Swan Creek is a special place, twenty five mile east of Sandpoint Idaho, two miles west of Clark Fork. A mixture of dense forest, grass fields, and river delta, it is packed with beaver dams, fish, deer, elk and ducks. A virtual sportsman’s paradise. And then there’s the structure erected on it on it, a “wooden tent” as my father calls it (as it lacked plumbing, and the only power we had came from two solar panels that provides just enough electricity to run a small fridge), though deep down it’s much more than that. It is built on stilts (Swan Creek is considered a flood plain, and all permanent structures had to be above the ground) and we use the space underneath as storage, keeping everything from lumber to clay pigeons. This is where we host barbecues during the summer, where we hunt deer in the fall and winter, where we fish in the spring, and where, in every season, we have late night campfires, lasting into the deep hours of the night, until the stars shine like more than pinpricks, and the milky way cascades across the sky like a silver river. A beautiful, ebony colored, star spotted, silver river. These campfires are exemplary, sometimes holding on into the night in silence, all of us looking up into the sky, or into the fire.
Sometimes, they are filled with stories. Memories. Sometimes fiction, trying to scare ourselves to the relative material comfort of inside. Most of the scary stories seem cheap to me, always ending in blood or death for an overused, commodity thrill. The ones I prefer are the ones leaving the end to the listener, the unknown being much more terrifying than anything told to us explicitly. These stories are most often told my my uncle, and I still try to recreate them when he isn’t there, with much less effect. Everybody has their own nightmare. I like the memories better, losing myself in the past lives of my family, imagining what it was like to be them. I most love the stories about my father’s father. I had met my Bapa Jerry, but had no memory of him. He died of a heart attack when I was two or three, other than my father’s stories, I only have pictures to remember him. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a story is worth a thousand pictures. On the surface, they are stories of laughter, of anger, of decisions good and bad. Deeper down, they are stories of remembrance. They are stories of legacy. And they are stories of love.
One such story my father tells often, was about a dog. Growing up, they had hunting dogs. Dogs that slept outside, dogs that were not for petting, only for flushing out pheasants. One day, one of my grandfather’s friends offered him a purebred blue heeler, one of the better breeds of bird dogs. For free. The dog wouldn’t work for my grandfather’s friend, and he didn’t want to go through the trouble of training it. My grandfather took advantage of this opportunity, and took the dog out with my father to do some pheasant hunting and see how bad the dog really was.
When hunting pheasants, the bird dog is supposed to run out in front of the hunter, scaring the birds up into the air so the hunter can shoot them. This dog would not leave my grandfather’s side, sometimes walking behind him and scaring pheasants in the wrong direction. My grandfather got so furious at the dog’s noncooperation that he picked it up and threw it in front of him, sure that this would send the message that the dog needed to stay out in front. This was in knee deep snow, my father and grandfather were wading through the middle of an asparagus field, for pheasants like to make nests in the mounds of mulch piled over the asparagus plants after they are covered in snow.
The dog ran right back. The entire morning preceded like this, my grandfather throwing the dog out in front of him, the dog running back. My father had been walking above my grandfather on a ridge, and had missed all of this. At one point he looked over the edge, to see my grandfather spitting mad, pitching his purebred bird dog in front of him, only to have it sprint back like some kind of game. My father collapsed on the ground in a fit of laughter, the humor of the situation greatly unappreciated by my grandfather.
“Stop laughing and get the hell down here you son of a bitch!” and after a thought; “I’m not talking about your mother, you son of a bitch!”
At the end of the story, my father laughs, tilts his head back slightly. His breath fogging in the mellow light of the campfire. I’m never sure, but whenever he tells this story, I can almost swear I see a reflective flash on the corner of his eye. Like the smallest inkling of a teardrop. But maybe it’s just the firelight.
Such are nighttime campfires at the barn.
Mick Perryman is an 8th grader at Moscow Middle School in Moscow, Idaho. He likes running, playing soccer with friends, and writing. This is his first published piece.