Mount Baldie

Should I write comments prior to the stories and stuff in italics? Well, I’ll try it. Let me know if you like it…

Here is Mount Baldie – a story written for my 426 workshop. This is I guess a second draft.

 

Mount Baldie

She must be around four – yes, that feels right. Molly feels it, and with the feeling comes a knowing. In the dream, she has already learned to swim with the Bubble, that oval bladder covered in woven plastic, which, when worn on her back, holds Molly up in the lake. They still make her wear it even though she has three swimming badges from the Y. She knows that she is four because of the swimming, but also because the only French that she knows is Je m’appelle, oui, and non – she has not yet started Pre-K.

Her brother is there, along with the twins, her cousins. For some reason, she gets the impression that her father is there. Her aunt leads the way through the forest with a sword – her dad has one on his back in a leather envelope, a sheath, she thinks. It is the first time that Molly hears the word machete.

Molly has no sense of the passage of time in the forest. She sees only leaves, no branches, only shoes, no faces. They hike single-file, with Molly right behind her aunt, forcing the others to go at her pace. This keeps Molly from getting tired – and tiring. Part of the reason she has been allowed to go is practical – they cannot leave her alone, but the other part is because she has been (pretty) quiet and uncomplaining all morning, her face pleading to be allowed to go. This way, everyone can come along, and no one has to babysit Molly the Pest.

Soon, her aunt points out a pile of perfectly round little pellets that seem to appear as she calls attention to them. Bare inches away is another pile of smaller stuff. Molly sees her first pile of deer poo and rabbit turds side by side. Molly feels hemmed in by green, but the path opens up to her aunt, and where she decides to go, it always looks like a proper trail.

They pass through a clearing that can only be called thus because it is clear of trees. It is filled with ferns, which break and tear where they tread on them, the leaves getting stuck in the Velcro of her pink shoes – Molly’s mind remembers forward to when the right one will stink of swamp water, when Molly misses a rock getting out of the canoe.

When they reach the Lookout, which her dad calls Mount Baldie, the twins drop a bottle of RC Cola down the side – Molly’s aunt yells at them for it. The rock seems to stand out against the trees like a splash of white paint in a patch of grass. There is some moss, but the stone is otherwise bare. To Molly, the Lookout looks like huge hewn steps. Her dad warns her away from the edge, and she is not allowed to look over because it is dangerous. The twins have climbed down onto the next level. Molly doesn’t remember coming back down from the woods.

 

 

Their family called it the country because it was in fact a “country place” in the Canadian understanding of the term. Sam, Molly’s older brother, used to call it “Canada”, as if back home had nothing to do with the lakes and unpaved roads “up north”, which was another thing they called it. As if you had to cross some imagined border to get there. As if the real Canada was only found out there. On paper, it was called “Wentworth-Nord.”

The people that lived there called it Newaygo Junction – and mostly just Newaygo. It was past St. Sauveur and Moren Heights, near Montford (pronounced Momford by their aunt). It was where the Petit Train du Nord (which is not a train at all but rather a trail) ended, that ending still surrounded on either side from time to time by the Canadian Shield, so hard that it had to be blasted, and jackhammers were virtually useless. It was a place where trestles and wharfs were not yet extinct, and places called the Lookout still existed, if you were brave enough to go looking.

This was where Sam and Molly found themselves one Thursday in August, sitting back to back in old easy chairs that had faced the dump in the city, and been rescued and brought up by boat to their aunt’s cottage. Sam was reading one of their uncle’s books, and Molly was reading one that Sam had just finished. The twins had brought up their DVD player, but Sam said, and Molly agreed, that the point of being up at the cottage was to escape the city. If they didn’t do the things that they couldn’t do in the city, what was the point of being up there? They read instead when they wanted a break – usually on a rock or by the lake, and never for long. Today, they were inside.

Sam put down his book. “Want to go for a hike?”

Molly glanced at the clock on the wall. It was around two o’clock. “If you want to.”

“Yeah, only, I don’t want to go to the creek or the road, or to the big rock.”

Sam had just eliminated all the half-hour hikes that they usually did.

“You want to walk back to the trestle?” said Molly, grabbing a peach out of the bowl on the little round dining table.

The trestle was actually a bridge under which the boats passed on their way to the gravel lot where those that didn’t have road access to their cabins kept their cars. Their uncle’s van would be parked there.

Molly bit into the peach, which was getting mushy and didn’t taste like much, watching Sam think.

“Let’s go find the Lookout,” he said.

“Sure.” Molly remembered the last time – they had found the Lookout, that was true, but they overshot the trail on the way back and the only thing that had stopped them getting lost was that they ran into the creek, which, from the house, was half an hour in the opposite direction from the Lookout. They had been gone for three hours.

That was also when Molly realized that she had something in common with her father: she was just the teensiest bit scared of heights. There was a crack in one of the ledges of the Lookout. It was wide enough to fit a skinny person and was about eight or nine feet deep. Molly had hesitated, been too scared to just step over it – so Sam had held out his hands to her, palms up, and she had taken both of them, just like a little old lady, and then she had been able to step over. That had been when she was twelve, and Sam sixteen. She was fourteen now, and braver.

The view had been something like stepping forty five degrees to the right of her mental map of the lake. She could see the swamp where they went canoeing, and the green cottage on the only island in the lake. Only, being that they were several kilometers away from the house, everything looked just slightly out of place. From up there, the Lake looked like several little ponds, divided by the trees that they looked out from. Molly wondered if two years would have changed the view a lot.

This time, they brought strips of plastic bag to tie around the trees so that they would be able to come back the same way and eventually mark the trail with ribbons like the cross-country skiing paths. It was Sam’s idea, and he chose the red Zellers bags from out of the cupboard for visibility. Molly carried the strips shoved in her miniature knapsack, along with a bottle of water. They hadn’t had any granola bars, and she didn’t want another peach.

They left, passing the outhouse to the path behind it. The black flies and mosquitoes found them immediately. They didn’t mark any trees up until they got to the big rock, which was where they turned towards the Lookout. The plastic tore easily when Sam was tying it to the trees, but mostly it tied fine. Molly worried that they wouldn’t have enough strips at the rate that they were going. But Sam was the man with the plan, as her father called him, and he wouldn’t steer them wrong.

Sam started talking about his new girlfriend, Nina, and how he wished that she had been able to make it up to the country that year – she was a good swimmer and would love the lake.

“Seriously, she taught me the butterfly and everything – I bet she could swim across the lake like the twins if I followed her in the boat.”

“You need another person – one to row and watch out for other boats and one to watch Nina – and you’re two in case you need to pull the swimmer into the boat. I could help with that. I know how to use a defibrillator – I mean, an AED, you know – not like an actual –”

“Yeah, I get it. But Auntie does it all the time for the twins. She would be better at it. But you could come along.”

“Well, anyway. Nina isn’t even actually here so it doesn’t matter – and if she does come, you know Auntie won’t let you share a room, and I’m not sharing a bed with her.”

“Why don’t you like Nina?”

“She’s all right,” said Molly. “I just don’t think Auntie will go for it, is all.”

Sam shrugged and kept hiking. “We must nearly be there – I can almost see the sky through the trees.”

Molly started to apologize about Nina, to tell Sam about how she just didn’t want to be a third wheel if Nina came up, but Sam had run ahead – one day he might run into something dangerous – and he couldn’t hear her. She could hear him snapping branches where he passed.

“Find anything?” called out Molly. She couldn’t tell what direction Sam’s voice came back at her from.

“No, but this way is definitely downhill – I don’t know – maybe we should head back up.”

“It’s not at the very top of the mountain, Sam,” said Molly, glad to finally be able to contribute. “It has to be on the edge.”

“Well, which way would you go?”

Molly fussed with the strips of plastic, finally noticing that, on the strips that came from the bottom of the Zellers bags, it said “BIODEGRADABLE WITHIN 12-15 MONTHS.” Shit. Well, she decided, there wasn’t any use in disappointing Sam now about his plan. She pointed right, to where the trees seemed to thin out a little more, and she could see sky. “I think this is the right direction.”

As they hiked on, Sam leading, they came to a clearing full of ferns. Molly spotted a hunting perch in one of the trees – she wasn’t sure what they were called, but it was a bright red seat – and she remembered it from two years ago. She nudged Sam, and they tried to work out which direction to go from there. A couple of times, they ran into fallen trees hidden among the ferns, and Molly barked her ankles no fewer than four times. She set her teeth and didn’t cry out.

They went on that way for a few minutes, aligning themselves like the bearings on a compass. They were close – another five minutes and they stepped onto the side – or edge – of the mountain proper. They had arrived at the Lookout, the God’s-eye view.

Though miniaturized, there was a clarity that was enhanced – or at the least not marred– by the distance about the things that Molly could recognize. She identified two feelings that, though they might seem to be, were not the least bit at odds: an incredible smallness – that classic sense of insignificance, and a powerful sense of pride that was almost lordly. Molly couldn’t place where the words that came to her mind were from – “lord over all that I survey.” That’s what it felt like – like she owned it all. But it was all so huge!

Molly smiled at Sam, knowing that he was feeling the same thing. Of course, he smiled back. They were the same – or rather, they shared a sensibility.

Could he say the same about Nina, she wondered?

She tried not to think about that, knowing that she was just jealous, that Sam would always find time to hang out with her like they did now. She tried to hold onto those majestic feelings that filled her up there on the Lookout. That shared feeling of theirs.

“We’ll have to show Nina this,” said Sam. “When she comes.”

A single intrusive thought ran through Molly’s mind and out of her mouth before she could secure it. “You know, this would be a good place to have an accident.”

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