Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Voice Of The Forest

The highway ribbon of civilization had slowly transformed into rawer and more isolated wilderness. Asphalt had turned into smooth, well kept gravel. The road to his destination was hugged more closely by the trees and bushes; groomed gravel turned into raw. Eric Pappas found that speed limits had become self-enforcing as his rented car jolted over the washboard gravel. Along this road, a speed-limit sign would be more taunt than order.

Stopping on the now-narrow two-lane road, uncertainly, Eric checked his GPS. He was now in an area close to where the maps in his unit showed a blank. Had he not gotten directions, had he merely relied upon his GPS with longitude and latitude stuffed into the destination point, he would have been lost. Whoever this isolated gentleman was, he did not want to be found. Yet, found he was – and frequently. This hermit, this recluse, was like a gold Rasputin.

Living in the wilderness that Eric was uncertainly navigating, he gave out free pronouncements. They were often incisive, and more than enough of them were prescient. Amazingly, this Gold Rasputin had a following amongst traders and analysts whose base pay was at least ten times Eric’s. In spite of their income and wealth, they came almost as supplicants to see this man who lived in isolated squalor. He was that good.

Centuries ago, he would have been a fĂȘted anchorite. Dripping out his wisdom gleaned from his sole communion with God; unattached to the bonds and limitations of the city. In today's secular age, he offered up tips. He was already a minor legend in the gold world. How could a forest isolate be so on top of an asset that all-but required a citified country place, in the form of a satellite Internet connection and electric power?

The last town, little more than a village, was ten miles back; it was cheerily named Farnhorn. Recognizing a good thing, the shopkeeps knew of this Rasputin and added “gifts” to their lines of goods. Thanks to his new well-heeled admirers, those offerings sold. Eric himself had pulled in, knowing about the one and only suggested gift.

Having gotten his bearings, he proceeded down the road that soon forked. In front of him were a path of dirt and the same corrugated gravel. Slowly turning right, he took the dirt: it only had enough width for a single car. It must have been a logging road in days long gone; the trees reaching for the clouds were not young. Trundling for a few minutes, Eric stopped and again checked his GPS. It now showed a blank: no road at all. Its compass and distancing feature showed he was driving in the right direction. The grooves worn into the road, by tires on cars that were a few classes above his rental, reassured him. So did the directions he had received in Farnhorn.

Two more minutes of driving, plus an attentive eye, got him his stopping point. Thanks to that part of the road being set into a narrow field, there was enough space for a U-turn. Tire tracks made it clear that more than a few cars had made one. Again stopping and checking his GPS, Eric saw that a five-minute walk would get him to his destination. So, he took the U-turn and left his car in a spot that would give another driver ample sight warning. Thankfully, the grass was solid enough to hold his tires on this dry day. He left the car on the edge of the grass so as to give enough room for a car to squeeze by if needed. Like the archetypical Canadian pedestrian who waited patiently for the light to change to green at 3 AM Sunday morning, it was a near-useless gesture but a good habit nonetheless. From what he could tell, he was alone.

Prudently locking the subcompact, remembering the gift he had gotten from the seemingly designated Farnhorn vendor, Eric pulled out his GPS and got the direction he had to go. Based upon the way the dirt cut into the quiet forest, he could continue walking along the rutted path. So he did – until he saw a two-year-old blue BMW X6 M parked awkwardly on the side of the road.

Its owner wasn’t far away; Eric first saw his back. Dressed in an open-necked blue shirt that was soft on the eyes, trim black pants and a slim belt, the balding man with greying hair was fumbling with his own GPS. The way he moved, combined with his car, suggested that the fellow was used to life on the higher side. His house was likely a mini-mansion or two-floor condo.

Approaching quietly, Eric waited until the stranger stopped fumbling before saying hello. A cardboard box was in front of him near his feet. Seeing the man turn around, he was surprised to see this obviously hard-charging success story flash blue eyes that looked oddly placid.

“So you’re here to see the guru too.”

His clothes outclassed Eric’s more serviceable gear by a sizable margin, but he didn’t seem to care. His voice, used to authority, was soft. Walter Turrin felt too relaxed to introduce himself. Introductions were part of the competitive world of wresting money from an often refractory market, hedge as one might. He had taken the trip to see the guru so as to get away from all that. He had to clear his mind so he could think for a change. How lucky he was to buy a sedate X6 M! Although urged to by his wife as part of the domesticity track, he was glad that that serviceable car of his could manage the unbeaten track that led to this calm secluded forest. The guru’s tips were top-notch, but that was only part of the experience. The other part was rebooting the brain in an environ far, far away from the tunnel-vision-inducing scramble for profits.

Both men, looking at each other, felt the urge to size each other up melt away. They were sure that they would never see each other again. Out here, in pleasant isolation from the incentives and cues in each of their parts of the world, they were just travellers to the same destination. Unconsciously, Eric’s left hand tightened on the bag that carried his own.

Each with an offering, they ambled silently and comfortably until they reached the co-ordinates plugged into their respective GPS device. Walter had to put down the box he was carrying to check his; Eric let him.

Greeting them at the spot was a somewhat weathered, but neat, hand-lettered sign; it was nestled in a small tree with some branches removed. It only said, “THIS WAY” with an arrow. Another sign was underneath, which said “Please Feed The Dog.”

Sure enough, a medium-sized gray dog with brown splotches and an indeterminate pedigree was loping towards them. Rather than defensive or territorial, it was curious and standoffishly friendly. The standoffishness disappeared when Eric pulled out the suggested gift:

Dog treats.

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