Stringers | Two

Tatoosh Island, once a whaling and fishing camp now long abandoned, beckoned with whispers of the ancients, interrupting the horizon. In the shape of a crescent lying diagonally northwest to southeast, the island protected and sheltered a secluded bay known as the Cat’s Paw. Named so not for any particular land formations, but due to the glassine palette of cobalt sea whose surface reflected a pattern of tinfoil creases and blackening shadow on occasion of the breeze preceding a violent storm. A haven for those in need during high seas or sudden marine anomalies. Private home to puffin, sea otter, seal, and grey whale.

Using the island as a compass, continuing one-quarter mile or so due west, subsurface rock formations created an artifact known as the Boneyard. Appropriately named, for at this location death was as likely to occur as fog and the wreckage on the ocean floor spoke clearly of this. Given the right conditions, this deadly reef would generate a perfectly formed wave known as Canoes. Breaking left to right, this manifestation would rise and fall with the pulse of the fickle Pacific, an indicator of her heartset on that given day. And so, flanked by colonnades of tortured Sitka Spruce, a story of the harsh winds that often battered the coast, Caspar sat, his mind overwhelmed with the image of what he proposed to do.

Twenty-four hundred miles north, winds approaching hurricane-force toppled trees and assaulted the Alaskan coast from Anchorage to Sitka. Winds measuring seventy-nine miles per hour were recorded at a private Sitka airfield where small planes were being tossed about with the chaos of a toddler’s toys. Power-lines dropped haphazardly across homes and cars throughout the city, fishing boats torn violently from their moorings, tethers of rope and cable snapping with the tension as if they were low-test monofilament. Energy from the fluke summer storm bled to the sea sending a heavy tidal surge southward. High surf warnings were being issued down the continental coast, the most significant pulses to be felt as tremendous swells from British Columbia to Northern Oregon at some point the following day.

to be continued…

Stringers | One

Buttercup rolled onto the rugged cliffs of Cape Flattery having never exceeded her top-end of sixty-eight miles per hour on the nineteen hundred mile epic. Christened Buttercup, the 1979 T2 Volkswagen Camper presented a mid-summer bloom of orangey-yellow from moon-round headlights to the access cover of her air-cooled rear engine. Battered California license plates, ubiquitous surfboard adorning the roof, spare tire replacing the left rear seven-hundred and fourteen miles back. She was a traveler, as was the man at her helm. Purchased four years ago, one-hundred eighty-five thousand miles old, the black and white numerals on the German clock now read just shy of two hundred thousand.

Reaching the northwestern-most point of the Evergreen State had been both a triumphant journey and a saintly exercise of enduring patience for both the aging camper and at times, for those that shared the road. Each elevation change presented its own challenges only to become yet another milestone celebrated through the hazy effect of a cracked rear-view mirror. Crossing the final mountain passage had been the worst, three-thousand feet above sea level, on hands and knees drowning in fog and rain, backing up traffic three times beyond the legal limit. Summiting at noon, another two hundred forty miles to go, six hours on the outside to the cape.

Hunched above the front road-wheels, wrists relaxed and resting atop the hard cold plastic of Buttercup’s steering wheel, Caspar now sat motionless, observing the explosion of whitecaps breaking on the confusion of basalt sculptures that sprung from the green-grey sea. Directly below the wheels, hidden from sight due to the sheer steepness of the rock face, a beach sloped towards more delicate waves licking at the coarse black and tan sand as old as the earth itself. Only a passing cloud of common sense warned Caspar from inching any closer to the edge.

to be continued…

Babylon

Green falls and drapes bright washed walls cut and shaped from the bone of the earth. A bas-relief nightshade the cover.

Beneath the folds, her cedar eyes pierce the burst of evening blue and red and look upon the North Palace. What grows here in this garden nourished by the grey-water. Sweet and dusty fragrance. Winged beasts dance between long end of day shadows thrown off date palm. Brushstrokes of muted bloom and fruit fleeing from the balconies and descending warm stone stairs. Olive, fig, and grape from the other lands not shaped by wind and sand. How the garden breathes in the sun and out the hopes and dreams.

And she looked upon her creation, cedar eyes beneath the folds, and wry wrinkles came at the corners, pleased with what she had sewn.

Nuuk and Maarit

Blue

What is your name?”

I am a girl,” brightly proud. “And I like to eat fish soup. What are you?” A child’s harmless question.

I’m lost from the sea,” lolling lightly with the buoyant saltiness of the thick fractured marine.

Shifting for comfort, soles of her knee-high skin boots crunching and shaping white crystals, “Do you know any songs?”

But the crack and split thunder of breaking ice interrupted, plates and saucers smacking the hardwood surface of the Scots Pine table.

Soon she’ll be calling, I don’t want you to go.” Concern and conflict replacing her joy.

Go there, it is time, and I will come back to you soon.” With that, the strange creature slipped from the surface and back into the sea.

Maarit, please come down, dinner is warm and it’s just on the table.” Maarit’s mother calling.

Passing around the planed edge and smooth swing of her bedroom door, the savory sensation of rye and rice from Karjalan pies met Maarit’s nose. Descending a crooked stair, thoughts no more about her new friend, her mother gathering Maarit’s tiny fingers in the palm of her hand, heading to the wide-open warmth of the dining space. Helping Maarit onto the hard cushion of a high-back wooden chair.

Oh, little girl, your hands are ice, how is that?”

My new friend, he is waiting for me and he can’t find his home.”

Your friend must be blue?” spoken with a mother’s smile in her eye.

Yes, well I think so, no, I don’t know,” looking thoughtfully now at the thick creamy potato and fish swirls in her bowl.

Does your friend have a name?” Dropping her head to meet Maarit eye to eye.

I think he is a fish or maybe from space?”

Well that’s very nice, maybe you can take him some pie when we finish with the dishes?”

*****

With bed-time upon her, stepping high and back up the same crooked stair that leads to and from her bedroom.

Oh no, you are really gone,” the whispering sigh of a child’s disappointment and putting the pie on her lonely nightstand.

*****

Orange and blue bands of the warm woolen raanu tucked up under her chin, staring at the ceiling that she could see right through to that place, Maarit lay wondering what worlds lay beyond the sea and within the stars and not knowing his name.

I will call you Nuuk,” and that made her smile.

This time she wore big-fat red woolen mittens so her mother would not know and from the edge of the hole that had formed in the ice she observed him approaching displacing the slush. Rolling right over onto his left-side showing grey spots and a depth to his black-eye.

It’s time for me to leave the Lapland and search for my home.”

Maarit, closing her eyes tight, sealing the little girl’s wish beyond doubt, “Oh please take me with you I’m going me too!”

Time

What is that?” Maarit puzzled the gnarly grey spike.

It is time,” the reply as Nuuk spun in a circle, looking beyond the tip of his horn and up beyond the moon.

And knowing no fear, but to be alone, Maarit stared at the creature in the center of the hole and into the darkness below and the deep and the cold. Ice that surrounded shaped smooth formless shadows and the tips of the wake kissed the air as they collided. Maarit now in full flight.

The shock from the cold caused a burst of white light as her lungs filled with fire and then her world faded to black. Icy sharp fingers reached out for the child as she spiraled and sank, but it was Nuuk that dove hard and reached Maarit first. Reaching out with a fin, he reached for hers. What was black was now blue and then green and then yellow and had the warmth of a cozy night blanket. A new world righted in that moment below the ice floats, and Maarit stopped her descent. Shaking her head it was her turn to float.

I can swim!” voiced in wonder that knew nothing of swimming.

Of course you can swim,” it was Nuuk’s turn to speak. “Of course you can swim with that very fine tail.”

Where there had been mittens now formed webbed fingers with nails shaped like key hooks and where boots and then feet now a length of flowing tail. A tail that streamed out into the breeze of the current to wave like a flag made of very rich silk. Shimmers of metallic green, purples and pinks and then joined at the knees. Silver scales interlocked in a wrap of her legs reflected what light that could survive a trip through the dark.

I can breathe!”

Of course you can breathe, you can breathe, you’re like me.”

Taking a Maarit felt the thickness in her throat and could count the sensations as her neck pulsed with her breath and her hair hung about her face in an opaque halo of lace.

Nuuk was swimming in circles around and around observing Maarit glow accepting her form.

Let’s go let’s go there’s no time to waste!” Nuuk pointed his horn to the south and much deeper.

Where are we going?” Maarit’s words bubbled as she checked for her watch.

With a twist and a thump of his powerful flukes, Nuuk was clean out of sight, leaving nothing behind but his own trail of bubbles. Bubbles that started as small as pin-points and then grew and grew in size to the shape of grand holiday balloons, and from inside the bubbles the sound of brass trumpets announced it was time.

Cymbals

Wha… where are you?” Words escaping bursting bubbles of confusion.

Brass trumpets accompanied by the percussion of sheet metal hi-hats and splash, a calliope of rattle-trap crowing and thin-tin bells ringing. Indeed it was time…time to wake up. Maarit’s alarm clock turning gears and dancing across swift currents of grain in her bedside table. Where the wood cried and Maarit lay fatigued from her journey. Having a rough time now waking from the warm blanket trappings of deep blue sea.

Good morning,” words to herself, reaching a naked arm out to calm down the new day’s reminder as it continued to waltz. The brush from the side of her hand about toppled the glass there filled with fresh water. Early morning rays try at prying open the fine fabric and slats of her blinds. Needing and then finding the toggle of her desk-lamp switch and to brighten the room. Illuminating.

And from the store-bought block shelves and squared shadow boxes, a little girl’s toys remained frozen there in the light in their dances. A toy horse, tail braided, balancing on its back legs, kicking the sky. Books of adventure, one laying on its side, pages read repeatedly, feeding dreams. Picture of her grandmother kissing Maarit and holding her tight. Several dolls long forgotten, living in the margins of yesterday’s fancy. Sailboat, sail puffed out bold from a child’s untamed manifest. Where there were droplets of water following the line of the keel and then succumbed gravity.

Good morning Maa…,” this time Maarit’s mother opening the bedroom door to greet her daughter….trying to make sense of the puddle spreading in the middle of the floor.

Now Maarit that’s the last…,” tone a warning caught in her throat as she considered the contents of the glass, squared on the desk and so filled to the brim and the odd chill to the room and nascent scent of high adventure. Maarit’s mother, close to the floor kneeling, broke the surface tension of the puddle with a flattened palm, her right hand true and steady found it ice-cold.

But I didn’t…”

Salt,” as she placed a wet finger-tip to the curve of her lips and tip of her tongue, somehow knowing, believing the whole of the truth. “Where did you say he is from?”

No words, Maarit’s dreamy eye drift to the ceiling acknowledged her mother.

Crocus

Final decomp term in 30,” vacuous voice of the program.

Static.

At over seven kilometres beneath the surface of the Laurentian Ocean an oyster gave up its pearl. It had always been a legend and of course there were the believers, the seekers and the nay-sayers. For thousands of years, but never proof. In the end it was a simple logarithm, an amplification.

Return all secure one, descent in 30

Static.

We are about to enter the abyss,” tour guide interrupting the rote transcript.

The earthquake itself was memorable: the rift in the ocean floor revealed so much more. Not only the Lost City, but there was life. A form of life. Human was the ancient term. Once a year they burst from the seabed pushing through the accumulations of silt, sand and chemical deposits, the water warmed by volcanic thermals and black smokers.

Power up ring lighting, set now 1-7-7

A shudder seized the vessel making the clients uneasy.

Vents, hydrotherms, nothing to worry about,” eyes wide.

Static.

So the studies began, the adventurous with their bucket-lists and the barium poachers and the regulations and the inevitable tourism: all mountains climbed. They worshipped the sun, the Human. Blooming once a year and to flail where should be stars. Twenty-four hours of life and then wait another cycle. Face open to the possibility, limbs wide and hopeful, hair luminescent in the purple darkness, thick and flowing under the artificial rings of light.

Dimming int shell, atmos purge and refresh

Static.

Can I have one if we see one can I keep it can I have one,” a child on her sixth birthday.

Shhhhh, be still, watch.”

Static.

And no, they’re protected now,” child’s mother, eyes rolling.

There there there.” Pointing. “See her? The first of the season.”

Millefeuille

The Universe is flat.” ~Leucipodotus. The Origins of Time; 970.00.55

It was Uhuru’s job now…to defend time. Folding back upon itself; reflected in the gateways, portals and wormholes. Flat but layered, a ‘tricolore’. Napoleon had been the first. Defender of topological features bound by time. But Napoleon dared to dream and in those fateful moments the stars fell from the sky. They came for him not long after, laughing as they do at folly.

Uhuru would not allow himself to sleep; the ratchet wheel connected to the mainspring arbor. To defend time, to keep time, was Uhuru’s station. The flakes were the most difficult bit, fragments of time that sloughed from the edges. Miss one…consequences. Unknown, the course of things, the righting moment lost.

One did not ask to defend time. It was the placer mines, a primitive agitation. What fell through the cracks, what ended up at the bottom, sorted by the sieve. And here he was. One had other visions of their future. Uhuru dreamt of being a lion.

~~~~~

Dark clouds gathered, flies attracted to the sweetness of Uhuru’s fatigue and the vibration of fresh death. His stomach ached, but he refused the hunt. He would scavenge on this land where there was always something, something abandoned or left behind, something that fell behind, something that had failed. He hadn’t eaten in days, but felt a moment of relief as the morning sun splay pink across the eastern horizon; and it was the slow silence of the thick black birds circling overhead that marked the site, heavy under the weight of their discovery.

Uhuru approached the fresh carcass with caution. One of the birds dropped from its flight, hit the baked earth and hissed above impatient hops in the direction of the find, pecking at a loose strand of meat. What remained of the kettle hovered in the morning sky, patient, trusting in time. Uhuru abandoned his cover, launching himself in the direction of the dead beast, swatting the unsuspecting scavenger to the side with the back of a club-like forepaw.

Up to his ears in love-grass, stretched out in a pocket of shade beneath an overhang of buffalo thorn Uhuru enjoyed the ripening benefits of the unfortunate bongo. The ground beneath him stained crimson where the grass and earth had taken on the hue of drained life. His tail twitched as he worked for better purchase on an unforgiving knuckle of joint and sinew, teeth denuding bone, bone cracking. Uhuru lost track of time.

An aubade of light replaced the cool blanket of dawn allowing a new day’s warmth to wash over the waking savanna. Uhuru swiped at the snags of raw flesh caught in his teeth and the flecks of debris that affected his whiskers. He had finished but decided to keep his place in the shade, satiated and no longer able to stave off his exhaustion.

Uhuru snapped awake to the sound of cruel laughter; the hyenas had arrived.

Marystown

Bears are Fast, Really Fast

Beethoven has always been my favorite composer and pianist, music in general a passion. Not being able to play a single instrument myself, I appreciate those who can and just enjoy listening. I was introduced to Beethoven for the first time after relocating to Marystown, Newfoundland. This was 1970, the same year James Taylor released Fire and Rain. Moving around was not unusual for me, my father’s work took us all over the world. Marystown was different for me though, she changed me, opened new worlds.

Shipbuilding and fish processing were the economic forces of the town in those days and the reason we were there. My father was a marine engineer, he specialized in hull design. But his true expertise, and why they needed him, was his ability to analyze and correct balance miscalculations. Newfie fishermen were notoriously optimistic, boats routinely listing into port.

Located on the south-east coast of the Burin Peninsula it was the perfect location for a fish processing plant, with the Grand Banks just around the corner to the east. Being selected the evacuation site for the Royal Family if the German’s ever landed in Britain during the war was the town’s only true claim to fame though. Being part of the Commonwealth had its prestige.

Newfoundland, Canada. Seems like such a long time ago, I wouldn’t want to live there now from what I understand. There are no more ships and the plant has closed. Everyone is leaving or has already left. But at the time for a nine-year-old it was great. Warm summers, bitter cold, and snowy winters. It was easy for a kid to keep occupied or get into trouble. Endless rolling hills of lichen-covered rock for hiking and climbing pitted with small lakes plump with trout for catching or trying to catch. Moose, lynx, and rabbits were common sights, and the floral emblem of the province is the Pitcher Plant, its carnivorous; that was cool.

On the warmest summer days we used to race our bikes to the dump when the fish and other refuse were ripest. Located at the edge of town, in a clear-cut between a gravel quarry and a forest of Yellow Birch mixed with some sort of spruce, it was the obsession of the local black bear population seeking convenience food. I could watch them for hours.

Spontaneous inspiration or death-wish. Willy Roads, one of the older boys, had the bright idea one day to throw a rock at a nearby bruin while it was shining the inside of one liter can of Mama Mia’s spaghetti sauce with its tongue. Bears are fast, really fast! At the moment that rock hit the can that bear had plans for Willy. Willy had Ben Johnson speed that day, without the disgrace, as both he and the bear went screaming down the road before anyone had sense of what happened.

After about twenty minutes or so, gathering our wits and courage, and gaining no sign of that particular bear we hopped on our Huffys and cautiously peddled the path leading away from the dump and towards our last sighting of Willy. Within minutes we encountered the bear sauntering back up the path, not minding us at all, with what appeared to be a pair of Levi’s clenched in his sauce-covered snout. Willy did make it home safe that day but was never seen at the dump again and the jeans were never fully explained.

Winter was full of learning to skate on frozen ponds and sheltered inlets, all the kids played hockey, and clearing driveways for pocket-money after each snow. This snow was deep and measured by body-part. Ankle deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and so on, and the trick was to do the driveways before the snowplow came by. If you dallied at all, rather than the fluffy white, you’d be clearing a six-foot-tall monster of compact snow, ice, and gravel, the stuff that gave grownups heart attacks. And then there was sledding!

Flying Machine

Our house was utilitarian and looked like all the rest, a company house, a box. 77 somethin’ Street, I don’t quite remember. What made it different and the hub of activity was the hill. Out the back door, across a rough cement porch and straight up it seemed. Approximately thirty degrees over ninety-four meters or so, you could get up a bit of steam, leaving you with about fifteen meters as the slope leveled out to brake, jump off or slam directly into the back of our house. And that’s what I did; hit the house face-first at whatever version of light speed a kid can attain on a plastic saucer.

System failure I suppose, mechanical or mental, I really don’t remember a thing from that point on except the sound of a colossal wave breaking inside my skull and feeling a light so bright it had to be a glimpse of heaven. Now, fortunately, from clearing a walkway around the house, the snow had been pushed up and piled against the foundation which typically protruded about a meter above the ground. Even though it served as a mini launch-pad, it was protection from the concrete.

Opus 77, Fantasia for piano in G by Beethoven was the first thing I heard when I woke up. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time of course, but the original score is now part of my collection, sharing space with the patent papers for the Wright Brothers ‘Flying Machine’.

Turns out I was really pretty lucky. Fortunately, the siding on the house had given enough that I didn’t split my head wide open. And the hematoma that went out rather than in making my face look like it was buried in belly fat meant no brain damage. I spent two nights in the hospital and then went home. Recovering at home was boring, though I did manage to avoid two weeks of school. Friends would visit, but I was pretty useless at that point and they didn’t stay long.

It was when I was asleep that things got interesting. I had a series of extremely vivid dreams, perhaps hallucinations, crisp and clear not the wispy astral. As with most dreams though, they were soon forgotten. Except for one. A night when Beethoven invited me to stay at his place if I ever made it to Austria. Of course, I accepted the invitation, and down the road, at some point, I discovered what the dream really meant and met the man in person. It was my first trip to Vienna; when I first discovered I could travel back in time. My first experience, but not my last.

Over the past twenty-three year’s I have traveled the world past to present; to an untold number of countries and regions in their finest and darkest times, but never into the future. That’s impossible of course since it simply hasn’t happened yet. Officially inventoried at seven-thousand three-hundred and twenty-one items the fruits of my journeys are extensive and impressive. In fact, it was considered to be the largest private collection of historical artifacts ever recovered at the time of my arrest. A common thief had entered my home and helped himself to a few of my souvenirs. Just try to pawn an Eighteenth Dynasty Heart Scarab and see what kind of attention that brings.

Seven years in prison is the tariff on my collection. It’s hard to convince a bureaucrat that most of the items were gifts, a few were purchased here and there, maybe I did lift one or two. I won’t be spending even one night behind bars though, there’ll be some long faces in the morning when my absence is discovered. I’ll be off when my head hits the pillow. Zimmermannsche Kaffeehaus, located in Leipzig, Its doors closed forever in 1741, but I like it there.

One winter was enough, we moved the following Spring, returning to Seattle, Washington. I took away a working knowledge of the Canadian Parliament, learned Montreal was not the capitol and could sing O’Canada. Lessons learned in trade for not taking French, in which I was years behind. My final memory of Newfoundland is the flight out of St John’s. From a window seat, banking starboard, the pilot’s voice over the intercom pointing out the icebergs off the coast below. I remember wondering if there were any penguins looking up at us.

Winter Song

Where the road bent away the sidewalk was bright and cold, and where the sun reflected back from the snow the road trapped noon shadows cast by winter’s oaks. Parked cars lined one side of the road. The road curved away and up out of sight where it forked between the old brick houses with roofs made bright from the sun on the snow. Bare tree limbs glistened and shed freezing clear droplets of moisture onto the cars lined up below. Plumes of white exhaust escaped a car coming to life down the road. It was cold and bright from the snow.

He waited, leaning against the hard metal cross-bar of the bike rack with his feet planted in a crust of old snow. The bike rack sat in the shadow of the cafe he had been inside a few minutes before, it was warm inside the cafe. The snow in the shadow had not melted. It felt good leaning against the round of the cross-bar. It felt good where the hard metal bar hit his back just below the waist. It was cold in the shadow and he wasn’t wearing a jacket, but it was not so bright and he could see without shading his eyes. He could hear droplets of water striking the cars lined up below the oaks.

Three people approached passing through the shadow and disturbing the snow on the sidewalk and heading for the entrance of the cafe. He could hear them stomp free the snow that had collected on their boots. Bells jingled releasing the aroma of wood-fired bread, onion, and roasted garlic into the chill of the mid-day air. Notes of conversation cut short by the slap of wood and muffled jingle as the door snapped closed. A second door bounced open and closed at the back of the cafe. Tobacco cut through the warmth of the bread and garlic. It was cold in the shadow.

Another person approached heading down from the road that curved up and away. Wool cap pulled down over her ears, hands jammed into her pockets, keeping to the sun and careful not to slip in the snow. She reached the bike rack without breaking stride and he was no longer resting his back on the cross-bar. She crossed from the sun into the shadow, removed her hands from her pockets and pressing her head against his chest wrapped her arms around his waist. He held her close, hands high on her back and liked the warmth of the top of her head as he rested his cheek on the curve of the wool cap.

I missed your car,” lifting his head, looking down into sharp grey eyes.

It’s down around the road.”

I mean I didn’t see it.”

It’s new, I don’t have Eliot anymore,” eyes pelagic now.

Where is she?”

In a field above the plateau where the mountain goats sometimes come to eat the grasses.”

‘This place was easier to find than I thought,” glancing back over his shoulder.

Together they turned away from their place at the side of the cafe to join the sidewalk and followed the footprints left in the snow. The surface was tricky where melting snow filled the footprints and they were careful to the place where they knocked the slush from their boots and made the bells ring.