04 January 2010

Last Plane Out

The scientist sat in the watery azure glow seeping through the frosty panes of the window, listening to the fading drone of the floatplane. Out on the lake, a few straggling geese hooted and honked, party guests who were too drunk to notice it was time to go. The scientist marveled at their seeming indifference to the impending closing in of the water under a shroud of ice. A nervous shudder rippled through his tired, cold frame.
The last winter had damn near driven him insane. He shook his head, chuckling to himself at the thought it was possible he was insane, but had not acknowledged it. The chuckle trailed off in silence. No, no, he mumbled, insane I am not. I know exactly what I am doing. Even if it hurts.

In the crystalline air of the cabin, the scientist rubbed his face in his hands. The floatplane was gone completely now, judging by the lack of engine noise. That the machine sounds could not be heard provoked a hot stab of melancholy in his head. Tears started but would not come. The scientist resolved he would not break down, even though the effort cost him dearly. All I need,  he told the stuffed owl on the shelf over his work table, is to survive this winter and my research is done. Done. Then all I want to know is home.

He leaned back in the creaking wooden chair. Silently, he considered that it was no longer the knowledge that he wanted. He knew enough, enough to last a lifetime, and the objects of his attention no longer held it. They bored him at best, drove him to anxious exhaustion at worst. He was through with that old life of capture and tag, track and survey, describe and categorize. He knew it mattered on some level, which is why he would finish the project this year, but it no longer mattered to him. At least, it did not matter in ways that meant something to him.

This season the scientist had foregone the usual scientific journals and minutiae he had packed in on all his previous sojourns up in the frozen wilds. He smiled, feeling relieved that he would no longer spend the short days and deep black frigid nights hunched over the table gorging on trivia by the light of a camp lantern. He was bone-weary of all that. This season would be different.

The light outside was nearly gone. The portions of sky not obscured by advancing feathers of snow clouds, were turning purple-black as the sun faded away. The scientist fired up the camp lantern and rested his eyes on the objects laying on the worktable. There was a worn hardback dictionary, a pile of books and a photograph of a young couple. The one concession to the digital age was a music player, which lay on top of the books. The scientist had made sure he would be able to recharge the player. He felt a flutter of panic at the thought of no music to hear, in the middle of a long blue winter.

The dictionary was nearly eighty years old. The scientist had acquired it years ago, from a secondhand bookshop. He knew full well it was outmoded, but enjoyed perusing the contents all the more. The books were his, hand selected by the scientist with the objective of having none that related to his field of study. In fact, there were no scientific volumes at all. The books ranged from old to positively antique, thick and heavy. Some had been with the scientist since his undergraduate days, and the familiarity gave him comfort like faithful dogs.

The photograph was truly antique, a blurry sepia tone image on a thin metal plate. The scientist had been given the picture by a friend, and he had been told it reminded her of himself. Not really the young man grinning into the camera, he thought, but of someone he could have been. The scientist guessed was they were husband and wife, judging by their closeness and familiarity of pose. The man's right arm was around the young lady's shoulder and they both carried soft smiles on their faces. The scientist smiled back at them, faces full of quiet promise. He felt more so that he not only could have been that young man, but that perhaps he should have been. The thought made him still like a gyroscope, spinning rapidly about its true axis.
The scientist turned the plate slowly in his hands while gazing out the window. The lake was invisible in the darkness, but his mind's eye pictured the greasy looking water slowly skinning over with ice. Winter was here, and he knew in his bones it would be a long one. The plate flipped out of his hand to land face up with a tinny clank as it hit the table. He felt a curious warmth radiating from the picture and into his heart.

Winter may be here, he told himself, but spring will come again, oh yes it will. The unknown lovers told him so.


  1. Oh ... that was such a pleasure to read. Yes, it was! Thank you.

  2. I love how open ended it is, everything's a question.

  3. Really cool. Will there be another installment?

  4. The photograph was blurred? I can sympathise, people were really poor at photography in the past...

  5. *sigh* I love your stories.

    Have you ever been to Fiction 500? http://fiction500.blogspot.com Your work would look good over there.

  6. thats just a beginning!
    and im sure you expect everyone to just be content with that.
    very nice.

  7. Ditto to the Cap'n's sentiments. Everything's a question.


  8. I think that you captured a lot of what I have been feeling as I wind down a long career in science. What used to matter doesn't seem to be so important anymore. Instead, I want to devote more time to outreach with the public so that will understand why it is important to conserve and care about natural resources. I've had a long career in research which is often solitary. Now I want to put that knowledge out there in a different way.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...