“Man Seated by Stream,” John Singer Sargent, 1912, WikiArt.

Part 2: Forest Ignorance

Everyone I met had wilderness names, some
Moniker describing their exploits, including
My ill-mannered traveling partner, “McKenzie
Griz,” who otherwise ignored my presence,
Except by irritated tobacco spit. Despite leaving
My job, boarding room, I was nothing to him
Or those of his ilk. I, Aaron Ross, was unproven,
More likely to die as to live, ignorant of simplest
Skills, how to canoe paddle. Noisily paddle-
Stabbing, I fought the water, hard-pulling,
Large stream-cleaving blade.

From canoe bow, I watched, Griz’s paddle slip
Silently into water, effortless half-blade pulls,
Never really leaving water, up and back fish-
Swimming movements. Broad-backed, he could
Paddle all day, steering, turning, such skills
I struggled to master. “Wilderness names you,”
Griz advised, “removes weakness, in its eyes
You have no respect.” I tried to fathom what
Griz meant, like my hand-long folding knife,
Useable cutting rope at hardware, no hip-
worn sheath knife, length and heft to kill,
Skin a bear. I sought tools not inner grist.
In reality, I had no idea what he meant.

“Something you should know,” Griz added.
“Don’t approach a man’s gear, his whiskey, or
His women, children, white or Indian. Learn
Life step-by-step, your own reckoning, compass
Don’t work up here, muskets do.” As we passed
Dozen unnamed streams, some with sandy
Portages, I pondered Griz’s warnings. Beneath
Broad expanse of clouds, sky, forest grandeur
And hazards awaited, narrow-swift streams,
Rocky falls, and yes, bear prints, fresh-pressed
Into dark earth. In forest ignorance, I was not
Prepared for what loomed ahead.

In the next part, Aaron Ross confronts wilderness dangers.
Thanks for reading.

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