Under The Weather
Williams took the lead. He'd grown up not far from the cabin and had a sense of how the jumble of peaks and ridges arranged themselves toward the points of the compass. Howard hauled the bulk of their food and kept the skin of water inside his jacket to keep it from freezing.
The leather lacework of their snowshoes seemed to do little to keep them floating on the three feet of new fallen snow, but both men knew that if they'd taken them off, their feet would punch through like fenceposts and leave them hopelessly mired to their crotches.
The men were quiet in their exertions, saving their breath for the long trudge downhill and back to Mill Creek.
As they crested the ridge, Williams knew that the lake spread its pale blue mirror somewhere out below them to the left, but it was invisible through the thick flakes and cold fog. Two drainages forked away from them and, estimating their spot on the ridge, he called back over his shoulder.
"Stay right! This'll take us home."
Howard was quiet but Williams could hear the squeak of his snowshoes behind him as they traversed their way down the steep and narrow slot.
After a couple hours, Howard overtook him and tapped his bamboo pole to the top of Williams' pack.
"Let's eat something."
Williams led them up the far side of the little gully that spun through the trees below them and out of sight. When he reached a cluster of big pines he slid out of his pack and wedged it up against one of the massive trunks. Howard did the same with his after unpacking a canvas bedroll and a small bag of dried meat. Spreading the canvas atop the packs the men had a small place on which to sit and eat, keeping their torsos out of the snow.
"How much longer?" Howard spoke out of the corner of his mouth as he worked at the tough pieces of dried elk.
"It's slow going. At this pace we should hit the meadows in a few hours and follow the flatbank all the way back to camp."
"I'll cut trail after lunch." Howard said it not in offering, but as if he'd already made his decision.
"I know the way. Why don't you let me lead us out."
"You found the right crick, now we just follow it down. I can tell my down hill from my up."
Williams nodded his assent. The cold air had been stabbing at his chest for a while and his legs were already stiff from carefully packing a trail for the two. When the canvas had been rerolled, he shouldered his pack and followed Howard's ghostlike silhouette down through the thickening weather.
After not having to pick his way down in a serpentine fashion for the two men, Williams became mesmerized by the dance of the falling flakes which stuck to his lashes and stung his eyes. He focused on the oblong depressions made in the snow by Howard's snowshoes and was startled to feel a jolt as his own shoe came to rest on the tail of one of Howard's.
Williams looked up to see why they'd stopped. They were in a flat spot where the small creek should have continued to descend amongst the pines and granite walls. Just ahead were the unexpected coach whip stems of willows poking from the snow.
He felt a cold stab in his aching belly. They were in the wrong drainage.
Williams picked up his foot and removed it from the tail of Howard's shoe. There was nothing to say that wasn't obvious to both men.
"I musta picked the wrong drainage. We're one over from where we're s'posed to be."
Howard, his back still to Williams, nodded.
"Let me lead down this flat water Dan."
Howard stepped aside to let Williams pass on his right. They didn't make it more than twenty yards before the snow began to give way beneath them, their snowshoes plunging awkwardly into the hollows of tangled willow branches beneath. The trickle of the creek could be heard in the darkness below their feet. What would have taken them minutes in clean snow would now take them hours to pick and fight their feet through. The wind blew up the flat little gully which would take them miles away from the meadows - if this gully drained into Mill Creek at all. Williams looked through a thicket of pines to his left and followed the darkness of the ridge that now loomed above them. On the other side of it, the canyon he'd meant to lead them down descended to the meadows below and, beyond that, the wide banks that would have taken them down to Mill Creek and the warmth of camp.
"I'll split the food between our packs in case we get split up in the dark of the storm. Or the night." Howard's voice was flat and didn't reveal the fear that Williams knew was creeping through his bones too.
Quietly, the two men divided the weight they'd have to carry on through the storm. And maybe for the rest of their lives.
after James Wright
One leaf caught
In the fishing line that holds
The bird feeder high
Above a high-wired red squirrel’s reach.
Two webs in morning
Bright out the mudroom door.
Whiff of grass in the midst of
Mowing and cloud’s cover returned.
Rain: vertical, horizontal, three-dimensional, wet.
A white balloon and its lift
Past the window box geranium pink against
Blackening green, the leaves, such brood-gray light.
One more maple leaf caught in one more
Web spinning, spinning yet more crazy
Rain meets wind then
Sun and the drops on the screen,
How they crystal, refract sublime.
All this becoming so late,
Oh the everlasting now, both lie and
Only-ever truth—I am wandering
Home at dusk.
Under a vast sky, split.
'She just won't die' Ruby's father said every time Ruby came home to the increasingly claustrophobic Willowbank estate for a visit. He always said it in good humour but Ruby knew that when her Grandma Mimi decided to leave it all behind he would be inconsolable.
It had been twelve months since she had last come home and the housewalwere closing in on each other. Piles and piles of things sat unopened and forgoten in the hallways and rooms, every nook and cranny. Ruby had to watch where she stepped as the walls seemed to be closing in on each other. She didn't know how her father put up with it. She'd hightailed it out of here on her last day of highschool, battling her way out like she was on the frontline. She had little money, but a strong case against how one should be living. And this odd life was not for her. That was just the word for her Grandmother, odd, and Ruby wanted to rid herself of its clutches. She already felt as though it was pulling at her barriers, swirling and settling itself around her like a fog.
'The Willowbank's are just plain odd.' 'Have you senem Mimi? Walking around in her white see through nighty and pink knickers?' 'Jday I caught her muttering about dragons in the garden.' 'And what about all that stuff...' The tail ends of conversation followed her around like a stench. She'd had little friends because she'd been too embarrassed to bring them home. Thank god she'd escaped its clutches. Her father, however, had not been so lucky.
Whilst her Grandmother sat deep underground in her coffin, the one she hadpicked out and stored in Rubys old room for 'when the time came' along with boxes of cuttlery, oven mits, washing detergent, toothbrushes and the biggest elephant collection she had ever seen, Victor Willowbank, the man of the estate, her father, was curled up on what Ruby assumed was a bed. Was this her grandmother's room? It looked like a tip shop. Books stacked high in corners, plastic bags of cheap finds in breeding mounds. She opened the nearest one, and found it full of socks. 'One can never have too many pairs of socks' She could hear Grandma Mimi say. Ruby shook her head. Did her grandmother really know what was in all these bags? She thought it was doubtful, but she also remembered the time she took a bag full of objects to school for a charity fate, choosing things from different piles thinking it would go unnoticed. 'Where is my wishing well?' Mimi had screamed. 'It was just here! A little black pot, what is going to happen to my wishes? And, my coat hangers and lamp shades? Someone's been here. Someone has taken my stuff!'
Ruby worked around her father, sorting through toilet paper rolls and buttons, bags of condiments and sewing fabric. Ten hours slugged by and she'd only managed to clear out a corner of the room. Her father still slept. She feared that if she left he would get lost among it all, just another item in this sad cluttered house.
Ruby caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror now visible on the wall. Hair sticking out at odd angles, sweat clinging to her upper lip, and her eyes... God, she looked just like her grandmother, slightly crazed and under the weather.