A getaway for secret fantasies and cairns
He loved going out to The Cabin. That’s what he called his landlocked ten acres snugged between the back of a home on CR 306 and a circling cornfield. It was his getaway place. It took a narrow trail to get to the hill where he had built the small hut—more like a permanent tent with no amenities except a solid roof and walls and a cast iron stove the size of a jock bag. The thing about this getaway was that Harry could wander and chop and play woodsman and habitat artist with branches and pine cones and rocks. And play he did. Some of what he did was forestry management, if you chose to dignify it with that name. But basically, he felled rotted trees, ripped strangling climbers from living ones and tugged on wrist-thick vines drooping from the oak and hickory and chestnut canopy of hundred-year old trees to see if they might bear his weight like Tarzan swinging from one to another in a playground that unleashed the child in the 76-year old man. The Cabin was his place to imagine and stack and cull and get lost in bubbling thoughts after days in front of ledgers and columns and bottom lines.
But the salient fact of Harry’s exertions in the woods was his interest in sneaking rocks from the farmer’s neighboring field. Somehow, he played Peter Rabbit to a Farmer McGregor out to get him if he raided the harrowed ground. So, when he gathered me and a couple of other buddies to replenish his rock-stock from which he made cairns at specific sites on his property…reasons known only to him, if any there were…he whispered and skulked so we felt like thieves on a caper. We went along with his game for the zest it gave to a rather primitive, mindless task. Harry updated the throwback job with modern tools. We dragged the hood of a car, upside down, into the field and then feverishly dug and levered out large rocks to be dragged and positioned into place—Harry’s mysteriously chosen places—with a come-along and sweat-drenched poles like ancient pyramid builders. At least that’s what we imagined as we stacked smaller and smaller rocks into carefully balanced piles—Harry’s cairns.
All of which added up to male bonding within a fun romp in the woods. Nice. Except, if you hung around the guy long enough, you began to realize that the hide-and-seek game with the unknown, unseen farmer fit into a broader mindset. Harry actually wanted to have someone trying to ‘get him.’ Like playing tag, he wanted and needed to dodge ‘the man’ who was all about imposing rules and constraints on him. Figures. Why else would he spend his life helping clients game the tax system? He could act-out a two-year old’s rebellion in a concrete, dirty hands-on way in a safe, semi-hidden space.
And so it went, until the day he asked me to help him steal a huge boulder out of the field next door. We eased past the boundary of his property with sapling pikes, a come-along, two shovels, rope and the turtled car hood. A thick mist turned the venture into an adventure—villagers heading out to find the vampire and drive a stake into his heart. We whispered quietly in Harry’s drama and listened to the muffled thunk and whump of tools and footfalls through the stalk-stubble of recently harvested corn.
“Hey! Hi!” a man’s voice blared in the dampened morning silence. We both startled, dropped tools and spun to see a man in a barn jacket, lace-up hunting boots and a mixed breed mutt at his knee. “This is my land,” the man said.
Harry froze. Busted. “Uhmm,” he fudged, a crook caught in a spotlight.
Pointing behind us, I explained, “That is his land.”
“Ahh,” the farmer said. “Nice to finally meet you neighbor. I’ve been wondering who it was doing such a good job pulling rocks from my fields. Let me shake your hand.” When he reached out to Harry, my buddy looked past the man’s shoulder and barely raised his own hand. “And if you want more,” the farmer continued, “I can get my tractor out and hook up my rock sled and take you to my back forty where you can get all the rocks you would ever want. What are you doing? Building a fieldstone wall?”
Harry stood mute. The corners of his mouth tugged down, trembled. All I could think of was a kid playing ‘pirates’ swinging his sword, about to jump off his bed and board the disabled galleon when his mother opened the door and announced dinner. Game over.
Funny thing. We dragged those tools back to Harry’s cabin and hiked the access trail back to his car. He never said a word. He never asked me back to help get rocks. And the next time I went out to the land for a hike with my girlfriend, the tools and car-sled were rusting right where we left them.