Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Isaac and the wolves

On the drive home, traffic slowed through the Terwilliger curves.  A small, gray, nondescript coupe sat cock-eyed across the right-hand lane, the passenger side front quarter-panel smashed in.  Shiny cubes of auto safety glass lay scattered on the pavement like careless jewels. Blue, red, and yellow lights of emergency vehicles flashed to eerie effect in the cold sunlight of the mid-winter afternoon.

One hand on the wheel, Isaac pulled at his lower lip with thumb and forefinger of the other.  There but for the grace of God... His own little car but one more in the long procession of autos easing by in the left-hand lane.  Add that to the list, as he made out EMT-uniformed personnel in the ambulance, attending to a figure laying prostrate on a gurney in the back of the vehicle.

Many worries weighed down on him.  His long list of petty woes.  Relationships in flux, uncertainties about employment, about money, a thousand thousand vagaries that flitted about the periphery of consciousness.  Was I supposed to pick something up on the way home?

The traffic freed up, past the wreck.  Isaac stayed in the left lane:  the off-ramp for Naito Boulevard approached.  A quick glance in the rear-view confirmed that the driver behind him was impatient for Isaac to speed up.  He smiled smugly, easing up on the accelerator.

Right on Naito, and then the immediate right onto the Hawthorne Bridge, eastbound.  The wind gusted as he drove across the trussed steel span.  The massive counterweights, suspended on the bridge towers, loomed like grim fate.  A young woman, pale and solitary, made her way along the walkway.  Her hands were thrust into the pockets of her long, elegant coat.  Her hair, frazzled and deeply auburn, whipped wildly in the wind.  In the instant he passed her, Isaac saw tear streaks on her white apple cheeks. He winced.  Soldier on, sister.  Whatever it is.

The Willamette pushed on, gray-green and swollen.  It flowed inexorably, like some great untamed beast grown weary of the pipsqueak humans around it, pushing through their flimsy restraints and harnesses to go where it would.

The house was cold and empty when he got home.

Changed shoes, put on a sweatshirt and set out immediately for the top of Mount Tabor. He walked purposefully, with dogged, determined strides.  The items on his list, on the List, nagged at his heels, like wolves tracking an old bull bison, testing to see how much fight he had left.

Car payments, toothache, unhappy loved ones.  His mind passed over the litany as he strode through the streets toward Tabor's lifeless husk.  The wind howled in his ears, chorus to his weary thoughts.

When Clovis man arrived here, in this part of the world, --10 or 15 thousand years ago --there were real wolves.  The story unfolded in his mind.  Long before there was a city on the banks of the river, some elder tribesman had made his way up that very hill, lupine shadows in his wake.

What a luxury it seemed!  Wolves!  Real, physical threats against which a man might test himself.  Isaac envied the simplicity of that elder tribesman's world.  As Isaac plodded up the steep slopes of lifeless Mount Tabor, extinct even in the days of that Stone Age pilgrim, he imagined how it might have been, hustling up animal trails, unseen wolves panting and yipping behind him.

And perhaps that old fellow knew then, just as Isaac knew in his own time, that eventually the wolves would sense his failing strength, and would close in for the kill.  It was a timeless story.  And so he strode on, even as the end neared.  Perhaps, as he sensed his final ebb, the tribesman recognized that the only choice left to him was how he would punctuate his existence.

Isaac huffed up the steep shoulder of Tabor's southern slope.  Mid-reverie, he emerged from a thicket of evergreens, to find himself at the summit.  To the west, the agonized, searing call of the sunset stilled his heart, like the promise of unattainable glory.     

And, just as had the ancient tribesman, ten thousand years before, Isaac paused and admired the many-colored sky.  Wolves be damned.

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