Reflecting on the Past

This is my submission for the First Annual Salt Lake Community College Chapbook Competition. It includes revised versions of “Arctic Pack” (formerly “Death of an Arctic Pack”), “Black Exodus” (formerly “Life’s Impact on Faith”) and a new story of mine called “Discovering the Bones” which is based on a true story! I hope they are as enjoyable to read as they were to write.

Arctic Pack

After days of searching the tundra for her only remaining cub, an arctic wolf lies down in a grove of trees that decorate the edge of a frozen lake. She is weak, due to her tireless search for the last-of-her-kin and because no food has crossed her path since he went missing.

Just on the verge of falling into a late-afternoon nap, she suddenly catches the wisp of a scent that’s more than welcomed: a juicy rabbit. To her it’s like a bowl of fresh blood begging to be drank. She rises and glances from side to side, searching the bushes that will give up her prey. It’s only a matter of time before the rabbit moves. She spots it, immediately advancing. The rabbit springs into action, and in a second the two are speeding across the ice.

From a tree above, perched in his nest overlooking the vast lake, a hawk watches the drama unfold. The hawk has one great advantage that the predator and prey do not: he can see the entire lake; notably, a large, dark blue discoloration in the center of the lake, formed over the spring day’s afternoon hours.

The rabbit’s natural agility and small size allow it to move quickly and continue sliding across the lake. But the wolf, husky and thick-footed, must drive her claws deep into the ice to gain momentum. They approach the center of the lake with not more than five feet separating them and the wolf lunges. Her body floats gracefully towards the rabbit and, for a moment, a reasonable thought crosses her mind: she questions why the ice has become blue. In the next moment, she realizes the rabbit has escaped.

When she lands, her claws dig into the thin ice in an attempt to regain her grasp. But it gives way under her weight and she falls in instantly, helpless and weak. The rabbit sees salvation and nothing else. A short time later, the hawk finishes feeding fresh rodent to its young, and not a creature remembers the arctic pack lost today.

Black Exodus

Some time ago, a billion of Earth’s children left the planet to live among the heavens, the ones who could afford to, at least: government officials, industry leaders, scholars, scientists, entertainers and more. They left, stealing the life right out of our humanity while the rest of us fell apart, we the poor, huddled masses; communications went down; a rush to salvage anything began; murder rates skyrocketed; billions died of starvation. Life didn’t matter anymore to most. Luckily, most of the killers killed each other off, allowing the rest of to protect our nomadic tribes. My son, Danny, and I ended up in New York, meeting with more people, several thousands more. We knew the city would have plenty to sustain us, and we began to live together.

You’re probably asking what caused all of this. Well, one day scientists discovered a meteor, whizzing through space, half the size of the Moon, with a trajectory to impact Earth seventeen years later. Upon this discovery, the world shifted its technological and economical endeavors towards space travel and the prospect of living on our water-bearing Moon. Once it was discovered that specially altered plants could be grown on our sister rock, governments began sending robots to plant trees and other various foliage all across the hinterlands; they basically manufactured a synthetic planet. Then, they built gigantic spaceships, the kind of science fiction; floating cities that could exist on the Moon’s surface until an atmosphere developed. This was possible with the creation of unique solar cells, capable of maximizing the sun’s energy. The exiles had more power than they could use and would be able to harvest Earth’s resources as long as they needed to.

For us, Central Park was the place to be; it gave us plenty of green space to be together and enjoy each others company: playing music, cooking food, telling stories, anything to have a good time. Some days we would all just sit and think at the same time; sometimes thinking about why we had been chosen to be here, and about how we didn’t want it to end yet. People came and went. It was an interesting time for humanity. No one really felt like they were living as they should, which was why the park was such a great place. Everyone there could feel appeased with one another and the fact that not a one of us really knew what to do, where to go, or what to say. Emotions wretched at our insides, knowing that the capitalists just left us to die.

One sunny day, Danny and I were smoking cigarettes, talking. Danny stood there, leaning up against the base of a white pine tree that had grown on the waters edge. Ironic, I thought; my grandfather made his living harvesting white pine and, here, I would die next to one. “You ever think of what your life used to be like before the meteor?” he asked.

Damn,” I sort of chuckled with a sigh. The only thing I could do was look up and stare at that damn meteor, headed straight for me, faster than I could ever imagine. It was a while before I spoke up, “Every minute of every day, Dan. There’s so much, I can’t even begin.” A tear welled in my eye as I looked up at the daytime Moon. “I wish I could have been a better man; I wish I’d did what was needed to see you on one of those ships; I wish we had more time,” I said, trying to hold back the tears that wanted to break out.

We watched the meteor getting closer and closer, as the days went by. Courage was the name we gave it, which should have been a sign to us all. The day came when they said it would hit, so we all gathered together in the park, joined hands, and shared our thoughts one last time. Some thought about the lives they once lived. Some grieved that their young ones lives were lived in vain. Some were angry at those who left us behind. We all thought about how we didn’t want it to end yet. As Courage got closer, our thoughts grew deeper.

Look!” someone shouted nearby.

This broke the concentration of the group, and we all looked up, watching what transpired. Courage approached, her silhouette overlapping the Moon’s. We thought it was just coincidence, but as the planet buster came close enough, something amazing occurred. The Moon just barely entered the path between us and the meteor, and as it approached, the two of them collided. It was the most spectacular event any human being could have witnessed. Both balls of rock were practically destroyed after ricocheting off one another, with whatever resulting debris shot around either side of our globe. It seemed as if everything was perfectly set up to keep the Earth safe.

We rejoiced, to say the least. Celebrations lasted for years, I imagine, as the destruction of Courage saved at least a billion who survived the apocalyptic events. The great minds of our time may have forsaken us, but we have them and their predecessors to thank for the knowledge they abandoned. We would be able to take what they left behind and rebuild our civilization. It took a lot of hard work to bring back the humanity we had once lost. Decades were spent retraining ourselves, reestablishing our race, fighting for the right to survive once again. Although, it would take some time to rebuild the infrastructure we once relied upon. We created holidays to remember when Courage came into our lives, and all who perished in her name.

Three…two…one…JUMP!” shouted Danny. He grabbed my hand, jumped out of the plane and there we were, speeding towards Earth like two little stones; I had never been skydiving before, but I wanted a taste of what it was like to be a meteor.

Discovering the Bones

I remember many things about my early childhood. I was born in The Dalles, Oregon, where I was raised up until about six or seven. The town lay along the Columbia River Gorge, which was not only the dividing line between the states of Washington and Oregon, but also one of the more scenic places you could hope to visit in both states. Our house was positioned high up on one of the surrounding mountainsides, allowing for quite a majestic view of the Gorge, The Dalles, and the beautiful columnar basalt rocks surrounding the area, which the great Columbia had forged over thousands of years before our time.

Our backyard was a great big hill for about 200 feet up, steep enough to fall if you weren’t careful. Then there was our wire fence which had a hole in it just big enough for me and the dog to fit through, if we wanted. Beyond that was another hill with a trail I had made leading to a street above, and on that street lived my very best friend, Daisy Goodman. I don’t know where or how we met, but our fathers probably had a great deal to do with it. My dad was a Deputy Sheriff for the Wasco Country Sheriff Department and her father was a City Police Officer; I imagine that’s how we came to be such good friends. Isn’t it funny how some things are connected so close? Turns out Daisy and I were a perfect match for friends, as she was just a year older than me and more than happy to have me for company.

My family’s house was on Montana Street. Daisy’s house sat on Minnesota Street, looking down on us from above. For the longest time, Daisy’s was the only house on Minnesota, which lay at the end of a dead end road. But it was clear the Goodmans wouldn’t be alone on that street for long, as there was a sidewalk with dips in it for more driveways, a nicely paved asphalt road, and cleared property all up and down the street, just waiting to be developed. I don’t know what those contractors were thinking, but they just dug up a bunch of dirt and let it sit there for some time, not knowing whether or not they’d develop the land. But I might have had something to do with that. See, I was a pretty typical 4 year old boy, full of spirit, courage, and genuine curiosity.

At this point in my life I had already seen some upsets.

I was one of the many children that had to live through the shock of croup, a creeping infection of the larynx. When it hit, my eyes burst open with excited terror as I rolled off the bed, flailing out of control on the floor like a frightened child does. For the first time in my life, and much too soon, I felt the fear of death on my doorstep. Though I was lucky enough to have my parents hear the faint choking and gasps for air that occur with the sickness, and was rushed to the Emergency Room no more than a mile away. I remember not knowing whether or not I should be embarrassed at the fact that you could see my bottom from the slit in the back of the hospital gown, but no matter how hard I tried to hide it, you could tell I was by the flushed expression on my face.

Then there was the time I was playing on a tire swing hanging from the strongest tree in our yard, when I fell, landing on a board with a nail sticking straight up through it. Most children are warned at some time or another to stay as far away as possible from boards with nails sticking through them, I wasn’t too old yet. That nail went right through the side of my leg, almost through the knee cap, before I was able to shout out in horror. This, of course, was followed by another trip to the ER. I’ll always have a scar on the inside of my left leg, below the knee. I think of it as a somewhat bittersweet occurrence because even though it hurt like all hell, I’ll always remember that danger can lurk beneath you and you’d never know it until it hit; you’ve got to keep one eye open, always.

I’ll never forget the first time I got the wind knocked out of me, either. I was up on Minnesota, as there was no traffic on the dead end street, riding a brand new bike I had got for my birthday. It had to be the greatest looking bike I’d ever seen. The manufacturers emulated the look of a real dirt bike, so it had big fenders, front and back, a banana-style saddle, and a large plastic frame that drooped down either side of the seat, covering the frame of the bike. It was my great big yellow dirt bike. And like any boy-with-toy, I wanted to be extravagant, like the motocross racers I had seen on television. My favorite was when they’d fly off a dirt jump and release their legs from the bike, flying like Superman through the air with just their hands attached to the handlebars, with the front wheel cocked to one side or the other, just to make it that much more impressive looking.

As I rode up and down the street I immediately started trying to do wheelies, as that was probably the closest I’d be able to come to mid-air flight at the time. Once I had the wheelie down, I had to make it more impressive by cocking the wheel to one side, just like the motocross racers. Although it soon became obvious I was not prepared, and didn’t realize the importance of making sure the front wheel came back in line with the direction of momentum. When the wheelie ended and my front wheel, cocked far to the left, came back in contact with the ground, shock once again passed over my face as the bike came to a sudden stop, but I didn’t. I flew forward off the seat, head over heels, landing on my back with a justifiable thud, my helmet bouncing off the asphalt.

I stared into the overcast sky again, wondering if I would die right then as my heart raced faster than it had ever before and I struggled to find a breath to breathe. My vision waned and I imagine I almost blacked out over the fear of this strange new sensation that was affecting my entire body. But slowly my heartbeat receded and health restored. I lifted my helmet-clad head just enough to look past my feet and to my precious new bike, which was now covered in precious new scrapes, all up and down one side of the bike. If I ever sold it, I’d have to say it’d been laid down, but just once.

These upsets not only made me stronger, able to endure more physical and mental trauma, but smarter, too.

The time I remember most, and probably that which changed me most, is when I stopped those men from building on Minnesota Street, if only for a little while. It was the Summer of 1991: hot, humid, and boring for a boy with nothing to do. I figured I’d have to make up something to do for myself. At this time, the contractors on Minnesota were doing some excavating of the land around Daisy’s house, in preparation for the division and distribution of the long street into short, square property lines. These would be Daisy’s future neighbors. Because of this, there were great big mounds of dirt, twice as tall as me and tons more heavy, plotted all up and down the street, ready to be used to level the uneven terrain.

There was a backhoe sitting right on the side of the street, like they had gone into Daisy’s house for a cup of coffee, with one of those giant claw-baring scoops that could move more dirt in a second than it took a man a day. Lucky for me they left it resting open on the asphalt, so you could just step right in and sit down, and I loved to. You’d think a kid would want to mess with the controls and pretend like he was operating a piece of heavy machinery, but I wanted to know what it was like for the dirt to be picked up and moved like they did so much. One day I was sitting in the scoop when Daisy’s mom came out and shouted at me to get out or I’d get grease all over me, but I didn’t care. I got back in the scoop after she got back in the house.

Another time, however, I had the novel idea to do some excavating of my own from the mounds of dirt that were just sitting there, waiting to be played with. So I got out of the backhoe, trekked down the hill of brush, through the hole in my wire fence, carefully down our backyard, and to the patio, where my mother kept all her prized gardening tools. My mother is, in fact, a master gardener. Wherever she goes you can be sure to find a lush oasis of plant life somewhere on the property. About twenty feet of our yard, from the fence out, was a large garden, tiered from the top to the bottom of our backyard hill. The best part was the grove of sunflowers near the bottom that grew nearly twice as tall as I at the time. Daisy and I would play “love me, love me not” with the petals and then pick out the seeds, arranged in their Fibonacci sequence, one by one.

When I stepped onto the patio, the first thing I noticed was a bird, motionless as ever, before our sliding-glass-door. I felt bad for the birds of the area because if you were to stand on our patio and look through the sliding-glass door, you’d be able to see straight through the house to the mountains on the other side of the Columbia. I imagine those birds thought my back door was a tunnel straight to paradise, and well, maybe it was. Even though we put a giant white “X” of tape across the body of the glass, we still found some unlucky travelers from time to time, made apparent by a justifiable thud when they hit. I picked up this luckless one by the claws and took it around the side of the house, by the tree where I fell, and laid it alongside the buried bones of Buck and Sam, two of our greatest dogs.

It seemed to me that gardening was a terribly complicated affair, because it took me a good ten minutes to find any kind of tool that might be usable on the dirt mounds up on Minnesota. I was looking for convenience and small size; all I could find was axes, post-hole diggers, some left over plastic we used to line our homemade pool, and tools with long handles like shovels and rakes. Eventually I found the two tools that seem to have been created for my exact purposes: a garden claw and a spade, both of which my mother had spent great time in hiding. She should have known that you can’t hide anything from a child because they’ll pry it from you at some point. But I just wanted some gardening tools, so I grabbed them and a bucket to hold any treasure I may find.

With tools in hand I made my way back up our backyard, through the hole in the wire fence, among the brush and path I had cleared before. And, as I stepped off the side walk onto the street, not even before I could make it half way across, Daisy’s mother opened the front door to their house with suspicion on her face and said, “Where are you going with those tools?”

To dig on these!” I said with a big dumb grin on my face, holding the bucket towards the dirt mounds only a few ten feet away from me.

You’d better not or you’re going to get all dirty and your mother is not going to appreciate that,” she replied.

Well I asked her and she said it was fine,” I shouted. But I didn’t really ask my mother, and that’s the first lie I ever told. Daisy’s mother was about 250 feet away from me hanging out their front door, and even then I could see her piercing gaze shoot straight though mine, exploring the truth of my soul. She probably knew better than I did that what I’d said was a lie, but no matter. Her eyes narrowed to a scowling glare as she reclined back into the house and slowly closed the door, never retracting that look. I wasn’t worried, though, I just wanted to dig. With the guard retreated, I turned towards the dirt.

Standing in front of a mound of dirt many times his size, a boy holding a bucket of tools goes through an experience of emotion. While I fail to recall many of them, I can tell you about one: I was the happiest I’d ever been till this point in life. Nothing stood between me and that glorious, dirty pile of earth and rock and what else I don’t know. I stepped forward and casually slumped near the mound’s base, setting my bucket off to the side and withdrawing the spade. I poked and prodded and had a good time for a while making the kind of miniature landslides that you can with resources like mine. If only I had brought my army men, I thought.

A good time passed as I sat there, tossing dirt from side to side, putting rocks I thought were neat into my bucket. I had carved out a nice little cove that contained me and my endeavors. I hummed to myself, “Stick in my spade, throw it to the side; dig, dig, dig, dig, till the day I die.” My time alone was much enjoyed. It had to have been at least an hour passed, just sitting there digging, when I felt something that I didn’t think I would that day: tired of digging. I said to myself I’d keep going for just a little bit longer. My eyelids grew heavy, and my forearm sore of digging.

The hot summer sun had been past its peak for some time. I stood up, looked up to the sun beating down on me, looked down at myself and boy was I a dirty one: my hands nearly black even though I did my best to wipe away the dirt and my overalls soiled allover! I’m sure my face was the same as I had wiped away so much sweat during my excavating. I chuckled to myself as I rested on one leg, looking at the hill I had just pulverized, when something caught my eye.

Down at the base of the dirt was something sticking out, like two little white rocks. I leaned down closer to inspect and my eyes widened. I wasn’t looking at two little white rocks; they were teeth! Little baby’s teeth they were, almost as big as mine and just as white once you brushed off the dirt. I reached down, grabbing them, and tugged. Instead of two teeth I pulled out a whole side of a jaw! The whole thing looked like an old tooth brush with an extra wide handle. Now, you could imagine my surprise; a three-year-old boy who just found his very first human remains! Yes, I was excited.

I carefully set the jaw piece in my bucket, looked down from where I had pulled it out, and saw something else. I reached down, brushed some dirt aside, and looking back at me was an eye socket from the aforementioned remains! Now I was really onto something! This piece was much larger and more intact. It ran all the way up the forehead to where the rest of the skull would’ve connected. I placed it in my bucket as well and quickly went back to the dirt. I gently swept more dirt aside for another ten minutes before I realized that was probably all I’d find, so I decided it was a great time to show off my new found treasures.

I shoved the tool handles into whatever pockets I could find and tossed out any rocks I had in the bucket so the bones didn’t knock into anything as I walked. There was probably no more careful procedure being done in town that day than me walking those bones back home: through the path I had made among the brush, past the hole in our fence, down our backyard and onto the patio. At last, my treasure was safe.

Being so young, it wasn’t an easy task to keep quiet about the glorious booty I had just collected. And so it was just a matter of time before my mother and father found out, confiscating my hard earned bones. The relics had caused them some confusion; they weren’t sure what should be done with them, or even what to tell me. Time passed; I still visited the mounds in search of more treasure that I might keep to myself this time, though, nothing would be found again; my parents thought of a safe way to proceed.

Before moving to The Dalles, and before I was born, my family lived in Portland, Oregon. There, my father was a Deputy Sheriff for that city and was able to work with some interesting people. One fellow he worked with was a forensic anthropologist, whatever that meant. It was this man’s job to look at old dead bones and figure out where they came from and how the person died. Lucky for me, that’s just what he did with the bones I found.

It took some time for him to do his work, but eventually, we got the hard evidence. The bones I found were, in fact, pieces of an eye socket and half of a jaw. Because certain parts of the skull were intact, we found out both that the skull was from the 1800s and that it belonged to a young Native American girl from the Warm Springs Tribe. She was roughly my same age, which scared me pretty well at the time. It turns out Minnesota Street used to be home to a burial grounds for Indians of the area. Between that time and when I found the bones, they had decided to excavate the buried bodies and move them to a safer place so the land could be later developed and used. They may have accidentally forgot the pieces of one of their own, but then I came along.

I felt like I was meant to find these bones, maybe bring peace to some small part of the world, and I did. My father did some research of his own, in my name, and was able to find out lots about this girl and her tribe. Before The Dalles existed, the territory we lived in was called Siloah Falls. The main feature of the area was Sheer’s Bridge, which lay downstream of where the dam now stood. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Indians would use the river as a massive fishing grounds. Tribesmen would cast their dip-nets out into the current from one of hundreds of platforms that extended off the bridge. The biggest shame is that Sheer’s Bridge was destroyed when new settlers came and built the dam. I presume this was after the tribe had migrated elsewhere, but I maintain that we lost an important piece of their history.

There was something about the Indian culture that I loved, probably the community of their culture. I’d lay in bed at night, imagining I was one of those fishermen. Wrestling salmon from the waters just to keep my people fed. This image stuck with me. I hadn’t met any Indians at this point, but I had learned about them well enough.

Long I wondered how different my life would’ve been if I was that young girl’s brother. Since the day I touched those bones, I’ve felt her spirit swirl within mine, helping to guide me in a peaceful life. However, it wasn’t my place to hold onto those bones. In fact, once they left my hands for the anthropologist, I never saw them again. My father said they sent the artifacts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They were kind enough to give that little girl a proper, ceremonial burial.

I can’t put a name on my childhood; too much happened. If I could bring out that girl’s spirit to let her speak and tell how she’s helped me since then, I’d do it in an instant. But I can’t do that, either. What I can do is acknowledge that which has continued on with me, reflect on my past actions and understand how they’ve changed me into the person I am now. I often reflect on when I discovered those bones. Rest in peace, little one.

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