Unlike the “other” world, background noise in the woods is very consistent. Once you become attuned it becomes very easy to pick out the more unusual sounds. Every animal and event makes a distinctive sound. I can hear deer up on the hill when they pass by, the click-clack of squirrel claws on tree trunks, whether the water level in the creek below is running high or low, the wind as it changes direction and the slow, cautious plodding of raccoons moving through the brush in the late evenings as they plot a raid on Dooley’s food dish. The human being is ordinarily not a stealthy beast unless they intend to be and the approach of a man coming through the woods is a sound I should have easily picked out. So, I didn’t know what to think when I saw a man sitting on the wood chopping stump in the front of my secret cabin. He was smoking a hand rolled cigarette and staring at a chainsaw on the ground in front of him. I walked to the top of the porch steps and gave him a glare that was supposed to evoke an explanation of why he was there. I guessed he was close to my age (fifties). He was husky, with a yellow gray un-trimmed beard. His thinning hair was combed straight back to a ducktail flip. He had a ruddy, deep lined, rosacea spotted complexion typical of the heavy scott-irish influence in rural West Virginia. I don’t remember much about what he wore with the exception of his work boots. The boots did not match. There was a black combat style boot on his left foot and a traditional brown work boot on the right. My dad had taught me that, as a rule, when two men meet unexpectedly the first one to talk is usually perceived as the weaker of the two. Apparently the stranger also knew this rule. He looked up but said nothing. There should be a second rule that states if both parties know the first rule, the rule is no longer in play. Except, of course, if you consider the first rule as just a suggestion there would be no need for a second rule to remedy the conflict of a simultaneous application of the first rule. (Oh, Lord, I’m sounding like a Congressman) Regardless, he was the trespasser and I felt I was owed the first “howdy”. In the twenty seconds of silence between us the residual paranoia from my previous life in Florida created a dozen or so possible scenarios to consider. I narrowed those down to four. 1. He was going to kill me, burn the cabin down and eat Dooly for lunch. 2. He was going to kill me, move into the cabin and eat Dooly for lunch. 3. He was going to kill me, leave, and Dooly would eat me for lunch. 4. I should forgo the rule and my sense of entitlement and say something. “Little foggy this morning, eh?” His name was Kenny. He lives about two miles away in an old, rusty, tarp covered sport trailer on a small piece of flat land along the road to town. I had seen the trailer but never imagined that someone lived there. I learned later from Irene he had moved to the woods in 1974 as a disillusioned post Vietnam veteran. In the early years he spent a number of days in the town lockup for various forms of civil disobedience and was something of an angry nuisance to the sheriff and the community. She assured me that he had mellowed with age and was thought of more as a colorful character than a threat. He had come to visit with a simple business proposition. On a small piece of paper he had hand-written a fifteen-word contract, which, if I signed, would allow him to come on to my property for one year and cut dead and fallen trees to sell as firewood in the winter months. He explained that I would benefit by having trees that often fell across the trails and roads on my land removed and I could stop by his place for free firewood anytime. Kenny’s proposition was simple and direct, no “ifs”, or “buts”, no asterisks, introductory offers or hidden clauses. Kenny could have taken the wood and I probably never would have known but he had taken the time and the effort to do the right thing. This was what I had moved to the woods for. I agreed, signed the contract and watched Kenny walk back down the path to the river. I don’t really know Kenny, but I hope his firewood business is successful . If he appears back on that stump one morning next year to renew the contract, I want to be able to say “howdy” first, offer him a Swisher Sweet Double Barrel Run cigar and compliment him on a new pair of matching boots.
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