Monday, April 13, 2015

Among the Birches

Ted loved his hammock. Tied to two white-barked birch trees, its braided knots were strong enough to hold him and his chunky bulldog, Archie. The two friends slept here every night, enveloped in woven woolen warmth.

Ted untied his hammock every morning, folding it carefully, putting it up "out of harm's way," he thought as he walked to the well for washing and cooking water, carrying his pot on his head Johnny Appleseed style. Archie waited patiently by the blue wooden plank table and chair set up next to the stand of birches, wagging his stub of a tail expectantly as Ted came back into view with two painted wooden bowls filled with breakfast. The two were silent save for sipping and slurping noises.

Ted was not old, but looked worn out nonetheless. One of his eyes drooped from a childhood mishap, and, although he could still see out of it, he was secretly self-conscious of the mismatch. His hands -- perpetually dirt-encrusted from daily labor -- were calloused and hard. Ted's left leg was a fraction of an inch shorter than his right. It had always been that way, or so he thought, since, really, he could not remember a time he did not live among the birches.

Archie, Ted's constant companion, was as scrappy as his master. When one of his ears was torn in a fight, Ted attempted to sew it back on, all the while being pawed and gnawed. When the ear eventually healed, it stood straight up -- like the emerging periscope of a rising submarine. Archie's fur had rubbed off in spots behind his shoulder blades, leaving only a soft tan fuzz on both sides.

On this morning, after their campfire breakfast, Ted pulled his metal-rimmed cap (made from an old woman's purse) down low over his brow and stood up. "Come on Archie," he said, wincing at the too-high pitch of his young voice. "I sound like a girl," he thought, and grumbled roughly to make up for it.
The two friends spent the day in the woods, walking, climbing and gathering sticks for the evening fire.   They headed home as the sun set through the slats of the tree branches. Ted stopped short just before their own birch grove, noting in surprise that their hammock had already been set up for the night, knots tied neatly around the white trunks. "Who could have done this?" he wondered, more pleased than afraid, for this had happened before and although he never caught his mysterious helper, he had a sense that someone was looking out for him and Archie. After supper and fire, the two tired friends climbed in and fell quickly asleep.

Nancy's mother came into her room at 7:15 the next morning. "Time to get up sleepyhead," she sang as she did every school day morning. Nancy sat up blinking as her mother opened the slatted blinds. Then she leaned over to look under the white stool which doubled as a nightstand where, the night before, she had tied her woolen cap --the one her grandmother had crocheted for her -- to two of the stool's three legs. "Good morning Teddy," she smiled, giving the cap a little push with her index finger. Ted and Archie, rocked by the nudge, slept on.

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