Will drew his pistol, careful to make as much noise as possible as he cocked it. He wanted the two men to hear the sound. They had paused to wipe the sweat from their foreheads, the business end of a saber-toothed crosscut saw still quivering in the belly of the tree they were in the process of cutting down.
This was the part of the job that his wife, Anabelle, hated the most — ranchers and timber men considered it their God-given right to use the forest as they pleased. They didn’t take kindly to rules laid down by some city slicker back east in Washington who didn’t know an axe from his elbow and were prepared to defend their “rights” at whatever cost. Anabelle’s own rancher father had practically disowned her when she’d chosen to marry a forest ranger.
Today was not Will’s day to die. The sound of the cocked pistol froze the two woodcutters in their tracks.
“Dang it, Will, these here trees is ours.”
“Sam, you know right well that this is government reserve land and you can’t cut here. I’ve warned you time and time again. Now git!”
Will confiscated the skid the would-be timber thieves had dragged into the woods, made sure they were riding toward town before he collected his own horse and turned homeward. He knew every square inch of this forest. His instructions were to: “go out and range”* and that’s what he’d done until he had memorized every track, clearing and rabbit trail.
With fifty dollars a month, a frugal Anabelle kept the household going. Will provided his own horse and gun. Minding the forest was pleasurable work; except for days like this when he needed to draw that gun on his neighbours.
On good days, the forest allowed Will to reflect on its Creator, to pray and listen for God’s voice. The reverend who rode the circuit around these parts wasn’t due back this way until the end of the month. Will was to be this Sunday’s lay-preacher.
The horse under him snorted and danced, causing the ranger to abandon his spiritual thoughts for more worldly ones. The smell disturbing the animal now reached his master.
Putting heels to horse, Will sprinted toward the smell, moments later sliding to a stop at the edge of a clearing. Sparks from a carelessly tended campfire had jumped their rock barrier, feeding on the grass beyond; the little licks of flame leaving a blackened circle in their advance to the trees. Will leapt from his horse, grabbing his saddle blanket as he went.
He stamped, kicked and beat until, lick-by-lick, the enemy surrendered. Finally, kneeling exhausted where it had all begun, Will reached out to stir the last of the white-hot ash just in case the demon was lurking to spite him and begin to burn again
To the ranger’s amazement, one lone branch had managed to survive the firestorm. The stick was scorched and spotted with soot, though still whole, one end just beginning to smolder into flame. Will reached down, heedless of the heat and pulled it away. The red end whitened, then the ash fell away leaving a charred, but living plant.
The smoke had cleared, and the sounds of nature’s gratitude cawed, chirped, and rustled once more in the trees around the clearing.
“Well, I’ll be jiggered —there’s my Sunday sermon! Never thought the good Lord would speak to me outta the fire when I was kinda expecting a still, small voice!
Will looked down at the stick, now mute in his hand.
“Ol’ Satan stood to accuse a saint and God told him to get outta town, ‘cause he’d been snatched like ‘a brand plucked out of the fire.’”***
The message began to heat up as Will methodically worked his way around the clearing making sure the ashes were cold.
“And God was gonna take away his sin, give him pure white robes and put a crown on his head … snatched from hellfire and safe in the arms of Jesus …”
Might make a point to “run into” Sam in town and invite him to Sunday meeting. Do him good!
* Edward Tyson Allen, one of the first forest rangers, when he asked exactly what he was to do, was given this instruction: “go out and range.”
** The real William Kreutzer, appointed in 1898 in Colorado, was instructed: "to protect the public forests from fire or any other means of injury to the timber growing in said reserves."
*** Zechariah 3:2 KJV
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