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مجموعه: سهم من از کوهستان / کتاب: در دور دست های کوهستان / فصل 2

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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IN WHICH The Population Shrinks

Pushing back the deerskin door of my hemlock home, I enter the smoke and minty smelling tree hollow and slump to the pile of furs that replaces my outgrown sapling bed. I put my face down to cry, but no tears come.

After a long while I get up. I have to provide for Alice and myself. I should be making a box trap to catch rabbits, or a deadfall to take a deer. I don’t move to do either, for I have no spirit for the jobs. It’s almost as if I am completely helpless without Frightful. I guess I am, so I had better do something to keep myself going.

Walking to my desk, I sit down at the table I built for writing. I look at my clay fireplace, which I now use only for heat and cheeriness, not cooking. I made an elaborate stone stove and oven outside where I bake, grill, and boil.

Stoves, tables, clay fireplace—I keep filling my head with thoughts about these things so I won’t think about Frightful.

Reading always clears my mind; I’ll try that.

I open my journal, a handsome leather-bound notebook Miss Turner gave me last summer. She said the birch-bark scrolls I used when I first came to the wilderness were too fragile for notes, but I still have them and they are as good as ever.

I thumb through the first pages hoping to find something to distract me, like a sketch of a snare, when I notice gaps in the June entries of last year. Wondering why, I begin reading the June 27 entry.

“Alice, my sister who is two years younger than I am, is going to live on the mountain with me—for better or worse.

“The way I look at it, she’s here by default. Mom; Dad; my four brothers, John, Jim, Hank, and Jake; and my four sisters, Alice, Mary, Joan, and Nina climbed up my mountain three weeks ago and announced they were here to stay. Dad was going to plow the abandoned fields, sow seeds, and reap the grain. The boys said they would help build the house from the planks and two-by-fours Dad brought up here for that purpose. Mom and the girls were eager to grow a garden and keep a cow.

“Well, the house never got built. Mrs. Fielder, whom I always call Mrs. Strawberry because she and I gathered wild strawberries the spring I arrived on the mountain, was kind to my family. She offered them rooms in her large old farmhouse until they got started. She’s alone and said they would be company for her.

“Hardly had my father borrowed Mrs. Strawberry’s horse, Slats, and the plow, and taken them up one side of my meadow and down again, than he knew why his grandfather had abandoned this land. He was not plowing soil. He was plowing rocks. Mrs. Strawberry put it this way. ‘If you want to grow stones, Mr. Gribley, this is the place for you. Here in these mountains, stones are our best crop.’ “Next Dad tried to put in a garden. After hours of digging to find soil in my meadow, he gave up. As a last resort he called in a soil conservation officer and conferred with him.

“ ‘The land’s good for trees and wildlife,’ he told Dad, ‘and maybe a few wild plants that like poor soil—and that’s about all.’ “June seventeenth he and Mother climbed the long, hard mountain trail to my home. One look at their faces told me they had not come for sumac tea.” I chuckle as I remember Dad asking me where Alice was—she spent most of her time up here with me—and I told him she was at the spring fiddling with a gadget she had been working on for days.

“Children,” Dad said when Alice came down from the spring, “pack up your things. We’re going to leave. It’s impossible to farm this mountain. Men more skilled than I have tried and failed. If they couldn’t do it, it’s insane for me to think I can. I’m going back to what I am good at—working on the docks near the sea.” “Well, I’m not going,” Alice replied nicely but firmly.

The irises in Alice’s eyes look as if they are made of little pieces of blue and white crystal. When she’s excited, each piece sparkles. They flashed until I thought they would splinter and crack when she told Dad she wasn’t going back to the city.

“I love it here!” she said. “I’m going to stay.”

“Indeed, you’re not,” he answered, much to my relief. I really didn’t want to be responsible for a thirteen-year-old. “You’re coming back to the city with Sam and the rest of us.” “Is Sam going back?” She turned to me incredulously.

“Of course,” Dad answered without thinking. He hesitated. “You will, won’t you, Sam?”

“No, sir,” I answered. “I don’t think I will. I’m doing very well here and love it.”

Alice ran to Mother. “Please, let me stay,” she whined like a lost puppy.

Mom walked off to think, made up her mind, and came back to me.

“Alice can stay, Sam,” she said, “if you think you can support another person. She is far safer here than in the city.”

My heart plunged to my toes. This is my home, my mountain, the world I had created all by myself. I needed a little sister like Frightful needed vegetables.

“What about Alice’s education?” my father asked, not liking the idea either.

“She can go to correspondence school.” Mother answered so promptly that it seemed that she had given this more thought than was apparent at first.

“If kids can live on sailboats going around the world,” she said, “and get a good education through correspondence schools, so can Alice.” Dad could not come up with another objection. When Mother had said Alice would be safer in the woods with me than out on the mean streets, she had won.

“But for one year only,” he said. Then he winked at me. “Don’t worry,” he whispered behind his hand. “She won’t be here long. Alice gets homesick. She’ll be crying like a lamb by tomorrow, and you can bring her home.” In a louder voice he said, “I’m leaving my toolbox and tools at Mrs. Strawberry’s for you. I won’t be needing them.”

“Neither will I,” I answered. Tools meant change to me, and I liked my home the way it was.

I should have been proud and happy to know my parents had so much confidence in me that they would leave Alice in my charge, but the truth was that I was peeved. Alice is not your ordinary kid. She can be wonderful company, but—she can also be Alice.

Then Mother and Dad hugged us and promised to write. As I watched them go, I felt a pang of sorrow. Not Alice. They were hardly out of sight before she blew out a breath so long it sounded as if she had been holding it for a year.

With Mom and Dad’s farewells still resounding in our ears, Alice took out her Swiss Army knife, with all the gadgets on it—from screwdriver to scissors—and clipped a broken nail. Next, she pulled her socks over her knotty calves, straightened up, and smiled at me.

“Thanks, Sam,” she said. “You’ve just made me the happiest girl in the world.” Her eyes crackled.

“And now to finish my plumping mill.”

“Your what?”

“I’m making a plumping mill.”

“And what is that?”

“A plumping mill is a mechanical device run by water power. It lifts a hammer and drops it.”

“And?”

“And pounds grains and nuts into flour. I’m tired of grinding acorns, Sam, I really am. So I’m making a machine that will do it for me.” “Where did you learn about a plumping mill?”

“From your librarian friend, Miss Turner, where else? I told her how hard it was to pound acorns into flour for our pancakes; she told me that the first settlers ground their grains with plumping mills.” I was intrigued. “Go on.”

“She found a diagram of a plumping mill in one of her books, and I copied it down on paper then made it—come here—I’ll show you.” We climbed to the cascade that spills out of the spring, and Alice picked up a four-foot sapling. On one end she had tied a rock, on the other end, a wooden box cut low on one side like a scoop. Two forked limbs, cut and trimmed, had been pounded into the ground near the cascade. A heavy stick lay across them. On top of this Alice laid the sapling on which the box and stone were fastened. She pushed the box under the cascade and arranged the stone so that it was resting on a disc of wood.

The box filled with water, became heavier than the stone, fell, and the stone went up in the air. The box emptied and, now lighter than the stone, went up. The stone plunged down and hit the wood with a thump.

“This is stupendous,” I said. But Alice was not smiling, in fact, she was nearly in tears.

“No, it isn’t,” she wailed. “The sapling creeps off the stick all the time. I have to sit here and hold it on. I might as well pound the acorns myself for all the time it saves.” I kneeled down by the plumping mill and studied it.

“This’ll work,” I said, seeing the problem. “It’ll work just fine.” I took out my knife.

While Alice sniffed and wiped tears, I carefully bored a hole through the sapling to which the stone and hammer were attached, then slipped the cross stick into the hole half way. When it balanced, I put the stick in the forks.

“Oh, Sam, that’s it. You’ve done it,” Alice said, clapping her hands. “Of course, I remember now. The sapling had a hole in it.” She put a handful of boiled acorns on the disc of wood into which she had chipped a bowl. I waded into the stream and stacked the rocks on the cascade to direct the water more forcibly into the box. It filled quickly. The stone went up, the box went down, emptied, and went up. The stone crashed down. The acorns smashed. We had a plumping mill.

Alice and I sat on the bank leisurely watching as the contraption went up and down, up and down, turning acorns into flour.

“Alice,” I said. “You’ve given me a great idea. I’m going to make a water mill. The spring puts out gallons and gallons of water an hour. If I make a dam here,” I walked off a line downhill of the spring, “it will fill up this dip in the hill and we’ll have a pond almost a quarter-acre big. Water from it would turn a waterwheel. The waterwheel would turn gears. Gears would run saws up and down, and I wouldn’t have to cut wood an hour every day.

“Come on,” I said, jumping to my feet. “Let’s make a water mill!” I started off to get the lumber once meant for Dad’s house, but Alice was not budging. She stood still with her hands on her hips.

“Don’t you want to?” I asked.

“First of all I want a house.”

“A house?” I said.

This young lady, I realized, was not planning to cry and go home tomorrow.

“Yes,” she answered, “a house. I need a place to live. There’s not enough room in your tree for me.”

“I can sleep outside.”

“No, I want a house up in a tree—a tree house, and I want windows and a mirror.”

“A mirror?” I said incredulously and wondered how far my parents had gotten.

“I’ve already put some of Dad’s boards up in the big oak tree on the other side of the knoll.”

“You’ve what?”

“I’ve shoved some of his two-by-fours and a few planks into the white oak. Come see.”

She led me past The Baron Weasel’s den and down through the woods about fifty yards to the enormous old white oak. It had grown up in the open, probably when that side of the mountain was an Indian field, for its limbs grow horizontally to the ground, not up, as they do when a white oak grows in a forest reaching for the sun. I say Indian field, not great-grandfather’s field, because the white oak, like my hemlock, is at least three hundred years old, maybe four. No Gribleys tilled the soil in those days.

As I pushed aside the mountain laurel, I saw three two-by-fours and some planks lying across several of the lower limbs of the tree. The oak, I saw, was a perfect foundation for a tree house.

Alice shinnied up a rope she had made of basswood bark, and I followed.

“It’s not very safe,” I said as the boards shifted under my feet. “But with Dad’s tools, I can fix that.”

With that statement, I was committed to change.

I made a few calculations. “With a few more planks, I can make a sturdy platform.”

“And then,” Alice said. “We’ll do like the Ojibway Indians. We’ll bend saplings from one side to the other to form a dome—a wigwam—and we’ll cover it with bark, just like they did.” I stared at my young sister.

“And,” she went on, drawing pictures in the air, “we’ll make windows out of glass jars like the first settlers did, and carpet the floor with all those rabbit skins you have so I’ll be warm in the winter.” “Anything else?” I asked sarcastically.

“Yes, a porch. And I’d love to have a weather vane on the roof.”

“This kid,” I had written then, “is definitely not going home soon.”

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