24

I  am  comforted  by  earth’s  unchangeableness.  What has  seemed new and frightening  assumes its place in the unfolding of knowledge.  It is good to know our universe.     What is new is only new to us.

 Pearl S. Buck

Hunter was really beginning to enjoy his morning rides and looked forward to exploring places further and further away. During his fat phase, he stayed close to his new home, riding all the hills and residential streets of both Palmer Lake and Monument. He soon discovered that, because Monument was larger and more populated, it had more traffic and congestion. It was much more pleasant to ride west; to and through Palmer Lake. He enjoyed sitting at the west edge of the lake, watching trains roll past on their way to Colorado Springs, Pueblo and points beyond.

There were people everywhere. Train watchers would sit in the heat of their cars, noting the type and registration number of the engines as they slowly trundled through the town. Moms brought their kids, bundled against the cold, to walk the path around the lake or swing on the playground. Mountain bike riders paused to catch a breath, then continued on their way. He watched cars zip past the old Kaiser-Frasier building which now housed the Arts Center. He stopped in when they were open and wondered at the abundant artistic talent present in this little village. Sometimes he would sit in the gazebo and watch the train-watchers counting the rumbling cars.

As the weeks went by and his strength returned, he found that his curiosity was beginning to rival his vigor. He wanted to explore more. He rode north out of Palmer Lake along Spruce Mountain Road, skirting the south edge of the long, low rise that was the road’s name’s sake. He had heard in the coffee shop that once, long ago, a plane had crashed on the south face of the mountain. Stopping to explore one afternoon, he found broken shards of aluminum spread out on a slope: Mute testament that the story was more than just local lore.
Once, when he was feeling particularly adventurous, he took Spruce Mountain Road all the way to Larkspur. Palmer Lake was small. Larkspur barely qualified as a settlement. Its one claim to fame was the Renaissance Festival which was held every summer. Now it was just a snow-dusted shoulder of a butte — devoid of minstrels, kings or tourists. For his return, he chose to ride west out of town and on to Highway 105. It was a good choice. He spent the remainder of his journey tracing the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain foothills all the way back to Palmer Lake.

The ride south was a naturalist’s dream. He saw two golden eagles wheeling and soaring above the fields. At the top of one hill, when he’d stopped to catch a breath, a coyote scampered across the road, not thirty feet in front of him. He saw herds of deer, a fox, a raccoon, a red tailed hawk, buzzards and even three bison. OK, the bison shouldn’t really count: They were penned up and being raised for slaughter. Nonetheless they were there and he did see them. Between Tom Brown, Jr.’s book and this new exposure to the great outdoors, it seemed that Hunter was destined to become deeply engaged with all things nature.

One afternoon, while riding through Palmer Lake, Hunter pondered his situation. Money was beginning to become an issue. He would have to find some kind of work somewhere. He just wasn’t certain what it was that he might do. That was when he finally got a break. He was riding somewhat aimlessly, watching his breath steam out in puffs in the cold February air, when he saw a sign in the window of the general store: ‘Help Wanted.’ It was as if someone had been listening to the conversation he’d been having in his head and this was the answer. He rode over and parked his bike by the bench out front. He pulled open the two-panel plate glass door, stepped inside, rubbing his cold hands together and introduced himself to the proprietor. Yes, he had experience with a cash register (OK, that was back in college, but experience is experience, right?); yes, he was familiar with the town and could offer directions to travelers; and yes, he was overqualified; and no, thank you, he didn’t want to go into details. He would start the following morning. March would bring the spring and, with it, a new life for Hunter Veritas. He rode off to his trailer-home in a better mood than he’d seen in a very long time.