A JOURNAL OF DESPAIR AND ELATION
by C.J. Butterworth
A Reporter Bound to No One
July 25, 1924
The call of an annoying blue jay woke me at dawn. The musty folded blanket I had been sleeping on these two days now had spiders darting across it, and I jumped to my feet in the chill, lake-dampened air.
For a moment or two I had forgotten where I was, and why I had come to this isolated spot, and then it all returned to my head: the train ride from Boston, the hike up to the lake from Dorset village, the wonderful quiet and lampless nights in my found cabin.
But loneliness and hunger then settled in, and yesterday morning I trudged back to Nutter's Sundries for a bit more food and human conversation.
Two men in suits, looking quite lawful, stood on Nutter's porch talking to him. I knew they were searching for me, that I'd be snatched and returned to the torments of daily baseball reportage in no time. I had to flee, and quietly slipped back up the mountain path.
Imagine my dread, then, to reach the cabin again and find its rightful owner, a stocky Vermonter and his teenage son, hauling supplies through its front door from their small truck. They both had hunting rifles. It was only a matter of seconds before they found my belongings...
Deeper into the woods I went. The trail switched back and forth over a series of ridges, and before long I was in an even more remote valley. Deer pranced by, beavers worked away at a stream, and for a time I marveled at the sights and sounds nature was providing.
But my hunger was genuine. I tried a few berries along the path but they tasted foul and I spit them out. If I had a hunting instinct I imagine I could have throttled a furry forest inhabitant and dined on its meat and innards, but outdoorsmanship has never been my forte.
So I walked on...and on. The sun climbed in the humid sky, and I wished I had filled something with stream water earlier. The bugs here were insufferable, and I soon found myself scratching small lumps on every inch of my body.
To say I was lost would be understated. Thick black clouds rolled in, making it impossible to tell which direction I was even moving. Then a summer thunderstorm hit, deafening and deadly, and I sheltered myself in a grove of birch trees. A lightning bolt cleaved one in two just yards away, and I covered my head, burrowed under an embankment and wept for myself.
It was Bonnie's darling face that kept me alive, that gave me the strength I needed to endure the ferocious storm. She was states away, pouring her heart out to me, wishing and praying for my safe return. How could I ever do myself in like this? Groveling in mud like a young peccary?
The thunderstorm rolled on ten minutes later, and spots of sun made the woods around me glisten. I rose, sopping wet, and walked on.
The mosquitoes were back in force after the rain, attacking me from all sides. I staggered in what seemed by the returning shadows, a northerly direction. My throat was parched, my stomaching screaming for substance. I reached the edge of a vast open clearing that seemed larger than an ocean, staggered and fell. In my delirium I thought of Thoreau, and words he wrote at Walden Pond:
I have heard of a man lost in the woods and dying of famine and exhaustion at the foot of a tree, whose loneliness was relieved by the grotesque visions with which, owing to bodily weakness, his diseased imagination surrounded him, and which he believed to be real.
Here I was eighty years later...his inspiration. Soon to be dinner for squirrels and a colony of ants. I lay on my back and stared up at the mocking clouds, waiting for my merciful end..
Then the buzzing of bugs and caws of pestering birds suddenly receded, and a new sound filled the heavy air.
The crack of a wooden bat.
I painfully sat up, looked around the high grass. Boisterous male shouting followed. Someone yelled "Don't stop, Rudy!" I rose to my feet, moved in the direction of the sounds. There was a second, even louder wooden crack, the shouts returned, and something fell with a thud nearby. I walked a few more steps to the edge of the high grass, and nearly tripped over something.
A scuffed baseball. Instantly a gaunt young man in bare feet and farmer's overalls bounded into the grass, out of breath, a worn brown mitt on one hand. He looked at me oddly for a moment, then yelled "Toss it!" and I scooped up the ball, threw it to him. He turned, hurled it back in the direction of a sandy home plate area with incredible force, but the opposing hitter had already rounded the bases.
It was a collection of local men, mostly farmers, having an uproarious game of ball in a flattened, tree-lined pasture. Emptied flour sacks served as bases, and home plate was an overturned metal pie cooker.
In a flash I had forgotten my hunger and thirst, my idiotic flight from daily responsibilities and the Tigers' futile pennant struggle. These men were not playing for flags or cash or a city's hopes, but for the sheer enjoyment of the game. It was a revelation, and I made my way around to the home plate area, where a farmer's wife gave me a cool washcloth, poured me a giant glass of lemonade and fed me a chicken leg.
It was the most enjoyable ball game I'd ever witnessed, and I had no stake in the outcome. One of the men crouched down and asked who I was and where I came from. I stared at him a very long time and then said, "I'm a writer of baseball games."