Saturday, July 24, 2010
Davis L. Bigelow
Glen worked silently on the travois and Stan’s thoughts slowly spiralled away from all the pain, all the doom, all the enduring.
“Well that’s just too bad!” he heard his condescending voice speaking to Alida. The two of them stood near the picnic table at Midnight Lake. Stan’s backpack lay nearby. He was about to leave the camp and go backpacking with Glen. “What was I even fighting with her about?” Regret gripped him once again. “When did I start being gruff with the one I love?” A tear slipped silently from his eye.
Then suddenly, Stan’s mind transported him back in time. Alida stood at the water fountain in the hallway. As Stan’s memories solidified, the walls of his old high school filled in around the blond-haired beauty. He remembered the day well. He looked around at the familiar surroundings. “Has it really been over thirty years?” The sounds of moving, chattering students, all anxious to be homeward bound, filled the painted cinderblock hallway. Stan had just exited the gym. Hot, sweaty and dishevelled from an intensive wrestling practice, his much younger body stopped short. For the very first time his eyes came to rest on her. Holding a splash of hair out of the fountain, Alida bent forward to drink. The girl had no idea the effect she was creating.
Stan ran a large hand through his thick shock of brown hair, but made no other movement. He drew in a deep breath of amazement. The girl seemed to hold him in a spell. She had delicate features and moved with the grace of a ballerina. Of medium height with high cheekbones, a small nose and opal eyes, she was a vision in blue jeans and a pastel pink shirt. He didn’t remember whether or not his mouth sagged open, but he vividly remembered standing and staring – his mind swimming with awe. Or perhaps swimming wasn’t the right term at all. Perhaps he was drowning. His legs wouldn’t move – well at least not until another student burst through the gymnasium door behind him, effectively knocking him off his feet!
Into the throng of fellow students he tumbled. Alida hadn’t noticed him before then, but now, everyone seemed to freeze and stare. There had even been some spontaneous laughter. “Nice move Calderbank!” Someone had shouted. Stan recalled the hot flush that had washed over his face. After that clumsy event, it took him a full month to dredge up the courage to finally introduce himself to Alida. A warm, easy smile drifted across his chapped lips at the musings. “I was a much kinder man back then.”
Stan made a brief return to reality. Glen was still working on the travois. By the look of things, he was nearly done. Soon the frame would be ready for the tent and then for his injured body. Stan surveyed the inhospitable meadow of rockslide leavings. He scowled to himself. From crumbling boulder to disintegrating pebble, the travois crossing was going to be rough on them both. “And probably worse for me!” He thought. “At least for the moment, I’m in relative comfort.”
Much more pleasant thoughts drifted back into his mind. Stan replayed his first awkward meeting with Alida. She was so beautiful. She had taken his breath away. It was funny now, but not then! Back then, he had felt painfully embarrassed! “What if she hadn’t moved into their town for her senior year? What if she hadn’t caught a flicker of the real man behind the stammering words of his first greeting?” The questions made him appreciate her all the more. He was a lucky man! “Why don’t I treat her better now?” He wondered.
Smart, pretty and genuine, Alida had swept him off his feet! He recalled their first date, walking along a picturesque lakeshore pathway in their town. He could hear, once again, her musical laughter. And then, there was the first time she watched him wrestle. He was pitted against the toughest opponent he had ever fought. He could no longer recall the boy’s name, but he would forever remember the look of encouragement Alida shot him during the match! His opponent had been so very tough to beat. That look of pure faith in him had propelled him to victory. “Crossing these rocks will be harder than that match!” Stan thought darkly. He closed his eyes. He needed to see Alida’s look of encouragement one more time – even if only in memory. Stan wiped at a tear. “Why don’t I show more appreciation for her?”
Sounds of rustling pulled the big man out of his revelry down memory lane. Glen had just yanked the nylon tent out of its bag. “Be careful… not to lose… anything down… the cracks.” Stan instructed, but the thought was already running through Glen’s head.
The small man nodded. “I just hope I can get the tent tight enough to suspend you off the ground.”
“Maybe you should… stretch the rope… across a few times.” Offered Stan. Glen paused to consider the idea as Stan went on. “You could put… a sleeping mat on… top of the tent… to help spread… my weight out?”
“Good ideas.” Glen replied, nodding in agreement and snatching up the rope. “By the time I get this fabric stretched, and you on this contraption it looks like we’ll only have about a half hour to move before we’ll have to stop for the night.” It was a long way across the rocks, but both men knew that every inch closer to the waiting truck would be to their benefit. Stan gazed upwards at the dimming clouds. Glen’s voice sounded again. “Once I get this contraption ready, I’ll try to pull you up using the other mat as a slide.”
“Sounds like… the best plan.” Stan agreed, knowing that no matter how the event unfolded, it would be excruciating for him.
The rope and tent quickly transformed the open travois skeleton into a fairly hopeful-looking transporting device. Glen pulled the nylon fabric over the edges of the frame and used the tent’s strong guy lines to make it taut. He may have gotten off to a slow start, but things were moving right along now. With the other sleeping mat in place, the determined man leaned back to examine his work. He nodded his approval. “This travois is about to get a serious workout!”
Stan began psyching himself up as his friend slid the travois into position. “This is going to be the worst part of my day!”
With the bottom crosspiece of the travois nearly touching the top of his ratty, blood encrusted hair, Glen shuffled, hopped and crawled over to his big friend. Glen untied the denim strap that held the splint to Stan’s waist before moving behind his shoulders. With Glen’s hands under him, Stan sat up again. It was for the third uncomfortable time that day, but because of the splints and chest bandages, moving wasn’t quite as bad as the first two events. Glen held Stan in a sitting position while he grabbed for his crutch. Jamming it into a large enough crack, it stood upright on its own. “Here!” The small man breathed. “Hold onto that while I get the travois under your back.” Big C grabbed the stout stick and held himself. It hurt to do so, but the action meant less moving later on.
As quickly as he could, the wiry Scotsman pulled the travois under Stan’s back. Glen positioned the two mats one on top of the other so that when Stan laid back on the first that he could pull the big man up onto the second mat. The plan worked well. The nylon-covered mats weren’t as slippery as either man would have liked, but that would be good later on when Stan rode at an angle to the ground.
Grunts, groans, moans, whimpers, howls and wails all rent the alpine air for several prolonged and tormented minutes as Stan Calderbank and Glen McPherson struggled. Inch by inch, the big man shifted and shuffled and slid onto the travois. Glen heaved and strained as his large friend gritted his teeth, crying out from searing assaults of agony nearly every second of the ordeal. When it was done, both men were gasping hard to get enough oxygen. Stan’s heart pounded mostly from enduring the intense pain. Glen panted from the Herculean effort required to drag the big man with as few jolts and jostles as possible.
With Stan finally on the travois, and after a few minutes of rest, Glen retied the denim waist strap, snatched up his crutch and hobbled to his pack. He had already zipped it up. All that remained was to tie it to the travois near Big C’s feet. In moments, the job was done and Glen scuttled to the front of the lashed poles. “Time to find out if this contraption will work.” Glen muttered. The wiry Scotsman planted his foot just inside the front crosspiece and jammed his crutch in a crack. Out came his trusty gloves. Under the dark clouds and dimming sky, he lifted the load. Even with the mechanical advantage of the travois, Stan felt heavy. “Hey Stan.” He called over his shoulder, “Let me know if anything falls off.”
“Ok.” Came the breathy response.
Glen positioned the crutch under his arm and began to pull. The travois lurched forward a few inches before stopping so Glen could limp ahead a little. The small man pulled again. Stan moaned slightly, but mostly just tried to hang on. “Enjoying this ride is certainly not going to be an option!”
During his first crossing of the rock field, Glen had learned the value of moving slowly for a prolonged period of time. “Slow and steady wins the race.” He muttered to himself. The field was wide, rugged and unforgiving, but eventually, if he just kept on moving, he knew would reach the other side. He pulled, then shuffled, then pulled again. From the speed they were moving, it would be a long and arduous crossing!
For a half an hour, the only sounds in Green Canyon were panting, moaning, creaking, scraping and the occasional sharp clunk of wood striking stone. Intent on his task, Glen McPherson forged onward. His keen eyes swept the pockmarked field ahead, searching for the optimal route through the maze of dimly lit bumps and holes and fissures and boulders. Determination flowed through his bulging veins but he would have to rest soon. The small man paused to catch his breath. “A prolonged soak in a hot tub followed by an extended night filled with blissful sleep would be really nice about now.” He puffed and then pulled forward once again.
Just before he could no longer see, Glen stopped. His chest heaved to draw in sufficient air. Sweat ran from his brow, along the side of his nose and into his gaping mouth.
On the ground ahead of him, the beleaguered Scotsman surveyed the rubble. He needed a flat place to set Stan down on. “Hold on Big C.” he warned. “I’m going to set you down while I level a spot for us to spend the night on.”
“Ok” came the laboured response. With that, Glen gingerly lowered Stan to the rocks and moved a few feet ahead of the travois. Following a few pushes with the tip of the crutch and several rocks tossed from his gloved hands, Glen soon levelled a small area. The spot wasn’t perfectly flat, but it was acceptable. He hobbled back to the sluggish travois and proceeded to drag it over the spot.
“Ok Stan.” He stated. “Down you go again.” Stan groaned a little, but mostly remained silent. The big man’s jaw hurt from clenching his teeth. In the half-light, Glen eyed him compassionately. Without asking, he knew that Stan was trying to will his pain into oblivion. Glen shuffled to the back of the travois to untie the backpack.
Finally, Big C spoke, “Are we there yet?”
In spite of exhaustion, Glen laughed out loud. The response from his injured friend was so unexpected. “Yeah!” He panted, grinning for the first time in what seemed like months. “We’re there!” The small man looked around. The tip of Ravenscrag Mountain was obscured by clouds, but it was nearly too dark to matter anyway. Their current reality was oppressive. “Well at least we’re not where we were last night.” Glen stated evenly peering though the growing gloom. In the twilight, it was tough to make out their old campsite – if you could even call it that. In that tragic spot there remained nothing left but broken rocks - broken rocks with some leftover traces of their precious blood, sweat and tears.