“Tell me again” said the boy, “what exactly are we doing out here?”
“We are just taking in the scenery,” said the old man. “Do you see the mountains in the distance? The snowy peaks are brilliant this time of year.”
The young boy scoffed. It was 10 o’clock at night, his ass hurt from sitting on the stone pavement, and he couldn’t see any mountains. He couldn’t see anything, not even his own hand in front of his face.
The old man continued, “The goats and the deer like to visit the river under the cover of night. The forest is alive with movement. Can you see them, moving between the trees?”
The young boy looked in what he guessed was the right direction. He kept waiting for his eyes to adjust, but the darkness was too complete. He said helplessly, “I might as well have my eyes closed.”
“A wise idea!” the old man said, “Maybe then you would strain less.”
“If you say so.”
“Now tell me, what do you see?”
“But you saw the mountains earlier this afternoon, did you not?”
“Yeah. After lunch when we sat here, I saw them pretty good I guess.”
“And what do you remember?”
“I remember… lots of trees. Pine trees, really green ones. You said something about the tree line. And I remember seeing how there were a lot of trees but then suddenly they stopped, and above them was just snow and rocks.”
“Good, what else?”
“Um… I do remember the river. You told me it was called snake river and I said, ‘it looks pretty straight to me’.”
The old man laughed. “Yes, very good. Now keep all of that in your head, and try to also see the animals that are moving through the forest, the owls and the squirrels and the mice and especially the goats and the deer. The goats are small and muscular, grey like shale, with stubby horns. The old ones have beards like men. The young ones stumble here and there. The deer have a longer, leaner body. They move lighter across the ground, skipping and bouncing more than trotting. All of them are thirsty; and they can smell the water.”
“Yeah,” said the boy after a while, “I mean, I guess I can imagine it pretty well. But I see the deer coming from one side, and the goats coming from the other side. Kind of like two armies approaching each other. But I don’t know if it’s really like that.”
“It might be.” said the old man, “now try and see what happens next.”
The boy drew his knees up to his chest and leaned forward. He scooted off of the stones and onto the grass and that felt a little better. He turned and looked in the direction of the old man, but of course he could see nothing. He tried to listen for the old man’s breathing. The silence started to make him uneasy. He was afraid that maybe the old man had left and he was all alone.
So he asked the old man, “can the animals see in the dark better than us?”
“Well,” said the old man, from somewhere close by, “they certainly have a lot more practice now don’t they?
The boy thought about this for a minute. Then he asked, “So how long are we going to stay out here?”