Friday, November 18, 2011

The Camp Road

Note:  Some of you have seen this before.  Those of you close to me may recognize the date, and my reasons for recycling it, slightly edited, today.

He turns the wheel, and the truck noses tentatively onto the camp road.  Its tires won’t feel the monotonous, numbing vibration of pavement at highway speed for days.  He’s made this drive many times before.  It is an exercise in familiarity.

Through the decades-old red pines the sun sets, bruising the darkening sky deep shades of indigo and orange, a sight he rarely regards in the city.  He slows to take it in, reminding himself that looking is not the same as seeing.  Though he cannot abide the primitive structure and repetitive nature of old country tunes in his real life down below, up here he allows the simplicity of the music to wash out through the speakers and envelop him.  As happens so often, the proper soundtrack is necessary to get deep into the groove of this place at this moment. 

There are no majestic outdoor magazine cover shots to greet him on the road. No massive buck in the prime of his rutting glory, no black bear sow sending her cubs up one of the pines.  Still, he knows they are not far.  He shot his first buck not four hundred yards from here.  He was so excited that he almost didn’t believe when it fell, it’s antlers growing grotesquely in his mind as he raced back to the camp to bask in the glory that would be bestowed upon him by the men that he loved.  So he takes comfort in the fact that they are in fact there, somewhere.  He smiles as he realizes, once again, that seeing is not the same as looking either.

The lake now appears on his right, a simple kettle filled with cold, clean water.  He thinks that he should try to fish it sometime, but knows he might never get to it.  Some half remembered tale about perch the size of your forearm seeps like smoke under the door from the back of his mind, but he can’t remember if the story was even about this lake.  They all run together after a while.  A circular pattern suddenly describes itself on that door in his mind, branding itself there like an Ouroboros -- the snake eating it's own tail.   Tie some classic wet flies from the partridge he shot here last weekend, roll out some long, elegant casts to the sunfish cloistered in that enticing bed of lily pads, fry those fish and enjoy over some beers with the boys, then have one of those boys guide him to another shimmering Popple thicket full of grouse to harvest more feathers.  Repeat.  A perfect circle.  The thought dissolves as the final beam of setting sun breaks him from his reverie.  His casts are only long and elegant in his dreams.

He glances over to the passenger seat, and she is there.  Shining like she used to before the surgeries and pain so smugly robbed her of that infectious, gleaming smile.  He’s known the memory of her was coming since he pulled onto the highway over four hours ago.  It is part of the reason he makes this long drive.  He tries to remember the music of her laugh one more time, but he still can’t.  He wonders why, but is not sad.

He is nearly to the camp now.  He is no longer thinking, merely remembering.  His mind is awash in short vignettes from years past on this road– digging out of a snow bank with an ice fishing skimmer… ambling alongside his hunting buddy’s long strides with no particular destination in mind… rattling the frame of his old truck off every rock and rut with another tale of the perfect hookset or most imperfect shot… stopping to collect himself so they wouldn’t see his suffering…suddenly noticing that he no longer suffers every time down this road.  Yes, a fine road indeed.

He draws to a slow halt in the yard, the warm inviting glow of the kitchen spilling into the night, illuminating cords of split and stacked oak.  The sweet, acrid smell of wood smoke permeates the cab of the truck.  He sits quietly.   When he does open the door, he is brusquely greeted by a cold, hard late autumn wind.  He is immediately reminded of a story his father enjoyed telling.  His father had once witnessed a shirtless Oregon man, standing defiantly in the chill spray of breaking winter surf.  His father had asked the man why he was enduring the torturous cold while the icy spindrift had cut at his own face.  The man replied, with a devilish gleam in his eye, “Because it is real.”

This is real, he thinks.  This is what I was built for.  He gathers his travel gear from the rear of the truck, and feels his familiar way through the darkness to the door.  He opens the door, is greeted by the sound of a familiar story being told around the single homemade table, and is grateful for the camp road that got him here.

For Erin.

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