Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothin’ Left to Lose
written by: Jeff L. Mauser
Flapping his expansive wings, the eagle climbs ever higher into the azure sky. Finding the rising current, he drifts free from any earthly constraints. Gliding with ease for miles on the invisible undercurrents of air. Wandering amongst the imperceptible shifting streams between the hills and mountains.
Earlier in the day, I watched an Albatross gliding inches above the ocean. Riding the cool torrents as free as the Eagle.
The Albatross, a fleeting memory, is now miles behind and below me. The Eagle drifts behind the mountains I have yet to climb. I’m alone again. Turning back to the ambiguous animal trail, I follow it across a mountain meadow. Hidden now amongst the pine and cottonwood trees, I check to see if I’d disturbed any of the wildflowers. I hadn’t.
A breeze plays tag midst the field of yellow marigolds and suncups. Prompting a memory of a song: “Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing.”
I adjust my rucksack heading deeper into the now prevalent forest.
Dusk obscures the eastern horizon as I reconnoiter a possible campsite near a stand of pine. Satisfied I lay down an eight-foot by three-foot tarp for my sleeping bag. Next, I search my rucksack for dinner using a penlight with a red filter to keep my night vision.
With the sun behind the mountains, night falls as does the temperature. I finish the last of my energy bars laying in my sleeping bag. The clarity of the Seven Sisters and the misty hint of the Orion nebula above me is spectacular. I can see Sirius and Procyon on the outskirts of the winter Milky Way.
Guilt-burdened dreams awaken me before dawn. An ultrathin waning moon suspended against the dark silken sky grins at my cold agony.
Packed-up I head toward the snow line. A bright shooting star streaks across the morning sky brightening my mood.
Needing to restock my supplies, I intrude upon a mountain village. We share a mutual distrust of each other. Shopping, I’m watched to ensure items only go in the small basket I’m carrying. On the street, the sheriff watches the unknown interloper. On guard to ensure the town’s complete safety from me.
For my safety, I leave town long before sunset. Abandoning the paved highway, I ensure there is no trace of where I’m going. Waiting, hidden in the woods I watch for my followers, the disappointed ‘friends’ of the sheriff. They’d been wanting a reason to harass me. I leave after they straggle back from whence they came.
Erroring on the side of caution I spend another night with the cold. A fire would alert them to my existence. The stars’ brightness is my only comfort.
Warm breath and dog kisses awaken me. A rather pleasant alternative to my guilt-ridden nightmares. She’s a vivid shadow in the darkness. I watch her dart into the woods. When I don’t follow, she comes back. Evidently, she wants me to follow.
“OK. Let me pack, and I’ll be right with you.” To my surprise, she sits and waits. She knows when I’m ready and takes off. Her night vision is better than mine. She returns several times, impatient for me to follow. Using my penlight, I trail her the best I can. Being a pure white husky makes it difficult in the snow.
In the brightening morning sky, the moon, even more waifish, rises. I see her stop, turn, sit and bark. We have arrived.
Under the trees, it’s all shadows dark and darker. The penlight shows a fissure in the snow. The dog barks and I hear a faint, possible human cry in response.
I look around trying to find a way down. There isn’t one. Laying the rucksack down I fish a coil of rope from it. Knotting it to a tree, I begin to repel down. The dog runs back and forth causing more dirt to fall on me. “It’s going to be ok. Please sit.” To my surprise, again, she does.
Daylight arrives as I approach the bottom of the crevice. “Hey, watch out you’ll cause the hill to give way,” I hear from beneath me.
“Want me to go back up?” Reaching the bottom, I turn and see a young woman leaning against the fissure wall. Her left leg bent in an unnatural way meaning it’s broken. Discolored streaks along the dirt floor indicate she’s pulled herself there.
As I approach, she tries to back away. “You want to stay down here? Look I’m going to carry you on my back and get you out. I do this for a living.”
“Are you a fireman?”
“I was. Come on.” Bending over and picking her up, she screams in pain. “Oh, yeah. This is going to hurt, but it won’t kill you. Staying here will.”
The climb back up is slow and tedious. Hand overhand. Even in the freezing morning air, sweat stings my eyes. I have to stop and catch my breath several times. A low-calorie diet doesn’t help build strength and endurance. Two things I need in abundance right now. During the breaks, I plan for what’s next. Do I carry her back to town? If I do, will they suspect me of doing this? Will they find out who I am and what I’ve done? Her soft desperate sobs give me the perseverance to continue.
Near the top, I rest up for the last effort to get us up and over. A verse from another song comes to mind. “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”
Panting, and hauling on the rope I walk us up and over. I cautiously undo the rope from us both. I hadn’t trusted her to hold on as I climbed. That was a good thing. She had been silent the last part of the climb. I was afraid she had died on the way up. “Not again,” I whisper. She opens her eyes as I lay her on the snow. She gives me a feeble smile.
“I’m going to look for some branches. I’ll be right back.”
She reaches for me. “No, don’t go.”
“Your dog.” I look around the dog is gone.
“I don’t have a dog?”
“You mean the dog that brought me here, isn’t yours?” Eyes closed; she doesn’t answer. Knelling down I can feel her shallow breathing. She isn’t dead.
Finding several thick branches, I use them with cut up sections of rope to immobilize her leg. The brace finished, I struggle with the decision of should stay or go. I hear the dog barking. If she’s bringing back people have a different set of problems. I can’t stay, they’ll lock me up. But what if the dog isn’t bringing back people? I can’t leave her here. The sound of voices answers all my questions. I pack up the rope, grab my rucksack and run. Her pleas to remain, rip at my heart.
Stumbling in the snow, I rush onward and upward. The sun transverses the sky. The town’s people and the girl are at least a narrow mountain range away. I collapse against a small, stunted windblown tree, exhausted. Laying out the tarp and sleeping bag, I crawl in. No star gazing tonight.
A cold drop of snow awakens me. The sun is high in the eastern sky. I hear a happy bark seconds before forty pounds of dog land in my lap. I guess she was right. It wasn’t her dog. She appears to be my dog now.
I’m now finally able to write full time having retired several years ago from my day job of 45 years. But only after spending family time in our small town in the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains; with my daughter’s family in Oregon and walking our rescue dog a minimum of four times a day.