maple tree that’s been resting there long before I came across it for the first time.
If it isn’t the most comfortable dying seat in the forest then its damn close and I’ve yet to find its rival. The horizontal trunk is in the perfect state of decomposition; taking on the feel of a firm sponge with its cover of crab moss enveloping it like some glue that binds and a providing a supremacy that disintegrates. Laying the pelts at my side I look around just to look.
Too often we connect with our surroundings for the simple reason to find something. Something is always there, something is always missing, but we can observe the mixture of the two by just looking with no expectations.
I don’t see them, but I can hear the dogs moving back around in my direction because they know I’ve stopped. I wouldn’t say they follow me on these trips to town because they are always out front and just out of sight on either side of the trail. A hidden army that is ready and on call in any situation.
I catch a glimpse of the one I call Snout in front of me about forty yards on the opposite side of the trail. It’s a beagle with those classic black and brown spots on a white background and he got his name because his nose is always to the ground. I’m guessing nothing gets passed that dog as far as scents go. I’m sure Snout is the only pure bred among the entire bunch except for Top. Top’s a medium sized German shepherd that’s as thick as a bear cub and he earned his name by way of dominance when it comes to the pack coming together over the entrails of my kills.
Top and Snout are my two favorites, not because of their pureness of breed but because of what has to be called personality. I don’t treat them any differently than the other dogs I just think of them differently and that’s enough for me and I believe it’s enough for them as well.
It’s almost reminiscent of the old adage of keep you friends close and you enemies closer. Yet reversed and tossed upside down.
The other eleven or fifteen or so dogs, I never know how many for sure because there are always more arriving while others seem to vanish, I do have names for them ranging from Jack to Con but of course I never call them by these names and of course they never call me by mine. It’s a fair arrangement as kindnesses go, considering they deconstruct my every morning.
I hear some more scraping around in the leaves off to my left but can’t get a look at them.
After a few sips of Local 88, Walter’s homemade stuff, I grab my bag and head on down my trail. Always looking; always wondering if my dad’s remains are just over here or maybe over there. A needle in a haystack they all say. The only way I know how to reply is that that may be but the needle is there none the less. And you never know he could still be alive. Still wandering around breathing the same air I do and making his living off of the land he cherished so much and maybe, just maybe, being going lost is exactly what he wanted. I have to accept all possibilities.
Towards the end of my trail and about a good fifty yards before it connects to the road which leads into town is where I always try to split off in a different direction so no worn path actually connects to the road, fairly damn ingenious if you ask me. After all the best security is invisibility and if a passerby along the road can’t see an entrance to my trail then he’s not likely to go wondering off into the forest for no reason; we still have wolves in this part of the country after all.
Choosing my split off point I reach the road and turn left towards town. Back the other way leads to Shepherdsville a good twenty-five miles or more, at least I’m told, as I’ve never had a reason to go there myself; just more bothersome people living their bothersome lives caught up in a rat race to the grave.
I’ll admit I’m part of the race but I choose to race time instead of the other rats.
The dogs have held back now, they rarely follow me any further once I leave my trail. I’ve often wondered if it’s because they remember the cruelty of the society that once loved them, gave them a home, and then tossed them out into a strange existence where they had to fend for themselves or if it’s because they’re afraid of what they might do to those civilized folks if they got the chance to get close enough.
Fear and revenge are close companions in any man’s eyes.
Why should a dog be any different?
The next bend in the road brings Briggs Street into view with its store fronts huddled tight together on one side and Stolman’s mill on the other. The buildings on the right are covered in planks of curled and twisted boards hammered into place by strong hands that surely earned a meager wage to construct the frame work for someone else’s dream to come true. The buildings stand in wooden contrast to the shine of Stolman’s metal exterior which they say keeps the inside of the mill at a cooler temperature. One side of the road is the past clinging to existence while the other is the future attempting to break through and become the present.
About quarter of a mile before town on the right side of the road rests the Hapsburg Cemetery, a rod iron archway about fifteen feet high stands as a solitary entrance with inch thick poles topped with pyramids and hand crafted vines wrapped and frozen in place that swirl from top to bottom all while more iron creates its gated boundaries. The name of the cemetery is carved neatly into a single piece of oak that has to be five feet wide, two inches thick, and no less than three feet tall and gently sways from the entrance archway as a caution to all that enter that this is cherished ground, ground that belongs to those who should and will be remembered.
I always stop here to say hi to Orville the grounds keeper. A man of at least seventy and built like a thirty-year old lumberjack, if one was to guess his age they would probably come up with nothing over forty-five.
Orville was born and raised in Hapsburg and quit the mill long ago when he became sickened at how the town had let the cemetery become so ragged and grown over. His grandparents, his parents, and his sister are all buried within its iron artwork and he just couldn’t stand the sight of his family being forgotten about. So, he just walked into work one morning and said he was done and then walked down to the jungle of a graveyard and has since turned it into a Garden of Eden for the dead. Out of all the people in town old Orville is by far my favorite; the childhood hero type, a Robin hood for the deceased. A man that knows more than one would guess and hides it to the point of silence and dignity.
I cross beneath the archway and notice Orville isn’t around so I head to the far back left of the land following the stepping-stones evenly placed, neatly trimmed, and hand carved from local sandstone; there I kiss my hand and place it on top of my mother’s headstone. No words are said, none need be said—what can I say? How would I start? Where would it lead me?