The Path to Free­dom

Chap­ter One: The Sawyer’s Son

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - Text copy­right 2017, Mike Peter­son – Il­lus­tra­tion copy­right 2017 Christo­pher Bald­win For a teach­ing guide, go to­se­rial

“Hold on.”

David stopped walk­ing; Jonathan took one more step and then stopped be­side him, look­ing around the green for­est as they stood side-by-side on the path.

Luke Van Gelder walked around to the other side of the cart, to the stack of freshly-cut fire­wood, and be­gan to pile it in. Jonathan turned his head slightly to watch, since it was his side of the cart that Luke was work­ing on, and be­cause Jonathan al­ways wanted to see what was hap­pen­ing.

David just shuf­fled one hoof im­pa­tiently on the for­est floor, wait­ing to be told to move for­ward again. David was al­ways ready to move for­ward, but he was well-trained and would wait for his 14-year-old master’s com­mand.

As Luke tossed the last stick of wood into the cart, how­ever, David raised his brown head and looked up the hill­side, and Luke paused to find out why.

A mo­ment later, he heard it, too.

“Hold on,” he said again, this time nearly in a whis­per, and silently be­gan to work his way up the hill. The horses watched, and Jonathan shook his head, rat­tling his har­ness.

The rat­tle didn’t mat­ter. Luke had made enough noise with the fire­wood that their pres­ence in the for­est was no se­cret. He crept the last few feet to the crest of the hill­side, care­fully putting each foot straight down to avoid kick­ing any branches or plants.

Over the top of the hill, down at the bot­tom of the small val­ley where a thin creek ran through swampy moss, he saw mo­tion in a patch of bushes. Luke held his breath and stayed low, just peer­ing over the edge of the hill­top.

A fat sow came out of the brush, fol­lowed by three good-sized pork­ers, and made her way to the creek to drink, stand­ing in the mud nearly to her belly. Luke watched for a mo­ment, to see if a fourth pig would join them, but, when it did not, he stood up.

The pigs scat­tered at the mo­tion and the sow led her fam­ily up the op­po­site hill­side and away. It didn’t mat­ter: The val­ley was full of beech trees and she’d be back in an­other six weeks or so, once the beech­nuts be­gan to fall.

One more pig gone. He wasn’t sur­prised, but it was dis­ap­point­ing to get all the way to July and still lose one, prob­a­bly to a bob­cat or maybe coyotes.

The sow had be­gun with eight piglets that spring and three was a good count, if she could keep track of them un­til snow­fall.

Luke went back down to the path where the horses and cart waited.

“Come on,” he said, and clucked with his tongue as he started down the path to where the next pile of fire­wood lay.

This was the easy part; this was the fun part, gath­er­ing it all up.

Ear­lier in the week, Luke had spent sev­eral days out there on his own, cut­ting up all the long branches from the pre­vi­ous win­ter’s log­ging, cut­ting it into use­ful lengths and stack­ing it by the path.

It wasn’t hard work, but it meant us­ing his mus­cles in­stead of David and Jonathan’s, be­cause the for­est floor be­yond the path was too soft for the cart, es­pe­cially in a wet sum­mer like 1777 had been so far in the Hud­son Val­ley.

In the win­ter, the cart stayed in the barn and, once the huge logs had been stripped of their branches, the horses skid­ded them across the snowy, frozen ground through the woods to the sawmill by the river.

Paths didn’t mat­ter then: David would wisely pick the best way to the fallen log and Jonathan would go with him, weav­ing their way through the trees.

Once the chains were hooked up, the two horses would bend their shoul­ders into the task of pulling the log for­ward while Luke, his fa­ther or his grand­fa­ther walked be­side them, some­times giv­ing com­mands, of­ten sim­ply help­ing them keep a good pace.

“You don’t give David or­ders,” his grand­fa­ther, Opa, liked to say. “You just give him sug­ges­tions.”

This had been a good day. The next pile of wood was the last and the cart was nearly full any­way. The rain had held off and Luke had smeared enough bear grease, boiled with cedar chips, on his skin to keep the mos­qui­toes and punkies from mak­ing him mis­er­able, a trick set­tlers in the Hud­son Val­ley had learned long ago from their Mo­hawk neigh­bors.

And the rasp­ber­ries were ripe, so he had sweet snacks all along as he trailed through the woods gath­er­ing fire­wood with his horses.

A day like to­day was nearly as much fun as a day with no work at all.

He had just put the last stick from the last pile into the cart when he saw his older sis­ter, Sylvie, com­ing down the path to­wards them.

“Papa needs you at the house right away,” she said, as he clucked the horses for­ward. “The mili­tia has been called out. Bur­goyne is on his way.”

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