The old man was unaware I was watching him from the top of a nearby hill across
from a ravine that separated us. I was usually at that same spot on as many
mornings as the old man was, enjoying the first rays of sunshine and the friendly
quietness that accompanied those moments. I don’t believe he ever noticed me as
I watched his usual journey.
We didn’t live very far from one another, and I could usually hear him working in
his garden during the spring and summer days. During those seasons, he always
wore the same old straw hat that he wore this day. On many occasions, he had a
corncob pipe in his mouth. He didn’t smoke it anymore, but just had it in his mouth,
a habit hard to break I imagine.
I saw it was the garden that brought about the slight smile he always seemed to
have. But that smile also made you wonder what else he might be thinking about. I
overheard the people who knew him well call him Donny.
Neither of us made much noise as we traveled along our respective pathways,
Donny always on one side of a ridge while I traveled the other. If you listened
closely, you could hear the leaves come alive as each step turned dew to mist,
evaporating into the air as they warmed and curled from the rising sun. Inhaling
the smells of dried leaves and autumn earth provided him and me with a sense of
invigoration and new life.
I watched as the forest stirred, awakening at his every step, his footsteps
resounding upon the old trail. To his right, the land sloped downward toward a
large wooded wetland, where ferns and false nettle dominated the shallow end.
Jewelweed hidden from the first sunlight at the edge of the water was also seen
from the trail.
These shallow depressions contained small rivulets of water shimmering in the
early morning sun, a trickling of water from the surrounding hills, slowly increasing
the volume from the earlier fall rains. They were home to a few wood frogs and
spotted salamanders, and if anyone took the time to closely watch, the ripples in
the water ultimately could be sourced to their inhabitants.
The overgrown path continued with serried rows of small poplars on either side,
and off to one side was an old wooden bench that provided a distinct resting place
for any aging, weary traveler. A large maple tree separated itself from all others at
the end of this hall-like extension and stood out alone as if to make a statement.
I watched Donny slowly proceed along the aged pathway, passing the bench, not
stopping to rest until he reached the maple and abruptly halted his steady
advance. Facing the wide trunk, he paused as if to think about the many years it
had seen. He knelt down on one knee for a closer examination. Inscribed on its
withering bark were many names scrawled by his pocketknife from years past,
made during his younger days.
Time had not been a friend to the weathered bark. It had expanded and stretched
over time making it difficult to read some of the names and dates. Many of the
letters were split, but some were still discernable, even though they were over
thirty years old.
Donny ran his fingers over the words and read the names once again,
remembering those he himself had inscribed. He had lived in the area all his life. In
fact, he had been born there and his wife had died there fifteen years earlier. I
recall his daughter’s name, Sarah, was engraved in the bark. There were also the
names of former pets. Heidi, Mittens, Kali, Wickett, and Stimpson were a few of the
many inscriptions that would remain within the weathered bark for years, never to
The old man wiped tears from his blue eyes as he stared off into the past, but a
slight smile returned to his face as happy memories replaced the void. I know
Donny often stopped here to reflect upon those times in his life, but how quickly
they had passed. Even though he couldn’t stop the progression of time and the
changes that went with them, he could always cherish the memories.
Voices from a nearby, large wetland area interrupted his reflections, causing past
images to disappear. There were other people in the woods. Donny descried their
approach off to his right as he overheard portions of their conversation. Below him,
in one of the small ravines that ran though the eastern part of the forest, I saw two
It was surprising that anyone else would be in the forest this early in the morning.
Maxwell Draper, a physicist, receives foreboding radio
transmissions from a deep space satellite caught in the
boundless expanse of a black hole – prophetic messages of
harmful national events yet to occur.
Nelson Quip, his friend from college days, is also witnessing
harmful transformations in his hometown of Laslo, Maine – a
development that will cause the extinction of a forest and its
This provocative, contemporary story is based upon actual
national events, unheeded warnings about failing policies, and
the associated indifference to inaction. What will happen if we
remain unaware of a changing world around us and inadvertently
ignore the troubling events that surround us on a daily basis?
The answer is contained in this story – an outcome that only you
|Beware the Dither Bird
Russell H. Plante
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