Marching with my brother across the camel-back, humus hills outside Boise felt like leading a convalescent through a desert. Dwayne was sullen, fidgety, his obese body cracking his frame in the Idaho summer. Before he turned thirty he would herniate two lumbar discs, develop liver cirrhosis. Before the end of the day he would grow seven blisters.
For me, this was a stroll as I worked as a wilderness guide. Cake, but I thought the hike would mend my brother’s habits, his body, his health. He would become enamored with the outdoors as I had, his sagging arms grown taunt like vines wrapped around an oak trunk. My promise, his lure, was that we might see peregrines. The World Center for Raptor Studies is outside Boise, and a large population of the living, hunting fighter jets feeds east of town.
In 1939 when Swiss chemist Paul Müller brainstormed DDT, the well-intended death potion seemed a cure-all for plagues. It rescued Naples from typhus in ’43 when Allies de-loused the rubble-strewn town. Müller won the Nobel in 1948, around the same time peregrine populations began crashing. Weakened, DDT-ed eggs crushed as if beneath the march of boots. The peregrines fell so hard, ten million dollars drained away to recover them, then thirty-million. In all, as much as one hundred million dollars (and the DDT ban) was needed to save the world’s fastest living thing.
Hiking outside Boise, Dwayne hoped to see a peregrine take a songbird on the wing. We wished for the slow turning shadow appearing in the sun and then a knife flash across the sky. Target chosen, enemy acquired.
Dwayne employed a long stick to lean on, help against the blisters. When I asked about his pain, he denied it. I hoped to distract him by talking about our youth. I hadn’t seen Dwayne in two years, so I traveled with him to our past, before he grew into his truck and shotguns, and I into Chaco sandals and canoe paddles. I marveled at how much we used to savor aviator films and enact, with miniatures such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the air ballet of ballistic combat.
Dwayne shrugged and moved on, stubborn, as I was, to get to our goal. But the prey was unlikely, and I think we both knew. What I had believed was that when Dwayne slipped on the boots he hardly wore and sallied into the outdoor garden, he would become fit and outward bound as I was. I thought if I could bring Dwayne to the overlook I knew was just a few miles up the trail, his world would squeak open and allow in the light I saw for him. We strolled through the short grass hills, Dwayne limping. Even if we didn’t see raptors, I wanted to take him to the view. We should have turned around hours ago, but I thought it would be worth it, us soldiers making sacrifices.
Dwayne didn’t give voice to the sores gnawing at his heels from the unworn boots. Nor did he explain the unused muscles that must have cramped. Nor did he find pleasure in the sight of the whirring BMX kid gunning past, sun glinting on his speedster aluminum.
Dwayne, I thought, would chance out onto the ledge as I had once done, not knowing it was there, surprised, taking in the scene of the Sawtooths in the distance. From the view he could see the mountain icebergs cracking apart on the Earth’s surface. If he could just see, he would mend his body in order to encounter more of this beauty.
If he could just see we could be close again, be brothers again, not the two adults who lived half a continent away and most of a culture war apart. Our eyes no longer set on opposing targets.
At the end of the trail, Dwayne rose over the hill to the overlook where I stood waiting. He stumbled, hand on his stick, scanned the battlefields of aerial hunts, shrugged, and turned. It was the last day I would ever see him in hiking boots.
I shook at the outlook, the opening gulp of universe one direction and my brother’s determined, bent-over back receding in another. My hand opening and closing as if it had dropped something. As if I had lost control of something almost alive.
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