Saturday, September 25, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 23

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L.Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 23

A tiny droplet careened through the subdued daylight. Soundlessly it fell. Pure in character and teardrop in shape, the raindrop bore down on a single silver mound. The mirrored bump shimmered slightly. Dark and light patches of cloud reflected in its wrinkle-faceted surface. It lay out of place in the bland, dismal surroundings. An unfamiliar alien, lying motionless on a familiar landscape, a close encounter was inevitable. The raindrop struck. Its brief journey from the dark cloud was over, but now it began to run over the slick, silvery alien. Suddenly, the extraterrestrial began to move. The helpless raindrop rolled off and at last, landed on the familiar stone littering the canyon floor.

Beneath the shiny Mylar blanket, Stan stirred. His short-lived get together with sleep had been welcome, but now all his throbbings, tenderness and twinges were getting the upper hand. Once again he was forced from slumber by pain.

The big man looked around. From somewhere in his restless sleep he had heard something. “Was that rain?” He focused on the sounds around him. He scanned the dark sky. Only a light wind wafted his way. “It must be just my imagination.” Stan eyed a dark cloud that currently moved directly over his upturned face, hanging like a threatening death shroud. “That cloud looks like it should be letting out raindrops.” The big man thought. “Thankfully it’s still holding back.”

Glen McPherson trudged up the dirt trail. Large grizzly bear footprints littered the indistinct path ahead. Many of his previously created southbound footsteps were now obliterated by numerous ovoids and claw marks. The hobbling hiker swallowed hard. “I really can’t afford to stop and wait any longer than I already have.” The bold Scotsman continued to move northward. “I hope I’m not making a big mistake!” Wary, but resolute, Glen hobbled on. Each bend of the woodland trail harboured uncertainty. “I hope that bear is moving faster than I am.”

A peaceful breeze caressed Glen’s hind parts. He had been limping along for over thirty minutes. Maple Creek was far behind him. “I’ll be at the entry point to the field of boulders soon.” Nervously, his eyes swept the forest around him and the trail ahead. “This breeze is pushing my scent ahead of me!” He scowled. “Perhaps it’s better for the bear to smell me coming?” He shot a glance at the ground. The paw prints were still in the dirt at his feet. They still pointed northward, but he’d read about bears catching the scent of a man and circling around to initiate a surprise rear attack.” The small man’s throat tightened. “Don’t panic Glen.” He whispered to himself.

The limping hiker paused for a moment. Concetrating on slowing his breathing, Glen let the forest’s sounds penetrate. A few leaves rustled. Several birds moved but the sounds of their beating wings were just out of earshot. For several silent seconds, Glen listened. “If a bear is close by, it’s either extremely stealthy or not moving a muscle.” Finally, the small man resumed his erratic stride. In another minute, he limped around the final corner of the woodland trail. At last he could see several hundred yards down Green Canyon. Glen’s breath caught in his throat. He froze in place.

One hundred yards north of where Glen halted stood a spectacle the wide-eyed Scotsman would never forget. Standing on its hind legs, a huge grizzly bear stared down at the small man. The blood drained from Glen’s face. With a crutch under one arm, a red pack on his back and an injured ankle he could not yet use, Glen held perfectly still. His mind reeled for options. He stared on as the massive bruin sniffed for the wind-driven scent wafting from his sweating body.

“Oh God?” The trembling man faintly breathed the words. “Please help me.” For several prolonged and agonizingly slow seconds, the colossal carnivore stood upright. His brown snout poked at the mild air currents. Silver tipped cinnamon coloured hair shimmered like light frost on a ripe wheat field. Glen held as still as the cloud-covered summit of High Tor. “Let me be invisible.” At the top of the food chain, the bear was the undisputed monarch of Green Canyon – or anywhere else it happened to visit. Glen had no aspirations for prowess. If it chose to, the mighty member of the Ursus arctos horribilis family could dispatch him in a matter of seconds. “There is no escape.” Glen breathed out slowly. The vulnerable man held his head still, but his eyes shifted back and forth like a lame field mouse in pit of starving vipers. “The nearest tree, capable of harbouring me is holding Stan’s backpack aloft.” Glen scowled. The tree was on the opposite side of the bear!

Stan sluggishly lifted his arm to check the time. It was eleven thirty. “Where’s Glen?” The big man turned his head and scanned the field of boulders dividing him from his friend. Glen was nowhere to be seen, but Stan’s eyes widened in horror! At about the place where he guessed the poorly marked trail carved its way along the edge of the scant stretch of woodland ambled a massive creature. The animal was heading northward. At 600 yards away and obscured by several clumps of scrub, Stan couldn’t be certain of its exact species but the shaggy-looking, brownish creature was definitely a bear.

Stan stared in shock. He knew that their hiking adventure might lead them to see a black bear, or even a grizzly, but he hadn’t expected the meeting to be in Green Canyon. Stan’s heart began to pound! The extra blood pressure flooded his injured leg with additional throbbing. The big man winced, but continued to stare. “Steady Stan! Steady!”

In the subdued light the ambling bear’s fur had a glint of silver to it. Then, in an uncharacteristically quick motion, the huge bear swung its shaggy head and froze. It stared southward. After several seconds, its nose poked skyward, taking several tentative jabs at the cool alpine air. Then, the bear turned its entire body to face south and reared up onto just its hind legs. The bruin was enormous! Stan’s eyes widened. The big man’s throat constricted. The giant bear sniffed the airwaves again. Towering above the scant scrub that had been its partial camouflage, the bear was in full view. Stan’s worst fears were confirmed. “It’s definitely a grizzly bear!”

Eyes bunged out and unblinking, Glen’s good foot and the tip of his faithful crutch remained glued to the dirt pathway. The booted foot, attached to his wrecked ankle, rested uncomfortably in the middle. Glen’s breaths came in shallow gasps. “If that bear charges I’m a dead man!” Glen slid his shaking fingers down to his side. “But if I die here, this bear will pay dearly first!” Glen carefully unsnapped the polished hatchet and slid the sharpened blade out of its leather holster. Careful not to slice himself, his right hand tightened around the carbon fibre handle. His blood pounded though ready veins. Glen drew in a slow and deliberate breath. White-knuckled, the small man was about as prepared as he could be. “All that remains now is for me to wait and wonder.”

Just out of Glen’s sight, Stan Calderbank lay trussed and helpless on the field of boulders. He too stared with wide eyes. Simultaneously, it happened. For both men, it was as if time stood still. Each shallow breath of the two transfixed men was like the ticking of a time bomb, counting down the final few moments before detonation. Then, with frightening speed, the grizzly bear dropped to all fours and charged.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Essence of Photography

Jack - frozen in time & hoping for some food to fall.

Scuba bubbles in Waterton Lake - slow exposure makes the image blur.
To me, still photography is irrefutable evidence that contradicts the accepted space/time theories of physical science. Still photography makes time stand still - a feat nixed by modern-day  pure physics, but much appreciated by every photographer I know of. To me, still photography is miracle. The essence of photography is time on hold! Say "Cheese" Albert Einstein!
Diving a wreck in Waterton Lake

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 22

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 22
For the fourth time since arriving at Maple Creek, Glen McPherson drank deeply from a hydration pouch, washing down the final remnants of a mint chocolate protein bar he had been feeding on. The cool mountain water gurgled as it went down. The solitary man pressed a hand against his chilled belly the way a pregnant woman might caress her abdomen. His eyes bulged out and he drew as much of a breath as he could fit beside the pressurized water and then blew the air out. “I feel like a tanker truck!” The water gurgled from the small chuckle as Glen grinned at his own joke. His smile was fleeting though as a serious expression quickly took its place. He scooted back to the edge of the creek. “Time for the last refill.”
The wary Scotsman scanned his surroundings again before refilling the water pouch one final time. The marginal respite Glen had afforded himself, as well as the food he had downed were desperately needed. Most unwelcome however, was the tense atmosphere. Glen lifted his eyes from watching the pump do its work. “At any moment an ornery grizzly bear could wander out of the woods and attack me.”
As Glen rested quietly near the bank of the lazy creek his mind had been anything but lazy. “We are making progress.” He told himself. “The travois is built and mostly ready to go. All I need to do, upon my return to the rock field, is to give Stan water, help him back onto the travois, tie the backpack onto the lower wooden crossbar and drag the big man towards the trail.” Glen had complete confidence in accomplishing the first three objectives, but the final one was daunting. Glen drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It remains to be seen whether or not I have enough power in me to cross the finish line in this race.” Glen began to stretch in anticipation. “Stan can’t lie prone for too much longer. By now, his lungs will already be badly stressed.” More of Glen’s first aid training came back to him. “If Big C’s lungs fill with water, my friend will drown in his own fluids.” The small man sighed and shook his head. “If that happens, all my efforts to save the big man will be in vain.” Glen pulled his backpack closer. “Maybe it’s good that Stan’s body is a little dehydrated?”
The small man placed both hydration packs into the bottom of his pack. The purifying pump followed. Glen struggled back to a standing position. In spite of stretching, his body felt stiff. A glance at his digital watch revealed that the morning was nearly gone. “Come on Glen.” He encouraged. Shouldering the red backpack, Glen faced north and stared up the trail. It was devoid of life, but somewhere out there lurked a large carnivore.
Glen pushed the padded crook of the crutch under his armpit, muttering to himself. “I just hope I’ve rested long enough for that bear to get far away from me.” The intrepid hiker drew in a long, steadying breath and continued to address his audience of one. “One way or another Glen, if you’re going to save Stan, you have to travel the trail back to him.” Glen stared along the path, still unmoving; brow furrowed. Then the dirt-stained crutch tip led out and his uncertain journey was underway.
Under the dark cloud cover, Stan continued to enjoy his sweet dream. His grandchildren were the best! The big man adored them all. Smells of soft green grass filled his nostrils. He lounged in the shade of the giant poplar trees that had been waiting there when he and Alida moved onto their acreage four years before. His five grandchildren were gathered close. Juniata and Tyson sat on his lap while Tyner, Grant and Gerald leaned close as he read aloud from a Dr. Zeus book. The grinning grandfather paused in his narration. Looking at each one of the growing children, a lump rose in the big man’s silent throat. “I am the luckiest man alive!”
The wiry Scotsman pushed forward. The trail led slightly uphill from the creek. Glen’s sharp eyes were like radar, constantly sweeping the pathway ahead for any sign of danger. No shadows were present. No brilliant illumination was there to assist the injured man. A monotone sky cast muted light on the woodland trail. “At least it’s not raining.” Glen muttered under his breath. Dust stirred as his foot plodded, his crutch poked, and his unused foot dragged along in the swirling wake. “If I don’t have to stop for a bear encounter, I just might make it back to Stan by noon.”
Then, a tuft of brown hair caught Glen’s attention. He stopped short. Finger tips tentative, he plucked the little tuft from an outstretched branch and held it up in the grey light. The hair was fine and long. Silver highlights tipped one end of the small sample. As Glen examined the fur, his thoughts briefly visited his memory. He had read about grizzly bears. Their fur was brown with silver tips. The nervous backpacker looked behind him. He scanned the bushes on both sides. “The only living thing on this trail or in the woodland seems to be me. But that wasn’t true a few minutes or hours ago.”  Judging from the fur, Glen couldn’t tell how much time had passed since the big bear had passed this way. “Maybe the fur was already here when I passed by the first time?” His eyes dropped to the dirt, hoping to find some additional clues.
In the dust, he could see remnants of his own tracks as well as the bear’s. Scrutinizing the area, it appeared that the silver-tipped carnivore had been the last northbound traveller on the remote trail. “This is not good!” Came the harsh breathy whisper. “The bear was in this very spot not thirty minutes ago!” Glen shuddered. “If I had not rested for so long…” He didn’t finish the disturbing thought. “One thing’s certain. The only thing saving me so far is my timing.” A quiet prayer of gratitude slipped from his lips. Then, Glen McPherson silently squeezed the handle of the sheathed hatchet, set his jaw and limped onward.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 21

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 21
Nearly four hours of daylight had elapsed since Glen McPherson scuttled off to fetch water. Big C still lay where the smaller man had left him. After all, where could he go on his own? Stan shifted in his sleep. The jabs of pain, caused by the slight movement, pushed his mind towards consciousness. “Jam-pa! Jam-pa!” a young, exuberant voice drew Stan back into his dream. “Jam-pa! Come and hep me.” The voice belonged to Juniata, Stan’s two-year-old granddaughter. Just like Glen, Stan had just one granddaughter, but unlike Glen, the big man had five grandchildren instead of one.

A lone girl in a sea of boys, Juniata was a quick study. If she couldn’t keep up with her older cousins, she knew how to even the playing field. “Jam-pa!” Her blonde hair was flying as she ran up to Stan. “Jam-pa, hep me cwime up into da twee house wiss da boys!” Her breathless request tumbled out as Stan scooped her into his strong arms.

“Hello little one.” He boomed. “You’re all out of breath” The little girl looked small against Stan’s broad shoulders. An onlooker might have thought they were watching a giant and a midget putting on a circus performance. Juniata placed a tiny hand against each side of her grandfather’s broad face, attempting to get his full attention.

“Jam-pa!” She said firmly. “Gerwald won’t wet me up into da twee house and Gwant and Tyner and Tyson won’t hep me ee-der.” Gerald, Grant, Tyner and Tyson were Juniata’s cousins. The boys ranged in age from six down to four years-of-age. Whenever the family assembled, a favourite pastime of the four rambunctious boys seemed to be the tormenting of Juniata.

Stan grinned at her broken English. He knew all too well that the stage she was in would pass quickly – just like it had for his own children. It amazed him how fast growing up happened. “Ok.” He said, “I’ll help you.” He dropped Juniata to the grass and took her fragile hand in his. “If we are quiet,” he said with an air of conspiracy, “We might be able to scare the wits out of those boys!”

Across the lawn they stalked, a giant and a midget. If the two figures had been playing out a naval battle on the high seas, they would have been a battle ship accompanied by a dinghy. Juniata giggled in anticipation. Stan smiled at her bubbling enthusiasm.

They approached the tree house and Stan lifted the girl into the air. He held her up to the wooden ladder. The boys had stopped standing guard, and the infiltration was a success.

“Juni” Six-year-old Gerald lamented. “What are you doing up here?” Murmurs of descent rippled from the other three boys as well.

“We’re here to scare you.” Stated Juniata, her hands on her hips. Suddenly, Stan poked his head into sight growling ferociously as he did. Five startled grandchildren jumped and cried out.

“Grandpa!” four-year-old Tyson scolded, “You scared me!”

Stan smiled warmly as he climbed into the solidly built tree house. He was still young enough to do so, so why not? “Juniata told me that you boys forgot that she was your cousin.” Stan said. “She asked me to help her climb up here and I thought it would be fun to scare you all.”

Gerald hung back, but Tyson’s twin brother, Tyner stepped forward. Tyner was the daredevil of the group. He was beaming. “Scare us again Grandpa!” he encouraged.

Stan obliged and let out a ferocious growl. Squeals of delight rippled through the group. This time, even Gerald joined in the laughter.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

“In Ravenscrag’s Shadow” – Chapter 20

In Ravenscrag’s Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010 

Chapter 20
Stan Calderbank lay motionless. His pain-induced sleep deprivation had finally given way to exhaustion and then, at long last, to slumber. Above his unprotected face hung huge hazy clouds. Beneath him, the double sleeping mats attempted to cradle his large, bruised and broken body. All things considered, he was about as comfortable as it was possible for him to be.

Stan’s waking world soothingly spun away as semi-consciousness slowly gave way to the dreams of all out slumber. From somewhere in the distance, Stan could hear laugher. “Come on Jam-pa!” One of his grandchildren called. “Come on!”

Glen stopped on the trail to rest and to listen. He pealed back the wrapper on a Mars chocolate bar and took a hearty chomp. The small man needed water, but, at this point, even a little dry energy would help. He felt calmer, since uttering his heartfelt prayer, but the limping Scotsman still knew that he had work to do if he and Stan were going to survive. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” The words his mother had often taught him sounded inside his head. He could hear her voice as the oft-remembered track played. Glen smiled a little. His mother had been gone for six years now. It felt good to replay her kind voice.

Glen stuffed in the last of the chocolate bar before readjusting the pair of thick wool socks that protected his chaffed armpit from the full force of the top of his makeshift crutch. He longed to run free again, but the injured ankle would still not tolerate any weight whatsoever. Glen plodded forward. This was his second trip to visit the life-giving waters of Maple Creek and he was nearly there.

Suddenly, a sound brushed past his ears. It was faint. Glen stopped and held stock-still. To his right, he heard it again. It was a light rustling of bushes. Carefully, the alert hiker peered into the camouflage of green. He felt for any motion in the air that might carry his scent towards the sound. The slightest of breezes caressed his cheeks. The puff of wind was moving from the area where he could hear the rustling sound towards the place where his foot and crutch tip stood riveted on the meandering trail. “If I just kept on moving, I might pass undetected.” He couldn’t tell what animal was disturbing the tranquility of the forest, but from his recent encounter with the massive paw print and scarified tree, his conclusion was easily jumped to.

The trembling man quietly unsnapped the hatchet and drew it out. Breathlessly, Glen began to move. His pace, already slow from his dependence on the crutch, was now the speed of a small caterpillar. He could not afford to alert the unseen animal. After all, it was he who was the potentially unwelcome visitor to this place.

Several minutes of slow going passed. As each new second added itself to the next, Glen moved farther and farther away from the danger. Finally, the tense man picked up the pace. Seconds later, his alert ears picked up the sound of running water. Glen grinned nervously. “Maple Creek is just ahead.”

Glen McPherson quietly loosened the straps of his red backpack and slipped it to the ground, resting it in the emerald green grass beside the unsheathed hatchet. In another minute, the intake end of his water purifying system dangled lazily in the placid current. Glen pumped rhythmically. A tiny stream of precious water flowed into the hydration pouches; first one and then the other. Several times, the dehydrated Scotsman paused in his pumping to drink deeply. “I need to get as much water into my body as I can hold.” He swallowed again. “Stan will consume most of the water I carry back.” Glen scowled, wiping his dripping lips. “Dragging the big man across the field of boulders will leave me dried out in no time.” The sobering thought lingered for a moment before being replaced by another. “And then there’s that bear to worry about!”

With the water pouches replenished, Glen ate some dried fruit and gobbled down a granola bar. He rested near the edge of the creek, hoping that the short time he spent there would give the grizzly bear time to move on. So far the unseen bear didn’t seem to know Glen existed. “I hope things remain that way too!” Glen thought. “Right now, anonymity is my best friend!”

Glen rubbed at his swollen ankle. Held captive within his hiking boot, the tendons and muscles surrounding the joint throbbed mercilessly. Glen stared at the cool flowing creek. “It would be wonderful to soak my bruised ankle in there.” The idea promised some much needed relief. “No.” The Scotsman breathed, looking around for what must have been the twentieth time in the last five minutes. ”I don’t dare. Shedding one of my boots right now would be a very poor choice.” Instead, Glen massaged the swollen ankle through his boot and then dug his fingers into his shoulder and neck muscles. “I’ll just have to wait till later to find relief.” He told himself tilting his head sharply from side to side to stretch his trapezius muscles.