Chapter Twenty-Five: A Covenant So That They May Dwell Securely In The Wilderness And Sleep In The Woods

Editor’s Note: The years after the outbreak were difficult years in Vine. The residents couldn’t know it, but the Great Depression affected them, too. Being cut off from the rest of the world does not mean you don’t exist in the world. The previous generation of Elders may or may not have caused countless to die with their citrus imports, but Vine has always had powerful protectors who exist outside of establishment power. Jonah told me this story, and told me he couldn’t reveal his source because the source had erased their name from Jonah’s memory. 

“Wherever you go there’s a book,” her father would say. “A book in your basket tucked under supplies a book next to your church picnic plate a book covering your pretty face as you hide beneath an oak tree.” 

She supposed others found it easier to socialize or go about daily errands without the security of some knowledge repository within arms’ reach. Others who must have been content living at the whims of weather with no need to understand why some days had rain and some nights hid the moon behind a charcoal shroud or content living with the unrecorded daily pleasantries of passing neighbors in the town square. She however was convinced the Lord had given her the gift of understanding or—save that—at least the gift of understanding there was more she could understand. After she buried her father and mother and her father’s brother and his wife and her mother’s mother and her own brothers and sisters she resolved that the best way for her to serve the Lord humbly was to go into the wilderness with whatever books she could carry and live amongst God’s creation while immersed in study and contemplation. 

Upon retreating to the wilderness she made a modest shelter for herself and stored the books plus some crocheted blankets and a straw pillow she had carried with her. She built her campfire and ate a squirrel for dinner. Though she had been discrete in setting up camp her fire attracted another of the woods. He was old and by rights should have been frail with skin dangling from his bones but she could tell that living amongst God’s wilderness had grown a certain enduring strength in him. 

He spoke saying: “Welcome Miss. Are you a fellow Hermit of Vine? I am a guardian of Vine’s borders and a shepherd for the lost among Vine’s mountains. I have been among these wilderness these last 40 years. I can show you where to find fresh water. Where to forage vegetables. I will teach you the language of the land and how Hermits communicate through code. As a servant of the Lord I am sure you are anxious to return to your business. Allow me to show you the basics and I shall be on my way.”

They were high in the mountains and the chilled fog draped them in dampness. They worked together foraging and collecting river water and praying to God thanking the Lord for the glory of Vine as he taught her the ways of the hermits for a week. 

The man spoke saying: “Don’t know that we’ve ever had a woman Hermit before. Don’t wanna be presumptuous. But I see you like to read. In case you find this useful.” Then he handed her The Book of Common Healing Knowledge

Then they went their separate paths. Below them lingered the stench of death. Simmering above the lake the impurities of those in Vine who had sinned slowly filtering out of the town. 

A heron stood on the banks of the lake statuesque on a gnarled spruceroot. The heron watched the world in complete stillness. Then its blue wings unfurled like a freshly laundered dress. In a distant field the asters began blooming once more. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

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