Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The RTMac Story (in progress)



“I am sick and tired of the bickering and outright fighting!  Why do people have to be one extreme or the other and then argue and fight about it!  I hate election years.  All my friends think I’m on ‘the other side’ just because I won’t rabidly adhere to theirs.  I’m fed up, and also with all the school work of the Spring Term –my second to the last before graduation!  I’m tired of it. and just tired in general!  I’m gonna take me a long trip and maybe it’ll all go away!  By bus!  Augusta, GA to Seattle!  That’ll give me lots of time to think.  I’ll just tell my parents I’ll be incommunicado for the Summer.”

“Bombarded at every bus stop --every media source –Trump this, Cruz that, Clinton another thing, Sanders another.  I can’t take it anymore!  I’m taking this trip to get away from all that, but I can’t!”  She grabbed her head and walked until she couldn’t hear any media, and she sat down.  She cried.  She cried a little longer and stood up, looked around and just walked off toward darkness. 

She walked and walked.  If a road looked darker, that's where she headed.  She finally stopped.  Except for the nearby night creatures and gentle breeze rippling the leaves, sounds of what called itself "civilization" were distant enough it was almost impossible to discern their sources.  She looked around in the near silence and smiled for the first time in what felt like months.  Then the distant patches of light on the horizon reminded her of the loud peopley white-noisy places where the loudest and angriest thought they were most important or most right.  She stepped off the road a bit, sat down, and sobbed herself to sleep. 

The next morning --or was it still morning? --it didn't really matter.  It was a nice day for walking and that's just what our traveler did.  Through the woods and across an overgrown stubble field, eat a couple hands full of henbit.  She walked through a tiny town, not even noticing what it was called.  It had a little park with a drinking fountain, so she stopped for a drink.  She ate one of the candy bars she had in her bag.  She took a longer look at the bag and wondered, "I thought I had more stuff than this?"  She had a suitcase packed for the trip, but forgot it back somewhere.  "Oh well, it doesn't matter.  It's hard to miss something when you don't know what it is."  She smiled as she thought, “I’ve gone through the woods, but not over the river, so I’m probably not headed to Grandmother's House.  There's another woods.  I'll go through that."

It was almost dark when she came to a clearing.  “That pile of concrete pipes should allow ample shelter for the night,” she thought.  The pipes were almost 3 feet in diameter and she could see out the other end.  She crawled into one and fell asleep.

When she awoke, the sun shined brightly, and she heard an odd scratching sound at the pipe’s opening.  She lifted her head to see a big hawk’s head, upside down, peering into the pipe.  She jumped, smacking her head on the pipe.  Out she scooted.  She straightened up and as she stretched, she saw the hawk fly away off a nearby power pole.  “Stupid redtail,” She muttered as she scrunched her eyes shut and squeezed her head in her hands.  “Good, no bleeding.”  Looking around, she saw nothing to help her get her bearings.  The pile of pipes, however, were at the edge of a graveled area which connected to a driveway leading to a gravel road.  She started walking again.

Up one road and down another, she hiked.  She turned one way and walked and turned another.  Hours passed and she arrived at a small parking lot with a couple cars and restroom facilities.    The structure was heavily painted in brown, and the signs featured routered letters filled in with yellow paint.  “This must be a park of some sort, but where –why don’t I know where I am?”  Then she sat down on a short bit of fence, with a wide-eyed stare and said aloud, “Where am I? is a good question, but who am I? is pretty important, too.”  She jumped when a crackly old voice broke the near-silence of the outdoors air.  “Maybe I can help.  Let’s examine the evidence,” the old man said.  She took a look at the old guy and thought, “At least he’s someone to talk to.”  She guessed him to be close to 80.  Wispy hair on a nearly bald head.  He walked slow and with a cane.  He looked at her and said, “Ya might wanna speak up.  I don’t hear so good, and I’m nearly blind, too.”

She began, “Well, I… Wow!  I hardly remember a thing.  I spent the night in a drainage pipe and woke up to a big redtail hawk staring me in the face.  Oh wait!  I’ve got a wallet in my bag!”  The old guy said, “Wouldn’t do me no good anyhow.  I can’t see good enough to read.”  She glanced around and sighed.  “I must’ve left my plaid bag in that pipe I slept in.  There’s no way I could find my way back there.  Confidently, the old guy said, “I might just have enough to go on.  Plaid, bagpipe, well, shoot!  Yer a Scotsman!.  Yer Redtail Mac…  Mac… Mac somethin’ or other, --a Scot, anyway.”  Another voice broke in as a woman with two kids emerged on the parking lot from a trail.  “Grandpa!  Leave her alone.  Oh, we’re sorry.  Did he try to solve a crime for you?  He often thinks he’s an investigator of some sort.  He wanders off when we turn our heads.  C’mon Grandpa.  Let’s get in the car.  Oh, I hope he didn’t bother you.”  Redtail answered, “Oh, no.  He’s actually been most-helpful.”  The family got into their car and Mom rolled down the window saying, “Enjoy your day, and the wonderful weather.”  The car started and they backed out.

“Well, until I hear otherwise, I guess I’m Redtail MacSumpneruther, the Scotsman.”  Redtail smiled and waved as the family drove off.

                                                                    ***

Chapter 2

Alone again, except for the single car in the parking lot, Redtail took advantage of the restroom and drinking fountain.  She wished she could take the fountain with her as she continued her quest for whatever it was she was looking for.  Redtail spotted a 2-liter bottle in the trash.  “Yes!  It’s still got its cap!” She unscrewed the cap with a slight hiss and she smelled the contents.  “Oh good, this isn’t someone’s spit bottle,” she thought.  Redtail almost skipped the few steps back to the drinking fountain.  After a thorough rinse, she filled the bottle and capped it.  Then she set off.

Some way down the road and a couple hours of twists and turns brought her to something which caught her eye.  Rusty ‘stuff’ and muted weathered colors said she might find some survival goodies off the road and a bit into the woods.  “An old dumping spot.  That’s sure to have some stuff I can fashion into tools,” she thought.  After poking around the junk pile a while, she sat on an old 55 gallon drum and thought, “Wow!  That’s a lot of cool stuff.”

Different people have different ideas about “cool stuff,” and at least for now, Redtail was about as different as they come.  Her pile of “cool stuff” she collected from the junk heap consisted of a 5/16” steel rod about 2 ½ feet long with a flattened drilled end like it had served as a brace of some sort, a plastic Folgers’ coffee can with lid, 4 spiral notebooks with wet moldy wrinkled pages, a garden shovel blade, a 2 quart saucepan with no handle, a 20 pound catfood bag full of empty 20 pound catfood bags, and a metal toolbox, crushed on one side and stuck shut.

Redtail laid the box on its hinge and took the nearby, football-sized rock in both hands.  She squatted by the box, with a knee on both ends.  She raised the rock over her head and slammed it down on the latch side, breaking the rusted seal on the box.  The toolbox was broke, but still not cooperating with the opening.  Redtail took her ‘new’ steel rod and poked it into the box.  After some twisting and prying, the box opened far enough to be able to shake out the contents.

Redtail flipped the toolbox hinge-side up and began shaking.  Soon she had a pile of rust dust, old nails, a ball-peen hammer, prybar, straight utility knife blades, reciprocating saw blades, a slipjoint pliers, a common pliers, an assortment of very well-used screwdrivers and fist full of metal files.  Redtail proudly stood up near her pile of cool stuff and another item in the junk pile cried out, “Look at me!”  Right under where the toolbox had been stuck, appeared to be a very-thin piece of drilled barstock, about an inch and a quarter wide.  Redtail took hold of the rusty bit of metal and gave it a tug.   She pulled it from the pile and it gave a hard-steel ring as if a nice sword was being unsheathed.  What she discovered was a machete blade, and in not too bad shape, either.  The handle had fallen off, but that would be easily repaired.  “What a find!”  All this wonderful stuff, but no home.

Redtail brought the machete to the cool stuff pile and gave the toolbox a toss back into the trash heap.  A tight wad of something fell out as the box hit the heap.  She went over to what she’d missed and picked up the dusty wallet and counted out $72.34.  She sat down, sighed and smiled.  Her stomach growled.  Priorities had reared its ugly head.

“Oh! Oh oh oh oh oh!  I crossed a little creek down the road a little way back!  I wonder if there’s anything in it,” thought Redtail.  “I’ll bring the steel rod for a spear and the notebooks for line.”  She chuckled to herself, thinking, “It’s lined paper, after all.”  “Bait!  There’s worms under some of these boards.”  She rounded up a handful of worms, put them in the coffee can and off she went.

Redtail peered over the rail to a clear, nearly-still pool of water.  Water striders zipped across the surface, while at one edge of the pool a big herd of whirligig beetles meandered back and forth.  The pool seemed to be about 3 feet deep at its deepest, and Redtail didn’t spot any fish except some tiny minnows.  Two concrete culverts took what little of the stream that flowed, from one side of the road to the other.  Only one culvert trickled.  Redtail wondered if she might have any luck with crayfish.  She pulled the wire from a notebook and straightened it as best she could.  She threaded a worm onto one end and bent the wire to secure it.  She laid down on her belly in the dry culvert and worked the wire like a stiff dropline.  Luckily, the crayfish seemed hungrier than she was.  She jiggled the worm by the edge of a rock and a crayfish would rush out and grab it with its pinchers and hug it to its mouth, usually refusing to let go as she gently lifted it out of the water and snatching it to put it in the coffee can.  In about an hour, she had 20 crawdads and used only three of her worms.  She sat up and looked in the can.  She wondered how she was going to cook these.  Redtail packed up and headed back to the junkyard, thinking about her options the whole way.  The sun was still high, but well into the afternoon.  She grinned and broke into a trot to her treasure trove.

She set her dinner down and quickly went to a plastic wastepaper basket bag.  She pawed past the spent Kleenex and snack wrappers and triumphantly held up a broke pair of glasses.  She looked at them, wiped them off and figured she might just have herself a fire-starter –weather permitting.

Kindling was easy, as she’d moved quite a few mouse nests while exploring the junk pile.  She got the sunbeam focused as best she could on the mouse fuzz and began to wonder if the lens would even be strong enough.  She popped the second lens out and put both together to try again.  She just about gave up when a tiny hopeful plume of smoke appeared.  She held the lenses steady until more and more smoke formed and finally, a tiny flame.  She gently blew on the flame and it got big enough she set the lenses down.  Slowly, she fed the flames bigger and bigger sticks until she knew it would stay lit until she could gather more fuel.  With the help of the machete, she got a cooking-worthy fire going.  It didn’t take her long to realize she’d need a better handle than an old shirt sleeve wrap, if she was to use the machete much at all.

Redtail balanced the pan between some rocks near the fire and poured in creek water from the coffee can.  It took a while, but before dusk, the water came to a boil.  One by one, she dropped the crawdads into the water, watching as their tails flipped a couple times then tip sideways as they turned red.  Figuring more is better, she tossed the remaining earthworms into the water as well.  She even found a few tiny wild onions, which didn’t amount to much added flavor.

Redtail thought, “I’m going to let this cook a while, since everything was dirty to start with –pan, water, worms…  She took the slipjoint pliers and lifted the pan from the fire.  While it cooled, she collected more fuel to make sure the fire stayed burning a while longer.  With the fire re-built, she tested the pan to see if it was cool enough to dig out the food.  She tapped the side with the back of her hand, and it didn’t feel too hot.  Then she touched the side with the palm of her hand.  Redtail stuck a finger into the hottish water and drew out a bright red crayfish.  She peeled the shell off the tail, and extracted the ‘vein’ (actually the intestine) and ate the ball of meat –and the strip of meat off the top of the vein.  The pinchers were big enough she broke them open, too, and ate the meat from them.  Redtail smiled, thinking of her first camp food being seafood.  She wondered about all the ‘stuff’ inside the head portion of the crayfish.  She’d heard it, or at least parts were edible.  But with a frustrated sigh, she thought, “Shoot.  My writer isn’t sure, so he’s gonna deprive me of trying.”  She kept cracking shells and eating.  Some pinchers were tough enough she had to use a pliers to gently squeeze get them cracked.  Worms.  Hesitatingly, Redtail looked at the remaining worms.  She ate the onions, which were nicely sweet and flavorful.

Redtail poked her fingers around the pan to get a couple worms.  She squeezed her eyes shut and popped them into her mouth.  Hmm.  Sort of earthy, but then again, they ARE earthworms.”  Chew “…yuck, gritty, but that calamari texture’s got potential!”  She chewed gently, and tried as best she could, to separate the grit.  There was a fair amount of spitting, but Redtail finished her meal and even drank the water, or most of it.  She drank slowly to avoid the sediment.  She wanted to save the clean liter of water she had left in the bottle.   Almost dark.  She’d better find somewhere to sleep.

Redtail got up from dinner and took a few steps and stumbled on something in the ground.  She reached down and unearthed a block of steel.  It was heavy and about 5 or 6 inches square and nearly an inch thick.  She had no clue what she might use it for, but thought it’d be cool enough to include with her cool stuff.  Around and around the heap she walked, and off to a side and under a mass of dirt and leaves, she found a sheet of half-inch plywood with the corners rotted off.  She wondered, “I don’t know why I gotta sleep “under” something, but it just feels better.  It don’t look like rain at all tonight.”  She slid the 55 gallon drum farther out of the heap and propped one side of the plywood on it.  With the leaves, she made herself a bed for the night.

As she stirred the ashes and dug the fire out, she pondered hygiene, clean utensils and other food-ware, and wondered about starting fires without sunlight, or in wetter conditions.  Then she rebuilt the fire, using a couple glowing embers to get it restarted.  She cleared all the potential accidental fuel away and went back down to the creek to refill the pan and coffee can with water.

She stoked the fire back up and hoped she’d have enough spark left by morning to get more water boiled.  And she crawled into bed and fell asleep.

                                                               ***

Chapter 3

WHAP! Tinkle tinkle tinkle!  Redtail woke with a start.  She listened for a bit and smiled, thinking at least she didn’t bump her head or get greeted by a big hawk.  But what was that noise?  She kicked the plywood sheet off, and caught it with her foot, as it tried to close back over her.  Standing up and giving a big stretch, she thought, “Eww!  These clothes are getting grodie!”  She walked out to the road to where the noise came from, and spotted a tiedown strap that must’ve snapped off a passing truck or car.  She grabbed it, thinking, “More cool stuff.”   She really wanted to look at that creek some more.  Maybe there’s a place with real fish.  She rolled up the strap and wandered back down to the creek.

“Upstream or down?  I’ll try down.  Maybe I can find a deeper hole than here by the bridge.”  Into the woods and along the creek she went.  She’d gotten far enough downstream the passing car was barely heard.  A short while later, she came across a bend in the stream with a beautiful rocky, deep, clarity to the water.  OK, Maybe 4 feet’s not deep, but a pleasant change from the riffles of earlier.  She climbed to the high side of the bank and found a spot to lay down to study the pool.  There’s some pan-size fish in this creek!  She stood back up and looked around and listened.  Nothing but nature, and the road is quite a way away.   I think I just might come back here to do some laundry and get a bath.   And she even spotted ripe raspberries!  What a wonderful, relaxing day in store.  She grabbed a bunch of raspberries and headed back to her camp.

Still enough fire to get one going for cooking, so she loaded on more fuel and put the pot on to boil.  While the pot boiled, she remembered for the boiling to do any good, she’d have to find more storage containers.  She dug around more in the heap.  A couple baby food jars, three quart canning jars, and more lids than she needed for her finds.  She took the steel rod and used it to drop the jars into the boiling water.  The water cooled, and she poured it into the jars.  She sort of felt guilty pouring any out for lack of containers, but she did a little after drinking more than she felt comfortable with.  She saved her drinking fountain water in case she felt a need for a clean rinse, should she ingest something nasty.  Redtail took a quart bottle with her as she headed back to the pool she found.  She took a step and a truck started heading for her junk heap.

Redtail got excited as she thought of more human interaction, and she started toward the truck.  They made eye contact, and the driver gave a panicked look and slammed on his brakes.  He threw the truck in reverse and stomped the gas to back out of the overgrown access road.   She called for him to stop, but when he hit the blacktop, tires squealed and the truck sped out of sight.  She wondered why he left in such a hurry, and then thought, “Maybe he wasn’t supposed to be there, and thought he was caught.”  “I guess I’ll head off to the pool then.”

At the pool, she stopped and sat for a while, listening and watching.  Only Redtail and Nature out there.  She silently went down to the water’s edge and slipped off her shirt and began a thorough rinse.  She wrung it out and hung it on a nearby branch. She stopped and listened again.  Nothing.  She took off her pants and did the same thing.  Then she noticed the gentle current cleared the water between washings.  “Well now, that’s cool,” she thought.   Then she sat down in the water for a soak.  It was on the cool side at first, but she quickly got used to the temp.  She slid into the water ‘til she was up to just about her chin and waited and listened.  Still just the woodsy silence.  She felt some odd tingles, then an occasional pinch sensation.  She jumped and looked, to realize it was a whole school of little sunfish nibbling ‘stuff’ off her.  She settled back into the soak.  Thinking she was getting too comfortable in the water, she gave herself a rub-down and scooted to clearer water for a rinse.

She stepped from the water and hand-squeegeed herself nearly dry.  Her clothes were still uncomfortably damp, so she cautiously did some exploring to air-dry after turning the clothes right side out and re-hanging them.  She ate some more raspberries and found an embankment that offered a place at which she could make a new camp.  She went back to her hanging clothes to find they’d dried.  Getting re-dressed, she felt quite refreshed, and planned to rebuild her camp at the embankment.

Redtail figured she needed a map, and that there might be enough useable paper in the notebooks to do that.  She arrived back at the junk pile and began packing the catfood bags.  Four bags would be rough to carry in one trip.  Then she remembered the tiedown strap.  She tied two bags together and figured all four would be a bit heavy, so she tied the third to the other end of the strap.  She slid her head under the strap and stood up.  That would work quite nicely.  She carried her load to her new site, with only one car driving by.  They gave her some odd looks.  The girl in the car even sneered, she thought.  She went back for the fourth bag, but spotted another item she thought would go good with her cool stuff.  It was a big chunk of some sort of ceramic pot.  She knew that piece of smooth bottom would make an excellent sharpening stone.  There was still room in the bag.  As she carried the last bag off, she looked at the sheet of plywood and gave a sigh.

With all four bags at the embankment, she smiled and then grumbled, trudging back to the junk heap to try to get that sheet of plywood back to help her in shelter-building.  She tipped the sheet on its side and tried to lift the whole thing.  She tried to drag it flat.  This just wasn’t going to work.  She tipped it back on its side and dragged it, while it scuffed its corner.  She made it back to the embankment and saw the little trench it left in the ground where it scraped.  She walked back to the junk pile for her last time that day, while trying to cover up the line leading anyone to her new camp.  She got back to the pile and grabbed several longer boards to also help in her shelter-building.  Back to the embankment she trudged.  She was getting a little tired by now, but the day was still young.

Redtail sat down and dug out the best-looking of the notebooks.  About half of it was useable, even though the lines had faded off through moisture damage.  She flexed the notebook back and forth a few times and most of the pages separated.  Then she realized she had nothing to write with.  Another sigh, knowing there’d be another trip back to the junk pile to hunt down a pen or pencil.  Redtail figured the shelter was more important, so she set about trying to figure how it should be built.

She had nails.  She had crude cutting tools.  She had a hammer.  She had very limited lumber, but a woods full of trees.  Redtail picked out two tall thin trees of about 5 inches in diameter at the base.  She wrapped the machete handle with a catfood bag and began chopping.  Redtail massaged her shoulder with her un-worn arm after she got the trees down, but she was happy to have gotten them down.  She set the narrow tips on the embankment and got the plywood rolled end-over-end onto the saplings.  She wondered why trees aren’t called saps if young ones are saplings.  “I wish my writer wouldn’t do that,” she thought.  She slid the plywood up to the tops of the trees and felt stuck.  How does she keep it from simply sliding back down the trees?  Then she gave up and let it slide back, while she got the nails and the hammer.  She got back under the sheet and slid it back in place, held it with her hip, placed a nail in her mouth, one in her left hand and the hammer in her right.  She placed the nail where she wanted it and hit her thumb on her first swing.  She winced, but was lucky she wasn’t experienced with a hammer with full power behind the swings.  She took the second nail from her mouth and tapped it into place with a bunch of little taps.  Hesitatingly, she released pressure from her hip, and the board held.  She grabbed another nail and braced the board while she tapped the next one in place.

Redtail was convinced she had an OK shelter for the night, and decided to make a map of her surroundings.  She grabbed a handful of raspberries and headed back to the junk heap.  The heap almost felt like home, and she knew her way around it pretty well, but she had to dig into places she hadn’t been before.  She poked her steel rod into holes and pried stuff as she could.  One poke gave her a hollow sound.  Redtail pried and dug.  She soon realized it was a plastic tub.  She pried and pulled, then broke the side of the tub out and reached inside to see what might lurk within.  Wonderfully, it seemed like it was full of office supplies.  Stapler, ruler, Post-It notes, but no pens or pencils.  A coloring book came out, then a set of safety-scissors. But it wasn’t empty.  She reached in again and found a make-up kit.  And  again and got a box of used crayons.  That was enough for Redtail to complete her mission.  She headed back to the embankment.

On her way back, she picked any greens she thought looked dandelion-like, since she’d read there are no toxic dandelion look-alikes.  She got some dandelion, and lots of chicory.  She sat down when she got back and took a short nap.  The sun was high when she awoke, so she figured it was a good time to start a fire.  The fire was going, and she went down to the creek for a pan of water to boil.  Water on the fire, she sat back down to begin her map.  She only had a few points to draw out, but it would be a start in trying to figure out her world.  She drew out what she called: Home, The Berry Patch, The Laundry Room, The Crayfish Hole, and The Supply Depot, which is what she decided to call the junk heap. 

The sun was starting to get low, and Redtail gathered more firewood.  She took out her slab of metal.  She got the hammer and her steel rod.  She thought she ought to make herself a fish spear, and began to hammer the tip flat.  Tink.  Tink. Tink.  Tink.  And the tip got flatter and flatter.  Tink.  Tink.  Tink.  Tink. And she took out a file and started tuning the tip more finely.

Meanwhile…   Into Redtail’s woods, farther than she’d explored, at another encampment, George listened and puzzled.  “Dang! I smelled smoke yesterday, and now, I got me a woodpecker sounding like a blacksmith out in my woods.  It’s getting near dark, so I’ll see what I can find out in the morning.” 

George retired from the mainstream workforce recently, and he and his wife spent much of their adult lives preparing for a minimalist lifestyle.  Pure off the gridding self-sufficiency had been the goal.  George’s wife passed away several years back and they had no children.  It was just George on their 200 acre place that backed up to the huge conservation area.  George still had power, water and a retirement check.  He also made a little money on the side through donations as he taught survival classes.  He’d been striving toward this nearly reclusive lifestyle long enough stories had begun to circulate among the local youth about the scary old backwoodsman.  (MN about Rancid Crabtree and Patrick McManus)  Despite the tales, old George was about as friendly and helpful a guy as you’d ever meet.

“Tink… Tink… Tink…” again came from the woods.

                                                                  ***

Chapter 4

George heard a rustle in the leaves and a grunt as Redtail slipped on a slick spot on the bank between the pool or Laundry Room and her home.  George dropped to the ground and winced, but didn’t let out a grunt.  His knees weren’t what they used to be.  He watched and a couple seconds later, spotted movement and soon saw Redtail come up from the creek and her morning forage.  All kinds of thoughts started running through his head.

George thought, “What’s she up to?  Is she alone?  That’s quite a make-shifty site.  She doesn’t appear to be armed or ready to fight.” A pang of concern ran through his head as he pondered, “She’s an awfully pretty little thing to be out here all by herself.”  He watched quietly as Redtail held the lenses together and started her fire.  Redtail put the pan of water on the fire and placed two hands full of greens in to simmer.  She grasped a utility knife blade with a pliers and slit open the bellies of the three little sunfish she caught.  She gutted them and slid them onto the metal rod and propped it over the fire with rocks and sticks.  The greens were finally done and she hoped the fish were, too.  She pliered the pan off the fire and jerked her hand back when she touched the rod holding the fish.  “That was dumb!  Might even leave a mark,” Redtail thought.  Slowly, so as not to startle Redtail, George got up.  His knees poked him and this time he grunted.  Redtail looked his way.

They both paused when they made eye contact and George broke the awkward silence.  “Hello, young lady.”  Redtail said, with no surprise in her voice, “Hi, have you been there long?”  “I heard some noises last night and thought I should come down here and check up on you this morning.  I’ve been here a little while.  That’s quite a fire-starting system ya got there,” George said as he approached her camp.  “I’m just happy it’s been sunny this week.  I don’t know what I’d do if it was cloudy,” replied Redtail.  “That was nice of you to come down and check up on me.  Thank you,” she continued.  George paused to catch his thoughts and said, “Yeah…  I tell you what.  I don’t smoke and I got another lighter back at the house.  You want this one?”  She gave the lighter a wide-eyed look and with a knot in her throat, said, “Oh, thank you so much!”  And she reached to accept the gift.

“Would you like some tea?” Redtail asked.  “Ah… sure,” George said, “What kind is it?”  “Mostly dandelion and chicory, I think,” she said.  “Well,” George said, “at least it’ll be interesting.”   Redtail smiled with delight as she got the two babyfood jars for tea cups.  She scooped one into the pan and handed it to George, warning that it might be hot.  He accepted it and waited for her to scoop her ‘cup’.  He sipped the pale yellow-green liquid and thought, “Yep, it’s dandelion and chicory.”  George said, “You got a nice place here.  You lost or something?”  Redtail replied, “Oh no!  This is home.”  She jumped up and went into the ‘house’ (under the sheet of plywood) and returned proudly with her map.  “Nope, I’m not lost.  See?  Here’s Home, where we are, the creek, the Laundry Room, the Crawdad Hole and the Supply Depot.”  George raised an eyebrow at the Laundry Room hoping she wasn’t soaping up the creek, but gave a chuckle at the Supply Depot.  He said, with a smile, “Your Supply Depot, years ago, used to be my garbage dump.”  Redtail put her hand to her mouth in worry and slowly asked, “You mean,” as she looked around the site, “All this stuff is yours?”  George chuckled and said, “Oh, it can all be yours if you like.”  “Even the money?” she asked.  “I don’t remember it, so, yeah, even the money.”

George finished his tea and complimented her on her cartography skills.  He stood up, stretched, and said, “Well, I gotta head out.  I got me some fish calling my name today.  If you need anything at all, my camp is that way, over a couple hills –pretty much straight north, according to your map.  It was nice to meet you.  By the way, my name’s George.  You are?”  “Oh, I’m Redtail MacSumpneruther or maybe it’s Scot.  It’s kinda fuzzy.  Anyway, I’m a Scotsman.”  George looked at her, smiled and gave a little head shake.

George started back to the house.  He had a few out-loud chuckles over the conversation.  “That’s one screwy little girl, but I like her already.  She’ll be a fun neighbor.”  Redtail peeled her fish out of their skins and scooped the greens from the pan.  She, too, thought about the conversation.  “It’s gonna be nice to have someone to talk to.  I like George.”  She looked at the lighter, hugged it and smiled.  With a tear in her eye, she looked skyward and yelled, “Life is wonderful!”  George stopped and wondered, “Did I hear what I thought I heard?”  He smiled, too.

                                                        ***
Chapter 5

The whole time old George was out fishing, he thought about just how he was gonna handle this whole Redtail situation.  She needs more supplies, clean water and better ways to cook.  Hmm.  I might even let her have one of the tents.  George caught some decent bass and as he cleaned them, thought, “I bet Redtail’d like a fill of dinner, rather than just a few bites.”  Instead of throwing the fish in the freezer when he got home, he baked two.  He rounded up a set of camping plates, a couple extra pans (with handles), some flatware, and some plastic pails.  He stuck that and a 10x12 tarp with rope in a backpack.  He wrapped the baked fish in some foil, then in some towels and put them in a bucket.  Then George got a couple gallon water jugs full of clean tapwater, hooked ‘em on his finger and took the whole load out to the woods and down to Redtail’s camp.

“Redtail”, he called softly.  He didn’t want to be too loud incase she was stalking something.  He walked around a little, calling her name.  Soon, from off in the woods a bit, Redtail called back, “Hi George.”  Her face was all smeared up with dirt, so George asked, “What happened to you?”  Redtail said she’d been deer hunting.  She explained she’d been standing very still and quiet by a tree, waiting for a deer to wander by, and she’d lunge out with her sharp stick and get it that way.  George started to smile then he spotted the hair tufts on the tip of the stick.  She said, “I guess I didn’t lunge hard enough.”  George said, “It looks like you almost got one!  You know, deer season ain’t open.  Gittin’ one could be pretty risky.”  He asked if she was hungry, and she assured him, indeed she was. 

Redtail proudly told George of her fire-starting idea.  She found a raccoon on the road, and one of its hind legs was still good, so she ate that for lunch, but she used all the fat she could salvage from the animal and soaked a bunch of mouse nests in it after she heated it in the pan, to use as future fire-starter.  Very pleased, she smiled and waited for some approval.  George nodded, and said, “Now that’s some creative thinking.  While you were out doing all that, I got some fish, and brought you some stuff I thought you might be able to use.  He pulled the fish from the bucket and unwrapped it.   She was eager for dinner. 

As they ate, George mentioned the water he’d brought, and told her some other stuff was in the backpack.  He planned to leave it all there.  Then he asked, “Have you been living down here very long?”  Redtail said, “No, I only moved in the day before yesterday.  Before that, I lived at the Supply Depot, and before that, at the Pipes.  It’s sort of a blur before that.”  “”Redtail MacSumpneruther” is a different sort of name.” George said.  Redtail answered, “Oh, the investigator at the park told me that’s my name.” 

George paused and said, “I’ve got stuff to do in town tomorrow, but would you mind if I dropped by with some dinner tomorrow night?  Could I bring another friend with me, too?”  Redtail thought a short bit, then said, “I think that’d be great.”  George said he’d bring something other than fish.

                                                            ***

Chapter 6

The next morning George headed to town.  He pulled into the police station and stood outside for a while, wondering if he was doing the right thing.  Then he walked in.

The dispatcher gave him a big smile and said, “Hey George.  Looks like you got something on your mind.  How can we help you?”    George replied, “Well, yeah, Sarah.  I got some questions.  You got any missing persons reports outstanding?”  Frank, one of the two patrolmen visually eased himself into the conversation.  Sarah said, after looking at the computer a bit, “No, none I can spot right now, but I can check around with some of the other towns nearby.  Why do you ask?”  George cleared his throat, “I found a girl in my woods.”  Frank dropped his notebook, and Sarah gasped.  “No no no no!  She ain’t dead.  I heard some noise the other night and went to check it out yesterday morning to discover her camped in the woods.  We talked, and she even shared tea with me.  I brought her some fish last night and asked if I could bring dinner again tonight.” 

Sarah narrowed her eyes at George and asked, “How old is this girl?”  George grinned and said, “If there was any idea of hanky-panky, I’d not have brought it up with you in the room!  She’s probably in her mid 20s.  She could be my grand daughter, if I’d’ve had any kids.  Yeah, I like her.  By the way, she said I could bring a guest to dinner tomorrow, too.  Seemed even eager to meet more people.  Either of you game?”  Frank said, “Unless Sarah wants to go, I’ll go with you.”  Sarah said, “Yeah, I can check things out later if I feel like I need to,” as she smiled and squinted her eyes again at George.  “Ya might want to come in civvies, Frank.  I’d hate to scare her off to someplace she might be less safe.” said George.  "I don't wanna get out to her camp much after 5:30, so I don't disrupt her bedtime schedule," George said.  Frank replied, "I'll try to be to your place about quarter to 5, if that's OK."  "Sounds great," said George. “If you don’t find a missing persons match, might I need to file something like a found person report?  Is there any such animal?”

George got home and chopped some potatoes, onions, carrots and celery into a pot, and started to bring it to a boil.  He added black pepper, a little salt and two pressed cloves of garlic.  When it came to a boil, he threw in a cup of barley and chunked turkey breast, thigh and drumstick. It all came to a boil again and he turned it down to a simmer.  Not wanting to dirty up Redtail's stuff, and maybe even more, that he had no idea how or if she washed her eating ware, George packed all the stuff they'd need for dinner.

The stew was off the boil, and packed up when Frank arrived.  George packed another backpack and took the thermos of coffee.  Frank took the bucket which had the bowl of stew, and they headed out.

George tried to let Frank know sort of what to expect of Redtail.  “She’s a screwy girl.  I don’t know if she’s got amnesia or something or just trying to hide her identity.  I think she made up her name.”  Frank wondered out loud “Suppose she’s on the run from the Law?”  George concluded, “Nah, she’s too nice a kid for that.  She might be runnin’ from something, but I don’t think she’s in trouble.  She’s also pretty smart –comes up with some neat camping ideas.  I just don’t think she’s got a whole lot of practical survival experience.  She could use a little help, but not a whole lot.” 

Redtail’s camp got within sight.  George called out to Redtail.  She answered pretty quick, and stood up from the fire she’d just gotten going by her new method.  “I found some neat stuff over at Supply,” Redtail said eagerly.  “It looks like some sort of antique lighter, like the ones you have to put lighter fluid in.  It sparked after I played with the wheel for a while, then I got it to catch on my fat-soaked mouse nests!  It was almost as easy as the lighter you gave me, but I’m saving that for emergencies.”  George looked and said, “I remember those Zippos.  I also remember the chemical burns on the leg when they got a little over-filled.  Redtail, this here’s Frank.  He’s a friend of mine from town.”  They exchanged greetings and Redtail said, “If you’re a friend of George, you must be a good guy.”

Frank asked, “Are you just out on a camping trip, or are you lost?”  Redtail replied, matter-of-factly, “It must be a camping trip, because I’m not lost.  Lost means you know where you should be, and I don’t think I know that, except for here.”  Frank then asked, “How long have you been in the area?”  Redtail smiled and said, “Oh, I’ve been in this area as long as I can remember.”  Frank gave a choked snort, looked at George and held back a frustrated smile.  George said, “Yeah, Redtail seems to remember back only about a week, and not a whole lot more.  So, besides the lighter whatcha been up to today?”

“It was so fun at the Supply Depot!  There was lots of new stuff there, “ said Redtail.  George gave a little grumble, thinking, “Shoot! Another dumper.”  Frank gave George a quick look, thinking the same thing.  He broke George’s frustration and asked, “So, did you find any useable items?”  “I got a few things.  I found the lighter, and a bunch of wire.  I even got a pair of torn jeans.  I can pull thread from the seam edge and use it for sewing if I need to.  I made a needle, too, from a piece of the wire.” Said Redtail.   “I also built a box for that neat cooking stuff you gave me last night.”

George looked around, not seeing Redtail’s new construction, and then it came into sight.  “Wow!  You got that stuff hid nice!  Nobody’s going to find your camp without really hunting.”  He smiled and added, “Are you sure you’re not hiding from someone?”  Redtail gave her first negative-looking expression, and replied with a pleasant, yet almost insulted tone, “No!  I think the woods are so beautiful I don’t want to spoil the look with my home!”  The smile came back as she asked, “You think I did a good job being tactical?  I got the box and even the tarp set up right over there,” pointing to a newish-looking brush pile.

George handed Redtail the stew as he went to her hidden tarp and box.  Redtail asked, “Do you want me to put this on the fire?”  “Only if it’s not hot enough,” George replied.  “I better quit bringing you stuff or it’ll be harder and harder to keep the site nice.”  Redtail said, “You’ve done so much for me already!”  “Well, I got at least one more thing for you, and I think you’ll be pretty well set up.” said George.  Both  Frank and Redtail looked at him, waiting for him to finish the thought.  “You almost got that deer yesterday –out of season, I’ll add, but so you can get other stuff that might be in season, I want to bring you a bow and some arrows.  Squirrel’s almost never out of season.”  While George finished his thought, Frank took the liberty of getting the dinnerware out of the backpack and Redtail put the stew on the fire.  George looked over Redtail’s handiwork.

George came back to dinner and sat down by the fire.  “Well, Redtail.  Regardless of where you came from, you got some nice background in living out in the wild.  You just seem so comfortable with it.”  Redtail replied, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more enjoyable than basking in and admiring God’s handiwork!”  Redtail handed him a cardboard soup bowl full of stew and a plastic spoon.  They all ate, small-talked and watched the fire.

Frank noted it was starting to get late, and suggested he oughtta be heading home.  George said, “Yeah, I better be lettin’ you get to bed and head back, too.  I’ll take the dinner trash back up to the house.”  “G’nite George!  Good meetin’ you, Frank.  Have a safe trip through the woods,” Redtail said as they headed up to the house.

On the way back to the house, Frank and George discussed the evening.  “Until she does something illegal or fits a missing persons report, there’s really nothing we can do but protect and serve.  You gave her permission to stay on your place, so she isn’t trespassing.  Her only possessions seem to be stuff you’ve given her or stuff you said she could have from (he coughed) Supply,” Frank said.   George asked, “You think we oughtta make up some sort of found person report?”  “We could start an unofficial file on her,” Frank said, “to at least create some sort of identity on her.  It really couldn’t be a police report, so you could keep it at your place.”  “That gives me a bunch to think on tonight, Frank.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.” 

                                                                       ***

Chapter 7

“George!” Redtail exclaimed the next morning, “You got all kinds of poison hemlock growing by your barn!”  George was startled by Redtail as he stepped out on his back steps to feed the dog.  He rubbed his eyes and squinted at Redtail. “Well, maybe not ALL kinds,” she said, “but one, at least, and a lot of it.”  George smiled and sat down on his step.  “You know, you’re right about that, but I gotta ask you a question.  How do you know it’s poison hemlock and not just wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace?”  Redtail pondered the question and asked in a tone making it more a statement than a question, “Isn’t wild carrot and Queen Anne’s lace the same thing?”  “Shoot,” said George, “I thought I’d gitcha on that one.  Want some coffee?”  “Sure sounds good,” said Redtail as she knelt down by the dog and started petting him.  The dog looked up, wagged its tail and went back to eating.  “What kind of dog have you got here?  He’s nice,” said Redtail.  George looked out the back door and said, “Oh, Mr. Ziffel is a blue heeler/border collie mix.  He’s an oldtimer –almost got as much gray hair as I’ve got.  How do you want your coffee?”  “Redtail looked around and picked up the dogfood can saying, “We can just rinse this out…” George got that at-a-loss-for-words look and Redtail continued, “…I AM just kidding.  Black’s fine.” 

George extended an invite, “You can c’mon inside if you like.”  “Nah, I think I’ll stay outdoors as much as I can, but thank you,” she said.  “I just need you to know,” said George, “my place is always open for you.  I’m even gonna show you where a key’s kept, in case the door’s locked.”

George returned with 2 big mugs of aromatic black coffee.  He unfolded a couple lawnchairs he had leaning against the house and took a seat.  Redtail took a deep breath of the aroma, then a heavily carbureted slurp off the top of the cup.  “Mmmm, this is gonna be good.  I’ll let it cool a bit.”  “What can you tell me about that hemlock question?” asked George.  “Well, I’m not real sure.  I just know one from the other,” answered Redtail.

George began, “I teach survival skills, and wild edibles is a huge part of survival.  About hemlock, I also used to just know.  I figured I needed a better answer than “Cuz I know,” so I looked into it.  The leaves look very similar but hemlock leaves are slightly more geometric –prettier, really.  Poison hemlock stems are smooth with purplish flecks to being almost purple-black with the markings.  And they’re hollow.  Wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace stems are fuzzy with a pithy center.  The flower shapes are different, too.  But if you bruise the root, and it doesn’t smell like carrot, don’t eat it!  There’s lots of look-alikes out there and I’m still trying to get past the “cuz I just know” stage with lots of them.  (shaking finger in the air)  Proper ID!  Proper ID!  That brings up another topic I think we need to discuss.”  Redtail looked around and paused before saying, “I just checked my schedule and it looks pretty clear.”  They both smiled.

“Frank and I were talking last night, and we figured you needed to be identified.  Someone, somewhere, has got to be missing you.  If you never figure out who you used to be, we thought you at least needed to have a new beginning.  Here’s what I came up with last night.  Feel free to break in if something feels out of line or if you want to add anything.”  Redtail said, with a little laugh, “OK, this sounds like fun.  Might even be informative.”

“Let me start by telling you a little history about our town.  Maybe it’s just legend, but anyway, if yours gets wrote down, by the eyewitnesses, it won’t be just “The Legend of Redtail.”  Redtail said, “It does have a nice ring to it, but real’s better than just legend.”  George began the tale, “Back in the late 1800s one Spring, the townspeople had finished all the requirements of making Wilder, MO, official.  They finally finished the paperwork and headed to the county courthouse.  Somehow, on the way, the paperwork got loose and blew into old Derche creek.  One of the guys muttered under his breath, “a river Derche, paperwork.”  Ever since then that little creek has frequently been referred to as the river, or Arivederci.  OK, sorry, back on track.  Anyway, most of the townsfolk were there, so they kept on going to the courthouse and got there almost at closing time. 

They broke in on the county clerk and in a clamor got new paperwork all signed and handed to the clerk, and he asked, “What’s the name of the town?”  Of course, the mayor was distracted and didn’t hear the clerk.  He assured himself all was well and said, “This’ll do.”  The clerk thought he said, “Thistle Dew”, and repeated, “Thistle Dew” and the mayor answered, thinking he was saying the paperwork looked good, and said, “Good!  Good!”  And the paperwork for Wilder, MO was submitted as Thistle Dew, MO.  That’s why the sign at city limits and the mail reads “Thistle Dew” while lots of the buildings in town say “Wilder.”  Now I don’t know how true that is, but that’s the story.  With that kind of local misidentification history, I wanted to get you documented.  Made up or not, at least you can fall back on something. Seems you’re in just the right place for folks to understand your misidentification. 

Since I’m talking “right place”, here’s your address.  “114 County Road ZZ, Thistle Dew, MO.”  That’s here.  And since the townsfolk will start to ask, “Who’s that girl sharing an address with old George Peterson?”  I hereby adopt you as my granddaughter, if you’ll have me.”  “Redtail smiled and said, “This reality is sounding good.  Tell me more, Grandpa.”  George chuckled saying, “Yeah.  That does sound good.”

“Frank and I figured a way to keep “Redtail” but “MacSumpneruther” sounds too made up to be realistic on official forms,” suggested George.  Redtail cut in quick, saying, “That was really only ‘til something better came along anyway.”  George breathed a sigh of relief but hesitatingly asked, “The Scotsman thing really isn’t…” Redtail interrupted, “Oh, I know I’m not a man.  That’s just what the detective at the park called me.”  George let out another sigh of relief and leaned back in his lawn chair.  “Good!  We figured the Scottish part was still credible.  I know some folks whose real names are just initials, and with the Scottish thing, I came up with “RT Scot.”  I figure it’s easy and fairly legitimate-sounding.  If you like “Redtail” that still fits quite nicely with RT.”  Redtail replied, “Yep, sounds OK so far.  I’m George Peterson’s granddaughter, RT Scot.  I’m living out at his place for the Summer.  Who knows, it might even be longer.”  George said, “Wow, this is going so much easier than I thought.”  RT replied, “Like I said, or at least thought, the whole identity thing was until something better came along.  I’ve no memories on which to base a comment like, “Oh no!  You’re wrong.”  Now it’s getting documented, and it’s official!  This is so cool.”

George asked, “How old are you, anyway?”  RT smiled and just raised her eyebrows.  George grinned, “So, you’re not sure.  I came up with an idea for that, too, just in case.”  “So when’s my birthday?” asked Redtail.  “We crossed paths a few days ago, and it was a few days before that the old guy at the park named you Redtail, so I set that as your birthday: May 25.  I don’t think you’re 30, and I think you’re older than 20.  You wanna be 23 or 25?”  “Oh,” Redtail hummed, “I sorta like my life.  I’ll pick 23 so there’s more left of it, so I guess that makes it May 25, 1993.”

“If this is my address,” RT asked, “can I still live in the woods?  I really like it out there.”  “You,” George said, “have permission to live anywhere on the place you want to.”  “Oh, thank you, Grandpa George!” said Redtail as she ran off into the woods smiling.  “I’m gonna have to show her what’s the place and what’s not the place soon,” thought George.

                                                              ***

Chapter 8

Redtail barely made it to the woods and she stopped quick and ran back to the house.  “I almost forgot what I came up here for,” she panted.  “Grandpa George,” she smiled, “Do you have about a hundred feet of fishing line I could have, and could you drop by this evening for some stew?  I don’t know if it’ll be vegetarian or meaty mammal stew.  Depends on the fishing line.”  George said, “Sounds intriguing.  Sure, to both questions.  It might need some dusting, but I’ve got an old Zebco 33 on a rod out in the barn.  You can have it, and I’ll even put some new line on it as soon as I get some in town.”

They walked into the barn, and Redtail said, “I feel almost blind in here.  My eyes are so used to being outdoors.”   “I was expecting it,” said George.  They walked down a short hall and turned right, and George picked the fishpole off its nail on the wall.  He also grabbed a lightweight bow and a handful of arrows.  George handed both to Redtail.  She said, “I’ll keep these in really nice shape.  Thank you!”  After a short pause, she smiled and added, “Grandpa.”  Redtail squinted again as they got back outside.  George said, “You’ll get used to the eye thing.” Redtail said she had lots of work to do before dinner, so she’d better head off to the woods.  “Dinner should be ready late in the afternoon, if all works out well.  And I’ll try to make enough for company,” said Redtail.  George said, “I’ll be there.”

They parted ways for the day.  Redtail got back to her site with the fishpole and bow and went straight to work.  She baited a spot on a brushpile and placed a snare, made from fishing line and waited.  It didn’t take long and the aroma of her bait reached the wood rat.  The rat popped up from the pile, sniffed around a bit and cautiously approached the bait.  It stepped close.  Sniffed a bit more, then settled in on the meal.  When Redtail thought it was positioned just right, she yanked the fishpole hard, and the snare tightened around the neck and one leg of the rat.  She swung it hard enough than when it smacked down against the ground, it was stunned.  RT rushed in and whacked it dead with a stick.

Redtail picked up the rat and cleaned it fast, so the bruising wouldn’t have time to set in, or burst organs could contaminate the meat.  She set the trap again, after hanging the rat on a wire along with several almost-dry mouse bodies from yesterday.  She had the feeling she was starting to understand why shrikes impaled their game.  Up near the barn, Redtail managed to dig up half a dozen decent-sized wild parsnips and about 30 little wild carrots, as many wild onions and a handful of chickweed and dead nettle.  She still looked, but didn’t find any wild garlic.  Redtail worked ‘til a bit after lunch time and figured she had enough fixings for a decent meal of stew for three, and maybe even four

George called city hall to see if he could catch Frank and let him know of the morning chat with Redtail.  “No,” Sarah said, “Frank’s on a fender-bender out on the highway.  Sounds like you got a lulu of a screwball with Redtail.”  “Careful, Sarah, that’s my granddaughter you’re talkin’ about there,” answered George.  Sarah, sounding surprised, said, “Well George, I never knew you had any…” George interrupted Sarah with, “ADOPTED granddaughter.  We agreed on it this morning and this should make you happy –you’re the first to know.  Ready to meet her tonight at dinner?”  Sarah suggested, “Might be short notice for that, unless you’re fixing the dinner.  That, in itself, might give me pause to think.”  George laughed, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Redtail’s fixing the dinner and she already said she’s fixin’ extra in case of guests.  You’ll probably be surprised.”

Meanwhile, at Redtail’s camp, she busily dry-scrubbed the dirt off her root vegetables, rinsed all the fixings and cut them into the stew.  She soaked the dried meat and stripped it from the bone as best she could.  Into the pot went the meat.  “This’ll have a couple hours to simmer to nice and tender!  I should run back up to the house to see if I can find any peppergrass for extra flavor,” Redtail thought.

George took a trip not just to town, but he drove the old truck all the way in to the Higginsburg Walmart where he knew he’d find an enticing variety of soda and chips to supplement whatever Redtail was preparing.  On his way back to Food, George stopped and looked into a mysterious part of the store.  To him, it was almost like the dark, forbidding forest of the fantasy movies.  He wondered, “I don’t think that girl’s even got a change of clothes.”

He detoured from Food and stepped into Women’s Clothing for the first time in the years since his wife passed.  The memories did not come flooding back, because when he and his wife went shopping, he usually went to Hardware, Automotive or Sporting Goods while she did the fabricky stuff.  The few times he did venture into that Otherworld, were usually spent averting his eyes from the frilly colorful undergarments and looking only for specifics like “black, knee-high socks”

His daze was broke by the sales girl when she asked, “Can I help you find something?”  “Ah, yeah, I hope so.  I want to find some working-in-the-woods clothes for my granddaughter, but I have no clue where to start.  I’m not even sure of her size.”  The clerk said, “Well, you might be in the right department.  How old is your granddaughter?”  George smiled, “That, I know!  She’s 23 –had a birthday just late last month.”  The girl took George to women’s jeans and khakis.  He looked blankly, not knowing where to start when three late-teen girls went giggling past.  George said, “She’s a little taller than her, but built more like the girl on the left, but rounder –not skinny, or fat, but, well, pretty.”  The clerk made suggestions and he picked a pair of olive slacks and two brown and green plaid cotton shirts.  The clerk suggested, “Louie’s Farm and Home carries a bigger selection of women’s work and outdoor clothes.”  On his way to Food, George almost closed his eyes while grabbing as medium a 3-pack of undies as he could, and then a mediumish 3-pack of cotton socks.  George thought, “I’m really gonna have to have her come in to pick out anything else.”

In Food, George looked at the vast array of cola products –at least four different brands and a multitude of flavors in each.  George thought,  “No store brand tonight.  We’re goin’ for the good stuff,” as he took a two-liter bottle each of Diet Coke, a regular Coke, a Mountain Dew and a Diet 7-Up off the shelf.  “Oh man, I should’ve gotten a cart,” he thought.  He did an about face and scanned left and right and up and down ‘til he found his purple Doritos and the Nacho Cheese Doritos.  “This is so much easier than Women’s Clothing,” he said out loud.  The guy shopping with a passing woman gave a chuckle.

Back home, George packed up his dinner bag.  He wondered what the mystery mammal might be, but for some reason, neglected to hint to Sarah what she might be getting into.  Maybe it was because of his harrowing shopping experience.  Sarah had arrived a few minutes earlier, and they headed off to Redtail’s camp.  George started to regale Sarah on his adventure at Walmart.  She pretty much rolled her eyes and laughed at him, saying she’d barely try to pick something out for another woman, herself.  As they neared the camp, it actually smelled like something was cooking.  Redtail spotted them before they saw her.  She said, “I think I’m getting better at hearing differences in the woods.  I actually heard you from quite a way off, not that you were being loud or anything.”

“Redtail,” George said, “I’d like you to meet one of my really-good friends, Sarah.”  “Glad to meet you.  So far, I’m seeing any friend of George’s is a friend of mine.  Is she like a girlfriend?” Redtail asked.  Sarah said, “Oh no.  We’re just good friends.  I think lots of people think we’re an item, but I like to think we’re best friends …or?”  Sarah looked at George with a twinkle in her eye.  Redtail said, “I don’t mind, at all.  I’m George’s granddaughter.  Are you guys hungry?”  George said he was, and handed Redtail the soda, and the package, giftwrapped in a paper bag.  George said, “Happy birthday, a bit late.”  With a soft, delighted squeal, Redtail looked at the package and back at George, who said, “Go ahead, open it.”  “Oh wow!  I really really needed this!  Thank you!” said Redtail.  She wanted to try it all on right then, but reluctantly set it down in her ‘house’. 

She returned to the stew pot and took out bowls, cups and utensils.  “I hope y’all are hungry,” she said, “I think there’s lots.  The day lilies didn’t thicken it quite as much as I’d have liked, but they add a faint peppery bite.  I’ve got some minced peppergrass greens for more seasoning, if you like.”  She handed the loaded bowls to Sarah and George.  George set his down and poured drinks.  “This is pretty good.  What do you call it?” asked Sarah.  George looked up hesitatingly.  “I call it ‘rodent stew’,” said Redtail.  “How did you make it?” asked Sarah, assuming it was squirrel.  Redtail began, as Sarah and George each seemed to run into a little bone, “I got the mice while I was getting fire-starter…” Sarah froze in mid-chew. “ …and the rats, I snared this morning.”  Sarah set her bowl down and examined the little bone.  Redtail said, “I tried to get all the bones, but some didn’t want to break loose from the dried meat before I put it in the stew.  I think it turned out pretty good.”  George kept eating, but Sarah said she’d had a pretty big lunch.

George said, “This is some pretty tasty stuff here,” as he finished his bowl and picked up Sarah’s.  He asked, with a hidden smirk, “Do you mind if I finish yours?”  Sarah gave a glare, but with a slight smile behind it.  She knew about George’s culinary experimentation, so very little truly shocked her.  “Oh, sure, go ahead George.”  She refilled her drink.  Sarah asked Redtail, “So what do you see yourself doing in the near future?”  Redtail said, “I don’t really know.  I’d sort of like to find out more about myself, but in the meantime, I’m really enjoying life like I feel like I’ve never done before.”  Sarah suggested, “George, you oughtta bring her into town and show her around a bit.  Maybe something’ll jog her memory.”  George said, “I think that’d really be fun.  What do you think of the idea, Redtail?”  “Something about ‘going to town’ makes me nervous.  It’s not a big town, is it?” asked Redtail.

***Chapter 9 has started.  Let me know if you think it's worth your while to read on***