Lucas Weismann

Just a thought – Love

Anyone who knows about fire knows that sparks aren’t supposed to be the whole of it. They just get things going. Then the flames provide light so those around can see. Then the coals keep you warm through the night.

Perhaps that’s why fire as such a good metaphor for love.

Another Winter Gone – 6

Once dried, Jessica re-dressed and they wrapped her foot as best they could.  She would still be cold, but at least she was alive and would likely keep all her extremities.  Marcus remembered when he was a boy, meeting a farmer named Al who’d lost lost fingers to the cold and other accidents.  He remembered the farmer describing the aches and pains or just tingling that would sometimes occur in the fingers that were no longer there.  It still gave him a shiver almost a century later- though he’d gotten better at hiding it.

He remembered the story he old man told him, saying that as a younger man he’d played the guitar until he’d lost the tips of a finger or two in a threshing accident.  At that point he’d switched to the accordion, until he lost fingers to the cold.  When he couldn’t play the accordion anymore, he switched to the hammer dulcimer.  By the time Marcus met the old man, the only instrument he could play anymore was the Harmonica.

He admired the stubborness and tenacity of the old man.  He unwillingness to let any accident or fate prevent him from partaking in his love of music.

With any luck, this Jessica would be alright.  Of course, they weren’t out of the woods yet and the shadows already stretched long over the land.  But at least the girl was hydrated and responsive.  Marcus had melted some water for her from the snow and given it to her.  It was a mercy she hadn’t hit her head on a rock or broken her neck with a fall like that.

Remembering what he’d seen in terms of destruction of the branches and the dislodged trees on the way down the ravine reminded him about her story of being chased by wolves.  It was such an obvious prevarication that it almost didn’t seem worth asking about.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts.  Now that the immediate danger was past, there was the very real problem of what to do to get the girl back to the road and the relative safety of his truck.  It had been a 10 minute walk, plus some odd switchbacks, but that was with snowshoes and the girl only had one of those left.  Plus, she’d be hopping on one foot.  That wouldn’t do.  

Marcus realized he’d left his phone in the truck.  The damn thing barely got reception anyway, but still.  Minor chance was worth more than no chance.

“Jessica, you got a phone?”

“Yeah, I…” she grabbed her pants and went through the pockets. “Yeah, I’ve got it.”

“Great.  You got reception?”

“No.”  It figured.  They probably had the same carrier.  

“Well, we’re going to have to figure out how to get you out of here.  I don’t have time to be bringing firewood all night and I don’t want to risk you going into shock or dying of exposure.  Lemme see your ankle.”  It was swollen, purple and angry.”

The whine of a small gas engine became more apparent as it approached the ridge above them and then from up top a voice cried out, “Hey, Marcus, you okay?”  Christ.  That was all he needed.  That darned Amos was here, and he’d probably want to… wait.  

“Down here Amos.”

“You injured?”  

“No, but there’s a girl who is.  Heard a scream.  She’s got a busted up ankle and we have no reception here.  Help me get her to the truck.”

“Sounds good”  Sounds good?  Marcus had never heard Amos say so little at one time.  The engine whirred to life in that fly-buzz register that snowmobiles seem to share with squadrons of mosquitos.

A few minutes later, there was Amos dismounting his snowmobile and digging under the seat for his spare helmet.  Well, for once the man’s insistence on doing everything by the book might be of use.

“What’re you doing here?”

“Snowmobiling and I saw your truck with the emergency lights on and the door open on the side of the road.  Then I saw tracks and thought… “hey!  If marcus is running in the woods, either he’s in trouble or someone else is.’ And then…”

“Good job.” Said Marcus.  “I’m sure you have more you want tell me about it, but let it wait until we get her back to town and in some clothes.”

Amos seemed to just notice the girl next to them covered only in an old saddle blanket.  He reddened.  Internally, Marcus face-palmed.  Amos had to be what, 55?  65?  And here he was blushing like little  kid.  This provoked a similar reaction in Jessica, who up till now had been too concerned about survival to worry about propriety.

“Alright children, let’s get back to the truck.  Amos, keys are in the ignition, so start it up and make sure she stays warm. I’ll be there when I can and will put out the fire.”

They fumbled their way on to the snow mobile, with Jessica’s feet still in Marcus’s mittens.  The heels hung out a bit and looked silly, but at least it wouldn’t take long to get back, he thought as they rode off toward the truck.

Marcus took one of his snowshoes and used it as a shovel to extinguish the fire, using the tail of it to stir in the ashes and make sure it was completely out.  He’d seen what could happen if a fire went underground, or cinders whipped up and wouldn’t leave anything to chance.  

Afterward, he put the snowshoes back on, clenched and unclenched his now-chilly fingers and and started back to the truck at a brisk trot.

Another Winter Gone – 5

In times like this, Marcus knew that talking and keeping people alert was one of the best ways to avert disaster.  He went to talking her though the task at hand.  Namely hypothermia and how to avoid it.

“There are four stages of hypothermia” he said as he wandered around and started gathering branches and sticks.  “Mild, moderate and severe.  mental confusion, shivering.  This is the part where you feel cold.”  He took out his steel and set it on a flat rock nearby so he’d be have it to hand.  

“Ok-kkkay” said Jessica.

“Now, you’re past that, because you’re having trouble controlling your shivering.  If you weren’t, I’d be less concerned.  you’re probably a bit confused and your lips and ears are turning blue, which indicates at least moderate hypothermia.”  Marcus dug through his pockets seeking something.  He pulled it out.  “Aha! wait, damn.” he said.  That’s not what I wanted.  Well, here, eat this.”

“A film canister?” She said confusion on her features.

“No, what’s inside it.”

“What is inside it?”

“Crushed potato chips mashed with dates”

“What?”

“Calories kid. It’s an easy way to transport them.  You need fuel to burn; speaking of which” he pulled out a film canister wrapped with several layers of duct tape.

“More chips?”

“nope.  Waterproof matches and kindling.”

“W-wwwere you a boy scout?”

“Nah, but I like the books.”  Marcus started making a rat’s nest of the duct tape- first tearing it into small strips and then making it into a loose bundle.  “I like the Civics lessons, but I never went in for the ‘God’ part of the whole ‘God and Country’ part of the scouts.  Seemed silly to exclude all those Atheists, Buddhists and others who might want to go camping.”  He struck a match and set it to the bundle, which now hung loosely underneath a pile of kindling on a flat rock.  The smell was bitter and acrid.  The burning plastic of GI Joes who’ve met a magnifying glass at noon on a summer’s day.

“Now, the stumbling and difficulty that you’re having moving might be because of the log that fell on your foot, but it might also be because you’re in wet clothes and nearing severe hypothermia.  How long were you in the water?”

“A few minutes-s-s-s, I think.”  Marcus blew the flames gently to give them life.  They grew and Jessica found almost dove toward the small bit of heat.

“Careful there.  Don’t knock it over.  I’m going to add bits of wood.  I need you to lean over and blow on the base of the flame.  Think you can do that?”

“Y-y-yeah”  she said.  Good, giving the girl something to do would keep her occupied and might lessen the effects of shock.  He got up to get the wood and brought it back.  

“Not bad.  You already figured out you have to coax the fire out of the wood.  Lotta people try and blow like its birthday candles and cause no end of trouble.”  Marcus placed the wood next to the fire and started adding some.  Then he grabbed the blanket and his mittens from the ground and gave them to her.

“Alright, next step.  You’re gonna strip down outta those wet clothes and wrap up in the blanket.”  Jessica nodded dumbly.  “Next, you’re gonna wear mittens on your feet and we’re gonna try to prevent frostbite from getting more than just a little bad.  If something turns black, chances are, it’ll have to go.”

“O-okay.”  She said.

“Now me, I’m going to keep myself occupied with the fire here, so you don’t have to worry about me sneaking a peek and remembering things I’m too old to be thinking about.”  She actually guffawed.  Marcus couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard a guffaw, and certainly not from a chit of a girl who had no business being this far out by herself, being chased by wolves.  That was an oddity he’d explore if it seemed important when-

“Umm, Mr. Marcus…”  She sounded worried.

“Just Marcus, no Mister.  What’s wrong Jessica?”

“I can’t get my boot off.”  Of course not.  Why would he think it would be otherwise?  

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I think it’s t-t-too s-s-swollen.” She said.  Marcus moved to the boot, took it in his hands and cut the laces and the tongue with the multitool he kept on his belt.

“Hey!  Those were expensive boots!” She said.  Anger pushing the shiver out of her voice.

“Yeah?  They worth more than your foot?”  She mumbled something.  “Didn’t think so.  Listen girlie, so far I’ve been kind to you.  Don’t take that kindness as weakness.  When I want to know how to get lost and nearly kill myself of hypothermia and a broken ankle, I’ll ask you.  Until then, you’re in my woods, so you’ll do as I say and you might just get out of here in one piece with only minor extremities lost.”  She winced and made a controlled exhalation, as he pulled off the boot.  To her credit, she didn’t whimper or cry of fuss too much once it was off and she got to the business of removing her frozen, soaking clothes.

Marcus busied himself with the fire until it was a roaring blaze.

Another Winter Gone – 1

Marcus sat by the window, looking out over the clearing.  Another winter thawed outside.  He’d seen 92-odd winters come and go in his lifetime, plus a few he didn’t remember.  Just the essentials.  That’s what he’d told the reporters who’d snowshoed in to report his 95th birthday for the Echo.  That’s what kept him alive and fit at the age of 95.

He had his house on the lake, his tools in his shop and plenty of firewood for the winter.  No need for foolishness.  No need for make-work projects, when there was enough real work to be done.

It had been a surprise when the reporter came up the path, audible before she’d been visible- her snowshoes crunching on the top layer of crusted snow.  He recognized her of course.  Her was printed next to her column in the paper.

Marcus kept a newspaper subscription for three reasons:

  1. He liked having something to read in the outhouse (especially if he was snowed in and couldn’t get to town for *ahem* other papers he might want in there)
  2. He liked the excuse to walk the 400 yards to the end of the driveway every morning.
  3. It was nice to have an alernative source of kindling in case birch bark supplies were running low.

The last reason wasn’t really that strong he reflected after he realized he was following the “rule of three.”  It wasn’t strong, because he couldn’t remember the last time that he had actually used birch bark or paper to start a fire.  Sure, he kept some around in case of emergency, but he also had as much white gas as he was ever likely to need in the small cottage he’d built all those years before.

Despite the reputation he had (and was largely unaware of) of being the last of the old-time trappers, sourdoughs and voyageurs, Marcus had no pride at all when it came to the practical matter of starting a fire.

He’d happily use a lighter if one was available, but generally preferred to make his own kindling bundles use a steel whenever possible.  Small bundles of moss and Jack Pine twigs that would go up like kerosene even soaking wet.

He knew how to use a bow-drill of course and other “primitive” means, but fire was too important to survival for a person to stick to honorable methods like Flint and Steel or even a one-match fire.

Hell, he’d even started a fire using a ball made of thin strips of duct tape he’d ignited with steel wool and a 9-volt battery once.  It stank to high heaven and was smokey as hell, so it was probably for the best that he’d pulled it from the one Fire detector that weasel of a bureaucrat Amos Johnson had insisted upon.  Damn thing went off half the time when he cooked his bacon, as if he wasn’t perfectly aware it was smoking him out of his own cabin.

In reality of course, Amos was amiable and capable, it’s just that among other duties he was responsible for making sure things were up to code.  The way Marcus saw it, code was fine.  It was for people who didn’t know how to build a house properly so the damned thing wouldn’t fall down.  It didn’t need to apply to people who know what they’re doing.

There was one other objection Marcus had to Amos.  He talked too much.  Any time they ran into each other in town, that damned fool said nothing in as many words as possible.  He had a nervous manner and talked too loud.  Especially outside.

Over the years Marcus had come to realize the truth of silence.  Understanding that the bigger the space, the quieter one should be in it.  Not space per se, but more like what you get when there’s space and it’s not filled up with people.

Being outside in a city requires a person to be louder to make themselves heard.  So, being inside with that mentality, one needs to to remember to be quiet.

Being outside “on the loose” as one of the old campfire songs from his youth had called it, meant that you didn’t need to be loud.  Your very presence there was an intrusion, like a stranger at a wake.  Everything in the forest is so aware of any human, that there’s no need to be loud.  You have the floor, as it were.

This is what that damned fool Amos never seemed to understand.

The reporter had been better.  She knew how to listen at least.  Well, sort-of.  She knew how to listen to people, for what they said and what they said when they didn’t say something.  It was a start.  Maybe in time, she’d learn to listen without needing to hear words in the silence.

The questions for the article had covered a range of topics.  Mostly banal, but some sparked memories he’d forgotten for a long time.  Where was he from? The past.  What did he do?  The work in front of him.  (How can you explain to someone the rhythm of living on your own off the land?  How can you explain that every day is the same and each day is unique?  How you know when to find mushrooms or run trap lines or hunt deer?)  The questions had continued for awhile, until she asked her last question.  What made you move out here away from everyone? I came seeking silence and a place to think.

At that point, she’d understood his meaning more pointedly than he’d meant to say it, because she started to pack up her notebook.  Quickly.  “Well, thank you for your time and I’ll try not to intrude on your silence any further.”

Her snowshoes finally agreed to being used, after a bit of wrangling and she was out the door.  He was surprised at how tired he felt tired after she left.  Probably just a reaction to an uninvited visitor making him use the long-forgotten courtesy parts of the brain.  Janet.  That was the name on the columns.

It’s funny how someone can look like a name, he thought.  As if the appellation a parent gives a child somehow shapes their character.  Then unbidden, memories of his son, his Jack, were called up against his will.

There was no question what he needed to do next.  He picked up his axe and went to split logs for firewood.

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