Brian Eckert

Writer. Wanderer. Dreamer. Skeptic. Man.

Arizona Snowbowl

Hall of Kings

Vortex

Mescal Trail, Sedona, Arizona

Purgatorty Resort

Chapman Hill

Ridgway Hut, San Juan Mountains

Infrastructure

Vanishing Point

This story published in Soft Cartel

                         I.

Greg was driving out West because he was out of ideas.

He passed through a long stretch of nothing but golden fields and the occasional billboard. Roads crisscrossed the fields, perfectly straight.

The plains appeared endless. Greg felt he was falling farther back, back into the plains. He was certain that if he turned down any one of the long, straight roads he would drive on forever

Greg’s great, great grandparents from Germany had been farmers in Kansas. The Old World must have been truly intolerable to them to make these abysmal plains a better prospect.

The Europeans who populated America hadn’t been looking for “freedom” or a “better life.” They were simply tired of the ways of their forebearers. America might be better than the Old World, or it might not. It might even be worse. But at least going there represented a break with tradition.

Greg felt like the mere outcome of historical forces. In driving West he sought to escape his past. Yet he was only going deeper into it.

There truly was nothing new under the sun. Out here in the plains one understood this, viscerally. One was naked before self, history, and god in the plains.

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Barbaric Yawp (Yubbiiieeee)

Emperor in Exile

A man with a mustache and glasses is kneeling over his garden pulling weeds. He spots me and motions me over.

“You are that American, nay?” he says. “I heard you took the apartment in the back. My name is Wolf.”

“I’m Brian. Nice garden, Wolf.”

“Not bad, nay? It keeps me busy. And you? What are you doing in that damned tiny apartment all day? You know it used to be a horse stable.”

“I’m a writer.”

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Bake Jizō (Ghost Jizō)

Unhappy Camper

The old man unrolls his tent and looks at the directions.

“Let’s see,” he says. “Undergo pole elongation for support crossing…what kind of bootleg Chinese bullshit is this? Opening affixes from the nearby underhole make extend to opposition structure…Christ almighty!”

He throws the directions down in disgust.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have bought an 8-man cabin tent,” I say.

“I need my comfort. I’m too old for sleeping on the ground in a nylon sarcophagus.”

In addition to the cabin tent, the old man has brought a queen sized air mattress, a down comforter, 5,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, a memory foam pillow, a suitcase, a canister of bear spray, a 20 gallon cooler full of food, and a case of wine.

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Relief

Little Old Woman

At a house at the edge of the woods a little old woman throws out seed for the birds.

She sends the seeds out in wide arcs, making a carpet of cracked corn and sunflower seeds. Some of the corn seed will become little corn plants that the little old woman will remark about to her husband, who peers at the plants outside the window over his glasses and says, “Oh.”

The little old woman fears birds but loves animals. She shrieks when a titmouse, arriving for the feeding, swoops in. She stocks the squirrel proof feeder with sunflower seeds. The feeder keeps out the gray, but not the red, squirrels. She scolds the “greedy squirrels” that gather up the seed in bulging-cheek increments.

You could say that the little old woman is at war with the squirrels—the squirrels and her husband, who takes no joy in the pleasures of country living. He, to borrow a metaphor from Robert Frost, would never stop by woods on a snowy evening, she says. And furthermore, how anyone could regard that particular Frost poem as being about suicide was beyond her.

The little old woman decides that the land smells like a No. 2 pencil.

Dead leaves crunch crunch crunch under the feet of the little old woman as she throws out the seed. The seed pitter patters on the desiccated leaves, brown and dead after their colorful zenith of red, orange, and yellow. The little old woman takes a good sniff of the warm fall air, full of the scent of organic rot, and decides that the land smells like a No. 2 pencil.

A leaf falls right on the nose of the little old woman as she’s sniffing the air, and this tickles her fancy enormously. For her, it’s moments like this that make a retiring life in the country worthwhile. She imagines all of the busy people rushing to and fro, putting pictures on the Internet (which she doesn’t use or understand), saying “look at me” to the world while the world never says “look at me” in reply, but only goes on shedding its leaves—which she’ll have to rake (because that damned husband of hers will do a half-assed job, anyway)—and smelling like a No. 2 pencil, here at the edge of the woods, where the titmice swoop and the squirrels are greedy and her husband notices nothing and the silent snows are most definitely worth a moment’s pause.

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

“I Had a Seven Year Old Tell Me That I Was Drunk Tonight.”

4th of July

Right before the 4th of July, the boy entered the Army.

He hugged the dogs goodbye and told the old one, “don’t you die on me while I’m gone, girl.”

 

Come the 4th of July next year, the old dog was still alive,

but the boy was dead, killed in Afghanistan,

a place he did not belong.

 

His mother carried a flag in his honor at the town’s 4th of July parade.

They spoke her son’s name. The crowd cheered.

That night, the woman wept while the old dog barked at the fireworks.

South Boundary Trail, Taos, NM

D.H. Lawrence Ranch

Elbert Creek Trail/Castle Rock

Autumn in the San Juan Mountains

Island Lake

Ice Lake

Engineer Mountain