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مجموعه: سهم من از کوهستان / کتاب: سهم من از کوهستان / فصل 16

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IN WHICH Trouble Begins

I stood in my doorway the twenty-third of November dressed from head to toe in deerskins. I was lined with rabbit fur. I had mittens and squirrel-lined moccasins. I was quite excited by my wardrobe.

I whistled and Frightful came to my fist. She eyed me with her silky black eyes and pecked at my suit.

“Frightful,” I said, “this is not food. It is my new suit. Please don’t eat it.” She peeped softly, fluffed her feathers, and looked gently toward the meadow.

“You are beautiful, too, Frightful,” I said, and I touched the slate gray feathers of her back. Very gently I stroked the jet black ones that came down from her eyes. Those beautiful marks gave her much of her superb dignity. In a sense she had also come into a new suit. Her plumage had changed during the autumn, and she was breathtaking.

I walked to the spring and we looked in. I saw us quite clearly, as there were no longer any frogs to plop in the water and break the mirror with circles and ripples.

“Frightful,” I said as I turned and twisted and looked. “We would be quite handsome if it were not for my hair. I need another haircut.”

I did the best job I was able to do with a penknife. I made a mental note to make a hat to cover the stray ends.

Then I did something which took me by surprise. I smelled the clean air of November, turned once more to see how the back of my suit looked, and walked down the mountain. I stepped over the stream on the stones. I walked to the road.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I was on my way to town.

As I walked down the road, I kept pretending I was going to the library; but it was Sunday, and I knew the library was closed.

I tethered Frightful just outside town on a stump. I didn’t want to attract any attention. Kicking stones as I went, and whistling, I walked to the main intersection of town as if I came every Sunday.

I saw the drugstore and began to walk faster, for I was beginning to sense that I was not exactly what everybody saw every day. Eyes were upon me longer than they needed to be.

By the time I got to the drugstore, I was running. I slipped in and went to the magazine stand. I picked up a comic book and began to read.

Footsteps came toward me. Below the bottom pictures I saw a pair of pants and saddle shoes. One shoe went tap, tap. The feet did a kind of hop step, and I watched them walk to the other side of me. Tap, tap, tap, again; a hop step and the shoes and pants circled me. Then came the voice. “Well, if it isn’t Daniel Boone!” I looked into a face about the age of my own—but a little more puppyish—I thought. It had about the same coloring—brown eyes, brown hair—a bigger nose than mine, and more ears, but a very assured face. I said, “Well?” I grinned, because it had been a long time since I had seen a young man my age.

The young man didn’t answer, he simply took my sleeve between his fingers and examined it closely. “Did you chew it yourself?” he asked.

I looked at the spot he was examining and said, “Well, no, I pounded it on a rock there, but I did have to chew it a bit around the neck. It stuck me.”

We looked at each other then. I wanted to say something, but didn’t know where to begin. He picked at my sleeve again.

“My kid brother has one that looks more real than that thing. Whataya got that on for anyway?”

I looked at his clothes. He had on a nice pair of gray slacks, a white shirt opened at the neck, and a leather jacket. As I looked at these things, I found my voice.

“Well, I’d rip anything like you have on all to pieces in about a week.”

He didn’t answer; he walked around me again.

“Where did you say you came from?”

“I didn’t say, but I come from a farm up the way.”

“Whatja say your name was?”

“Well, you called me Daniel Boone.”

“Daniel Boone, eh?” He walked around me once more, and then peered at me.

“You’re from New York. I can tell the accent.” He leaned against the cosmetic counter. “Come on, now, tell me, is this what the kids are wearing in New York now? Is this gang stuff?” “I am hardly a member of a gang,” I said. “Are you?”

“Out here? Naw, we bowl.” The conversation went to bowling for a while, then he looked at his watch.

“I gotta go. You sure are a sight, Boone. Whatja doing anyway, playing cowboys and Indians?”

“Come on up to the Gribley farm and I’ll show you what I’m doing. I’m doing research. Who knows when we’re all going to be blown to bits and need to know how to smoke venison.” “Gee, you New York guys can sure double talk. What does that mean, burn a block down?”

“No, it means smoke venison,” I said. I took a piece out of my pocket and gave it to him. He smelled it and handed it back.

“Man,” he said, “whataya do, eat it?”

“I sure do,” I answered.

“I don’t know whether to send you home to play with my kid brother or call the cops.” He shrugged his shoulders and repeated that he had to go. As he left, he called back, “The Gribley farm?” “Yes. Come on up if you can find it.”

I browsed through the magazines until the clerk got anxious to sell me something and then I wandered out. Most of the people were in church. I wandered around the town and back to the road.

It was nice to see people again. At the outskirts of town a little boy came bursting out of a house with his shoes off, and his mother came bursting out after him. I caught the little fellow by the arm and I held him until his mother picked him up and took him back. As she went up the steps, she stopped and looked at me. She stepped toward the door, and then walked back a few steps and looked at me again. I began to feel conspicuous and took the road to my mountain.

I passed the little old strawberry lady’s house. I almost went in, and then something told me to go home.

I found Frightful, untied her, stroked her creamy breast feathers, and spoke to her. “Frightful, I made a friend today. Do you think that is what I had in mind all the time?” The bird whispered.

I was feeling sad as we kicked up the leaves and started home through the forest. On the other hand, I was glad I had met Mr. Jacket, as I called him. I never asked his name. I had liked him although we hadn’t even had a fight. All the best friends I had, I always fought, then got to like them after the wounds healed.

The afternoon darkened. The nuthatches that had been clinking around the trees were silent. The chickadees had vanished. A single crow called from the edge of the road. There were no insects singing, there were no catbirds, or orioles, or vireos, or robins.

“Frightful,” I said. “It is winter. It is winter and I have forgotten to do a terribly important thing—stack up a big woodpile.” The stupidity of this sent Mr. Jacket right out of my mind, and I bolted down the valley to my mountain. Frightful flapped to keep her balance. As I crossed the stones to my mountain trail, I said to that bird, “Sometimes I wonder if I will make it to spring.” IN WHICH

I Pile Up Wood and Go on with Winter

Now I am almost to that snowstorm. The morning after I had the awful thought about the wood, I got up early. I was glad to hear the nuthatches and chickadees. They gave me the feeling that I still had time to chop. They were bright, busy, and totally unworried about storms. I shouldered my ax and went out.

I had used most of the wood around the hemlock house, so I crossed to the top of the gorge. First I took all the dry limbs off the trees and hauled them home. Then I chopped down dead trees. With wood all around me, I got in my tree and put my arm out. I made an x in the needles. Where the x lay, I began stacking wood. I wanted to be able to reach my wood from the tree when the snow was deep. I piled a big stack at this point. I reached out the other side of the door and made another x. I piled wood here. Then I stepped around my piles and had a fine idea. I decided that if I used up one pile, I could tunnel through the snow to the next and the next. I made many woodpiles leading out into the forest.

I watched the sky. It was as blue as summer, but ice was building up along the waterfall at the gorge. I knew winter was coming, although each day the sun would rise in a bright sky and the days would follow cloudless. I piled more wood. This is when I realized that I was scared. I kept cutting wood and piling it like a nervous child biting his nails.

It was almost with relief that I saw the storm arrive.

Now I am back where I began. I won’t tell it again, I shall go on now with my relief and the fun and wonderfulness of living on a mountaintop in winter.

The Baron Weasel loved the snow, and was up and about in it every day before Frightful and I had had our breakfast. Professor Bando’s jam was my standby on those cold mornings. I would eat mounds of it on my hard acorn pancakes, which I improved by adding hickory nuts. With these as a bracer for the day, Frightful and I would stamp out into the snow and reel down the mountain. She would fly above my head as I slid and plunged and rolled to the creek.

The creek was frozen. I would slide out onto it and break a little hole and ice fish. The sun would glance off the white snow, the birds would fly through the trees, and I would come home with a fresh meal from the valley. I found there were still plants under the snow, and I would dig down and get teaberry leaves and wintergreen. I got this idea from the deer, who found a lot to eat under the snow. I tried some of the mosses that they liked, but decided moss was for the deer.

Around four o’clock we would all wander home. The nuthatches, the chickadees, the cardinals, Frightful, and me. And now came the nicest part of wonderful days. I would stop in the meadow and throw Frightful off my fist. She would wind into the sky and wait above me as I kicked the snow-bent grasses. A rabbit would pop up, or sometimes a pheasant. Out of the sky, from a pinpoint of a thing, would dive my beautiful falcon. And, oh, she was beautiful when she made a strike—all power and beauty. On the ground she would cover her quarry. Her perfect feathers would stand up on her body and her wings would arch over the food. She never touched it until I came and picked her up. I would go home and feed her, then crawl into my tree room, light a little fire on my hearth, and Frightful and I would begin the winter evening.

I had lots of time to cook and try mixing different plants with different meats to make things taste better—and I must say I originated some excellent meals.

When dinner was done, the fire would blaze on; Frightful would sit on the foot post of the bed and preen and wipe her beak and shake. Just the fact that she was alive was a warming thing to know.

I would look at her and wonder what made a bird a bird and a boy a boy. The forest would become silent. I would know that The Baron Weasel was about, but I would not hear him.

Then I would get a piece of birch bark and write, or I would make new things out of deer hide, like a hood for Frightful, and finally I would take off my suit and my moccasins and crawl into my bed under the sweet-smelling deerskin. The fire would burn itself out and I would be asleep.

Those were nights of the very best sort.

One night I read some of my old notes about how to pile wood so I could get to it under the snow, and I laughed until Frightful awoke. I hadn’t made a single tunnel. I walked on the snow to get wood like The Baron Weasel went for food or the deer went for moss.

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