It was perfect fall football weather: sunny and crisp. I thought of all my good times with football and football with my father. A lot of people don’t know I once coached junior high football with my father for two seasons. It was probably our best time together. We even won a few games but that was hardly the point.
Bonnie and Clyde met me at the gate and Clyde worked up a new crazed inflection in his howling for treats. I laughed and wished I had recorded it.
We made our way through the pasture. Cows had grazed it to stubble except for a few lonely nettles with fluffy seed heads ready to blow. I kicked a field goal or two with the seed heads and split the uprights a hundred times.
An osprey flew overhead. A log truck rumbled in the distance. I saw lichen hanging from the electric fence. Someone had sprayed herbicide along the fence line. The lichen had survived.
The dogs flanked me in the field. I pitched them treats as if they were running backs on a sweep play. We reached the river and it barely moved. I could hear only a slight sound of water trickling down the rapids, if rapids six inches deep can be said to be rapids.
The alders across the river had not yet lost most of their leaves, but the leaves were yellowing and preparing to fall.
I said to myself: I want to see a damn beaver!
The dogs reconned up the bank and I skipped a few rocks. I knelt down and washed my bearded face with my hands in the river. I lathered up my whiskers with water. If I’d brought along my shaving kit, I would have shaved right then and there and pretended a Mountain Man status. I might have even stropped the razor because I love the word strop and once used it in a sentence that read: “I want rain to strop me.”
I noticed a few flat rocks and started building a cairn. I had no idea why. I am certainly no mystical cairn man in nature—definitely more of a chili-from-the-can fort guy.
But, I was building. Five, six rocks and then a collapse. Rebuild. Collapse. Rebuild. I picked out better rocks and the cairn solidified. It became a true marker of something I couldn’t name. No one would ever see this cairn. The elk might but so what? They don’t need cairns.
I suppose I need cairns at this point in my life: everything seems utterly directionless. There is no guide, no path.
Is there anyone or anything building me cairns? What an interesting question to ask of one’s self.
Maybe these two old dogs are.
Clyde came over and sniffed at my pocket for a treat. I stood up, reached inside, and found two. I tossed one to Bonnie drinking from the river and placed the other on top of the cairn. Clyde didn’t hesitate. He gobbled it down. He licked the top rock.
He did not topple the cairn and that made me laugh aloud on the river. And the laughter felt great.
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