The Elfin Grot

Don’t let anybody tell you that Retirement is an empty space; that it is what you do when you’ve finished everything else; that you’ve become a kind of accessory nipple. Retirement is more than babysitting and crossword puzzles; more than staring vacuously at the lawn from a chair on the porch.

For example, I created a new religion. I didn’t mean to, or anything. It just happened. I’ve yet to reveal myself to my acolytes, so I’m writing this anonymously –it’s the usual way, I guess. But I’m new at this sort of thing, so I’m just kind of feeling my way through it all.

It started out innocently enough. I usually take my dog on walks through the woods on little-used trails. I prefer these routes so I don’t need to carry those little compostable bags. I’ve always felt that, like spoor, fewmets are natural. And they’re certainly less of an eyesore than a nicely-filled bag thrown in the bushes –my bags used to sit there for months at a time. I don’t know where they got the idea that they decompose.

Anyway, one day, as I was disguising some inconsiderately placed fewmets on the trail, I happened upon a little cairn of pebbles to one side of the path and I thought they would do nicely. Unfortunately, it would seem that my idea was not original and I had to abandon both it and its cache forthwith. But the way the rocks were piled struck me as a type of forest art –I admired the clever balance and choice of material and, I don’t know, I thought it was squandered on, well, waste. I wanted to expand on the concept and sculpt another, purer shape. And elsewhere –lest it be forever linked to deception.

I thought my first attempt  was clever: a tiny inuksuk, complete with arms and head –all cleverly balanced, and prominently displayed on a moss-covered boulder near where two trails cross. It was almost hidden under an arch of leaves, as if it were located in its own little, special cave of green. Alas, on revisiting the site a few days later, the rocks were scattered. At first, I thought perhaps it was the wind, but I suspect I was just being naïve. My carefully chosen stones were dispersed in all directions, and there was a suspicious stain on the bottom edge of the dais. But I was so enamoured of my creative idea, I wasn’t discouraged. New ideas are often denigrated by competing interests, don’t you find?

I decided to modify the form so that it was less depictive, and more dependent on heurism. Ingenuity. I cleverly balanced several disparately-shaped stones from the trail in such a way that it would take a steady hand and a little forethought to add to the structure. In fact, it was small enough that it positively begged for additions.

When I came back the next day I was amazed –there, on the boulder, was a small, dysmorphic figure. It was as if it had evolved overnight –blossomed like a flower in the night air. Little stones were carefully balanced on the larger ones beneath, with tiny pebbles crowning the apex like a diadem. I carefully added another, albeit a tinier addition to the summit, and walked away pleased.

Of course, like any Creator, I needed to make sure there were no further desecrations –there are precedents for this kind of thing, I believe- and on returning the following morning, I was amazed to see another shape growing beside the first –an Eve. And it occurred to me, I had created a grotto for a tiny trail-side religion that was maturing of its own accord.

I wondered for a while whether to branch out. Divaricate. Maybe Facebook it and use bigger words with my friends… Well, perhaps in my younger years, I would have strayed onto that path, but remembering the lessons of Shakespeare, I was fearful of the wages of hubris. I was, I realized, a small god in the scheme of things. Those same sacred stones could be cast my way.

Eventually, I decided to remain in the shadows like a cult, and would have remained there, content and replete, if it hadn’t been for Jeremiah –well, his name was actually Jerry, but I promoted him. I saw him walking his funny little incontinent dog in a small park a few weeks after I abandoned my flock. I’ve never really liked him because he was always complaining about something. Criticizing this, or mocking that, his life –to hear him describe it- was Job-like. And I think he saw his dog, Weenie, as an agent of excretal revenge. His very own avenging angel.

“Jerry,” I said, quickly moving my foot from Weenie’s inquiring leg. “I thought you preferred sidewalks for your exercise.”

The sarcasm was lost on him, though. “Got bawled out by some lady the other day,” he said, not in the least embarrassed. “Said she was going to call the mayor…”

Does anybody actually call a mayor nowadays? “Oh… Well, nice to see you again, Jerry,” I said, starting to walk away as Weenie, never one to accept failure, began to tee me up again.

“I’ve begun to walk the trails, you know,” he said grabbing my sleeve, his eyes turning skyward, as if he was appealing for divine forgiveness. “Nobody seems to care in there.” This seemingly angst-ridden statement was accompanied by a sour grin and what on anybody else might have passed for a wink. On his face, however, it was more like a twitch; a muscle fired by mistake.

“And do you know what I saw?” he continued, his voice thick with contempt. He waited for me to ask, but I was too busy with Weenie to answer. Besides, I knew he was going to tell me whether or not I asked.

I did, however, manage a quick glance to see if he’d notice if I kicked the dog. He pulled sharply on the leash as I searched his eyes, but I think it was because Weenie was showing preternatural interest in one of his shoe by then.

“You know how Weenie likes to explore…?” He left the question open. “Well, I usually let him off his leash in the bush, so I never know where he’ll go.” His eyes darted briefly to my face to check whether or not I approved of this reckless action. “He always comes back, you know…”

Then, confident that I was reassured, he continued. “Anyway, I found him sitting on top of a boulder near the trail. He was sniffing at a pile of rocks he’d knocked down that somebody had stacked there. He was licking his lips and chewing something. He actually growled at me when I tried to get him off…”

“So…”

He rolled his eyes in frustration that I didn’t immediately grasp the significance. “So somebody had left a candy there –I found a wrapper behind the boulder.” He shook his head disapprovingly. “Why do people do things like that?”

“Things like…?”

“Littering, for god’s sake!” His body stiffened and his mouth hardened -as if people like me were what was wrong with the world nowadays. “And there was actually a bare spot on the path where some idiot had taken those stones to put on the rock…” He shook his head irritably again and looked around as if he was searching for another bare spot to illustrate how upsetting it was.

“Maybe they were just trying to hide the candy,” I said softly, “Put it in a special place…” Weenie was tugging on his leash so Jerry was already starting to wander off. I don’t think he heard me.

But I don’t think he’d ever hear. The message from my elfin grot was only a whisper in the trees: a still, small voice not yet ready for the rooftops. But my ripple had started –I already had the first sacrificial offering.

I think I’m going to like this Retirement stuff.

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