Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Link to new location

This is where the new website lives


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Baptism - Chapter 4

[scroll down for previous chapters]

The young man paused stared through the floor and into the memories beyond. He glanced up at me, held my eyes for a moment. His gaze was steady. “How long have you been alone?” His voice soft, deep, old.
“Years, since I moved north. I don’t sleep easy. Was hell on the relationship.”
“You should understand. Being chosen… It’s not about belonging, it’s about isolation.”
His gaze shifted back to the floor.
There’s three tough portages to Agnes but only one paddle longer than a mile. We made the falls well before noon. We could hear the rush of water, the gathering of motion, the scent and feel of it in the air. The falls tucked into a notch on a shoreline of tree-choked cliffs, a fine spray of mist and a bank of cedars marking it’s location, the fall of water not visible till the canoe poked into the notch.
She held her paddle still before the rush of water, twenty feet wide in a near vertical scatter of white, the sound of its plummet masking all else. She scarcely held the canoe long enough for me to get out before scrambling up the rock face. I heard a cry as I dragged it ashore, looked up to her pulling off her shorts and t-shirt, her tanned skin catching a patch of sun as she stepped into the pool hidden in the thunder halfway up.
I followed her up the bank to the edge of the pool. She was sitting against the upstream side, her eyes closed, head leaning back into the rush of water streaming around the edges of her face, running against the taut skin of her arms and chest, aglow with the swirl of sound and sense. Then her eyes were open watching me watch her, a deep quiet smile played across her face and she pulled her head from the rush of water and shouted, “Come in, you must come in. It’s unbelievable… It’s perfect.”
The pool was a basin of dark slippery rock hemmed in by cedars, the water cool and clear and so filled with air that it hardly felt like water. I waded in and she reached for my hand and pulled me to the wall of water. With the rush and pound of water against my shoulder I could look out onto the blue green water of Agnes far below.
We played in the pool, immersed in the cool water and cool green light until we were shaking and blue-lipped. When we finally dried and dressed we were giddy with the rush of water and the cold in our bones.
He took a deep breath and leaned against the concrete wall, his eyes closed the slightest trace of a smile formed on his lips.
“Such a mix of joy and beauty. I was right in the middle of it, the rush of water, the sun through the trees, the pale of her skin against the black shine of the wet rock..” He faltered, choked a bit.
“I know the falls. A sacred spot.”
His eyes opened wide at “sacred”, a flash of fear or foreboding.
“No, not sacred but of this earth, terrestrial, and I belonged, was not set apart. It wasn’t me, Agnes Louise and God. It was just me and her and the wonders of this world, of a place, a place I had brought her to.” He slumped forward, eyes on the floor.
We chose an island for our lunch spot, a great curving arc of bedrock naked but for a narrow tree covered point where we landed the canoe. We clambered up the steep slope and onto the great smooth slab high above the water. Still chilled from our time in the falls we spread our blanket on the warm rock and ate looking down upon the water our backs to the sun. When I finished eating I laid back and closed my eyes against the sun, I felt Agnes Louise lay beside me, the length of her arm resting against mine.
I opened my eyes to stare into a strange even gray blue sky. There was a steady breeze from the east and the sun was gone. I shook Agnes Louise awake. “Weather’s changing, we have to go”. She stood and gathered the blanket, leaned back to stretch and stopped, staring towards the tall ridgeline of the western shore. “What’s that?” Pointing to the horizon. The even gray blue of the sky stretched from the eastern horizon to the west, not a cloud so much as if the empty background of the sky had changed tint. Just beyond the high ridge of the western shore a sharp line drawn from north to south, a crisp sharp border delineating the strange gray blue and an opaque ink black sky. The line was nearly straight, led by a sharp bulging parabola etched in white, looking like the nose of a shark protruding from a long breaker, sleek, perfect and lethal.
We stood and stared at the strange line in the sky, watched as it crept towards the distant ridge. The trees atop the ridge began to sway and bend and then leaned hard towards us. A dull roar filled the air and the tops of the trees took flight and tumbled down the ridge. The roar became a high-pitched scream punctuated by snapping explosions. I grabbed Agnes Louise and pulled her to the leeward side of the rock, we slid over the crest and to a small flat. “Get down.” I yelled above the roar pushing her to the ground and against the curve of stone. I covered her with my body as the wind screamed above us and I was pelted with debris. I looked down to the water, white and churning. I saw whole trees skipping and tumbling across the agitated surface. I closed my eyes, pressed myself against her and began to pray.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Baptism - Chapter 3

[Scroll down for earlier chapters]

He shook his head at the memory. Paused, stared at the palms of his hands held open on his thighs. He took a deep breath, gathered himself and went on.
Jamison warned me. “The Devil is everywhere, disguised as innocence, beauty or even the power of Christ himself.” I was not chastened. The Lord flowed through my voice and through my hands, I could feel his truth in the searing heat that came upon me.
The reverend asked that I help lead the annual retreat to the northwoods, a spiritual camping trip for the older students in the church.
That’s how I ended up here, the junior leader of our youth group. We drove through the night in a bus, arrived at the outfitters in the morning, loaded eight canoes with our gear and paddled in a small flotilla up the Moose chain and into the vastness of Basswood Lake.
Camp was a large island near the border, a campsite at either end; one for the men the other for the women with a twisting maze of trails connecting the two. We set up the tents and a tarp for cooking. On a rocky promontory high above the water with a tremendous view down the openness of the lake we raised a great primitive cross of weathered cedar bound with rope.
I did not see the Devil in Agnes Louise. I should have felt it in my heart when she looked at me too long, when those bright green eyes stared into my own. I felt only the warmth and grace of the Lord as I stood beneath that primitive cross leading the group in a prayer of thanksgiving for our safe arrival at this beautiful spot, thanks for the calm warm weather, for safe passage, for our fellowship. As I finished the prayer I opened my eyes and looked down at the group before me, their heads bowed, their eyes closed, except for Agnes Louise, her face was upturned and she was staring at me with wet and shining eyes.
We had daily services, prayer, discussion of a proper Christian life, but it was really about camp, recreation, swimming and exploring, communal meals and a carefree life. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny during the days and cool and still at night.
It was the middle of the week when Agnes Louise was studying the map and noted two nearby lakes, Agnes and Louisa and on closer examination found that the short stream connecting them held Louisa Falls. She said it was fate that had brought her so close to her namesake lakes and began to lobby for a day trip to visit them and see the falls. Jamison discouraged the idea, pointed out that though the lakes were close they rested on the other side of the border and we had no permit to cross into Canada. She could not let it rest, she accepted the legal reality of the border, but you could look into Canada from the women’s camp, could even swim into it if you were determined, but the thought of ending an idyllic week in the arms of the Canadian Mounties was sufficient to let the idea die.
Then late in the afternoon near the end of the week a group of swimmers hailed a passing canoe. When they pulled into camp to chat one of the boys asked where they’d been and the strangers said they were chasing lake trout on Agnes Lake. Agnes Louise asked about the falls and they described a sixty foot drop split by a rock-hewn bathtub. She flushed, explained about her name and her compulsion to visit foiled by the law and the international border. The men were locals and told her there was no problem with the law, they were religious about the need for fishing licenses but casual about the border. They said that in all their years of travel they’d never seen a ranger much less a Mountie.
So it was with great determination and insistence that she brought up a trip to the falls at dinner. Jamison was hesitant, but broke in the face of her persistence saying that if I were willing and we could get another couple of people to join us we could use the last day to visit the falls. Agnes Louise then turned to me, wordlessly pleading with her eyes, refusing to break contact until I agreed. Then two boys also expressed interest in joining the adventure and our fate was sealed.
The day dawned clear and still, the vast stretch of Basswood lay before us, a mirror of the surrounding forest and rocks. We woke early, well before the rest of the camp. One of the boys didn’t feel well and his partner decided he didn’t want to go without his buddy. I met Agnes Louise in front of the great cross, told her that her plans had fallen through, she didn’t see it that way. No one was up she said, “Let’s just go. I have to go. Just the two of us.” Her gaze held mine, I couldn’t break it. We packed a quick lunch, threw towels and a blanket in a pack and headed north with the sun scarcely above the eastern shore.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Baptism - Chapter 2

[Scroll down for first chapter of story]

“Don’t care about the legal,” the young man said, staring hard into my eyes. “Just want someone to hear my side. I feel you’d understand. I’ll make you understand.”
He looked away from me, kept his head down and let out a long breath.
“We had a guest preacher, a beautifully sculpted black man, beauty impervious to the arrows of race, he spoke in a rich baritone, his voice flowing flawlessly from the diaphragm, filled with the wisdom and the glorious possibility of the Lord. There was such music in his voice that I could not discern his words, I sat awestruck as their rhythym and melody washed against my ears. I could feel the presence of the Lord in that voice, feel it flow into that small church, a raw heat that started slow and soft and built until it seared white against my bones. As that heat burned into me, mesmerized by its source, I felt the lure of the pulpit for the first time.
Three weeks later I asked to bear witness; to stand behind the pulpit and speak of the glory and the possibility of the Lord. As I spoke that first sentence I felt a burning and a stretching in my throat, the words came tumbling out, rich and vibrant and round. I felt warmth and light shining from my face and the rustle of the congregation stilled and began to coalasce into one quiet rhythm. I know not what I said but there was a great stillness in the church when I finished and then a vast sigh of breath. When the service was over and we milled on the lawn in front of the church, there was a circle of emptiness around me, even my family stood apart and snuck glimpses of me through hooded brows. Then our pastor, reverend Jamison put his arm around me and announced, I believe this son has been chosen to receive the light”
He stopped, stared at the block wall of the cell, his eyes focused at a distance he could not see.
“From that day on I was set apart, different, removed from those around me. I still walked in this world but was tuned into another. I pursued that voice that flowed through me on the pulpit, sought that pure white heat, the purity of burning from within. All that mattered to me was to feel the presence of the Lord, to witness His glory and to bring that heat and light into the lives of others.
“The world is a swamp of sin and temptation, a maze laid deep with clinging muck that will soil your soul. I was clean and burning with a fire that the muck could not touch; immaculate. Once a month Reverend Jamison allowed me to bear witness to his flock. Once a month the voice swept through me, I brought tears of joy and awe to those that could be reached, their hands rose up, their wet faces turned to the heavens touched by the heat and light that scorched me from within.

“It was in the spring that I found my calling. Reverend Jamison asked me to help him in the baptism of the young adults being confirmed into the church. In the fullness of spring we took the group to a small river outside of town and one by one brought them into the water, asked them to accept The Lord into their lives and pushed their heads beneath the surface and let the river carry away their sins.
“It was a cool sunny morning, loud with the running of the creek and the cries of birds. The students stood in a cluster on the bank, their clothes covered by white choir robes, their bare feet shifting on the smooth gravel. Reverend Jamison stood hip deep in the cold black water just inside the pull of the current. I stood with the water lapping at my shins, my wet pants clinging to my legs, cold and shivering. Jamison spoke: “Most of you were baptized as babies when you could not chose your path. Now as young adults seeking to enter the church you are baptized by choice, a cleansing of the soul before you walk in the sanctuary as members of our faith.”
“Then I led the first of the students out to the reverend. The cold water pulled at my legs, Jamison told the student to kneel in the cold water, the white robe rising up in the black swirl, he positioned me behind the student and told me to hold her head in my hands. I put my hands on the cool skin of her neck and cheeks, the girl shaking in the cold of the water, Jamison stood before her a hand on each of her shoulders and said. “Today you are cleansed. I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ”. When he began to speak the cold left me and my hands began to hum and a great warmth spread from my hands through my body and out into the water. He pushed her shoulders down until her head was submerged, held her for a moment, and a great heat went out from my body and filled the water around us. Jamison nodded at me, with surprise in his eyes and a touch of fear and I pulled the girl up from the water and onto her feet, she emerged, new-born and crying, the name of our lord on her lips, red prints of my hands against her cheeks and neck. I released her and she waded to the shore, water streaming from her hair, quietly crying and softly moaning, “Oh Jesus, Jesus, oh Jesus.”
“And so it went with each of the students, each emerging wet and crying from the water, even the two tougher boys, that made quiet and not-so-quiet fun of me in the school, emerged humble and crying and beseeching the Lord.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Baptism - Chapter 1


“You believe in God?”
“Sure, don’t think he likes me though, had a falling out a while back, I still won’t talk to him.”
“I just need someone with a relationship to god, even a bad one.
“You’ll do.”

I looked around the cell, steel bunk, steel toilet, thick flat beige paint marred with scuffs and scrawls tainted with rust on the bars. Not a jail, a holding cell, closest thing to a jail in this one horse town, a room to house the fuck-ups until some cop could be located and convinced of the need for free overtime to drive the holdee the fifty miles to Virginia or in the tougher cases the one hundred miles to Duluth. The young man was cleaned up now, his wet and ragged clothes replaced by an orange St. Louis County jump suit, his eyes still wild and haunted but his body loose and tired, defeated.
He stood when I entered the cell, stepped too close and stared into my face with untamed eyes and asked about God.
“Get a chair. This could take a while.”
He let himself drop to the bunk, propped his feet on the edge and stared at his knees. I turned and left the cell, the cage door open. I walked into the office or dispatch room and told Gage, that I needed to borrow a chair.
“He wants to talk.”
“I read him his rights when I put him in the car at the landing.” Gage was the new man on the force, young and tough, three years in the Marines and two at junior college. Shaved head and dark sunglasses, big shoulders and a just the facts way with words. He rolled the other office chair in my direction and I pushed it ahead of me out of the office, around the corner and into the concrete pen.
I roll the chair opposite the man, sat down and he raised his head.
“Before you start I remind you that you have the right to have a lawyer present, in fact I suggest that you get a lawyer before you tell me anything. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want, I’m scarcely an official of the law, just official enough to be sent into the woods to pull out the bodies and find the missing, both in your case. I’m here cause Gage called and said that you wanted to talk to me, would only talk to me.”
I had found him a scant six hours before, on the other side of the border, if I had any official jurisdiction he was well out of it, but the Canadians were both short-handed and practical in these matters. The group that reported them missing after the storm said that they had gone off on a day-trip, sneaking across the border to visit a waterfall and never made it back to camp. The report came in three days after they took off, the debris from the storm making even easy travel difficult. A church group, sixteen college kids spread between two sites, my man the second in command. The group made it back to town they had reported the missing pair to the Forest Service and the police.
The storm was a bad one, blew in fast on a still hot early autumn day and changed the face of the park in fifteen minutes. I had been out since it hit, clearing debris from the portages and checking on any campers that I could find. I was in town for a shower and some sleep. Despite the ferocity of the storm we found few wounded, just a lot of tired city folk trying to drag their gear over newly downed trees and brush-choked portages.
The Forest Service called me and I called the Canadians. The park super said that they had their hands full on their side, that I was free to cross into crown lands and search for the missing pair that had no permit to be on their land in the first place.
The Forest Service set me up with a motor boat ride to the border and a kid from the trail crew to paddle in the bow. I brought a chainsaw, a half gallon of gas and a forty pound Kevlar canoe and the two of us headed towards the falls.
There are three long portages into Agnes Lake and it took most of the gas to cut a swath through the downed trees to get the canoe across. We paddled slow up the eastern shore of Agnes, poking into the bays, looking for a sign of our missing pair. My bow man spotted the aluminum canoe, bent into some cedar trees in a little cove off the main lake and I knew we were getting close.

Thursday, January 4, 2007


I've been afflicted with strange dreams.

Dreams that are strange and repetitive enough that they are like memories rather than dreams, difficult to pull from the pool of experience and toss aside with the reminder: this isn't real.

One in particular, or rather an action, since the context and setting vary, but this action repeats, repeats enough that I stand in the shower and puzzle over whether or not it is true.

In these dreams I can float or move through air. Not with soaring abandon, but as the practice of a very delicate skill that I have mastered. It's like walking on top of lightly crusted snow, or thin flexible ice; if I place my feet just so the crust will hold. This floating is like that, stretching the body on to the cushion of air, stretching it just so there is no pressure point to puncture the cushion, and then I am aloft.

The Stubby Stalker

I met the Stubby Stalker when he came to the restaurant I run looking for a job. He had experience, wanted to live in this part of the world and appeared for all practical purposes a “normal” human being. A little strange looking, short and barrel-chested, his lack of height a function of short legs more than anything else. His face was pleasant and he seemed happy and confident. Plus he was good at his work, not gifted, but competent and willing.

Within a year I’d made him my number two.

There was a certain “magic” to SS. He seemed competent, confident, intelligent, but it was all a trick done with mirror and strings to deflect notice from an overwhelming “little-man” complex and a disturbing lack of comprehension. The magic dwelt in the remarkable veneer he had built to disguise these flaws.

SS had two goals in life; to own his own restaurant and to be paired with a beautiful woman.

I became SS’s mortal enemy due to my entanglement in both of these goals.

After my second year working with SS the owners of the restaurant told us they would shut it down unless we would take over the business and lease the building from them. I was a bit taken aback that this was presented to the two of us, but after some discussion agreed to the terms of the lease and SS and I became partners. I secured a controlling interest in the firm because I put up the money to get us going.

The realization of SS’s dream changed him a bit. He began to strut, would puff out his chest and suck in his gut and swagger through his work day filled with the pride of ownership.

Soon he met an attractive divorcee with two young girls. He moved in with the woman in short order. She was smart, thin and attractive. She was also just emerging from years in an abusive relationship.

SS’s veneer was beginning to wear thin, his intelligence was built on a remarkable ability to parrot the wisdom and witticisms of others, his repertoire so vast that it took months of exposure before I realized that it was all just a recording, that the concepts and words held no meaning to him other than their repetition. There was also trouble at work. SS believed that authority was granted not earned. He complained that I failed to make the employees respect him. His relationship with the beautiful divorcee (BD) also consumed much of his time. She was recovering from her previous relationship and beginning to see through his veneer. SS fought a rear-guard action to keep BD in his life, ingratiating himself with her family and making certain that the relationship was fast and fixed in the public eye. The problem was that he wasn’t getting any work done and the employees grumbled about his lack of effort and the disorganization and his constant disappearances as he fled work to try and prop up his relationship with BD.

It came to a head when he took a two-week vacation and it was apparent to all that his absence from work made less work for everyone.

I moved to dissolve the partnership.

I offered the restaurant to SS. Buy me out and you can have it. SS didn’t have any money. BD’s family was wealthy and she offered to finance the buyout. SS BD and I worked out the details and then approached the leaseholders. Things were going good but SS kept opening his mouth in the meetings and what came out was all about betrayal and conspiracy and his absolute lack of responsibility for all that had happened. In the end the leaseholders approached me and said they could not lease to SS unless BD, who had demonstrated her intelligence and acumen throughout the meetings, signed the lease. I met with BD and she could not accept the thought of being tied to SS.

I ended up with the restaurant. SS believes I took it from him and reinforces this belief through the small town grapevine. In the meantime BD and I have moved from adversaries to mutual respect and even admiration.

BD has had enough. She tries to make him move out but he worms in deeper with her family and stalls on finding a place of his own.

BD finally removes him. SS cannot let it go. He drives by the house, phones constantly, publicly creates the illusion that all is well, shows up at all of BD’s family functions.

In a matter of months BD begins to fall for a local artist, a talented painter and outdoorsman. SS’s stalking becomes merciless, constant drive bys followed by telephone calls whenever Art Boy’s vehicle is in the vicinity, if Art Boy isn’t in evidence SS tries to come through the door. BD cannot walk through town, if SS spots her he runs to her side, will not let her be. BD and Art Boy begin to meet almost exclusively at my restaurant since SS cannot bear to walk into the hall of his defeat.

Soon Art Boy moves in with BD, it’s the only way she can conceive of, short of the police, to keep SS out of the house. An interesting insight to the workings of SS occurs after a couple of verbal confrontations with Art Boy. SS interprets these confrontations as a demonstration of Art Boy’s irrational jealousy. According to SS Art Boy’s relationship is threatened by the true love demonstrated by him.

Fast forward a couple of years. Art Boy is out. I am finishing up the process of an ugly two year divorce battle. BD and I become friends and then, slowly and secretly more. SS still calls BD constantly. He’s noticed BD and I together, calls to warn her of my duplicity and evil nature. He is plugged into the town gossip and calls to let BD know of any infractions or rumors of my misdeeds.

BD and I “come out” during a wedding reception. SS witnesses our dancing, can see the connection and the implications in the way we move with each other, against each other. SS is horrified, stops in his tracks and turns beet red while staring at us on the dance floor. He flees the reception. There are twelve messages from him on BD’s answering machine when we return to her place after the party.

BD was involved with SS for all of six months. It is twelve years since she forced him out. BD and I have been together for nine years. SS still calls when he thinks he’s found dirt in the gossip mine. SS still runs out to stop BD in the street. SS has yet to find another relationship, he is saving himself for his one true love.