Paradise Gateway stood at the foot of a rocky outcrop on top of Carter's mountain, behind it was the small waterfall that ran into the creek which flowed down the mountain. Several men had seen the gate over the years since Carter built it, but none would approach it.
Carter had told folks about it many times when he saw a hunter or two come by his cabin or when he went down to the village to sell or trade his carvings for food and supplies. He told folks he built Paradise Gateway for when his time came to die.
"All I have to do is walk through it and I will be gone to Paradise." He had carved the words 'Paradise Gateway' on a board and nailed it up on the arch. The sun blazed on the gate in the mornings, glistening on the waterfall like dancing diamonds. On one side of the gate Carter had hung a beautifully carved walking cane. He said he had put it there for his walk to Paradise. "If you ever see it gone, you'll know I am, too," he told folks. Of course they all knew that was just Carter spinning yet another yarn as he was want to do, but still no one went near Paradise Gateway.
Mountain folk were rather superstitious, especially when it came to Carter. They all knew Carter had no decent education, yet he was more wise than anyone about life and how to live with Nature. People were drawn to him, liked to hear him talk and tell his stories about the mountain, the wildlife, and far away places he had never been to.
Even animals did not fear or harm Carter. Often men saw bears, deer and bobcats laying around Carter's cabin as he sat outside feeding the smaller critters seeds, nuts and berries he had gathered. Carter never ate meat, only the fish he caught and the fruits or vegetables he grew.
There was something magical about Carter. Abe Meeker once said Carter was "other worldly".
The figures Carter made were more beautiful than anything folks had ever seen. They were made from the hardwood trees that grew in the forests. Carter would take pieces from his stack of firewood and turn them into animals, people, or cabins.
Some of the carvings were exquisite buildings with intricate details, the likes of which no one had ever seen. "Castles and cathedrals," he called them. "From where does he get these ideas? Has he ever seen such things himself, or was it all in his imagination?" Folks wondered in amazement. Carter was an enigma to folks.
Abe Meeker, the owner of the General Store, had sent several pieces to Baxter to sell. They were bought by wealthy folks who wanted more. When the store in Baxter ran out, folks would travel to Apple Valley and buy from Meeker's store. Carter made enough money to keep himself well supplied and Meeker made a lot of money. The wealthy folk from Baxter also spread their money around town at the pie shops and other eateries. Since it was a long trip by horse and buggy, they would stay two or three days, sometimes longer at the old but well-kept hotel.
The locals often said it was Carter who kept Apple Valley thriving and made life a pleasure. What would they ever do without Carter and his carvings?
Carter and Cub
The bear and Marcus kept a fair distance from each other. It had followed him nearly to the cabin. A few times Marcus stopped and turned, facing the big animal. It stopped when he did and they just stared, sizing each other up. Marcus held his rifle above his head each time to let the bear know he was armed. The bear stood on hind legs, moving forearms up and down, as if waving to Marcus in acknowledgement.
"I wonder if that's ol' Carter's bear he raised from a cub," he mumbled with a puzzled look on his face. Bears usually shied away from humans, for they knew they could very well become a rug on someone's floor. "Could be ... " he mumbled again.
Carter was what folks in the valley called a "true mountain man". He was born in the valley, but at the age of fourteen packed up and moved higher on to the mountain. His Ma had died after one long harsh winter and his Pa had died years before from a hunting accident. He got bored really fast hanging around the village and being called a "poor little orphan", gushed over by women folk bringing him food every day, so he left early one morning.
Carter found a spot he liked and built himself a small log cabin with a loft for his sleeping area. It was quite cozy with just two rooms. The back room was where he kept all his fishing gear and larder. The main room had a large stone fireplace where he did all his cooking. Two small windows, one on each side of the fireplace let in the morning sun. Carved wooden spoons, spatulas and store-bought eating utensils were in a large pitcher on the table. A few shelves held his dishes, pots and pans and a dry sink for washing up was sunk in the counter.
A large water pail hung on a peg at the end of the counter. He got his water from the rushing creek about 15 yards from the cabin. A small table and one chair sat near the fireplace where he ate his meals, usually sharing his food with a racoon or a few squirrels. A larger table was at the other end of the room near a window that faced down the path to the village. This is where he did all his wood carving. He talked or sang to the critters that wandered in and out the open door. They seemed to understand every word.
The cub he had found one day, crying from hunger, always slept near Carter's feet. At night, the cub would whine till carter lowered the ladder so "Cub" could climb up and sleep by Carter's bed. Even when it was full grown, Cub would climb that ladder and sleep in the loft.
Looking for Carter
Marcus had come up the mountain looking for Carter, who had not been seen for almost a week. Besides depending on the old man for carvings, folks really liked Carter and began to miss him. They had become worried enough to send someone up to see if he was okay. Marcus volunteered right away for the mission. It had been a long time since he hiked up the mountain and sat outside enjoying a visit with Carter.
When he reached the cabin he did not see Carter outside, nor did he see the usual clan of critters lying or roaming around. Marcus checked inside the cabin and Carter was not there. He went up to the loft, thinking maybe Carter was taking a nap. "But Cub rarely left Carter's side and the bear followed me up here," Marcus pondered. The loft was empty. Now quite worried, Marcus went back outside and gazed up to the mountain top. He had never been up there and suddenly thought this was the time to hike up.
It would be a rough and long hike, so he checked his pack to make sure he had all he needed. Finally he reached the top. With both arms stretched out he turned slowly to take in the gorgeous view. Other than the village below in the valley, which was now hidden by all the trees, there was nothing else out there but forest and smaller mountains.
He knew the large town of Baxter was just beyond the Logan-Meeker range to the south, but it was not in view. He took out his spy glass to search for the one road that led in and out of Baxter. He could barely see it off in the distance, looking like a skinny grayish snake slithering in and out of trees.
As he was gazing at all the beauty he felt a nudge on his leg that made him lose his balance. He turned around to see what little critter was behind him and nearly fell over from shock, for there stood Cub, nearly a foot taller than Marcus. Cub lowered himself back to all fours and turned towards the rocky outcrop, stopping to look back at Marcus. Recovering from shock, Marcus followed Cub.
It took about half an hour to reach the spot where Carter had built his Paradise Gateway. Marcus stared at the old gate. He had expected it to be all weather worn and falling apart, it was so old.
Instead he saw a sturdy iron gate with the sun shining on the sign that read Paradise Gateway. It was beautiful - and it was open. Cub rambled up to the gate and stood, whining. Marcus went up to Cub and looked at where the bear was pawing on the gate.
The beautiful walking cane Carter had carved many years ago was gone and Paradise Gateway was open.
© 2016 Phyllis Doyle Burns