𝘣𝘺 𝘙𝘰𝘣𝘦𝘳𝘵 𝘗𝘰𝘱𝘦
A thin branch whipped across my face. I stopped to cuss the pain out. I had gotten in a tangle when I went off the path. Jim said that’s what I’d have to do. “Look near a cottonwood,” he’d said, “off the path, near water.” Jim owned some of this land, the state some, and God knows who the rest. I had come across a broken-down fence, wooden slats and wire, twisted into the wild, dense undergrowth. I heard a tiny high whine and slapped a mosquito on my bare arm. I’d been eaten up in spite of the repellent. And in the heat, I’d left my shirt hanging on a branch, down to my undershirt, khaki shorts, hiking boots, and the misery all over my face. That’s when I noticed my foot sinking into the earth. I’d reached the wetlands.
I reached out to hold onto what I thought was a thin tree while I extricated my foot, explaining my position to the muck in no uncertain terms. Once I realized I didn’t know what held me up, I saw what I held was a broken branch, bare of bark, with a couple of knots in it. I was looking at it upside down, essentially, and because of that, I suppose, an odd configuration of the grain—if that’s the correct word—seemed to change position, in a kind of swirl, making sense of what I saw: the face of an old man, the mouth open, the eyes filled with woe. At last, I had found one. Instinctively, I jumped back, releasing the branch.
Once I took a closer look, I wasn’t certain I had gotten the face right the first time. I had my foot out, stomping on solid earth to get the mud off. Damned if I wasn’t angry and elated at the same time. I thought I might cry or shit myself, to be brutally frank, but forced myself to take him in my hands. I swear I saw his eyes close. I screamed and released him but scrambled to pick him up again. I told him I was taking him home, and he did not seem to object. So, I broke him off and carried him out, and you will see him here. You may have difficulty at first but take a closer look. You will want to hold him, but I warn you, it’s terrifying. ✦