Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Baptism - Chapter 3

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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.

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