Report of the Monitor, Part 2

April 16, 2006
By Brian Richards

The woods across the hollow is lambent with the full pantone array. The run drops southward from eye level on the left to a hundred feet below on the right. The color turns an abrupt pastel blue a hundred feet above a series of ridges that fold away like interlocked knuckles all the way to Kentucky. On the near side of the run the clear cut has produced a thick sapling furze whose colors mirror the trees on the facing slope. The sun has left behind a fan of mare’s tails, labial pink on their bottoms. Jupiter stands at four o’clock, heading for the goat. 65º at 6 p.m. Despair. Forty years of practice but he cannot put what he sees into words, not place a reader there. Not yet, but that is the task. Not yet, said Augustine, but, in his mouth, it was a request.


Facing east 5 p.m. from the saddle, horizon above eye level almost two thirds of the way up the picture plane an undulant line topped with thin, dark verticals backlit by sky along the ridge but a tracery of branches above, intermittent pines swelling finally to green one shade from black, the background a wash laced with mare’s tail white blue gone delft behind the gibbous moon halfway to the meridian. On the left edge of the visual frame, Walnut Hollow slopes at thirty degrees from dense conjunction with the horizon before disappearing near bottom right, the area between water course and horizon leaf dots by the myriad spanning the shades and hues of ochre, blended to sorrel. Light vertical strokes of white oak and tulip poplar feather up among the darker trunks of chestnut, black, and red oak. The bottom of the frame the slash pit, foreshortened—like looking down his body at a space between but below his feet—extreme as it plunges away to the diagonal line of  brush that marks the run, the dizzying interstices of the two dimensional, that this resonant space be somehow contained.


The second clearcut begins fifty yards south of the shack, runs along the west (east-facing) slope of Walnut Hollow across the knob to the south, and bounds where the west fork of the hollow joins the main branch. The first cut, north east of Leroy Williams’ house at the mouth of Walnut, runs along the west slope of Brushy Fork, and now a third is in progress just southwest of Leroy’s place, taking another third of a mile along the west slope of Brushy to the ridge line southeast of the west fork of Walnut, leaving that steep cove uncut. The south knob is reached by walking the saddle that drops a hundred feet from the shack and crosses into the clearcut in the middle of the saddle before rising to the knob that faces south over the foot of Buckhorn Ridge to Kentucky and southeast three hundred feet over the top of Leroy’s house past the ridge and down Deadman’s Hollow to the confluence of the East Fork with Upper Twin, and from there over the gap west of Dodd’s Hollow to more of Kentucky. From the knob another saddle drops to the west, the boundary of the clearcut in its seat, taking the slope of the hollow south around the face of the knob. In the woods starting west up out of the saddle lies a continuous tangle of greenbrier that cuts off the knob to the west and covers the ridge that runs south to the new clearcut above Brushy. There was formerly a deer trail that ran through the greenbrier to the knob and south along the ridge, but since the ice storm, dead branches and raspberry canes have filled the greenbrier so not even the deer go there, except to nest. The only way to reach the boundary of the new cut is by following the contour of the left fork: steep, crossed with prone trunks and tops lying perpendicular to the contour, and filled with sassafras saplings hurrying to claim the sun relinquished by the uprooted trees. Most of an hour steady clipping of vines and saplings achieved the blue paint that marks the proposed skid road that means smooth walking south when the skidder has finished dragging off the dead.


But not much more than a half hour the second time to the double dabs of blue that mark the as yet Cat-free trail. Ahead, nothing but greenbrier and chestnut oak surrounded by greenbrier. Some remnant of a path must accompany blue paint eight feet up, but not a trace along the ridge all the way to the unfinished cut. By then it was too late and raining and the Wayback was terminally flawed by hip-grinding high steps through waist high briers that needed trod down, step after hurdle unto the hundreds. An angle east sidehill down the north side of the cove between the west branch of Walnut and Leroy’s house on Brushy to the run—left hip gnawing from sidehill strain, taking the weight—and through the jungle gym of beech and sycamore up the ruined glen to the west branch and the foot of the knob where the clearcut began, through tops and bramble and rain to the skid road around and all the way back up to the knob top, down through the saddle behind the shack, and hobbled home.


The clear cuts were full of stump sprouts: maples, too small to take but too large to leave, sprawled down the hill, their stumps surrounded by vertical red wands as yet unbranched, buds alternately up the stem, a terminal spray; green sassafras; gray oak. He began to braid them, pausing by a likely set of six footers to scan the cut for change as his fingers worked. He fantasized a cane farm: 70 acres of walking sticks. A braid of twiglets at the top to keep the stems from slipping free.

[To be continued …]

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