I have recently be dabbling in the art of imitation, and the following is an attempted imitation of Rudyard Kipling’s prose.
I will remember that cold evening on the shores of Tuttle Creek Lake, on the edge of Manhattan and the Tuttle Creek Dam near by. A cool breeze in the late winter-air chilled me. Out from the shores, the water was ice but not solid through, and it took me time to reach the shoreline, it being full of jagged rocks. Then I saw Jason caring heavy stones—smoothed by erosion—then throwing one out onto the ice. The stone made a deep knock but created only a small dent.
Jason was half Anglo-Saxon descent, from his mother’s side, and Hispanic. He was a Kansan, from Oskaloosa near Perry Lake, living once in Emporia and now Manhattan. Jason knew every Highway-24 town between Manhattan and Oskaloosa, and he also knew the Tuttle shoreline. Skipping rocks came easy for him, having lived near a lake most his life, and no stone-shape or throwing-distance deterred him. I had seen him skip rocks from cliffs ten feet over the waters or send stones out that seemed to sit on the waters before they sank. But the ice made it harder.
I picked up a larger stone, and threw it across the ice. Then, upon impact, it broke through, sinking down to the bottom. And the throwing was for us good labor—lifting limestones, wet on the edge; throwing one-by-one across the semi-solid lake. And the effects of our labor—the thinning ice, breaking with each throw; the bouncing rocks, skipping across the thicker ice; the layers of smooth stones, lying across the shore; a deluge of stones, when many smaller stones were shot, creating a succession of sounds—all these things united us to the labor of rock-throwing.
“It’s easy to skip, when the water is frozen,” said Jason, as he threw a rock that stuck out on the ice.
“I’d say. I’ve never seen you make them float before.”
I lifted a large boulder with two hands and drew it up next to my chest—in throwing position. And I said, “Let’s make this float.” And I sent the boulder out toward the ice, pushing with my legs. And it sailed and crashed through, making a splash; then we left, walking on the rocky shore.
Then we traveled north. There was a Great Blue Heron floating above the ice. We were watching the Heron, hopping from rock to rock, keeping eyes on the fowl, until it was out of sight.
“Herons are great, mighty creatures,” said Jason. He stopped hopping, paused and squinted—making his eyes slits—trying to trace the flight of the bird. He was most determined, and he placed hand over eyebrows to shield from the sun showing through the clouds. Then his arm grew tired, and he placed it akimbo, grunting with a “humph!” Up above, the clouds covered the sun, shading the frozen lake, and Jason’s smile turned to frown—not having the Heron in sight. So we traveled north until the rocky shores met sand and there was nothing left to throw onto the ice.
The sun broke from the clouds, but the temperature dropped. We gazed eastward across the lake—rocky cliffs lining the shore; rows of elms, pines, and oaks following; hills, green from melt of the winter-snow—rolling into the distance behind the trees; houses roof-deep in the trees; the sun striking the house-panes and, then, disappearing under clouds, leaving the ridge darker than before. A stone came into view (Jason’s) and struck the ice, and I turned to him.
“How nice would it be to live in one of those houses?”
“That’d be great—though costly. Wouldn’t mind the view on a daily basis.”
“Right.” I inserted hands into pockets (for the cold) and turned south. “Head back?” I asked. No reply. But we both headed that direction, again jumping from stone to stone.
We listened to a desolate world—the soft contact of shoe to stone; the knock of stone with ice—and we headed back to Mahattan. Then we neared Jason’s P.T. Cruiser: Door slamming; keys jangling; engine starting; tires over loose gravel. The desolate world was loud. But Manhattan was louder. On this day—the local Fake Patty’s Day—men were dressed in malachite-green, traveling in hoards to Aggieville Bar District, drinking their fill, stumbling like tired children and yelling. Our homes were near this district, and Jason said to me, “Do you want to go back?”
“No. Let’s go to Observation Point.”
We drove away from the shore and headed toward a hill, overlooking the lake and dam. Then we parked, and gazing out we saw the contrast of two landscapes, the lake and the spillway opposite—cerulean waters shown through patches of ice, crystallizing the lake; opposite the dam, a grey frost covered the spillway whose light-green blended with the tree-leaves. The light-grey sky slowly changed to dark-grey, clouds building and the sun sinking. It began to rain slightly, and we sheltered by a brick wall with a bench and canopy. Sitting, we saw the wet dots on the cement parking lot, and looking up, we gazed south. Through the dripping rain we saw burning lights and buildings, a smokestack above all, firmly placed in a valley. And between the hills, lining the north and south ridge line, lay Manhattan.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written in Manhattan, KS,
Painting: “Stream with Boulders”
By Samuel John Lamorna Birch,
Oil on board, n.d.