The Man Who Lives Alone in the Woods has found his latest palace. A cathedral of slender pines in a near perfect circle, close to a steady stream of water and open enough for a small fire at the center. He cleared the ground of fallen branches and wove some into an arch; a doorway makes it real. The rest were cut neatly and stacked against his van, underneath the rain fly and waiting for a smaller circle
His shoes lay under the belly of his best dog, only dog, Black Dog With Bat Ears. Black Dog keeps them warm while his feet turn blue in the icy creek. There was a perfect stove-rock in the middle of the water, shorn flat from the mountain he stands on, worn smooth by the relentless patience of the creek. He hurls it out of the stream, then gathers others from the side of the creek until he has enough to tame a fire. He makes a low circle of them, and deepens one stretch of the circle like a harbor. He chooses the flattest stones for a small harbor, and lays them like a mason so they will not shift. The stove rock bridges the harbor, where it will keep the coals hot enough for a day of cooking. He would prefer to make the whole pit so methodically, but methods come better after breakfast, and this is his first day in the palace.
Black Dog with Bat Ears jumps down from the bed inside the van. He has forgotten the man’s shoes, but there is warmth in his fanged smile.
Metaphorical warmth is better with a fire, and the man brushes his dog away from the tiny flame that flickers against the biting cold. The tinder catches and fire billows quickly up the tower he made of kindling. He adds wood from his stack and smoke floods his palace because the wood was freshly gathered and wet from yesterday’s rain.
His squints against the particulate, and goes back to his van. The dog follows and reminds him to pull on his shoes.
His feet prickle as the warmth returns them to life. Black Dog noses through his store of foodstuffs, and he nods his agreement. Peanut butter breakfast, and jam, over pancakes. He mixes his batter as the fire burns down to coals.
The man rakes his coals to the little harbor of rock and sets his pan above it. He cooks three pancakes. The first, a little underdone, he tosses to Black Dog, who snatches it from the air and devours it in one swallow. The second and third, he turns onto his tin travelers plate and smothers in peanut butter and jam. As he eats his breakfast, he relaxes into the quiet loveliness of this wooded place, the swift stream, the cliffs that rise from the ground only a short hike away.
Snow is beginning to fall as he cleans his plate, and the man who lives alone in the woods is not prepared for harsh conditions. He suggests to Black Dog that they break camp soon, and find another palace further south, or at least a little further down the mountain.
Black Dog wags his hindquarters along with his tail, then bounces intently onto his forepaws. The man takes a stick from the top of his firewood and arcs it cleanly toward the stream.
The man again agrees with his dog. He will stay another day in this place, and abandon it tomorrow. They are warm enough together.