Redtail said, “Stories sure spread fast around here.”
Lena asked Redtail, “Remember how nervous AJ got when I mentioned my Posse Connection?”
“OK,” answered Redtail.
“Word gets around fast in our legal system, and AJ knew it. The Judge heads Donowutt County Legal Enforcement meetings and Frank had to mention your questions and tell what he knew of story.”
Judge Noyugo said, “With old George adopting you, we didn’t feel right calling you ‘homeless’. So until you misbehave, young lady, we figure you’re in good hands.” And he grinned and shook his finger at Redtail.
“You know about the adoption, too?” asked Redtail. What don’t you know about me? I bet I could learn quite a bit from you.”
“The George connection’s easy,” said Lena. He talked to Frank and they had dinner with you, and even Sarah’s DCLE. That’s what we usually call our law enforcement system.”
Redtail said, “Wow, for friend connections in high places, sounds like I ran into the right circle of people. I could’ve found AJ’s people first. God’s cool how He set that up.” She looked up and said softly, “Thank You!”
“Sure, some stuff hides from DCLE,” said the Judge, “but not much. George doesn’t hid much from his girlfriend –oops!” Judge Noyugo gave a surprised look. “Is George here? I think that’s supposed to be a secret from them. Everybody in Donowutt County knows they’re an item except for George and Sarah.”
Even Hank laughed at that. “Yep, we know about George and Sarah, but it seems I’m one of the few who hadn’t heard about Redtail.”
Lena told the Judge, “Redtail wants to know all she can about Donowutt County. She seems to love history.”
Redtail said softly, “Loves history… loves history… It feels like that should ring a memory bell for me, but not quite.”
The Judge said, “Looks like I picked the right Tuesday night hangout this week. I usually come out here on Tuesday, but I’ve been known to drop in on The Three Maidens from time to time.”
Redtail laughed, “I know them! And another DCLE connection through Kayla.”
The Judge said, “Donowutt County history is a passion of mine. If I wasn’t a judge, I could see myself as a history professor at the college. Where do you want to start?”
(At this point, Mr. A flipped back through the story to see what had been covered already and pondered on what probably should be covered.)
Lena said, “I told her how Nowhere got its name, and how EZ came to own it.”
Redtail said, “Being a Judge and head of the DCLE, You must know the stories behind Rainy Island Prison. I saw that castle from the road yesterday. It was beautiful.”
“Now there’s a tale to tell,” began the Judge. “I can’t tell you ALL I know about the prison, of course, or I’d have to throw you in one of the cells. Yes, there’s some mystery locked up there. I’m guessing you know about its getting built in the 1500s and the French taking it in the late 1600s. You probably heard how it was the original settlement until they were driven to what’s now Higginsburg. If you haven’t heard all that, go and read the introduction.”
“The introduction?” questioned Redtail.
Lena rolled her eyes, “Yes, of this story. Stop it, Mr. A.”
Hank shook his head. Judge Noyugo continued, “I’ll start by filling in some details on the settlers’ move from Castle grounds to where Higginsburg was finally established. In the very early 1800s, Robert M. Higgins warned and warned of the danger of high water to living at Shaking Head Castle. That was its early name. They finally got that spring of heavy rains and it washed out the land bridge to the settlers’ fields. He spearheaded the move to the higher side of Derche Creek and the people decided to name the town Higginsburg in his honor. Around the time of that move, it’s said the same guy who named Nowhere gave Wilder its name.”
Redtail said, “I heard how Thistle Dew happened, but not Wilder.”
Hank said, “I better be heading out. I’d hate to be leaving after dark with no headlights on the tractor, specially with the Judge right here.” He smiled, wiped down his spot at the table and started for the door.
Judge Noyugo said, “Now you get those lights fixed so you can hear the whole story some time.”
“Yeah,” said Hank, “I think that’d be fun again.” And he departed.
The Judge waited for the rumble of the tractor to subside before he continued. “I think Hank would make a fine Posse candidate, but, I’d hate to have it infringe on his farming time. Anyway, on with the story.
You remember, the guy who named Nowhere was all upset and named it while muttering at his family in frustration. The same crew that christened Nowhere went through what became Wilder a few days later. Mr. Grumbler, who named Nowhere, was just about fed up with the pioneering thing. Probably a city boy. Anyway, he headed back east after this next stop on their trip.
The group of --let’s see-- four families and six wagons stopped because of a fallen tree that fell and blocked the trail. The men were taking a breather after clearing the trail since there was a nice spring to water the animals. The dog started barking and then they heard something crashing through the woods. It got louder and louder –the crashing AND the dog.
A huge majestic buck leaped over one of their freshly moved logs. From what they say, that leap was the stuff of legend, book-covers and wall tapestries. It was beautiful to the extreme. It ended in chaos.
The bear which was chasing the buck tripped over the log the deer leaped and broke its neck. The buck stumbled on landing and ran antlers-first, right into Mr. Grumbler’s horse, killing it almost instantly. The horse fell over on the deer, crushing its ribcage for another fairly fast kill.
Mr. Grumbler threw his hands up and yelled. “Water for the animals, LOTS of fresh meat, flat enough for building, I ain’t goin’ no further!”
They could have picked from a bunch of neat-sounding place names: Bear Fall, Punctured Horse, Flat Buck, Deer Spring, but they used Mr. Grumbler’s suggestion.
One night they were all sitting around the fire eating bear –again-- and someone asked between bites, “So, is this Wild West everything you thought it’d be?”
Mr. Grumbler shook his head and stared into the fire. “It’s wilder. This is just wilder. That’s all it is, wilder, wilder, wilder…” and his voice trailed off into silence.
They watched the fire burn and crackle peacefully. Shadows quietly danced all over among the trees. It was peaceful, anyway, ‘til the limb way up above broke and the hornet nest landed in the fire.
Mr. Grumbler was last heard muttering over and over, “…had eNOUGH of this…” and “…going back home…”
Two days later, Mr. Grumbler and his family were gone. Nobody’d heard from them since. His name didn’t even get passed on with the story, only those two place-names he gave.
It wasn’t many years later the county got lost. Lots of people say Donowutt County got lost through sloppy surveys and lost paperwork, but I think there’s more mystery to it than that. No, I KNOW there’s more, but I’ll let the Folds and Recording Theory stand as the ‘official’ story.”
Redtail gave him a questioning look.
“Well, I can tell you, and I’ll call it theory because it’s even weirder than the Folds and Recording Theory, that the loss of the county has some significant similarities to the mystery of Rainy Island, some of the libraries, T.D. Fera and a few other places.”
Lena flinched a bit and said, “Maybe we’ll wait on that. Redtail, what do you tell George, ‘Let’s talk about the bunny?’”
Redtail looked at the Judge and at Lena.
Judge Noyugo said, “Yeah, it’s a whole other story anyway. Suffice it to say, Donowutt County is at least evasive in being discovered, and for now, I’ll tell you the Folds and Recording Theory.
Back when the surveys were being made for statehood, some of the surveyors got creative and submitted their surveys by way of that new photographic technology. They sent in photographs of the actual papers. When all was said and done, some of the lines didn’t align quite the way they should have. When the final map was constructed from the photos, they fudged some lines to make a passable map. If those original surveys are recovered, we might be able to prove we are a real and functioning county. Of course, I don’t know if I want to see us become official because there’s some real benefits of being more self-governing than most geographic units. We’ve gotten used to the isolation and sort of enjoy it.
Our government is fun. We started with three county commissioners. Their terms were for four years. I think it was their second time around they saw the county was actually two parts –the western farm country nd eastern hill country. The swampier middle part which divided the two turned into mostly conservation lands. The commissioners elected one of the three to be the head commissioner or tie-breaker if there was a dispute. The other two commissioners gradually became eastern and western commissioners and the region from which the head commissioner was elected held a special election for his or her replacement. The head county commissioner became known as the count or countess. We’ve had fun with that.
I’m answerable to the count, who is answerable to the Posse The membership of the Posse is approved on an individual basis by the county judge, whose term is 12 years. I’m in my second term and we don’t have term limits. It sounds odd, but it’s worked since we realized we weren’t going to get much support from either state or federal governments.
The Posse and Law Enforcement are big in maintaining order here. It might almost sound like a police state, but it isn’t. I don’t know how much Lena might have told you about The Posse, but its membership is very carefully picked.”
Lena said, “I told her a little about it. It came up when AJ, a kid who was in here a little bit ago, hinted at character assaults on George and Redtail.”
Judge Noyugo raised his eyebrows and said, “Oh really?”
“Yeah,” continued Lena. “He implied George and Redtail were more than just grandpa and granddaughter and I told him to wipe that thought out of his head because I knew different. He smugly asked why my opinion counted for anything.
I just mentioned you’d be coming in later and he could ask you. Then I mentioned you’d known me longer than the ten years I’d been on The Posse. He suddenly remembered he had another appointment and all the nasty attitude disappeared from his demeanor.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” said Redtail. “He looked scared and almost like he’d wet himself.”
The girls laughed and Judge Noyugo smiled and shook his head.
“Redtail hadn’t heard at all about The Posse, so I told her a little about it,” said Lena.
The Judge asked, “Did you get into any Posse history?”
“No, I figured you’re the accomplished historian and a far better story-teller than I am,” said Lena.
“Well, OK,” laughed the Judge. “The Posse started as a county militia during the Civil War.”
“This is so cool,” said Redtail. “This whole place just oozes with history. I love it!”
“Do you plan to be here a while?” asked Judge Noyugo.
Lena looked at Redtail who gave a look saying that had to be up to Lena. Lena asked, “What cha got in mind?”
“Oh, that Civil War era got me thinking this could be a long story,” said the Judge.
“I’d love it,” said Redtail.
Lena smiled and said, “Well, then, let’s go for it!”
“Not long after the resettling and founding of Higginsburg, Robert M. Higgins’ son, Max, since he didn’t like being called Junior, started the first school. He liked start-up projects, so he started a farmers’ market that blossomed into three markets which grew into our Max Savings Grocery chain. That was a long time before the War. OK, back on track. Are you familiar with William Quantrill and his Civil War activities?”
Redtail said, “Didn’t he do some big massacre in Lawrence, Kansas?”
Judge Noyugo said, “Yes ma’am, same guy. A few weeks earlier, Billy Quantrill and his Merry Men came through Donowutt County. He got a bit puzzled that Higginsburg didn’t show up on his map. He concluded it was part of a Northern plot. He thought if it didn’t appear on his map, it wasn’t supposed to be there, and he ought to erase it. So he began by burning down the courthouse.
Maxwell Higgins, son of R. Maxwell Higgins Jr., rounded up a bunch of locals and they ran Billy and his Merry Men out of town. The courthouse was lost –along with all the county records, and most of the school next door. Maxwell Higgins, who ran the school after his dad, was able to save most of the wall on which the library books were shelved.
The farmers’ market co-op funded the building of a new school and the rebuilding of the old school which eventually became the Maxwell Higgins Memorial Library, with the stipulation that the library always remain independent of any other library or library system. The co-op, which became the grocery chain, still provides funding for the library. Max Savings Grocery Stores is struggling and the library is feeling the money crunch.
Some of their board members and much of the local community feel they’d be better served by becoming part of the Trials Library System, but, Max Savings has to let go first. Their board feels tradition-bound to hang on to the library. I got off track again.”
“That’s quite alright,” said Redtail.
Judge Noyugo cleared his throat and Lena topped off his water. He took a big drink. “So,” he continued, “Robert M. Higgins started Higginsburg, and his son, R. Maxwell Higgins Jr. founded the school and the farmers’ markets which became our local grocery chain, and Max Higgins, R. Maxwell’s son, ran the school that got burnt by Quantrill and started the first militia which became The Posse.
Donowutt County was already used to doing things on its own and now all the county records were destroyed, too. They figured asking for outside help was futile. Times were unnerving during the War. The locals knew they needed protection, so that core militia organized and recruited. They grew into what we now call The Posse.”
Right about then the door opened and EZ came in, spun a chair around, sat on it backward and rested his arms and head on the back of the chair. “What part of the story are we at?” he asked.
Redtail smiled and said, “Billy Q and his Merry Men just rode through Higginsburg.” She looked at the Judge. “Max Higgins Memorial Library isn’t part of Trials Libraries?”
“Nope, until Max Savings lets go, the library’s hands are tied,” said the Judge. “Trials Library System is fun. You might have noticed the different sort of name for a public library. “Trials” is based on the early Donowutt County Circuit Court system. We judges used to travel from town to town, but didn’t want to lug a bunch of books with us. We judges had a lock box at each of the stops along the circuit. Second and fourth Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday each month, we’d run the circuit. Our main library was at the Max Higgins library until the courthouse got rebuilt.
The circuit ran from Higginsburg to Thistle Dew to Baldspot to Big River to Midtown and back to Higginsburg. Thistle Dew and Baldspot were on Monday. We’d overnight at Big River and hold court there Tuesday, then head off to Midtown to overnight and hold court there Wednesday. We’d try to finish there in time to get back to Higginsburg by Wednesday dusk, but sometimes we’d run overtime. Thursday wasn’t scheduled on circuit week and Friday, we’d do paperwork.
In 1925, we dropped the fourth week circuit because roads and transportation improved so more cases could be heard in Higginsburg. By 1935, enough people had cars we gave the people two-years’ notice and in 1937, the circuits ended all together. But about the libraries: the townsfolk started sharing books at the circuit sites. Sometimes the judges would even transport a few books from one Trials Library to another as a favor to people at those locations. That library system stayed after the circuit court went away.
Those circuit libraries were run by volunteers until 1950 when the library won a tax levy and was formally organized into the Trials Library System. Trials shares a lot of its books with Max Higgins, but I don’t know if Higgins is at liberty to reciprocate. Even the Higgins librarians have been heard to strongly imply, if not outrightly say they wish they were part of Trials.
It feels as though I’ve been doing all the talking here. Have you got anything?” Judge Noyugo paused and took a big drink.
Lena said, “Redtail and I have been looking forward to your stories and I told her how you have to listen all week and this is your opportunity to talk.”
EZ said, “I just like to see people enjoying the place.”
Redtail said, “There’s so much neat history around here. Does Baldspot have a fun story for its name? I mean, Higginsburg and Big River seem so obvious and Midtown seems plain. Baldspot sounds like an oddball.”
EZ laughed, turned his chair around and leaned back. Judge Noyugo said, “EZ knows this one. You want to tell it?”
EZ said, “Oh, no. Like Lena said, this is your chance to talk. I always like hearing your stories.”
“OK,” the Judge paused and said, “Last chance.” The judge paused again and EZ gave a go-ahead hand gesture.
Redtail eagerly shifted around. Lena got up and refilled the snack bowls.
“You know,” began the Judge, “bald doesn’t necessarily mean hairless. I told you the story of the circuit courts pretty much in first person. I’d say we, in reference to the judges in general. If I was to tell you I heard many of those circuit cases, hopefully, you could say you caught me in a bald-faced lie. I hope I don’t look old enough to have been a judge back in the mid-1930s. The lie was missing any pretense of truth. A bald eagle is missing color on its head and tail. A bald man or woman is missing hair. Bald means missing something. Hopefully, my stories don’t come across as bald narratives, or missing emotion or just generally lacking.
Back before the Civil War, during our first attempt at state recognition. As a county, someone noticed a blank in the name spot on the incorporation paperwork for that little town north of here. That happened at a county meeting, so there were a couple pillars of the community in attendance. One said, “Looks like a bald spot on that thar form.” The other said, “Yep, it shore do.” They both laughed and said, “Baldspot it is. We were never in any kind of disagreement or agreement over a name, anyway. It’s likely gonna be the only Baldspot Missouri.” So the bald spot on the form got filled in and the name stuck.
Donowutt County had Big River and Higginsburg and several tiny towns with that western farming community somewhere in between for size. Since they were the middle-sized town, that’s what they call themselves, Midtown.”
“Nothing exciting there,” said EZ. “Move along. Move along.”
“That about sums up the place names and the library stories,” said the Judge.
Redtail said, “About sums up? Where did Donowutt come from?”
Judge Noyugo laughed. “You know, we really donowutt the source of that name is. Some suspect it might be an obscure indigenous word, but it’s a fitting name.”
Lena laughed, “I don’t know. You ever see that Far Side cartoon where the Lone Ranger finally looks up ‘kemosabe’ in the Indian English dictionary?”
“Redtail’s not a name I hear every day,” said the Judge. “Have you got a story behind that?”
Lena said, “You better brush up on that for the Three Maidens Bardic Circle, Redtail. We all know you’ll be asked.”
“It probably won’t be the last time I’ll be asked, either,” said Redtail. “I’ll give it a shot.”
EZ jumped up and said, “Oh, hold on a sec’ before you start. I’m gonna get refills on drinks and snacks.”
“OK,” said Redtail. I’ll try to gather up some thoughts.”
EZ and Lena took pitchers back to the kitchen, returning with full pitchers and fresh packages of snacks.
Redtail laughed, “I don’t think the story will be that long or exciting.”
They sat down and nestled into their listening and snacking positions.
Redtail took a deep breath and let it out. She began. “Long ago, as far back as I can remember, which is only a couple weeks, I woke up in the woods. I was sitting on the ground by a country road. I felt better or at least as good as I’d ever felt before. I felt alive and joyful.
That day, I walked and I walked. I wandered through woods and fields, up and down roads with not a care –not even about a destination. I had a couple candy bars in my bag and I snacked on wild greens. I just wandered and wandered that day. On toward dusk, I found a stack of concrete culverts and figured I’d shelter there for the night.
Next morning, I heard strange sounds from the end of the pipe near my feet, so I opened my eyes and looked. I don’t know if that old hawk flew in closer to see if it could eat my feet without tangling with something bigger or what, but it was sitting on the top of the pipe looking in, upside down at me. I jumped when I saw it and it flew away. I scooted out of the pipe and saw the hawk perched on a nearby telephone pole. It flew away again. It was a big red tailed hawk.
Except for the bump on my head, from jumping after I saw the hawk, I felt just as wonderful as the day before., so I set off again to explore my new world. I walked and walked. There’s no way I could have retraced my route, but I figure I left my bag back there in those pipes I overnighted in.
I didn’t know who or where I was and told Tom the story. Tom is an acronym for The Old Man I met at a park. He took pieces of the story and reassembled them in his head. I really think some old-age mental affliction had gotten the best of him. He put the pipes with the bag about which I mentioned was plaid, and concluded I was a Scotsman. After all, he had plaid and bagpipes. He threw the redtail in and proclaimed me “Redtail MacSumpneruther, the Scotsman.” Grandpa George refined the story a bit until what really happened comes back.
For now, I’m RT Scot and I’m visiting my Grandpa George Peterson for the summer. I may stay longer, but that’s the plan for now.”
Judge Noyugo said, “You could probably have fun with a Q&A after you told your story.
Redtail said, with a smile, “While I told that part of my story, it hit me how the RT Scot part came to be. My fictitious parents had their hearts set on naming me after Great Grandpa Arthur, who, of course, is also fictitious. It never crossed their minds I might be born a girl.
They wrestled with names and fell on simple initials, RT. They could be read Artie or Art. Actually, the RT is George’s, but that’s a back story which could work.”
Judge Noyugo mentioned he’d done a little research on missing girls who might match Redtail’s description, but, so far, had come up empty. “Like you said, until your real, or past, life resurfaces it sounds like you’ve got a fair start on rebuilding an identity. I’ll look into how we can make that ID real. That could be handy should you want employment or any official sorts of services or documentation.”
Redtail said proudly, “I DO have a library card.”
They all chatted on another hour or so and Lena gave Redtail a disappointed sigh and said, “I gotta work tomorrow so I need to be heading home.”
Redtail said, “I packed light, so I’m ready too. It was great to meet you, EZ and Judge Noyugo.”
Wednesday morning was overcast but drier. George and Redtail’s paths crossed early. George shared coffee and cinnamon rolls with Redtail before he headed off for the day. Redtail went back to the woods after grooming the yard of dandelion blossoms and violet leaves and flowers. In the woods, Redtail got a squirrel pretty quickly with her bow, which was all the motivation she needed to start a fire.
“I like this kind of independence,” she thought, “but there’s things I don’t like quite as much as other things.” Redtail set the water on the fire to boil up some earthworms. She roasted the squirrel on a steel rod. “I don’t know how worms keep,” thought Redtail, “so I better eat them in one sitting. Squirrel dries OK, and I can snack on it throughout the day.”
Not certain what to expect from the day, and unsure how to prepare for the evening’s Music and Craft Fellowship, Redtail decided to walk to town and forage along the way.
Redtail knew a few hotspots for different plant species, as she’d made the trip before: twice for part of the way.
Redtail stopped at the curly dock patch she and George foraged the other day, and later at her garlic patch. She checked on a road-killed squirrel and raccoon, both of which weren’t fresh enough. The next raccoon was fresh, but too mangled to be worth the bother. A car approached from behind, so she stepped off the road. It slowed down and she stepped off farther and looked back.
As the car neared slowly, the window rolled down. “Hi,” said the woman in the car as Chloe waved from the back seat. “Chloe says you’re Redtail. Do you want a ride somewhere?”
“Um… Sure,” said Redtail. “Thank you. I’m headed to Wilder.” She could see Chloe bouncing excitedly in the back seat.
Chloe’s mom pushed open the door from the inside. Redtail put her bag on the floor and got in. “Hi, Chloe,” said Redtail.
Chloe giggled and smiled.
Redtail and Chloe’s mom shook hands and Chloe’s mom said, “I’m Kitty. Chloe had a dentist appointment, so we missed you when you dropped in at the museum last week. The kids seem quite eager for you to visit again.”
“I’d planned to drop by the museum and library today,” said Redtail.
Chloe gave a little squeal of delight from the back seat.
“Are visitors much of a disruption to lessons?” Redtail asked.
Kitty replied, “Oh, no. Museum operation is part of their schooling, too. One of our students has been collecting data for her Unique People of Wilder project. I think she was talking about wanting to interview you.”
“That sounds like fun,” said Redtail, “though I think my life is really quite normal –for me, that is. But, yeah, I guess it’s comparatively different from others.”
Kitty asked, “What made you want to live in the woods?”
“Weird as it sounds,” said Redtail, “I just woke up one morning and there I was. It’s really all I remember. I know there’s gotta be more, but, I have no memory of it.”
“Wow,” said Kitty, and she stared ahead trying to grasp it. After a second or two of silence, she continued. “I bet that’s scary.”
“Sometimes I feel like I should be scared or worried,” said Redtail, “But, it’s like God’s got all this under control.”
“That’s neat,” said Kitty, and she looked at Chloe in the rearview mirror.
Chloe smiled and said, “Can Redtail come home with us for dinner?”
Redtail turned around and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, but I was going to go to the Music and Craft Fellowship at church this evening. But I’d love to some time. Do you cook?”
Chloe stuck out her lip, but then smiled and told Redtail, “I like to fix macaroni and cheese and ramen!”
Redtail said, “Now that sounds tasty!”
Kitty suddenly straightened up and swerved to miss the big jacked up black pick-up coming at her on the centerline. “Hey! Stay on your own side of the line!” She caught herself and put on an air of false arrogance. “Oh,” she wiped her arm across her forehead and sighed like a ‘30s movie-starlet swoon, “why can’t eeeverybody drive exaaaactly like meee? Myyyy driving absolutely can’t be pecked.” She gave a sigh and a little smile.
Redtail furrowed her eyebrows at Kitty. “Can’t be pecked?”
Chloe rolled her eyes and her mom smiled. “Sure,” said Kitty. “Impeccable! I’m the Relics’ science teacher, not English.”
Redtail shook her head. “OK, I suppose that works. I actually kinda like it.”
Kitty said, “Now that’s scary. Oh, it looks like we’ve about arrived.”
Kitty took the second right, north of City Hall, down the alley.
Redtail said, “I haven’t seen this side of the buildings.”
Kitty said, “Even though this isn’t an event day, I still like to park in back to help keep the atmosphere of the square.”
Sarah’s saloon and museum framed on three sides, a bay-shaped parking lot with six generously sized parking spots. Kitty pulled in to one of the four open spots and they got out of the car. Chloe eagerly offered to help Redtail in with her bags.
“Not so fast, Chloe,” said Kitty. “Let Redtail decide where she wants to go first.”
“Museum’s just fine first,” said Redtail, “but I should probably rearrange my forage for better drying.” She set her bag down, pulled things out and spread the curly dock and garlic near the outside of the burlap sack so it could breathe. She tightly rolled the craft items she planned to work on later and poked them in the bag. She gently stuffed the remaining things around the roll.
Chloe asked, “You eat weeds?”
Redtail said, “Oh, we can’t eat just any weeds, but if you know what’s safe, there’s a lot to eat out there, just growing free.”
Kitty said, “That is so neat. I’d love to learn more about all that.”
Redtail said, “I think I’ve already decided to set up a wild edibles walk for the church –for Wilder Baptist at the corner of town, anyway. Are there other churches here?”
Kitty said, “None here in Thistle Dew. I think our next closest church is in Higginsburg.”
Redtail looked at Chloe who was almost pressing in on her. She still looked quite eager to help, so Redtail asked, “You ready?”
Chloe gave a little excited jump and held out her hands, looking up at Redtail, beaming. Redtail handed her bag to Chloe who then started to the door. She looked back to make sure she stayed close to Redtail.
Redtail said, “You’re not real talkative this morning.”
Chloe just smiled. Kitty said, “I think she’s star struck.”
Redtail whispered back, “Star struck?!”
Kitty said, “Word’s going around about that woman who lives out in the woods. Lydia and Chloe so proudly tell people you’re their friend. I think they’re even plotting something, but I’ll let be their surprise.”
Redtail laughed quietly. “Kids are so much fun. And I know about that cave woman.”
Kitty said, “That’s almost what some stories sound like.”
Kitty, Chloe and Redtail got to the front room at the end of the hall. It was still 15 minutes before start time so everyone who was there, was informally chatting. One girl, probably in her early teens, caught Redtail’s attention. She approached Redtail with an air of business-like confidence.
“Hi, Redtail,” said the girl. “I’m Ruby. I’m working on a museum project called, Unique People of Wilder, and I’d love to do a story on you and your lifestyle if I could.”
The shook hands and Redtail said, “Miss Ruby, I would be honored.”
Ruby said, “I started working on questions, but they’re not finished yet.”
“We could arrange for an interview maybe this weekend or next week,” said Redtail, “if that’d work.”
“That would be wonderful,” said Ruby. “I was also, like, wondering if I could maybe get some pictures of where you live?”
Redtail jerked hard when Lydia slammed into her hip with a big hug. “Well hi, Lydia!” said Redtail as she patted Lydia’s back.
Chloe said, “Lydia! Lydia! Redtail rode in OUR car!”
Ruby harrumphed at the little girls. “We… were… talking? OK? She gave the girls a ‘do-you-mind?’ look. They were oblivious and clung to Redtail.
Redtail just smiled and continued with Ruby. “I don’t see why you couldn’t get some pictures to go with your story.”
Ruby said, with a happy sigh, “Oh that would be so awesome!”
Redtail laughed, “Maybe ‘awesome’ is a little strong.”
Ruby’s business-like dignity was gone. “Oh, cool-cool-cool! I gotta ask Mom if she’ll give me a ride. Would Saturday be OK? I could have a bunch of interview questions by then. This is gonna be so awesome.” Her voice trailed off as she skipped back to her spot at the table.
Redtail smiled and thought, “Yeah, Saturday should be OK. About what time? Do You know where I live?” She laughed and went over to the table. “Ruby, does your mom know where George Peterson lives?”
Ruby looked slightly startled. “Yeah.” Ruby slapped her hand over her mouth and mumbled, “Ohmigosh!” She got a pen out and asked, “What time? Oh, oh, and Saturday, is that OK?”
“Saturday morning would be great, and we could forage for our lunch. Could your mom come too? We could have it real woodsy style. I’m usually up pretty early, but I don’t have a clock. I’ll be going to the Three Maidens Saturday night, so I might need a little late afternoon prep time.”
“I’ve never eaten wild stuff,” said Ruby, “but it would sure contribute authenticity to your story.”
Redtail said to Kitty, “I think I’m going to look around some, like this is a museum and not a classroom.”
“Oh absolutely,” said Kitty. “Treat Rick like the curator and probably Ruby as his assistant. They both know their way around here pretty good. Rick’s not so much the boss as the senior of The Relics.”
Redtail said, “Well, I’m now acquainted with both of them.”
Redtail looked around and headed toward a dimly-lit corner, in which was a microfilm reader. There was a big wooden wall organizer beside it, assumed to be stocked with microfilm. Ruby noted her interest and scurried over to assist.
Ruby asked, “Have you ever looked at old newspapers in a microfilm viewer? It’s really neat. We have most of the papers in hardcopy, too. They’re all Higginsburg and Donowutt County papers, because Wilder never made one except for our annual Walk on the Wilder Side paper. It’s an 1800s style paper.”
“These film readers feel familiar, but, I can’t quite place how,” said Redtail. “I might try to get in here some rainy day for a long browse.” She looked around a short while longer and asked, “Ruby, do you Relics have favorite areas of local history you could talk on?”
“I know me and Rick do.” A flash of embarrassment crossed Ruby’s face. “I mean, Rick and I.”
Redtail smiled. “I knew what you meant.”
“I mean, we’re supposed to write like we talk, so I’m trying to learn to speak proper --ly,” continued Ruby. “And I know more of us have pet history topics, too, but Rick and I are the main history Relics. I’m into local pre-history and Wilder restoration, and Rick’s into pre-industrial statehood.” Ruby gave an excited hop. “Oh, I think the Relics could do a great local history program for you. Yeah! A public speaking, English history project! I gotta talk to Mom about this.”
Redtail said, “That sounds like it would be a wonderful program. Might even try doing it for Walk on the Wilder Side, too. It looks like your classes have started, so I think I should be running off to the library.”
“That’s OK. The museum’s part of my school, too,” said Ruby.
“Well I’ll be back soon, unless, of course, something drastic happens. I’ll see you Saturday,” said Redtail. “We’ll have fun.”
As Redtail departed, she caught some movement in the window out of the corner of her eye. Lydia and Chloe were waving goodbye. Redtail smiled and waved back. The little girls jumped, giggled and went back to their seats, satisfied all was well in their world.
Redtail walked down the boardwalk feeling quite cozy in Wilder. She dropped in on Big Al for a few minutes. He talked her into covering for him at lunchtime, so Redtail got to put her forage and squirrel in his refrigerator.
At Wilder Tackle, Redtail picked up a spool of heavy monofilament fishing line for her snares. She pondered her money situation and thought, “I’m going to have to watch all this wild spending!” As Redtail departed the tackle store, Linda-Jean was opening the library.
“Good morning, Linda-Jean,” said Redtail.
“Good morning, Redtail. You’re in town early for someone without transportation.”
“Yeah, I was going to forage on the way in, but Chloe’s mom, Kitty, stopped and gave me a ride in. Chloe looked so happy in the back seat, I couldn’t say no.”
Linda-Jean laughed. “Kids can be fun.”
“I know,” said Redtail. “And I hate to disappoint one. Hopefully, I can find some forage on the church grounds before tonight’s thing. I also wanted to stop by here to see what all the Thistle Dew library has on survival, wild edibles and even edible bugs.”
Linda-Jean said, “I don’t know about the bug thing, but, it’d still be neat to learn. Let’s see what we can get.”
Redtail said, “So much of what we see in books on wild edibles is only plants and mushrooms. There’s so much more than just that. There’s all the fish and game and even the bugs and roadkill.
Linda-Jean gave Redtail a face twisted in questioning disgust.
Redtail continued. “Yeah, even roadkill, if you can get it before the bacteria does. Cloudy eyes, rigor mortis, odd aroma are all signs of spoilage, but there’s a lot of non-stinky, clear-eyed, floppy meat that goes to waste all the time when it could be feeding people.”
Linda-Jean gave a shudder, saying, “I don’t know about roadkill, but I’d try bugs. How did you ever get into wild edibles in the first place? Or that’s probably silly to ask that”
“I really don’t know, but the whole how to practice it thing is one of the bits of memory I luckily retained. I should be looking up memory loss, too.”
Redtail and Linda-Jean hunted wild edibles, anthropology and insect books until Redtail noted the time which passed.
“Oh! I gotta git!” exclaimed Redtail. I told Al I’d be there at 11:30 to cover for him ‘til he got back.”
Linda-Jean said, “You’ll be just fine. You got 10 minutes and he’s only across the square. But good catch on the time!”
Redtail said, “I know it. I could so easily get lost in a bunch of good books. I’ll go ahead and check these out for you and keep an eye open for that Lesnik book on anthropology and edible insects.”
Redtail packed up her books and told Linda-Jean she’d be back after her grueling shift at the hardware store. Redtail slung her cat food bag backpack over her shoulder and headed out.
About a minute later, Big Al greeted her at the hardware. “Thank you, Redtail! I think I’ll be gone about an hour; two would be a fair stretch, I’m thinking.”
Redtail said, “I should be OK for as long as you need.”
“I’m expecting some packages in the mail,” said Al, “and going to see if my wife needs anything. She’s not feeling real good. We’re hoping it’s just this weather system.”
“I hope your wife feels better soon.” Redtail continued.
“Yeah, me, too, “said Al. “It’s so unlike her to be dragging. Anyway, remember those special orders we talked about the other day? Anyway, if Lena drops in, she can usually handle those.”
“Does she work here, too?” asked Redtail.
“No, but most special orders go through T.D.Fera,” said Al, “and she works out there in their logistics department.”
“Well, I think I should be able to handle things while you’re gone. I’ve got your cell number in case I have questions.”
“I’m sure the fort’s in good hands,” said Al. “I better get going if I plant to get back at a decent hour. Thank you, again.”
They bid farewells. The door went “creak, snap, jingle.” And quietness settled. Redtail scanned the store from the register and spotted some intriguing catalogs in the trash can under the counter. She pulled out a knife and sword catalog full of edged pretties at surprisingly low prices.
Redtail thought, “There’s gotta be a reason this stuff is so cheap. Hmm. Maybe it’s because it’s so cheap.” She smiled as she flipped through the pages.
Redtail jumped and brushed her hand quickly across her head. A shiny bronze and metallic green beetle slightly larger than a pea dropped from her head and onto the open catalog. “Oh, you are a beautiful little beetle. You’d make wonderful jewelry if you weren’t a bug.”
“Creak, slap, jingle,” went the door.
“Whoa, you’ve lost weight, Al!” exclaimed the mayor.
Redtail put on her low voice. “Diet and exercise.”
“Well, I better pass on that,” said Larry. “I think my wife would have words with me if I started looking like you.”
Redtail said, “Speaking of diet, maybe you could answer a question for me. Do you know if Wilder’s square is sprayed with any pesticides or herbicides?”
Larry smiled and said, “I think I do.” He held the smile until Redtail broke a few seconds of silence.
“Please tell?” said Redtail with a frustrated smile.
Larry laughed. “OK, we don’t poison stuff here. Control’s mainly done by mowing, and the pace is slow enough around here the rest is done by hand. I don’t even think the townies spray their own lawns. I know I don’t sell much bulk stuff at my store. Don’t know about Al’s sales of stuff-icides. Sure, we sell the occasional small scale weapons like cans of wasp and hornet or flying insect spray.”
Redtail held up a Japanese beetle trap and asked, “Do you know if these are toxic?”
Larry said, “I don’t carry them at my store, but I’m pretty sure you gotta kill the beetles yourself or let them die of suffocation or heat exposure amongst the other captives. I’m pretty sure the bait is just an aromatic thing and the beetles’ lust and clumsiness takes over as they hit the vanes.”
“Yeah,” said Redtail, “those pheromones probably get ‘em so twitterpated they don’t think straight and consider possible consequences like far too many people.”
“There’s a topic with lots of branches,” said Larry. “I better get what I came in for.”
Both gave a laugh and Larry said he’d come in for gate hinges, nuts and bolts for his big Jack-in- the-box.