Leaning aloft through banked sweepers known just to them, cliff swallows skillfully, thrillfully swooped about the spacious kilns…
Surtch Pherther had tiptoed over the threshold, through the inner dimness, and–opposite the archway, five feet high, and below the loading window, fifteen above–settled to the cool, earth floor and against the thick, stone wall still charred from the kiln’s last firing over a century back.
Yes, they were cold, for over a hundred years and nightly since: thirty-six-thousand-five-hundred plus and counting. Necessarily stout, they easily trap the small hours chill that’s regular for their near-prairie setting and greedily hold it through even the hottest, August day.
As Surtch held still, the flighty dwellers began to return, swooshing in and then circling the dome-cone ceiling once, twice, thrice–the echoes of their wingbeats, amplified by the odd acoustics, sprinkling all around. At last alighting in their little, mud cups–removed from ground threats and sheltered from the terrain’s frequent tempests–they’d either nestle out of sight, or rest their colorful heads abrim to peep at goings-on below….
It had been 15 years since a youngish self of his had first, and last, seen the Tumen Creek kilns, while taking the long way home from a camping weekend with his kin. The curious, middle-of-nowhere monoliths were a surprise to him and his folks and remained a mystery to them for months thereafter. In the years since, the state had fenced out free-rangers, laid a footbridge over a deep ditch, placed a picnic table and info boards, and begun masonry restoration.
Surtch thought it a shame it had taken so long for them to be deemed worth preserving. Yet it was akin to the usual fate of the great, structures, societies, and souls alike: subject to history’s glacial-pace consideration–its eyes ever-focused on the fuzzy future, its mind ever-appraising the distant past.
Once-upon-a-time, when many were plagued with gold fever, the Wild West was plentiful with such kilns, used for smoldering wood into a hotter-, cleaner-, slower-burning fuel for forges and smelters. Yet for the Italian immigrants’ pride, sweat, and skills that went into their construction, the productive lives of most kilns were short–for mining busts and the advent of the transcontinental railroad, of course, but chiefly for their own appetites: Over a mere thirteen days, a 30 foot by 30 foot kiln could reduce about 30 cords (3,840 cubic feet of wood) to a quarter of its bulk as charcoal.
As folks in ranges west laid claim to prospective mother-lodes, and in the nearby Cairn Mountains to hundreds of acres of forest, Tumen Creek and most other Wild West towns laid claim to notorious outlaws and notable frontiers-people such as Butch Cassidy and Calamity Jane.
Now, on a rise overlooking the site and its wild cemetery, Surtch envisioned a host of happy ghosts and contemplated cliff swallows, grassland critters, the constant breeze, and the only enduring symbols of Tumen’s most noteworthy claim: about two-dozen gravestones, mostly of infants, children, and mothers (were and were to have been). Though it was the typical tragedy for towns of its type and time, to them it was just life–life unjust.
By slab, Tumen Creek was a patch past a hundred miles from the City of Contradictions, but by Surtch’s mid-morning route over Harbinger Pass and by South Morgan Reservoir and through quaint Smithton, up Calbon Creek and over its dirt saddle head, across West Cairn Road and past Myers Reservoir, it was… It was… It was… Who knew? It was more, or it was less–and that more or less didn’t matter.
Though the two modes of transportation are about getting there, each arrives at it differently: Automobiles embody the “there” of physical destinations and map pins and switching off the key; and motorcycles, as Surtch further welcomed with every outing, embrace the “getting” of thrills on tread-testing turns and the quest for oneself on that journey from point A to B-b-b-beyond…
Back at Escape Artist, he donned his gear, threw his leg over, and gazed east at a ridge-cresting road he’d never been on. It was already a few hours past noon, but it was a Saturday in August, sure to be long with summer light and warmth.
“I’ve got all the time in the world,” thought Surtch, “all the time in the world…”