Essay Lost In The Forest

Essay Lost In The Forest-4
He sulked and fretted all week, but showed up on Friday in good spirits—a complete turn-around. I think I broke a couple fingers.” That’s not what happened at all: in the bathroom, Dan had run scalding water over his hand to make it appear injured. But then he says he forgot his wallet in the hangar. Now it’s all swollen.’ He got me to the hospital quick.” Joe, the new custodian, asked Dan how he’d had the nerve to bust his own hand like that.Then, at about 11 pm, Dan came to the foreman cradling his left hand. It burned red, but the pain was worth a good excuse to cut out early. “Well let me get it checked out and see what a doctor says. He turns to go back, so I say to him, I say, ‘At least unlock the car so I can sit. Unlike most of the other men on the night shift, Joe had not served in Vietnam. “Situation like that, you just do what you gotta do.” Sitting at my own kitchen table in the forest late one night, where I was revising a story about a son haunted by his father’s war trauma, my son interrupted to ask about the documents spread before me.

He sulked and fretted all week, but showed up on Friday in good spirits—a complete turn-around. I think I broke a couple fingers.” That’s not what happened at all: in the bathroom, Dan had run scalding water over his hand to make it appear injured. But then he says he forgot his wallet in the hangar. Now it’s all swollen.’ He got me to the hospital quick.” Joe, the new custodian, asked Dan how he’d had the nerve to bust his own hand like that.Then, at about 11 pm, Dan came to the foreman cradling his left hand. It burned red, but the pain was worth a good excuse to cut out early. “Well let me get it checked out and see what a doctor says. He turns to go back, so I say to him, I say, ‘At least unlock the car so I can sit. Unlike most of the other men on the night shift, Joe had not served in Vietnam. “Situation like that, you just do what you gotta do.” Sitting at my own kitchen table in the forest late one night, where I was revising a story about a son haunted by his father’s war trauma, my son interrupted to ask about the documents spread before me.

This man was the first I had met with such a serious case of the condition, though since taking up residence in the woods, I have often been nugrybaves myself. Do-or-Die Dan was a classic, and as good a starting point as any into the dark woods of my father’s mind.

You achieve a state of nugrybauti when the thrill of having spotted choice edibles slides into uneasiness, brought on by the feeling that the forest has changed around you. The smoke from his cigarette curled in the air of the candle-lit kitchen in our house in Mastic Beach, New York. This story’s path crossed with many others we’d been on before. Dan was a Vietnam veteran, like my father, but my father met him after the war, at work—so I knew that with this story, the chances of my father getting lost in battle memories and falling into silence while I sat still at the table, needing to pee, waiting for him to turn his distant stare to me and let me go, were slimmer than usual. He laughed through the telling, and I laughed along. It was the first time I ever heard my father swear.

In Lithuania, going astray while picking mushrooms is a common experience, with its own word.

The same word is used to describe veering from the plot of a story—like my father did when he talked about his time in Vietnam.

“I guess eventually he’d build his home in there,” I said.

“He’d do whatever it took to survive.” Joel Mowdy is the author of the story collection Floyd Harbor (Catapult, May 2019).

He completed an MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, and his nonfiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

He splits his time homesteading with his wife and son in the forest in Lithuania, and teaching at Green School in Bali, Indonesia.

I tell my son the stories my father tried to tell me. And how did it feel to live with this experience lurking at the center of his being?

Do-or-Die Dan—with the tangents edited out, embellished with details—is a favorite we return to often. As he told his stories, I could only quietly hold my bladder and wait for him to come through the other side of his silence. We sat with his answer until our cigarettes burned down. Driving the old man and his bucket of mushrooms out of the forest, the man tells me the reason he had separated from his sister in the first place: They’d had a fight and he’d stormed off to forage on his own, and when he came back he saw she’d left with the car.

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