Derivatives in the Wilderness

 

Zenas Leonard Albertson had no earthly interest in the interests of the earth.

He was not enamored to live meekly and dutifully from the bounty of the earth in pursuit of natural treasures, as his namesake did more than a century prior. No, Zenas Leonard Albertson shared but one connection with Zenas Leonard, his name. It was not of his choosing. His father, Morris Albertson, saddled Zenas with the moniker in honor of the legendary fur trapper and mountain man of the early 19th century. Morris fancied himself a mountain man, at least after being widowed. This pursuit gave him solace. it gave him escape from his linear world and the loss of his wife during childbirth.

Morris Albertson was a man of numbers, calculations and derivatives. He was an accountant, to say it more succinctly, A profession Zenas Leonard Albertson inherited, albeit indirectly. Both Senior and Junior Albertson found employ in the fiscal stable of the 2nd largest accounting firm in Pennsylvania, some decades apart. With offices in Pittsburgh and DuBois, their firm was well known in the Pennsylvania accounting community as a behemoth with a heart. The latter locale was home not only to the Albertson clan, but also the birthplace of one Zenas Leonard, fur trader and mountain man.

Zenas Leonard Albertson earned his keep in the company in spite of his father, and had progressed to the admirable title of Associate Director of Clearfield County Operations. His business card was impressively long, with his name gilded in font, a pleasure normally reserved for only a full Director. It was a clerical error in processing, not worth the effort and cost to resolve.

Morris Albertson had once been Managing Director of Clearfield County Operations, a title since retired. He was perhaps the most diligent, focused young executive in the firm, destined some had said for exaltation as a future Vice President. Morris Albertson was in truth a terrible Manager, and had not the soft underbelly of corruption fit for a Vice President. Morris was however a mathematical savant. His rigid thought process produced extraordinary work in both accuracy and speed.

Morris Albertson made a name for himself by calculating derivatives in his head that required reams of paper from three man teams. He was an aficionado of the exercise in fact. The company staged internal events that would pit Morris against small sub-departments in calculation races. His record in such contests was sterling.

Each team was given the customary tools – calculators, indexes, reference books and reams of white paper for manual tabulation. Morris used his paper to write explanations in scathing detail of derivative notation practices. He needed something to pass the time while waiting for his opponents to finish.

Leibniz, LaGrange, Newton, Euler – Morris Albertson had mastered each methodology. In fact, it was quite simple to master, A trait his colleagues perpetually bore against him. His knowledge of the subject was instinctual, his capacity for comprehension sponge like.

Socially speaking Morris was inept. He simply was not wired to be a leader of men or interesting at parties. He despised parties and attended only as a result of insistence. He rarely spoke in his own meetings. Morris lead through silent action, a technique which proved difficult to reconcile with the mentoring requirements of a Managing Director. He was a poor Director actually. But his mind was too valuable to be lost to the competition, so he was as such promoted summarily through the ranks.

At the tender age of 47 Morris Albertson became a father, and also a widow. His wife, the dear Ellen Anne Albertson bled to death as their only child entered the world. Morris was nonplussed, almost to the point of being stoic. Truth be told Morris had little interest in offspring, it was Ellen Anne that vehemently sought a child. Morris was a fine provider, and a decent man, but affection and love were rare missives from his cache of numerology. Ellen was lonely. Morris coalesced to her need. A boy was born. A woman died. A zero sum equation anything but tidy.

At the time of birth Morris Albertson had begun reading a well used copy of Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard. It was the only book suitable for an adult in the waiting room. By process of elimination Morris chose the volume to pass the time. Right about the point where Zenas Leonard and his party encountered a Negro man named York, who claimed to be the explorer-slave of Lewis and Clark fame, A solemn nurse asked Morris Albertson to follow her.

A doctor he had not previously met explained efficiently and precisely that Ellen Anne had died during a difficult birth. Morris Albertson did not see her body then, not in fact until her funeral three days later did he see his wife one final time. In the interim he remained in the hospital waiting room for nearly sixty hours, reading and re-reading Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard. 

The name stuck. Zenas Leonard Albertson, son of an enigmatic accounting pundit and a dead housewife, was released from the hospital to the care of his father just in time to attend the funeral of his mother.

Morris Albertson wished it was he who had died. His faculty for child rearing was thin, and shadowed with an irrepressible regret that he had agreed to father a child in the first place. His mourning over Ellen Anne was simple and orderly. He never re-married, never desired to do so, and rarely felt the pangs of loneliness. His was a heart not for modern love, but the old fashioned proviso of support and structure given as needed to any spawn he may generate. Even in this regard he was without passion. It made his decision to leave young Zenas Leonard Albertson in the care of his sister much, much easier.

Seven weeks prior to his first birthday, Zenas unknowingly said goodbye to his father for a period of some twenty eight years. Zenas would be raised by his never married Aunt, Andrea Gertrude Albertson. This was scandalous in the Clearfield County culture of the time, but Andrea vociferously defended her status as the child’s “mother” as well as the decision of his father to leave Zenas behind for the wilderness.

On the eve of what would have been a celebration of twenty five years of service to his accounting firm, Morris Albertson withdrew $700 from his savings account and bequeathed the balance, some $14,451.86, to his sister Andrea for the care of young Zenas. After 11 months hosting his sister in his home and a deplorable attempt at fatherhood Morris surrendered to his new passion, his escape, and went off to live as a mountain man. He said goodbye to Andrea in letter form, a brief transmittal that included the title to the house and explicit instructions for the use and investment of his substantial savings.

By this point the original copy of Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard was in shambles. There is no telling how many times the pages were turned prior to the discovery in the waiting room, but Morris himself had read the volume cover to cover one hundred forty eight times before it was retired. He found another copy through a bookseller two towns over, and another a town beyond that, and two additional copies through a catalog. he surmised this should keep his literary desire occupied for at least eighteen months.

The four copies nestled beneath a woven blanket in his preparations, packed neatly between several jars of candle wax and an overstuffed bundle of socks and undershirts. Also included were the following items:

(1) 9.5 inch standard Bowie knife

(1) standard 16 ounce hammer

(1) standard short handled felling axe

(10) pounds salted pork

(10) packages (200 count) box matches

(2) pairs remanded military issue pants, size 32 waist

(2) remanded long sleeve brown button up shirts

(4) pairs standard boxer shorts size men’s medium

(1) Surplus Rain Jacket with Hood

(1) Large Surplus Canteen

(1) standard spool multi-purpose twine (200 feet)

(1) standard spool fishing line (200 feet)

(1) Surplus Fishing Pole

(1) package fishing hooks (35 count)

(2) Remanded Ground Tarps, Green, 8′ square

It was the intention of Morris Albertson to walk directly into the wilderness surrounding Rockton Mountain, and never return. With the exception of three necessary and unannounced trips into town in the first two years of his adventure, he accomplished that goal. When Morris Albertson died alone in the cabin built with his own hands, dead at the age of 76, his feet had not touched a paved road for more than twenty five years.

In his time as a mountain man Morris Albertson conquered streams for fish, built traps for ferrets, rabbits, squirrels and other legged meat, taught himself by trial and error the art of pelting and wore down to the nub seven standard short handled felling axes. In addition he reproduced Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard more than two dozen times, by his own hand. His original four copy collection had lasted him only sixteen months, due in large part to humidity and weather damage appropriate of his lifestyle. In total Morris Albertson passed the time in the mountains by reading the story of his son’s namesake some 5,616 times. This is known thanks to the detailed tabulation sheets he updated meticulously with each reading.

Zenas Leonard Albertson discovered the record of his fathers proclivity on a bedside table made from a cobbled tree stump, nary out of arms reach from his fathers dead body. He was unsure what was more disturbing, seeing the body or the realization that he agreed to make the trek at all.

It was perhaps two hours until dusk when Zenas arrived, having followed the hand drawn map 12.7 miles through thickets and moss and even a creek. The entirety of the trip he reminded himself it was a bad idea. Yet he traversed.

Zenas Leonard Albertson had never known his father. He possessed no memory of his actual face. They had never shared a conversation, a glass of wine, or even a disapproving glance. With his thirtieth birthday approaching Zenas wandered the woods, map in hand, seeking a man who had abandoned him before his first birthday.

He only came because the Park Ranger made it seem so desperately important, this was what Zenas coerced himself into believing. The Ranger showed up on his doorstep the day before to tell the tale of his old mountain man father dying in the forest. He carried a map, did the Ranger, drawn with his own hand. It was the only such map in existence that would precisely locate Morris Albertson in his current predicament.

For more than twenty five years the Ranger had a mutually beneficial, if not mutually disdained relationship with one Morris Albertson. He had discovered Morris in the wilderness at approximately the point his first cabin was nearing completion. The land of course was not intended for such construction by this time, a fact the Ranger informed upon Morris only once. The subsequent argument quickly devolved into an arrangement.

Morris was trapping for meat, which he consumed, but the remaining pelts would serve him no value once his stockpile of blankets, hats, gloves and winter coats were sufficient. The Ranger would sell the excess pelts in local markets and trading posts in exchange for half of the earnings. As a condition of this arrangement the Ranger would not speak of Morris Albertson, to anyone, and Morris would not slice the Ranger open with his Bowie knife. He had developed an occasional mean streak, from living in the mountains perhaps, from other failures perhaps, it was irrelevant really.

The Ranger would also acquire randomly needed items for Morris in town, things such as fishing line and twine, paper and pencils, clothing and such things hither and yon. He did this for a price initially, but had softened a tad in his age. During the final year of the life of Morris Albertson the frequency of visits to his second cabin (the first being destroyed by lightning and fire some years before) had increased exponentially; From once per month to the tune of three times per week in fact. Failing health had fallen on Morris. The Ranger only once made a plea to bring the old man to a doctor, a plea voraciously dismissed, and never repeated.

But in these waning days, the hard edge accrued in Morris through his mountain man life had grown dull. This was a life in reflection now. The literal setting sun over the western view of his tract gave heed to the figurative review of a light in decline. It was in these days, the worst of the worst days, that Morris Albertson asked the Ranger for a favor.

Zenas Leonard Albertson was in no position to grant a favor to Morris Albertson, A man he intentionally referred to by name and not as his father. He did however accept the hand drawn map from the teary eyed Ranger, if for no other reason than to get the sniveling nincompoop off of his front porch.

Through the night Zenas faltered in thought. His mind was a linear one, like that of Morris. This anomaly was not in the forecast. He spent many hours in his younger days envisioning all aspects of a potential meeting with Morris. As he aged however these thoughts had evacuated. Zenas made his peace with having been raised by a raggedy spinster, absent a father or even a father figure. He took refuge in academics, where he excelled. Mathematically speaking the greater Clearfield County school system had seen only one such prodigy before him, Morris Albertson.

At the tender age of 21, having completed his University studies one year early, Zenas was offered and accepted a position with the 2nd largest accounting firm in Pennsylvania. He was not much of a leader, and lacked the personality of a management fast track man, but his abilities in calculation, forecasting and even derivatives were outrageous. The irony was not lost on him. The comparisons however were.

Zenas made it clear to anyone who commented that Morris Albertson was a coward who taught him not one iota. He was a shit stain, and it was greatly preferred his name not be mentioned in the company of Zenas going forward. Considering the abrupt departure of Morris Albertson from the company some years prior, there was little objection to dismissing the tenure of the elder Albertson without much nostalgia.

More than two hundred people gathered in the local VFW banquet hall for a company sponsored celebration of the twenty five year anniversary of employment of one Morris Albertson. The event was well catered. The open bar was adequately stocked with well whiskey, white wine and draft beer. A reasonably priced four piece band performed polkas and waltzes and jazzy interludes. Morris Albertson did not attend.

Morris had languidly agreed weeks prior to appear with his colleagues at the gala affair of the season of the Pennsylvania accounting industry, only to vacate his life for the trees and the hills the night before, without notice to his employer. It was only in fact when a dispatch of co-workers came half drunkenly banging on his door that Andrea Gertrude Albertson, infant in arms, delivered the news. It was not well received by management.

The company took a hard stance. It fired Morris with cause, and even attempted to reclaim the cost of the anniversary party through an unsuccessful civil suit against him in absentia. Morris Albertson never knew this, and would surely have given not a single damn had the information been somehow brought through the woods to his attention.

It was pitiful in hindsight, his calculative success. He utilized in the mountains only the mathematical knowledge required to plan and build shelter, to properly position traps in the shadows of trees, and to forecast the dates and times of the migration of the creek fish. He counted nothing for any man ever again, except himself and his record of reading Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard. 

When Zenas applied for employment with the company it was intentional. At such an age, in such an emotional place he allowed himself the folly of exploring the legacy of the man he never knew through his work, his history. Most coincidentally, through rare natural ability and hard work Zenas Leonard Albertson had become a fiscal samurai. His mathematics were brilliant, his focus intense, his capacity without comparison among his peers. So indeed it was a good fit for a variety of reasons, and it sure beat digging ditches for a living.

For a scarce moment during the evening of the Rangers visit  Zenas allowed himself to again ask the unanswerable why, and to dwell in what might have been, what may be yet. The thoughts lingered in him until he was halfway through the six hour hike to the cabin the following day. It was during this quest he laughed aloud at himself for refusing to read the book of his namesake all these years. He often made the joke that Morris had read the book enough for everyone. Perhaps he would have picked up a few tricks to ease the journey.

Zenas Leonard Albertson was not a man of nature. He found the concept of being out of doors generally unpleasant as a whole. During a transient spell in the Boy Scouts Zenas was taken upon a camping trip that ended most unfavorably for all involved. Through his formidable years he maintained an intense fear of crossing paths with a monster of the mountains that would undoubtedly be his father. Even in the phases of youth where he desired to know his father he was convinced internally that only fright and doom would result from meeting this grotesque abomination of the wilderness.

There really was no need for Zenas to spend time out of doors, Everything he desired was at his disposal inside his very comfortable home. Microscopes and telescopes and typewriters and adding machines and lavish encyclopedias with color photographs and annual updates – Zenas had these in spades. The portly sum from the savings account of Morris Albertson, coupled with the sage investment advice given Andrea Gertrude Albertson, allowed young Zenas the benefit of means. This was an air conditioned life, and he had no desire, truly, for any other kind.

So it was with some surprise that Zenas managed to follow the crude, hand drawn map with such talent. He held his line, blending the geography with the topography without even a compass for assistance. It was surreal, yet quite natural in execution.

The expectation was that Zenas Leonard Albertson would find the ramshackle cabin of Morris Albertson, and stumble upon a creature of the forest aching to make amends before shuffling off this mortal coil. Old Morris would beg and plead through tears for forgiveness and understanding. Zenas would obstruct this nonsense with powerfully formed yet simple words that cut the old man to emotional ribbons, and leave him to succumb to his filthy lifestyle in tatters.

Zenas rehearsed through struggling breath the razor sharp phrases he would employ upon Morris. The veins in his neck even pulsated slightly in some repetitions as he hurdled fallen trees and hopped through dense mud. As the final landmarks of the map faded into history he saw in the distance a log cabin of fine construction.

Upon approach his heart rate stabilized, surprisingly, and his venom dissipated. With each nearing footfall the disgust at the assumed state of Morris Albertson, surely diseased and mad from a life in the wild, transformed to empathy. There was even a faint hint of longing to help old Morris as he reached the dirt trail running the final fifty or so feet to the front door.

Everything outside the cabin walls was in fastidious order. A single wooden chair, hand crafted, sat perfectly upon a square dirt patch, pointing West. A precisely round rock firepit was directly adjacent. A pile of cut wood lay stacked methodically in a well crafted rack against the South wall. There was no trash in sight. There were no carcasses or remains of shoddily slaughtered vermin. It was quaint, and almost charming.

Then Zenas Leonard Albertson opened the door, and gazed upon his father for the first time with fully functioning eyes through the mid afternoon sun. Morris Albertson lay perfectly still, eyes closed, dressed in clean clothes, his washed hands folded across his chest, as dead as the day is long.

On his stomach lay a freshly written copy of Narrative of the Adventures of Zenas Leonard. Underneath was a volume detailing everything Morris Albertson ever knew about derivatives. The latter text was some four hundred pages, hand written, single spaced, double sided. A folded note sat atop both texts addressed to My Son. 

Zenas Leonard Albertson wept uncontrollably for some time.

After exhausting his tear ducts, Zenas approached and confirmed scientifically what he knew to be obvious. He checked Morris for a pulse, there was none. He checked for breathing, there was none. He then retrieved the note and opened it. The text was brief.

My Son

One is the world I left behind

The other is the world I found

I hope both may be useful to you

I am truly sorry

Love,

Morris Albertson

That evening Zenas Leonard Albertson buried Morris Albertson in the shade of a voluptuous oak tree just west of the cabin. The sun set softly in the background as he tamped the final toss of dirt. Zenas retreated to the comfort of the single wooden chair near the cabin, gathering twigs and brush along the way.

He instinctively stacked kindling into an A frame above a ball of cotton string he removed from his unfurling sock. with a single match he laid flame to the creation, and watched thoughtfully as the wisp of the fire climbed his construction. Then Zenas Leonard Albertson retrieved the two hand written volumes his father had left him, and nestled himself into the chair beneath a very old blanket.

The kindling fire needed more fuel, so Zenas tore the book of derivatives to shreds, and fed the fire until it was stable enough for wood. From the South wall rack he claimed several logs, cut and seasoned. Zenas lay the wood carefully across the blazing embers of his fathers brilliance, and built a fire he somehow knew would burn all night if required.

And in the firelight of his fathers funeral, Zenas Leonard Albertson read the story of his namesake for the very first time.

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