After about forty-five minutes along my trail, I call it mine simply because it ends at my front door and there’s no reason for anyone else to be traveling along it, I come across my usual resting spot on a downed maple tree that’s been resting there long before I came across it for the first time.
If it isn’t the most comfortable dying seat in the forest then it’s damn close and I’ve yet to find its rival. The horizontal trunk is in the perfect state of decomposition; taking on the feel of a firm sponge with its cover of crab moss enveloping it like some glue that binds and providing a supremacy that disintegrates. Laying the pelts at my side I look around just to look.
Too often, we connect with our surroundings for the simple reason to find something. Something is always there; something is always missing, but we can observe the mixture of the two by just looking with no expectations.
I don’t see them, but I can hear the dogs moving back around in my direction because they know I’ve stopped. I wouldn’t say they follow me on these trips to town because they are always out front and just out of sight on either side of the trail, a hidden army that is ready and on call in any situation.
I catch a glimpse of the one I call Snout in front of me about forty yards on the opposite side of the trail. It’s a beagle with those classic black and brown spots on a white background and he got his name because his nose is always to the ground. I guess nothing gets passed that dog as far as scents go. I’m sure Snout is the only purebred among the entire bunch except for Top. Top’s a medium sized German Shepherd that’s as thick as a bear cub, and he earned his name by way of dominance when it came to the pack coming together over the entrails of my kills.
Top and Snout are my two favorites, not because of their pureness of the breed but because of what has to be called personality. I don’t treat them any differently than the other dogs I just think of them differently, and that’s enough for me, and I believe it’s enough for them as well.
It’s almost reminiscent of the adage to keep you friends close and you enemies closer, reversed and tossed upside down.
The other eleven or fifteen or so dogs, I never know how many for sure because there are always more arriving while others seem to vanish, I do have names for them ranging from Jack to Con but of course I never call them by these names and of course they never call me by mine. It’s a fair arrangement as kindnesses go, considering they deconstruct my every morning.
I hear some more scraping around in the leaves off to my left but can’t get a look at them.
After a few sips of Local 88, Walter’s homemade stuff, I grab my bag and head on down my trail. Always looking; always wondering if my dad’s remains are just over here or maybe over there. A needle in a haystack they all say. The only way I know how to reply is that that may be, but the needle is there none the less. And you never know he could still be alive. Still wandering around breathing the same air I do and making his living off of the land he cherished so much and maybe, just maybe, being going lost is exactly what he wanted. I have to accept all possibilities.
Towards the end of my trail and about a good fifty yards before it connects to the road which leads into town is where I always try to split off in a different direction so no worn path actually connects to the road, fairly damn ingenious if you ask me. After all the best security is invisibility and if a passerby along the road can’t see an entrance to my trail then he’s not likely to go wandering off into the forest for no reason; we still have wolves in this part of the country after all.
Choosing my split off point I reach the road and turn left towards town. Back the other way leads to Shepherdsville a good twenty-five miles or more, at least I’m told, as I’ve never had a reason to go there myself; just more bothersome people living their bothersome lives caught up in a rat race to the grave.
I’ll admit I’m part of the race, but I choose to race time instead of the other rats.
The dogs have held back now, they rarely follow me any further once I leave my trail. I’ve often wondered if it’s because they remember the cruelty of the society that once loved them, gave them a home, and then tossed them out into a strange existence where they had to fend for themselves or if it’s because they’re afraid of what they might do to those civilized folks if they got the chance to get close enough.
Fear and revenge are close companions in any man’s eyes.
Why should a dog be any different?
The next bend in the road brings Briggs Street into view with its storefronts huddled tight together on one side and Stolman’s mill on the other. The buildings on the right are covered in planks of curled and twisted boards hammered into place by strong hands that surely earned a meager wage to construct the framework for someone else’s dream to come true. The buildings stand in a wooden contrast to the shine of Stolman’s metal exterior that they say keeps the inside of the mill at a cooler temperature. One side of the road is the past clinging to existence while the other is the future attempting to break through and become the future.
About quarter of a mile before town on the right side of the road rests the Hapsburg Cemetery, a rod iron archway about fifteen feet high stands as a solitary entrance with inch thick poles topped with pyramids and handcrafted vines wrapped and frozen in place that swirl from top to bottom all while more iron creates its gated boundaries. The name of the cemetery is carved neatly into a single piece of oak that has to be five feet wide, two inches thick, and no less than three feet tall and gently sways from the entrance archway as a caution to all that enter that this is cherished ground, ground that belongs to those who should and will be remembered.
I always stop here to say hi to Orville the grounds keeper. A man of at least seventy and built like a thirty-year-old lumberjack. If one was to guess his age they would probably come up with nothing over forty-five. The only age giveaway has to be a hint of silver in his hair. His walk is the purest specimen of self-reliance. His eyes always seem to be deep in thought about what they are gazing upon, as if to say to the world, I accept my place in life and death. Shoulders as wide as a horse always are carried back and proud with the slightest intimation of a regret held back by years of living. His clothes hung to him as if ready burst at the seams. A ratty shirt with arms rolled a quarter of the way up. Pants that have clearly seen better days are weathered from constant work. The only piece of clothing that resembled something fairly new were brown leather shoes that seemed never to show signs of abuse.
Orville was born and raised in Hapsburg and quit the mill long ago when he became sickened at how the town had let the cemetery become so ragged and grown over. His grandparents, his parents, and his sister are all buried within its iron artwork, and he just couldn’t stand the sight of his family being forgotten about. So, he just walked into work one morning and said he was done and then walked down to the jungle of a graveyard and has since turned it into a Garden of Eden for the dead. When all else is being beaten down by the weather, the greenery of the graveyard stands out as if it’s an oasis filled with hope and caring. The towns’ people are continuously amazed at what can be done if one only sets their mind to it. An Eden for sure, a man’s journey towards dedication and willfulness to build a jewel within the dust.
Out of all the people in town old Orville is by far my favorite; the childhood hero type, a Robin Hood for the deceased. A man that knows more than one would guess and hides it to the point of silence and dignity.
I cross beneath the archway and notice Orville isn’t around so I head to the far back left of the land following the stepping-stones evenly placed, neatly trimmed, and hand carved from local sandstone; there I kiss my hand and place it on top of my mother’s headstone. No words are said; none need to be said—what can I say? How would I start? Where would it lead me?