The long shadows of the surrounding pines had long ago taken the heat out of the blazing sun and now the gathering dusk deepened, chilling the air.
The old man knelt beside the small pile of dry tinder and struck steel to flint, producing bright sparks. A few puffs from his pursed lips nursed the
flame as he added dry twigs. Shortly, the small pyre sprung into crackling life and the heat of it warmed his wrinkled face. Turning to his left, he
saw the boy returning, dragging with him another armful of deadwood.
"Is that enough for the night, grandfather?
The old man nodded as he carefully placed three inch-thick branches, broken into equal lengths, into a pyramid above the flames. To him, this was a
sacred ritual, to be done with utmost care and vigilance. Fire is life in these northern climes, even in the early September heat.
The boy placed the thick end of a long branch upon a rock and, with a quick stomp, broke it midway. The process was repeated with more dead branches
until a neat pile lay within the old man's reach. The rest he had brought was stripped of dry twigs and set aside for later, when the coal bed alone
would suffice and the lengths would gradually be pushed in as the night progressed. He watched the old man's lips move in an ancient prayer, but all
he could hear was the slight sound of the song as it rumbled in his throat.
Somewhere, far off to the east, a wolf howled mournfully and both the old man and the boy took note, looking simultaneously in that direction. The boy
smiled, the old man frowned.
The fire soon built comfortably as more sticks were added to the pyramid, the flames rising and bark popping, causing sparks to spiral upwards into
the air above their heads on this calm cool windless evening.
"Grandfather, why did you bring me here today? We're not hunting or fishing and I miss being with my friends."
The old man pulled the blanket up further around his big shoulders until it hid his neck and long hair. Only his right arm was left exposed as he
placed more wood onto the fire, the firelight playing upon his deeply lined face and loose strands of white hair. His eyes seemed like black coals.
To the south, a loon called. There was a large lake there and they had both often gone to the creek that fed it, setting up fish traps to catch the
pickerel as they moved into and out of the big water. Those were good times and the boy grinned as he thought of it. He shuffled some of the soft pine
boughs into a better bed and lay back, letting the fire warm his feet. Staring into the sky, he noticed the stars beginning to show themselves as the
deep blue of the sky receded into the west and the darkness of night rose from the direction of the lone wolf call. Soon, the moonless night would be
sprinkled with the light of a million stars, the Milky Way like a highway running south to north. Here, in the deep forest, there was nothing to blur
the awesome sight.
"Grandfather, where have all the passenger jets gone? I never see them much anymore. Only last year, the sky was crisscrossed with contrails and the
night would show their flashing lights as they passed overhead, but now, I don't see them so much."
The old man looked up from the fire and scanned the sky and, ever so slightly smiled, nodding. "Most have left Turtle island, grandson, and taken many
folk back to the lands they call their home."
The boy knew this, of course. He had seen the news on his laptop. It was frightful that nuclear weapons had been used on 37 of the biggest cities
around the world. All in two days... a Tuesday and a Wednesday. He had read that more than 3 billion people had died during the 48 hours and that,
even now, another billion were slowly dying. Vancouver and Toronto were both gone too, but here in northern Manitoba, you'd never be aware of it, if
it wasn't for the internet, which somehow managed to be nursed back last month.
More wood was added and the old man turned to the boy. "We are here so that I can teach you to survive the winter. We will not go back to the others
until spring. In my bag are all the tools we will need for this difficult time to come. When we go back, it will be so that you may teach others. Next
spring, I hope to see the coming of my last summer and then go where I must, with the other grandfathers who have crossed the river."
The flames held back the gathering night in this small clearing. The boy wrapped himself in a blanket and turned on his side away from the old man.
The old man took up a green stick and poked the coals.
In the east, the lone wolf howled again... its lingering tone filling the pine forest.
edit on 2/9/12 by masqua because: sp