(this post is the sixth installment of a story that I have been developing, post by post on this blog. If you haven’t read the other parts, you can find them just by backing up on this blog. I am also going to piece them all together and post the whole thing on my other blog called The Shelton College Review. Ed.)
They walked into the woods and under the thick, summer canopy, where the cool of the lately- vanished night lingered and the dew dropped like berries from the broad leaves with the sound of light rain. He led his father up his blazed path to the ridge, waiting to hear him say that it was enough and that they had better go on home for some chore or another, but his father made no such protest and when they reached the ridgetop he led them away from the path he had walked before when he found the girl and the spring and walked along the ridge westward, hacking away branches and brush to allow their passage.
It was new country to him and they went on and his father said not a word and did not suggest any limit or boundary to their exploring and the boy began to understand that he was being allowed new freedom and to understand that his father was happy in his industry, his curiosity and his energy and boldness and his happiness accordingly increased. He felt new strength.
They walked the ridge for miles and at last reached the shoulder of the mountain and they walked it down to a meadow that had not been grazed or cut and the grass there was to the boy’s waist and the breeze marked zephyr trails through the long stems. They waded into the flat meadow and his father surveyed the bottom and pointed away to the north edge of the field and the boy nodded and they walked on and there at the far edge of the grassfield was a stream.
They followed it down to where the field ended and the stream made a great bend with the edge of the meadow and then flowed back under the shade of the forest. His father took a six-foot stick from the ground and waded into the stream in the middle of the bend , using the stick as a staff. At the far edge he stopped and with both hands drove the stick, again and again into the red clay streambank. The red soil clouded the stream like flowing blood and his father tossed the stick over the top of the bank and dug with his hands into the loosened red earth. He took a double handful of the clay and immersed it the flowing water and shook it until the clay softened and broke away and he came out of the creek and handed the boy a glistening black-flint spearpoint.
The ancient artifact filled the boy’s hands and he marveled at the manufactured razor’s edges of the pointed stone, its perfect symmetry, its glossy sheen and astonishing weight. This was a complete message from a lost world. He marveled at his father.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“I thought it looked like a good place. You can tell the way the creek turns here. This flat would fill up right here in high water. There would be a long shallow pool in here. Good place to fish.”
“You think fish could have been in here?”
“Absolutely. Place might have been full of them certain times of the year. Might still happen when the river gets high. It could back up enough to let anything in the river make it up this far.”
“You think we could still spear ‘em?”
“Yes. There might be days when they would be trapped in here. Come in when the water is high and not have the sense to get out before the water drops. They’d be sitting ducks. You’d still have to be pretty good with a spear, though.”
“You want to try it?”
“Well, I’d like to try it, yes. But we don’t know whose land we’re on right now and I know there are laws that protect fish. Might not be legal.”
“Are we trespassing right now?”
“I haven’t seen any postings.”
“What’s a posting?”
“It’s a sign. Usually nailed to a tree. Says ‘Posted.’ It means the landowner doesn’t permit outsiders on the land.”
“What if there aren’t any signs?”
“Then you’re okay. In West Virginia, anyway. It’s different in other places. But if forested land isn’t posted, you’ve got a right to travel it.”
“That true for meadows, too. Like where we are now?”
“We’re okay right here. This land isn’t worked. I’d say it hasn’t seen a tractor for years.”
“What about a pasture that’s worked. You know, one with cattle on it. Horses.”
“I don’t know. I’d be careful there. There’s good reasons to stay out of pastures besides the law.”
“Well, yeah. Bulls are probably the worst, but there are aggressive horses, too. And mules. Even hogs can be mean.”
“People don’t let hogs out to pasture, do they?”
“Not normally. But you never know what a man will do on his own land.”
They followed the creek down into the woods and walked longer than the boy imagined that they would have walked. He grew tired but he did not complain and late in the afternoon his father suggested that they should turn back and be home in time for dinner and when they made it back to the house the boy was changed and knew something more of his strength and place in the world.