As if I ever really needed a reason. But if ever I doubt as to why I came back, and why I should stay, this ought to be reminder enough. There can't be anywhere else like this. I couldn't believe that. He looked out over the river bottoms, seeing only the crests of fingers of hills, occasional tops of trees peeking through the fog, the mountains in the distance.
It had been four years since he had seen it. In that time, he had made his short trips home too eventful to take the time to look at something like this. The couple of weeks a year home did not allow for this sort of thing. It was spent with family, and friends. He had enjoyed that, but this was different. Here there was no one. Not even the houses and barns on the hillsides were visible. He realized that this was what he had been aching for. With no realization that it was what he needed. He had been back down to the river, and had gone down this very hill he was overlooking many times since he had come back. But few times had he looked on it in this way. That struck him as odd. He knew that he had rarely been happier than down there.
The sun was coming up on the far side of the valley, directly in front of him. He turned, walking back to the top of the hill. How had he forgotten such a place as this? It had just slipped away. The knowledge had once been there, he knew that. He had known as a fact that this was the spot in which he had spent some of his best hours. Alone and with friends. Countless miles he had run, and many more ridden. Countless fish had been caught from the ponds and the river, and countless happy thoughts had passed through his mind. But the memory of this place had slipped from him like one of the long forgotten thoughts that he'd had here.
I never wanted to leave. I just wish I hadn't wanted to be somewhere else. Could have stayed right here, and not missed much. Long realized regrets sprang again into his mind, filling back into their comfortably worn grooves. He wasn't feeling sorry for himself. He was just wondering why he had always seemed to make the wrong decisions, and regretting what had been brought about as a result. I was warned. By the very people who knew better than me. Should have listened. Oh well. He picked his ax back up. Got to get this done. As he split wood, other thoughts came back to him, thoughts that had recently been all too present. Funny, how it's so easy to mess up a good thing. On top of the world. Couldn't remember having been so happy in a very long time. Oh well.
The mist was clearing from the valley. How could he have been so stupid. Dumb mistakes. All of them. He had finally done it. Finally asked her. And she said yes. Must have looked like he'd lost his mind the next day at work. Smiling without knowing it. Then quickly wiping the smile away once he felt it. Then smiling again. Whistling without a tune. Walking with a pop in his step that he could not remember the last time was there. Just amazing. Less then a week. That was all it took for him to screw that up. Drunk every night. Not that that was spectacular. He had been drunk nearly every night for months. Almost constantly since he had come back from over there. Made the days easier to get through, and it let him sleep at night. Just odd that it took her a whole week to be done with him, the way he had acted.
Wonder what some of those guys are up to, now. Funny, see them every day for years. Then a day and I don't see them at all. Ought to write to them. The wood was splitting well. It was already seasoned from having been down. Maybe I'll get two full loads out of this, he thought. Going easier than it could have. That's the first thing in long enough, he thought.
The geese were starting to move for the day. He didn't pay them much attention, other than to think that the season would be opening shortly. This year he was hoping to have some time to go hunting again. That was something else that he had done in the valley. He would have to go down and see where they were landing, later in the day. That was one way that things had changed. Years ago, he would have not gone down into the valley alone. Not that it was dangerous, or that there was any reason that he shouldn't. He just would have had a friend with him, for the company. It was different now. After he had come back, he had enjoyed his solitude more. But lately, he found himself craving it. Being alone was fast becoming a necessity. He realized this, but it didn't bother him. He simply didn't want to be around other people.
Over the trees behind him, the sun was making its way up. The valley had cleared of all its mist. Standing and stretching his back, he turned and looked over the river valley to where the houses were now visible. Tiny lines of smoke could be made out from some of them, creeping up to the clear sky. In the distance, he could see that the mountains were starting to get snow. The breeze was picking up, blowing golden leaves from the trees around him. Shouldn't be too long before they're bare, he said to himself. Just one more storm.
Bending, he began to load cut wood into the wagon. Chuckling, he flung another piece. I can hardly believe I'm doing this. Saturday morning and I'm cutting firewood. I ought to be recovering from Friday night, so that I can go out again tonight. He flung another piece of wood. This isn't too bad, though. Another piece of wood. And I ought to be figuring out what I'm going to be doing tonight. Fuck it. I like doing this. Doing something useful was something that he had been missing. Seeing a tangible result for his efforts was pleasing to him. More appealing than the bars or the parties, which had held so much pull on him until lately. Even the girls didn't seem to matter as much. It had just gotten old.
The wagon full, he got onto the tractor. Looks like it's going to stay nice today, he thought as he turned the tractor's ignition. Driving back the trail to the woodshed, he thought of his friends. Funny thing to call them, he thought. I'll probably never see any of them again. Nothing I couldn't of asked of them. Never a thing I wouldn't have done for them. Loved them like brothers. And now it's like it never happened. I'll never know another group like them. We worked and we fought and we lived and we bled together. I could tell the life story of any of them. I know their wives and children and dreams and fears. I guess I'll never have the luck to be in such good company again. But at least I had once.
The trailer backed to the shed door, he began to unload and stack the wood. Maybe I'll get this done quicker than I thought. Get some work done on my truck today. I've been putting that off long enough. Should probably eat breakfast first, though. Eggs sound good today. Just some eggs and toast.