Tending a mountain still is easy.
The trick is to heat the stove to just the right temperature. Feed the fire in the stove slices of cedar to vaporize the alcohol in the wine boiling in the jug on the stove. Too much heat will crack the jug, or pop the seal (made from the inner tube of a bicycle) that grasps one end of the copper tube to the mouth of the jug. The vapour will escape through the copper tube and condense, if the coils of tubing submerged in the water of the milk-can are cold enough. Too much heat will vaporize the water along with the alcohol in the wine, diluting the distilled alcohol called white lightning. Periodically, I dip my finger into the white lightning dripping from the other end of the copper tube into the mickey bottle, and lick it to make sure only alcohol is escaping from the wine.
Squatting before the stove, I followed these directions, as I distilled the second jug of wine that evening. I sense that the temperature of the water in the milk-can is rising from the hot vapour in the tube. Bob left for the creek five minutes ago to get more cold water. The water must be ice-cold to condense the alcohol vapour, thereby creating a vacuum to draw more vapour from the jug. My head buzzes from the white lightning I licked off my finger. The hissing light of the Coleman lantern twists my shadow into weird, dizzying shapes that flit along the walls and onto the bunks at the back of the cabin, that we call the Hobo Shack. Dave and Doreen squirm in a sleeping bag on one bunk; Cary and Linda thrash about in the other. It's the Labour Day weekend and on Tuesday we will be back at school in grade nine.
Dave, Cary, Bob, and I are junior members of a gang led by Husky, who is about three years older than me. We steal jugs of wine from the sheds of farmers around Yarrow, lug them up the mountain to the Hobo Shack, and distill the wine into white lightning. Husky pays us two dollars for a mickey of quality white lightning. Dave and Husky are close friends, and Husky dates Doreen's older sister. Husky, whose father was killed fighting for the Fȕhrer in the war, is the toughest guy around. No one dares to meddle with our gang.
Doreen and Linda surprised us, showing up at the cabin that Saturday afternoon of the Labour Day weekend. The Hobo Shack's location is a secret. When they arrived, I was disappointed that Rita, my off-and-on girlfriend, wasn't with them. However, Rita's absence was to be expected because her mother is very strict. I knew that Dave, with his handsome Italian look, would get Doreen—the prettiest and horniest girl in our class. Who did Linda want? Bob, two years older than me, didn't want jailbait—as he described her. I avoid Linda like the plague. She's English and lives across the street from me in Harm's old house. After dinner, when Dave and Doreen started making out in one sleeping bag, it was Cary and Linda who slipped into another sleeping bag.
So there I squatted in our beloved Hobo Shack, late that Saturday evening, making white lightning. The Hobo Shack sat on a bench of Vedder Mountain next to Lovers' Creek. The creek gurgles; the lamp hisses; the bunks creak; the lovers giggle and moan. The white lightning drips into the mickey bottle. Sweating and feeling drunk, I go outside to look for Bob. Stars are much brighter at high elevations. The water pail lies in the faint shadows under the cedar next to the creek, where Bob left it. Bob is stupid to go off without a light. Last Easter Monday we saw fresh bear turds, steaming and black, on the trail.
The woods had smelled dry that late summer afternoon. A weasel had slithered down the creek at dusk, hunting for frogs in the moist ferns and mosses, heading to the cool valley below. Now, a vehicle, straining up Majuba Hill a mile away, disrupts the stillness below. The stars Vega and Deneb light the clearing and the Hobo Shack. Its roof and walls of long cedar shakes held up by stout cedar beams have weathered a half-century of storms. Lamplight fingers the open shuttered windows. The girls must be melting in the sleeping bags. Why is Rita's mother so strict? Rita is always around whenever we have a party at someone's house.
This year we will be the oldest students at Yarrow Junior High School. I'll be the President of the Student Council and win the block letter award for best academic student. Rita will be Secretary, and Dave will be Vice-President. We will be the Chilliwack District champions in soccer and baseball. The girls will win the basketball championship. It is going to be so good.
I fill the pail with icy, mountain water.
As I stand next to the creek, I hear the pussy willows in the shade of the Douglas fir along the trail rustle, yielding to some hulk. Bob sneaks barefoot down the trail and splashes through Lovers' Creek. Bob is our leader and the most valuable player on our teams. A superb athlete and talented musician, he failed into our class in grade six. He clutches a stout staff to fend off bears, I imagine. Before his voice broke, Bob and I competed to be the lead singer in the Mennonite church's junior choir.
When Bob and I enter the cabin, Doreen and Linda are giggling and fixing themselves up, while Cary, with no shirt on, pumps up the Coleman lantern. Cary has started weight lifting and takes every excuse to show off his chest muscles. Linda dips Cary's shirt into the water pail and rubs at a stain on her pant leg running down her thigh from her crotch. Cary assures Linda that the stain is just egg white from dinner. Yeah. I intended to have Rita on one of those bunks very soon and get some egg white down her pant leg.
© Elmer Wiens