Burning embers of memories outdoors
He is young and old, all at once. He has outlasted tools, even though his calloused hands are scarred.
He is two cups of coffee before he reads the paper, classical music from an AM station, never a cap when indoors and the hounds in the pen know the difference between his church trousers and his hunting pants.
He walks with a limp, speaks with a drawl and glares upon strangers with a careful eye.
He is alone now. She died, and his kids are far enough away to still worry like he is close.
He knows art and color, and he knows how to escape, too. For a few days, his mind and body have been confined to the comforts of indoors.
It takes longer and longer to dress. He wrestles against his limp, and after an hour of walking, he must sit to rest for at least three.
There have been cards, visitors and phone calls. Scattered amongst the crumbs are last week’s mail, a left glove, two empty shotgun shells and the half-remaining loaf of bread.
Then there is the photograph, which came from his friend’s widow with a note that was timely and brief.
“I did not recognize you two at first,” she wrote.
He recalled the day and the place, and they were free from cares and hidden from the world beyond. It was on the northeast side of a hill that the running cedar grew thick.
They had hiked here, and along the way they shot two rabbits and five squirrels. They came to this place because sometimes the deer walk the narrow side of this hill.
It was late in the morning, and they had a can of beans, a side of ham, crackers and a match. They used rocks from the creek, a dead cedar to become the foundation and his friend chopped larger limbs and sticks for the heart of the fire.
They ate well and their feet were warmed. Soon, the cadence of coals and the occasional frequency of wind became enough to induce a brief winter’s nap.
In the afternoon, the coolness of the day encroached and the embers were lessened, as the fire had not been stoked in some time.
There were birds and squirrels, and the woods were alive with the sounds of nature. Even now, with his aged fingers holding loosely to the corners of this image, he can recall the sound of the approaching deer.
They whispered and held their aim true, and after the reports of their guns, a single deer had become the last harvest of the day. He remembers their joy. It was his father that took the picture, and they were quite proud of the plentiful and diverse harvest of the day.
He remembers that when the sun had set, the embers of the fire found new life.
It had been some decades since that day and some time since he visited that hill. He wondered about the cedars and the landscape. He thought. He smiled. He hummed. He slept some and awoke often.
The next day, he limped while toting rocks up the hill and to the place where the red cedars grew. He had collected no squirrels or rabbits. The deer season did not affect him now as it did then.
When the circle was complete and the wood stacked, he struck a match to light a fire. He leaned against the pine tree, and his feet were warming by the fire. There was no food to warm, no gun to shoot.
Yet he heard the birds and squirrels, and his mind danced a jig with the wind that blew about this place.
The fire grew and the warmth spread, and when all of the wood was used and his eyes grew heavy, he shielded them from the light and closed them to rest.
As it was years before, he woke to the coldness of the moment and to the sound of approaching hooves. The deer walked the familiar trail, and instead of the report of a gun that was not there, it was only by his eyes that a harvest occurred.
He had become part of the scenery, and he stood to shiver the chilled air. Upon standing, he looked to the running cedar and then to the sky above.
Between the stars, he said: “I can feel you here with me. Just like the ember that burns longer than the rest, I can feel you even now.”
Taking the photograph from his pocket, he holds the corners gingerly. He limps into the darkness.
Behind him, the warmth of a single ember that has burned longer than the decades are young and will burn much longer than the decades will be.
Enjoy your time outdoors.
You may contact Jason Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.