[This is a second excerpt from my book The St George’s Angling Club. Copies are available at http://www.calebgarling.com.]
~ Year III, Chapter V ~
A few days of fishing and exploring the valley passed in a panorama of cool water, crisp air and sunshine. Their campsite turned into a sort of incipient alpine agora with everyone milling in and out and about with their days. One afternoon Paul returned to their meadow early to write in his notebook before the evening commenced. He past the now-missing sign for the club and remembered David saying he was going to hang around camp that day; like Pavlov’s dog, he involuntarily started counting how many fish he’d taken. But before he reached an answer, he stopped, and stared out at their meadow.
David sat sipping a beer with a peculiar smile across his face. Around him were piles of glistening dirt, the smooth casts of a shovel still clear in the mounds, interspersed with rocks and overturned sections of grass and mud. But what stopped Paul was around them: four long trenches cut the earth at right angles. Just in looking at the corners and perpendicular lines, an innate sense of symmetry came alive in Paul. It was a perfect rectangle.
“You’re going to do this,” Paul said quietly.
David raised his beer. “The foundation.”
“You dug this all today? You…you must be exhausted.”
He shrugged lightly. “Easy work when you care.”
“Why didn’t you ask for help?”
David didn’t say anything for a moment. “I didn’t want it for this part—wanted to do it on my own.” He kicked a rock and it sailed over the sharp ledge and disappeared. Occasionally, we are blessed with being able to see people, as if we are seeing them for the first time. The newness gives us pause.
Paul blinked at the trenches and surrounding meadow. “The St George’s Angling Club, huh?”
“The St George’s Angling Club,” David echoed.
Before he was done speaking, a cabin appeared before Paul. He could see it. The vision was simple. The walls were crimson, white and orange of fresh pine. A few stairs ran to a thin porch. The roof was slanted. One wall was divided by the spine of a fireplace. He bent his head back, gazing at the top of the chimney and imagined smoke. The grays and whites and blacks wove and rose into the evening sky. Paul etched more detail in the flat walls; they started to fold and dimple and separate and ruffle into rows of stacked timber with surfaces of stripped bark. The windows reflected a little sunlight. The breeze shifted the smoke. His mind raced and the little porch now had shade under it. The flat grey chimney rippled, and individual stones appeared. He spoke, still in his dream, “I mean, we could live here for a few months.” Suddenly, the summer light dampened and turned grey and the cabin, still smoking from the chimney, was surrounded by snow. “We could stay here through the winter.”
David jumped up, spilling a little of his beer. He stood next to his brother and looked back at the trenches. The setting sun cast long shadows of grass and put a twinkling in the dust and seeds swirling around them. He looked up at his brother. “We could do it—survive a winter in a cabin we’ve built.” He laughed to himself. “I’m single; you’re single,” then under his breath, “until Gretchen calls you again.”
Paul nodded and a thin crack in his reverie appeared. “We can’t build it on our own though.”
“No,” David said, snapping back to business. “Of course not. I’m going to talk to the club tonight. We’ll call a ‘real’ meeting and talk about what needs to be done, and how we’re going to do it.”
Paul’s image of the cabin vanished. He had almost chewed his cheek raw; he rubbed his tongue against the inside of his mouth. “A meeting?”
“Yeah, when everyone gets back, and let them know what needs to happen. I’ve drawn up plans, and teams, and tasks so we can get this done in the next two weeks.”
“Build the whole cabin in two weeks?”
“Just cut trees. We’ll build the cabin next year—” David froze. A loud crash burst from the woods.
A fawn rushed into the clearing. Wasting no effort with noise, terror shrieked from its wide brown eyes. Its head was tossed back; its neck fought to maintain the role of supporting conduit, but the hips are always stronger. The fawn veered left, kicking dirt and dust into the air.
The mountain lion burst into the clearing behind, cutting down the angle. David didn’t have time to move. He just stared at the charging cat, back legs exploding and extending away from the amber hips; its head was low and straight; its spine was a sleeve on an infinite wire. Grass spat into the air as prey and predator adjusted in the meadow. The fawn slipped and the mountain lion closed. Then, they disappeared into the trees and were gone.
There was some light patter and the woods were silent.
David stood in the long grasses, staring into every corner of the meadow; his glance fired into every shadow like rifle shots, searching and absorbing; his breathing was labored and harsh; he didn’t notice the tweets of a couple birds. He didn’t notice the breeze in the tree tops or a couple warblers swoop into the meadow and alight on a branch and fidget around one another carelessly. He did notice something rest on his shoulder; he whirled around, throwing one arm about his neck, with the other snapping a fist like a bullwhip.
Paul batted David’s assault away with a recalled experience, letting the blow pass harmlessly beside him, yelling, “It’s me—it’s just me,” sharply, then less so.
David glanced with quick embarrassment at his errant fist, but turned away. “Just give me a minute,” he said, still breathing heavily, and dove into the confines of thought. His face searched, replaying the chase again. And again. Adrenaline ranged about his body. Finally, a moment of recognition passed over his face and he turned to his brother. He released a large exhale and faked a confident grin. “That was intense.”
A bat fluttered overhead and headed for the river. Paul let David walk past him and trailed a step behind as he hurried to the firering. “The eyes,” Paul said slowly after a second. David wheeled around. “Pretty different,” Paul continued.
David’s neck gave way in a slow nod. “I can’t believe it,” he said carefully.
When he and Paul had encountered the mountain lion on the ridgeline, there had been a fierce defense laid in their edges, as if they had disturbed a ghost that spat venom in protection of its realm; its eyes were the central, outward flowing conduit of rage. But as the mountain lion chased the fawn, the eyes were soft and calculating. They steered a predator that adjusted and reevaluated every step, turn, rock and blade of grass in pursuit of a prey whose capture existed as a foregone conclusion. There was no malice. The conduit flowed inward, absorbing, processing and reacting to every, single, infinitesimal detail.
David’s pace of breath was still rapid; gallantry came to his face. “I’m going to tell the others.”
David continued, “It was selfish not to have before. I don’t know what was the matter with me.”
“Scared it would deter people from coming,” Paul said slowly, and his tone was neither question nor statement, “Yeah, I’m not sure what was wrong with us. There was no reason to keep that secret.”
David looked back to the two trees that the fawn and mountain lion had run between. “You think it made it?”
Paul followed his gaze. “I don’t know. Doubtful—though I didn’t hear anything.”
“Doesn’t mean anything though.”
“They cry out when they kill something don’t they?” David asked. He sat down at the table and took up a few stacks of notes and shuffled them without intention.
Paul continued peering at the dark gate between the two trees. “We would have heard the fawn, not the lion,” he said finally. “They don’t hoot and holler when they do something to be proud of. That would attract attention. She has no interest in sharing meat with anyone—except cubs, if she has them.” He broke his trance on the woods and turned back to David, “Anyway, I’m trying to think what to say—”
“I said I’d tell everyone,” David cut in. His hands fidgeted with two diagrams that indicated which nearby trees should be felled, he continued quickly. “I’m just going to tell them that we saw one close to camp, but up on the mountainside. No reason to say it ran through. ‘Close’ is good enough.” He absently rubbed the plans between his thumb and forefinger. Some of the ink marking the edge of their meadow smeared.
Paul watched his brother fidget for a beat then walked towards the woods.
“Where are you going?” David asked quickly.
“Collecting more firewood,” Paul said over his shoulder. He peered into the shadows for a moment, took a deep breath and stepped under the gateway of branches.
The sun soon blinked out from behind the trees; the gold grasses dimmed. The breeze picked up in the coolness; the meadow waved and bounced like a ghost pond. Nervous chatter began to simmer and pop from the shadows and low branches. Paul returned with a handful of kindling and stack of wood in the other arm. He knelt by the firering, built his log cabin among the dead coals and set the new structure ablaze.
“Where do you think everyone is?” David asked after a while.