پایانم را رقم زدم

مجموعه: سهم من از کوهستان / کتاب: سهم من از کوهستان / فصل 21

پایانم را رقم زدم

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In Which I Cooperate with the Ending

By the middle of March I could have told you it was spring without looking. Jessie did not come around any more, she was fishing the rewarding waters of the open stream, she was returning to a tree hollow full of babies. The Baron Weasel did not come by. There were salamanders and frogs to keep him busy. The chickadees sang alone, not in a winter group, and the skunks and minks and foxes found food more abundant in the forest than at my tree house. The circumstances chat had brought us all together in the winter were no more. There was food on the land and the snow was slipping away.

By April 1 was no longer living off my storehouse. There were bulbs, tubers, and greens to be had. Meals were varied once more. There were frogs’ legs, eggs, and turtle soup on my table.

I took my baths in the spring again rather than in the turtle shell with warmed-over snow. I plunged regularly into the ice water of the spring – shouting as my breath was grabbed from my lungs. I scrubbed, ran for my tree. I dried myself before the fire, shouting as I stepped into my clothes. Then I would sing. I made up a lot of nice songs after my bath, one of which I taught to a man who was hiking along the top of the gorge one day.

He said his name was Aaron, and he was quiet and tall. I found him sitting on the edge of the cliff, looking across the valley. He was humming little tunes. He had a sad smile that never went away. I knew I would not have to hide from him just by looking at him, so I walked up and sat down beside him. I taught him my “cold water song”.

I learned he wrote songs and that he was from New York. He had come to the Catskills for the Passover festivities and had wandered off for the day. He was about to go back when I sat down and said, “I heard you humming.” “Yes,” he said. “I hum a good deal. Can you hum?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I can hum. I hum a good deal, too, and even sing. especially when I get out of the spring in the morning. Then I really sing aloud.”

“Lets hear you sing aloud.”

So I said, feeling very relaxed with the sun shining on my head. “All right. I’ll sing you my cold water song.”

“I like that,” Aaron said. “Sing it again.” So I did.

“Let me suggest a few changes.” He changed a few words to fit the tune and the tune to fit the words, and then we both sang it.

“Mind if I use the hum hum hum dee dee, part?” he asked presently.

“You can use it all,” I said. “Tunes are free up here. I got that from the red-eyed vireo.”

He sat up and said, “What other songs are sung up here?”

I whistled him the “hi-chickadee” song of the black-capped Mr Bracket; and the waterfall song of the wood thrush. He took out a card, lined it with five lines, and wrote in little marks. I stretched back in the sun and hummed the song of the brown thrasher and of Barometer, the nuthatch. Then I boomed out the song of the great horned owl and stopped.

“That’s enough. isn’t it?” I asked.

“I guess so.” He lay back and stretched, looked into the leaves, and said, “If I do something with this, I’ll come back and play it to you. I’ll bring my portable organ.” “Fine,” I said.

Then after a drowsy pause, he said, “Will you be around these pans this summer?”

“I’ll be around,” I said. Aaron fell asleep, and I rolled over in the sun. I liked him. He hadn’t asked me one personal question. Oddly enough, I wasn’t sure whether that made me glad or not. Then I thought of the words Frightful had spoken in my head. “You want to be found,” and I began to wonder. I had sought out a human being. This would not have happened a year ago.

I fell asleep. When I awoke Aaron was gone and Frightful was circling me. She saw me stir, swooped in, and sat on a rock beside me. I said, “Hi,” but did not get up, just lay still listening to the birds, the snips and sputs of insects moving in the dry leaves, and the air stirring the newly leafing trees. Nothing went on in my head. It was comfortably blank. I knew the pleasures of the lizard on the log who knows where his next meal is coming from. I also knew his boredom. After an hour I did have a thought. Aaron had said that he was up in the Catskills for Passover. Then it must also he near Easter, and Matt would be coming soon. I had not counted notches in weeks.

A cool shadow crossed my face and I arose, whistled for Frightful to come to my hand, and wandered slowly home, stuffing my pockets with spring beauty bulbs as I went.

Several days later I met Matt on Route 27 at three-thirty. I tied his handkerchief around his eyes and led him, stumbling and tripping, up the mountain. I went almost directly home. I guess I didn’t much care if he remembered how to get there or not. When I took off the blindfold, he looked around.

“Where are we? Where’s your house?” I sat down and motioned him to sit. He did so with great willingness – in fact, he flopped.

“What do you sleep on, the ground?”

I pointed to the deerskin flaps moving in the wind in the hemlock.

“Whatdaya do, live in a tree?”

“Yep.” Matt bounced to his feet and we went in. I propped the door open so that the light streamed in, and he shouted with joy. I lit the tallow candle and we went over everything, and each invention he viewed with a shout.

While I prepared trout baked in wild grape leaves, Matt sat on the bed and told me the world news in brief. I listened with care to the trouble in Europe, the trouble in the Far East, the trouble in the south, and the trouble in America. Also to a few sensational murders, some ball scores, and his report card.

“It all proves my point,” I said sagely. “People live too close together.”

“Is that why you are here?”

“Well, not exactly. The main reason is that I don’t like to be dependent particularly on electricity, rails, steam, oil coal machines, and all those things that can go Wrong.” “Well, is that why you are up here?”

“Well, not exactly. Some men climbed Mount Everest because it was there. Here is a wilderness.”

“Is that why?”

“Aw, come on, Matt. See that falcon? Hear those white-throated sparrows? Smell that skunk? Well, the falcon takes the sky, the white-throated sparrow takes the low bushes, the skunk takes the earth, you take the newspaper office, I take the woods.” “Don’t you get lonely?”

“Lonely? I’ve hardly had a quiet moment since arriving. Stop being a reporter and let’s eat. Besides there arc people in the city who are lonelier than I.”

“Okay. Let’s eat. This is good, darned good; in fact, the best meal I’ve ever eaten.” He ate and stopped asking questions.

We spent the next week fishing, hunting, trapping, gathering greens and bulbs. Matt talked less and less, slept, hiked, and pondered. He also ate well, and kept Frightful very busy. He made himself a pair of moccasins out of deer hide, and a hat that I can’t even describe. We didn’t have a mirror so he never knew how it looked, but I can say this: when I happened to meet him as we came fishing along a stream bed, I was always startled. I never did get used to that hat. Towards the end of the week, who should we find sleeping in my bed after returning from a fishing trip, but Bando! Spring vacation, he said. That night we played our reed whistles for Matt, by an outdoor fire. It was that warm. Matt and Bando also decided to make a guest house out of one of the other trees. I said “Yes, let’s” because I felt that way, although I knew what it meant.

A guest house meant I was no longer a runaway. I was no longer hiding in the wilderness. I was living in the woods like anyone else lives in a house. People drop by, neighbours come for dinner, there are three meals to get, the shopping to do, the cleaning to accomplish. I felt exactly as I felt when I was home. The only difference was that I was a little harder to visit out here, but not too hard. There sat Matt and Bando.

We all burnt and dug out another hemlock. I worked with them, wondering what was happening to me. Why didn’t I cry “No”? What made me happily build a city in the forest–because that is what we were doing.

When the tree was done, Bando had discovered that the sap was running in willow trees and the limbs were just right for slide-whistles. He spent the evening making us trombones. We played them together. That word together. Maybe that was the answer to the city.

Matt said rather uncomfortably just before bedtime, “There may be some photographers in these hills.”

“Matt!” I hardly protested. “What did you write?”

It was Bando who pulled out the article.

He read it, a few follow-ups, and comments from many other papers. Then he leaned back against his leaning tree, as it had come to be, and puffed silently on his pipe.

“Let’s face it, Thoreau; you can’t live in America today and be quietly different. If you are going to be different, you are going to stand out, and people are going to hear about you; and in your case, if they hear about you, they will remove you to the city or move to you and you won’t be different any more.” A pause.

“Did the owls nest, Thoreau?”

I told him about the owls and how the young played around the hemlock, and then we went to bed a little sad all of us. Time was running out.

Matt had to return to school, and Bando stayed on to help burn out another tree for another guest house. We chopped off the blackened wood, made one bed, and started the second before he had to return to his teaching.

I wasn’t alone long. Mr Jacket found me.

I was out on the raft trying to catch an enormous snapping turtle. He would take my line, but when I got his head above water, he would eye me with those cold ancient eyes and let go. Frightful was near by. I was making a noose to throw over the turtle’s head the next time it surfaced when Frightful lit on my shoulder with a thud and a hard grip. She was drawn up and tense, which in her language said “people”, so I wasn’t surprised to hear a voice call from across the stream, “Hi, Daniel Boone. What are you doing?” There stood Mr Jacket.

“I am trying to get this whale of a snapper,” I said in such an ordinary voice that it was dull.

I went on with the noose making, and he called to me, “Hit it with a club.”

I still couldn’t catch the old tiger, so I rafted to shore and got Mr Jacket. About an hour later we had the turtle, had cleaned it, and I knew that Mr Jacket was Tom Sidler.

“Come on up to the house,” I said, and he came on up to the house, and it was just like after school on Third Avenue. He wanted to see everything, of course, and he did think it unusual, but he got over it in a hurry and settled down to helping me prepare the meat for turtle Soup.

He dug the onions for it while I got it boiling in a tin can. Turtle is as tough as rock and has to he boiled for hours before it gets tender. We flavoured the soup with hickory salt, and cut a lot of Solomon’s-seal tubers into it. Tom said it was too thin, and I thickened it with mashed up nuts – I had run out of acorn flour. I tried some orris root in it – pretty fair.

“Wanta stay and eat it and spend the night?” I asked him somewhere along the way. He said, “Sure,” but added that he had better go home and tell his mother. It took him about two hours to get back and the turtle was still tough, so we went out to the meadow to fly Frightful. She caught her own meal, we tied her to her perch and climbed in the gorge until almost dark. We ate turtle soup. Tom slept in the guest tree.

I lay awake wondering what had happened. Everything seemed so every-day.

I liked Tom and he liked me, and he came up often, almost every week-end. He told me about his bowling team and some of his friends, and I began to feel I knew a lot of people in the town below the mountain. This made my wilderness small. When Tom left one weekend I wrote this down: Tom said that he and Reed went into an empty house, and when they heard the real-estate man come in, they slid down the laundry chute to the basement and crawled out the basement window. He said a water main broke and flooded the school grounds and all the kids took off their shoes and played baseball in it.

I drew a line through all this and then I wrote:

I haven’t seen The Baron Weasel. I think he has deserted his den by the boulder. A catbird is nesting near by. Apparently it has learned that Frightful is tied some of the time, because it comes right up to the fireplace for scraps when the leash is snapped.

I drew a line through this too, and filled up the rest of the piece of bark with a drawing of Frightful.

I went to the library the next day and took out four books.

Aaron came back. He came right to the hemlock forest and called. I didn’t ask him how he knew I was there. He stayed a week, mostly puttering around with the willow whistles. He never asked what I was doing on the mountain. It was as if he already knew. As if he had talked to someone, or read something, and there was nothing more to question. I had the feeling that I was an old story somewhere beyond the foot of the mountain. I didn’t care.

Bando got a car and he came up more often. He never mentioned any more newspaper stories, and I never asked him. I just said to him one day. “I seem to have an address now.” He said, “You do.”

I said, “Is it Broadway and Forty-second Street?”

He said, “Almost.” His eyebrows knitted and he looked at me sadly.

“It’s all right, Bando. Maybe you’d better bring me a shirt and some blue jeans when you come next time. I was thinking, if they haven’t sold that house in town, maybe Tom and I could slide down the laundry chute.” Bando slowly turned a willow whistle over in his hands. He didn’t play it.

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