Friday 4 August 2023

Finding Thoreau by Jim Bates, ice cold lemonade

When we were kids, my best friend Jerry and I spent as much time as we could walking the fields and woods a few miles from where we grew up in a small town in west-central Minnesota. We liked to pretend we were out there with our hero, Henry David Thoreau, identifying wildflowers by their color and birds by their song. We had our own secret Walden, too, a magical pond over the hill, hidden from the eyes of man. Once we pitched a tent and camped there for three days. We would have stayed longer but the farmer whose land we were on chased us away. We didn’t mind at all. We just enjoyed being together.

On the second day, we discovered a family of sandhill cranes in a low, swampy area and watched the parents and their single, newly hatched offspring.

“It says here the little one is called a Colt,” Jerry told me, proudly reading from our field guide as we watched from a secluded spot in the forest.

He was dyslexic and reading was not easy for him. But he loved that field guide, that’s for sure and kept it with him all the time. He practiced reading from it, plus he liked the pictures a lot. I did, too.

I looked through the binoculars to see more clearly. “They’re so cool,” I said. Sandhill cranes were stately birds, bigger than blue herons, and rare in our area. Then I grinned and said, “Wow. Check this out.”


I handed the binocs to him. “One of them just ate a snake.”

“Super cool,” he smiled and looked closely. “That’s amazing.”

How could you not love a guy like that?

We met in first grade in Miss Beemer’s class and became friends right away, probably because we were both kind of different, he with his dyslexia, me with my limp.

I’d had polio as a toddler so one leg was a little shorter than the other and somewhat shriveled, so I sort of gimped along when we walked. Sometimes I had to use crutches. Jerry didn’t mind at all. “Take it nice and easy, pardner,” he’d say whenever we were going anywhere, which was a lot, let me tell you because we were together as often as we could be. “I got nothing but time.”

When we were nine, we took our pocket knives and each of us cut our thumbs. “Blood brothers,” I said, pressing my thumb to his.

“You got it, Rick. Blood brothers for life,” he said, pressing his thumb to mine. It was a serious ceremony for us and one of the few times he called me “Rick” instead of “Pardner” like he usually did. That’s how important it was.  

We remained close our entire lives. Neither of us married and no matter where life and our separate jobs took us, we always made it a point to come back to our special place in the woods and fields outside of our old hometown, even after the land had been ‘civilized’ and turned into a park. Once a year we’d fly into Minneapolis from wherever each of us was living, meet and reminisce and drive out to the country where’d we walk and talk and identify wildflowers and bird songs. We’d look up to the blue sky and enjoy the warmth of the sun on our faces and for a short time feel not just young again, but alive in a special way, surrounded by the natural world just like when we were young.

Jerry died of complications due to a genetically bad heart when he was sixty-five. I was there by his side the entire time. A few days after the memorial service, I returned to the park and climbed the over hill to our secret pond. It wasn’t so secluded anymore, but it was wild enough, rimed with cattails and home to ducks and geese and, yes, rumor had it, sometimes even a family of sandhill cranes. According to his last wish, I scattered Jerry’s ashes, letting the wind take them, watching as they drifted away becoming one with nature, and maybe, just maybe, I hoped, becoming one with the spirit of Thoreau.

I said goodbye, then, and wished my friend well on his journey to the next life. “And if you see Thoreau,” I said, standing by myself fighting back tears and the loneliness I knew would be with me for the rest of my days, “Say ‘Hi’ to him for me.”

You know what? As the breeze gusted stronger and ran ripples across the pond, I thought I heard him say, “You got it pardner.” And I smiled.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town in Minnesota. He loves to write! His stories and poems have appeared in nearly 500 online and print publications. To learn more and to see all of his work, check out his blog at:


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