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October 2023, A Story
When the young couple entered the restaurant in the woods they were hoping for a sandwich, possibly a hamburger, maybe even a local microbrew. They had been hiking for a few days and had made their way back down the mountain, running out of steam and ready to eat something other than some raisins and peanuts and power bars.
When they saw the smoke billowing from the little stone chimney they thought it was a cabin, but as they got closer they could make out a sign, carved in wood, with the word “Restaurant” hanging over the front door. Looking at each other with surprise and giddy excitement, they opened the screen door which let out a musical and metallic springy whine. As they walked in they were greeted by a hunched over little man with a tablet in his right hand, and a walking stick in his left hand. “Welcome,” he greeted the couple and suggested they take a table by the door. They sat down, shifting backpacks and scanning the interior of the small cabin-like space. The space was noticeably sparse--there were no other tables, no chairs, no other customers, no music, no real lighting to speak of. There was nothing, really. Just the old man who was waddling around the space muttering, and who finally made his way over to them. "Okay," he said, "I’m ready. Hold out your hands."
They looked at each other, and the young man sheepishly held out his hands. The old man handed the girl his tablet, grasped the young man's hands in his own, and said to the girl, "Ok my dear, get ready to write." She didn’t know what to say, so she picked up the pen and tablet he had handed her and waited. The old man closed his eyes and began to talk, “We explore the east. We explore the west. We drink up the landscape with our eyes. We fill our heads with sprawling vistas. We gorge ourselves on sunsets and crashing waves. We feast on the first snow and last moonglow. We taste the damp dew in the summer night air and the crisp mountain morning. We ingest the breeze that blows warm across the wheated plains. We are intoxicated by the coyote's howl, the whippoorwill's call, the crickets buzzing. We drink in the sparkling mountain stream and dine on the bugling calls of the elk. For dessert we take in the multitude of the stars, the galaxies, the comets dashing through the thick midnight. We are thus satiated. Our bodies and our minds. Our whole being is one big overflowing diner."
He looked at the young man's face and said, "It is important for you to know each day’s menu, so you can better prepare a diet for your souls. Allow me to read your menu, that you have prepared for today, by listing off all of your ingredients...” And the old man began to list off all of the things the young man had seen that day, the things he had ingested, visually.
"Four garter snakes, one rattlesnake, two leopard frogs, one box turtle, fourteen fox squirrels, two Abert's squirrels, seven monarch butterflies, one luna moth, eight mule deer, one large black bear, eighteen chipmunks, one vole, two millipedes, three mountain bluebirds, one northern flicker, one red-tailed hawk, eleven chickadees and a handful of other avian birds too far out of sight to count, seventy two hundred and fifty six rocks, nineteen hundred and twenty four insects, forty one clouds, eight creeks, two lakes, three mountain peaks, six hundred and ninety five thousand trees, five million and forty one rain drops, three hundred and ninety three acorns. ………….”
The list went on for over an hour, and the young girl kept writing. Finally the old man stopped talking, sighed, released the young man's hands. He stepped back and suddenly said. “Oh! And one salamander."
Then he turned to the girl and smiling said, “Well, I suppose it's your turn, my dear.”