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In an early morning mist I lagged behind father’s stride climbing

another mountain, plodding along, fililial imprinted behind brothers

like new born ducks in a row, hiking miles of the Appalachian Trail,

up and down and around the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks and Lake Saranac.

Father was more at home in the woods than as a Stanton Street

survivor of a six story cold water flat. He slept on a fire escape

on sultry summer nights hoping to catch a glimpse of a star when

city lights dimmed. Intoxicated by the smell of new mown

timothy hay he fled the macadam in search of wild flowers

or rust colored balsam pine needles by the side of a stream,

inhaling the sweet scent as he flicked a fly rod back and forth like

a seasoned Zen master. He trolled for walleye, pickerel and pike

in a rickety rowboat built from a plan in a magazine, forever hanging

over the stern drying wet spark plugs or replacing split shearing pins

on his feisty little British Seagull. Always the straggler, I trekked

behind him around Winnipesauke, Lake Sunapee and all the way

to Iowa to catch bullheads on Lake Okaboji.

In the infantry I was far from Gung Ho on forty mile forced marches,

wearing a steel helmet, carrying a sixty pound pack, M-16 rifle and spade

for digging a trench when we bivouacked at night. I lagged behind at the tail end

of the column with aching bones, unable to take another step until revived by the sight

of a grove of yellowish-orange chanterelles and the swarm of grackles and red-wing blackbirds perched on fuzzy phallic cattails, guardians of a primeval stillness, interrupted by the Sergeant barking: “Move it up, you want to soldier or fuck around?”

As I approach the eighth decade of my life my spindley legs now trail behind my grown up son, his muscle-bound arms and legs thickened by a black belt in Tiger Claw

Kung Fu.

I struggle onward aware that I’m lagging behind once again, but as my peers

fall by the wayside I’m grateful to still be moving, content to remain a

straggler for the journey that lies ahead.

Milton P. Ehrlich 199 Christie St. Leonia, N.J.07605