The Woods

Michael S. Viehman

What is it about the woods? This time, they probably saved me.

This time The Rage was back strong. Rage at what? Shit. I don't know if I can pin it down. Useless, stupid deaths of brothers for sure. It's always about that. What else? The lies we were told before we went and while we were there? Defending our Country. Don't give me that shit. I come from stock dedicated to defending the Nation. Remember Sgt. York? He was hill folk. Yes, we've always been stupid/patriotic enough to go when our Country called. In Vietnam it didn't take too much time in-country to realize that the Nation didn't need us to defend it there. It took even less time to realize that your brother was all you had. It was enough. I still cling to that. What else? How about goin' it alone when you got back? Millions of vvets goin' it alone 'cause nobody wanted to/could hear. Who would believe what had happened over there? Not a subject for polite society doncha know. Well, kiss my impolite ass. This was gonna be about the woods and still will. I was tryin' to give background. I could go on forever about why/where The Rage comes from. You all know that.

Anyhoo, I went to the woods. This is always a good thing for me.

Nothing can cure me but it helps me change perspective enough. I sorta equate it with my broken neck. It's healed enough for me to usually function but it hurts all the time. Like my neck, some times are better than others for my PTSD. I can barely believe that I just wrote "my PTSD". I always consider that, not being a grunt, I got no right to be havin' any PTSD and I will go to any lengths not to admit to it. Michele seems to think that I have a problem or two though. I will rarely admit it - even when I kick through the front of an 8 foot glass display case. Please note that this is not characteristic behavior for me. After that, I wrote a story about the death of some friends in a bunker. Then I got a lot worse. Then I went to the woods.

The woods embraced me. I love them because they love me back. They are always the same. They are reminders of the simplicity of life - both good and bad. They remind me that I am nothing. Nothing more than any other animal that thinks it thinks.

On the way in, I came upon an old grave, Confederate soldier. During the War Between the States, the path I was on was a line of march for the Confederates. They buried one of the cvets here. What did the other cvets go home to? I felt/feel a sense of brotherhood too with these long-dead men. Hopeless cause, bravely fought. Carpetbaggers sat out the war and then descended like vultures. Another analogy? RIP, brother.

I camped between a small cave and something wonderful. I have not explored far enough yet to see how big the cave really is. The other place I found is almost perfect. As far as I can figure, it must have been an old dynamite bunker from the turn of the century. The area had a small lead mining town a couple of miles away. Nothing left (and I do mean nothing) except a cemetery and a church with the name of the old town on them. The walls of the bunker are about 15 feet high on the back. They are made of blocks of native stone about one foot thick, 2-3 feet long and about 1 and 1/2 feet wide. The back is still standing. The front is fallen down into a jumble of blocks - it fell outward. If you climb over the blocks, you can sit inside with a thick stone wall to your back and be able to observe the only trail into the area. I've found that, with a rifle cradled across your knees, this is immensely relaxing.

When I first enter the woods, I am on edge. Something like an old friend/foe radar working. I usually am not so far gone as to think of the little (or big) animals as foes and, yet, there is an enemy there. I can feel it. It is me. I am what is out of place. I am very nervous without a weapon at these times. I have one. I need to gear down. Sit in the bunker. Thoughts roam. The roaming thoughts are comfortable now since there are no interruptions. Mind roams. Body guards. Think of another person coming down path - muscles in stomach tighten, forearms flex, palms feel 'funny' - feel weight of rifle on knees - tightness dissipates. Rifle tuned to take out a squirrel's eye at 50 yards - 10 shot, 1/4 inch groups (measured across widest part minus bullet diameter of .224 inch), at 50 yards, .22 LR, no shit - for light work - or heavy. I would never hurt anyone - unless they were a threat to me or mine. Sitting. Breathing becoming very regular. My thoughts are my mantra. Dragonfly comes by and I follow its' movements. Quick darts here and there. Quick. Efficient. A master hunter. Reminds me of others I once knew. I feel closer to them for seeing him. He hovers in front of me as if intrigued by this line of thought. As I raise my left hand slowly towards him, he darts to my face and his wings brush my cheek. A light touch from wings surprisingly stiff. Then he lands - on my left hand - on the knuckle where the index finger attaches. I look at him - I guess he looks at me. He has multi-faceted eyes. If he is 'old friends', he sees things from many more angles now. He sits for at least 5 minutes moving in a rotating walk, grips my knuckle tight, and is gone. Now I am much more pensive than perturbed. The woods and her denizens are beginning to uncoil that damn spring that had built up tension within me. I look around the bunker. When I had first walked up on it, it reminded me of the temples we found in the jungle. Moss was everywhere on these stones. Small animal burrows were in evidence here and there. There was rat shit atop the rock next to me. Home.

This was a day of winged things. A red-winged blackbird landed just out of arms reach on a rock. He twisted his head this way and that. He looked like the feathered embodiedment of cockiness. Kind of like a fuck-you lizard with an attitude. Gave fleeting thought to blowin' him away. Decided it would be a sacrilege. Glad I didn't. I expected him to immediately fly away. He didn't. This bird was definitely concerned about me. After a minute or so, he opens his beak an' says "Sqrraaaawk!!". 'Bout scared the piss outta me after the long silence. I figured he wants to talk so I says "No shit?". Whereupon he just says "Sqrraaaawk" again and flies off. I have always liked red-winged blackbirds. I think they look like sergeants with that red- feathered insignia on their arms. But, even more than their plumage, I like/respect their attitude. Fly up to a dude with a gun and sqrraaaawk in his face for bein' there. I like that. Surprised he could fly with balls that size.

Looked down after the bird left and saw a partial skull. Played with it for a while. Looked like a fox face. It had been chewed up pretty badly by the little forest animals in search of minerals. Nothing goes to waste in the woods. Stuck it in my shirt to take home to Michele. I'm always gettin' her nice things.

A butterfly came by next and landed on my left knee. By now, I figure that they think I am just a rock or sumthin'. That little roll-up tongue tested around on me. After a while, it's wings opened and closed with a regularity. Not bright orange. Sort of a tan-orange or brown-orange. I know that their life span is so very short. Crawl out of the cocoon, eat, mate, die. Is it really so much different for us?

I don't see where we are so different from the other animals. I know we like to think we are. I torture myself still with shit that happened over 24 years ago. I watch the guys on the 50th anniversary of D-day and see the same - an' that, as we know, was America's last "Good War". I stop at a Confederate soldier's grave and feel the same things in him. Respects still, sir. But really, we're born, we live, we fight, we mate, we die. Why is it so very much more complicated than that for us? Emotions, I suppose? I know that my torturer is myself. If I kill him, I die. I'll try to stick it out. I have so far. The woods help me to re-organize and remember that I am just another animal in Natures kingdom. And, in the end, we become food for the worms just like any other animal in the woods. The butterfly will be killed by the dragonfly, the dragonfly will be killed by the blackbird. Some are prey, some are hunters, some are both. It's the natural order of things. In the end, just like in the woods, it doesn't matter. You live. You die. And I'm not out of the woods yet. Doan mean nuthin'.

Copyright © June 1994 Michael S. Viehman All rights reserved

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Aded 5/22/98