The chainsaw was a monster. It seemed to have grown overnight, like it had been fed magic beans, and his shoulders were sore just hefting it out to the chopping block. David studied the instruction book carefully, filled the proper orifices with oil and gas, and then tried to turn it on. It had a rip cord that had to be tugged hard at the same time a bright red safety button of some kind was held down with a thumb. He didn't have the shoulders to do it, and his coordination left a bit to be desired as well. The propane truck came while he was fighting with the chainsaw, and after the tank was filled, the driver stepped up and showed him how to do it.
The driver was a big, good-looking guy with grimy nails and shoulders that had never had problems pulling the starter on a chainsaw. He was nice, polite the way people up in the mountains were, but David saw some dislike drift across his face when he handed the buzzing saw over, thought he saw the word fag in the man's eyes. David thanked him politely. If he had to guess, he would say that the last book this guy had read was probably Green Eggs and Ham.
With the stink of the truck's exhaust in his face, he determined to use the chainsaw until it ran out of gas or until he dropped it, severing a limb. He could picture himself watching the bright arc of arterial blood pulsing slower and slower in the cool autumn air--no, wait, faster and faster, his heart desperate to pump blood that was spilling, lost, onto the ground. Would anyone find him? He was cheered suddenly by this unlikely death, the romance and drama of it, and he attacked the tree with the monster saw. He thought he would name the saw Viktor, after Viktor Krum from the Harry Potter books. He had developed a bit of a crush on the brooding young Seeker.
Viktor lasted for nearly an hour, and David felt something like triumph at the pile of wood he had cut. He was making progress. The buzzing vibration in his shoulders was still there long after he set Viktor down, but he had worn his new gloves, and the ax felt good when he stretched it high over his head and sent it sailing down onto the rounds of tree truck. Late afternoon, a new truck came rumbling down the dirt road to the cabin, and David saw with delight that his new wood-fired hot tub had arrived.
The flatbed was unloaded and the hot tub put together in less than an hour. The driver showed him how the underwater woodstove worked and complimented him on living in Stanley in a cabin. He had lived in a yurt for a couple of years, he explained, and then he got married and the girls came and now he lived in a little house and he sure missed his yurt. After he pulled out, David set about filling the tub with the hand pump and bucket, wondering about this desire to live in the woods. Did all men want this? Was it the challenge or the isolation? Seemed like everyone he spoke to told him how much they wanted to be living his life. Ha. If only they knew! It sounded good, David knew, living in the woods, but he suspected that most people would not feel very comfortable with the current state of his finances or with the current state of his plumbing. Or outhouse. Filling the hot tub was slow going, but David was cheered by the success of Viktor and the woodpile and looked forward to bobbing lazily in steamy water. By nightfall, he had the tub about half-filled. Why had he bought the hot tub big enough for two? He pondered this a bit, filling it bucket by bucket.
Later, looking out the cabin windows from his bed, he saw a couple of young deer wander near in the moonlight, checking out the new tub and taking a drink of water.
He woke early, with dawn still an hour away, and he was toasty warm under his down quilt. The cabin was cold, though, so he got up to put some wood in the stove and start a pot of coffee. The first thing he saw was his boots, parked neatly by the door. They had been moved for sure. No question this time. He thought about that old fairy tale, something about a cobbler and the mice that made shoes for him while he slept. Then he thought about the other people who lived on this road and how one of them had loved to sneak stealthily through the night when he was a boy. Today he would go visit Quanah Parker.
He read for a while by candlelight, while the cabin filled with the smell of coffee perking. He looked at the mountain of foodstuffs, extracted a box of Bisquick big enough for Paul Bunyan, and made himself a panful of biscuits in the iron skillet on top of the woodstove. There was a learning curve to this too, he thought. It was while he was heating the water for his bath that the idea came to him for his next book of poetry.
He liked linked books, where the poems were all related to each other. His first book, Sand Creek, was all poems of Native American massacres, and he thought that the poems being connected to each other made the whole greater than the sum of the individual poems. Now he thought about the flood of new experiences in the last few weeks and decided on the shape of the new book. His year in Stanley, in linked poems. Cool. He'd use the Sawtooths in the title--that was such a strong word, so evocative and dangerous. Maybe just Sawtooth Wilderness. Or he could go with A Year on the Salmon River.
He looked around the cabin and pulled out one of his copies of Sand Creek. On the acknowledgements page was written: For my boyhood friend Quanah Parker Running Bear. Had he seen it? Would anyone have shown it to him? David shook his head. Next to his acknowledgment he wrote, Thank You. He would walk up the road and see if Quanah Parker was still around. And if he wasn't home, David could leave it in the mailbox. Or just inside the door, stuck in a pair of boots.
He walked downriver, his ears alert for sounds of tracking natives armed with bows and arrows, but he saw no one as he made his way down to the Running Bears' cabin. He pulled up short when it came into view--what had been a small cabin, like his own, was now two cabins and a workshop with a large corral behind. The lights were on in the smaller cabin, so David walked over and knocked on the door.
Quanah Parker's father opened the door, looking so much like he had looked when David had been a child that he was struck dumb, sudden tears for his grandpa filling his eyes. Mr. Running Bear looked at him a long moment, eyes narrowed, then pulled him into his chest in a big one-armed hug. "David! You look so much like your grandfather when I first met him. For a moment I thought he had come to take me with him back to heaven. Come inside! I was just getting ready to cook breakfast."
The cabin was bright and warm, and there was a package of bacon lying on the kitchen counter. "I think your grandpa was twenty-eight when he started work on the cabin. Seems like just yesterday to me. Bacon and eggs sound good to you?"
David nodded, deciding not to mention the iron skillet of biscuits he had left outside for the birds. "I brought something for Quanah Parker," he said, and he held out the little book. Mr. Running Bear took it, went over to an old recliner covered in a plaid blanket, and sat down. The chair had a good reading lamp next to it and a stack of books on the floor. He opened the cover, scanned the note, and read through the list of poems, his eyebrows climbing nearly up into his hair. "David! These are your poems? Quanah Parker will be very happy to read them."
"My first book of poetry," David explained. He felt the color creep up in his cheeks. "I got some good reviews."
"Of course you did! I feel very proud of you. Your grandpa, he always thought you would be a writer. A writer or a librarian." He set the book of poems carefully down on the table. "The book is very nice! Quanah Parker isn't here. He's gone into Sun Valley for the day." The old man snorted. "Playing a cigar-store Indian for money."
Mr. Running Bear kept up a gentle interrogation while he plied David with bacon and scrambled eggs, and it didn't take too long before David was pouring out the whole story of his humiliating and unceremonious exit from the world of academia. Mr. Running Bear nodded, poured coffee, listened like a grandpa would listen. David felt a sudden surge of affection for him, for all the old men who listened to the young men without chewing them out for being idiots. Mr. Running Bear did not seem startled at the idea of David dancing with a man in a gay bar.
"David, why did you decide to just let it go? I mean, you could have stayed there, fought it."
David shrugged. "I've been thinking about that myself. I think I must not have cared that much, or I would have stayed. I love being a writer, but... I don't know. I'm thinking about looking for another way."
"Do books of poetry make enough money you can live?"
David shook his head. "I don't think so. But I have a year to figure it out. I'm teaching a couple of those Internet classes. I'm going in to the library a couple of days a week to use the Wi-Fi, and I'll see how that goes."
"You can come down here and use the Internet if you want. Quanah Parker has a good generator and Internet to his workshop."
"His workshop? What is he doing? Is he an artist? He told me he was going to be an artist."
Mr. Running Bear rolled his eyes, studied the ceiling. "I'll let him explain it. He'll be back today or tomorrow. He knows you're here."
And David felt the same tingle of excitement and dread at those words that he used to feel when Quanah Parker would take him captive in the woods and shove him up against a tree. "He knows you're here."
Before he left, Mr. Running Bear showed him the animals bouncing around the paddock. David wasn't sure quite what they were--not miniature horses, not goats--but some animal with long legs and thick fur. "Are those alpacas?"
"Yep. Not your fanciest alpacas. These are Quanah Parker's pets."
They were the strangest animals, with silly faces and wild, soft hair hanging over their eyes and impossibly thin legs. They were curious, with a high startle reflex, and David sent them gamboling around the corral a couple of times when he tried to pet them. They moved in a pack, two brown alpacas that looked like twins, a very furry white one with a strange, limping run, like he had one leg shorter than the others, and a black one with one eye missing and scars across his face.
"They look...well, they look like they came from the alpaca shelter."
Mr. Running Bear grinned down at him. "This is the alpaca shelter. He's got names for them--the two brown ones are Fred and George, and the black one with one eye, he's Crazy Horse. The white one is new. I think Quanah Parker is going to call him Jerry Rice. Oh, you see that one over in the corner, chewing on the fence? He's Jerry Garcia. Quanah Parker thinks somebody gave him LSD when he was a baby. He's never been right. He gives good fleece, though."
"Huh. Fred and George? I named my chainsaw Viktor. After Viktor Krum," he explained.
Mr. Running Bear nodded, a pained expression on his face. He gave David a pat on the shoulder. "Of course you did. Quanah Parker will be happy to see you." He put an arm around David, gave him another little hug. "And so am I."
Back to the cabin and back to work filling the hot tub. Something about the rhythm of it appealed to his poet's mind, and he spent a couple of happy hours hauling buckets of water and thinking up new cadences. He wondered if he could write a decent poem to the rhythms of rap and played around with phrases and words. It was a perfect Indian summer day--the air full of sun, cold rising from the earth, the smell of falling leaves, the wind off the river. He thought of that rhythm, the slow, rounded rhythm of the wind, and then he considered the possibility that he would end up a raving lunatic before the year was up. No, not a raving lunatic. Squirrelly.
What if he kept walking down the poetical path and fell so deeply into his own mind that he could not find his way back? He was cheered, somehow, by the romance of this idea--the mad poet. He would be wandering lost in the woods, snatches of imagery dancing on his tongue like fire, and...and Quanah Parker would find him. Would bring him home before he froze to death. Would listen to the poems.
The darkness was falling early. He filled up the wood-fired stove, carefully put it down into the water, and was rewarded by the puffs of smoke emerging from the snorkel. He checked the temperature about every thirty seconds, and when he realized he was driving himself crazy, he went back into the cabin, determined to not check on the water for at least a half hour. He studied the mountains of food, nearly felt defeated, then wrestled a can of beef stew from a tall stack and heated it up on the woodstove. He made a list while he ate:
How to start Viktor without help.
Okay. When he went into town to use the library, he could check out the Laundromat. Was there a Laundromat? He thought so. He would ask the man at the general store about trash when he brought him a copy of the book. Was it time yet? He went outside, felt the water. Not hot-tub hot, but warm enough, and there were still puffs of smoke coming from the snorkel, so it would keep getting warmer. David raced back into the cabin, stripped as quickly as he could, grabbed a towel, and ran back outside. He didn't make it to the hot tub.