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  • Rut moved off the island reluctantly. The mail contract ended on the 16th of September each year but he clung on to the island just as long as he could.

    He had a one room house perched on the shingle arm of the island just above the high tide line. Everything as neat as a pin all set handy for a single guy.

    His world was all close and ready to hand. The grey shingled shack with a stack of worm eaten lobster traps out front. His scrappy looking rowing skiff pulled up on the steep beach below the house and his powerboat on one mooring or another depending on the wind and tide. That was it.

    The last car he owned was a Model T Ford. When he got to drinking in the summer and there was a crowd around to listen he’d tell the story about the time he give the warden the slip back in the day. No one could catch me goddammit, he’d say. He didn’t come up much past my middle and whenever he told the story I got the picture of Mr Toad in the Wind and the Willows going toot toot with his head just showing above the wheel.

    Those days were long ago and long gone. Days I went over with him to help haul lumber for someone’s building project, I’d sit and listen and Rut would shove back his cap and scratch at his whiskers and his eyes would light up remembering the dashing young fellow of his dreams.

    By the time I was on the island year round the only Model T was an old rusting hulk abandoned in the woods with a spruce tree growing up through the passenger’s seat and Rut had a gut that looked like he was a month past his due date. Six days a week, he’d row out in the morning with a 16 ounce Bud. Take a last pull on the beer, wedge it securely in place in the skiff, wobble to his feet, heave himself over the cheeserind, roll into his powerboat and head off to do the daily mail run. When he came back to the mooring and picked up the skiff a few hours later, he’d pick up the beer he’d left as well.

    One time he went overboard. Would have gone right to the bottom only his boots were full of air and floated and he hung there upside down in the water with just the soles showing. Someone jumped in, swam out and hauled him ashore.

    He told me later he’d never learned to swim. No fuckin’ point to it, he said. I was never sure if he meant the water was too old to survive long so why prolong the inevitable or sheer Yankee pragmatics applied to the reality of swimming in full gear and hipboots.

    He had a wheelbarrow parked up at the top of the ramp in town. He’d stump up the hill to the store in his hipboots pushing the wheelbarrow ahead of him and come down doing his level best to hold the damn thing back.

    When the weather forced him to move ashore he stayed in his mother’s house. She had been dead quite a few years by then. The house stood mouldering in a looming thicket of spruce just across the road from the store. Rut moved his bed from room to room to avoid the leaks in the roof.

    It got so he had to move clean out of the house and set up in the old chicken coop in the back. His nephew, Jeff, fixed it up for him so he had a bunk bed down one side of the low narrow building, a tiny woodstove at the far end and a two burner gas stove. The top bunk was his bed and he used the bottom bunk for storage.

    Jesus Christ, he told me and Mick. I can lay right in bed and cook my dinner.

    Mick had a bucket of stone crab claws for him and we peered into the gloom from the doorway. The place wasn’t big enough for the two of us to squeeze in.

    How you doin for wood Uncle Rut, asked Mick.

    As far as I knew Rut was no relation to Mick. But Rut grew up out on the island back when it was a village and Mick’s grandfather grew up just four houses up the grassy road. Islanders watched out for islanders then and now. Mick and his old man would take turns checking on Rut in the winter. We’d bring him a bucket of crab claws or a couple lobsters or a quart of shucked out clams.

    We'd shuffle around outside the door until Mick would say, Well, I don’t know about you Rut, but I’m as dry as a popcorn fart in the desert.

    How ‘bout a drink of Old Duke, Rut would say.

    Now, we all three eyed the few sticks of kindling in the woodbox and the low stack outside the door.

    If I could just get out to the island, said Rut. I’d cut all kinds of wood.

    There wasn’t even ten blades of grass around his island camp let alone a wisp of a tree. The thought of Rut trundling the wheelbarrow half a mile up the hill and into the woods and haggling down enough trees to fill it seemed as farfetched as him landing a starring role in the Fisherman’s Friend cough drop commercial everyone was talking about down at the wharf.

    That gray December afternoon as we cruised the empty roads on the backside of Mount Desert Island and drank beer we passed a long stack of stove wood someone had cut.

    Mick slowed way down. Drove past. Turned. Drove past the other way.

    The road was empty.

    Well, said Mick. How about a drink of Old Duke?

    We filled the back of his pick-up. Hauled the wood back to Rut’s little place. Stacked it. Ran back for another load. Four trips in all.

    Where’d you get the wood, Rut asked.

    Mick mumbled something about his girlfriend’s father being a doctor.

    Rut nodded. No wonder, he said, wood’s green. Goddam doctor.

    Yeah, said Mick, goddam doctor don’t know nothing about wood.

    Rut’s stovepipe dribbled creosote like a two year old with an ice-cream cone and he complained of the hack he had all winter from the smoke. But he stayed warm goddammit.
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