Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Umnak Island, 6 July 1944

My Nunny,

Yesterday I went carousing with a pair of the young blades of APO 948. We climbed a very minor mountain, picked wildflowers and chased a bushy tailed fox. Then, t but h, we wended hutward and spent the rest of the evening tippling the tannic.

Of the work here I can say little except that it seems unlikely I will suffer from strain. But the extracurricular activities of the last couple of days have left me feeling better than at any time since coming to the Aleutians. For instance yesterday’s walk was as close as I could possibly come to a Sunday stroll at Erongaricuaro without you along. Only your absence kept it from being truly wonderful.

I went with Senor Juan and John “Stethoscope” Moore, whom I am replacing. Is started as an impulse and ended as an outing. We intended only to climb the hill directly behind the ACS layout. It Is steep, almost clifflike, and covered with long, thick grass, over-stalked with buttercups and lupin to within about 30 feet of the top, where it breaks into a cliff of agglomerate rock too steep for vegetation. The hill is only about 200 or 250 feet high, but we were digging deep for breath when we crested it. 

The hill levels into a plateau, flat, narrow and inclined slightly seaward. Tundra bushes cling to clusters of basaltic rocks which break through the volcanic soil. What grass there is is shorter than on the hill. There are not buttercups but instead an occasional purplish, waxlike flower which Juan says is known locally as the Aleutian orchid. 

We crossed the plateau to look down in the next valley. Recently a herd of caribou has been seen grazing there, but yesterday they were not in sight. The valley flattened out to the sea to our right. On the far side it rose into a cape which stretched away to a mountain. Across the valley a tiny stream has cut in incredibly meandering course.
“It’s bad enough looking at it from here,” Juan explained, but if you go down there you can get really fouled up. Right in the middle of one of those loops there is a spring and another stream starts and goes off in another direction.”

So we went to see. The stream was about a mile or a mile and a half away. We followed it across thick grasslands, rippled by wind until the blowing blades looked like herds of running animals. In the grass we found big violets—an inc across the face, and tiny, starlike whiteflowers I have never seen before. 

The spring surpassed Juan’s description. It races from the side of a fifty foot hill, clear and cold as the water of Crater Lake. The box-like little canyon it has cut in the hill is heavily overgrown with grass and buttercups and lupin, and clusters of grass cling to the tops of the larger rocks in the stream. No wind gets into the open-topped cavern and the grass is hot. It smells sweet.

We wandered across the meadow, heading vaguely back toward camp. Juan saw another hill he had not climbed in previous expeditions so we went up it, a stiffer climb that the first. Apparently the infantry has used it in maneuvers for there were some old fox-holes and a stand from which officers could watch the games. We followed the crest of the ridge back toward camp but were in no furry. Finally we lay in the tall grass and watched the evening clouds roll in from the sea and a great clump of cumulus condense over our best mountain.

We were talking of “Brave New World,” which Johnny had read and Juan hadn’t, and of the Huxley boys and great families in general and particular when Juan interrupted to say, “Don’t look now, but there’s someone eavesdropping.” I looked right then and sitting about fifteen feet away, head-cocked and pink tongue hanging out, was a red-brown fox.
The foxes here are very tame. They are protected and the worst that ever happens to them is a chase in which the men try to catch the scamperers in field jackets. There is a fox-hole, un-GI variety, about twenty feet from our hut, and last winter a vixen lived there. During the winter the foxes are a pest. They come right into the kitchen. So Juan and John weren’t surprised at this fellow, but he certainly astonished me. 

He hung around until we got up to leave. Then he scampered away. That was too much for Senor Martin, who let out a wild yell and started after him. Johnny and I followed. We chased the poor critter all over the top of the hill and I almost had him once in an old slit trench until he got the idea of jumping out. I felt a little guilty about disillusioning M. Reynard about soldiers, but I needed have worried. When we quit chasing him, he followed us. Almost back to camp.

And so ended the third day here, and a very nice day it was. This afternoon I intend to dig up some lupin and plant them on the walk in front of the hut. Tonight I go over to—you guess it—graveyard shift. More tomorrow. Until then, auf Wiedersehen, my sweet. I love you so…

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