(this post is a continuation of a story begun here this morning. If you haven’t read the first part yet, just back up one post on this blog and you’ll get up to date very quickly. ed.)
That first day he did not venture far from the fence line he had just passed through. Afraid of getting lost, he never lost the view of the sunny meadow he had just left, but walked parallel to the edge of the woods. Not far along he flushed a grouse from a brush pile stacked at the edge of the meadow. He had never seen or even heard of a grouse before and the suddenness of the flush and the loud beating of the stout bird’s strong wings frightened him so that he stood still there for a long time and gave thought to crossing back into the meadow and walking home. But he gathered himself and walked on and was soon more sure of himself as a woodsman and braver than ever.
In less than a week he had found the remnant of a game or Indian trail and, confident that he could return on it, wound his way through the trees and vines to the very ridgetop. The trail followed the narrow ridge and he walked along it till he came to a rock outcropping where no trees or brush had grown and he climbed onto the great rocks and made his way, hand and foot, to the top of the irregular shape and laid on his belly on the warm stone and there looked down the other side of the mountain.
It was much the same as the mountainside he had climbed. Thick hardwood cover, lined and dotted here and there by the darker greens of the pines and the valley below cleared and fenced and a scattering of black cattle and a few horses – red and white and grey – grazing in the mid-day sun.
Above him black buzzards wheeled slowly on the mountain updraft. He had never seen such great wingspans and he marveled at the ease with which these creatures sailed so wide, coasting and swimming on invisible currents, turning again and again as they rose till they were little more to him than curved lines against the clouds.
In the field below, at the very edge of the woods, there was a small pond. He could tell even then that this was a man-made feature, there for the watering on the cattle and horses and he knew then that this was his new goal, that he must find his way down to the little pond and see it all up close. There could be fish or frogs and who knows what else.
When he descended the outcropping, all view of his destination was lost to him, covered over as he was by the thick deciduous canopy. All he had was a feeling for the vector to the pond and some notion, however naïve, of the distance that would be involved. There was no trail that way and so he made use of the hatchet he carried, busting through brush and through laurel thickets and being careful to blaze the other sides of the largest trees he passed for a sign on his return.
He had walked much farther than he had estimated when he reached the edge of the woods and saw the golden light on the grassy meadow. He saw no pond, but was sure that if he could have wider perspective he could have seen it easily. And yet he was uneasy with the thought of simply walking through the fence and right out into the open field. He did not know then that bulls were never allowed in the same pastures as the rest of the cattle and he also worried about being caught trespassing. He stayed in the woods. As it was though, he did not know whether to walk on down the edge in the direction he had been traveling or to double back. Then he heard a sound.
It was a horse crunching grass from the meadow and the angry voice of a girl.
“You get up, Reddy,” she barked. “You had your breakfast. Get up.”
He bolted in the direction of the voice till he saw her astride the red horse. She was brilliantly blonde and blue-eyed and wore a straw skimmer and a long-sleeved white shirt. She was older than him. Maybe by a year or two. Before he knew it, she had spotted him through the trees.
“Hey. Who’s that in there?” She yelled.