A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 18 – Feral by Christopher Moyer

Patricia Johanson, Sagitaria Platyphylla (Delta Duckpotato), Fair Park, Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 18 – Feral by Christopher Moyer

Read it online here:
Feral by Christopher Moyer

Our grandmother watches us some of the time. The rest of the time, we do what we want. At school, the adults asked a lot of questions about that, so we stopped going. We haven’t gone down to the school in weeks or maybe months, I don’t know—our watches stopped a long time ago, too, and after that we threw them in the creek down by the park just to watch them splash.

—-Christopher Moyer, Feral

I had always wanted to own a home on a creek lot. Our house technically is, though it is more of a ditch than a creek. At any rate, there is quite a cavalcade of critters parading by, other than the joggers and dog-walkers. If you sit in my back yard at dawn and sip a cup of coffee you will see the coyotes trotting back to their dens – I assume hidden in the clumps of trees along the fairways of the golf course. A family of beavers live under the road and sometimes can be seen on the jogging trail bridges at night. Rabbits, ducks, and possums are common, sometimes a fox will show up. There is a bobcat terrorizing the neighborhood – not much can be done.

Nature is never as far away as we think it is.

Today’s bit of flash fiction by Christopher Moyer reminds us, not only of the wild presence, but how easy it is to slip back… to lose our humanity… to become feral. Easy, and maybe not so bad.

Christopher Moyer:

The first time I bid on a freelance job to ghostwrite a doomsday survival guide, I was only asked one question: Did I have experience writing for middle-aged Republican men? I told the client that I had experience writing for a wide variety of ages and political affiliations, which was noncommittal enough to be true.

The client said, “Sounds good, bro.”

We were off to the races.
—From Confessions of a Former Apocalypse Survival Guide Writer, at Vice Motherboard

They don’t call it Duck Creek for nothing.

The Forest

David Smith, The Forest, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

The Forest, David Smith (click to enlarge)

The Forest, David Smith
(click to enlarge)

From The Estate of David Smith – David Smith’s Statements

The Question—What is Your Hope

Original version, Smith notebook 28 (c. 1940s) final version c. 1950

I would like to make sculpture that would rise from
water and tower in the air–
that carried conviction and vision that had not
existed before
that rose from a natural pool of clear water
to sandy shores with rocks and plants
that men could view as natural without reverence or awe
but to whom such things were natural because they were
statements of peaceful pursuit–and joined in the
phenomenon of life
Emerging from unpolluted water at which men could bathe
and animals drink–that
harboured fish and clams and all things natural to it
I don’t want to repeat the accepted fact,
moralize or praise the past or sell a product
I want sculpture to show the wonder of man, that flowing water,
rocks, clouds, vegetation, have for the man in peace who
glories in existence
this sculpture will not be the mystical abode
of power of wealth of religion
Its existence will be its statement
It will not be a scorned ornament on a money changer’s temple
or a house of fear
It will not be a tower of elevators and plumbing with every
room rented, deductions, taxes, allowing for depreciation
amortization yielding a percentage in dividends
It will say that in peace we have time
that a man has vision, has been fed, has worked
it will not incite greed or war
That hands and minds and tools and material made a symbol
to the elevation of vision
It will not be a pyramid to hide a royal corpse from pillage
It has no roof to be supported by burdened maidens
It has no bells to beat the heads of sinners
or clap the traps of hypocrites, no benediction
falls from its lights, no fears from its shadow
this vision cannot be of a single mind– a single concept,
it is a small tooth in the gear of man,
it was the wish incision in a cave,
the devotion of a stone hewer at Memphis
the hope of a Congo hunter
It may be a sculpture to hold in the hand
that will not seek to outdo by bulky grandeur
which to each man, one at a time, offers a marvel of
close communion, a symbol which answers to the holder’s vision,
correlates the forms of woman and nature, stimulates the
recall sense of pleasurable emotion, that momentarily
rewards for the battle of being

Routh Cemetery

North of where I live is a patch of thick creek-bottom woods known as the Spring Creek Nature Area. I’ve been going there for years – to walk around or ride my bike on the complex of paved trails that loop through the forest. It’s a nice spot… a place to forget that you are in the middle of a giant city.

The looping trails through the Spring Creek Natural Area converge on a little footbridge over the creek. There is a nice bench there – a good place to rest and get away from the city for a few minutes.

I had read rumors that there were a couple of old cemeteries within this woodland stretch. A little bit of web searching and careful observation of the Googlemap aerial view of the area and I was pretty sure I had spotted the locations. I am not obsessed – but I find old cemeteries to be interesting. They are the only remaining mark that a lot of the early settlers left on the land here.

I had stopped off at one in the middle of a Plano neighborhood a month or so ago and now I thought I’d take a look at the one in Spring Creek.

So the other day, once my bike ride had been cut short by an unexpected flat, I left my car at Renner and 75 and walked down to where I figured the graveyards might be. It was a hot day and walking was not easy, even though I had brought a bottle of cold water. The cemeteries are not in the Nature Area exactly, but on private property, but judging by the trails and dirt roads penetrating the scrub and trees, I was not the first to venture back there.

After a short hike I came across a small family plot, with a rusting iron inner fence and a new black wrought iron palisade around that. This was the burial place for the scion of the Routh family, Jacob Routh, his wife, Lodemia, and two unmarried daughters. The plot is overgrown with vegetation and I didn’t feel like climbing the fence, so I never was able to see the daughter’s tombstone. The Routh name is still heard all over the Metroplex, especially now that Routh street pierces right through the heart of the uptown entertainment district.

It’s a very peaceful spot, perched right above a steep, deep, dropoff of native limestone down to the creek below. I can picture it over a hundred years ago, part of a ranch made of rolling hills rising up from the creek bed. It’s where a pioneer would choose to spend the rest of eternity. Somehow, I don’t think they would mind the fact that the plot is being overgrown, slowly returning to the way it used to be.

Around to the side of the tombstones of the four family members are two small markers. I could barely see these through the underbrush – couldn’t make out the dates. One had three names, Sharon, Rinnet, and Theda. The other simply said “Fluffie.” These are obviously pet graves… horses and a dog, probably. In those times, a family’s animals would have been very important, worthy of a carved stone in the main cemetery plot.

Jacob Routh’s tombstone in the family plot deep in the woods at the Spring Creek Nature Area in Richardson, Texas.

Pet grave marker.

I couldn’t get a good shot without climbing the fence… but it says “Fluffie.”

I left the small cemetery and followed an old road down through a little creek and up a hill, almost emerging onto a new road that winds through the glass and granite high-rise office buildings of the Richardson Telecom Corridor. Shielded from civilization by a thick grove of trees is a larger cemetery, containing about a hundred or so graves. It was fenced – I did not enter even though there were some gaping holes in the wire. Near the locked gate was a couple of crumbling benches and an official historical marker.

It reads:

Marker Number: 14532

Marker Text:

Brothers Jacob, George Washington, Joseph and Thomas Jefferson Routh, and their sister Elizabeth Routh Thomas, were cousins of the Vance Family which held the original land grant that encompassed this site. Jacob Routh (1818-1879), a Baptist minister, acquired the 440-acre J. V. Vance survey in 1851, and brought his mother and other relatives from Tennessee to Texas. The Routh family were instrumental in the establishment of the community surrounding their land. Routh family members helped to organize a school, church, and store in addition to the family cemetery.

Early Collin County settlers Nancy De Lozier Beverly (1806-1851)and seven year old William Klepper, along with an unknown child whose parents were camping nearby at the time of his death, were already buried on this site when Jacob Routh set aside one acre as a family burial ground. Jacob’s mother, Elizabeth Mashman Routh (1788-1852), died soon after her arrival in Texas and was the first family member to be interred here.

Jacob Routh, his wife Lodemia Ann Campbell, and two unmarried daughters, Rose and Clara Routh, are buried several hundred yards north of the cemetery in a private plot. Of the approximately two hundred graves here, fewer than one hundred are marked. The last burial to occur here was that of Serefta Ellen Campbell Miller, who was born in 1836 and dies in 1922. The Routh cemetery continues to serve as a record of the pioneers of north Texas. (1998)

I walked around the fence and snapped a couple shots through the wire. Like the smaller plot this one was overgrown, with large mature trees grown up between the crumbling markers.

The sun was burning down and I had seen what I wanted and returned the way I came, taking time to explore a couple side trails that meandered through the woods down to the creek in a couple different spots. I hope that land doesn’t get developed any time soon, I’d like to see the the Spring Creek Nature Area expand… I’d like to see those cemeteries both protected and also, paradoxically, continue to return to the wild state they started from.

Dappled Shade

There are few things as beautiful as dappled sunlight meandering down through a grove of trees.

–Me, 1998

Even on the hottest, brightest, summer days an overhead canopy of old trees makes for shade and comfort.

The air is still and hot and innervated with the sounds of cicadas desperately trying to find their mate before they die, too soon. Their song is desperate – they have waited for over a decade in the dark, hard ground and now have only days in the sun. Their abandoned skins, dry and hard on the barks of trees, their gray blue dead bodies, spent, line the concrete paths.

Everyone has a grove of trees that brings back some sort of memory – you should revisit it and walk around. It looks different… the trees grow slowly, but they grow, the weeds are trimmed in a changing shape – like a slow wave. But it also looks the same, as all shaded groves of trees look the same.

I love taking a rest, lying down and looking up through the trees at the sun peeking through from above.

(click to enlarge)

A Bit of Dappled Shade

The looping trails through the Spring Creek Natural Area converge on a little footbridge over the creek. There is a nice bench there - a good place to rest and get away from the city for a few minutes.

This is the time of the year full of those rare North Texas days of cool mornings and warm afternoons. I can feel the killer heat of summer crouched on the horizon, ready to pounce. But in the meantime, it is so nice, so much of a shame to be cooped up in a cubicle for so many hours. When the whistle sounds, I want to be outside – to capture as much of this time as I can in preparation for the blazing oven season ahead.

There is this spot – the Spring Creek Natural area – where the concrete bike riding trails enter some thick creekbottom floodplain woods and loop around to give a bicycle rider the illusion of being outside of the city for a few minutes.

Candy and I have swapped cars for a few days. The car I have now is a tiny hatchback – much smaller than the one I drive on most days. With the back seats folded, however, I discovered my bicycle can fit in the back without even taking either wheel off. Maybe I’ll keep driving this car and carry my bike with me – get in some quick rides in different parts of the city. Maybe I don’t have to spent my money on a folding bike.

Candy was worried about leaving my bike in the car. “I bought it for used for ninety dollars twenty years ago,” I told her. I remember now, I was saving to buy a bike and then found this one at a pawn shop. I figured it could get me by until I saved enough for a decent one. I guess I have my money’s worth. “You’ve put a lot into it, though,” she said. Well… not really. Tires and tubes, of course. I had to buy a new brake lever/shifter set – but I found that on clearance and paid less than fifty dollars for it. I need to buy a new chain – but those are cheap – the thing has been slipping cogs if I push too hard and I think the chain is worn.

The bike is a hunk of crap – but I’ll take it apart, clean and lube it… one more time.

I rode around the Spring Creek woods, taking it easy. I’d stop every now and then at a place with a bench and read a story on my Kindle. Sometimes I’d check the baseball scores on my phone. That’s a nice way to waste a day.

After hanging out in the dappled sunlight of the woods for awhile, I thought about how nice it would be to have other people do this. We could ride along the central trail along 75 to Eastside and grab a burger, maybe a cold beer, then ride back. Never happen, but I rode the route anyway, just to see if it was doable. A nice little ride, actually. It’s a shock to leave the deep, muffled forest and be suddenly along a screaming eight-lane highway, though the trail makes the ride easy. I didn’t get anything to eat, but sat on a bench at Eastside for a bit, watched the folks come and go before cruising back down into the woods.