Photo by Kay Ficht
Jean Clement, eremite, trapper, seeking freedom and wealth and a glimpse of the other world, set foot from the sea riven strand of the eastern shores of the new world and disappeared into the primordial world of teeming mists. The great forests, so pure and dark under its lush enfolding canopy seemed but a vast web of dew laden boughs. He cut and hacked his way deep into the green world, never-ending, abundant beyond dreams, ever beckoning. A towering growth of spruce and fir, ash and birch, maple and hemlock, black cherry, beech and hickory, the rivers and streams ran pure and cold from the mountains not so distant, and through it, and astride them ran the elk and bison and mountain lion, fox and deer and pheasant, turkey, bear, coyote, mink and beaver, osprey and eagle, hawk and owl all too bountiful. He worked his way across the Allegheny Mountains breathing in the pine scented air and fresh fecund loam, thriving on the freedom from all he’d left behind in the old world. Here was a place beyond dreams and no end to it for as far as he could see. He kept moving farther into the depths to be lost there, thought he might never see another being. But knew it couldn’t be so from markings on trees and stones blackened with fire. Watched, he was, as though he could feel it on his skin, or was he perhaps losing his mind, he wondered, from the isolation and vast mystery that was this Eden in its wildness, and then they appeared. Nebulous as phantoms and specters and soft in the pale light they made not a sound but just as they were not, then suddenly they were. Feathered and beaded with shaved heads and topknots, bare chested and necklaced, from eyes dark as mined coal, they watched to see what he would do. Quick witted and sensing the precariousness of his position, he took some good pelts from his sled and laid them out in front of him on the ground and made a gesture of friendship in offering up these gifts to the native people. Knowing he meant only to save his own life, but admiring the pelts, they took the gifts and disappeared back into the forest as soon as he looked away for the briefest of seconds. After, he’d had to count the skins again to confirm he wasn’t dreaming. He thought he could feel them following him as he made his way deeper into the new world and set his traps and collected more fur, hunted and fished. Sometimes he left a few pelts out at night with a little totem of sticks and snail shells as a sign that it was on offering. In the morning he would wake to find they were gone. Winter came and, with it, great snow storms making travel dangerous and slow going. Eventually he fell making his way down the side of the mountain hurting his leg so he could no longer walk on it. With much difficulty he fashioned a crutch from a young spruce to get around on for collecting firewood, but he could not hunt and it was too far to get water so he was in trouble but for the melting snow. He thought he might die there in the wilderness and felt himself becoming weaker as he waited to see which would come first: death or wellness. As he lost hope and the will to continue living, he slipped into recurring deliriums and dreams of the home of his childhood back in the woods and countryside of his native France. The dreams seemed never to end until they did. He woke days later to find a bear looking at him curiously as though surprised by this human animal asleep and oblivious to the world around him. And finally, then, as his terror grew and he gathered his senses he saw protruding from the curious bear’s left shoulder the arrow atilt and tipped with feathers and then saw by his side the bowl of water and cured meat where they’d been left for him. He ate and drank and watched to see would they appear again but they did not. He skinned the bear and cooked and ate the meat and eventually he moved on from there leaving the skin stretched across the saplings for them to find.