Somewhere close to here a child used to rest his elbows on the softened wood of an ancient tree stump, shooting rocks at the bottom of a deep ravine with his little rifle. Every so often, an elk would wander into his sights to drink from a mountain spring the boy couldn’t see trickling underneeth dense brush below. He’d take his finger from the trigger but hold the rifle tight as ever, pressing it deep into his shoulder and following the animal with one eye in squint, meditating down the barrel. A warm and eager feeling rose up in the boy’s stomach, pulsing through his chest with increasing pitch and flushing his cheeks with blood.

Beneath unclouded skies the sun evaporated pools of dew, lifting vapor from the trees that moved like evanescent ghosts. Smells like green and blue carried on the subtle breeze, and glinting off the heavy steal barrel sparks of sun lit spots across the valley where the boy was camped. Reflexively his finger lifted, quivered anxiously above the trigger like a rubber band, betraying every half-beat of his heart.

Aware of him, the elk below drank pensively and raised his head from time to time, turning his ears toward the boy as if he heard the shaky breaths. All the boy could do was aim and try to slow them, depress the echoes of his heart conducted through the rifle’s reverberating sight, think in waves as slow and dull as ebbing daylight. Cock the action. Aim and squeeze.

The elk looked up before it sauntered off and caught the boy in its gaze. Already smoke was in the air from the modest fire the young boy’s father lit, smelling sweetly familiar, lovely and natural as the evening coming on. A pebble fell from the summit of the steep ravine wall opposite where he’d sat. The child might have fired at it, but instead he watched his father splitting wood they’d found the day before, felt the air around him cool and sink until the green was tinted blue and grey. Across a little stream that might have cut a canyon not far from here, an elk climbed a path he’d always climbed alone.

#washington #sthelens

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