By Brian Michael Barbeito

The region had been more than overcast. It was almost dark in the day and a soul could easily mistake, say, noon hour, for late dusk. Sometimes it rained, and at other times there was snow. The worst was this icy slush mixture, the world not knowing what it was doing, letting out these things from the sky, these remnants of half-precipitation like lurid bits of dark dreams. Yet, in a break from the rain I did go to a forest because I have become a die hard. Of all people, I saw, believe it or not, the first man I ever saw in the forest when I had acquired the first dog. It had been so long, upwards of five years, that for time and my flu-like sickness I did not bother even pointing this out to him. I think he remembered us, if even vaguely. He is a small man, kind, and always has something nice to say. What’s more, the things he says are interesting. He knows the forests. Looking around at the saturated world, it was apparent that he was a diehard also. He has a small white dog, and a larger black dog that looks one quarter wolf, but his dog is super friendly- an old, old, old soul, - hard to explain. He mentioned this and that, - and that there was a mean man, in a pickup truck, that went in the mornings. This man, apparently, has a violent dog, and what is worse perhaps, or just as bad, is that the man is violent also, aggressive. I told him I once crossed paths with the violent man and the aggressive dog, or else someone just like him. Often, around here, some of those types also go to dog parks for some reason. They crate their dogs all day, - and then- they think the world is theirs afterwards, and pay no attention to others. I thanked the kind small man for the information and he made his way out and I made my way in.

I saw the tall trees, and the winding paths. To the left is the forest proper as I call it, - with winding paths that go down and around and to smaller paths, to hidden valleys. I was there last week and saw the skeleton of what looked, in death, like the infamous chupacabra. It has been killed or just died, or had been drowned from a hole or den in a flood. I don’t know and am no expert. Was it a rat? Too big to be a rat. A muskrat? No, just no. A coyote? No, just no. What I think it was, was a fox. A dead fox. And its body was hardly there anymore save for the slight skeletal structure. It has been eaten and washed and though some animals are dead they seem still part of this world, even in death. Not this animal. It looked for the weather and its particular fate, a thousand years old, like some fossil relic. But in it all, the teeth were the thing. They were there, almost, crazy sounding to say, - proud, valorous, still existing, and whiter than any human’s teeth on the earth. I don’t know why the teeth were so white but a biologist or veterinarian or zoologist, of whom there must be thousands in the world, might know. I stood and watched the teeth, - not in a morbid way, because I don’t care about teeth and I don’t photograph dead animals. But I did mentally file away those teeth. In the ugliest sight, the most dead and faded and sad animal, ugly then upon ugly, - there were the shining white teeth. Maybe it was the rain that had cleaned the teeth so. They almost smiled upon me then. Come to think of it, - even the beauty of the pine needles or the robust red sumac, the small berries that live or the strange feral flowers, - did not compare to the striking white and beautiful teeth.

On the right is where I went. It’s a path that has a wheelchair designation. It’s a nice try, but how a wheelchair could go through there I have no idea. Its shaky and uneven gravel, sunken at every foot almost. I went there and realized I had perhaps gone too far and too fast for the shape I was in. I was dizzy from the flu and the medicine, - a mixture of antibiotics, cough syrup, ibuprofen, - and mix that with fatigue and a broken toe, a shoulder injury, and a hurt back! So I slowed it down and just inhaled some fresh air and really paced myself. I could do it. I would do it. I always do. Then I saw another man, - dog beside him- garden variety golden retriever or lab. No, golden retriever. He was about my age, and had, - and this I love for some reason, - his old mother and wife, or aunt and wife, or something, - her mother, - you know? - Whatever, - walking up. They are so nice and talkative when so many around are affected, aloof, and cynical. It was a treat to speak to them. I could feel their presence and it was benevolent, calming, and true. They eventually went my way, - which I knew was the wrong way for them, because they had come from a different direction. He realized this, - gives them the dog, and circles back to go to the other lot and get the car. He will drive the main road to meet them at our lot. The women look like two little forest elves so small and bundled up are they. I go to the side and the dogs run under cover of vast fields of pine trees. The ground is like a carpet for the soft needles and there is a mysterious world in there that goes in all directions. It is like a something from a book or movie. When I go out, they are waiting for their ride, those two women and the light brown or beige dog. I put my dogs in the jeep and the women wave and talk, talk and wave. It’s like we are all new here, and happy to have been on a forest adventure if even small.

On the way back I am on an old country road and for a brief moment I can see the sun try to speak from behind distant clouds. The song playing is a classical music song called The Adoration of the Magi, and I guess it is based on the famous painting or series of paintings. The song is, as cliché as it may sound, simply beautiful. Simply beautiful. Simply beautiful. Soon coming is a country church under the clouds and pale weak but still marvelous early evening sun. It is all really there. I know then I have hit my mark, or met my muse, or seen my poem.

Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer, poet and photographer. Recent work appears at Fiction International from San Diego State University, CV2 The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing, and at Catch and Release-The Columbia Journal of Arts and Literature. Brian is the author of Chalk Lines (Fowl Pox Press, 2013, cover art by Virgil Kay). He is currently at work on the written and visual nature narrative titled Pastoral Mosaics, Journeys through Landscapes Rural.