Some Sort of Pine – A short story

I started reading some David Foster Wallace the other day – a book of short stories.

Dead wood. Loch Raven Reservoir. Kodak 400 35mm.

I finished the first story. It was good, but I don’t know how to bring it up in conversation. Outside, the trees do not have leaves. I only counted three clouds in the sky. A dog barked this morning. When I went to the post office an hour ago, I saw a lady whose hair looked like a helmet. It was flat around her head, but flared out over her shoulders. I smiled a polite smile at her and she looked back at me.

One day I went for a hike. It was bright but not sunny. We hadn’t gotten fresh snow for days or weeks, so it was all crunch under my boots. Ice in some places. The trees didn’t have leaves, except for the pines. Are pine needles technically leaves? I’ll have to look that up.

I started on the Putt Putt Trail. It’s easy, but leads to steeper paths. I passed a lady wearing tennis shoes and headphones. “Tennis shoes in the snow,” I thought. She said hello too loudly, probably because she was wearing headphones. I usually talk more softly than I’m inclined when I wear headphones so it will be at a normal volume for people not wearing headphones.

When I reached the first crest, I turned to look at the valley. I was higher than I expected – even the easy trails out here climb quickly. I was well above the rooftops and could see past the town to the next valley. The light on the distant mountains was beginning to turn gold.

Continuing on, I reached the trail fork minutes later. I chose the path to the left. Here the trail got steeper as it began switchbacking up Crystal Butte. I stopped every so often to get my breath and heartbeat back in rhythm. I would turn and look down over the town and across at the mountains. “This is really something,” I would think.

When I got tired I would concentrate on putting my right foot in the next boot print in the snow. And then I would concentrate on putting my left foot in the next boot print in the snow. It’s true what they say – a good flow state really does the trick.

At a certain point, the trail stops its switchback pattern. It simply runs straight across the side of the hill, or butte, and crosses a vertical fold in the slope. After that, it runs under some sort of pine that is noticeably alone. I said hello and gave it a hug. It was warm. I put my arm around it and gazed once more across the valley. Pink stains were beginning to seep from the clouds into the mountain tops. I gave the pine a pat on the back and continued on.

The trail began to switchback again, but more steeply this time. I slipped a few times because the boot pack had vanished. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I was on a trail. If no footprints, then how a trail?

I reach the top of Crystal Butte. I turn and admire the now-vibrant mosaic of pink and red, purple, and golden clouds over the miniature town. The exposed red rock on the distant mountains now looks coal black, with gold edges.

A growl behind me.

I turn to see a wolf. The wolf is black. Her eyes are even blacker, and white hairs dot her lips, which quaver over shiny wet teeth and gray gums.

“What do you want.” I say. She doesn’t answer.

“WHAT. do you want.” I say again, getting a little peeved with her lack of manners. She starts to growl again; I hear the gravel rolling up her throat. Before it gets too loud, I smack her on the head. If you didn’t think she was close enough that I could simply reach out and smack her… well. She was.

I take a deep breath, trying to regain my composure.

I try a different phrasing – “How may I help you?”

She licks her lips and swallows. I can tell she’s embarrassed. She sits on her hind legs like dogs do and then calmly begins to speak. “Excuse my French – I didn’t mean to yell at you, I’m just not used to humans with social skills.” She subtly shifts her weight and tucks her tail under her left hip.

“How are you today?” she asks.

“I’m ok,” I answer.

“That’s good,” she says, “Some weather we’re having, huh?”

I’m starting to get impatient. “Sure is,” I say. I put my hands on my hips and turn lazily to look back at the valley. The colors are getting deeper, with more blues and even a greenish tinge on the darkest clouds.

“Well, I should get going… I’ve got a thing tonight,” I say.

“Oh ok, yea, please. I don’t want to hold you up,” the she-wolf says. “It was nice meeting you!” she says a little too earnestly.

“You too,” I say as I start back down the trail. I turn after a few feet and give a last wave with a polite smile. She’s standing on all fours again looking after me.

Studying the valley again as I walk, I notice the golden accents are gone from clouds and rocks, replaced by grays and dark grays. I hear a scurry from behind and footsteps getting closer. The she-wolf comes up alongside me and stops squarely in front, blocking the path.

She looks at me with worried, pleading eyes.

“Wait,” she says. She is looking directly into my eyes, searching.

“What’s up?” I ask.

She looks down briefly. Finding my eyes again, she mumbles, clears her throat, speaks more clearly, “Can you stay? Can you just stay for a little bit? I’d love to talk to you. Maybe get a bite to eat or something?”

I scratch my neck. “Uhhh,” I start. “No, I don’t think so. Take care.”

I walk down Crystal Butte under the last rivulets of purple and gray as the black creeps in.

I had a sub for lunch today with sweet pickles on it. I usually don’t like sweet pickles, but they were great on that sub. I ate it while watching Saturday Night Live reruns. Jimmy Fallon was great.

What are your thoughts?