Rick began the story of Wilder’s restoration. “It’s really a civic pride project. The town was almost dead in the late 1960s, but one of the library employees from another branch spotted a painting in the library’s attic. The painting was a bustling 1800s town, but the guy thought he knew the place. He finally matched up the buildings in the painting to some old foundations here in town. We saw what our town used to be and thought we could bring that back.”
Sarah said, “When we decided to go for restoration is when my husband and I bought this place and the lot next door that became Sarah’s Place.”
Rick continued, “It was really weird. Nobody fought the idea and everyone agreed Thistle Dew/Wilder needed the facelift. All that was on the square at the time was the Hardware, Post Office, Tackle Company, Bank and Library. This one, and the dry goods store buildings were there, too, but abandoned and in bad repair. The Hardware almost closed a couple times and the bank was close to moving out. The library’s been pretty persistent in staying alive and our newfound love for history and old buildings has given it some new life. Of course, local construction got the hardware and bank to reconsider their plans. I really like this kind of stuff!”
Redtail said, “And it shows! You’re good at it, too.”
Rick said, “When I finish high school, I’m going to get an architectural history degree and get a job with the DNR to work on their historic sites.”
Lydia, the confident little girl, said, “I get to dance in a long dress when Uncle Cyrus plays his fiddle!”
George added, “Most of Wilder’s pretty excited about what we’re doin’ here.”
“I can see why,” said Redtail. “Can we see the rest of town? I definitely want to come back and spend more time here,” she added. Sarah had to get back to work, so Redtail and George continued the tour.
Next door to Wilder Museum was Thistle Dew Hardware. In front of the hardware store was a long bench and wooden rocking chair. Redtail wrinkled her nose at the spittoon between the two.
George said, “It’s more a trash can and ash tray than a spittoon, though it can get messy from time to time. I’m just glad I don’t have to mess with it.” They stepped into the store.
Redtail asked, “Do all the places have wooden floors like this?”
George said, “Nah, Gus’ and Rita’s places have more industrial floors, and the bank’s pretty modern on the inside.”
“Hey George,” called the large man emerging from behind a shelf. “Hey Big Al! Meet Redtail, my granddaughter,” replied George.
Al bowed and said, “How do you do, Ma’am, and welcome to Thistle Dew.” He looked at George and smirked.
George said, almost under his breath, “Wilder.” George and Al laughed.
Big Al explained, “George is one of those ‘Snooties’ who think they KNOW Thistle Dew is REALLY Wilder. We’re the Realists, who can read the writing. We’ve seen the official papers.”
George broke in, “No no no! We’re the Realists. We know Wilder is MEANT to be Wilder. They are actually the Wrongs.”
Both Al and George laughed.
Big Al said, “We don’t really fight, but like to play things up for… Hey, George, didja tell ‘er about Walk on the Wilder Side?”
“Oh yeah,” said George, “she’s heard.”
“Anyway,” Al continued, “We like to have fun with our two names.”
George said to Al, “We probably oughtta be running off. I need to show Redtail the rest of town, get some lunch and head home to show her around our own place.”
Redtail said, “Good to meet you, Big Al.”
“Next is the Post Office, which is pretty much the same as any Post Office on the inside,” explained George as they continued to Gus’ place. “We’ll get to the Post Office some time soon.”
Gus’ Wilder Bait and Tackle was a big building. It spanned nearly the whole width of the square. Gus stocked mainly fishing gear, including his own line of handmade wooden plugs, flies and spinners. He also stocked a few firearms and some basic archery, trapping and camping gear.
Redtail browsed the camping goodies and said, “I don’t know. This new stuff seems almost too flashy when I think about my gear. I think I’m pretty well set.”
George said, “As long as I’m here, I’m gonna get some flashy new fishing line.”
Redtail smiled and asked, “Can I keep the old line, too? I can still use it for traps and stuff.”
About then, Gus walked in the front door, “Finding everything you need?”
George said, “Yeah, just showing my granddaughter, Redtail, around town and picking up some new line.”
Gus said, “I saw you from the General Store while I was picking up some snacks. I was hopin’ I’d get back before y’all gave up and left. Welcome to Wilder, Redtail.”
George got a fat spool of his favorite 10 pound monofilament and they headed for the Thistle Dew Library.
Gus said, “Now don’t you make yerself a stranger ‘round here.”
She called back, “I got a feeling I might be making myself more a pest.”
Redtail and George stepped off the boardwalk and George pointed out the bank, tucked just off the corner.
Redtail acknowledged the bank, but looked farther down the road and asked, “Oh! What church is that?”
George said, “That’s the Wilder Independent Baptist Church: one of the first establishments in town.”
“Can we go Sunday?” Redtail asked with eager anticipation.
George said, “Sure we can. It’s been a few Sundays since my last visit, but I think I remember how it’s done.”
“We don’t have to really do anything,” said Redtail, “All the hard stuff’s already been done. Oh thank you, Grandpa George!”
George and Redtail stepped up on the boardwalk again onto the last leg of the square before arriving back at the Jail. They stepped in, ringing the bell which hung from the inside door handle.
Linda-Jean, the librarian, looked up from a computer screen and cheerfully bid George greetings, “And who accompanies you today, George?”
“This is Redtail, my granddaughter. She’ll be staying with me at least part of the Summer.”
Linda-Jean stood up and extended a handshake to Redtail. As they shook hands, Linda-Jean said, “Welcome to our humble library.”
Redtail said, “Thank you. I think your library looks quite nice. Could you point me to non-fiction?”
Linda-Jean answered, “Why sure, it’s right over there along that wall.”
Redtail headed for the 220s and looked… and looked. Puzzled a bit, then walked back to the circulation desk. “Where do you keep your Bibles?” Redtail asked.
“I don’t think we have any,” said Linda-Jean.
“That’s kinda odd. Isn’t it still the number one best-seller in the World?” asked Redtail.
“Yeah, but it’s not library policy to keep media if it doesn’t circulate,” explained Linda-Jean.
George looked up from his paper and asked, “You mean, if I donate some books like those campcraft books a couple years ago and nobody checks ‘em out, they might evaporate out of the system?”
Linda-Jean said, “Yep, that’s what could happen.”
George said, “Well I better get to checkin’ more stuff out, quick!”
Linda-Jean said, “I think the case with Bibles is if someone wants one, they usually own a copy. Let’s get Redtail set up with a card so she can help keep books circulated.”
“Gettin’ Redtail a card might be trouble,” said George, “See, she ain’t got any ID, and we ain’t found no birth records yet.”
Linda-Jean laughed, “Well, shoot, George, if she’s stayin’ at your place and you’ll vouch for her, that oughtta be good enough.”
Redtail smiled and gave George an asking look with her eyes. “Let’s go for it,” said George.
Redtail said, “We’re going to church Sunday, so I’ll still need a Bible. As Pooh Bear would say, ‘Think… think… think…’.”
Linda-Jean said, “If you’re goin’ to church here in town, one of the Sunday School teachers has a bunch of hand-out Bibles. That’s my church, too.”
George said, “If I don’t find an extra one at home, sounds like you’ll still be set up.”
George and Redtail Headed toward the door.
Redtail smiled and waved as George said, “You have a wonderful day, Linda-Jean! By the way, how’d you know Redtail was staying at my place?”
Linda-Jean said, “Everybody in town knows that. We oughtta have your card back in a few days, Redtail. No, really, I just came from City Hall, and Sarah said y’all might be dropping by.”
As they got out to the boardwalk, Redtail said “That was cool. I think I’ve always liked libraries. What’s next?”
“Next, we have the General Store, run by either Mayor Douglas or The Honorable Lawrence Douglas or Larry, depending on what he’s wearing,” said George. “He’s quirky fun.”
They entered the store and near the door, with a big sign which read, “If You Need Assistance, Crank Handle” was a cardboard box about four by four by four feet.
George snorted, “What’s he up to now? OK, I’ll bite.” George walked up to the box and started to wind the crank. “Oh great. It’s playing ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’,” he said. Stopping just short of the “Pop!”, he asked Redtail, “You wanna finish?”
Smiling and shaking her head, she said, “No, I think this is a job you should finish.”
George looked at the box and slowly cranked the handle for the “Pop!” They all expected it, but they all still jumped. Redtail jumped and gave a little squeak. George jumped as he quickly cranked out “goes the weasel.” Larry jumped up as the lid of the box sprung open, with a cheerful, “Good morning! How may I help you?” “Whew!” Larry sighed, “for a second there, I didn’t think you were going to let me out.”
“You been sittin’ in there since Gus left?” asked George.
“Wha… Gus was here? No, I saw you as you stepped out of the library,” said Larry. “I built the musical part for the box and thought I’d try it out before making it more durable. It should be fun at Walk on the Wilder Side.”
“So, you must be Redtail. I’m Larry. Welcome to Wilder.”
George said, “We were making the rounds, and we got one more stop before lunch. We want to see if Rita’s in, then head off to lunch.”
Redtail asked, “Do you happen to have sewing kits? And a notebook, and a pen?”
“Ya know, Redtail, I think we’ve got all that –maybe not a sewing ‘kit’ but needle and thread,” said Larry.
Redtail rounded up the items on her mental shopping list and even got change back from her ten.
As they departed the Wilder General Store, Larry said, “Y’all need to drop by and try out the fancy, painted, wood version of the jack-in-the-box when I get it done. You have fun in Wilder now.”
George and Redtail stepped out on the boardwalk again and headed to their last stop on the tour. Larry and Rita maintained a little patch of mowed grass between their places. It featured a couple picnic tables and some patches of flowers.
George said, as they neared Rita’s Catering, “It’s lookin’ mighty dark in there. She’s probably off on some luncheon run or something. They got those for someone all the time at the junior college in Higginsburg.” George knocked on the door anyway. No answer. “I guess everyone else is having lunch now, so we might as well head over to the old Thistle Dew Food ‘n’ Fuel for ours,” George said. “Rita’s place used to be the old feed store –sort of still is, but it’s prepared people feed now. Yeah, Rita caters, but we’re gonna go to the sit-down feed store.”
On their way to the Food ‘n’ Fuel, they poked their heads in at City Hall to let Sarah know they were getting some lunch.
Sarah said, “I’ll join you if I can get away, but if not, I’ll catch ya later.”
As they headed out again, George checked on Mr. Ziffel who was curled up asleep in the back of the truck. So they scurried across the road.
George squinted as his eyes adjusted to the dim light in the Thistle Dew Food ‘n’ Fuel. Redtail shut her eyes tight, covered her ears and even winced as if in pain.
George asked, “You OK?”
“They’re always fighting and yelling,” Redtail said with a near wimper.
“Election year stuff,” said George. He caught the waitress’ attention and asked, “Can that be turned down some –at least ‘til they quit fighting?”
The waitress smiled, rolled her eyes and said, “Gladly!” as she pointed the remote at the TV hanging in the corner.
“Let’s take the table under the TV. That way, the sound’ll be directed over us instead of at us,” suggested George.
“Sounds like a plan,” agreed Redtail.
George started the table-talk, “What do you think of Wilder –aside from the TV?”
“I love it all! --specially Sarah’s place, the Museum and the library, even if it doesn’t have Bibles,” said Redtail. She went on, “I want to learn all I can about old Wilder and the 1800s. I’ll bet things were a lot more peaceful before all the electro-gadgetry took over.”
Just then, two cell phones went off a couple tables from theirs.
“Yeah,” agreed George, “electrical communications and media sure have turned up the intensity of ‘civilized’ life. But I gotta admit, I do like my Internet. I can communicate on my time, with the volume usually off, and can be selective on who gets to fuss at me.”
“I think it’s the loudness and anger that gets me most,” said Redtail.
“By the way, I looked up the weather this morning, and it’s looking like rain tomorrow night and for a few days after.” said George.
Redtail got a look of concern over the weather report, “Hmm, my camp’s on some low, fairly flat ground. I oughtta build a wet-weather camp, too.”
“If you don’t want to stay up at the house, or even in the barn, I’ve got enough wood on hand to build a decent weather-proof mini-house,” offered George. “That site you’ve got picked out is nice, weather permitting, but it gets pretty soggy in wet weather. It’s even flooded a couple times,” said George.
George and Redtail, expecting maybe Sarah, looked at the door as it admitted more lunchers. They were a young couple, barely out of high school, if that. Redtail smiled and gave a little finger-wiggle of a wave at the boy, who quickly turned bright red and pretended not to notice as he steered his girlfriend to the other side of the service area.
Redtail looked at George and eagerly explained, “That’s the guy I almost met at the Supply Depot!”
George almost snorted his coffee out his nose and chuckled, “I wondered how you knew him. That’s Al’s son, Dave –‘LITTLE’ Al’s son.”
Redtail continued, “He left Supply before I could even say ‘Hi!’”
George said, “He knew he’d be caught if he didn’t get out quick. I’ll have to drop in on Little Al just to be seen by Dave. That oughtta put some fear of dumping without permission into him.” George continued eating, smiling and shaking his head.
The door opened again and in walked Sarah.
Sarah saw the kids first. “Hello Dave,” she said, and gave a nod of greetings to his girlfriend.
Dave spilled his drink. George started to laugh, but caught himself. Sarah looked over at George and said, “That’s not funny. He spilled his drink all over himself and in front of his new girlfriend.”
Dave’s girlfriend looked at Dave and whispered, “NEW girlfriend? I don’t think I’m hungry.”
Sarah looked at the couple, and at George and back at Dave and his girlfriend. “No, I didn’t mean Dave is a womanizer or anything…”
The couple got up, paid for their drinks and were leaving as George said, “I don’t guess I’ll need to talk to Al at all.”
To top it all off, Al was walking in from the garage and asked, loudly enough to be overheard by the departing Dave, “Talk to me about what, George?” Out Dave and his girlfriend rushed.
Al asked, “Wow, who was that leaving in such a rush?”
George pushed his plate aside and put his head on the table, laughing. George raised his head and said to Al, “Now don’t give Dave a hard time after I tell you what just happened. I think he’s had a rough enough day already. I really wonder what was going through his head. Nah, just give him ‘The Look’ a couple times and don’t say anything. Let him sweat.”
“Sweat?” Al asked.
George began, in a poor, but recognizable “Twilight Zone” narration tone: “Imagine, if you will, a young man and his date enter an early lunchtime restaurant. His attention is immediately drawn to the woman who nearly caught him in the act of illegal dumping, when she waved and greeted him, confirming the recognition question. He knows she is seated with the distinguished landowner of his planned dump site. They go to their table and pretend to sit down not noticing, when the police dispatcher arrives and makes it known, she, too, knows him and the shock causes him to spill his drink. She then takes a seat with the witness to the near-crime and the distinguished landowner. The couple attempt a get-away, but not before hearing the distinguished landowner and the young man’s father saying they needed to talk.”
George laughed and continued, “I can almost feel him sweating the crime, while trying to explain away Sarah’s “new girlfriend” comment to his date, and why they had to leave before ordering lunch.”
George laughed again, and Redtail said, “Poor kid.”
Sarah pouted, “Yeah, and I even unwittingly added to the heat.”
Al said, with a smile, “I oughtta ask, this evening, So, Dave, I had lunch with George, Sarah and… and… “
George added, “Oh, this is Redtail, my granddaughter.”
Al continued, “So, Dave, how bout you tell me about your day,” just to see what info he volunteers.”
George just about choked, “Al, you oughtta play “Alice’s Restaurant” for mood music so Dave can hear it before you ask him about his day. That illegal dumping theme might get him sweating before you say anything.”
“Sooooooooo,” began Sarah with a sing-songy tone, “Redtail, what have you got planned for the rest of your day?”
Al said, “I’d hate to be in Dave’s shoes right now. That was a fun story, but who’s the ‘distinguished landowner’ you kept mentioning?”
Sarah added, “Yeah that was a puzzler to me, too.”
“Rhetorical questions,” chuckled George.
Redtail answered Sarah’s question, “George said rain’s in the forecast, so I’ll probably be spending most of the afternoon building a wet-weather camp, and moving.”
“Oh! I almost forgot,” said George, “I got a tent you can use, so you don’t have to rush in moving your site.”
Sarah gave George an almost dirty look.
George defended himself, “THAT’S IF she doesn’t want to stay in the house or other shelter. I’m not abandoning her to the elements.”
Sarah squinted at George, “I had to make sure.”
Al said, “It’s getting’ late enough you might run out of time to set up a campsite. Of course, I’d wait ‘til drier weather for camping.”
Redtail said, “I think I’m going to try to camp out all Summer long. I like it outdoors, and want to see how long I can go –except for those times Grandpa takes me out to Civilization.” Redtail took her last bite, and said to George, “I’m ready when you are.” George stood up and out they went, bidding their proper farewells. Outside, Redtail asked, “That was good! What was the special?”
“Ya know, I’m really not sure. I had a burger, but our author didn’t say what the special was,” answered George. They got to the truck and Mr. Ziffel stood up and stretched and started wagging his tail. He got head pats and body skritches from both his people.
Into the truck and buckled up, Redtail said, “I think I’m in a happier mood now, than last time I snapped a seatbelt. I like Wilder!”
“Yep,” George said, “Wilder’s a pretty decent place –decent people, too.” On their way home, Redtail alerted on a yard sale. She craned her neck as they passed. George asked, “See something you liked?”
“Oh, they had a bicycle, but it looked pretty small. I thought one might be handy for running into town if you were gone or busy or something,” said Redtail.
George said, “There’s two or three in the barn. They might need a little work to get ‘em operational, but they were ib good shape when they moved in there.”
“That sounds like a project for after I get my campsite moved and round up some more food. That good lunch took some of the urgency off the food thing. Thank you again!” said Redtail.
The crew arrived home around 1:00. Still a good chunk of the day left for woodcrafting. Redtail and George got out of the truck and Mr Ziffel stiffly walked down his plank. He shook it off when he arrived on the ground and began wagging his tail. Something told him it was going to be a fun afternoon.
George said, “I’m gonna go get that tent and the bikes out of the barn and dusted off.”
“I better head to the woods and find a new site,” said Redtail.
Do we follow George to the dim, dusty, spidery barn, or Redtail to the warm sunny woods as she ponders campsite selection, food acquisition and life in general? Spiders or peacefulness?
Less than a hundred feet into the woods, Redtail found a nice spot for a site. It featured a gentle incline so water won’t stand, and high enough she was convinced there’d be no flooding and little, if any, runoff from higher ground. A little brush needed trimming so she headed back to the barn for advice. Redtail passed the barn just as George stepped out with the tent.
“Oh good,” said Redtail, “I think I found a nice site, but there’s some brush, a redbud tree and a little hackberry sort of in the way.”
George said, “Let’s go for it. I’ll bring the chainsaw and axe. Got the tent, too. I gotta tell ya though, I loaned it to the church youth group a few years back and it came back with an eight inch gash in the floor and a pencil-sized hole in the ceiling in the right hand room.”
Redtail exclaimed, “Right hand room!? How big is that thing?”
“It’s 9’x22’, if I remember right. Three rooms.” answered George.
By the time they cleared the campsite, Redtail had gotten pretty good with the axe. Aside from getting thorned a few times by Autumn olive and multiflora rose, George and Redtail cleared a fine site without injury. Redtail got a fair stack of firewood in the process as well as a brushpile to bring in some future game. Mr. Ziffel made regular rounds and insured everything ran smoothly.
George got on his hands and knees and began shuffling his hands around like he’d lost a pair of glasses and was blind without them. Redtail started to wonder, then figured out what he was looking for.
George caught her puzzled look at about the same time and said, “Just when you think you’ve got all the little stubs and staubs or whatever you call ‘em cleared out, you’ll find one just past bedtime when you’re almost asleep unless ya check really really good.”
“I’ve got a pretty good mattress, but yeah, I found one with my knee the other night,” said Redtail.
George, now the puzzled one, questioned, “Supply had a mattress?”
Redtail proudly announced, “No, I made one!”
“Well, ya got me curious”, said George.
“I cut open eight catfood bags and sewed them together with that fishing line. Then I stuffed the casing with dry leaves and grass. It’s about twin size, and it insulates nicely from the ground,” explained Redtail. “I even made a top blanket from more bags and some of that thin sheety foam plastic packing stuff.”
“I better head on down and start bringing stuff up hill –and think about dinner, too. I don’t have much dried stuff in stock,” said Redtail.
George asked, “Want some help with that, or should I start setting up the tent?”
Redtail said, “I’ve only got a few trips and they’re not heavy. I can even set up the tent if you’ve got other stuff to do.”
“I’ll get the tent set up and then get out of your hair for the day,” said George.
“One more thing, Grandpa George: which direction do our nastiest winds come from?” inquired Redtail.
George said, “We get our strongest winds mostly from the south and southwest, but in the winter, they’re from the northwest.”
Redtail rounded up her first load, which was mattress, blanket and non-weatherproof items from her camp. As she loaded up, she got an idea. Redtail grabbed a saw blade from her tool stash and also took that up on her first load.
Up at the wet-weather site, Redtail stacked the brush she and George had removed to the south and southwest of the tent, to buffer the wind of potential storms. As she stacked the brush, she looked for the perfect stick. Redtail wanted to try her hand at using a cubit stick for hunting.
That perfect stick had a slight curve to it, but would have to do until the better perfect stick appeared. Her cubit stick (cubit being the length of elbow to fingertips of the measurer) was hackberry, and about 1 ¼” thick. Hackberry’s a bit rough, but it’s a nice tough wood for a cubit stick, or a very simple throwing stick for hunting and sport.
Back down at the original site, Redtail rounded up her tools and more valuable items from the camp. She heard a rustling in the leaves. She thought she hadn’t had much practice with the cubit stick, but she may as well practice on a real target. She stopped packing and spotted her quarry. It was a squirrel rummaging through the leaves for a snack. It was about 50 feet away –a nice range for throwing. Redtail slowly side-stepped a sapling which could have blocked her shot as she drew her arm and stick back. “SNAP!” went her shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand in a smooth fast motion. The action was all quick, but her thoughts went into slow motion.
“Arrghh!” she thought. “I let go too late.” Her stick took a trajectory slightly to the left of her target, but her target, too, decided flight was in its best interest, so the squirrel took off to the left, as well. “Quick, grab something to finish it off before it regains its senses and runs, should it be hit.” Redtail started to run toward the squirrel, bending down to grab her steel rod. The spinning blur of the stick, in the meantime, hit the squirrel squarely in the head. The squirrel spun in the leaves and started kicking as Redtail fell on it with a couple quick whacks of the rod. She got the squirrel with the first throw of her cubit stick. Redtail wasn’t smug and proud of her shot. She knew the throw was off. Still, she had her dinner.
Redtail cleaned the squirrel before anything. Blunt objects as weapons can leave nasty bruising unless the meat’s taken care of fast. A little shoulder and neck damage, but the bulk of the squirrel was going to roast up nicely at her new site.
Back to the new wet-weather site, with squirrel, tools and valuables, Redtail began to settle in. First things first. Redtail sat down and made a mental note of what she still needed, well, almost.
"I'm going to want a place to sit, but, I do have a squirrel that won't wait for me. Fire pit comes first," thought Redtail.
Redtail took out her shovel blade and started digging the fire pit, and she thought while she dug. "Ha! Killing two birds with one stone. That'd be nice. A little extra meat. If it don't rain too hard, the dirt I'm piling will make a nice sitting spot. Killing birds with stones --I wonder how hard a sling is to make and use? No, not a sling SHOT, but a sling. Two completely different weapons. Atlatl might be easier. Hmm. Spear? I wonder it there's flint or chert in this ground. I suppose I could teach myself flint-knapping. The first one to make an arrowhead did. Augh! More worms! I better get that coffee can closer. How can I stockpile meat better? What's the difference between McSumpneruther and MacSumpneruther besides the "a"? Why on Earth do Scotsmen play bagpipes? Maybe the Scotswomen just have better musical taste. Why do I continue to think of the old man who identified me as "the old man" or "that old man?" I'm gonna give him an acronym for a name. Henceforth, The Old Man is Tom. I wonder how much work one of Grandpa's bikes will take?"
As Redtail dug, her mind wandered all over the place. "Don't get lost now. Ya hear?" she thought with a smile.
Fire pit dug. Fuel pile stacked and lit. Redtail sat down on her dirt mound and gave a sigh of accomplishment. Suddenly, her satisfied demeanor changed. She squinted. Her nose curled. Her mouth wrinkled up. She wondered, "Eww! Yuck! Did I dig into some putrefying ox carcass or what?" She started to stand up, retched slightly, and then noticed Mr. Ziffel had come back on scene.
Redtail laughed and gagged as she scrambled to her feet, looking something like a panicked spider on a slick hardwood floor. Mr. Ziffel, of course, thought she'd come up with a new petting game and tried harder to get his head under her hand. Redtail made it to upright. Her hands and arms flapped like butterfly wings as she hopped and ran backward. Mr. Ziffel was having such a good time with Redtail's new game he started barking.
The frenzy of activity subsided and Redtail laughed, still keeping her distance from Mr. Ziffel. "Oh my gosh! *WHAT* did you find to roll in? You must be the proudest dog in the World!"
While the fire burnt down to cooking quality, Redtail covered her wood pile with the tarp and wondered how she might make an all-weather fire pit. Meanwhile, Mr. Ziffel found something to poke his nose at near the base of a nearby tree. Redtail still kept an eye on him.
"It's almost been a week since I sat down here by the fire! I wish the author didn't come up with so many things for me to say and do while he's not writing. I'm gonna forget so much of it. Anyway, on with the story," thought Redtail. Redtail found a fair amount of wire. Her Cool Stuff Collection eagerly welcomed the hand-coiled 10 and 12 gauge copper wire, partial roll of 17 gauge galvanized electric fence wire and a roll of softer but heavier stuff she called stove pipe wire. Redtail thought she'd heard of some kind of illness over copper in a diet, but also of the joy of cooking on copper pans. She practiced erring to the side of caution, so she didn't pick copper for her cooking wire. She knew not to use galvanized pails for cooking because the chemicals from the galvanizing process leach into the food. She ruled out the fence wire. Redtail couldn't think of cautions with plain steel wire, so she rubbed off the excess rust and used that.
Redtail stuffed the body cavity of her squirrel with wild onions, carrots and parsnip. With her 'cooking wire' she bound it all together and secured it to an old T-post she found in the woods. She suspended her dinner over the fire and sat back to think. She had lots of time for that, living in the woods, pretty much alone.
Redtail looked at Mr. Ziffel as he wandered off toward the house. "I'm glad the author didn't get me too far off in the wilderness. I'd probably have a trusty dog, but have to think stuff like how much better love food keeps." She said aloud, but not so loud Mr. Ziffel might think she was calling him, "Don't worry Mr. Ziffel. You're not dinner." She laughed, "Maybe breakfast or lunch, no, stop that!" She smiled and shook her head and turned the squirrel over to roast the other side.
Redtail finished her dinner and did the dishes. And realized she had a little while more of daylight. She got up and hopped a few times to work off a near-cramp in her leg. “Hmm. I oughtta eat more Queen Anne’s lace greens for the potassium and, of course, drink more,” she thought. She headed up to the barn to see if George found a bike, and for some general snooping.
Redtail got up to the mowed grass and into the graveled driveway. George’s truck was gone, so she figured he went into town for something. She stepped into the barn through the people door, as opposed to the cattle or equipment doors. The door opened into a short hallway with a door capping off the left and right ends of the hall. To the left was the milk processing room, all of which remained of the equipment was the deep double stainless steel sink. On the opposite end of the hall was the milking area. The milking area used to house about 40 Holsteins. Redtail broke into the narration. “Just get to the part where I find a bicycle. You can reminisce about your grandpa’s barn later. Oh, here it is, thanks!”
George had pulled the bike from its storage location and set it out in the middle of the floor in the milking area. Redtail guessed it was for her, but didn’t want to get too excited about it until she asked. She snooped around a bit and found a whisk broom and began to to dust off the bike.
“Whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk.” -pause- “Whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk.” -pause- “Whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk.” -get up- -move away- -let the dust settle- -repeat. After about a dozen or so rounds of whisking, Redtail figured the bike to be ride-worthy, pending a functional check-out. The light got to be a little dim for Redtail to continue playing with the bicycle. She determined all it needed was tubes and tires. About then, the gravel started crunching in the driveway. George’s truck came into view as Redtail stepped out of the barn.
Redtail stomped her feet a couple times, leaving a little cloud of dust. She brushed herself off and waved at George. She realized she was waving the whisk broom, and ran back into the barn to put it back where she found it.
Redtail scurried back outside and met George about halfway between the truck and barn. George asked, “Didja find the bike I got out? I didn’t take time to get it all prettied up for you because a sudden need in Higginsburg popped up.”
“Yes, I found the bike. Thank you! That’s why I was so dusty when I came out. I’ve been working on it,” said Redtail.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” said George, “and I’ll be gone to Big River most the day. I get to teach one of their Boy Scout troops about survival. You oughtta try that some time. You got the practical experience. Anyway, I had to pick up some napkins and paper plates for the program. Picked you up a Bible, too. You’re still game for Sunday morning, right?”
“Oh, thank you again and again –the trip to town, lunch, tent, and now a Bible!” said Redtail.
George said, “Thank YOU! It’s fun having someone to share stuff with. We never did have kids, but if you’re a taste of it, me and Mae Mae missed out on a lot!”
“Oh!” said Redtail, “and yes! I’m game for Sunday morning. I’ll have to build me a sundial for time approximation. I’m pretty much up when it gets light, so I’ll be ready.”
“9:30 and 10:45 for Sunday school and worship,” said George. “Wanna try both?”
“Absolutely!” said Redtail. “Do you have a refrigerator for hanging stuff in case I get to do some crafts?” She looked at George for an awkward second of silence and she laughed, adding, “just kidding.”
George shook his head and laughed and said, “You’re just different enough I’m not quite sure when you are and when you’re not.”
They exchanged smiles and Redtail said, “I better be getting’ to bed. I’ve got a fun day lined up for tomorrow, too.”
Redtail woke up and laid there listening. She loved the racket the barred owls made at daybreak. “I wonder what I can kick up for breakfast,” she thought. She smiled and kicked a wad of damp leaves. As Redtail flicked the stuck leaf from her foot she spotted critter movement.
Redtail pounced on the leaves, slapping here and there. She picked up three little morsels. She gave two an immobilizing thorax pinch and from the third, picked some tiny dirt and leaf particles from the sticky ruptured spot. “Wow! Roaches are tender little buggers,” she thought as she went to get a baby food jar. When she returned to the exposed spot, she picked half a dozen earthworms and put them in the coffee can. She reserved the jar for cleaner stuff that really didn’t need rinsing.
Redtail grunted in frustration. “I supposed I gotta get the fire going instead of being side-tracked into a micro-hunting trip.” She poked around the old fire bed and found enough glowing red to get a ball of mouse-starter lit. Redtail stacked on some kindling and then heavier fuel. “Time to let this burn down to a cook fire.” She watched the smoke rise straight up in the still, thick, damp-smelling air. She thought, as she looked at the gray sky, “Yep. Looks and even smells like rain. I like this feel.” Redtail closed her eyes, smiled and breathed deeply.
“Oh frustrations!” exclaimed Redtail. “Rain! That means forage time might be limited or even canceled over the next couple days. I better run down to the creek now instead of later.” With a purposeful pace, Redtail headed to an almost pond-sized widening in the creek. It was farther downstream from the Laundry Room by a few minutes, but the fish tended to be bigger.
After only 20 minutes of fishing, Redtail had four nice sunfish and a bass of about 13 inches. She thought she’d better quit, rather than risk part of catch going bad. Redtail figured the bass would be too chunky to store well, so she happily gave in to a substantial breakfast. The sunfish, she baked on a small rack in a big pan, trying to keep the heat high enough to bake and dry the fish, but low enough not to scorch it
Almost finished with her breakfast bass, Redtail spotted her roaches in the cook water. “Better git ‘em while they’re still hot,” she thought. She took a fork and scooped them out of the water and popped them into her mouth. She bit down gently, “Pop! Pop! Squish.” “All simmered to perfection,” she thought. “I wonder why people are so squeamish about eating roaches. They’re about the most mouth-friendly of any of the ento-cuisine. These little woods roaches are about the best of all of them.”
Redtail insured all was safe with her campsite and thought, “If I’m going to get back before the rain comes too hard, I better get going now.” She grabbed a cat food bag and set out. She stopped by the barn to write down the tire size for the bike. She picked about a gallon’s worth of dandelion flowers before she began her walk into town.
Redtail hadn’t gotten many steps out ZZ toward Thistle Dew before she noticed a pond that looked to be about 4 acres with about a half-acre island connected to the shore by a bridge. She wondered if it might be George’s pond. She hadn’t seen the pond on their way to town the other morning because it was partially obscured behind the trees. A bigger reason was likely because she had been pouting about that trip. Today was different. Redtail liked Thistle Dew and Wilder and was eager to return. Redtail aimed to acquire tires and tubes for her bicycle. She packed her money, her specifications for tire size and a forage bag so she’d not waste all that walking time. Suddenly, Redtail spotted a patch of wild parsnip. She realized one thing she hadn’t brought was a digging tool.
As she walked, she thought, “If this had been after the rain and it was this cloudy, I might’ve tried to pull some of that parsnip. But the ground’s too dry and I don’t wanna risk bruising up the foliage and getting that juice on me.” You readers should be curious about wild parsnip skin reaction. Go ahead. Look it up. I can wait. Those who know the potential or have experienced it, can relate when I tell you Redtail didn’t want to take chances.
Redtail strolled on: Conservation Area to her left and fields and patchy woods to her right. She was now well beyond George’s place.
The road curved to the north. On the right, just past the curve, Redtail spotted a drainage ditch between two fields. Concrete rubble had been dumped on either side for erosion control. Protruding from several concrete slabs were pieces of rebar. Redtail didn’t merely see concrete junk, but digging tools. Like Excalibur, they were waiting for the worthy recipient to come along. She set her bag down just off the road and carefully hopped down the bank to the slabs.
Redtail picked a bar about 3’ long and started working it back and forth until it snapped off. She gave it a spinning toss toward her bag and started working on a two-footer. Being a little shorter, it was slightly stiffer to get it rocking back and forth. She finally got it broke off and absent-mindedly touched the freshly broke end as she surveyed her surroundings. “Ouch! That’s hot!” she gasped. I should’ve expected that.” Back up the bank she staggered on the concrete chunks. Some were solidly planted and some wobbled vigorously. She almost lost her balance a couple times, but didn’t quite fall or otherwise injure herself.
Up ahead a fence came to a corner. The old log posts were sturdily braced with heavy steel pipes. A heavy steel pipe was just what Redtail was looking for, but she found no exposed ends. Redtail smiled as she saw, down the fence about 50 feet, a small tree with a tightly angled fork about four feet off the ground. “Ha!” she thought. “Thistle Dew for a rebar bender.” Redtail was proud of her new-found practical use for some local grammar. She went up to the tree and used it to hold an end of the rebar so she could bend it into a handle. When she was finished, Redtail owned two new digging tools, looking somewhat like a tire iron and an awkwardly long one. She put the short digger in her bag and casually swung the long one like a cane as she walked.
Redtail’s journey gave her about ¾ of a mile of wooded, hilly road. When she heard a car, she stepped off the road in an attempt to remove herself as a hazard. The woodchuck didn’t think himself a hazard, so he stayed put, snooping about the rubble near the edge of the road. The car popped up over the hill and the woodchuck turned the wrong direction. The car swerved a bit, but not quite enough. The situation ended up being bad news for the woodchuck and good news for Redtail. The driver probably shook it off and continued to his destination, not giving it much more thought.
Redtail looked at the pile of fresh meat and considered her lack of anticipation of such a situation. She might not have been prepared, but she was resourceful. “I guess litterbugs aren’t all bad,” Redtail said as she picked up a flat pint bottle and a plastic bag. She put the bottle in the bag and tapped it a couple times on her rebar. The bottle broke and she checked it for suitable cutting edges. Redtail got a nice break of about 45 degrees across a narrow end of the bottom of the bottle. No sharp tips or weak, thin spots that might leave glass bits in the meat.
Redtail stepped back up to the road. She looked and listened. She heard no sign of approaching vehicles, so she scurried up to the woodchuck, glanced it over, grabbed it by the tail, and scurried into the trees a bit, so she could clean it without upsetting any passing traffic. Redtail laughed as she thought about what she just did. “I’ll bet that looked really animal-like. I feel like I should crouch over it and growl.” So that’s just what she did, though she didn’t overdo it. She curled back her lips to expose her teeth. “Grrrrr! Grrr!” She thought, “That didn’t sound too frightening. I ‘Grrr’ like a girrrl.” And she gave herself an approving chuckle.
The woodchuck’s head and shoulders were in pretty rough shape. Sparing the gruesome details, the skin cut and pulled easily off the body. The soft belly cut easily for entrails removal. Redtail cut the meat from the entrails opening to where the ribcage met the backbone. She grasped the slippery wad in both hands. Front end in her right hand and hind quarters in her left, she firmly jabbed her thumbs into the back where the cuts met. She bent the body sharply back and forth and side to side until the two sections were only attached by tendons and spinal cord. She put on her determined look and wondered, “OK, now do I stick my tongue out to the left or right for this? Oh well. Let’s do this. Righty-tighty, leftie-loosie.” She twisted the two parts ‘til they broke free of one another.
Redtail put the hind quarters in a plastic shopping bag. The entrails and front, she shoved into another. She packed up the broken bottle and wrapped it in an old nearby paper bag. She rounded everything up and headed out.
Redtail thought. She had lots of time for that, recently. “For as big as they are, a woodchuck doesn’t have much meat. Mostly guts –a big digestion machine. Not as bad as a ‘possum, but still… I’ll probably process a ‘chuck if I run across one again. A snapping turtle’s got lots of meat, but it’s a pain to clean. I’d still do it again anyway. I like vultures. I hope they like this part of the ‘chuck I’m not going to eat. I’ve read a woodchuck’s like a squirrel on steroids. They’re sure not as buff as a squirrel. Squirrels are like a big hard muscle attached to teeth, claws and a tail. About the only thing I can think of that’s buffer is a pike. They’re just teeth and muscle with orneriness. There weren’t many pines in that woods, and the soil’s hardly sandy at all. Why’d that thought pop into my head?”
The road left the woods for mostly-open land for the rest of the trip. About a hundred yards into the open, Redtail unloaded the buzzard food. “Well,” she laughed, “after all my work getting that accessible, they’d better appreciate it.” About then, a car full of kids drove past. She thought she saw three in the back window waving and smiling happily. She gave a big wave back.
She reached the spot she thought she’d seen garlic on her previous trip. It was starting to put on the distinctive curly flower heads. She cut a bouquet-sized handful of heads and another handful of greens and continued on her way.
Soon Thistle Dew and Wilder came into view, as did another patch of wild parsnip. This time, Redtail had digging tools. She dug enough for two meals and very carefully cut the greens off the roots, placing the parsnips in another bag and continued to her destination. Redtail turned off County Road ZZ and into the Wilder side of town. She smiled as she looked across the mowed green square. “Hardware Store, here I come!”
“It was only fourish miles from home to Wilder, but I’ll bet I put on twice that,” Redtail thought. Almost 2:00, so she felt slightly rushed. She made a bee-line for the hardware store, crossing the square diagonally, not even stopping for the abundant dandelions on the way. In she walked with the screendoor jingling the bell behind her.
“Good mor… er, afternoon, Redtail,” said Big Al, coming out from the back room. “This day has flown by for me. Can I help you find something?”
“Hi Big Al. I’m really hoping to find bike tubes and tires to these specifications,” said Redtail as she handed him the note.
“The tubes, I got,” said Big Al, “but, are you in a hurry?”
Redtail thought, “I need to get back before it rains. I’ve probably got enough to eat without cooking, but I should save that in case the rain makes fires more difficult. I gotta get this woodchuck cooked or dried before it spoils.” “Not really,” she said with discernible anxiety in her expression.
“You sure?” asked Al, “Because I’ve got an idea that could help us both out.”
“I guess I sort of lied,” said Redtail. “I think I need to get to George’s place before it rains.”
“Let me tell you my plan,” said Al. “I need to get in to Higginsburg before some stores close, but I really don’t want to shut down here for the rest of the day. You ever worked a register?”
“I’ve never worked a register, but I’m good with advanced calculators and decent enough with computers.” said Redtail.
“I’d be happy to take you back home, and I’m sure Sarah would, too. I’d grab what I need in town and pick up your bike tires. I could show you real fast, how to do the register and run credit cards since you already know number pads,” said Al.
“I’d love to help you out, but I’ve got something in the bag that really needs to be cooked before it goes bad,” said Redtail.
Big Al said, “No problem. I got a fridge and freezer and even a hotplate and pans and a microwave in back.”
“Sounds almost like you planned this,” said Redtail, “except you didn’t know I was coming. Sure, I’ll do it.”
“I figure if George trusts you out at his place, I can trust you, too,” said Al and he began his lesson on register operations.
The 20 minutes between the last paragraph and this included register training, which Redtail seemed to pick up instantly, and the grand tour of the store. Redtail was ready for just about anything except a special order. If any such requests were made, she was to write down all the order info she could gather. Redtail and Big Al shook hands and Al headed out to Higginsburg. The screendoor slapped shut and the bell jingled.
Redtail began her self-guided tour of the store. “Oh wow! And I thought my Cool Stuff pile was cool. I gotta make me a shopping list!” She began writing: parachute cord, tarps, screen for crawdad traps, pocket knife, hatchet, rat and mouse traps, slingshot, gloves, potato fork… After almost an hour of writing and drooling, the silence was broke by the “jingle, creak, smack!” of the screendoor.
The boy jumped slightly at the sight of Redtail. He looked to be close to 12 years old. Hesitatingly, he asked, “Is Mr. Al here?”
“No, he had to run to Higginsburg for a while,” said Redtail. Then she puffed herself up as big as she could, rising up on the balls of her feet. She stuck her elbows out slightly and said, in a very poor manly voice, “But you can pretend I’m Big Al. How can I help you, sir?”
The boy looked blankly at Redtail, then gave an obligatory faint smile.
“OK, maybe not an Al substitute,” said Redtail as she let out her puff and dropped back to her feet. “He left me here to mind the shop while he’s gone.” She extended her hand and said, “I’m Redtail.”
The boy, not feeling a lot of option, shook hands and said, “I’m Kevin.”
“Glad to meet you, Kevin,” said Redtail. “I still might be able to help you find what you’re looking for. I’ve been studying what all we’ve got in here.”
“Uh, well, sometimes, like, Mr. Al, well, he sometimes saves junk and lets me have some,” said Kevin.
Redtail wasn’t sure if Kevin was hiding something or embarrassed or shy or a combination of the three. Then, she spotted a slingshot pouch peeking out from under Kevin’s T-shirt. Redtail said, “Well darn it, Big Al didn’t tell me about his junk stash, but maybe you can help me.” Kevin gave a cautious anticipating look.
“I’m a small game hunter,” began Redtail. “You might say I make my living at it, or at least it’s a big part-time job.” Kevin looked interested as Redtail went on. “I use traps, cubit sticks, and archery, mostly. I almost got a deer with a sharp pointy stick, but that’s big game. Some of my small game even comes pre-killed. Can you recommend a slingshot or tell me what I should look for in a good slingshot?”
The ice was broke. Redtail hit on a pet topic for Kevin and Kevin felt good about Redtail’s finding him worthy to ask.
“They’re not real complicated,” started Kevin as he nervously pressed his arm against his side to better hide his weapon.
Redtail said, “Oh, that’s cool. I saw your slingshot and that’s why I asked.”
Kevin was a bit confused. He felt caught red-handed, yet eager to talk primitive hunting. Looking down at the floor, he continued. “There’s two kinds I use, but I’m not sure what I like best. There’s the tubular rubber kind and the normal rubber band kind. I like ‘em both, but I think I use the forked-stick regular rubber band kind the most.”
“Oh, I am sorry!” interrupted Redtail. “I thought of something I really really have to get done. I need to cook a woodchuck.”
Kevin, now with excitement in his tone, asked, “Cool! Can I watch?”
“I don’t see why not,” replied Redtail, “and you can keep telling me about slingshots.
Redtail went to the back room and got the chuck and some garlic out of the fridge. She washed up the hind quarters and back real good and mashed up the garlic and rubbed it all over the meat.
“Wh… Where’s the rest of it?” asked Kevin.
“Probably being eaten by vultures as we speak,” said Redtail.
“Oh cool!” replied Kevin.
Redtail said, “I saw it get hit by the car, so it was a nice fresh kill.”
Kevin beamed, “Wow! Real roadkill!”
“Jingle” went the screendoor again as two more boys about Kevin’s age came in. Kevin motioned them to come back quickly.
“Redtail’s cooking woodchuck: real roadkill! And she’s a girl!” said Kevin with a you’re-not-gonna-believe-this tone.
The boys glanced at each other, at Redtail, the microwave and back at Redtail.”
Redtail checked the meat for doneness and she overheard a whispered, “She’s awesome!” Redtail smiled. Redtail rubbed on some more garlic and said, “I think three more minutes and we can have some lunch –OK, late lunch.”
One of the boys looked a little nervous, but Kevin and the other almost in unison said, “Can we try some?”
Redtail asked, “Have one of you got a knife, or should I gnaw you off some chunks?” She thought, “I think I’m trying to impress these little guys, but it’s fun.” Redtail gave a big smile.
The less-than-eager boy held out a pocket knife. Redtail said, “Oh, this’ll work great. You wanna try some?”
He shook his head very quickly and stepped back. Kevin and the other stepped forward eagerly, trying to look around Redtail and at the microwave that was counting down, “7…6...5…4…3…2…1…DING!” They laughed and even gave a couple jumps.
She took the sizzling chuck out of the oven and set it on the small table. Kevin said, “This is Jerry and Mike. Mike had the jackknife.”
Redtail said, “Welcome to my circle of friends, Jerry and Mike!” They gave honored-looking smiles.
“Let’s take this out to the porch to eat it,” suggested Redtail. The boys just about tripped over themselves scrambling for the door, as Redtail brought the paper plate.
Redtail sat on the bench and Kevin and Jerry plopped down right beside her. Mike dragged the rocking chair over. Redtail gave a short prayer over the food.
“Lord, we often overlook how abundantly you provide for us. Thank you for this meal, and please bless it. In Jesus Name, Amen.”
Kevin and Jerry looked eagerly at Redtail. She said, “Go ahead.” They both grabbed chunks of meat. Redtail took a whole thigh. She was hungry, and knew what to expect.
Jerry broke the chewy-noise with, “This is good! We gotta hunt some woodchuck!”
Mike reached in for a piece, too. He smelled it. He put it in his mouth and began chewing. His eyes got big and he looked at Mike and Jerry, saying, “Yeah! We gotta get some woodchuck!”
As they munched, an old pickup pulled into town and parked in front of the hardware store. Out got a lanky man with a big beat-up cowboy hat. “Howdy ma’am –boys.” And he strolled into the store.
“Excuse me,” said Redtail. “I got a customer!”
She went into the store and said, “Hi, I’m Redtail. Big Al had to run some errands, so he left me here. Can I help you find something?”
“I’m Renzo. I got the salvage yard east of town. I’m looking for some barb wire to remind folks where the property line is.” Renzo smiled.
Redtail walked right back to the fence wire, saying, “We only got this one size. Hope it’ll suit you.”