Friday, February 4, 2011
OUT IN THE COLD
Blackbird, after a long walk through the woods.
“I’ve got a job for your superhero friends.” It was Jan, over the phone.
Jan is the editor of a community newspaper,the Riverwest Currents. The paper's main goals are to report on news of the Riverwest neighborhood and to make a positive impact on the community.
Jan called to share a report with me- a Riverwest resident was snowshoeing on the frozen Milwaukee River, near the woods bordering the neighborhood. While walking, she encountered a man sitting outside of a tent he had constructed out of tarps.
The man called out to her and asked her if she had heard any weather forecasts. Would this terrible wind be dying down? The woman replied that the forecast didn't look good. When she got home she called Jan and wondered if anything could be done to help.
I hung up the phone and reflected on this. I looked out the window of my second floor flat. Below me, the streets were a disaster- people were struggling for hours to dig out their cars, completely buried in snow. Giant mountains of snow were piled up eight feet everywhere. A gust of wind rattled the storm windows of my house. And less than half a mile away, I was told, a man was living in a makeshift tent.
I called up my friend Blackbird, a mysterious man who dresses in all black padded superhero gear, a mask with yellow eyes and a pointed beak disguising his identity.
* * * *
“This is no joke, man!” I called through the wind to Blackbird. It was night now, and we were trudging through snow that was up to my hips (and I should note, I’m 6’5”. Up to my hips is pretty deep!) through the woods toward the river. We had determined there were two things we could do- offer the man a ride to a homeless shelter, and if he refused this, then we could offer him some warm clothing and ask what other supplies he could use.
We packed up an old army style duffle bag with some of our extra winter clothes- I found a winter jacket I never wore in the closet, a scarf, and a pair of wool socks. Blackbird had a spare pair of gloves and a hat. We parked near the student dorms at the path that led into the woods. Blackbird was wearing his gear, minus his mask, a scarf wrapped around his face instead. Walking through the snow drifts was an endurance test. We kept going.
* * * *
“Wait a minute, what’s that?” Blackbird whispered, and took out his night vision binoculars. We were now standing on the frozen river itself. He scanned the odd shapes in the woods along the shore. It was very quiet, except an occasional breeze, and the trees creaking and snapping in the wind. The shape was just a fallen tree.
* * * *
“Hey man, if you can hear me- we’re not cops or anything, just a couple guys from the neighborhood, want to make sure you’re ok!” I was addressing the dark woods in front of me. We had found the man’s camp further down the river. A firepit with glowing embers still faintly burning indicated he had been there not long ago.
There were a couple of chairs set up, some buckets, and a folded up tarp. Mt first guess was that the man must have heard us and got spooked and ran off. Maybe he was hiding behind a tree. Blackbird scanned the woods with the night vision binoculars as I called out again.
We then guessed he had probably left camp some time before we arrived- it didn’t look like the camp had been set up completely, and it was likely we would have heard the man in the woods leaving the scene. We left the bag of clothes near the fire pit and decided to climb straight up the hill to the upper path.
* * * *
“You (huff puff) reallifesuperheroes (huff puff) always... something (huff puff) with you guys.” I told Blackbird at the top of the hill, trying to catch my breath. By grasping onto tree branches and crawling through the snow, we had scaled upward to solid ground on the bicycle path. I was sweating beneath my winter clothes and reminding myself of my New Year’s resolution to get in better shape. We walked along the upper trail, back to Blackbird’s car.
I don’t know that we accomplished anything, but Blackbird told me he’ll make a follow up visit tomorrow. I do know this- it is currently 18 degrees here in Milwaukee, and a man is living outside in the woods, less than a half mile from my house.