Report of the Monitor, Part 4

April 16, 2006
By Brian Richards

The sun rose under a sky packed with cloud. Unsure whether it held rain, he left early for the homestead seven miles down Upper Twin. His brother was working on the new greenhouse but put away his tools, they got in his truck and headed upriver to the old new bridge, then downriver through Garrison, the ritual nod to the mouth of Kinniconick, and a mile west of town pulled off the road in the parking lot of the church of the Nazarene—painted block, one story, unadorned with the trappings of hyper-organized religion—and started casting around for the trail the topo showed running up the cove to the saddle east of Roundtop, so-called because, at 1220′ asl, it is at least sixty feet higher than the knobs that flank its thrust above the valley. An old lady came to the storm door at the back of the house—probably the parsonage—next to the church, and opened the door a Christian crack. Her hesitation disappeared when his brother asked about the trail. She pointed out its head across the run and told them they were free and welcome to follow it up.

The path deteriorated after about forty yards in timber slash cut over probably to salvage some of the down trees left from the ice storm. They fought their way through the combination of trimmed tops and bramble growth until they were above the damage. The river was already a couple of hundred feet below, the wide agricultural flood plain on the other side of the river opening to them. They followed the remnants of trail, recently maintained—including treated 4X4 water bars on the steepest pitches—but used only by deer, their prints everywhere, to the saddle at 1000′ asl, and walked the spine of the ridge west up around the backside and finally to the crown of Roundtop, where the blocky shape he had spied on top of the hill as he drove down 52 turned out to be not the remnants of the look out the map placed there forty years ago but a travel trailer: windows busted, trash scattered. The feat of engineering that had put it there called for knowledge of the terrain around Spy Run—hundreds of feet below them, hundreds of yards to the south, dogs barking, chickens crowing soft and unseen—that neither of them possessed south of the river.

As they adjusted to the distance and the open screen of the upper branches on the sugar maples, hickories, and oaks on the slope below, Ohio spread in front of them from the northerly bend east of Cunningham’s, several miles upriver, to California Hill, several miles down, but the perspective and the interrupted view made it difficult to see what they were looking at. They got out their sets of field glasses and slowly began to identify barns they had hung full of tobacco, fields they had hunted, farm houses where they had eaten dinner thirty years before. He glassed 52, looking for some landmark that would mark the outflow of Upper Twin from behind the ridge across from them to find out if he could see over the intervening foot of the ridge to Tucker’s Run. He came slowly east past Gas Hollow, found Jack Lewis’s boy’s place on Dry Run and next to it the pine plantation on the Stallard farm. The 52 bridge over Upper Twin was hidden in the trees, but he located Bucky’s barn, then raised the glasses to the low ridge until he could see Blevins’s double wide and slowly panned east; a dull gray expanse faced him out of dense woods, dark rectangle in the middle, and he realized that he was looking, several miles away, at the roof and dormer of the house on Tucker’s Run he had built nearly twenty years before, the house where his wife was probably working in her yard. They tried to pick out his brother’s house, but it was just below the ridge, though it was easy to identify the quartet of enormous sycamores, white branches lacing the background, that surrounded it, as well as the white door of their mother’s place just across the yard. He scanned north to the highest ridge line, knowing that his shack must be in the field of his glasses since there was nothing between it and Roundtop tall enough to block the view, but he could not identify anything that would offer him a clue to focus his search.

They looked their fill, then followed a four-wheel track—still too steep, his brother pointed out, to drag a trailer up—down the west side of Roundtop until it turned south down toward the Dry Hollow branch of Spy Run. They went over the north edge of the spine and half-skidded, half-slid down, grabbing saplings to keep from tumbling down the slope that dropped them five hundred feet in a quarter of a mile. They walked back to his brother’s pickup and drove into Garrison and found a luncheonette behind the gas station on the one side street. Though it was too late for biscuits and gravy and the cook was out of brown beans, they made do with the vegetable soup and sandwiches. The waitress called him “Sweetheart” and his brother “Honey”. The food wasn’t really homemade, but the service was, so they left her a tip half the size of the bill. As they settled into the pick up, his brother wondered how she could tell them apart.

§

He drove up forest road 2 to the ridge west of Dead Man and pulled off the road just before it descended into the upper reaches of the East Fork. He found his way to the storm-ruined knob north of the road, nearly impassible to all but birds and bulldozers, woodchucks, rabbits, and fox. No coyote would bother, but he fought the brush to a spot where he could identify the clear cuts and then his shack, the strict horizontal of roof and window definitive in the glasses against the insistent curve and sweep of the visual sensorium. He started down through the brush, a concentric descent into two-year-old, dry raspberry canes, thumb thick and rigid; from the same root systems, yearling raspberry canes, middle-finger diameters, parabolically, elliptically in every conceivable path; greenbrier snaking through the raspberries; tangled grapevines, some thick as a wrist. And multiflora rose. Saw briars around his ankles. All of it laced into a network of fallen trees and chin-high sassafras saplings. Then he stepped into a hole: woodchuck or fox, up to his calf. A broken leg was unlikely to make it back to the truck before dark. Two legs, here, were too few.

[To be continued …]

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