Enduring on the Lake

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chapter 37


The day was a long one and I was so tired when we finally got back to the cabin and then finally went to sleep that I hadn’t a clue how hard it would be for me to get to sleep.  But all I could think of was, “I shot two men in the butt.  It wasn’t funny.  It wasn’t a cartoon.  It wasn’t like in the movies.  And they didn’t cover this part in the self-defense classes Daddy had made me take.  I could have killed them.  I really shot two men in the butt.  I could have killed them.” 

Over and over and over.  It didn’t matter that I was pretty sure by shooting them I had saved the man’s life that they themselves had just shot.  I heard it was touch and go with the fish and wildlife officer for a while and if they’d been any longer getting him into surgery it would have been go and not come back.  It didn’t matter that when we stopped at the bait ‘n tackle to gas up all of the vehicles and make sure that all the meat was where it belonged that some woman had nearly plowed me down hugging on me and telling me thank you, thank you, thank you for saving her nephew and that if there was anything that they could ever do for me I was just to ask it.  That was embarrassing and I hid behind Zane as much as possible.  I didn’t want gratitude, I wanted to be left alone so I could deal with the feelings I was already starting to have. 

Finally, it got ridiculous and I went to the kitchen to try and find something to help me sleep.  I nearly wet myself when Zane’s voice came out of the dark. 

“You ok?” 

I jumped and snapped, “Thanks.  Like I need a heart attack on top of everything else.” 

Without missing a bit Zane responded, “You’re welcome.  Now you gonna tell me if you’re ok or are you going to lie about it?” 

I just flopped down on the bench near the stove and said, “Am I ok?  Yeah.  Am I ok with what happened?  Not so much.” 

“At least you know the difference; that’s something,” he said shifting in the chair he had been sitting in.  I could hear him, just not see him.  “It will take a while, just don’t let it eat you up.” 

The tone in his voice made me sit up straighter and wonder about something.  “You were a soldier.” 

“You’re going to ask me whether I ever shot anyone.” 

Biting my lip and wondering if I had stepped over the line I nevertheless answered honestly.  “Yeah.” 

“Yes I did.  No I don’t know who, at least not literally.  Do I remember their faces?  Some of them.  Can I live with what I did?  Yes.  Did I get all the questions?” 

Feeling a little childish for asking I said, “I don’t know.  I hadn’t gotten that far yet.  I’m sorry.” 

He sighed deeply and said, “You don’t have anything to be sorry for.  You don’t even need to be sorry for shooting those two in their asses.  If you want to be sorry then be sorry it was necessary.” 

“Necessary?  I shot them in the butt Zane.  Almost point blank range.  I heard the cops … they called getting shot in the butt humiliating.  And even if it wasn’t humiliating in a technical sense, I could have technically killed the idiots!  That’s what I’m sorry for.” 

I heard Zane snort.  “No one dies from a shot in the ass, even if you did get them in both cheeks.  But they’ll remember it longer than if you had shot them any place else if I had to guess; and, it might just make them a little more careful about who they come up against.  I’m just glad that Lawrence said he was going to personally see that they got transported out of the county to the state penn where they were supposed to be heading in the first place.  Also glad I’m pretty sure that no one used your name where they could hear it.  They used to come up here every winter and cause problems but their aunt died two years ago and the property was taken for back taxes and they hadn’t been seen since.  From what I heard they came back not knowing the old place had been bulldozed over as a health hazard and had gotten tired of camping out.  Guess they were taking the guns and meat to sell on the black market to get some start up cash for whatever their next failure was going to be.” 

“Black market?  Geez, that was fast.  Daddy never said anything about that sort of thing starting up this soon.  At least I don’t think he did; I need to dig out all of his notebooks he brought up here last time.” 

“What notebooks?” 

“Just binders that he kept his thoughts and plans in.  The storage box is in their bedroom.  I’ll pull them out later.”  I rubbed my eyes in fatigue.  “As far as the Duncan Gang goes, I guess they really are losers but still, that doesn’t make me feel any better.” 

“Don’t worry about feeling better about having to shoot someone.  Just focus on the fact that it happened and if it hadn’t happened the man that they shot would have died and so could have some of the rest of us.  Those losers aren’t dead and neither are we.  Just try not to find yourself in that position again.  But if you do, next time …” 

“Next time what?” I asked as he fell silent. 

He drew a deep breath and I could feel a lecture coming on.  “Syd, I’m not criticizing you but a gun is meant for lethal force.  Just like you wouldn’t shoot to wound an animal to stop it, don’t shoot to wound a man to stop him.  They are both just as dangerous.  If you have reason to pull your gun and shoot then you have reason to pull your gun and use it for lethal force.” 

“I … I …”  I stopped and shook my head.  “I don’t know if I could have shot them in the back.  Their butts were the closest thing and … and …” 

Zane stood up and came over and sat beside me and put an arm around my shoulders.  “In a survival situation you will do whatever it is you have to do.  If that had been Max there instead of grown men could you have done it?” 

I said yes fast enough to shock and scare myself.  “Oh my God.  I just admitted that I would shoot a man in the back in cold blood.” 

“It wouldn’t be cold blood.  You’d be protecting Max.  Well, you were protecting us whether that’s what was running through your head at the time or not.  You stopped someone – helped stop five men – that were going to use deadly force to get what they wanted.  Shame that it happened but it did.  Shame that a little, innocent thing like you had to help stop them.  But I have a feeling that’s the path the world is heading down right now, that it maybe has been heading down for a while.  At least now you know – we know – what you’re willing and able to do to protect your group.” 

“Am I?  Part of a group?  It doesn’t feel like it.” 

“Well you’re part of my group.  And my group overlaps those that I call family – both close and extended.  They’ll recognize it if they want me to participate in their group.  And there were men there that now consider you part of their group whether they openly acknowledge that or not.  People are remembering that your family has roots here.  They’re rethinking how they see you.” 

Trying to sort out what he was saying I asked, “And that’s important?” 

“You know Harmon … or you should.  Your parents had connections here – your dad partially by birth and your mom because she went out of her way to get connected.  You know, or should, how people think of the summer and fall tourists.  They’ll play the local yokel angle to make a buck but they don’t have a whole lot of respect for most of the people coming through, especially the ones that actually buy the dumb hick routine.  But there are some long timers – your family, the Clarks, the VanOwens – people like that, that do get respect but it still isn’t the same kind of inclusion a local would get.  If they see you as a local things could be easier for you in the long run.” 

“And you think shooting those two guys in the butt makes me a local?  I don’t think so.  Today that lady thanked me for it; tomorrow someone is going to rethink what happened and say that I had no business …” 

“Hush.  Don’t worry about the idiots and arm chair quarterbacks.  Uncle Hightower will take care of anyone in the family that might think about getting stupid.  John for instance.” 

“Was he even around?  I didn’t recognize him.” 

“He was there, just not interested in making things easier on me.” 

“So I was a problem for you.” 

“Naw.  Mostly the guys were just razzing me for bringing a female along.  It’s not like they haven’t done the same thing.” 

“It just never turned out well and all of the men there didn’t want to have to deal with that today.” 

I could feel him chuckling even if I could see or hear it.  “Let’s just say you surprised a few.  John just never has liked to admit he was wrong about anything.  He’ll come around eventually, just don’t expect it to be a sudden revelation that is big and noisy and makes him apologize.” 

Sarcastically I said, “Heaven forfend that such a thing should ever happen.” 

“You must be feeling better, your mouth is coming back online.” 

I shrugged.  “I wouldn’t call it feeling better but … anyway … thanks.” 

“For what?” 

“For whatever it is you do.” 

“And what’s that?” 

“I’m not sure.  You just … make stuff better.  I … I need to … uh …” 

His armed tightened.  “I’m not going to bite.” 

“I know that.  I’m not completely stupid.  But … look … I’m not sure I should even be … hmmm … I sound like an idiot but I don’t know what else to call it.” 

He chuckled and this time I could hear it.  “Syd, you haven’t called ‘it’ anything so I don’t even know what ‘it’ is.” 

I rolled my eyes and told him, “This.  Sitting here.  In the dark.  With your arm around me.  You may not think anything of it but I can count on one hand all the guys that have ever done it and all but one of those were family.  Now you.  And you’re all casual about it.  And yes I know I’m twenty years old.  And yes I know I sound ridiculous.  But I majorly messed up once and … and …” 

“You aren’t interested in messing up again.” 

“Maybe I would have said it like that a couple of months ago but like I said … you make stuff better.  You’ve made me start thinking.  But I’m not sure if I’m thinking the same thing you’re thinking or if I’m thinking too much.  Maybe I’m just reading too much into things.  Maybe I’m trying to feel something I don’t because I’m alone.  Maybe …” 

“Maybe you need to stop worrying about it and let me get a word in edgewise.” 

“Uh … ok.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chapter 36


“I’m freezing my tail feathers off.  What happened to the weather?” I said coming pretty close to complaining in the dark of the early morning.  I knew there was frost on the ground as I’d had to walk through it from the parking area the family had used.  “Geez about the only thing I can see is my breath.” 

Max who had been looking sleepy and miserable at that point because he’d been denied the chance to carry a rifle by Josh even though I offered to loan him my junior .22lr, tried to fake scratching his nose to cover a smile.  

My antics did not impress the other Slothowers there, every last one of them giving Zane the hairy eyebrow for having brought me along.  Zane didn’t look happy with what the others considered all the noise I was making either but as the others pushed him he turned contrary against me and wouldn’t tell me to stay home.  Men … or should I say males … because even the male dogs they brought gave me “the look.”  But the dogs wouldn’t say boo because the alpha momma of the pack took a liking to my scent and decided my boots were a good platform for sitting. 

I leaned over to Max and whispered, “So does she like me or is she worried I’m going to run off into the woods and get lost.  Or is it that her royal highness just doesn’t want to sit on the frost covered ground?” 

“Beulah does the same thing to me.” 

I sighed.  “Wonderful.  What does that make us then?  Her puppies or something?” 

Max snickered quietly and when the older men there noticed they started looking at me with more interest though they continued to keep their distance. 

Hightower Slothower was senior on this trip and started giving orders and assigning hunting stands and meet up locations and radio frequencies to use “in case of trouble.”  I didn’t appreciate the squinty eye that he threw Max and my way when he said it and right then and there decided I was going to prove the whole lot of them wrong. 

Zane finally came back over to us and said, “I’m not sure what kind of day we are going to have.  Uncle Hightower has heard that there are going to be a lot of hunters out today.  Word has gotten out and around about the state the grocery stores are in.” 

“Give Max and I a tree away from the others.  They’ll be less jumpy that way and will have less to complain about.  He and I can do for ourselves.” 

“Now Syd …” 

“Don’t now Syd me.  I can’t make you let me take Max with me but I can go off on my own whether you agree to it or not.  I’m here by your invitation but I don’t exactly feel welcome and I don’t want trouble from your family or for you by your family.” 

“It’s not like that.” 

“That’s BS.  Last time Mom was here she mentioned what a bunch of chauvinists the Slothowers men have always been.  As to that it really doesn’t bother me because Daddy was pretty much the same way.  But dining on a steady diet of it without any relief isn’t my idea of a fun time.  And it can’t be a fun time for you to have your family looking at you like you’ve lost your mind.  If Max and I don’t get anything then we don’t and they’ll be right.  If we do I’ll have proven to myself I can get along without being babied.  Win-win from all I can see.” 

Josh called, “Zane!  Is there a problem?” 

I turned around and gave Josh some squinty eye right back and told him, “That’s the tone you use to call dogs, not people.  I was just asking Zane if he minded that Max and I stayed out of everyone’s way with a tree of our own a little way off.” 

Josh would have said something – something probably snarky – except several of the other men suddenly piped up in relief saying that Zane should “let us” do that very thing.  I gave Zane a knowing look and he just rolled his eyes and tried to hide a smile.  I played it up even further by going, “Please Zane?  Please?  Max and I will stay out of trouble, I promise.” 

Zane scrubbed his face and muttered, “Good Lord.  You’re a mess.  They won’t be happy when they find out there’s a brain under all that hair.” 

With wide, innocent eyes I whispered back, “They’ll never know ‘cause they’ll never look.” 

To keep Max from getting ideas of following me in my antics he marched us away and down a barely discernable game trail.  We’d hiked quite a way when Zane gave a certain tree a good once over.  “This should do.  I’ve used this tree before.  Don’t go wandering around.  People are twitchy.” 

Max nodded as he took a sip from a Nalgene bottle I had fixed for him that morning.  “Yeah, Josh sure was cranky.  So was Uncle Hightower and he’s never cranky.  And I don’t see why I can’t have a rifle.  Arlington does and he’s only a year older ‘n me and he acts stupid all the time.” 

I put my finger to my lips to quiet him.  “Sound carries in the still and cold air.  You don’t know where he is and there’s no reason to make enemies you don’t need to make.  Arlington’s father makes decisions for him.  Josh and Zane make decisions for you.  Prove to Zane and Josh you’ve got more than fuzz under your hat and that might make their decision go in your favor next time.” 

It must have surprised Zane that Max was willing to give that some thought and he tried to cover it by lacing his fingers to give me a boot up into the tree.  I looked at him in disdain and slung my rifles safely before shimmying up the tree without his help.  I got myself sat and then helped Max up when Zane helped him instead.  From below us he said once again, “Don’t go wandering off.” 

“Aye aye Captain,” I said through gritted teeth to let him know that warning me once would have been sufficient. 

About thirty minutes later dawn began to break and the wind began to pick up.  Unfortunately instead of the scent of a new day I smelled rain on the air.  I said a few dirty words about the incompetence of the meteorological profession and carefully pulled out a soft rain poncho for both Max and I from the supplies I had tucked into my back pack.  “Put this on?” 

“Why?” 

“’Cause we are about to get some rain.  And don’t talk or make noise.  I am bound and determined that we’re going to get a deer and show all of them they need to adjust their attitude a bit.” 

Max opened his mouth then slowly closed it around a conspiratorial grin.  I’m pretty sure that meant my plan sounded good to him too.  I was adjusting the sleeve that covered my rifle when the first spattering of drops could be heard.  Closer than I expected I heard a quiet curse that told me we weren’t alone.  Max had heard it too and looked around warily.  I shook my head and pointed towards a man who was leaving in obvious disgust, going back the way we had walked in. 

I shook my head at the cursing that drifted back to us.  It wasn’t that the guy was especially loud, but he wasn’t exactly making an effort to be quiet either and in the cold air the sound travelled.  I’d no sooner turned back around when out of the shrubbery came a buck that looked like he was laughing at the hunter that had just left.  He looked back into the forest and out came two does as well.  They weren’t together in close proximity but I could tell that the buck was boss and the does part of his harem.  Only then another buck came out of the bush and gave the six point buck the hairy eyeball and suddenly “boss” wasn’t so tough anymore and stood there like a dejected lover as the 8-point buck called the ladies back into the shrubbery. 

I had given some thought to taking the 8 pointer but I didn’t need a trophy animal I just wanted some meat … and to make a point.  And with the sad six-pointer standing there like a nut job just asking to be shot I decided to oblige him. 

One shot and the six-pointer jumped then fell over.  I looked at Max to grin and then had to stifle a laugh because his mouth was hanging open.  I whispered, “Time to field dress the meat.” 

I swung out of the tree like a chimpanzee and went to work after pulling on latex gloves and tossing another pair to Max.  It had been two years since I’d been hunting so it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.  I was forty-five minutes wrestling with the deer and then hanging it in a tree so it could drain while I decided whether to call Zane or wait until he came to get us.  While daylight it was still cold.  I looked at the thermometer gauge on my jacket that doubled as a zipper pull and saw that the mercury was sitting on forty-seven degrees.  That was pretty decent hanging temp for venison so I pulled the carcass higher into the tree and had Max and I return to our roost.  I didn’t expect to get anything else because deer have a really good sense of smell. 

I was getting a little bored if you want to know the truth and then had to almost tie Max to a branch when he fell asleep.  I don’t mind my own company and the quiet didn’t bother me – I could hear rifle shots off in different directions though none were close – but I hadn’t even brought a book to read.  I was also beginning to wonder where Zane and the others were.  And that’s when I heard the snuffling in the underbrush.  They made a beeline to the deer innards and that almost grossed me out except I knew hogs were omnivores and weren’t averse to eating road kill. 

There was one great big ol’ boar and I decided that caution was the better part of valor and I left him alone.  He was big enough and looked mean enough I’m not sure I could have dealt with him anyway.  But I did shoot two female hogs – and a young pig by accident when it got in the way of one of my shots – and after the boar tore a strip off a tree looking for the attackers they took off pell mell into the trees. 

Max was scared and breathing hard and I had to take a moment to calm him.  Lucky for me he didn’t panic at finding a bungee cord holding him to the tree trunk.  I made him stay in the tree until I was sure the other hogs were gone and then it took both of us to string up the three and get them field dressed. 

An hour and a gross half later I threw the last pair of gloves into the trash bag I had brought and said, “OK, this is enough.  Where is Zane and the rest of them?  Do they normally take this long?” 

Max looked at the sky and said, “I don’t think so.  Usually Zane at least lets me eat by now.” 

“Oh Lord, sorry Max.  You want a muffin?  I’ve got some in my pack.” 

Max looked at the offal on the ground, gagged, and said, “No, that’s ok.  I can wait.” 

“Good because even though we’ve used hand sanitizer I’d prefer a good, old-fashioned soap and water wash before touching any food that is going into my mouth.”  I looked at the four carcasses and then shook my head.  “Well if they’re mad they can be mad.”  I called out on the frequency we’d been assigned and … nothing.  I heard a lot of chatter from other hunters talking back and forth and a couple came on and told me to shush up but I ignored them and gave our call signal again.  Still nothing. 

I looked at Max and caught him watching me with worry.  I told him, “Either I got it wrong or we are out of range.” 

“You didn’t get it wrong.  That’s the right call signal, it’s the one they always give to me.  Why aren’t they answering?” 

Aware that accidents can happen I didn’t say anything.  Growing a little frustrated I told myself that twenty was too old to get spooked.  I didn’t want to leave our meat but I didn’t have a cart to haul it back with.  Irritated I did what I could to camouflage ours so that no one would think it was abandoned and I took Max and carefully went back down the game trail staying as quiet as possible.  I didn’t want to disturb any other hunter but I also didn’t want to be mistaken for a deer.  The sound of other hunters had petered off while we were field dressing the hogs and I hadn’t heard a shot in a while.  That’s why when one did go off close by I nearly screamed and pulled Max down and behind a tree. 

I heard a gruff male voice say, “I told that bastard not to try anything.  Ain’t my fault.” 

Peaking around the tree I saw five armed men surrounding what looked like a lot of unarmed men … intentionally unarmed men if their hands in the air was any indication.  A man on the ground was in obvious pain and I saw Josh was trying to help him by tying off something on his leg.  The armed guys were getting more that twitchy and were pointing their rifles – definitely not the hunting variety rifle – at the unarmed men, swinging them this way and that, giving none of them a chance to make an attempt at escape.  Max stiffened as he recognized most of his family in the group. 

One of the guys said, “I gotta take a leak.  Watch ‘em.  As soon as I get back we’re out of here with all their shit.  It ought to be enough to buy us what we want.” 

I pushed Max back down and pulled out the heavy metal, telescoping baton that Daddy had given me for carrying when I had night classes or worked late.  The guy had barely had time to unzip when I cracked him on the skull so hard he dropped like a rock.  Sounded like one too. 

“Booker?  Hey Booker?!  Dammit, don’t play games man, we ain’t got time.” 

I calmly picked up the fancy looking rifle that turned out to be nothing more than a dressed up .22lr and promptly shot two of the remaining four men in their butts.  The rifle was a semi-auto so I was able to put one in each cheek before they even thought about moving.  The other two got dog-piled and beat on for a while.   

“Zane!” Max yelled. 

Zane and a couple of other men came storming into our hiding place but I couldn’t say a word as I was too busy puking my guts up in the bushes.  Even after I got the violent expulsion under control I was shaking like I had palsy and heaving.  “You … (heave) … make one asinine … (gag) … male chauvinist pig … (spit, heave) … remark … (cough, gag) … and I will burn every loving … (heave, gag, cough) … meal I ever put in front of you!” 

Zane said, “Sit down and put your head between your knees before you pass out.” 

“I would if I could but I need a game cart.” 

One of the Slothower cousins asked, “You expect us to pull you back to the trucks?  You ain’t that bad off.” 

My temper fired off like a bottle rocket.  “No but you will be you ass if you get anywhere near me.  I need a game cart because I have a deer and three hogs hanging in a tree and apparently these woods are full of rude people that can’t be trusted to act right.  Now either get me that game cart so I can start hauling the meat or shut the frick up.  I am not in the mood to put up with it.  And if you don’t believe me ask those two guys I just shot in the butt.” 

That set me off again which had me running to the bushes puking.  I heard some heated muttering behind me and then Zane came over.  “Sit down.” 

“Go fly a kite.” 

“Not the weather for it.  Now sit down.  Alright now put your head between your knees.” 

“Oh gawd.  I’m puking.  In front of your family.  Again.” 

That drew a chuckle from Zane and someone else that turned out to be Josh.  Josh said, “It’s not like Junior hasn’t done it every season and for a lot less reason.” 

“I shot two men.” 

Zane said quietly, “Yes you did.  What did you do to the other one?” 

“Bonked him on the head before he could embarrass me by dropping his pants.  That is just so rude … and just like a guy too.  There are port o potties at the head of the trail, there’s absolutely no reason …” 

Some guy in a uniform came over and asked, “She in shock?” 

Zane said, “It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.  But she could be under the circumstances.” 

I zapped Zane with a laser glare but he just returned my glare with an innocent one.  I put my forehead on my knees and continued to shiver.  I felt something put across my back and jumped.  “I’m not taking some poor guy’s coat.  I’m not that big a wimp.” 

“Sydney Marguerite you’ll sit there and like it.  And if I catch you even thinking about moving …”   I got the message.  I haven’t a clue why I bring out the cavemen in some people. But Lawrence was pretty hot under the collar and he started bellowing like a bull under threat of castration, making people go this way and that.  Even Deputies Laurel and Hardy were jumping to his tune.  “Dammit, how the hell did the Duncan Gang make bail?!  They were booked just last night!” 

I sighed and muttered, “My meat is going to spoil.” 

Uncle Hightower Slothower sat down and shared my log and told me, “No it won’t Sister.  Too cold for it.  Were it a couple of degrees warmer we might have trouble but not at these temps.  Mind if I ast you sumpin’?” 

“No Sir,” I responded a little afraid of what the question might be. 

“This ain’t your first time on a hunt is it?” 

“No Sir.” 

“Who taught you?” 

“Daddy.” 

“Hmm.  Taught you them knots too?” 

“A couple of them.  The others I learned from …from a friend.”  Dan had taught me some of the knots I use on a regular basis to make a point that it wasn’t as hard as some of the guys in his Boy Scout troop were making it out to be.  It was a while before I realized that the way he phrased it hadn’t exactly been a compliment to my intelligence.  Daddy wasn’t the only one that had a tendency to treat me like a frail flower. 

“Fine job of field dressing.  What else you hiding under all that hair?” 

I shrugged.  “I’m not hiding anything … at least not on purpose … or at least not on purpose most of the time.” 

He wheezed a small laugh.  “Now that’s an answer worthy of a female right there.  Tell you what I ask, you tell me if you can, how’s that?” 

“Yes sir.” 

“You know how to skin your kill?” 

“I can skin smaller animals by myself but I’ve never had to do big game by myself.  I’ve helped though.” 

“And what do you intend on doing with the meat once you’ve got it butchered up?” 

“I’ll can some.  Make some jerky.  I’m not sure about being able to trust the freezer so any fresh sausage I make will have to be fried up and then canned in lard.  Zane thought I could go in shares and have someone teach me how to smoke the hams, shoulders, and bacon meat.  And he said something about one of you all’s kin being really good at making sausage and that if I asked nice maybe they’d teach me.  The rest of it and the scraps I’ll grind up into burger and then see what I can do with that … make some canned chili, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joe mix, that sort of thing.  There’s one thing I do need to do that I don’t know how except out of a book and Zane looked at me cross eyed when I asked him if he knew.” 

“And what’s that Sister?” 

“Lard.  I figure I’ve got two and a half hogs – the small one might have to be roasted whole and then me can the meat off of it as is – and the fat off of them can be rendered down.  Only the books make it sound real dangerous to do if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I’ve seen it done at fairs and stuff but I’ve never even helped to do it.  And I’d like to have the cracklin’s off of it too. I read in a book … er … hmmm … Am I talking too much?” 

Uncle Hightower snorted a laugh and said, “No Sister.  Just surprised me is all.  Tell you what, let me talk to Zane and we’ll see what we can do.”

Chapter 35


Zane got us back on track and we talked about other stuff; salt and meat was only the beginning.  I told him that the shipment I was expecting would have helped to add a lot of variety to the pantry. 

“Powdered eggs, custards, condiments, dessert fixings, nuts, gelatins, syrups, canned fruits, dried soup mixes, potato flakes, beverage mixes, dried fruit, cornmeal …” 

“How big is this shipment?” 

“Three full pallets.” 

“Whoa.” 

“Yeah.  So don’t count on your buddy necessarily wanting to go out of the way.” 

Zane shrugged.  “You don’t get if you don’t ask.  Can’t hurt.” 

“True.”  I looked up the stairs.  “Sounds like Max is stirring.  He’ll probably be hungry.” 

“No probably about it.  You sure …” 

“And what exactly have we been talking about this whole time?” 

Zane finally grinned and said, “Ok, ok.  You know there’s something else I don’t see that you’ve included in this plan of yours.” 

As we walked up the stairs into the kitchen I asked, “What?” 

“Foraging.” 

“You mean like going along the road and picking stuff?” 

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.  Josh will drive you crazy talking about that stuff.” 

We entered the kitchen to find Max looking for us.  He was relieved but tried to hide it and it was a few minutes of making him a sandwich which turned into a few more minutes of making Zane and I sandwiches before we got back on track.  It was actually Max who asked, “Were you talking about that stuff that Uncle Josh does?  That forestry farming?” 

I looked at Zane having never heard the term.  “Forestry farming?” 

“Yeah, Zane has a side business that he makes decent money from in season.  He grows mushrooms and cultivates some other wild stuff and sells it to some of his clients.  The wild yam is popular and so are the wild herbs he harvests.  He can probably give you some starts … uh …” 

“I know what starts are.” 

“No I just meant I …er … didn’t mean to assume that you were going to you know … stay here. Permanently.” 

I bit my lip.  “I’m honestly not sure what is going to happen with things the way they are but I do know it includes me staying in Harmon.  I’ve always loved the cabin.  That’s why it wasn’t a chore to do what Daddy asked and move here and take care of the place.  Money is going to be tight – I’ve got some idea that tourist season might not be the money maker that it has been in the past – and that’s going to be a problem for me.  Daddy always kept up Grandpop’s habit of keeping the property taxes paid two years in advance so that if he had a bad year or hit a bad health spell that the family wouldn’t lose this place right away.  But the propane and groceries aren’t going to last forever and then there is phone and electric to think of.  And insurance … and health insurance … and …” 

“Easy Syd.  One step at a time.  Remember, you don’t know anything for sure yet.” 

I sighed and just accepted that he was a skeptic about “feelings.”  That is fine, it isn’t necessarily bad to have a skeptic to balance out the more emotional side of the whole feeling thing.  I told him, “Either way it is something I need to be thinking about because Daddy would expect it.  Eventually I’m going to have to do more for myself than what I’ve done up to this point.  But like you say, I need a few more facts before I can start making decisions.  It can’t hurt though to start this forestry farming … and you mentioned foraging.” 

“Yep.  Josh can help with that too.  You’ve actually got options on this lot when you wouldn’t expect it.  How many acres do you have anyway?” 

“There’s forty.” 

“No way.” 

“Yeah.  I guess most people don’t realize our lot isn’t just the long narrow ten acres from the road down to the lakes edge.  We also own from the other side of the road all the way back to the county road.  It used to be terraced garden space prior to WW2 – and if you walk back in there you can still see most of the retention walls, they’re made out of local stone – but it’s all overgrown and stuff now.  I can show you the plat map and the property tax papers if you don’t believe me.” 

“Uh … I … well it’s not that I don’t believe you but …” 

“But you want to see for yourself.” 

“Yeah.  I hope you don’t mind.” 

I shrugged.  “Why should I?  It’s public record just not necessarily public knowledge.  We used to own eighty acres but the way Daddy explained it, Grandpop sold off some of the acreage to people who built some of the vacation cabins on this side of the lake.  We also used to own some of the land that the Lodge now sits on but that was sold the year Daddy was born to some developer that wound up going bankrupt.  The land was sold a couple of times after that until it was finally sold to the people who build the Lodge that stands there now.” 

“Wow.  I never knew.” 

I shrugged.  “Ancient history.  It doesn’t mean much of anything to people that are still living.” 

“Maybe not the stuff you sold but three-quarters of your land is fallow right now.  Owning that wood lot will make setting traps a lot easier.  It’ll make it easier to get wood out of too.  Do you know if it is fenced off?” 

“Yeah it is because the county and forestry service own and managed the lots on either side of ours.  They fenced their land with that great tall galvanized poles and fencing which means we have a fence line also.  The utility company ran the fence that runs parallel to the county road out of the same kind of stuff.  Only place that the fence line needs work is right on the other side of Lake Road and you can see from the porch where the old posts rot where they stand.  One of the projects we were supposed to do next year was buy barbed wire and metal posts and get that section fenced to keep the summer kids from going up in there, having parties, and leaving all sorts of trash.  I swear we’ve made more money off of recycling cans out of there than I can even guess at.  And there’s enough bottles in those crates in the barn to build a glass house with.  From there shapes you can see it’s been going on for generations.” 

Zane gave me a funny look.  “You Zitterbarths sure aren’t what you appear to be on the surface.” 

Not sure how to take that I let it pass.  “So what kind of foraging can Josh teach me about?” 

“All that stuff he cultivates in his forest farm plus a lot of other stuff.  I’m far from being an expert but just looking around I can tell you that if the blackberries make you’ll be swimming in them come June.  You’ve got mayhaws and elderberries down near the lake.  That small stand of trees over behind the barn are sarviceberries.  You got a couple of pawpaw trees in the yard not to mention pecans, hickories, and walnuts up in that wood lot … and you better go get them pecans before the tree rats do.  Josh could probably walk around here and find two and three times what I just mentioned without even trying.”   

“Would he?” 

“Would he what?  Come out here?  Sure.  He gets his jollies off of teaching that stuff to newbs.  All you need to do is be even just a little interested and he’ll be out here like a shot.  You should mention it tomorrow when we go hunting.  He’ll be there.  Speaking of I need to go make a couple of calls.” 

I was a little relieved to have Zane go focus on something else.  I know he didn’t mean to but Zane made me feel foolish that I hadn’t been working on certain other projects already.  I’ve been here since August; I could have tried a small garden even if it was just in containers.  I could have been checking out books from the library to learn about that foraging of wild food stuff and what grows in this area.  I should have put away a lot more salt and thought about all of the ingredients I would need for canning and preserving food.  Now I’m behinder than behind.  What if all I can do is make a list of stuff I need but never have any way to acquire it?