Writer Author Kevin Corbin
- Fiction No
After that one encounter, my life was changed forever. Looking back now, it seems like yesterday, not a lifetime ago.
Back when I was a boy, I spent one whole winter and spring preparing for a quest. I would take my canoe and venture all the way up Grizzly Creek to the falls. Even back then, most people didn´t use the creek to get to the falls. A short drive on the new two lane, blacktop highway was quicker and easier than a full day of paddling. As a kid, I liked the trip to the falls by road just fine, but I itched to make the “real” trip, like my heroes the mountain men.
Finally school was out! My gear was safely stowed in the canoe and I was ready to go. Shoving off from shore, I felt that brash sense of power and indestructibility that only an adventurous boy with an attitude can have.
The creek meandered through heavily wooded canyons; calm and peaceful much of the way with small, lively rapids here and there to keep it interesting. Nearing the head of a set of rapids, I paddled hard, fighting the surging white water. One last push and I was free, back into a tranquil part of the creek. Catching my breath and enjoying the break, my eyes scanned the beauty of the forest around me. At the base of a gnarled old spruce tree, it´s roots tenaciously grabbing the rocks, a glimpse of red and black checkered fabric caught my eye.
Twice I hollered, “hello there!”. I heard no reply other than my own “hello” echoing hollowly off the steep canyon walls. That was odd. People around these parts were usually pretty friendly.
I wanted to ignore the feeling that something was wrong. It probably wasn´t any of my business, but my curiosity got the better of me. I pulled ashore and went to check it out. Moving closer I realized it wasn´t a person, it was a body. Well sort of a body, it looked more like a skeleton with clothes on. Anyone could tell that it wasn´t alive.
I had never seen a dead body before, not even at a funeral. Not knowing whether to run away screaming or go take a better look I did neither. For an eternity I froze there staring, hardly daring to breath, my heart racing a thousand beats a minute. My mind scrambled frantically, recalling every ghost story I ever heard. I could frighten other kids with my stories but here I was face to face with a real cadaver.
I was petrified, intensely aware of being alone with the body and miles from anyone else. I was also morbidly fascinated and couldn´t look away. Nothing in my whole twelve years had prepared me for what I was seeing.
Guessing by the state of the corpse, it had been there a long time. I figured it was a man. Seemed unlikely to be a woman alone up here. He seemed mostly intact although a few of his bones had been dragged around by animals. The plaid shirt and faded jeans looked like little more than rags; torn, tattered and full of holes. Only the left boot was on. I couldn´t see the other one anywhere near. There was a book clutched in his hand.
What had he been reading? I had to know, so I wrenched the book from his lifeless fingers. It was a journal with faded handwriting in pencil. Many of the pages were ruined from being outside so long, but now and then I could make out some of the writing .
“June 15 .... saw a cow moose and her calf today”
Followed by more illegible entries, then;
“June 24 . ...out of supplies. I thought wandering and living off the land, like the old trappers did, would be easier .... I´ll just have to make do with what I find on the way .... just follow the creek down and I will eventually come to some town.”
This stranger wanted to be a mountain man. I wondered what happened and read on. There was another page of writing I couldn´t make out, followed by;
“July 3 .... bad day How could something like this happen to me? Being lost was bad enough. I should have known better than to strike out by myself. A partner could go get help”
"July 5 ....pain is bad today ..... tough to keep my spirits up... battling feelings of loneliness and isolation"
"July 6 .... I thought a lot today about my friends and family. So many things left unsaid, so many petty differences left unresolved. Do they know that I´m gone? Do they know where I am? Do they even care?
I never had much time for people before. Couldn´t be bothered with them. Now I feel so terribly alone. It feels like forever since I had someone to talk to. I was so desperate for company that I talked to a squirrel today. He just seemed to laugh at me and scold me for my foolishness. I don´t blame him, I´d have done the same. I never want to be alone again.
If you are out there God, talk to me, tell me why this happened.
Maybe you don´t even exist."
"July 7 Thought about church today. I haven´t been to one since I was a kid. It was always boring and there were too many self righteous fools. About now I´d talk to one of those fools or even old Pastor Jensen. Thinking of that talkative old pastor reminds me of the Psalm about the shepherd and walking in the valley of death, it was his favourite.
God is my shepherd
He makes me lie down on green grass near quiet water
He restores my soul and makes me right
When I walk through the valley of death I won´t be afraid,
His rod and staff comfort me
He gives me a table even among my enemies,
puts oil on my head and fills my cup
Goodness and mercy comes from Him and
I will live in His house forever
It helps me to think that maybe someone is watching over me. Felt strangely comforted."
"July 9 I think it´s the ninth. I slept through all yesterday, or maybe it was two days. Hard to tell any more. I´m so weak. Too hard to do much. So hungry and so much pain. I don´t know if I´m ever getting out of here."
"Lost track of days. I don´t know how long it´s been since I wrote last time. Spent a lot of time getting things sorted out with God. I talked, yelled, begged, pleaded, and then finally decided just to trust Him. It feels good to have things right with Him. Wish I´d done it years ago."
"I´m dying .... Stay with me awhile God, I can´t do this by myself. I don´t want to die, but with you here I´m not afraid any more.”
The page had a few pencil marks on the bottom of it as if to keep track of the passing days, then nothing more. I guess that was when he died.
I knew I needed to go back and report what I discovered. I had been known to tell the odd whopper or two, and had already been in trouble with Deputy Johnson more than once, so I needed some proof that there really was a dead body. I took the journal and turned my canoe back downstream.
During the long trip back into town, I puzzled over the miracle of a man who came to trust God even as he lay dying. In one way I could relate to the story in his journal. I had gone to church with my parents many times and I felt it was a boring waste of my time, but on that trip I began to realize for the first time how real God was. There was more to Him than a boring hour of singing and sermons on a Sunday morning ever showed me. Maybe He was even worth paying attention to.
I never went back to the falls and the sheriff never solved the riddle of who the mystery man was or what happened to him on Grizzly Creek.
I remembered his journal every time I preached on Psalm 23. As I locked the front door of the church and headed home to the parsonage, I couldn´t help but marvel at the way God works. He used a man I didn´t know to change the course of my whole life, from problem kid to preacher.
After forty years perhaps it was time to go back and finish my trip.
© 2000 K.F. “Kevin” Corbin. All rights reserved by the author.
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