Woodcraft: A Reminiscence

13 10 2017

Woodcraft shares reminiscences of childhood experience, dating back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, as if told by a grandfather to his grandchildren during meals, just before bedtime, and while walking in the woods.

As may be surmised, the stories come through the perspective of a member of America’s Boomer generation. Many Boomers remember hearing stories from those in the previous Builder generation about their childhoods. We heard the now-cliché, “I used to go to school every day in sub-zero weather, knee-deep in snow, walking two miles uphill, both ways.” This anecdote would usually be employed by people who had experienced the Great Depression and World War 2 to remind younger people to put experience into context. Indeed, the Boomers have been among the most privileged generations in human history.

From time to time those of every generation ask themselves, “Which of the aspects of our past ought to be relegated to the rubbish heap of history, and which are valuable heirlooms that ought to be passed forward into the future?”

Jesus said, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old”  (Matthew 13:52 NAU). Not everything old-fashioned is old. Not everything old is old-fashioned, which is to say that not everything old is obsolete and out-of-date. Indeed, some things old are better than the same things new.

Consider a tree. What’s an old tree got that a new tree hasn’t? Plenty. More leaves for air-conditioning shade and for the release of air-improving oxygen. More wood, and often more wood of a higher quality, for the production of lumber. More sap for the manufacture of syrup or naval stores. More nuts, more fruit for use as food by wildlife and by humans and their livestock. More seeds for the reproduction of forests.

Woodcraft does more than ring chords of nostalgia. It looks back not just to induce good feelings of old vibrations, but to remind that some things old ought to remain because they are vibrant and vivacious and vital, because they remain new.

Woodcraft may itself be a new kind of writing in its blend of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. It deals with facts of faith, with theology and philosophy and ethics. It also touches upon a number of other subjects: German-American history, mathematics, music, carpentry, woodworking, forest ecology, plant physiology, silviculture, and popular culture now half a century old. The entire story celebrates education in matters both natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual.

The narrative reflects the traditional human desire to pass knowledge and wisdom from one generation to next. More specifically, in this narrative a boy hears and learns things from his father and grandfather about the extended family enterprise. The author realizes that many contemporary readers will not care much about that enterprise. The author has, therefore, chosen to publish the text in an unusual format.  The essential story is printed using 14-point type. That which may be termed scholastic detailing is printed in 12-point type. This format makes it possible for a reader easily to skip over what may be considered TMI (too much information) and track the mainline of the story. Others more inquisitive can read the finer print.

Radio producer David Isay has said that, in a culture that idolizes athletes, popular singers, movie stars, and fashion models, it’s good to hear the stories of ordinary people because their lives and contributions are at least as important, if not more so. Certainly, while celebrities may stand in the limelight, the people who stand in our memories with greater significance are parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, best friends, and mentors. Most of these people have likely been, employing a couple words spoken by the late Andy Griffith, “just folks.” Yet they have been the ones who made the big differences in our lives.

The big difference in Woodcraft is this: a grandfather employs lessons in arboriculture to teach his grandson the meaning of “I in Christ, and Christ in me.”

For those who don’t cotton to Christianity, try tolerating it here. If nothing else (and that’s a big if), remember that Christianity has been woven into the warp and woof of the American experience from the first days of the Plymouth Colony. Recall how fundamental Christianity has been in the lives of great Americans from George Washington to George Washington Carver, as well as so many others before and after them. Realize the past pervasiveness of Christianity in the cultures of various communities. The culture of the state of Wisconsin, for example, cannot be appreciated without at least apprehending the massive influences of Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, and Baptist forms of Christianity. Consider this reading, then, an exercise in cross-cultural appreciation.

Now available at Amazon as a paperback and as an e-book. If you like what you read, do tell others. Feel free to let these words inspire you to tell your own stories to the members of your own household, stories that edify and encourage and enlighten.

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Steeds Now Available

23 06 2017

 

Now available at Amazon.





Steeds 44

8 06 2017

HORSE THIEVES CAUGHT!

COUNTY SHERIFF RESIGNS!

 

 

Sheriff Llewellyn E. Leall has arrested two men who have confessed to stealing sixteen horses from merchants and farmers located throughout much of Tuscumbia County.

Arrested: Philip X. Redman, deputy sheriff. Also arrested: Hanega, a native denizen of these lands and waters.

The two were taken into custody on June 21st by Sheriff Leall after an aerial search, made possible by balloonist Joshua Stollfus, revealed the location of most of the stolen horses. They had been hidden within a tract of virgin forest located on the south side of Fairview Lake.

Sheriff Leall, two days earlier, had recovered one stolen horse from Doylestown, south and west of Tuscumbia County. It had come as a welcome gift into the possession of Helen Vrechek, a school teacher, who did not know the horse had been illegally obtained and transferred.

When questioned, Redman asserted that, in every instance, the horses were taken to deliver them from gross neglect or abuse. Redman also asserted that the takings were his responsibility, and his alone. Hanega, according to Redman, assisted in curing and caring for the horses when put into his custody.

Shortly after escorting Redman and Hanega to Uttica, Sheriff Leall offered the citizens of Tuscumbia County, through the county board, his resignation. “I must accept some responsibility for the actions of Philip Redman,” Leall said. “He was my deputy.”

Edgar J. Easton, chairman of the county board of supervisors, has said, “We on the board do not consider Sheriff Leall in any way culpable for these crimes. At present, we do not endorse his offer of resignation.”

Sheriff Leall also said, “I cannot in good conscience continue with what would be considered normal proceedings in resolving crimes of grand theft. This is a case atypical of malfeasance. I wish to assist in the defense of these confessed horse thieves. I do not wish to assist in their prosecution and conviction in court. I believe, therefore, that I ought to evacuate my office.”

Sheriff Leall has confirmed that he did, out of his personal assets, post bail for Redman and Hanega. They are currently residing at the home of sheriff’s deputies Chester and Dorothy Oakley.

Chairman Easton said that, if the sheriff’s resignation becomes official, then the Governor of the State of Wisconsin will need to appoint an acting sheriff until a new election by county citizens occurs.

David K. Whitmore, of Metomen, has tendered to Redman and Hanega his services as attorney-at-law. Speaking on their behalf, he wishes the citizens of the county to become aware of the following statements.

All the horses are in better condition than they were when taken.

Neither Philip Redman nor Hanega have profited in any way from the taking of the horses.

Uttica’s two fire horses have been returned to the fire department after having been rescued from injury, or even death, as a result of responding to the fire at the Massey home and business.

The remaining fourteen horses have been recovered―again, in fine condition―and are available to their owners.

Willard Zik, a traveling salesman who lost his horse in Mascoutin, purchased a replacement from Jeffrey Rayner and left the county. His whereabouts are unknown. It is proposed that the Zik horse be offered to Adolph Kleindl in trade for the horse he lost. It is further proposed that the Kleindl horse be returned to Helen Vrechek.

It is proposed that Philip Redman and Hanega offer recompense to the victims of the takings in the way of providing, free of charge, lessons in horsemanship to all members of each household. These lessons would be taught at the victims’ places of residence or at a new equestrian academy, to be established at the farm of Ella and Clara Ladwig.

Elmer Villwock has offered all four of the horses he lost to the academy. One may be traded to Walter Stancil so his horse can retire. Another may be traded to the William Chesney family so their horse can retire. The other two may be employed in the teaching enterprise.

Terrence Allison has offered himself, members of his family, and his farm hand to become the first students of the academy.

Deputy Sheriff Charlemagne T. Carlisle will interview each of the victims to ascertain their opinions regarding the Whitmore proposals.

This newspaper solicits letters to George P. Hodges, editor, from citizens of the county in response to this report.

 

 

 

 

The End





Steeds 43

8 06 2017

The risen sun first brightened, and then evaporated, the fog veiling the surface of the earth.

“They’re all safe,” said Philip of the horses populating the pastoral scene.

“I’m sorry to say that’s not true for you,” said Lee. He stood about seven feet to the right of Philip and Hanega, the Winchester cradled in the crook of his left arm pointing in their direction. “You gave one horse to a school teacher in Doylestown. You know her, I presume.”

“She and I were reared in the same orphanage.”

“I know. You were friends?”

“Friendly. Not the best of friends, though.”

“Why did you pick her for Asher?”

“She never had much growing up. She always wanted a horse. Asher wanted a home … a better home than he had before.”

“What were you planning to do with these others?”

Philip answered, “Willy and Billy were going back to the fire station as soon as I thought they were fit for duty. I wanted to give several of the others to the orphanage. The horses at the farm where I worked as a boy meant much to me. Try to understand. The nuns, even though they were all women, felt like one father figure. The other orphans, like cousins and classmates. A few were fast friends. But the farm horses, they were mother and brother and sister; they felt like the family I never had. I figured others of the orphans in the nuns’ care could benefit from having horses.”

“Sister Margaret does have what one might call … presence.”

“Oh?”

“I met her just the other day,” said Lee.

“You did?”

“She stopped in Uttica on her way to Holy Hill to pay you a visit. She wants to found a parish school beside the orphanage.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I told the Oakleys to keep quiet. Sister Margaret helped me with analyzing that note you wrote to Helen Vrechek.”

“Ah.” Philip’s voice sounded a melancholy note.

“I didn’t tell her that, as a result of her assistance, I suspected you of being the horse thief. I didn’t tell Chet or Dorothy, or Charlie. I haven’t told anyone yet.”

“So who do Morris and Radtke think you’re gunning for?”

“The horse thief. Or thieves.”

Philip nodded. “I’m surprised they let you come in here all by yourself.”

“I’m the sheriff; they’re not. I have combat experience; they don’t.”

“So what’s going to happen next?” Philip asked.

“Believe it or not, I don’t know,” said Lee. “Consider yourselves both under arrest now. But next?”

“Could you stop pointing that rifle at us?”

Lee executed a casual left-face and brought the rifle to ready-arms. He kept his right hand at the trigger and hammer. “Sixteen horse thefts,” he said. “You know that means prison.”

“I’ll not go to prison, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “I’ll run, and you’ll have to shoot me in the back. Or I’ll drown in the lake. Land or water, I die here. It’s nearly my time, as it is. To be honest, I feel it is past time. That balloon, it spoke to me. Balloon said, ‘This is no longer your time, Hanega; it is now their time.’ ”

Lee nodded. “Walter Stancil sneered that you aren’t even a citizen of these United States, Philip. That’s true. And it’s true for you, Hanega. You are, as it has been said, wards of the federal government. I could transfer you to a federal marshal.”

“And then what?” Philip asked. “Federal prison? Hanging? Firing squad?”

“Perhaps I could arrange transport to the reservation in Nebraska?”

“Yet another trail of tears, Lee?”

“This is my home, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “This is our home, the home of my people. Not Nebraska.”

“But if, perhaps, the Winnebago tribal police take jurisdiction…. You are members of the tribe.”

“Will the United States marshal allow that? The federal court? And what about the people of Tuscumbia County? What will they allow?” Philip asked.

 





Steeds 42

7 06 2017

“Good morning, Philip.”

Deputy Redman stopped on the path between a woodpile and a wikiyapi. He tried staring through the early morning fog suffusing the forest understory. “Lee?”

“Now that you’re standing still, put both hands out where I can see them, and then don’t move again until I say so.”

As Philip shifted his arms, he shifted his gaze in the direction from which Lee’s voice seemed to come. “Where are you?”

“Call Hanega. Tell him to come out of the hut with empty hands.”

“Hanega is an old man, Lee.”

“I’m aware of that fact. He’s not too old to canoe across the lake for supplies once or twice a week, however.”

“He doesn’t own a gun.”

“Maybe not. Maybe he has guns that belong to others. Maybe he has yours.”

“I left it back in my quarters.”

“I don’t know that.”

“I just told you.”

“I’m sorry, Philip, but at present I can’t trust you.”

“Where are you?”

“Call Hanega out.”

Philip stood silent.

“If you’re thinking of escaping, don’t,” said Lee. “You’re a better horseman than I am, but I’m a better marksman than you are. You won’t get far. And tell Hanega I have two guns and forty-six rounds of .44-40 ammunition; he doesn’t want to do battle with me.”

“I said he has no guns.”

“I said I can’t trust you.”

“I know you, Lee,” said Philip. “You’re not going to shoot anyone because of anyone having stolen anything, to include horses.”

Lee said, “The people of this county may think of horses as nothing but property. You may not, and I suspect Hanega certainly does not. I believe you believe these horses are as worthy as any man, woman, or child of lethal action in their defense.”

“Maybe more so.” Hanega put both hands through the only door of the wikiyapi, and then exited slowly. “You’re people fail to honor our animal brothers and sisters. My people have failed to defend their honor.”

“What would the dead squirrels, rabbits, and fish hanging on that rack say to that?” Lee asked.

Philip said, “It is written, ‘Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, “Ha, ha,” and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.’ ”

“Step forward, both of you,” Lee ordered. “And keep your hands where I can see them.”

“Step where?” Philip asked. “We can’t see you.”

Lee, walking away from a juniper, emerged from the fog.

“You’re going to have to stop dressing like a rebel irregular,” Philip said.

Lee had his Winchester rifle pointing in their direction. “So that’s what this is about. Defending the honor of sixteen horses.”

“You should know, Lee. I learned from you.”

“I wish I could feel honored at that.”

“You should. How’d you find us?” Philip asked.

“Did you see the balloon yesterday evening?”

“We did. Never saw one before. Neither of us.”

“What did you call that … thing, as you people say?” Hanega asked.

“Balloon.”

Hanega had some trouble repeating the word.

Lee said, “It’s a very big bag of rubberized silk cloth filled full of hot air from a mostly smokeless campfire. Just as heat rises from a fire, so does that balloon. Just as willow seeds go with the wind, so does that balloon.”

“Balloon saw us and told you where to find us?” Hanega asked.

“No, sir. I rode the balloon with another man the way men ride a wagon or coach. We saw you. Well, we didn’t see you; we saw the horses.”

“May we put our hands down now?” Philip asked.

“Turn around first, both of you.”

They did so. Lee examined their backs. They wore little clothing, as they had awakened from sleep only minutes before. Lee made sure they could hear him cock the hammer of the rifle. Holding the rifle out of the way in his right hand, he ran his left hand up and down Hanega’s body, and then he did the same to Philip.

Lee stepped back. “You may lower your hands and turn back around to face me.” He eased the rifle hammer to a safe position.

“How did you get from the balloon into these woods?” Philip asked.

“We landed on the other side of the lake. Mr. Stollfus, who owns and operates the balloon, had his two sons chasing us along the ground on horseback. They found our landing place. One rode off to find his mother driving the family’s Conestoga and lead her back to the balloon. After getting it all loaded onto the wagon, we went to Dartford. There, I hired a boatman to bring me to these woods in the dark of night.” Lee added, “He took the canoe in tow, by the way.”

“You’re here alone?”

“In a manner of speaking. Be aware that Constable Morris has men watching the lakeshore. Constable Radtke is set up at Chastain’s and has men watching to the east, south, and west.”

“All novice volunteers,” Philip said. “Even the constables are only as good as one-time volunteers.”

“You’re thinking of making your escape?”

“Let Hanega escape. Or just leave him be, here.”

“What is this place, now that you mention it?”

“Some tycoon in Chicago owns it,” said Philip. “If he comes once a year, that’s it. He probably bought it with some future business venture in mind. As for Hanega, this place, and all the places around the lake, are home. This particular place, however, looks and feels most like home. As it was. As it still is. At least for a while yet.”

Lee nodded. “Let’s take a walk.”

“We don’t have shoes on.”

“I noticed. We’ll not walk far, and you won’t be able to run far. We can move slowly and carefully. Let’s go to the glades I saw from above.”

The wikiyapi stood in a small stand of tall white pines. The trio walked through a stand of mixed deciduous trees: oaks, hickories, elms, ashes, basswoods. As they walked, the trees became more widespread, and grass was able to grow underneath. Soon, they came to a place that was more field than forest.

Lee looked at the horses quietly grazing. “Now, Philip, let’s go through the list. Did you steal Ferdinand Sommerfeldt’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Neglect. The horse had sweet itch and ringworm, untreated.”

“How is she now?”

“Well. Hanega took good care of her. He and I took good care of all these horses. You can see that from here, and you can see that better upon close examination of each.”

“On that I can still trust you, Philip,” said Lee. “Did you steal Walter Stancil’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“You know the answer to that yourself. He treated her as if she were some piece of machinery. She’s retired now.”

“By the way,” said Lee, “you lost this at Stancil’s.” He tossed a button to Philip. “It took me much too long to discover its owner because I looked for almost anyone other than you. Now I realize that goes on the cloak you wear in colder weather. In the case of the Stancil theft, it was a chilly spring night. In addition, the cloak would work well to disguise your visage.”

Philip looked at it. “Thank you, Lee. I mean it. I’ve been missing this. It’s the only thing I inherited from my unknown family. I suspect I ripped it off my anonymous mother’s coat when I was ripped from her dying arms. I was named after my mother.”

“You were?” Lee asked in a tone that expressed incredulity and puzzlement.

“Or I was named after my father. Or my uncle. Or grandfather. Maybe a grandmother.”

“What name is that?”

“X.”

“X?”

“X. As in, make your mark.” Philip put the button in a pants pocket.

Lee continued. “Did you steal Jeffrey Rayner’s two American Quarter Horses?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Those Zoober boys nearly ran them to death, one race after another. That included literally whipping them into a lather. The boys left many lash marks on both horses.”

“But those horses didn’t belong to the Zoobers.”

“I didn’t know that at the time I rescued them.”

“Did you steal Willard Zik’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“That so-called medicine man used his horse to sell his poison. He forced that horse to eat or drink one thing or another to make him slow or weak or lethargic. Then, during one of his shows, he’d give the horse a drink of his elixir. That made the horse seem stronger, brighter, more peppy. He turned his horse into the equine equivalent of an opium fiend and drunk so he could hawk his swill to foolish people.”

“How is the horse now?”

“Clean.”

“I have not seen anything like it, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “I could not make out what spirit was at work. Philip did more to help that one than I did.”

Lee nodded. “Did you steal Adolph Kleindl’s horse, Philip?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Abuse. Cruelty.”

“I recovered that horse, by the way. Helen Vrechek was none too pleased to surrender him. Quite sad, actually. She took an immediate liking to him and was treating him well.”

“How did you manage that?” Philip asked.

“Handwriting analysis. I have the note you wrote and left with Miss Vrechek.”

Philip shook his head. “I knew you were good. I didn’t know you were that good.”

“I had help.”

“Providence, I suppose?”

“What is Providence?” Hanega asked.

“I can explain later,” Lee said. “Philip, did you steal William Chesney’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Work: too much and too hard for a horse his age. And, I saw later, he had sand cracks in two hooves, untreated.”

“Did you steal two of Edward Chastain’s horses?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Capped elbows and hocks, untreated.”

“Did you steal four of Elmer Villwock’s horses?”

“I did. The four of them.”

“Why?”

“Neglect as indicated by insufficient food, foul water, and poisonous plants in the pasture, to include nightshade, bracken, ragwort, and purple milk vetch. Add to that all the manure left untended, subjecting the horses to worms.”

“Were you and Hanega the two men Zeke saw in the moonlight fording the creek with those four horses?”

“Zeke saw us, yes.”

“What was the language Zeke heard?”

“Ho-Chunk.”

“What?”

“Ho-Chunk. Winnebago.”

“Ah. I didn’t know you knew such a language. I didn’t know you knew you are Winnebago.”

“I don’t. Hanega has been teaching me a bit now and then. Zeke heard Hanega talking, more to the horses than to me.”

“How did you get back to the office so fast?”

“I didn’t come all the way here. I helped Hanega until it was time to turn for Uttica so I could be on duty by six o’clock. Hanega brought the horses the remainder of the way here without me.”

“Did you steal Melvin Novak’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“He, too, practiced poor pasture management. Too many poisonous plants present, to include yew. His horse could have been dead by now.”

“Novak is that stupid a farmer?”

“Farming isn’t a job for everyone. Animal husbandry isn’t a job for everyone. Some people figure farm animals know how to take care of themselves just because they’re animals. That’s stupid. A dairy cow is not a buffalo. A house cat is not a cougar. They can fend for themselves no better than would sweet corn planted here among the prairie grasses.”

“Can you say anything about the whinny Novak heard?”

“That was my horse. Ranger and I worked out a call that would get the attention of another horse and also invite that horse to join us. I imagine Ranger’s call is based on what stallions do out in the wild.”

“You used it more than once?”

“Yes.”

“Did you steal Uttica’s two fire horses?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“They were left to die. Tom or Barney should have checked on them when the fire spread from the wagon shed to the house. Willy and Billy should have been moved. They were breathing much too much smoke. Burning embers were falling on them.”

“How are they now?”

“Safe.”





Steeds 41

6 06 2017

“Say your prayers, Sheriff.”

“I have already.”

“I should have guessed. Look at this weather! It couldn’t be better. So, come on in.”

Lee handed Joshua a light-weight, gray jacket and a Model 1873 Winchester, and then climbed into the gondola of the hot air balloon towering above them.

“Rifle, pistol, ammunition belt,” Joshua observed. “Are you going to war, or does this thing remind you of the war, and you’re reminiscing?”
“It does, indeed, bring back some memories. I’ve never been this close to one, though. I never benefitted directly from the use of one during the war.”

“Obviously, then, you’ve never been in one.”

“No. I had no idea a balloon was so big.”

“This one holds sixty thousand cubic feet of sky,” Joshua said. “Are you afraid of heights?”

“I don’t think so. I used to climb trees often when I was a boy.”

“That helps, but this is different, as you’ll soon see. Does this rifle have a saddle ring?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, there it is. You better tie a lanyard to the rifle, just in case. Hannah, a piece of cord, please.”

Joshua’s wife handed one over to Lee.

“You have a last will and testament, sir?” Joshua asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“This is my business. Even so, it is risky, even dangerous. This trip will be no stroll in the park.”

“My business has its risks, too. Thus, the weaponry, especially since I’ll have no help from any of my deputies. One is missing. One is exhausted. The remaining two must stay at the jail working overtime. And, yes, I have prepared a last will and testament. Ella and Clara: did you hear that?”

“I did, Lee,” said Ella.

“As Mr. Stollfus says, this will be a risky endeavor … in the air, and then on the ground. The Oakleys are designated trustees of my estate, such as it is. Freyja and Isolde stay here, and you and Clara get money for their room and board. Otherwise, the church….”

“Don’t talk like that, Lee,” said Ella.

“As the man here said.”

Joshua spoke up. “Malachi. Micah. You have your maps?”

“Yeah, Pa,” said Micah.

“Off with you, now. Head north, as we discussed.”

“Later, Pa,” said Malachi.

With that, the two young men galloped off on their individual horses.

“Hannah, you have your map?”

“Got it, Josh.”

“As we discussed, load up the gear and drive the wagon to Dartford. From there, it’ll be a shorter distance to wherever we land.”

“Give me my kiss, first,” said Hannah.

That done, Joshua said, “Let us loose.”

Hannah unhooked the cable, and up went the hot air balloon.

“How high do you want to go, Sheriff?”

“I’m already higher than I’ve ever been in my life. You’ve done this before. I’ll want to be high enough to see the landscape at some distance, but not so high I can’t make out details. I did bring a small telescope.” Lee produced it from a pocket.

“I have one, too,” said Joshua. “It’s a bit bigger than yours. The scopes will be handy, I assure you.”

Joshua continued, “Let me review what I told you earlier. I’ve noticed that people who don’t do this have a hard time comprehending it. Like a sailboat, we are propelled by the wind. Unlike a sailboat, there’s no steering; we go where the wind pushes us.”

“Like cottonwood fluff and milkweed seeds.”

“Like that. I can adjust our height to some extent, though coming down is always easier than going up. In fact, the more time that goes by, the less I’ll be able to go up. The coals in the brazier will work to keep the air inside the balloon hot. As you can guess, as they burn down, they’ll produce less and less heat. Less heat means less lift. I do have a few sacks of charcoal tied to the outside of the basket. Generally speaking, though, if you want a change in altitude, think more in terms of going down and not going back up again. Also, no matter what time it is or how short a distance we have travelled, I must land before all the heat is gone from the balloon. I can’t predict that. The temperature of the air up here has an effect.”

“Got it.”

“We left at,” Joshua said as he checked his watch, “five o’clock, as planned. We have about three hours of sunlight. At the latest, we must go down with the sun. There’s no landing in the dark … or dusk, for that matter.”

“I understand.”

“We’re moving along fairly well, I’d say. Not too fast. The boys will have an easier time keeping us in sight.”

“I surmise all this red coloration, trimmed in yellow and white, is intended to make the balloon easy to see,” said Lee.

“You’ve got it. The colors are good advertising, but their main purpose is to help the family keep an eye on us.”

“From what distance can we be seen?”

“That depends on our altitude. In fine weather, we can be seen five miles away.”

“We’re moving south to north,” said Lee, “as I had hoped.”

“The wind is steady. That’s good. And these summer conditions are helping, too. I sense heat rising from the land, even this late in the afternoon. How about this height?”

“You tell me.”

“Remind me: what am I looking for?” Joshua asked.

“Pastures, meadows, glades that are out of the way. I mean, they are away from roads and farmsteads, far enough away as not to be seen by anyone on the road or at the farmstead. Far enough away as not to be heard by anyone. I suspect what we seek will be enclosed by a forest. Otherwise, we seek a forest that has no roads or trails or homesteads inside or nearby.”

“Wilderness? Here?” Joshua pointed at the patchwork of farm fields and woodlots below.

“One doesn’t think of wilderness in association with Tuscumbia County. Not anymore. Not for the past forty years or so. But there may be some vestiges left.”

“What about wetlands?”

“We should look at those, too. Most of the large expanses in the county, however, are to the west. We may not be able to see them well enough.”

“Another trip, perhaps.”

“Perhaps. And, yes, wilderness is a good word to describe what we seek. Any place that appears not to be visited at all by people.”

The balloon soared silently through the sky. The two men in the gondola watched the ground below, studied their map, and made notes on it in pencil. One periodically checked ropes and lines and tended the brazier.

“I couldn’t help but note back there that you mentioned no family as beneficiaries of your last will and testament. You are alone in this life, Sheriff?”

“My parents are now quite elderly,” said Lee. “They live with my sister. Actually, they have lived with her and her husband for some time. In Racine. My brother-in-law is employed by J.I. Case.”

“I refer, sir, to a wife and children … if I may be so inquisitive.”

“I was engaged to marry, many years ago. The war had commenced, and we agreed not to wed until afterward. No need for my fiancée to have to wait years and years in the event of my going missing in action to get a death certificate. I wanted her free to marry someone else, if it came to it.”

“But you didn’t die. Did you go missing for too long?”

“No. Sharon, my fiancée, was the one who died. Before I got home. She was killed by a runaway team of horses after she shoved her mother and younger sister out of harm’s way.”

“I’m sorry, Sheriff. And you didn’t marry someone else.”

“No, sir.”

The two stood silent in the breeze.

“I take it, that’s Fairwater Lake on the horizon ahead,” Joshua said.

“It is,” said Lee.

More time passed.

“Sheriff, look there to the left.”

“Yes.”

“That expanse of woods, it looks like it may reach the shore of the lake on its north. To the west, I see a creek draining towards the lake. Below us, another creek. See? It empties into the lake ahead. Looking back upstream, the bed goes south and then west. Those two creeks all but bound the woods on three sides, in a manner of saying it. The lake is the north boundary.”

“I do see that.”

Joshua had his telescope up. “And there appears to be an opening in those woods.”

Lee had his telescope up. “Indeed. It’s not obvious. It’s not plainly demarcated, as if a farmer had a fenced hayfield there. It appears natural, very much like prairie parkland within the forest.” Lee moved his telescope away from his eye and studied the landscape without it. “I see no bridges crossing the creek below us. No fords. Can you see anything at the other creek?”

Joshua looked through his telescope. “No.”

“I see a road, more like a trail, to the east. That’s the closest, and it doesn’t go in the direction of the woods. Should we go lower?”

“We can.”

“It’ll be easier to spy animals.”

Joshua pulled on the cord that operated the cooling vent. “Descending.”

Lee had his telescope up. “There! In that break in the forest canopy. Horses.”

“You don’t say.”

“Please, you have the practiced eye. Use your scope and say what you can see.”

“Yes, sir.” Joshua studied the scene below and to the left. “You’re right, Sheriff. Horses.”

“Can you count them?”

“At least a dozen.” Joshua’s lips moved silently. “I do count twelve … now thirteen … now fourteen… now fifteen.”

“Willy and Billy.”

“Who?”

“Uttica’s fire horses. I see them. They’re the black pair staying close together. The white markings are distinctive.”

“I see them.”

“Any people in view?”

“No.”

“I don’t see any, as well. And I still see no roads or trails. Not even pathways.”

“You’re wondering how they could get in there without making tracks of some kind?”

“Right.”

The balloon continued soaring north.

“We’re going over the lake,” Joshua announced. “That’ll likely mean a drop in altitude because the water is not as warm as the land. We’ll lose some lift.”

“I think I can deduce how the horses got into those woods without leaving any traces.”

“Oh?”

“I see what appears to be a landing on the lake shore down there to the west. It’s quite small and all but camouflaged by trees. To the east, I see another landing, bigger, with a trail going upland. I think someone could have led the horses, one or two and even four at a time, to that landing and coaxed them into the water. From the landing, they waded and swam along the shore to that other landing, where they were led up and into the forest.”

Joshua looked at the scene. “Yes. It looks like that could explain it.”

“Good enough now. You may land when ready.”

“Not here over the water.”

“I should hope not, unless this basket floats as well as the one Moses had in the bulrushes of the Nile.”

“Take my advice and make some sheriff notes on the back of the map,” said Joshua. “Believe it or not, landing will be the most dangerous part of this trip. You’ll want something someone else can find and use if we don’t make it.”

“You’re serious?”

“I am.”

Joshua opened a tin box and removed what looked like a small bomb.

“What’s that?” Lee asked.

“Fireworks. I carry two colors, orange and purple. Orange says we’re in trouble. Purple says everything is all right, and we’re landing.”

“The one in your hand is purple, I presume.”

“You are correct.” Joshua lit the fuse from the brazier and quickly tossed the grenade away from the balloon. It went off with a bang and a blossom of sparkles. “Now comes the part for which you pay me money.”

“Oh?”

“I must look ahead for a good field, without obstructions, while dropping in altitude. I must select a place where we can drop without hitting trees or anything else on the way down, but without going down so fast that we kill ourselves when we touch ground. I must select a place where the wind won’t drag us into trees and ruin the balloon while tossing us out of our basket like garbage. All this, while judging between how much hot air to keep in the balloon and how much to let out and how fast.”

Joshua reached for a metal lid hanging on the outside of the basket. “Here. You can help by placing this over the brazier and clamping it down when I say so. We don’t want what’s left of those hot coals peppering us if we have a hard landing.”

Lee took the lid and examined it, and then examined the brazier.

“Isn’t this fun?” Joshua asked.





Steeds 39

4 06 2017

“Sheriff, if I were as profane a man as I used to be, I’d say words to the effect that all blazes broke loose here while you were gone. I know, though, that perdition cannot be contained within a country town.” Chet paused, and then added, “If the situation here weren’t so serious, I’d crack a smile. Blazes did, indeed, break loose.”

“What are you saying, Chet?”

“We had a fire. A big one, just last night.”

“I thought I smelled smoke, even ash, as I approached town. Where was the fire?”

“Over at the wagonwright’s.”

“House or shed?”

“Both. Started in the big shed’s workshop.”

“Lionel and Cynthia Massey? And the kids?”

“All survived.”

“Firemen?”

“All survived.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Well, yes. In addition to some people taking in too much smoke, there were a number of cuts, scrapes, bumps, and bruises. You can imagine in such a ruckus, in the dark, people would trip and ram into things and bump one another and such.

“Animals?”

“Escaped.”

“House?”

“Ruined.”

“Shed?”

“Badly damaged.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Yes, sir. But first I should add another headline or two.”

“What?”

“Willy and Billy are gone.”

“The fire horses? What do you mean, gone? They died in the fire?”

“No. Stolen.”

“What?”

“Yes. Stolen during the fire. A posse is out looking for them.”

“Where’s Philip?”

“Don’t know.”

“He’s not leading the posse?”

“No. Charlie’s leading the posse. Well, one of them. Frank and Gus and even the fire marshal are each leading other search parties. They left me in charge.”

“Where’s Dorothy?”

“In back, as usual.”

“Inmates?”

“All secure. What’s the word on that horse next to yours?”

“That’s the one that belongs to Adolph Kleindl, the hog farmer up in Fox Prairie township.”

“Really? You found him all the way in Doylestown?”

“Yes.”

“He didn’t wander that distance.”

“No. He was led there. Delivered, you might say, and given as a gift.”

“By Kleindl? He lied about the horse being stolen?”

“His horse was stolen, to be sure. Then the horse was given away.”

“By whom?”

“I’m not sure, but my suspicions are increasing. Tell me about that fire, though.”

Chet commenced. “Well, the fire bell awoke Dorothy and me almost exactly at midnight. I got up, dressed, and ran here, figuring Charlie and Philip would need to get to the fire. Dorothy went straight there.

“Two men heading home after leaving one of the saloons had noticed something amiss. One turned around to alert the townsfolk. The other went onto the Massey property to try and do something.

“Fire Marshal Westra so far thinks Lionel fell asleep in the workshop, somehow dropped a burning cigar, and that lit enough sawdust to result in a conflagration. It was still contained in the wagon shed when the two men saw flames through windows, but by the time people started arriving, the fire had broken through a wall and the roof.

“Well, sir, it was a melee. The bell at the fire station clanging, and then the bell on the fire engine. Tom and Barney trying to get that pumper into a decent position, and then get Willy and Billy out of the way. Volunteer firemen arriving on horseback, by buggy, and on foot. Neighbors running to help. Doug Westra yelling and yelling orders.

“Doug did manage to get two bucket brigades working between the well pump and the shed on one side, and the windmill and shed on the other. Tom and Barney got the engine pumping water out of the house cistern. Other people drained rain barrels. Still others tried to do what they could tossing dirt with shovels and beating flames with wet rugs.

“The Masseys ran to get their vehicles out of the shed while they yelled to folks, wanting them to get the animals moved.

“In spite of all that, the fire spread. The wind just wouldn’t stay put, so to speak. Nearby trees, buildings, the fire itself, they all worked to shift the wind this way and that, and that caused embers to hit the house and set it afire.

“That was bad, real bad. Tom and Barney had drained the cistern trying to get the fire in the shed under control. The bucket brigades just couldn’t move enough water fast enough to do enough good. Some firemen ran into the house early in that phase of the disaster to get whatever kerosene there was in one thing and another out, so the fuel wouldn’t make matters worse. I doubt that helped much. Then it was toss stuff out doors and windows from one side while the other side burned until that effort became too dangerous. Cynthia cried and cried. One wag said it was too bad we couldn’t direct all those tears on the fire.”

“How do you know all this?” Lee asked. “You were here.”

“Yes, sir. Dorothy told me. She was there.”

“Of course. And Charlie and Philip were there.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Charlie is out with a posse.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But you don’t know where Philip is.”

“We don’t.”

“You’re sure he’s not lying dead in the rubble or badly hurt in some tall grass nearby.”

“Actually, I’m not sure. That seems unlikely, though, considering how many times Dorothy saw him trying to help. He was the one most responsible for getting all the animals away, to include the canary.”

“And you say the fire horses were stolen.”

“Yes, sir.”

“They didn’t just run off.”

“No, sir. Tom and Barney are careful about that. They secure the horses so all the commotion can’t scare them off.” Chet thought for a few moments. “I wonder.”

“What?”

“You think maybe Philip noticed the horses were being stolen, and he went after the thief, or thieves? You think maybe they noticed him in pursuit and did something awful to him far away from the fire?”

“I wonder myself. None of the search parties has reported any such thing? I mean, no fire horses and no Philip.”

“Not yet.”

The two men stood on the boardwalk outside the Sheriff’s Department pondering. A Conestoga wagon appeared in town drawn by four horses and accompanied by two other horses with riders. Lee and Chet watched them approach.

“Good day, gentlemen,” called one of the mounted men. He held up a hand to signal for the wagon and the other rider to stop. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the village of Uttica.”

“It is, sir,” said Lee.

“You must be the sheriff, judging by your badge.”

“I am Sheriff Llewellyn E. Leall. This is my deputy, Chester Oakley.”

“How do you do? I am Joshua Stollfus.” He pointed to the wagon. “That is my good wife, Hannah. Beside her is our son, Micah.” He pointed at the other horseman. “This is our son, Malachi.”

“Good day. May we be of some service?”

Joshua said, “We understand there is to be tomorrow a celebration of the summer solstice in this community.”

“At least, there was to be such a celebration,” said Chet. “We’ve suffered a terrible fire overnight. I won’t be surprised if that hasn’t destroyed our plans.”

“That is terrible,” said Joshua. “What? Home? Business?”

“Both actually,” said Chet. “But to be more accurate, the house and the shed have been all but destroyed; the family is intact, and so I believe is the business.”

“That is good news, despite the bad,” said Joshua. “And when will it be decided whether to cancel or continue the celebration? We have come some distance.”

“I believe the city council will meet later today,” said Chet. “Late in the afternoon. You’ve come to town to participate?”

“Indeed, sir. We have come to offer at least one form of entertainment, and of a most memorable kind.”

“What might that be, sir?” Lee asked.

Joshua pointed. “In that grand wagon, sir, is an entire kit for a hot air balloon. We have come, sir, not only to show our grand balloon, but to provide, shall we say, an unearthly experience for all who dare.”