A pile of wood lay discarded in a ditch. Leftover from a fallen tree cleared by the county, the state or just some guy with a chainsaw; I didn’t know, but I passed the scattering of logs on my way home, on my way to work and I coveted them.
Cold returned with the falling leaves weeks ago and sent me into a sweat. Winter is coming, and I have come to fear winter. It goes back years and years, from that winter I spent in a hundred year old house with six-foot tall single pane windows, high ceilings and the cracks of daylight coming through the corners of first floor walls.
We put up plastic over everything, hung blankets over the door to the hallway and sealed the front door.
It still wasn’t enough. We practically froze and our heating bills were the stuff of legend.
I don’t know what to expect here. The house has almost twice the living space as the last place I lived. Some days, it’s like I haunt it and have yet to see what all this fine country space is going to cost me. I try not to worry about it, but my nature is to analyze, analyze, analyze.
But… there’s a small wood stove insert in the back room and that, maybe I can use.
Of course, I have no wood. I don’t even have an axe, a hatchet, let alone a chainsaw, but I did have a small economy car with a trunk and a certain sense of certainty.
Better to take what is offered, when it’s offered than to be wanting later. It’s not a bad philosophy to live by. It is a scavenger’s philosophy. It is a survivor’s philosophy and I am a survivor. I will not starve. I will not freeze to death and I will not be afraid of winter, not this year, not in my own house.
I drove past that woodpile several times over several days before I decided that if the owner of that wood wanted it, he probably should have done something about it sooner. It was a nuisance, probably some kind of hazard. So, I parked the car on the shoulder, popped the trunk and got as much in as I could.
I moved quickly. If a neighbor from across the road popped their head out and asked me my business, I decided I’d tell them the truth. I was but a poor man of limited means looking to catch a break, but if the wood belonged to them, I would be happy to put it back.
No one ever came out from across the road. No car traveling on that piece of road did so much as slow, but I could feel them staring as they passed. I could hear the words of my father echoing in my head.
“Fuck ‘em, they can go around.”
Yep, they could.
Lying under the still white flesh of the freshly cut logs were the bleached bones of several deer. I found three small skulls, alongside slender jawbones edged with gleaming teeth. The bones seemed not quite large enough to have come from full-grown animals. If I had to guess, I’d have said it was a doe and two fauns.
For a moment I wondered if the tree had somehow fallen on them, killing the deer together in one stroke, but that seemed impossible. Just as likely, this was left over from some other sort of incident: a heavy truck that could not stop or bored boys with nothing but time, a couple of rifles and nothing like a hunting license.
It didn’t matter what I thought. The bones belonged to the earth. The tree, however, was mine.