He who thus ordereth the Purposes of this Life, will never be far from the next; and is in some manner already in it, by an happy Conformity, and close Apprehension of it. — Sir Thomas Browne
The sun, with its rosy fingers, sank and spread across the horizon, as I walked a wood path with my companion. A multi-colored hue shot out behind leafless trees, as we spotted herons, perched like mighty emperors on rocks jutting out across the pond. Geese could be heard squawking and increasing in volume as that shiny orb descended, and I imagined the herons growing in annoyance at the sound. And we walked out of trees and into the open, then seeing two others, a woman and large man, traversing in the opposite direction, toward the woods. Then, everything happened at once. The lady dawned a big smile and seemed about to say something when my phone rang. As I fumbled with the device, I noticed the large man begin to slowly stumble, and with the grace of a man who is inexperienced in falling, he tumbled with hands outward, losing hat and sandals in the process. His fall seemed to last three minutes, but I was too distracted with my call to pay too much attention, and by the time I hung up, my companion and I parted ways with the humbled man who had tripped over a root.
When a man sits beside a pond with dying fire, the only other lights those of the heavens, he imagines the stars never appeared so close as at that moment. The constellations seem almost three-dimensional when no other lights impede our ability to view them. My companion and I recognized this, sitting by fire, smoking tobacco, and drinking local ale. Nothing was said for nigh ten minutes. Both men, boys when they stared at the sky, smoked and watched the embers of the fire give way, but said nothing. For nothing need be said. When two men, after making fire and eating food, sit to enjoy the labor of their hands, it is unnecessary to spoil the moment with words. Silence is often much louder than noise.
Geese could still be heard, growing in volume. Flocks flew in, over our heads, some from the direct north, others from northeast. And their squawking, and the flapping of their wings was all that could be heard. But like the fire, their noise split like the wood and was snuffed out until eventually only a few geese could be heard. Then shortly after the geese had gone to bed, our conversation resumed.
Having emptied our smoking-bowls, we stood up with our ales and stared out across the pond. A noise was heard within the trees, and my companion quickly flashed light in the direction. Silence. Then the ruffling again. Something was there. We waited, and again, the thing moved. But it never showed itself to us, and we returned to our log-benches.
At some point during the evening, I took light and headed into the trees to gather kindle for the fire. As I left, I heard the knocking of a hatchet against wood, for my companion was splitting larger logs for the fire to feed on. The night was utterly dark, and I brought light. My light could either produce a small, focused beam, or, if one finagled with it, a large, round beam. I used the latter so to not miss potential kindle.
Again, few sounds could be heard. The night was darkening quickly, and only the geese and the leaves under my feet were audible, for I was away from the crackling fire. I found some limbs, and broke them free. Then I turned back, finding more adequate kindle, and breaking these, I listened to the “snap-snap” of the dead-wood. Then during the snapping, I heard a loud “Pop” followed by another in the distance. The noise was loud, like that of a gun-shot, and I quickly freed the limb I was working on and flashed my light in the direction of my companion who stood away from the fire that blazed as high as I had seen it that evening. Indeed, it was the fire that popped loudly enough to send the hairs on the back of my neck on end. But I was proud we had made such unruly fire.
Dinner consisted of brats on bread with ketchup and dill pickles. The brat-grease fueled the fire, popping and sending sparks our way as we roasted them on small sticks. We ate greedily, as two men famished from exploration. And after the feast, I looked for water but found none.
“I must have left it in the car,” I explained.
And I headed back, with my light. At this moment, prior to my hunt for kindle, I had forgotten that my light could produce a large, round beam, and so I ventured, unwittingly using the smaller beam. I walked with no small difficulty along the shore, and I cut through vines when the bank grew too steep, getting my legs caught more than once. Then I was free. The road lay ahead of my light, and my car lay parked an the opposite side. Shining my light both west and then east, I crossed the road and neared the vehicle.
No water-bottle was in the car, for I searched the front, back, and trunk in vain. Dismayed, I then realized I may have lost it on a previous mis-adventure. And I began making apologies, for it was not my water-bottle but my companion’s.
With low-spirits I left the car, flashing the little light I had toward the road. Checking the east and west, I crossed. Then, I saw an object lying on the ground. The small beam my light created, perhaps two to three feet wide, fatefully—for I had no purpose in where I sent this light—fell on a small water-bottle. Indeed, it was my own. Grabbing it, I ventured back to the fire with joy.
Shortly after we had watched the large man tumble and I concluded my phone call, we decided to make fire. We walked to the car to get supplies, and then headed toward the shore. Previously that evening, we had drunk local ale out on an island of sorts, and I left my companion momentarily to discard the cans properly, for man ought to clean up after himself.* With pack and stick, I ambled a ways off toward the garbage can where three or four young men stared at me in no small wonder as they got into a vehicle. As they drove off, I placed the cans in the trash, and feeling good and holy, I proceeded back the direction I had come.
I perceived the young men had been staring at me for my walking stick. And as I walked, I took pride in being so different from my tasteless generation. With chest puffed, I walked the walk of an explorer, gazing out at the sunset and the birds. I was dismayed to see the herons had flown off, for I had not time to get a good view with binoculars. But I was happy to see so many seagulls and geese. With no breeze hindering my way and warm air against my face, I embraced the serene setting and, though hungry, felt altogether jolly.
Then I neared the very spot where later I would discover my water-bottle. Currently, that bottle sat in a mesh, side pocket of my pack, but, like Gollum’s ring it would leave me.
Man does not perceive some things in life until after they happen. My face was in the ground, my hands were scraped, my stick was no help, my pride was broken, my water-bottle went flying, my head was bewildered. But I quickly arose, with help of my stick, and I walked as if nothing had happened. And as I walked I contemplated my state. Then I perceived that I had taken a fall, and I imagined the young men in the vehicle viewing such a fall. And feeling foolish, I slowly realized what small object had caused my fall and temporarily ended my grand amble. Indeed, it was a tiny root.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
While listening to the morning birds,
Sunday, February 8, 2014
Painting: “Campfire Scene by Moonlight”
By William Smith,
Oil on canvas, 1750
*For the record, I find it highly unclassy to drink beer out of a can. But this rule is thrown out when you are in the wilderness, and our local brew does not use bottles.