Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Entry 22: Walking the Ridge (Part III)
August 13, 2014
RE: Entry 22
Often, in his dreams, the scene splayed out before him, in a shocking vision of bursts of light, concussive uneven rhythm of the shell blasts and the screaming. In those dreams, the light had sound, the color had feel, and the sound had fangs. He would awake with scent of cordite in his nostrils, or at least the sense of it, his hands clenched and numb. It was hard to explain to anyone and he rarely spoke of it. There were times when he would come across someone who had died in the war, at least inside, and they wore the death on them like a rainbow coat, only the spectrum was varied in grays and black. They never talked but understood.
Had you asked him before, from the tales he had heard from the old men, he would not have thought this. War had been away so long on its journey that the sheer personal horror was either bottled up inside of 75-year old men (for most of them it had not ever nor ever was coming out), or had long since been converted and melded into the distance of their youth, or was only now just legend, as if every once in a while it had to stalk the earth for men to remember. The cold and utter brutality of it, mercilessness surrounded by terror, the wading through the fear as it eked out the life and left behind death, even in the living. When he was young, he would not have thought it so, as he had imagined, from books and poems and songs, of flags uncased and unfurled, and marching glory into the wind. No book spoke of the mud. And the infection. And the engorged rats. And ever-present stench of death. No one spoke of men reduced to the pure emotions of rage, fear, terror and relief, all rotating through on a psychotic irregular cycle, over and over and over and over.
When it was over, it was difficult to imagine and visualize, as real as it was, it was hard to believe it had actually happened. And yet in the dreams he got to see it again, if only in glimpses.
Why this place had reminded him was curious. He had seen this land clear cut many years before, so that nothing stood on it higher nor thicker than a briar bush, and yet, over the years, and years since, trees had returned and tall trees, hardwood, but not the trees, red spruce, which had once covered and made this a forest. Perhaps it was because of this memory that he often came here and remembered and silently relived. It would always take several days to recover the sense of forgotteness that had comforted him after all this time.
He picked up the shotgun and walked up and around to the top of the ridgeline; from here, he could see the Allegheny Front, about 30-40 miles to the east when the sky was clear. Most of the wildlife was either waiting for twilight, or like the birds, oblivious to him. Every so often he was see a hawk or a crow, sometimes a buzzard-those you could tell at distance by the gnawed looking ends of their wings. He knew them very well and could make them out before any other bird in these years since. The sun was up, high enough in the sky to be above the Front to the east, and it made the day very hot, with the baking smell of the old, dried leaves replacing the memory of the gunpowder in his mind.