Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Two old heroes come by my house on horseback out of the snow-filled woods


Yesterday I was ineffectually trying to knock down snow and ice from my roof gutters, following advice intended to help me avoid flooding and leakage when the otherwise welcome thaw comes at the end of the week.

My ladder was almost useless: Planting it solidly on the ground was difficult, and the steps were soon slippery, making any slight degree of leaning while poking a broom and shovel at roof ice most unwise.

In the subzero cold and under a blazing sun, it was up and down, leaning over or looking up. I paused now and then to clear away snow underfoot.  When I rested, I wondered about the tracks in the snow I saw nearby, the only footprints in the pristine landscape. What animal had made them? Wild or domestic? Wandering about or in pursuit, maybe being pursued? No outdoorsman and not about to start being one, I've occasionally regretted my ignorance of the signs and messages nature generously strews about us outside our manmade confines.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto, of golden memory, in their element.
I was starting to get a bit light-headed, I'll admit. During one brief rest, I became conscious of two low male voices coming up behind me from the woods. I looked over my shoulder to see something that quickly had my mouth agape, drawing in frigid air: Two familiar-looking men on horses, but in a way I had never seen them, since my previous impression had been formed from small-screen black-and-white broadcasts more than 60 years ago. But I was indeed seeing the Lone Ranger riding Silver beside his "faithful Indian companion" Tonto, mounted on Scout.

They were looking down at the same footprints in the snow, trying to interpret them. I didn't think they'd seen me yet, so I set down the shovel and ducked behind a low yew hedge next to the south wall of my house. I wasn't ready for a meeting with two childhood heroes; it would be exciting enough just to observe them unnoticed.

No sooner had I got into my hiding-place than the Lone Ranger and Tonto dismounted, then squatted to examine the tracks closely.

"What  you figure, Kemo Sabe?" Tonto said.

"I don't know, Tonto," the Lone Ranger said levelly. "It could be a dog, or a deer, or...  I wonder if  the Butch Cavendish Gang had anything to do with this."

He was immaculately dressed as always, not seeming to need any extra layers of winter clothing.  Tonto likewise was clad in the neat fringed buffalo-hide garments he always wore on my favorite TV western series.

Tonto shook his head and sighed. "Kemo Sabe always worry about Butch Cavendish Gang. Heap big worry, all the time. Nobody else ever help us find them. Heap discouraging.  Anyway, Cavendish not likely roam snowy Indiana in January."

The Lone Ranger looked at Tonto thoughtfully. "I suppose you're right, Tonto. I guess I'm disappointed neither of us can read these tracks in the snow, and whenever we can't figure things out, I go back to thinking about Cavendish, and how much I'd like to put him out of business for good."

Both men were still squatting, but had stopped looking down at the snow. Their voices were oddly soothing as I listened, helping me ignore the stiffness I was feeling in my joints and the cold that was taking increasing advantage of my inactivity. Their voices were like a massage, though, providing surprising relief:  Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.  There was nothing else quite like their quiet dialogue on the old TV show whenever they were analyzing a situation and planning their next move.

"We're out of our element, that's for sure," the Lone Ranger said calmly. "Usually you interpret nature for us, and I do the ratiocination from that. Neither seems to be working for us at the moment."

Tonto waited patiently through another long silence before speaking.  "Wondering something for many moons about Kemo Sabe," he said finally. "Good time to ask?"

"Sure, Tonto," said the Lone Ranger, looking squarely at his companion. "Ask away."

"Long time travel together,  do heap good for people together,"  Tonto began.  "Kemo Sabe never take break, no unwind.  Why no hell-raising,  no cowboy whangdoodle with other palefaces?  Kemo Sabe not see inside of saloon, maybe go upstairs with gaudy lady, no let-'er-rip from Kemo Sabe, ever — why not?"

The Lone Ranger took a long time before trying to answer. "I...  well, I can't.... this is difficult... for me, Tonto,"  he stammered. "I can't quite admit to... it might spoil my image for all people as a heroic man of action."

Tonto's eyes widened. "Kemo Sabe... gay?" he asked delicately.

I could see the Lone Ranger's eyes narrow suspiciously, despite the black mask. "Why are you changing the subject, Tonto? I thought you were bringing up something serious, and you see how awkward I'm feeling about it,  and yet you want to know if I'm blithe, happy, carefree!  Isn't it obvious I'm not gay, you dense redskin, freezing my butt off out here in the snow?"

I'd never heard either one of them raise his voice, and I was becoming disillusioned.  Tonto sharpened his tone, too.  "Forget gay question,"  he barked, rolling his eyes. "And don't call me redskin, Kemo Sabe! Heap insulting!"

The Lone Ranger quickly relaxed and his voice took on that clairvoyant tone I remember so well from when he would figure things out on the TV show.  "If you only knew that someday there will be a professional football team in our nation's capital called the Redskins, that might put things into perspective for you, Tonto.  And the owner, meaner than Butch Cavendish, would not budge even after thousands of people, including the  president of the United States, asked him to remove the insult and change the team's name."

Tonto looked amazed, as far as I could tell. "Great White Father object to insult, too?" he asked.

"Well, the Great Half-White Father, yes," the Lone Ranger replied.  "Fellow by the name of Barack Obama."

It was Tonto's turn to feel awkward, and he emitted a rare laugh. "Tonto think Kemo Sabe pull his leg," he said, trying to suppress an un-Indian guffaw. "Now, about whangdoodle question...."

The Lone Ranger shifted on his haunches.  Nearby, Silver and Scout were getting restless.  There was no grass for them to munch. Drinking the snow had lost its charm. Their flanks were twitching and they started tossing their heads impatiently.

"Tonto, you think I could go into a saloon dressed like this and sit down to a game of poker,  or belly up to the bar?,"  the masked man asked rhetorically.  "Do you know how easy it would be to get between a leering cowboy's mouth and a spittoon, and risk getting a powder-blue pantleg stained by a juicy plug of ejected tobacco?  I couldn't countenance that.  It's hard enough riding with you all over creation (but usually in better weather than this), looking for Butch Cavendish and his predatory confreres, without getting my clothes all dusty and nary a mark on my white hat.  The sartorial requirements of this job are endless, and I should think you of all people would understand the importance of keeping up appearances, Mr. Fringy Injun."

The two men appeared frozen in time.  Or maybe just frozen. The mutual anger vanished like the misty breath from the horses' nostrils.

"We sure are far afield, Tonto. Maybe that's why we're out of sorts," the Lone Ranger said dejectedly. "How did we end up in an Indianapolis neighborhood moseying through a foot of snow anyway?"

Now it was Tonto's turn to be clairvoyant. "We here because old man crouch near house behind bushes watching us," he said, "and we need to fulfill fantasy, Kemo Sabe."

The Lone Ranger looked over in my direction, then stood up, but didn't approach. He took Silver's reins and patted his faithful steed. "Well, then we've done our job, Tonto.  Let's get going."

"Heap good sense, Kemo Sabe," said Tonto.  "Don't forget leave silver bullet."

I couldn't see what happened in the next moment, but quickly both men were in their saddles, flicking the reins at their horses. They accelerated to a gallop  down my driveway and south on Tuxedo Street. It was not just the chill from the cold I felt when I stood up and heard "Hi-yo, Silver, away!" and watched Silver and Scout kick up tufts of snow from the hard-packed street surface.

But I was plenty stiff and sore, all right. Old man, indeed!  I suppose if Tonto said it, it was probably true.

At least I didn't have to ask, as the townspeople always did at the end of each "Lone Ranger" episode, "Who was that masked man?"  On the other hand, I couldn't say with any assurance, "He left behind this silver bullet."

And I couldn't hope to find it in all this snow, of course.  It was time to go back inside.

The yard will be a watery mess in a few days, sure enough. But you can bet I'll be back out there, searching the icy muck for something small and silvery.