The Gila Monster’s Shadow Part 1

The Gila Monster’s Shadow

By Jason Barron


Nothing was as I remembered it.

All that was left of our house was a sunken in deck of spruce pilings and moldy OSB sheeting. The walls had come down, and tatters of sun rotted Visqueen littered the ground and festooned nearby blueberry bushes.  The detritus of an old life, junk metal, pots and pans, a senseless heap of rusted Tang cans, lay scattered about and half-grown over by foliage and decomposing vegetation.

I stood looking at the mess for a long time with the rain pounding down and the light failing to the west, my shotgun feeling like a lead weight cradled in my arms. To my left was the embankment leading up to the old horse corral, and to my right was the path, now choked with overgrowth, heading down to the creek where we used to fetch water and I had once found the fossil of a prehistoric seashell as big as a dinner platter imprinted against a boulder the size of a car hood. Behind me was the narrow ravine overhung with the shaggy bulk of an old growth tamarack that used to shelter our dog lot.

It was the fall of 1995, and I stood there in the gloomy down pour with my future wife by my side and struggled to hold back the tears that suddenly assaulted me. I wanted to tell Harm that this was not it; I had taken a wrong turn and led us to the wrong place. This was not the place of my childhood that I had brought her to see, but instead some abandoned gold mine, a camp left deserted years before by some miner who had come seeking fortune and instead found only heartache.

We were deep in the Talkeetna Range in a narrow, nameless valley, a valley blessed with less than eighty degrees of open sky and overlooked by the massive hulk of Gunsight Mountain, a Herculean chunk of basalt and shale that thrust up from the earth’s crust in mute defiance to the laws of gravity and dominated the landscape for leagues in any direction. I had led Harm up here, a three hour hike from the Glen Highway, over the rugged mountain pass and through the mud and constant rain to show her this place. We were new to each other, and I was following some barely understood instinct, some vague idea of sharing with her a piece of my childhood so that she might gain some insight to my nature. But now that we were finally here, it suddenly seemed like a bad idea. Everything was so much smaller than I had remembered it, smaller and somehow….dirtier.

We were both very tired and hungry, and chilled to the core from the frigid August rain. We left the old home site and set up our little two man pup tent on the bank overlooking the creek, which was angry and swollen and crashing down amongst the rocks and boulders on its way to the valley floor. We had some difficulty getting the campfire going under such wet conditions, and by the time we had it crackling and food cooking, I realized that Harm had taken a chill from the day’s exertions and was now getting sick.

As the night settled upon us, we bundled into the tent with the two pet dogs and burled into our sleeping bags. By now Harm was shaking and her teeth were chattering together. We had not been talking much, but now she reached out and laid her hand against the plastic wrapping that protected my 12 gauge from the elements.

She had grown up in Northern California and was curious about the gun culture I had been brought up in. She wanted to know if I had ever used it. ‘Yes,’ I told her. ‘Many times.’  ‘Can you tell me about it?’

This was, after all, why I had brought her up here to the mountains of my youth. So, with the rain sizzling down against the roof of our tent and the dogs panting at our feet, we lay in the dark and I did my best to warm her. I told her about our gold-claim, Mom and Dad’s horses and how we got all of our supplies from the highway to here, how in the winter we had all taken up Spanish lessons by the light of a Coleman lantern after I had fallen in love with the novel ‘Gila Monster’s Shadow’. And I told her how death had stalked us in our secluded mountain valley……

Thanks for tuning in–more to follow….


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