ECOTONE

He thought he ruled the world. Well HIS world, at least. In all his days no one around Jimmy much disputed he was in charge. A mover and a shaker. He met Valerie when they were still in high school, and when he knocked her up and both sets of parents insisted he do right by her, without hesitation he knew marrying and providing for his new family was exactly what he’d do.

He’s in charge remember?

King of the universe. Chief of the tribe. Jimmy the man. Valerie always stood behind, at least in their twenties when he was furthering his education in engineering, getting regular attention from the media in  journals and scientific magazines and such accolades in academia. They called him Whiz Kid. She stayed home, first with Jimmy Jr and then when Mary came along, and she fell comfortably into her role as caretaker of the brood. Not that Jimmy was  one who ever needed to be taken care of.

He took care of everything.

Now that Jimmy found a lucrative career and conventional “success”, he and Valerie settled into a comfortable lifestyle that anyone would envy. Jimmy Jr was now off to Harvard to study biology of all things, wants to be a doctor that one. And Mary recently met a young man of good pedigree, with both families hoping for marriage. Those two would no doubt have the wedding of the year is what people said, and superior offspring too.

It’s a nice life.

Jimmy always gave back to his community. And nothing made him prouder than leading the recent prep school grads that made up the Young Minds fraternity. Today was the Young Minds yearly trek into the great outdoors and Jimmy was well qualified to lead them. In his youth Jimmy’d backpacked across Europe and the American West several times and had the necessary leadership acumen and charisma  to help expand their horizons. This trip was not that ambitious really: two nights camping by the river right outside the city, in the greenbelt of forest and mountains adjacent.

Ecotone. That’s what Jimmy called it. He explained that’s where civilization met wilderness, and had a whole theory about it too.

He’d talk about it at length if you asked.

He and the trekkers met in the Walmart parking lot right before dawn, forming a line as the bus pulled in. They packed up their gear underneath and boarded, starting out through the city streets as the sun peeked over the horizon. The bus wound slowly through the neighborhoods where people were waking up, some already outside having breakfast at cafe tables, while others were out relieving their dogs. Morning like it is in lots of places really. It’s going to be warmer today for sure. Everything’s going to be perfect.

Isn’t it always?

The bus stopped at the trail head and Jimmy and the Young Minds disembarked, slinging their backpacks over their shoulders and heading overland into the woods. Jimmy led the way. He knew these trails well and was quite attached to them, and he was animated this morning too. He talked up a storm in his loud voice as the boys followed behind, spewing a steady stream of instructions and recitation of their itinerary. Once they got deep into the woods, Jimmy chose a site next to the river, and the troop set up camp.

After a breakfast of hot coffee and juice and muffins, Jimmy gathered the troop in a circle and stood in the center. “Okay guys, we’re gonna hike up to Mount Face. Remember, this is at least seven hours round trip, so it’ll be dusk on our way back. If you haven’t triple-checked your back pack to make sure you have everything you need, including your flashlights and water and camera, please do it now, okay? Remember like I said, in the Ecotone safety first.” He pointed at a kid at the back of the group. “Jeremy, did you triple check that all the food’s tied up like I asked?”

Jeremy, the smallest kid there and the one everyone picked on and roughhoused with most said, “Yes sir I did. Everything’s up and triple-checked yes sir. Everyone listened to me this time.”

The other boys snickered. Jimmy began down the trail, destination Mount Face, which at thirty-two hundred feet was the largest peak in their metropolitan region. The charge of kids fell into stride behind him.

Jimmy sang and encouraged the boys to chime in. They were a raucous group, which intruded into the stillness of the forest and bounced off the walls of the mountains as they began their ascent. The river started to loom below. Jimmy and the boys slowed down some to accommodate the growing incline, and quieted down too, now focused on the challenge ahead. Jimmy still took the role of leading the expedition quite seriously, with a steady stream of cautions and reminders from the head of the line. Lagging at the end was little Jeremy, daydreaming like usual.

Two hours in, and with most of the climb behind, the trekkers stopped at Great Falls Overlook, a spot accessible only by foot and famous for having the tallest waterfall in all these parts. By now Mount Face was in view, glistening in the morning sun. The rest of the way up would be in alpine air and slow going, mostly over neoproterozoic rock formations- no more trail. The boys dropped their backpacks with laughter and grunts and relief. Some went off to take pictures of the scenery while others made a beeline for the large rock outcroppings near the falls. Jimmy sat down and started rummaging through his backpack. The boys had to yell to be heard over the wind and the loud roar of the water. Some inched closer to the falls. Jimmy yelled for them to remember to keep their wits about them. Little Jeremy stood off by himself, staring down at the valley and river below. Jimmy talked on, to no one in particular, waxing on about the marvels of the Ecotone and the continuing logistics of the day. He yelled Jeremy’s name a couple of times, raising his voice to compete with the wind and the water.

Jeremy had just about enough. It wasn’t the physical demands of the day that was the problem- quite the contrary- he loved nothing more than being out of the city. It was the dealing with these loudmouthed kids and that Jimmy who never gave it a rest, THAT wasn’t fun. He looked at his watch and then gazed down at the river. Just a few more hours, I know I can do it. The wind picked up and Jimmy yelled his name. Again. He turned to find him sitting there, all the contents of his backpack on the ground in front of him, apparently doing an inventory or something else crucial in the Ecotone. Gotta be on top of things is how Jimmy always put it.  Jeremy cocked his ear to hear and stood frozen in place. He saw as out of the woods a bear snuck up on Jimmy. Later he told the others it seemed the bear didn’t wanna hear Jimmy’s voice anymore either.

In an instant the bear ended Jimmy’s reign.
ecotone

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