Nebraska Center for Writers

DEVIL'S CHAIR
by

I scramble along the knife-edged rock that serves as a sharp warning signal. Beyond this outcropping the earth disappears into a 50-foot chasm of air. In the empty space below me the rooftops of neighborhood homes look like gray footsteps left by some giantís passing. I spread my arms and move along the rock edge as if a tight-rope-walker. Where a spruce tree has taken root, the outcropping widens. Just beyond it is the place Iíve come to see: a round slab of granite bedrock known around here as the Devilís Chair. The Devils Chair is a natural seat in the big slab of granite. For centuries people from town have climbed up here in order to gaze down on the streets and hills of their home. But instead of the dramatic view, I am squinting at the rock itself. I scramble over the granite on my hands and knees, brushing away leaves and peeling back the moss until I see the first of several initials carved into the rock. I canít make out the letters, but the date, 1852, is still faintly legible. Most of carvings are rough scratches in the hard stone, but one set stands out for it appears to have been chiseled by a professional. I kneel at the naturally sculpted seat which gave Devilís Chair its name. On the upright slab which serves as the back of the chair, is what I have come to find: the three initials and a date: WHH May 14, 1876. The lettering is as perfect as if set in printerís type. The pointed toes on the foot of each ďHĒ and the round ears at tail of each numeral were carved by someone who knew the printerís trade. From research Iíve learned that the townís leading printer in 1876 was a man by the name of William H Hawes: WHH May 14, 1876 was warm, sunny Sunday: the first beautiful day after a very long gray winter. Spring was about to burst. William H Hawes climbed up from town in the warming sunlight carrying his chisel and hammer. It would take him a while to chisel his name in the granite, but then, there was no hurry. He could rest, sitting on Devilís Chair and looking out on the town below. Without leaves on the trees, he would have been able to hear the voices of his neighbors. According to the local newspaper, around noon on May 14, 1876, the day William Hawes chiseled his name into the seat-back of Devilís Chair, a fight broke out between three men on the street just below this cliff. It turns out one of the men, John McCutcheon, had just been the victim of a prank. The other two men had plucked all the feathers from his prize rooster. McCutcheon had chased them from his henhouse and then grabbed his gun. ďIíll show you fellows how to pluck a rooster,Ē he had shouted, but just as he raised his rifle in the air, his wife grabbed the gun. The two pranksters ran away. I run my fingers over the deeply carved figures. Nearly 125 years ago a man sat here on a sunny Sunday scratching at a stone, hoping to leave his mark on the world. Below him, three men argued about a rooster. By sheer chance — and some lucky research — an instant from long ago appears before me as real as the air. I look up from the neat lettering on the rock, and out into the countryside. Straight below this cliff, three children hurry by on bicycles; in the distance a truck winds through its gears climbing a hill on the interstate; somewhere off over there, the cool light laughter of a woman filters up to me through the canopy of green. This is my instant in time, and just like WHH, and just like the men who argued that warm Sunday, thereís no knowing which fragments of my time on earth will linger and which will fade with the passing of seasons.
This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Reprinted with permission
from ďJust Walking the Hills of VermontĒ
Vermont Public Radio
Copyright © 1999
by Alan Boye


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