Monday, August 26, 2013

From the Empirical Archives: In the Shade of a Cave

In the Shade of a Cave
Wally Swist
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Empircal

We hike halfway up Mount Toby to where the gorge drops
off and takes the thin stream of Roaring Brook down
toward the culvert beneath train tracks to Cranberry Pond
I explain that the water is normally roaring every spring
from the snowmelt; however, not having much of a winter
has affected the watersheds. I illustrate that usually
the force of the brook hammers the stones, that the sound
mixes with the ionization of the water rising above the cliffs,
so that you can see, hear, and smell the torrent all at once.
In giving Bob a guided tour of the flora bordering the trail
this mid-April, I find the Quaker Ladies grouped in blue
and white clusters at the bottom, in the scrub meadow that
overlooks the pond. Farther up where I warn him
that here is where the trail begins to become steep, I spot
one nodding purple trillium, then point out the others
blazing their own trail up the slope. He aims the camera
to shoot his photographs of what he describes
as their flowers looking downward, and I explain that is why
part of their name includes the word nodding. He blurts out
how he was an infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge,
one of four soldiers out of a platoon of forty who survived
the surging stormtroopers. I point to the bright yellow
discs of inflorescence of coltsfoot flourishing beside
a trickle of a stream cutting its way through the black mud.
There! I exclaim, and identify the four-lobed lush purple
flowers of hepatica, whose royal hues can be easily missed
due to their diminutive size among leaf litter. I speak
with an intended ebullient clarity that I hope he remembers
when we find the clearing beneath the mossy cliffs halfway
up the mountain, speckled white with the luscious
blossoming of bloodroot. I inform him that there is only
a two-week window of our seeing this perennial in the wild,
of which he shows his rapt appreciation by taking one
photograph after another. Do you see that one, I say, placing
one of his hands in one of mine, as I draw a straight line
to where one bloodroot flower grows in the shade of a cave
in the cliffs. Oh, I see, he answers, then continues:
Yesterday I couldn’t feel my hands and feet from the trench foot I got
in the battle. They only gave us thin gloves, so we could fire our rifles.
My feet froze, since the boots they gave us were not much,
and the socks were too goddamn thin! We look at each other,
with mutual understanding beneath green cliffs, whose
natural architecture we both admire, among blossoms
of bloodroot that star the entire vertical rise in the sunlight.

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