Never Can Tell

Natl Archv Ranger Daughter Axe mod 3

A man with an axe and a girl, a forest ranger and his daughter, he seems focused on the axe, she’s looking on in that polite but hanging-back-in-your-mind way that kids look on when adults are making you look at something and never telling you why they want you to or why you have to sit there and be still until whatever it is they’re not really explaining to you is over, I just came out here because Mama wants me to ask if he wants coffee in a thermos, those tadpoles down in the creek yesterday hope they’re still there wonder if they’re frogs yet, maybe he’s working his way around to saying something about me scaring the bejesus out of Yaya last night, really shouldn’t have done that, wood feels good on my feet, warm, smooth, why is he all closed up over that thing like he’s glued to it or like it might fly off on its own if he doesn’t wrangle it down or something?

He’s working on the axe in an acting-ordinary kind of way, but he’s a little wound up, he’s trying to figure out how to say what he has to tell her, but every way he runs it by in his head it’s just too much, he can’t say it the way he’s thinking it, can’t say hey, Sport, Little Suzy, I’ll be away from home doing forest ranger stuff for a few days, and I want you to keep this axe close by so you can defend the family if need be, I’m not saying that anything’s gonna happen, it’s just that there are several rogue bears roaming about and tearing things up, reckon I ought to show you how to shoot the rifle before I go, and a homicidal maniac called The Purger or some such nonsense is on the loose and thought to be hereabouts, though your uncle Jimmy and I think he’s probably actually still in town somewhere, and you know how your mom gets when anything’s not going exactly smooth and easy, lord knows I love your mother, I really do, but she’s real high strung and if one or all of the bears and or The Purger shows up, she’s liable to get herself hurt trying to defend y’all, not that I’m saying that’s gonna happen or if it did happen that she’d do that but I’d just feel better if you just had some kind of precaution laid by just in case, now if you hear anything rustling outside around the house don’t assume it’s anything, but stay inside, you hear me, just stay inside, don’t go running out trying to chase whatever you think it is away, it’ll probably just be the wind or something, you know how you and your mother have that wild imagination, I do love your mother, and I love you and little Yaya, and I would never just run off and leave y’all even though your mother acts like it every time I’m away for more’n a day, everything is gonna be just fine and I’ll be back in a few days, lord willin’.

He turns and looks at the kid and smiles his crooked kind of smile, we imagine people who know more about vegetation and wildlife than they probably should smile crooked smiles, or just people who always have a little sadness mixed up with the love in them. He says, “Lookahere, Suzy, Sport, how shiny and sharp this thing is. And I oiled the handle too. Yeah, we usually keep this thing out in the woodshed, but it’s lookin’ so good I think you can keep it in the house, maybe even in your room or something if you want to. Never can tell when a girl might need an axe. And put some shoes on.”


altered image; original image from National Archives Today’s Document:
“Forest Service Ranger at Stillwater Sharpens an Axe While His Daughter Looks On” 07/1973—Anne LaBastille, Photographer. From the EPA’s DOCUMERICA series

6 thoughts on “Never Can Tell

. . .

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s