The Staircase Of Noble Wood

deserted mine

There wasn’t enough cash left to get two cans of high temp paint to spray the woodstove black. It’d have to do to let it burn through the winter this time, grimy and rusty in spots. Next year will be better. And the switched out pair of snows had just enough tread hopefully to pass inspection if he did it one or two months earlier than the windshield sticker said to in February when by then making it up the hill would be impossible and down’d be deadly.

Fortunately, the cat wasn’t balking at dry food which per pound per meal was much less change to spend than can after can, even by the case, of wet. She’d gotten used to the dry crackle of kibbles in between her teeth, mushed in with a little wet around sundown when she’d come inside for the last time before nightfall. And the cat purred anyway so long as she was treated kindly stretched out on his chest, or balled up on the colored striped blanket folded on the corner of the bed.

He’d go about his business, felling standing timber, cutting it up, and buying a new chain now and then when the spare broke, as happens from time to time. And then the rest was split by hand which, as work, is a decent way of forgetting everything. Making firewood is a good way to live. It takes only calmness, focus, steady breaths, and enough strength to lift a maul above the head before the grace of Earth’s gravity lends her own hand to travel swiftly down between the seam unseen to the human eye.

Maybe one day his name would be posted in the middle pages of the local newspaper with all the others whose land and homes were in arrears. But that could be some time yet. That could be some time before the sheriff came. Things by then could change, maybe for the better, maybe not. Years back, when he was rich, he’d had a lawyer who’d gibed, “You can’t squeeze blood out of turnip.” So to turn turnip, so to turn rock. There never was shame in being poor.

For gifts, he’d give away a pretty enough feather he’d find (or had found) lying somewhere in the woods. A first edition of The Lives of Cells, by Lewis Thomas, would be nice from his bookshelves. A diamond unearthed from the great days swinging a sledge at Herkimer would please him immensely, too. There were enough rocks and minerals and handfuls of Apache tears to give away to others for years.

Sunstones & Sagebrush

sagebrush and dirt

At night, silent military jets dropped slow blue flares from the sky. These lights would fall gently in slow downward curves, eight or nine flares falling from the sky at once. Soon afterwards, more jets would pass silently through the airspace and more falling blue flares would glow in the night sky like the first ones. This maneuver might occur a third time and then the sky was black again as if nothing had happened. All was silent that night and any other night. Sometimes, too, in an enormous “V,” blue lights would hover overhead, too huge and moving too slowly to be any known, or even any imaginable, human aircraft, for sure a top secret military program no one outside of the military would ever know about.

By daytime, the campers camping in the aluminum shell of an abandoned trailer would sift through sifters looking for sunstones that would be caught in between the grates of the wire mesh. The boy and his father took turns sifting in the heat all day long. Later in the afternoon, the handful of stones they had caught sifting would be handed over to one of three men who lived six months out of twelve in trailers that had not yet been abandoned there. After the sunstones the boy and his father had collected had been weighed on a scale and examined under a jeweler’s loop, and then rated and priced, the father paid for the stones they had sifted out of the dirt and wanted to keep; those the boy and his father did not, the men swept into one of the four bins, according to their weight and quality. The best of these stones flashed brilliant copper from the inside. The three bearded men whose mine this was allowed the boy, as was their custom, to allow the youngest member of any team, to pick for free any one sunstone from one of the four gray plastic bins filled with them laid out on folding tables among the pale sagebrush and barren dirt. The boy’s pick was the very best sunstone in the bin. It had the most shiller, the bearded man told him. It was worth more than the total sum of all the stones they had bought together.

In the evening, after making supper and cleaning the dishes with as little water as possible, the boy and his father played chess outside. The boy always won, trying game after game to make his father a better chess player, however mediocre the father’s mind was in this. They played until it was nearly dark, just before the jets returned. For the son and his father, it would well be said, many years later, that these indeed were the best times in the best of times.

To Find Beautiful Rocks

desert fence and sign

After that, he just took off. Took his tools and went. “Catch me somewhere in Arizona, Tucson if I’m lucky, shot by the border patrol if I’m not,” she told the police he had said to, told her, as he left. Of course he had had no idea at all of any sort of trouble, or of encountering any. Fact is, he just knew of a place up in the hills, back in the dirt roads, where nobody went. Up there, there were old copper mines. Mostly abandoned, except for the big gigantic commercial ones that had hacked off the entire top of a mountain so that it had become Red Mountain to the locals. And out there, why, you’d see rich green chrysocolla, the sort of stone the Indians said would heal you if you touched it to your heart; and if you scratched around, a bit of deep blue azurite, blue as the deepest blue sky would show up in the rubble. You just had to claw it away, dig it all, all the heaps, through all the leftover debris, the tailings from another day and another time. There were a couple of people, a pet food store owner, and a Brazilian masseuse, who had reportedly seen a man matching his straw hat and description in a little faraway town just a few miles north of Mexico, who had probably seen him before he had disappeared.

Cold Pastoral

stone wall 2

The painted stone reliefs of Arcadia will already have been vanished. Whatever had looked upon these walls will have long disappeared. Still, the lichen will grow and exist as it did. And somewhere else, the horseshoe crab, with its strange bluish blood, will crawl upon the sea floor. And somewhere else, too, the louse. And somewhere a beetle. Adamantine reality will not call to us. Though another had once said that the stars are there because they needed us to see them. And still another yet because we had imagined them to be. But we can see today that these boldings are over. It is not very difficult to see that now. Whatever was our tenancy here, it was had briefly. At times it was most spectacular. And glorious. At others, not so much. From a leftover bluestone quarry that was completely abandoned 150 years ago, it is still important for the few passersby who come here to walk through last season’s fallen leaves along the footpath and pass by this silent, earthly beauty.

State of Grace

wedges

He spent the better part of his life fruitlessly. Nothing was gathered, nothing was made. It was all hard work that bore nothing. In its entirety the many years of living were lived in a state of grace. He pushed against the mountain, he pushed against the Earth’s gravity, he pushed hard and he pushed even harder as he reached the summit. He was happy to do this. For nothing satisfied him greater than his toil and work itself: to feel the muscles’ stretching, his sinews’ torque, his bones’ grinding—all this gave him great joy in being human.