The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2006-Winter 2007

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Upstate Characters

A Leading Edge


Stephen Lewandowski

I was worked up into a great sweat, as always happens when I have some big job and get going at it. The big job was splitting wood chunks back by the barn with an axe and sorting pieces convenient for the stove in the front room which burned sixteen-inch sticks and from shorter, thinner sticks used in the kitchen stove. I threw the longer, bigger pieces one way and tossed the smaller sticks the other way into another pile.

It was a cold day, but I had been at chopping logs and pitching sticks for more than an hour, removing outer clothing as I warmed to the task and was down to a short-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, and the shirt was drenched. I liked the way the piles were coming, though, and was plenty warm as long as I kept working.

A car pulled into the driveway and stopped by the house, but the woman who got out didn’t head toward the house. She must have seen me working away at the pile through the bare branches of the little orchard. It was a big, unfamiliar car, and the lady’s face wasn’t familiar, but she smiled as she came. The weather was cold enough to have frozen the driveway ruts, so she didn’t have to worry about her nice shoes.

“Hi,” she said and waved. I said, “Hi,” too and sank the tip of the axe's cutting edge into my cutting block to keep it out of the wet. As soon as I stopped work, my soaked shirt started to freeze on me so I grabbed my flannel shirt and threw it on. She said, “I’m your new neighbor Mrs. Boomer and I’m here to ask you for help with a problem.”

“Oh,” I said cocking my head to indicate that she should go on. She said that she and her family had just bought land behind our farm, touching our property back in the woods. Her house was the new one you could hardly see back in the woods. She said that she had recently discovered on her walk over the land that someone had entered her land from our land to hunt deer. She found a bunch of footprints and a spot where they had shot a deer and gutted it, leaving a pile of guts on her property. She wanted my help to stop the hunting.

I was steaming a little and the dusk was falling. I had really worked myself up into a state and turned from her to look back at the woodpile. I knocked the mud off my boots by kicking against the chopping block. I wondered how she could consider me an ally in this matter. I decided to let the chips fall where they might.

“Well,” I said, “I can tell you who was hunting over our properties, so you might want to talk to them directly.” Was I betraying the Harley boys? No, they could defend themselves and I decided to be helpful to the nice Mrs. Boomer who didn’t want anyone hunting on her land. I thought she might have luck if she talked to the boys herself, but she’d have to say plainly that she didn’t want them on her property. That might do it, and they were certainly familiar enough with the territory so that they’d know whose property they were on. Let’s say it wouldn’t be just a mistake. I was mistaken, however, in what Mrs. Boomer wanted. She didn’t need the names and addresses (two miles straight west on our road) of the culprits. She didn’t want to talk to them. She wanted me to come to a get-together with other neighbors and sign a petition that none of us would allow hunting on our properties in the area. Then there wouldn’t be hunting anywhere in the vicinity and nobody could mistakenly wander onto someone else’s property while hunting.

I told Mrs. Boomer that the hunters were the Harley boys and probably the old man and some of his buddies too and gave her specific directions to their homes. In passing, I told her that the Harleys had been here when I moved in, that they farmed most of the land still being farmed in the area, that they knew everybody, and that most of the locals got invited to a huge whole-pig roast that they held in their front yard amongst the rusting farm equipment every the summer. I didn’t mention that I’d been invited to last summer’s and thought they really knew how to roast a pig, but if she was listening carefully she probably caught the point.

Now she was cold. I was sorry to have hurt a neighbor’s feelings even if I didn’t think much of her plan. I told her she should go and talk to them, and that I was sorry that someone had dumped deer guts on her property, but I wasn’t going to talk to them for her (I was as much a newcomer as her) and I wasn’t going to sign any petition forbidding hunting.

Privately I was surprised the foxes had left the deer guts long enough for her to find them. When she left, she left for good. Passing by on the road, I’d see the beginning of her long driveway and the twinkle of house lights back in the woods, but in the many years I lived there, I never saw her again.

©2007, Stephen Lewandowski
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