I’m balanced precariously on a limb of the fallen pine at Broken Tree Hill, taking pictures, when I see Stan striding down the slope towards me with Moffat and Briggs, his two brindle greyhounds.
‘Beautiful day!’ he shouts, swiping off his hat and waving it in the air, strands of pure white hair standing up over his balding head, very much like the clouds over the hill.
‘Lovely!’ I wave back. ‘Just beautiful…’
The greyhounds trot over to check me out; I run my fingers over Briggs’ nobbly spine whilst Moffat noses around my pockets; when I reach Briggs’ head, he pushes up against my hand, signalling the end of this particular meeting. The two of them trot off to see what my dog’s up to, and I chat to Stan.
‘Oh – I meant to email you but forgot. I found another tool over the woods.’
‘Another one?’ says Stan, rotating his hat a couple of times, pulling it back on, and then standing heroically, hands on hips. ‘What tool? Where?’
‘Over there…’ I say, gesturing to the southern end of the woods.
‘You’ll have to be more specific,’ he says.
‘A handsaw. Among the sweet chestnuts near the meeting place.
‘A good one. I hid it under the log pile. Again.’
I can see he’s a little annoyed. I mean – it was only last year we had that strange business with the shrub-cutters.
Stan is part of the woodland posse that meets every Monday to maintain the paths and stiles and so on. They’ve got a little tin shack in the middle of the woods, hidden in the middle of a holly thicket. Just next to the shack is a larger clearing in the middle of which are five log benches, each being a wired stack of timber with a flatter piece on top for the seat. The benches are arranged in a pentagonal shape around a fire pit. They call this the meeting place, and even though I’ve never seen a meeting there, I can easily imagine them together at the end of the day, the flames throwing their shadows back into the trees.
Last year I was over the woods when I found an expensive pair of shrub-cutters. I took them back to the shack, hid them under a pile of timber at the side, thinking I’d email the group to let them know what I’d done. Half way back through the woods I found another pair – which freaked me out at the time. I mean – finding one pair of shrub-cutters was unusual, but two? What did it mean? Was someone trying to tell me something? Feeling strangely observed, I’d retraced my steps, put the second shrub-cutters with the first, and thought some more about that email.
But nothing happened.
Now and again on the morning walk I’d go via the shack to see if the shrub-cutters had been collected. A month later they were still there. Two months. I emailed the group a couple more times. No reply. I’d pretty much given up on the whole thing until I happened to see Stan over the woods again. He’d been away on a long trip, he said. He hadn’t been checking the group email, and none of the others knew how. He thanked me for saving the shrub-cutters, and said they’d better start signing the tools in and out at the beginning of each shift, so they wouldn’t lose anything else.
And yet – here we are with the handsaw. I feel like asking him about the list, but don’t.
‘You’re always finding things,’ he says.
‘I know! I think if you did a DNA screen you’d probably find my great great great grandma was a jackdaw.’
He laughs, but then hesitates, looking at me out of the corner of his eye, like he’s not sure whether there’s something else going on here that he’s not seeing.
‘Anyway – thanks again!’ he says at last, then clapping his gloved hands together, turns and strides off down the hill.
‘Moffat! Briggs! Come on!’
I watch them enter the woods.