The Old Man - Knowledge
Sam Kenton Stopped. The human figure was crouched at the side of the dusty road, with its head looking down between two bare feet that balanced him in an uncomfortable looking position; like two weathered pedestals supporting a wrinkled, handmade doll of an old man. Sam Kenton watched the figure as it studied the ground. He swapped hands with his fishing rod and the stringer of fish, and moved forward toward the wrinkled man sitting awkwardly in the dust at the side of the road.
“Hello sir,” said Sam Kenton.
The little man looked up at the fishermen and ran an ancient hand across his whiskered shin. His eyes were deeply set in the tanned face and the Old man noticed they were a whitened blue, like a clouded sky. The little man looked back into the dust and pointed with his thumb.
“Snapper,” came the graveled voice.
The Old Man looked down into the road ans saw the tracks of the snapping turtle as it had paddled across the dust. The tracks of the snapping turtle as it had paddled across the dust. The tracks led straight between the age-cracked feet of the little man and underneath him into the grass. The sun-browned man motioned again with his thumb.
“Ain’t no dog.”
The Old Man laid his stringer of fish in the road and kneeled down. He looked again into the dust between the older man’s feet and noticed the distorted tracks of the coyote pup, as it had playfully circled the turtle.
“Coyote,” whispered Sam Kenton.
“Ain’t no dog . . .it’s different. . .see the nail tracks . . .ain’t no dog.”
The Old Man looked into his toothless face.
“Sir, how old are you?”
What?” motioned the little man as he held his hand to an oversized ear lobe.
“How old are you?” repeated Sam Kenton.
“Oh . . .hunerd and three . . .but it still ain’t no dog.”
The Old Man smiled. “It’s a coyote. . .a young coyote playin’ with this old snapper as he crossed the road.”
The little man ran his right hand through his short, white hair.
“Coyote, you say?”
“Yessir, a coyote. . .they’re new around here.”
“Ain’t never seen no coyote . . .must be a stupid animal. Can’t hurt a snapper you know.”
“Yessir. . .just curious I guess. You say you’re a hundred and three?”
“Yep . . hunerd and three. . .I think . . .maybe a hunerd and five though.. . .I get my odd years mixed up.”
The Old Man laughed. “Well, what do ya’ know?”
“What?” motioned the little man.
“I said . . .what do you know?” smiled Sam Kenton.
The little man rubbed his chin again.
“The older I get . . the less I do know for sure. Let’s see son . . .I know that ain’t no dog. I know that a snapper crossed this here road. I know that them fish there are dyin’ . . .” and he paused again. “I know that I’m dyin’ too. I’ve not got too much longer you see. I know that January’s cold and August is hot. I know that geese honk and ducks quack . . .” and he smiled. “I know that much.”
“I know that the river is God and you can’t beat it, cause I’ve tried . . .and I know that if you’re crazy enough to build a house next to the river, you’ll get flooded out.” The little, browned man motioned with this finger. “I know these things for sure . . .I know that this coyote did not hurt the snapping turtle. He bothered the turtle for a while, but he did not hurt him.”
Sam Kenton looked into the clouded eyes of the little man at the side of the road. He rached across the distance between them and laid his hand on the ancient man’s bony shoulder.
“Sir . . .have you ever hard of flood control?”
“What?” The little man shook his head.
“Flood control,” repeated the Old Man, “do you know about people who think they can change the course of rivers and control the floods so their crops are not flooded or their houses are not washed away?”
“No . . .no . . I don’t know about them or these coyotes.”
The Old Man smiled. “I suppose not . . for you have more knowledge than they. These people have bothered our rivers for awhile.”
Sam Kenton grabbed the stringer of fish and presented it to the older man. “Supper tonight,” he said.
The little man waved as Sam Kenton walked away.
“Hey . . .” yelled the man at the side of the road. The Old man stopped and turned.
“These coyotes . . . are they kin to those people who think they are strong enough to beat the rivers?”
The Old Man walked for another mile before reaching his truck. He thought about those things that he knew for sure, like the little man on the road. He was certain of only one thing this day. He would not confuse himself with uncertainties. It was a fine day to go fishing. It was a fine day to study snapper tracks in the dust. It was a fine day to meet little old men who should have been generals.