Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One Morning

When I was a little boy, my father woke me up very early one morning. I didn’t like getting up really early then, either, it kind of hurt and you felt dizzy. But I liked going out with him, and it was so early, whatever it was must be urgent and special.

It was too early, even for breakfast, which was a special indulgence in American food that my father and I shared, even though I did not like getting out of bed. My father, by contrast, took an indecent amount of righteous pleasure in getting up early, indeed in any activity that was self-denying, contrary and gave him an advantage over the majority of people. What reason there was this morning was unsaid, and confused and sleep dizzy as I was, it did seem a little deliberately mysterious. We went out the front door and it was shockingly cold, a cold that no one knew about this time of year because they were tucked away in their beds. It was quite dark. I deliberately kept moving to stay warm, and my father admonished me to do so anyway the moment I paused. The black and white woods behind our house slid quite easily back into dreams and I bumped into a tree, which smarted, but fortunately my father did not notice. He scouted ahead, quite excited himself. This was unusual.

Though he was no woodsman, he was an extraordinarily aware man: he knew the name of everything, animal or rock and had learned what he knew about the outdoors partly from retention of things he had read or seen on TV, but mostly from observation, of others more skilled and the woods itself. He wasn’t a patient man, so he never just looked at the woods. He studied them, handled them: he never so much as idly picked up a stick.

This morning he was excited and it gave him a boyish enthusiasm that was surprising. He was looking for something new, something he surely had to see for himself as much as anyone, but so overwhelming that he had to share it with me, his son. He was scanning for something, getting more and more certain. What these signs and indications were, I was too sleepy to guess, and besides, I am really more like my mother, and prefer to take my waking quite slow, review my dreams and plumb their meaning by dreaming them again.

I got quite lost in just standing there and watching my cloudy breath, feeling a little chilly ache in my lungs when my father made some sort of decisive discovery. He motioned to me to get down. Then he himself flattened flat on his belly. I was to do the same. This was more than extraordinary: it was unbelievable: the ground was a soft mix of ice and mud and we were a fastidious family: I was wearing a good coat: my father hadn’t thought to pick out another. He himself was wearing his regular coat. Mom would surely object, but before that unpleasant thought could proceed any further, he was off scrambling through some brush on his belly. He was on an adventure.

All the ordinary rules were clearly in suspension, for, in addition to not getting all muddy, I had specifically been prohibited from crawling around the scrubby bush. You couldn’t see where you are going and all sorts of things lived there, from Lyme disease bearing ticks described by my father to ancient rusty bear traps that my mother feared might lurk there. But it was certainly alright to follow my father, so I went, right behind his big boots. It was cold and messy crawling down there. My father seemed to proceed as a hunter, trying not to make noise. We went a long ways. I had to suppress a urgent need to giggle. It seemed crazy. Suddenly, my father stopped. He seemed possessed by a powerful uncertainty. This was more like him. Were we lost. He moved forward a little, parting some brush and then seemed to just slide down. Before he disappeared he looked back at me and his eyes communicated an urgent command to follow. I too, pulled aside the curtain, less easily and dimly recognized the place: a kind of natural duck blind before a clearing. My father had moved quickly to cover and stared at something urgently. Not wanting to keep him waiting, I too, slid down the hill, a little too quick and clumsily, but he did not notice.

When I came up to him, his eyes were bright behind his glasses and his expression unforgettable. There was something he wanted to show me. My breath quickened and he put a sheltering and ushering arm around me to guide me. His large and powerful hands pulled aside the lids of the grass and at first I could make out what I was supposed to see. And then, in the small distance space of the clearing, with the edge of the grasses poking in like eyelashes, I could make out two creatures, a gryphon and unicorn; they had been fighting, the gryphon’s side gored, the unicorn’s neck mauled. They lay dying, not far from one another in a circle of blood and gouged out tracks. “Look” my father said with excitement and enthusiasm, “Death, death”.