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In Lithuania, going astray while picking mushrooms is a common experience, with its own word.
He sulked and fretted all week, but showed up on Friday in good spirits—a complete turn-around. I think I broke a couple fingers.” That’s not what happened at all: in the bathroom, Dan had run scalding water over his hand to make it appear injured. But then he says he forgot his wallet in the hangar. Now it’s all swollen.’ He got me to the hospital quick.” Joe, the new custodian, asked Dan how he’d had the nerve to bust his own hand like that.
Then, at about 11 pm, Dan came to the foreman cradling his left hand. It burned red, but the pain was worth a good excuse to cut out early. “Well let me get it checked out and see what a doctor says. He turns to go back, so I say to him, I say, ‘At least unlock the car so I can sit. Unlike most of the other men on the night shift, Joe had not served in Vietnam. “Situation like that, you just do what you gotta do.” Sitting at my own kitchen table in the forest late one night, where I was revising a story about a son haunted by his father’s war trauma, my son interrupted to ask about the documents spread before me.
Our disintegrating 19th century homestead in the Lithuanian forest is situated at the head of a village made up of five homesteads, a yellow wooden church, and a cemetery.
We are thirty kilometers from the nearest town, Anyksciai, where my wife, Simona, grew up before roaming the world when the Iron Curtain fell.
“I guess eventually he’d build his home in there,” I said.
“He’d do whatever it took to survive.” Joel Mowdy is the author of the story collection Floyd Harbor (Catapult, May 2019).I imagined an impatient forest ranger had come to inquire about where I had collected the wood to build my haystack frame.Taking wood or otherwise disturbing the trees is prohibited, but I’d only gathered a few dead pines that hadn’t rotted yet. He told Simona he’d gotten lost around Debeikiai, about ten kilometers away, just off the main road.We apply Dan’s principles to imaginary scenarios: often slapstick, sometimes apocalyptic. Only once, when I was in my twenties, did I ask him a direct question: “What was the worst thing about the war? I imagined him hunkered in the wet heat of noon, amid sharp blades of towering grass in a foreign land, his head baking in his helmet, the rot crawling up his legs. He had intended to pick his way back home, but the mushrooms led him astray.But when we talk about my father, we inevitably cross into the dark terrain of his service in Vietnam, the defining event of his biography. My son, ten years old at the time, translated from the backseat.He completed an MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, and his nonfiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.He splits his time homesteading with his wife and son in the forest in Lithuania, and teaching at Green School in Bali, Indonesia.And we’re constantly working to produce a magazine that deserves you—a magazine that is a platform for ideas fostering justice, equality, and civic action.This week 8 students from Paul’s Intermediate Class wrote short stories about a time they got lost…Like Simona, Oskar is fluent in both languages, while my Lithuanian is limited to asking for basic directions and the price of cabbage.We dropped the man off on the side of the highway near a bus station, thus concluding his odyssey of being lost in the middle of the Lithuanian forest and being rescued by an American. You don’t need to be drunk.” “Yeah, but he smelled like beer.” “True.” “What would Do-or-Die Dan do if he couldn’t find his way out of the woods?