May 22, 2014
RE: Entry 16
He opened the truck door and swung one boot, the left one, onto the door sill and relacing it, put back on his gloves and stepped out onto the dirt road. He reached below the seat on the driver side, to the right at the bottom and worked the latch, rolling up the seat forward and took the gun out of the cloth case from the storage area behind. It lay among assorted things, a torn shirt used as a rag. A broken coffee mug, one jack stand with the pin missing on the riser, an empty glass Coca Cola bottle and a crushed roll of paper towels, half soaked on one side with oil. Turning, he pushed the front seat back and put the gun case across it, sliding the gun out, opened the bolt and looked at it, closed the bolt. He pushed the lock on the truck door down, swung the rifle out over the door and closing it in one motion, walked down the road patting his right side pocket for the shells.
The road itself wasn’t really just dirt, but a mixture of clay and red dog, the vitrified remains of burning coal refuse dumps. It was something you just didn’t see any longer, and the look of it reminded him of all the time as a kid he spent picking the little red shards out of his knee or stuck into the side of his rubber-soled tennis shoes. He walked on this road as it transformed from a road to two parallel ruts with a high center of weeds, to just a path, up against the side of the hill, the remains of what had to be an old logging path—taken for its width—and followed it over a collapsed culvert and up. He entered the woods in earnest now, no longer in the sunshine, and even though it was bright out—and even though half the leaves were down—the play of shadow and light across the trees and the ground made it much like the twilight. The frost was still down here, mostly on the dark leaves, but as soon as he stepped on them it left a warm boot print. Where he entered, it was a small gully that was in reality a cloven separation of the hill itself and the higher he followed the old road up, the wider and wider the rift became. It wasn’t a sharp drop, more like a gentle slope down, that from the top had to look like a shallow dish, cracked from the rim to the bowl. He was slowly making his way up the convex inside of the dish.
While somewhat cold, it was not unpleasantly so—being the kind of enjoyable sunshine cold of October after a very hot September. It would be some months before the deep, damp, set in cold of January. That was the thing about fall around here. It was the last dry season. Most of the other months, from November through May, sometimes June, were wet—the definition being that it wasn’t really summer until you could sit on the ground without your pants getting stained. He reached the part of the road that doubled back away from the rift, to the right around the side of the face of the ridge, sort of a switchback to avoid the grade. And though it was little more than a path it was wide enough for some primitive equipment, maybe the width of a team of horses. The place, a hundred years before, was the center of one of the great national timber booms, since moved far west, when these hills were stripped bare of native red spruce and hardwoods. What grew back, at this elevation, wasn’t the spruce—there were some smaller examples, just not in abundance, given their slow growth especially at this height and on the leeward side of the hill—but mostly hardwood, oak, beech, ash and maple.
Along up ahead he saw a gray squirrel ring around the side of an oak tree, peer out from behind and then scamper out of sight. The woods were alive with the sounds of mostly birds, not a few crow, squirrels and chipmunk—the latter being so loud that it seemed that somehow its thrashing around the leaves and its chirpy bark, all things that called attention to itself, was some type of reverse defense mechanism. Once he remembered while squirrel hunting years ago he was sitting in stand of hickory, his back against a tree, watching the squirrel all around, run up and down around and behind, to the point that they became almost oblivious of his presence. He had a shotgun then, a 12 gauge single shot, laid across his lap, just watching. One of the noisy chipmunks scampered back and forth across the forest floor, and kept stopping to look at him, head cocked sideways. He didn’t move. The chipmunk kept to its activity, which seemed to have no purpose at all, until it picked up what was either a part of an acorn or maybe a bud and jumped, all at once, onto his boot. He didn’t move as the chipmunk ate its little meal, sitting on the toe of the boot, stopping, every few seconds, turning its head sideways to stare as if trying to figure out what this thing was, not ever confused enough to be alarmed. He leaned slightly forward and made a clicking sound with his mouth, the chipmunk stopped, dropped the food, froze, staring. When he smiled at the chipmunk, with widened eyes it shrieked, went straight into the air about a foot, as if riding a rocket, ran into and under the leaves. He saw more squirrel that day in that place than he could recall before or since, but never used one shell, never fired one shot.