Monday, October 17, 2011

The Final Days of Hubert Loessing

I have been away from this blog for a month. My apologies to my readers, but I have been spending time working diligently on my novel trilogy, trying to expand my marketing skills (with limited success) and hone my writing skills. I spent Saturday last among friends, colleagues and fellow toilers in the vineyard of words.  This is a short story, the idea of which occurred to me just Friday, and with the time allowed at the workshop this is what I crafted.  I hope you enjoy my effort.

The first streaks of dawn tinted the horizon when Hubert heard the chainsaws in the forest across the way.  As they whined, he could imagine the chips flying; visualize the notch—followed by the back-cut—that would fell the tree.  Saws went silent and what seemed an eternity later, a one-hundred-twenty-foot red cedar hit the ground, rumbling an earthquake through the house, crashing Ella’s best china to the floor.  Hubert, to his agony, had lost his Ella to age and disease: her dishes’ going, as well, was just too much. He peered across the way in time to see another giant stumble from the skyline in their woods and a new torture set upon him. There would be after-shocks; not all of them from falling trees.
For fifty-two years he and Ella had lived in the little home Hubert had constructed with his own hands.  He had built the barn and the corral; the chicken coop and the studio where they made folk art sold in galleries around the world; even the outhouse, before the septic was built.  It was a good life, lived simply, as far from civilization as practical.  They raised two boys to adulthood and grew most of their own food. A lifetime had trickled through the hourglass watching the forest across the way transform from saplings to towering spires ascending skyward astride the hills of the horizon.  Now the boy’s children were starting families of their own. His dear bride was a twinkle among the stars and the only remaining links to the life he so long had cherished were now tumbling like broken relics of a failed civilization.
As he hitched on his overhauls and cinched up the laces of his boots, the earth would tremble; then still.  The pungent stink of exhaust fumes clashed harshly with the sweet-sharp aroma of pine and spruce carried by the wind of falling branches. 
Transported in time, to long-ago afternoons, Hubert was wandering—in his mind—among his verdant neighbors.  Each reverberation from a collapsing cellulose sentinel evoked reminiscences of the clean redolence of their trees. Ella had called them their Hundred-Acre-Wood and the memories burned his mind as brightly as the morning sun.  He recalled pine straw—soft beneath their sandals—and the cool whisper of sword ferns clutching at them as they passed. Even the drenching winter rains fell softly, transformed into mist; hushed in reverence of so special a place.
The parcel across the way wasn’t really their—or his—woods, of course, but Hubert and Ella had always treated them as their own private front yard. Twenty-plus generations of bald eagles had fledged from the aerie atop Old Snag, a lightning-blasted noble fir at the crest of the ridge.  Endless generations of pileated woodpeckers had rat-a-tat-tatted countless trunks, tattooing irregular holes to lure unsuspecting insects to their doom in sap traps.  The acreage provided winter heat from deadfall bucked into firewood. Much of the muse evident in their art was mirrored in the architecture of the nature at hand.  Even their supper table had been graced by a bounty of fiddle-leaf ferns, chanterelle mushrooms and salmonberries.
 Those trees falling to earth, while the shards of the broken dishes were swept up, were more than just neighbors—they were family members. Hubert Loessing had always been a man to protect his family.
A good deal of the morning was spent watching some of his grove fall as the sun rose high into the sky.  About noon the devouring dragons fell silent, replaced by the rumble of rigs arriving to carry away the copse corpses.  His watching was replaced by listening. The small retinue of farm animals he still kept—disquieted by the unfolding deforestation—were tended and soothed: a few weeds were unceremoniously yanked from the garden and an idea began to take root in Hubert’s universe.
Something like this had been coming.  When he and the missus started their little homestead it was a two mile drive on dirt to get to the forty mile rumble on the rutted gravel road to arrive in the closest town.  Thirty-some years ago a crew had transformed the old road to a smooth ribbon of asphalt and the short track of dirt was widened, smoothed and layered with gravel, then drenched in used oil.  Now there was a mini-mart just six miles away where you could buy beer and chips and pump expensive gas into your deluxe SUV.
Not long after the paving of the path, someone had bought a parcel just a mile away and pretty soon mail started coming right to the property line twice a week.  Hubert had mail-ordered a book on wiring and electricity and he and the boys strung copper cables throughout the house and barn electrifying their lives; oh, about a quarter of a century ago.  Now, even the two miles of oiled gravel had been paved, and that strip of tarmac was what separated Hubert’s homestead from The-Hundred-Acre Wood.
In the barn it took nearly an hour to rummage through boxes stored in the stalls before he found what he was sought.  He poked around some more, collecting everything he thought he would need; then carried it all to the back porch dumping it in a disheveled heap.
Hubert spent a quiet evening after supper writing.  His hand—for his age—was still remarkably fluid and strong, clearly legible on the long-overdue letters he composed.  Upon completion he rested himself by the crackling fire, the warmth emanating from the hearth he had set fifty years ago.  He made a few phone calls—telephones came along with electricity—then retired, setting his alarm and snuggling under Ella’s quilts on the bed.
The whine of the saws shattered the peaceful dawn revving up to rain down destruction in the forest once again.  Neighbors, invited by phone last night, stood in the space at the front of Ella and Hubert’s home comparing conversations.  When saws were suddenly replaced with shouts and frantic activity surrounding a single tree in The-Hundred-Acre-Wood the coterie of friends on the porch began to comprehend their tasks and set about to complete the obligations to which they had agreed.
The Coroner’s Report concluded the Hubert Loessing had died as a result of massive crushing trauma when a fir tree being felled in a logging zone landed on him.  His body was clad in old forest camouflage, something a hunter might have worn years ago and his boots had spiked insteps.  He couldn’t be certain, but the doctor thought it possible that the deceased may have actually climbed into the tree for reasons unknown.  The ruling was accidental death.  The case was closed.
As Hubert intended, logging had been shut down—but only for a week—to accommodate the investigation.  The neighbors had taken his livestock to their homes.  The boys were settling affairs, selling household goods and hiring a Realtor to dispose of the property.  Hubert was a twinkling star with Ella.
It took two years to finish the infrastructure. Construction began when logging had been completed, making way for the subdivision of luxury homes.  As a result of the earlier tragedy, and the colorful pioneer from across the street, it was named Loessing Landing.