Illustration by Becky Driscoll

BIOGRAPHY:

Born in Wisconsin, Becky Driscoll says her favorite place to be is by Lake Michigan. Her love of nature has inspired her to illustrate animals and birds from a very young age.  “Animals are my specialty, and I love illustrating them doing silly things that one might not think an animal would do,” she explains. “‘Spring Dance’ was inspired by the beauty of spring and how happy the animals can be.” Driscoll works in watercolor with some colored pencil to highlight areas. She lives with her husband and 18 year old son with loads of animals to keep them company.

The Walker House by Jerome Cushman

On a ladder glazing the windows of a third-floor guest room in ninety-two degree heat and no breeze, he thought, “Thank God I’m on the shaded side, but these old limestone walls sure hold the heat”. The 1836 Walker House was undergoing a two-year renovation. He’d used almost six gallons of glazing compound.

Chipping away the old putty and carefully pulling out the points, he placed the window pane inside on the deep ledge.

an old trunk

amidst the layers of lace

a rose sachet

He wiped the sweat out of his eyes, again.

A sweet fragrance of old perfume drifted from the vacant window. He clearly heard the woman say, “Young man, could you please take my bags down to the station?”

Even in this heat, chills went down his spine and the hair on his arms stood out. He scanned the dark room for the presence. Nothing but fading shadows of some old furniture.

He descended the ladder. “I think I’ll call it a day.”

At the local bar, he rapidly downed four beers.

old limestone inn

the inside walls sweat

late summer

Wiskonsin Justic by Justin Meek

The log courthouse was jam-packed.  Before a man could spit, and many did, he had to elbow his neighbor aside to hit the floor.  Most were lead miners smelling of whisky and sweat.  They eagerly awaited the sentencing.

Judge Jackson entered and took his seat before the bar, which was a long, plain table.  From behind it, four men rose.  Prosecutor Smith and defense attorneys Strong and Bevens stood in casual respect.  The defendant, William Caffee, bore himself with the cold insolence of a man who was damned and didn’t care.

The date was September 14, 1842. The place: Mineral Point in the territory of, as it was then spelled, Wiskonsin.  The day before Bill Caffee had been tried in the U.S. District Court for murder.  The jury had found him guilty.  Now he waited to hear the price he’d pay.

He’d committed the crime on the 23rd of February.  It was a Wednesday night, but the men at Captain Fortunatus Berry’s tavern were carousing like it was Saturday. 

The court record, a running commentary and not a word for word transcription, says it was a “ball.”  The men drank in the tavern waiting for their turn to go upstairs, visit the ladies, and “dance.” 

A man named Culver managed the ball.  If a man wanted to go up and dance, he’d give Culver his name.  The manager would put it on his list and call it off when his turn came.  Bill Caffee had his name on Culver’s list. 

Caffee, however, was in a black mood.  He’d been drinking, and he was described as troublesome and boisterous.  Captain Berry had almost thrown him out.  Two friends cooled Caffee down and he’d been allowed to stay.

After the run in with the owner, Caffee had decided to have one more glass of whisky and leave.  When he was at the bar, however, he heard Culver call off a name.  His temper flared.  He was on the list.  Why hadn’t he been called?

He confronted the manager who insisted his name had been called from the banister.  When he hadn’t responded, Culver had crossed him off and called for the next man. 

Caffee swore, called him a liar, and demanded to see the list.  Culver handed the paper to him.  He saw the line through his name, swore again, and charged his name hadn’t been called.  He insisted it was his turn to go upstairs and dance.

The fuss attracted a number of men.  One of them was Samual Southwick.

Culver stuck to his version and demanded the list.  Caffee refused.  He wanted his turn right then.  The men around, no doubt anxious for their turn with the ladies, demanded he return the list to the manager.

“I’ll have the heart’s blood of any man who annoys me,” Caffee threatened.  These were tough men in a hard country. The argument continued: Caffee, demanding a turn; the others, demanding the list.  Finally Caffee snarled, “There shall be no more dancing until I dance.”  With that, he strode through the barroom with the list heading for the door. 

The men, protesting, followed.  Southwick was one of them, and he’d picked up a stick of firewood.

Caffee burst out the door and into the night.  The men came after.  Southwick carried the stick on his right shoulder.

Five yards from the house Caffee suddenly turned.  He held a pistol in his right hand.  He aimed at Southwick and fired.  The bullet struck Southwick in the left breast.  He staggered forward, turned and said, “I’m a dead man.”  He collapsed into the arms of a man named Gratiot.  He and several others carried Southwick back into the tavern.  Within ten minutes, Southwick was indeed dead.

Violent death was not rare in Southwest Wisconsin during the lead mining boom.  The miners came up from the south.  Eye gouging, nose biting fights were common.  Bloody knife fights and guns drawn in anger were part of the culture.  There was a rough sense of justice.  If a fight was deemed fair, the loser was buried and the winner went about his business.

The feeling was that Caffee hadn’t killed Southwick in a fair fight.  Sheriff George Messersmith arrested him that same night.  In April, District Attorney William R. Smith indicted him.  He charged that “. . . William Caffee . . . not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil . . .did murder. . .Samual Southwick (who was) in the peace of God . . .”

The arguments at the trial were built on the notion of fairness.

Moses Strong argued Caffee’s case.  He claimed it was a matter of self-defense.  He emphasized that the stick Southwick carried was two feet long and almost three inches thick.  Moreover, the victim was at least six feet tall and weighed 180 lbs.  He got some witnesses to testify Caffee had given a warning and got others to say Southwick was about to swing his club when he was shot.

The prosecution, on the other hand, stressed the fact that Caffee’s pistol had been concealed.  Southwick hadn’t known he was armed.  Other witnesses swore Caffee gave no warning.  He’d simply wheeled and fired, and the stick had not left Southwick’s shoulder.

District Attorney Smith brought out other damning testimonies.  Caffee had come to the ball hell bent on causing trouble.  Witnesses heard him say he meant to kill someone that night, implying he didn’t care who.  A friend named Dixon had warned him, “Bill, within six months you’ll be in the penitentiary.”  To which Caffee had replied, “I’ll kill myself a man first.” 

Southwick, the DA argued, had been the hapless victim of Caffee’s evil lust for blood.

The jury’s thoughts were known only to them.  They heard the case, retired, drank a bottle of whisky, and agreed with the prosecution’s argument.  In a clear hand, with blue ink, the foreman wrote, “We find the defendant guilty.”  The paper was attached to the indictment.

From accounts published later, one suspects Caffee’s reputation and character added a great deal of weight to the argument for conviction. The basic story is told in The History of Iowa County. It was published in 1871. The story was published close enough for there to be firsthand accounts, but time and telling might have added polish.  Interestingly, what brought the men together was primly called a housewarming at Captain Berry’s.  In 1842, he’d been in the tavern business for several years.  From the court records you can infer that while something was being warmed, it wasn’t a house.

Anyway, it’s obvious they regarded Caffee as a dangerous man.

The jail where Caffee was being held awaiting trial was a squat, block-shaped log building.  It was far from secure.  Friends and relatives often helped prisoners leave without the use of a key.  One prisoner reportedly escaped by prying up one corner of the whole building.  He braced it up, and wriggled to freedom.  For Caffee, the sheriff took special measures.

First, he got the county board to approve money to hire four men to guard the jail at night.  Second, he got them to hire a blacksmith to put the prisoner in shackles.  A glimpse of Caffee’s nature came from the blacksmith.

He was a Cornishman with the quaint name of James James.  According to him, as he hammered home the last rivets Caffee had threatened, “Do a good job.  If I get loose, you could have trouble.”

Judge Jackson’s sentence confirms the suspicion they thought Caffee had been “. . . seduced by the instigation of the devil.”  A common penalty for murder was a fine of $300.  The murderer would sit in jail until he either came up with the cash or escaped. 

When William Caffee stood before Judge Jackson, he heard a sentence few men and no woman ever heard in a Wiskonsin court.  On November 1, 1842, he was to be hung by the neck until dead.

The courtroom must have buzzed.  Nobody had been legally hung in the territory for four years.  Of course it would be done in public.

His lawyers appealed.  Death sentences were often commuted.  They claimed one of the jurors wasn’t a bonafide resident, and that another had left during deliberations to wander unescorted about town, and the verdict was contrary to law.  They also objected to the jury drinking while debating their client’s guilt or innocence.

With what by today’s standards is amazing speed, District Judge Charles Dunn overruled all objections on September 24.

Nor was Governor James Doty inclined toward clemency.  On October 21, he signed the order for Caffee’s execution.  Sheriff Messersmith was to cause “. . . execution to be done on the body of William Caffee. . .on the 1st of November. . .between the hours of ten of the clock in the forenoon and three of the clock in the afternoon. . .”

As the news spread the public’s excitement soared.

Sheriff Messersmith laid plans.  The hanging would be an event.  First, he built the gallows in a valley.  The surrounding hills would insure everyone a view.  Then he decided the trip from the jail to the site of the execution would be part funeral procession and part parade.  He invited a company of cavalry and one of dragoons to march with the condemned.  A third company of volunteers, not wanting to be left out, was organized.  They too would march, as would the town band.  Caffee and his coffin would be carried to the site on a wagon, the macabre parade’s sole float.

Whatever their motives, people flocked to Mineral Point the day before the hanging.  Some stayed with friends or relatives, but most camped out.  They had a holiday spirit, and many brought picnic lunches.  Perhaps some came to witness justice being carried out.  Parents brought children so they could see an evil man die as an example.  The way Caffee conducted himself was a sure draw.  He apparently had decided to give them a show.

On the day of his execution, the jailor asked what Caffee wanted for his last meal.  “A slice of Judge Jackson’s heart,” he reportedly replied, “I’ll eat it raw.”

The sheriff came for him at two o’clock, the last legal hour.  He made the prisoner put a cap on his head.  Then the condemned man was led from the jail.

What a sight Caffee must have seen.  Cavalrymen on groomed horses, sabers dangling from their belts.  Infantry in colorful uniforms lined in columns of four, rifles held at arms.  The band silent, expectant.

He climbed up into the wagon and threw one leg over his coffin.  Sheriff Messersmith gave the command to start.  The column began to march, and the band struck up a funeral dirge.  Caffee, astride the box, beat out the time on the lid with two empty bottles of beer.  The record is not clear as to who drank them.

It was a half a mile from the jail to the gallows.  Five thousand people, a number equal to every man, woman, and child in the county, waited.  Some no doubt wondering if Caffee would break and have to be trussed and carried screaming to his death.

They went down a hill and then followed a stream to a spot near where lead ore had been found on a point, a discovery that gave the town its name.

The wagon stopped.  The soldiers must have stood at attention.  Caffee hopped down and climbed the steps of the gallows with the same spring in his step he’d have used if he’d been allowed to go upstairs and dance.

A Reverend Wilcox commended him unto God with whatever words worked on such an occasion.  While he prayed, Caffee leaned against a gallows post as if he were loafing of a street corner.

At the “amen” Sheriff Messersmith threw the rope over the gibbet.  As he tied the bitter end, he asked if the condemned had any last words.

“Yeah,” Caffee is supposed to have said. “Could you put in a good long slack?”

The sheriff ignored his wish, and minutes later Caffee lay dead on the ground.

William Caffee was the fourth man to be legally hung in Wiskonsin.  After statehood, Wisconsin executed one more man in accordance to law.  That was in Kenosha, and it attracted a crowd half the size of the one in Mineral Point.  Their festive mood did not sit well with the opinion makers of the day.  In 1853, Wisconsin became the third state to abolish capital punishment.

The end

The Zephyr by Mary Sarko

The station is empty now. The door that used to be red is now the dull color of emptiness. Mice, I’m sure, have found a home inside. I saw a horned owl in the tree yesterday. They can hear a mouse burrowing under the snow. I don’t get close enough myself to hear the mice. I hear enough here on the platform. I can’t always make out what they’re saying. Stories long lost. I think songs, too; songs not heard anymore. I can’t remember exactly when the Zephyr stopped running. It’s been a long time, I know. I heard some people in town want to turn the station into a museum or a gift shop. That’s what has happened to a lot of train stations. If I want to look inside, I’ll have to do it soon.

I suppose it’s foolish not to get close. I’m not afraid of mice. I’m sure I could get that door open. Maybe I could find a forgotten suitcase or a dropped letter. Then I would have a real story. Even a picture of the people who worked in the station would be good. I remember two men. One was bald. The other had brown curly hair and was very serious. Well, at least he was when the police came to find me. Now everyone is dead.

The parking lot is always empty now. Even when a lot of people come downtown to shop for Christmas, no one drives to the far end of Main Street to park here. When we took the Twin Cities Zephyr to Chicago, we drove our green Chevrolet station wagon. I always wanted to drive to Prairie du Chien instead so we could spend more time on the train and have our breakfast earlier. We were always the last ones in the dining car. I had French toast. I never had thick French toast like that. We all had French toast. About the time we were eating, the train went right through the park. We stopped eating then and looked at the Wisconsin River flowing into the Mississippi. I couldn’t tell exactly where they met. There were just wide fingers of blue-gray water surrounding islands of trees—green trees in the summer and red and yellow trees in the fall. We only went once in the winter, and then the snow-covered islands and the empty tree branches looked like a mosaic.

I always wanted to say something important when we were on the bridge above the rivers. Sometimes I imagined the Wisconsin and the Mississippi both starting in the north woods and I thought of the early explorers who saw the rivers for the first time. Later, I learned about what happened to Black Hawk and to so many others to that fur trading and settlement could happen. But when I was young, it was all about the wonder of the rivers and the many who explored them. When I wrote stories about the river, the main character was an explorer—a woman who pretended to be a man. Not very original, I guess, but I used to think about exploring the river all the time, even when I wasn’t trying to write a story.

When we left the rivers behind, I would write in my journal until we got close to Chicago. There were so many factories and warehouses, and I used to try and imagine the people who worked in them every day—well, Monday through Friday. On the farm, we were mostly outside or in the barn, but we had to works seven days a week. When we went to Chicago, we had to hire the Hoffman twins to do the milking.

But we still saw cows when we got to Chicago. I’m not sure if I should call them cows. I can’t exactly remember if that’s right, but they were for meat, not milk. There were miles and miles of pens full of cows. I asked dad how many he thought were there. He thought 100,000. I thought maybe even more. I had read about how brutal it had been in slaughterhouses, but I thought that must have changed. I tried not to think about how all those cows were going to be killed. I just tried to think about how they came on trains from all over. I think they even came from as far as the Dakotas and Nebraska.

We ate lunch at the Field Museum or the Aquarium and then had dinner on the train. I liked the towering buildings and the busy train station better than the museums. I wondered what it would be like to live with so many people rushing into each other. I liked that. Everyone was full of energy. We always went on Sunday so I didn’t get to see the train station during the week, but even on Sunday there were people traveling to and from all parts of the country. The Twin Cities Zephyr was always full, and we met people from all over the country and sometimes from Europe.

The year we went in the winter was my favorite. The lights of the city were already coming on when we left. As we went over the Chicago River, we were surrounded by shimmering lights that I thought were like stars on the ground. The sparkling lights went on for miles until the towns were smaller and further apart. When we crossed the rivers all I could see was their dark power. I wanted to stop and try to see more of it. I don’t know why I come here every day. Now, I’m like the train. Or maybe I’m like the cows coming in from the pasture. I wonder what the cows did after I sold them. I use to think they would try to find their way back to our barn. I know the lawyer said it was best. I couldn’t take care of the farm by myself, and the Hoffman twins decided to go to college. Eric an Ethan both ended up going to college in Platteville and then living there. Their folks sold their farm not long after I sold ours. Riverview Ridge and Apple Hollow—that’s what the farms are now. Around here hollows and ridges are everywhere. I live in Apple Hollow. Some of the apple trees that we planted are still growing in the subdivisions. I have two on my lot. I wanted the lot with the pond and the willow trees but the lawyer said the real estate people wanted that part for a larger lot. My lot was free, but they didn’t want me to have the most expensive one. The lawyer didn’t exactly say that, but I understood. Not too far from my pond is a house that looks like the cabin in Snow White. I never thought I could do something like that. The owners aren’t that rich. They taught at Newville High, and now they’re retired. Mrs. Mayer was my German teacher. When they moved out here, she used to talk to me in German, but I didn’t answer her. I remembered German all right, but I just wasn’t talking to anyone. Now she just nods if she sees me in the grocery store or the library. That’s what most people do.

When I went to all the funerals I think some people were annoyed. Of course, in those days some of the funerals were for men who died in Vietnam. Those funerals were different. More crying and more anger—one time a father shouted when they handed him a flag at the cemetery. He didn’t want a flag. I used to go to the cemetery too. I knew some of the men that died in Vietnam. Richard Carlson and Paul Stolen were in my high school class. Dr. Turner used to ask me what I felt when I went to the funerals. I just told her I felt safe. But I really didn’t. I wasn’t sure why I was there. Dr. Turner finally decided I wasn’t going to hurt myself, so Mrs. Showers, my mom’s friend, didn’t have to drive me to her office anymore. She told me what Dr. Turner said. Dr. Turner just told me I didn’t have to come back. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I might have to go to jail if Dr. Turner said the right thing to the police. I never really told her what I was thinking.

Mrs. Showers is dead too. I went to her funeral and I even went to eat in the church basement. I didn’t do that with the other funerals, though. She came to see me all the time. She brought me casseroles and pies, and every year for my birthday she made me a cake and brought me a present. The last time she came I turned forty-nine. She said my mom would have wanted me to have a birthday cake. I suppose so.

I’ve lost track of time a little now. I still go to the train station every day. It’s only a three-mile walk. Some days I stop to buy groceries and go to the pet shop or the library. A woman from the County used to come and visit me. The County or someone sends me money, but she said she could sign me up with a volunteer group to get rides to the grocery store. I could also have meals delivered if I wanted. I like to walk. I can do that for myself. I pay my bills and taxes, and I go to the bank when my check comes.

The days are getting longer and hotter now. I am sure the park is busy. I think the rivers still meet. I haven’t been on the train to see them. I read in the library about the pollution in the rivers. It’s hard for me to think of my rivers being dirty. I can see them being dark at night and rolling over anything that gets in their way. I suppose underneath there are things that one can see. But they are still there. A lot of things are there, even if no one can see them or remember them.

I had a dream last night, but I can’t quite remember it. I remember seeing green and red and a lot of bright lights. The dream woke me up and I could hardly breathe. I thought my heart would stop. I got up and went outside and just listened to the frogs until a raccoon wandered by. It was almost light out, so I put on the radio to listen to the farm report while I made breakfast. I think I’ll try to dream tonight. I wonder if there is anything to take to make you dream.

Isle Royal’s Gift by Rosanne Lindsay

How had I gotten myself into this?

No friends. No cell phone. And I wore bug repellent like bad perfume.

I trudged after my father up a steep ridge on an island in the middle of Lake Superior, a cloud of mosquitoes circling above my head. This was a trip we’d planned years ago and one I’d thought he’d forgotten about. “A father-daughter canoeing adventure,” he’d said. “The Great Outdoors! A National Park.” And there was more. “There are wolves and moose, and best of all, there’s Ryan Island, the largest island in the largest lake in the largest island in the largest freshwater lake in the world!”

I was not impressed. This was his idea of paradise, not mine, at least not anymore. In fact, I’d recently sworn off large bodies of water. I preferred the Great Indoors, complete with fuzzy slippers, screened windows, and chocolate pecan ice cream. Not mountaineering a bug-infested trail going nowhere.

But Mom had said it would be good for me. She said Dad would be horribly disappointed if I didn’t. And I caved.

With his head invisible under the canoe’s hull, Dad balanced the overturned canoe on his shoulders, looking more like a one man-circus act than anything nature would provide. Ridiculous as he looked, I wasn’t about to crack a joke. Not when my load was so much lighter with life jackets and paddles. Besides, there were plenty of other things to distract me – my pounding heart, my dry mouth. No soda machines, anywhere.  

“How much farther?” I asked, letting the silky contents of my water bottle flow to the depths of my throat.

Dad set the canoe’s tip in the wedge of a tree and pulled out the map from under his hat. “We’re about two-thirds of the way,” he said.  His gray t-shirt was stained under his arms and down his back. Beads of sweat seeped from his forehead. 

“Well that’s a relief,” I sighed. “After all, this is supposed to be a canoe trip.”

“Why don’t we rest a while,” Dad said.  “We’ll still need to go back for our backpacks.”  

“The packs,” I groaned.  Just my luck, we’d be hiking this trail twice more.

We left the canoe and the paddles near the rocky shore, and walked back for the packs. I leaned forward now, digging my toes into the ground to keep from slipping. At least the mosquitoes had disappeared. But tiny gnats had taken their place, and waving my hands at a flying black cloud didn’t seem to make a difference. I opted to cut out ninety percent of my view and pulled my hat down over my face.

“Melanie, look!” Dad called. “An eagle.” 

I looked up and a spasm of pain gripped my neck. “Ah!”

“Majestic, eh?” Dad asked.

This Isle Royale was becoming a Royale pain in my neck. I hoisted my pack higher to balance a week’s worth of supplies and tried not to think about my aching calf muscles as we trekked through mud, negotiated roots and dodged brambles.

By the time we reached the canoe, my heels pulsed with a matching pair of blisters carved out by my new hiking boots, and my foot ached from a small stone that had found its way into the bottom of my right boot.

“Welcome to Duncan Bay.” Dad swigged his water bottle as I emptied the treasure out of my boot. I scanned the quiet birch-lined inlet that rippled from a lone duck paddling to its breakfast of skating water bugs.

“It’s beautiful.” I peered into the shallow water and saw myself ripple in the sun’s reflection. Not all water painted such a tranquil picture and I swallowed hard to contain the memory that threatened to bubble its way into my head.

“Time to get back in the boat,” he said as if he’d read my mind. Had he known I was calculating the time and distance back to trail head?

How hard could this be? It had been three years since the incident with the kayak. And this was a sturdy canoe. I could do this.  Maybe if I focused on something practical, like counting out our forward progress. We loaded the canoe with the packs and put in. My heart fluttered as I cut the surface in exactly eleven, long, butter-smooth strokes. I exhaled a sigh of release and rolled my neck. 

We landed on a small flat, barrier island, a mere steppingstone among landmasses, and walked along its soft dirt path.  I marked out seventeen footsteps before Lake Superior’s vast indigo chasm opened before me.

“You’re looking at Five Finger Bay!” Dad removed his hat and let the wind play in his sandy-grey hair.

The bay stretched out like a hand, long U-shaped channels studded with small islands. The fresh scent of pine mixed with stale fish made my stomach reel.

“Mel?”

Breathe. I can do this, I told myself as my stomach tied itself into knots.

“Care for one of my PB and honey creations?” He held out a wrapped sandwich.

I shook my head. How could I eat? I couldn’t move. I hardly noticed when Dad slipped the backpack off my shoulder and handed me a canoe paddle.

I felt my fingers grip the wooden throat of my paddle as I watched the water caress the tips of my boots with its frothy fingers. A chill ran clear through me even as the heat of the July sun dribbled down my back.

“Look at those whitecaps!” Dad called above the wind. “Superior doesn’t disappoint.” He stood facing into the wind, breathing it in. The wind lifted the waves into peaks until their tops folded over into white foam. Sky melted into lake creating an illusion of endless blue.  His eyes were transfixed, like he would walk straight into the water without another word.   

“But Dad –” I looked up and down the rocky shoreline. “Have you noticed this is not at all like Duncan Bay?”

“Duncan Bay was just a warm-up. A puddle among lakes.”  He loaded my pack into the canoe. “Nature has a plan. Start slow. Finish big.”

Goosebumps spread along my arms. I squinted into the sun-drenched watery landscape, shielding my eyes with my hand and squeaked my question. “Do you have a plan?” 

“Sure I do.” Dad handed me his binoculars. His white shirt billowed like gills under his life jacket. “Take a look at our future.”

My hands trembled as I focused through the double lenses of his crystal ball.

“See the island in the distance?” he asked. “First stop on our five-day paddle.” Hues of blue spread out to infinity. Small mounds on the horizon rose up like blisters. “What do you think? Is it everything I promised it would be?”

My gaze shifted lower toward the lifting waves as they peaked and folded over themselves. Fear lodged in my throat. How could he be so excited?

I swallowed, handing him back his viewfinder. “Dad, can we ‘start slow’ somewhere else?” I gathered the collar of my jacket to my neck.

He placed a steady hand on my shoulder. “You can do this,” he said. “Besides, you don’t really want to carry all of this back to Rock Harbor, do you?”

I glanced at the fifty pounds of camp gear secure in its seaweed green, water resistant Duluth Packs and tried not to think about all the wet, drenching reasons we packed our socks, underwear, extra clothes, and toilet paper in their own plastic zip lock bags. “Yes. Yes I do.” 

“Mel, each challenge has a reward waiting at the end. I’ve got your back.” He winked then turned his gaze back to the Great Lake.

I should have gone to ballet camp like I’d planned. I could handle Swan Lake.

Dad crouched down to brush the lake with his fingers. I shuddered again, sensing the chill of the cold-blooded water that never went above fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  So much water and I couldn’t swim in it. I couldn’t even drink from it unless I filtered every drop, thanks to the tapeworms and a microscopic bug called Crypto-spor-i-di-um, one of those words that just rolls off the tongue.  The little microbe was as common here as a moose’s behind, since that is where it came from. I’d looked it up.

“Look here! Greenstone!” He called, marveling at something in his hand. “I used to collect these when I was a kid. They’re found only on the island.”  He stretched his arm out to me. “This mosaic pattern’s called turtleback.” 

I stepped closer. A green and black-speckled pebble perched in his palm.

“It’s like green gold. Here, take it.” He held out the stone like a peace offering. Child-like eyes looked up to me. “Take it.”

I took it and slipped it in my front right pocket because I didn’t know what else to do. Was it supposed to bring me luck? Stop my racing heart? Maybe I’d need it as I launched myself in a canoe over the same water that sunk the Edmond Fitzgerald.

We carried the canoe to the water and I stepped into its silver belly, dry-booted, and took my seat at the bow. Dad waded in before he shoved us off.  Within seconds, the wind was tossing waves against the front of the canoe. We bobbed like driftwood.

“Watch the rocks to your right up ahead,” he called.

I leaned forward and saw only black ripples. “What rocks?”

“To the right.” The sound of scraping metal grated under my feet.

I couldn’t see them to count them.

The dark surface jumped and swirled in tiny cyclones around invisible barricades buried below. Another rock hit the bow and screeched along the bottom. Why did he bring me here? What was he thinking?

“Paddle, Mel. Short strokes. Watch the keel! We don’t want to get stuck out here!” The edge in his voice grated harder than the rocks. I remembered “stuck” from the last trip.

“I’m trying!” The canoe bucked and jerked from side to side as we reared up again and again. The motion threw me off balance. We tipped ninety degrees to the right as the canoe lodged up on a jagged rock.

“Whoa!” I dropped the paddle in the canoe in back of me and braced myself against the gunwale, arms stiff to keep from falling forward.

“Easy!” Dad called. “We’re broaching. Push off.”

“I can’t!” My jaw locked. Tears blurred my vision. Memories flooded back, three years ago in the kayak, flipped over, looking at the rocky bottom. Bubbles floated from my mouth carrying my call for help in perfect spheres toward the surface. Would they break open and be heard or be carried away with the current?

“Grab your paddle, Mel.”

I held my breath, ready for the smack of water that would swell up, flip me, and hold me in a place where time slowed down to molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

The shrill cry of a seagull pierced the air. I scrambled for the paddle near my foot. The paddle shifted and jammed my thumb. By feel, I grabbed the small end and swung it out.

“Good! Now push off,” he ordered.

“You didn’t warn me about this!” I leaned into the paddle, pushing at the water that rushed in from all sides.  The wind picked up the top of a wave and slapped it onto my face. I gasped. The fresh water spray mixed with my salt water tears.

Twisting my body, I pushed my paddle using both hands with a force that welled up from deep inside. We couldn’t tip. I kept hearing the ranger’s words in my head. He’d warned us to stay close to shore and cross open water quickly.  If we capsized, we could freeze to death. No one would find us for days. Mom wouldn’t even know we’d gone down.

Suddenly, the canoe flopped back into the water. We’d cleared the rocks. But the waves reached up higher now and we bobbed on the water, the bow of the canoe hitting the surface in small slaps. I paddled hard with short strokes, felt the muscles in my neck and arms grip with each pull as I pulled toward dry land.  How many strokes would pull me past the memories that floated just below the surface?

“Keep paddling!” Dad called. “Eddy right, eddy right!”

Eddy what? My arms burned with spasms. I tried to ignore my hands, frozen from the icy water, and think of something else, anything else. But the water had finally pushed its way past the locks of my mind and I was back at Green Lake, hanging upside down in my kayak, listening to the drumming in my ribs as I pushed against a force that slowed my arms and numbed my mind. So calm was the water, so reassuring. No sound, no pain, only a silky hand opening my mouth, flowing into my lungs, dampening my senses. Then a sudden gasp of blue sky had come into focus next to the blue of Dad’s eyes looking into mine.

A seagull’s cry brought me back to the island and dad. We’d come midway across Five Finger Bay, counting halfway to nowhere, on a lake that called itself Superior.

A gust of wind brought Dad’s voice to me. He was singing. “Dip, dip and swing and back.”  Words I’d heard the first time he’d taught me to canoe. “Flashing like silver.”  Crazy as it was, I felt my muscles loosen. “Swift as the wild goose flies.” J- stroke to the rhythm. “Dip, dip and swing.”  He sang it over and over.

I looked up from the flashing silver tip of our canoe. The waves had melted with the wind. So had my breathing and the drumming in my ribs. The sun’s rays touched me through my jacket as I rested my paddle still across my lap. The smell of kelp drifted in the air and I closed my eyes.

“Nice work. You got us through. And those were some fierce winds. I’m proud of you,” he said.

A cackle rang out from above. I looked up. The seagull still followed, the sun shining translucent through its wings, like a white kite giving into the wind.

“It’s your call, Mel. Should we turn around and head back home to Wisconsin early or on to Pickerel Cove, our first campsite?”

A pair of loons crossed the bay with their puffball babies by their sides. A mama merganser paddled past giving her babies a ride on her back. Two blue herons flew overhead.

And there was Dad and me. Floating on this moving stage. The next act was up to me. 

I thought about the blisters on my heels, the taunting seagull, and that small greenstone, safe in my pocket.

“I don’t suppose we can call for helicopter pick up,” I said, recalling the killer mountain portage.

He shook his head. “No cell phone.”

I wrapped my fingers around the paddle’s throat, the curve of the wood fitting snugly into the palm of my hand. “I’m not going to bail on you now, Dad. We haven’t seen any wolves, or moose yet, or that Ryan Island.” “Besides, what about nature’s plan? Start slow, finish big?”

Dad smiled wide and I saw myself smiling back in the reflection of his sunglasses. He looked skyward. “Speaking of big –” Charcoal, flat-bottomed cloud-mountains blew overhead out of nowhere. “Storm’s coming. Keep your eyes open for a place to land.” 

The wind shifted. A streak of light opened the sky. White caps chased past us across the lake, rising higher on the gunwale. The spray from my paddle wet my jeans. I tried not to look down at the white tipped fingers reaching up to grab me. The heavy air smelled moist. But the small isthmus lay not too far off, straight ahead. I gathered my frayed nerves and wrung them out.

“Dad, over by the rocks, we can land there.” A patch of pink Lady Slippers stood out like safety flags against the rocky background of the shore. I pulled the water hard against the back of the paddle, forgetting to count.  Dad’s motions matched mine, and we shot forward toward land.

How had I gotten myself into this?

No friends. No cell phone. And I wore bug repellent like bad perfume.

I trudged after my father up a steep ridge on an island in the middle of Lake Superior, a cloud of mosquitoes circling above my head. This was a trip we’d planned years ago and one I’d thought he’d forgotten about. “A father-daughter canoeing adventure,” he’d said. “The Great Outdoors! A National Park.” And there was more. “There are wolves and moose, and best of all, there’s Ryan Island, the largest island in the largest lake in the largest island in the largest freshwater lake in the world!”

I was not impressed. This was his idea of paradise, not mine, at least not anymore. In fact, I’d recently sworn off large bodies of water. I preferred the Great Indoors, complete with fuzzy slippers, screened windows, and chocolate pecan ice cream. Not mountaineering a bug-infested trail going nowhere.

But Mom had said it would be good for me. She said Dad would be horribly disappointed if I didn’t. And I caved.

With his head invisible under the canoe’s hull, Dad balanced the overturned canoe on his shoulders, looking more like a one man-circus act than anything nature would provide. Ridiculous as he looked, I wasn’t about to crack a joke. Not when my load was so much lighter with life jackets and paddles. Besides, there were plenty of other things to distract me – my pounding heart, my dry mouth. No soda machines, anywhere.  

“How much farther?” I asked, letting the silky contents of my water bottle flow to the depths of my throat.

Dad set the canoe’s tip in the wedge of a tree and pulled out the map from under his hat. “We’re about two-thirds of the way,” he said.  His gray t-shirt was stained under his arms and down his back. Beads of sweat seeped from his forehead. 

“Well that’s a relief,” I sighed. “After all, this is supposed to be a canoe trip.”

“Why don’t we rest a while,” Dad said.  “We’ll still need to go back for our backpacks.”  

“The packs,” I groaned.  Just my luck, we’d be hiking this trail twice more.

We left the canoe and the paddles near the rocky shore, and walked back for the packs. I leaned forward now, digging my toes into the ground to keep from slipping. At least the mosquitoes had disappeared. But tiny gnats had taken their place, and waving my hands at a flying black cloud didn’t seem to make a difference. I opted to cut out ninety percent of my view and pulled my hat down over my face.

“Melanie, look!” Dad called. “An eagle.” 

I looked up and a spasm of pain gripped my neck. “Ah!”

“Majestic, eh?” Dad asked.

This Isle Royale was becoming a Royale pain in my neck. I hoisted my pack higher to balance a week’s worth of supplies and tried not to think about my aching calf muscles as we trekked through mud, negotiated roots and dodged brambles.

By the time we reached the canoe, my heels pulsed with a matching pair of blisters carved out by my new hiking boots, and my foot ached from a small stone that had found its way into the bottom of my right boot.

“Welcome to Duncan Bay.” Dad swigged his water bottle as I emptied the treasure out of my boot. I scanned the quiet birch-lined inlet that rippled from a lone duck paddling to its breakfast of skating water bugs.

“It’s beautiful.” I peered into the shallow water and saw myself ripple in the sun’s reflection. Not all water painted such a tranquil picture and I swallowed hard to contain the memory that threatened to bubble its way into my head.

“Time to get back in the boat,” he said as if he’d read my mind. Had he known I was calculating the time and distance back to trail head?

How hard could this be? It had been three years since the incident with the kayak. And this was a sturdy canoe. I could do this.  Maybe if I focused on something practical, like counting out our forward progress. We loaded the canoe with the packs and put in. My heart fluttered as I cut the surface in exactly eleven, long, butter-smooth strokes. I exhaled a sigh of release and rolled my neck. 

We landed on a small flat, barrier island, a mere steppingstone among landmasses, and walked along its soft dirt path.  I marked out seventeen footsteps before Lake Superior’s vast indigo chasm opened before me.

“You’re looking at Five Finger Bay!” Dad removed his hat and let the wind play in his sandy-grey hair.

The bay stretched out like a hand, long U-shaped channels studded with small islands. The fresh scent of pine mixed with stale fish made my stomach reel.

“Mel?”

Breathe. I can do this, I told myself as my stomach tied itself into knots.

“Care for one of my PB and honey creations?” He held out a wrapped sandwich.

I shook my head. How could I eat? I couldn’t move. I hardly noticed when Dad slipped the backpack off my shoulder and handed me a canoe paddle.

I felt my fingers grip the wooden throat of my paddle as I watched the water caress the tips of my boots with its frothy fingers. A chill ran clear through me even as the heat of the July sun dribbled down my back.

“Look at those whitecaps!” Dad called above the wind. “Superior doesn’t disappoint.” He stood facing into the wind, breathing it in. The wind lifted the waves into peaks until their tops folded over into white foam. Sky melted into lake creating an illusion of endless blue.  His eyes were transfixed, like he would walk straight into the water without another word.   

“But Dad –” I looked up and down the rocky shoreline. “Have you noticed this is not at all like Duncan Bay?”

“Duncan Bay was just a warm-up. A puddle among lakes.”  He loaded my pack into the canoe. “Nature has a plan. Start slow. Finish big.”

Goosebumps spread along my arms. I squinted into the sun-drenched watery landscape, shielding my eyes with my hand and squeaked my question. “Do you have a plan?” 

“Sure I do.” Dad handed me his binoculars. His white shirt billowed like gills under his life jacket. “Take a look at our future.”

My hands trembled as I focused through the double lenses of his crystal ball.

“See the island in the distance?” he asked. “First stop on our five-day paddle.” Hues of blue spread out to infinity. Small mounds on the horizon rose up like blisters. “What do you think? Is it everything I promised it would be?”

My gaze shifted lower toward the lifting waves as they peaked and folded over themselves. Fear lodged in my throat. How could he be so excited?

I swallowed, handing him back his viewfinder. “Dad, can we ‘start slow’ somewhere else?” I gathered the collar of my jacket to my neck.

He placed a steady hand on my shoulder. “You can do this,” he said. “Besides, you don’t really want to carry all of this back to Rock Harbor, do you?”

I glanced at the fifty pounds of camp gear secure in its seaweed green, water resistant Duluth Packs and tried not to think about all the wet, drenching reasons we packed our socks, underwear, extra clothes, and toilet paper in their own plastic zip lock bags. “Yes. Yes I do.” 

“Mel, each challenge has a reward waiting at the end. I’ve got your back.” He winked then turned his gaze back to the Great Lake.

I should have gone to ballet camp like I’d planned. I could handle Swan Lake.

Dad crouched down to brush the lake with his fingers. I shuddered again, sensing the chill of the cold-blooded water that never went above fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  So much water and I couldn’t swim in it. I couldn’t even drink from it unless I filtered every drop, thanks to the tapeworms and a microscopic bug called Crypto-spor-i-di-um, one of those words that just rolls off the tongue.  The little microbe was as common here as a moose’s behind, since that is where it came from. I’d looked it up.

“Look here! Greenstone!” He called, marveling at something in his hand. “I used to collect these when I was a kid. They’re found only on the island.”  He stretched his arm out to me. “This mosaic pattern’s called turtleback.” 

I stepped closer. A green and black-speckled pebble perched in his palm.

“It’s like green gold. Here, take it.” He held out the stone like a peace offering. Child-like eyes looked up to me. “Take it.”

I took it and slipped it in my front right pocket because I didn’t know what else to do. Was it supposed to bring me luck? Stop my racing heart? Maybe I’d need it as I launched myself in a canoe over the same water that sunk the Edmond Fitzgerald.

We carried the canoe to the water and I stepped into its silver belly, dry-booted, and took my seat at the bow. Dad waded in before he shoved us off.  Within seconds, the wind was tossing waves against the front of the canoe. We bobbed like driftwood.

“Watch the rocks to your right up ahead,” he called.

I leaned forward and saw only black ripples. “What rocks?”

“To the right.” The sound of scraping metal grated under my feet.

I couldn’t see them to count them.

The dark surface jumped and swirled in tiny cyclones around invisible barricades buried below. Another rock hit the bow and screeched along the bottom. Why did he bring me here? What was he thinking?

“Paddle, Mel. Short strokes. Watch the keel! We don’t want to get stuck out here!” The edge in his voice grated harder than the rocks. I remembered “stuck” from the last trip.

“I’m trying!” The canoe bucked and jerked from side to side as we reared up again and again. The motion threw me off balance. We tipped ninety degrees to the right as the canoe lodged up on a jagged rock.

“Whoa!” I dropped the paddle in the canoe in back of me and braced myself against the gunwale, arms stiff to keep from falling forward.

“Easy!” Dad called. “We’re broaching. Push off.”

“I can’t!” My jaw locked. Tears blurred my vision. Memories flooded back, three years ago in the kayak, flipped over, looking at the rocky bottom. Bubbles floated from my mouth carrying my call for help in perfect spheres toward the surface. Would they break open and be heard or be carried away with the current?

“Grab your paddle, Mel.”

I held my breath, ready for the smack of water that would swell up, flip me, and hold me in a place where time slowed down to molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

The shrill cry of a seagull pierced the air. I scrambled for the paddle near my foot. The paddle shifted and jammed my thumb. By feel, I grabbed the small end and swung it out.

“Good! Now push off,” he ordered.

“You didn’t warn me about this!” I leaned into the paddle, pushing at the water that rushed in from all sides.  The wind picked up the top of a wave and slapped it onto my face. I gasped. The fresh water spray mixed with my salt water tears.

Twisting my body, I pushed my paddle using both hands with a force that welled up from deep inside. We couldn’t tip. I kept hearing the ranger’s words in my head. He’d warned us to stay close to shore and cross open water quickly.  If we capsized, we could freeze to death. No one would find us for days. Mom wouldn’t even know we’d gone down.

Suddenly, the canoe flopped back into the water. We’d cleared the rocks. But the waves reached up higher now and we bobbed on the water, the bow of the canoe hitting the surface in small slaps. I paddled hard with short strokes, felt the muscles in my neck and arms grip with each pull as I pulled toward dry land.  How many strokes would pull me past the memories that floated just below the surface?

“Keep paddling!” Dad called. “Eddy right, eddy right!”

Eddy what? My arms burned with spasms. I tried to ignore my hands, frozen from the icy water, and think of something else, anything else. But the water had finally pushed its way past the locks of my mind and I was back at Green Lake, hanging upside down in my kayak, listening to the drumming in my ribs as I pushed against a force that slowed my arms and numbed my mind. So calm was the water, so reassuring. No sound, no pain, only a silky hand opening my mouth, flowing into my lungs, dampening my senses. Then a sudden gasp of blue sky had come into focus next to the blue of Dad’s eyes looking into mine.

A seagull’s cry brought me back to the island and dad. We’d come midway across Five Finger Bay, counting halfway to nowhere, on a lake that called itself Superior.

A gust of wind brought Dad’s voice to me. He was singing. “Dip, dip and swing and back.”  Words I’d heard the first time he’d taught me to canoe. “Flashing like silver.”  Crazy as it was, I felt my muscles loosen. “Swift as the wild goose flies.” J- stroke to the rhythm. “Dip, dip and swing.”  He sang it over and over.

I looked up from the flashing silver tip of our canoe. The waves had melted with the wind. So had my breathing and the drumming in my ribs. The sun’s rays touched me through my jacket as I rested my paddle still across my lap. The smell of kelp drifted in the air and I closed my eyes.

“Nice work. You got us through. And those were some fierce winds. I’m proud of you,” he said.

A cackle rang out from above. I looked up. The seagull still followed, the sun shining translucent through its wings, like a white kite giving into the wind.

“It’s your call, Mel. Should we turn around and head back home to Wisconsin early or on to Pickerel Cove, our first campsite?”

A pair of loons crossed the bay with their puffball babies by their sides. A mama merganser paddled past giving her babies a ride on her back. Two blue herons flew overhead.

And there was Dad and me. Floating on this moving stage. The next act was up to me. 

I thought about the blisters on my heels, the taunting seagull, and that small greenstone, safe in my pocket.

“I don’t suppose we can call for helicopter pick up,” I said, recalling the killer mountain portage.

He shook his head. “No cell phone.”

I wrapped my fingers around the paddle’s throat, the curve of the wood fitting snugly into the palm of my hand. “I’m not going to bail on you now, Dad. We haven’t seen any wolves, or moose yet, or that Ryan Island.” “Besides, what about nature’s plan? Start slow, finish big?”

Dad smiled wide and I saw myself smiling back in the reflection of his sunglasses. He looked skyward. “Speaking of big –” Charcoal, flat-bottomed cloud-mountains blew overhead out of nowhere. “Storm’s coming. Keep your eyes open for a place to land.” 

The wind shifted. A streak of light opened the sky. White caps chased past us across the lake, rising higher on the gunwale. The spray from my paddle wet my jeans. I tried not to look down at the white tipped fingers reaching up to grab me. The heavy air smelled moist. But the small isthmus lay not too far off, straight ahead. I gathered my frayed nerves and wrung them out.

“Dad, over by the rocks, we can land there.” A patch of pink Lady Slippers stood out like safety flags against the rocky background of the shore. I pulled the water hard against the back of the paddle, forgetting to count.  Dad’s motions matched mine, and we shot forward toward land.

BIOGRAPHY:

Rosanne Lindsay is a writer of children’s fiction, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and an environmentalist, working to protect fragile wetlands near her home in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. She and her husband recently introduced their three children to the beauty of Isle Royale National Park to experience nature on nature’s terms.

Stand Alone (Chapter 14) by Blair Beacom Deets

Chapter 14

We are, each of us, our own prisoner. We are locked up in our own story. Maxine Kumin

Andrea turned and walked out the door. Crom was securely attached to her shoulder, and somehow she felt she was leaving a little more of her childhood behind. She crossed the road and entered the woods. It was early, only a little past sunrise, and the sky was still pink with the first light of morning. The early morning held a special silence Andrea liked, though she did not like getting up to experience it. And a fresh woodsy smell filled the air since the sun had not yet dried the dew from the ferns and wild flowers that drooped a little from the moisture. Then abruptly the zee-zee-zee of the tree pipits broke the silence and a fluttering of wings in a nearby elm tree caught her eye, and she smiled at their exuberance. Following the path, she ducked beneath a low branch; she had no desire to get wet from the slapping of damp leaves.

She listened to the high sharp chips of the finches and the song of the linnets. And then without any warning, a redstart flew across the path and landed in the branches of a white pine. It tilted its black whiskered head to one side and sang a series of high notes and ended on one low note like a piano concerto.

“Have you come to send me off today?” Andrea asked the bird because she was beginning to feel a little better after having left her aunt and her better judgment behind her.

The redstart did not feel inclined to answer, so she continued down the hill gazing out over the treetops. No fog hung over the valley today. It must be the weather is too warm, she thought. When she reached the bottom of the hill, she headed for the meadow. Then unexpectedly some large white goats crossed through the hedge where she and Aunt Louisa had, the first time they had taken a walk together, and the first goat turned to the one behind it and said, “Life couldn’t be duller, could it?”

“I wonder how much longer we’re going to have to keep up this masquerade,” said the other one. “You would think that six hundred years would be enough punishment.”

Andrea stopped abruptly on the path. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Strange things had happened to her since she had come to Aunt Louisa’s, but this topped the list. No witches were around to cause bizarre happenings, except for Andrea herself. And nothing about the goats seemed to be enchanted, and yet the goats were talking! She had not imagined it. They had spoken as plainly as she could. They had not seen her approaching, and now had turned to the hedgerow and were munching on the hawthorn leaves.

“Excuse me,” said Andrea politely as she approached them. “Would you mind very much saying a few more words? I wouldn’t like to think I’m getting balmy in the head.”

The two goats stopped munching and looked first at each other and then at Crom and Andrea. Then they went back to munching the hedge as though she and Crom simply weren’t there.

“I can understand why you wouldn’t want anyone to know you can talk. It might prove to be bloody uncomfortable with the newspapers and the telly and all, but I might be able to help you,” said Andrea, coming around so she could look at them as they munched.

They stopped munching and looked at each other again, and this time there was a spark of intelligence in their eyes. For a moment, she thought the two of them were going to laugh. She had no solid evidence to prove they wanted to laugh at her, but she could feel their amusement and it made her mad.

“Look here you two, I’m a witch. And witches can do things no one else can. And I resent you even thinking about laughing at me!” she snapped at them.

“They certainly can do things! Like put a hex on people that lasts for centuries, even into their offspring!” said the first goat disgustedly.

“We know what witches are good for. Good for nothing,” said the second goat.

“Not so fast!” Andrea said. “There are good witches and there are bad witches, just like there are good people and bad people. I happen to be a good witch.”

“No such thing,” said the second goat suspiciously, giving her the once over with his eyes. “Besides you don’t look like a witch to me. You look like a little girl with an ugly bird on her shoulder.”

“Watch your mouth, you bearded fool,” screeched Crom, ruffling his feathers up trying to look ferocious.

“Tell me who has done this to you, and I will do what I can to break this enchantment,” said Andrea, wanting to help if she could.

“Valeska, the witch of Kent, she was the mother to King Richard the II. Our forefathers were nobles that made fun of the young king, and she put a spell on them that has lasted all these years. Once in our lives, we change into human form, so we can mate with a human. She has a human child, but after a year the child changes into a goat and joins us here in the woods and meadows. I don’t think there’s anything you can do, unless you can go back six hundred years and find out the original hex she put on us,” then the first goat laughed in an entirely human way and nudged his friend with his head.

“Not likely,” said the second goat sourly. “And not funny either,” he said looking at the first goat in reprimand. “I don’t like having the mind of a human, and the form of a goat. I don’t appreciate having urges to eat old boots. I would like to listen to fine music and learn to play the harpsichord.”

Then it was Andrea’s turn to laugh because a picture of the goat playing the harpsichord popped into her head, and the thought of it was so comical she couldn’t help herself. Crom joined in her laughter with a descending caw of a very robust nature. After all, he was getting back a little of his own.

“And just what’s so funny?” asked the second goat, more than a little annoyed.

“I’m sorry,” Andrea answered, gasping for breath after recovering from her fit of laughter. “It’s just the thought of you playing the harpsichord in your present form popped into my head, and I just couldn’t keep a straight face,” finished Andrea.

“Bernard has very finely-tuned sensibilities. You must be careful of offending him,” said the first goat. “By the way, I am Lucius. You might call me the leader, educator, and,” then he cleared his throat as though he were preparing them for the most important part of all, “philosopher of our herd. I am a great admirer of Plato. I find him to be very enlightening. Have you read his works?” asked Lucius.

“Not yet,” said Andrea, “But I certainly intend to in the near future. But about your problem, I am able to travel through time, although I don’t know how accurate I can be as to the proper year. But I certainly will give it my very best try if you will give me the year your ancestors were first enchanted.”

“The year was 1381, right before the Peasant’s revolt. Richard was fourteen at the time, and his mother, technically named Joan of Kent was very much in control of him and had a great deal of power in court. His three uncles, the Lord Magnates, also had a lot of influence. It’s no wonder he was a bit ill tempered when everyone was trying to control him. It’s a shame Richard’s father, the Black Prince, did not become King. He would have been a better ruler than his son, and all the bickering would not have happened,” said Lucius, as any scholar of history might have presented the information.

“I wouldn’t call that impulsive, vengeful little brat a bit ill-tempered,” said Bernard distastefully. “His mother made a sniveling little wimp out of him.”

“He may have been impulsive and vengeful, but he was not a wimp. He was sensitive, and intelligent, and many of the nobles and knights were quite crude according to today’s standards. And at times he acted very bravely, when his life could very easily have been on the line,” said Lucius, refuting the simple argument.

“But motivation, my dear Lucius, what motivated his bravery? Were there worthy causes inducing him to act in that manner? Hardly. Power, vengeance, and his own position were all that mattered to him,” said Bernard.

“He had to protect the throne. Little good he could do if he lost it to all the vultures who would have it for themselves or for their sons,” said Lucius a bit self-righteously.

“How will I know Valeska when I meet her?” asked Andrea, anxious to be on her way.

“Just seek the young king, she will be close by. And you should be able to smell a prodigious odor of evil if you are the good witch you claim to be. But be careful, she is very powerful,” said Bernard.

“Don’t risk your life,” said Lucius. “We don’t want to be worrying about you and feeling guilty.”

“I’ll be careful,” said Andrea, and she crossed through the hedge where the goats had come through and entered the meadow.

Somehow she felt a real nervousness now after having talked to the Bagot goats. Before, she had been only a slight bit uneasy. Perhaps it was talking about people who existed six hundred years ago as though they still existed today that gave her this queasiness in the pit of her stomach. But, she was no less determined to go than she had been before.

“What do you think, Crom? Am I ready for this or not?” Andrea asked her friend.

“Time is not! Cast your lot! You will find what is sought!” screeched the bird growing bigger every day, and no wonder when he was always eating people food.

“Sooner or later, anyway, I don’t have a guide this time, Crom. You are going to have to help me,” said Andrea, who now stood in the field of thyme she and Aunt Louisa had gathered from only a few weeks before.

She closed her eyes, and the smell of the dull green plant with the little lavender flowers rose to greet her. The sun was now higher in the sky, and the

dew was heating in the warm rays and dissipating into the air as a humid pungent smell. She could hear the buzz of the bees, and the highflying song of the lark. She tried not to think about the bees, and concentrated, listening for the minute sound and smell of greenness and growth, the living sense of floating insects too small to be seen unless by some odd coincidence they landed with their tiny sheer wings on the white sleeve of your blouse. She began to feel and hear the pulse of life, the wonder of warmth, and the contentment of a gentle surface wind lifted her hair and caused the whispering of the grass and the hawthorn leaves. Then in a rush, she felt that tremendous pull of gravity and force, soundless like being sucked into a black void where sound could not exist since the speed moved beyond and above the speed of light into the energy that could transform her into the energy it was. She was concentrating on 1381, but her mind somehow found itself on the Black Prince. He would have been a good king, Lucius had said. What had happened to him?

Then she hit ground hard, the force causing her knees to collapse so her tailbone felt numb on contact.

“Geez Crom, I’m going to have to work on these landings. I could really hurt myself,” Andrea said, as she stood up and started brushing off her denims. Then she realized a crowd of men in leggings and broadcloth stood in a circle around her. Most of them were crossing themselves and muttering beneath their breath. But one man approached her with an enormous long-bladed knife. He was not much taller than she was, but broad and muscled, and red-haired.

“Utter one word, and your neck is slit,” he growled, his broad red face was fierce with sunburn and gritty with feeling.

She decided against trying to explain and allowed him to grab her by the arm and drag her off to a large tent that stood nearby. Two guards in mail stood with spears guarding the door of the tent. They allowed the red-haired man to pass, but muttered to themselves as she passed. Inside one man sat at a table, his hair was blonde and long, cut in a blunt way and worn straight back from his face. He had a short beard with a point at its end and a mustache that hung down by the sides of his mouth. But most striking of all was the intensity of his eyes, they were dark blue, and it seemed to Andrea they emitted a light like the blue at the fire’s center. He had on a white shirt open at the neck and sleeves that were full enough for comfort. His face was tanned from the outdoors to a golden shade.

“It’s a witch, your highness,” said the red-faced man as he pulled her up to the table in front of the man. “We saw her come out of thin air. Nothin a’tall, and suddenly there she is, and strange-lookin’ clothes, and the creature on her shoulder. Do you want that I should burn her? It’s a nasty sign of sorts with all we got to deal with,” and he glared at Andrea, but she stared at him without flinching even though her insides were just so much custard.

“Leave her Caddock, I will deal with her,” said the man. “And thank you.”

“But she’s a witch this one …” he said trailing off a bit at the end.

“So you said, and I will handle it,” this time the man answered tiredly, waving the other out the door with his hand.

“What’s your name child?” the man asked her.

“Andrea, and this is my friend Crom,” she said as bravely as she could under the circumstances.

“What is this I hear that you appeared out of thin air?” asked the man, with what appeared to be a small bit of amusement around his eyes.

“Are you going to have me burned?” she blurted out, since she didn’t think she could stand there and make conversation with that on her mind.

“I hadn’t planned on it,” he said mildly. “You look harmless enough to me.”

“You see, I came looking for a woman called Valeska, because I want to break an awful spell she put on some friends of mine, but I can’t break the spell until I know what the spell was in the first place. It’s like a person cannot find the cure until she knows the cause of the sickness,” said Andrea all in a rush.

“And this Valeska is a witch?” he said with the amusement more evident in his face this time.

“Of course she’s a witch, and a very wicked one at that. But I am a good witch. I have taken an oath to try to protect the good in the universe, and I take my oaths very seriously,” said Andrea, as she touched the ruff of feather on Crom’s head for moral support, since her knees were shaking.

The small smile on the man’s face faded, and a tiredness about his eyes appeared at the same time. “I take my oaths very seriously too, child. Perhaps we have something in common. But I do not believe in witches, I am an educated man. I am not a peasant brought up with superstitions born of ignorance.  Good and evil exist in the world, but witchcraft is not the cause of either,” he said dryly.

“You are quite right, sir,” said Andrea. “ Good and evil have nothing to do with witchcraft. It has to do with the people who use witchcraft. Power is a great responsibility my Aunt Louisa tells me. She told me an old Chinese proverb once. It’s like a Confucius say,” then she giggled a little at her own joke, but the man in front of her stared at her intently. “Anyway she told me that ‘If the wrong person uses the right means, the right means works in the wrong way.’ It’s the people who make the difference; what’s inside, and how the person wishes to use the power she possesses.”

“Your aunt is very wise. I am surprised she would let you talk all this nonsense about being a witch,” he said sternly.

“Oh but, sir, she is a witch, a witch who practices the healing art. She did not want me to come here. She thought a witch as young as I am might make some major blunders. And it looks like I have done that already,” she said, switching her weight from one foot to the other in her embarrassment.

“Let’s say for the sake of argument I believe you are a witch. Can you explain how it is you got here, besides mass hypnotizing my men, which is what I thought perhaps you had done? And of course, that would be a logical, if farfetched, explanation,” said the man, drawing his eyebrows together so he looked very stern.

Andrea looked at her feet, and then at the man. She thought she might get herself into real trouble if she started talking about astral travel through time. But she also did not feel she could lie to this man. Something about him demanded the truth.

“Water can take many forms, can’t it?” she asked the man.

“Steam, liquid, and solid; what does that have to do with what some of my men claimed happened?” he asked her.

“If this substance of water can be in three different forms, and yet still be the same substance, doesn’t it stand to reason a person might use energy to change the form her body is in, and yet have it still be the same substance?” she asked him.

“And you claim that you can make your body change form through using energy? Where does the energy come from?” he asked her suspiciously.

“You have seen the lightning in the sky before the storm comes and during the storm. And if you were to put a metal pole in the middle of the field, the lightning that struck nearby would be drawn to the metal pole because metal is a conductor of electricity. And this energy is so strong if you touched that pole the energy would kill you. I am a conductor of sorts because I am a witch. I call the energy into me, and it is drawn into me until it transforms me into energy, which can then be made into substance again as steam can condense and becomes water again if you put it in a jar and cool it,” said Andrea.

“You call lightning into you?” he asked her, disbelief on his face.

“No, but I do call energy into me. Energy can come from many sources, not just from lightning. You can harness water and get energy, or you can get energy from the sun. I am young: I have not learned very much yet. I can’t explain everything I know to be true. But I am not lying to you. I am explaining the only way I know how,” she said apologetically.

He came around the table and sat on the edge of it so he looked straight down into her eyes, “You said lightning is electricity. Is that what you said?”

“Yes, and when it is harnessed properly it is very valuable to humankind,” said Andrea looking him in the eye.

“I do not think you are lying to me, but it could be you are mad and believe you are telling me the truth when you are not,” he said, taking a seal off the table that he used to close his messages with and rolling the handle of it between the palms of his hands.

“Bianca says we are all just a little bit mad. That is how we deal with the brutalities of life,” Andrea said softly.

“And Bianca is?” he asked softly as well.

“Another witch in our coven,” said Andrea.

“How do you know about this electricity?” he asked her, and this time his natural interest in learning had him leaning toward her in a kind of eager anticipation.

“I have the gift of vision,” she said, and though she did not tell him the whole truth, what she said was the truth.

“You can see the future,” he said getting up. “It must be a burden for you.”

“Not yet,” she said, “I am just learning to use it.”

“Perhaps you could tell me something of my future,” he said casually. “It might amuse me, since I am battle weary.”

“Tell me first your name,” said Andrea, because she was a little leery of speaking anything of the future, which might change things through the revelation.

“I am the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cornwall, the King’s eldest son, Edward of Woodstock; a great leader of men, and butcher of peasants led by fools,” he said it with a derision that made Andrea want to defend him and comfort him all at once.

Not knowing what else to do, she bowed to him since she didn’t feel she could curtsy in her denims. “I am honored to meet you, your highness,” she said with awe.

“Careful how you use the word honor, child,” he said darkly. “I have just returned from France where we captured King John and many of the French nobles for ransom and claimed most of France for England. But my belly still rebels at the memory of the French, fools that they are, charging us in full armor, while my longbow archers mow them down like so many cattle at the slaughterhouse. And my nostrils are still full of the smell of blood because my Welshmen pulled the others who somehow escaped the arrows off their horses, stabbing them between the plates with their long knives. Perhaps, I have seen too much war. Perhaps I am only tired. I have always been anxious to begin yet another battle, to take the challenge on, to fight with courage with my faithful knights and advisors, but my taste for slaughter has waned. I can’t understand why the French fight like that. For me, it is too easy. I don’t even have to use my mind. One day, they will change their strategy, and we won’t be prepared for a battle where someone on the other side thinks. So tell my future, will I live to be king?”

Andrea tried to think of an excuse. “I am only a young witch. I am not practiced at being a visionary. It would probably not be worth your time to hear me stammer.”

“Modesty becomes you, but I sense that you fear somewhat to tell my future. I am no fool, girl. I am the eldest of five sons. And probably at least three of them would murder me for the throne if they thought they could get away with it. I live my life in battle, and I do not hang back. I stand by the flanks of my bowmen and give the orders. Don’t you realize I have looked into death’s face at least a hundred times? Whatever you could tell me could not do me anymore harm than guessing my own future. Unless you are not what you claim to be and are afraid to reveal yourself as an impostor,” he said looking into her with those glowing eyes so intense they seemed to burn within.

“Give me your hands,” she said, resigning herself to the bad situation she had thrown herself into.

He placed his hands in hers, and she wrapped her slender fingers around his. They were sinewy, brown, and strong.

“You do not wish to read my palm, young one?” he asked her with a knowing look.

“I am no gypsy,” she said, her eyes looking up into his, even though he still sat on the edge of the table. “Prince or not, I take no insult for what I am.”

“Tell on,” he said, a small smile playing about his mouth.

She closed her eyes and tried to reach into the core of the man. She felt the rhythm of his breathing and the beat of his heart. The touch of his hand was warm, but it was a tense collection of nerves and cells, and the flow of blood was moving like the thoughts that pulsed through him even into the ends of his fingers. He was a man at war with others and himself. She felt the synapses that joined one neuron to another as impulses traveled his nervous system. They seemed to crackle with tremendous energy like minute little lightning bolts. Abruptly she saw visions in her mind as clear pictures, though she did not know what all of them meant.

“I see a man; he is older with a full beard. He wears a crown. He is in a chapel where candles are lit. I see a banner with a star, and within it is a cross of St. George. In two corners, there is a shield with a crown on it. You are there and are being honored.”

“The flag is the banner of the Order of the Garter inspired by King Arthur and his Round Table. The man is my father the king.”

“I see a large bed with a crown at the top, but its shape is not the same as the one that was on the banner. A woman is in the bed. Her face is ashen and her hair is silver, but her face is not old. Her cheekbones are high like yours, and her eyes are shaped the same. You are kneeling at the bedside. You look older around your eyes, but your hair is still not silvered. You hold her hand, and she touches it to your cheek. She closes her eyes, and you call for the physician and the king. Nothing can be done.”

“Oh God, how soon?” he asked, the question seemed to catch in his throat.

“I see visions, but I cannot read time. She is your mother?” Andrea asked softly.

“She is. Tell on,” but now it was as if he were steeling himself for what was to come.

“Perhaps that is enough— ”she began.

“Finish what you have started, child,” he interrupted, and it was a command not a statement.

Andrea closed her eyes again, “I see a woman. She has light hair, but there is a dark cloud of deceit on her face. Her mouth is hard, but the man with the beard and crown approaches, and she smiles and puts her arm through his.  She seems to be trying to convince him of something, and he seems to be listening and finally agreeing. A tall thin man in a robe is in the background. He may be a man of government. He is smiling slyly. The woman, behind the back of the king, raises her hand up to the man.”

“It could be the chamberlain, but I do not know the woman. Say on,” he said grimly.

“I see a woman with long pale hair, but it is not a golden shade. It is more like ashen pale. She holds a small child in her arms. He looks up at the woman and grabs for her fingers. It appears she has hypnotized him because his face is expressionless. You approach, but your face is not so happy when you see the woman. She turns to you, and her green eyes are cold though she smiles. You take the child, but he cries. You try to comfort him, but his face is red with a childlike rage. You hand the child back to her and exchange words with the woman. She is snide in return, and you walk out the door. When you leave she turns to the hearth and raises a finger, and the fire rages higher. Oh, God …”

“What did you say about the fire?” he asked sharply.

“Perhaps my vision is not clear,” said Andrea, but she thought the woman must be Valeska.

“You said that she raised the fire with her finger. What do you mean by that?”

“Some have the power to raise the fire,” said Andrea meekly.

“Witches?”

“Yes, witches,” she answered.

“Do you know the woman?”

“She may be Joan of Kent. I do not know for sure,” said Andrea.

“She was raised at court since her father Edmund was killed, his cousin was Edward the II, my grandfather. His wife and her lover were plotting against him to take over the throne. I think Edmund thought the king was still alive and wanted to help, but I think by then he may have already been dead.  Anyway, the queen and her lover saw to it Edmund was disposed of. It is rather dangerous to be related to people on the throne. My mother looked to her quite frequently. They always called her the fair maid of Kent. She was quite sought after and flirtatious at court. We are related in the third degree,” he said. “It would be unlikely that I would marry her.”

“Perhaps my vision has failed me,” said Andrea, not knowing what else to say.

 “Strange events occur when it comes to marriages. I am inclined to marry whom I will. I prefer not to marry for advantage only,” he said flatly.

“I do not know the meaning behind what I see,” she said. “Should I continue?”

“I asked for the beginning, so let’s have its end,” he said.

“I see a woman on the seashore. She is dressed in common muslin, but her face is pink with a kind of radiance. Her hair is a warm light brown, and her eyes the turquoise of the sea on the horizon. You are walking beside her, and you are laughing. You are in shirtsleeves, and your gait is easy. A small child is running toward you on the sand. Her hair is blonde and curly, and her eyes are the color of topaz and full of mischief. She runs into your arms. You toss her up in the air and catch her, and she squeals for joy. The woman laughs but touches your arm. It seems she’s a little nervous about the throwing, so you revert to raising her high and swinging her low between your legs.”

“I sometimes go to a beautiful place in Brittany when I am not at war,” he said.

“I see one more vision: a young boy maybe a year or two younger than I, and he wears the crown. Behind him is the woman with the pale hair, only she is older now, and her face is hard with intention. She speaks to the boy, and he responds quickly and automatically. I see three other men. It seems this is in court. These men sit at a high table, and the others who are there listen to them. One man in particular talks the most, occasionally directing comments to the young king. Of the three men, one looks like you, the others are shorter and broader. The young king looks bored and annoyed at the same time, perhaps he thinks of the time he will be king in truth. I see no more.”

“My son will wear the crown,” he said standing. “But I will never wear it.”

“My visions may not be complete,” said Andrea, feeling somewhat bereft now he had taken his hands from her.

“I didn’t think it would be mine. Too much could happen between now and the death of my father. May he live long and rule wisely. But my mother is the mate of my soul. She has raised me strong. She taught me to be just. Perhaps this is why war sometimes strikes hard on my conscience, though I have been raised to do little else. I have good advisors in war. I try to listen to them.  When I do not listen, sometimes in anger or because I protect the rights of other royalty abroad, we all pay the price for my decisions. Justice is sometimes sacrificed for the immediate gain or for the right to claim a throne. I am afraid it will not go well for England once we have emptied her coffers for war, since one war inevitably leads to another, and ransom is turned into salaries and arms, and ships and horses. I have taxed the people heavily where they are under my rule because all of this is expensive, and I have the tastes of a king to be and have been taught like others of my royalty and position to expect it, right or wrong.” he said tiredly.

“You must learn to relax and take some leisure time. You are very tense, even if you are tired,” said Andrea as she crossed her arms in front of her, parted her feet a little, and tried to look as serious as possible.

“Are you a healer like your aunt?” he asked, looking amused again.

“I am not, but I would like to be one day. I would like to heal bodies like Aunt Louisa, and I would like to heal souls like Bianca,” she said very matter-of-factly. “But most of all, I would like to be the high priestess one day. But I don’t suppose I will ever be worthy.”

Andrea was surprised she had said she wanted to be the high priestess because she had not even dared to admit that to herself. It seemed a very brazen thing even to wish for, when she was not even a full-fledged witch yet. But there it was; it had slipped out.

“Is a person born to be high priestess?” he asked as he sat down on what looked to be a cot on the other side of the tent.

“Not born into a family that designates it, but it is something prophesied by the high priestess. She is a great mystic. She sees the future as clearly as if it were unfolding before her. She prophesied I would be joining my aunt’s coven, and that I would complete it. But there was more to the prophecy than I have been told. Rehza said some things that implied things would not go so easy for me. Perhaps I will have great power one day, but I will pay for it tenfold,” said Andrea, as she walked toward the Prince who beckoned her over beside him.

“Better that it is prophesied than you are born to it,” he said, gesturing for her to sit at the other end of the cot.

Eager to make him feel better she blurted, “Oh but you would have made a great king, Lucius said. And I’m sure many others have said so too.”

“Would have made, child?” he said, and his eyebrows came together. “Where do you come from?”

“You would think me crazy for sure, your highness. So I very much would like to pass on that question,” she said levelly.

“I will give you that. But why didn’t you foretell my death?” he asked.

“It is forbidden I tell what could be avoided, or what perhaps might change the course of history. I am doing what I have been told. Besides you don’t want to know. It might color the manner in which you live. And now I must go. Sleep and rest your soul. I am sorry my words were a distress to you.”

She got up and started for the entrance.

“Andrea, I will escort you. Some of those who brought you here would make short work of you,” he said as he rose and took her elbow at the entrance before exiting.

When the light of day met them, it was blinding for Andrea after the dimmer light within. But immediately she sensed some danger, not to herself, but to the Black Prince. She turned suddenly and saw the arrow leaving the bow of a man who jumped out from behind the tent. With the intensity of a powerful laser beam of light she melted the point of the arrow before it hit the back of the prince. She had not had enough time to scream. He felt the force of the arrow on his back and sprang around like a cat on four feet behind the edge of the tent. He grabbed Andrea by her yellow jersey and dragged her down beside him. His guards were chasing the man and hollering for others to help, but among many soldiers, several thousand at least, it was proving to be very difficult to find the man. Andrea had not realized how large the camp was from the edge of it.

The prince picked up the arrow and looked at the melted point. “I sense it is poisoned,” she said to him.

“It is only deadly in the bloodstream. But I will wash it all the same,” he said to her. “What an irony. Arrows have won many battles against the French, and I might have been ended by one.”

“Perhaps your shirt as well,” she said, still a little weak in the knees from the energy expended, and the fear.

He took off his shirt. His chest was well muscled and golden. She thought he looked as every prince should look.

“I owe you my life, but I thought you could not interfere,” he said, as twenty men gathered around him, some with knives, others with longbows. He would not be left unprotected now.

“It was not yet time. I guess I was meant to be here,” she said soberly, surprised her power had worked so fast and effectively.

“What treasure would you like for saving a prince?” he asked her with a small smile.

“Take me to the nearest wood and give me your hand in farewell. That will be treasure enough for me,” she said, resting her hand on Crom’s head.       

When they arrived in the woods escorted by his men, he dismounted and took her off his horse.      

“Will we meet again?” he asked her with a smile. “I don’t meet good witches everyday.”

“If there is anything I can do about it, yes. Take care, seek some peace in this life,” she said to him firmly.

“For some, life holds no peace,” he said soberly.

“You must listen to your inner voice, the one that is soul mate to your mother. She is queen in spirit, and there is your relief. Goodbye.”

He took her hand and pressed it into both of his. “Will you be all right?” he asked softly.

And though she wasn’t altogether sure she would be, she nodded her head. Then she turned and began walking deeper into the wood. And as she walked, she heard the sound of horses’ hooves pounding off the way they had come. Then all she could think of was how easy life was for her back in her own time where she didn’t have to worry about life and death situations as she had had to do today and as the prince had done for most of his life.

SYNOPSIS OF ENTIRE STORY, Sign of the Quarter Moon:

Sign of the Quarter Moon is a fantasy for ages 10 and up. It is the story of eleven year old Andrea who goes to stay with her Great Aunt Louisa over summer holiday. Both Aunt Louisa and Andrea are witches, and both have the sign of the quarter moon above their left knees. The story centers around Great Aunt Louisa and her two witch friends, Bianca and Rehza, trying to teach Andrea how to use her witch’s powers to do good, despite the fact that the power of temptation and evil can be everywhere, including sometimes even in themselves. One of the powers she is trying to learn how to use is time travel, and it tends to get her into a whole lot of trouble.

BIOGRAPHY:

Blair Beacom Deets is retired from teaching in the University of Wisconsin system and lives just outside of Manitowoc, WI. She has taught Literature, Composition, Speech, Theatre, and Creative Writing. Her work experience has had her teaching from junior high and high school up through college, in jails and juvenile detention centers, and as a community educator for youth and families. She has degrees in Speech and Theatre and English, and graduate degrees in Education and Literary Studies. She has been a featured poet in the River Oak Review out of Elmhurst College, and has been a finalist for the Pablo Neruda poetry prize sponsored by Nimrod International Journal. She has also been a finalist and semi-finalist in several national playwriting contests, and a prize winner of a playwriting prize given out by the Pen and Brush out of New York City, an organization supporting women in the arts since 1894.

The Home Makers by A.C. Kelley

Two weeks ago, Emily closed on her first house.  My sister is finally beginning to settle after a few lost college years. I’m the one who found the two-bedroom one-bath, Volker stone, craftsman style house we call Woodridge. It happened over my semi-established summer—the summer between my first and second years in grad school—on a weekend that Mom and I had nothing to do but pick the most promising open houses from the Sunday paper (promising for us was little more than a cuteness factor) and attend them.  The morning we were to come across Woodridge, Mom and I sat on her backless counter stools in the kitchen, my spine bowed into a C and Mom’s straight as a support beam, and plotted our most efficient route through Dubuque, carefully considering the times and locations of each open house.

Mom and I do this often, tramp around to various neighborhoods, place the too-small blue booties over our dirty-soled shoes when asked, never sign the Realtor books (at least never with our real names), and always in response to the realtor’s pitch, smile to maintain our cover.  Neither of us is in the house market, though I think that I desperately want to be. 

I say this because I notice my increasingly transitory behavior, and I don’t like it. There’s a note on the inside of my apartment door reminding myself to return four Netflix movies before my two-week free trial is up on Wednesday.  If I don’t get the movies in the mailbox, Netflix will charge my Visa card $17.99 for a full month subscription because that’s how they reel in the customers: require billing information up front, give out free movies for awhile, and hope the customer will forget to cancel.  This is my third two-week free trial, which, although a pretty blatant violation of the “Terms of Service” to which I’ve agreed, I’ve easily finagled by using three different credit cards and three different email addresses.  I’m generally not so cheap.  My Netflix scam might just be because I have little money to spend on non-essentials, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I’m avoiding cable television, which I haven’t had in over four months, and filling my entertainment fix with films instead.  The last contract I signed for expanded cable locked me in for a year at minimum and I have not lived in the same city for more than nine consecutive months in over three years. The note to myself is written in black marker, underlined twice, ended with an exclamation point, and all capitals. I usually write diminutive, scribbled cursive unless I’m labeling something—FRAGILE on a moving box.  It’s as if returning the movies is urgent, dire even. I cannot risk getting locked in to any commitment, even if it’s just thirty days, but I’m out of credit card numbers and email addresses, so it’s time to make a decision.

Apartment living sucks. I constantly jockey to get oversized loads of cottons dried in either one of my apartment complex’s two insanely inefficient dryers. In past rental properties (a different apartment building near MSU’s campus, the upper floor of an old farm house in Dubuque, and a four-plex in Iowa City) and even in dormitories as an undergrad, my neighbors were usually very cognizant of laundry room etiquette, namely, machine availability. Here, I give people one hour to collect their laundry from the washer or dryer after the cycle is complete. If it doesn’t happen, I pile their clothes on top of the machine and put mine in. I get mixed reactions as to whether or not I’m being unreasonable, but honestly, I don’t care. It’s not like I’ll be here for much longer.

If it’s possible to live vicariously through objects, or structures, that’s what I’m doing on open house weekends. Mom and I walk through other people’s homes imagining their boldly papered walls replaced with a cool, uniform Grassland Green accented with Opaline White to bring out the real character of the place rather than bury it in trendy colors or patterns. I imagine my kitchen towels draped over the oven door and tucked into the refrigerator handle, my blue Bennington Spatterware collection displayed across the top row of cupboards after the doors have been taken off. Mom and I consider how a living room would look without the massive leather sectional sofa, but a coordinating—not matching—loveseat, two chairs, and bookshelves instead. Mom opens closet doors to check for hardwood floors. She sees a house without its walls: Knock out this wall here and you have this tiny study joining right up with the little bedroom next door. Of course, there’s a closet here, but knock that out too, build a new closet along the back wall of the study, and you’d have a room close to the bathroom. A perfect room for a little girl. Really, it’s big enough for two. Like any good mother, she wants things for me. The house has now become a home. 

My mother draws out beauty from the ordinary, a skill she’s honed over our open house weekends.  Some houses are out-and-out stinkers, generally anything with a split foyer and most small-roomed spec homes with tiny, functionless octagon windows. But Mom is an optimist with a critical eye. Just as she saw the potential in an average-looking daughter who didn’t wear make-up or nylons getting dolled up for prom, the potential to make a house a home is beautiful to my mother.

My family has a specific brand of beautiful and a way of inhabiting spaces, making them distinctly “Kelley.” We’ve lived in three homes—one ranch, one blueprinted and built from scratch, and currently a two-story with the same layout as the previous house but a little smaller and more manageable—each unique in little ways but all tied together with my mother’s taste and my father’s years of antiquing. Our homes have been an expression of my parents’ sensibilities and their belief that the space you create and live in should please you and represent you.

Between Emily and me, there have been more than a handful of apartments rented, and they always end up as satellites of the houses I grew up in. Beyond the inevitable hand-me-down pieces of furniture and Dad’s always unique tchotchkes that fill empty spots on bookshelves (for example, a life-sized cast iron hand cut off a few inches down the wrist, fingers pointing up and separated enough to weave postcards or bills through; a junk shop find), there is a unifying style, attention to detail, mindfulness of a cohesive finished product. Mom and Dad have spent much time and money renovating our sometimes dilapidated and always characterless apartments, ripping up carpets, installing window treatments, refurbishing cabinets and doors, painting walls, even painting ceilings. Dad generally serves as creative director—most recently, he has hung wall-length leather curtains in the dining room at Woodridge—and lighting guru. At our second family home, he began installing power strips in strategically hidden locations throughout the house so that one flick of a button could change the mood of a room dramatically. His lighting has since evolved into an amalgamation of power strips, remote controls, tap lights, and dimmers. Mom considers the functionality of a space—how Emily or I will utilize a room, where walking paths will be, how to most effectively place shelves in a closet or where outlets will remain exposed or be covered. She thinks about how wall colors will deepen or wash out in various lighting (natural and Dad’s) and, most importantly, insists on doing things right—always counting primer coats or screws.

Needless to say, home making has rubbed off on me. When I moved into my current apartment, I insisted on bringing the too-big and too-heavy workbench I had discovered in the basement of my former apartment (the old farmhouse). It’s black, has legs at least four and a half feet tall, and the tabletop surface is gouged and stained and bitten with years of use. Above it hangs an enormous map—the size of a king mattress—of the continental US framed with a thick, black wooden border. It had been left in my parents’ current house from the previous owners. In my living room, my mother hung four large vintage posters of French advertisements, all with black frames—a continuation of a color scheme. Despite knowing that I would not be in this apartment for more than two years, these choices were all intentional, all meant for more than aesthetic value. The places I’ve lived are like portable histories, the Kelley influence engrained in all of them through design and artifacts.

The reality, though, is that I am not creating my own history in these clearly temporary spaces. My family’s style and objects are present and comforting but they don’t lay any deep roots. I want a house with a foundation, a roof I don’t share, or a down payment at least. A place I can buy a piece of furniture for without worrying about how I’ll lug it to wherever I end up next. I want to have a house with spaces that I don’t really ever use, and when I do, it’s for a special occasion or just because I can. My friend Heather bought a house a little over a year ago. It’s got a porch and a new deck; it’s bright and has arched doorways. There is an old, torn wallpaper border in the living room and the basement smells a little like cat pee, but it’s hers and she pays for cable and she leaves her clothes in the dryer until morning.

My favorite house from our summer tour is the Edwards Estate on Hill Street, an owner-restored, three-story Victorian with wooden siding and a many-peaked roof. I admire the spindles on the wrap-around porch, each turned individually on a lathe and hand-painted. I can imagine myself being comfortable there, looking out to the street from the home side of the spindles. I’d watch spring storms from miles out as they rolled towards my city and stay out just long enough to feel the wind and hear some rain against the wood before heading to the living room and settling down with a book on the loveseat. 

The Edwards Estate on Hill Street has a swastika under the kitchen floor. It’s probably seven feet from arm to opposite arm, all in square, black tiles and set at an angle to the kitchen walls (standing on a sharp corner just as it does on the flags). The current owners discovered it while renovating the home, considered an official Historic Home by the Dubuque County Historical Society. As Mom and I walk through, we see a photo displayed on the kitchen counter of the swastika before it’d been re-covered. The Edwards decided to keep it intact, and I would have done the same. I respond to this house and houses like it—old, worn, hiding secrets—because there is a living history here. Was this the swastika I learned about in an Eastern Philosophy course that represented the Buddha bestowing good fortune? Or, was it the swastika from History class and war films? Who laid the tile? What did they do around it? Who did they invite to do what they did with them? These homes have paint a few layers deep and missing banisters. They have stories. I don’t know the story behind the swastika because I’m the outsider looking in, but I know if I lived there I’d find out.

The staircase at Woodridge creaks whenever it’s used. Each step sags visibly in the middle. There is a discolored ring the size of the bottom of a glass on the windowsill in the dining room and after eighty years and given all the woodwork in the house, I’m surprised there are not more. It’ll be there forever. Once she can afford it, Emily will install a carpet runner on the staircase, with Mom and Dad’s blessings of course, which will hide the sags but not the creak.

Woodridge is becoming distinctly Emily’s: energy efficient appliances, peacock feathers in the bathroom, an office filled with biology books and student papers. For Christmas, Dad bought her an eight-foot long statue of a Muskie (with fins and teeth and tiger-stripes on its flank) made from resin and brightly painted to display on top of the cupboards over her stove. He couldn’t help himself when he saw it at the junk shop. She kept it there for awhile, just long enough to get used to its dominating presence in the room and its one eye following her from the sink to the fridge to the table. But the fish eventually came down and was placed in the basement because although an impressive conversation piece and true to her love of fishing, it just wasn’t what she wanted staring at dinner guests or looking over her shoulder while she read the morning paper with coffee.

I’m next in line for Dad’s unfailingly creative concepts. He has already begun a glass candlestick holder collection for me and the house I end up in (again, his mild obsession with lighting). The next round of open houses will be for me, and Mom will imagine how my oak dining room table will match woodwork and consider the space needed for all of my books. In the time after the renovations to Woodridge were completed and I was still living temporarily, Mom and Dad started renovating their own bathroom, always improving things, always creating spaces that anyone could describe as “Kelley”. We have an instinct for permanence and for history and the more I live in this ephemeral state, the more this instinct pulls me home.

Driftless Sands: a dialogue between the Midwest and the Middle East by Sam Snoek-Brown

On Poetry[1] 

I live in the desert.  While late-winter blizzards and biting winds hurl against the gray driftless zone in southwest Wisconsin, I am sweating in 90-degree heat and nervously watching the brown haze of my first sandstorm.  A few short months ago, I moved here from Platteville, a small mining town turned small university town; I now live in Abu Dhabi, a small pearling village turned thrumming oil metropolis in the United Arab Emirates.  And I am reading poetry.

A few months ago, Russ Brickey asked me to write this, a column of sorts about my new life here in the Middle East.  At first I myself felt adrift, unsure how best to approach such a column.  I am no cultural anthropologist, after all—what I know is writing and literature, teaching and academia, fiction and poetry.  But as I began studying my new culture, I discovered among the pearling and fishing dhows the line that, for me anyway, connects this part of the Middle East to my old home in the Midwest:  Driftless is a literary and arts magazine, interested in fiction and poetry and essays and art and photography and scripts and comics….  And Abu Dhabi is fast becoming the cultural capitol of the Arab world, with symphonies and theaters and new museums (including the first “branch campus” of the Louvre) complementing the rich Arab traditions of carpet making, calligraphy, and literature—especially poetry.

Emiratis love poetry.  There are several common symbols associated with this country, including the falcon (honoring their favored traditional sport), the camel (honoring their Bedouin history), the dhow (honoring their heritage as a shipping and fishing port), the pearl (for their primary industry before the discovery of oil), and the dallah (the Arab coffee pot).  But none of these is as publicly celebrated or personally revered as poetry, and if the Emiratis could make a symbol that would speak for poetry, it might well be their national emblem. 

And so this column was born.

I don’t intend to write every essay on poetry, of course, because the literary and artistic culture here is vast and offers plenty of other enticements.  But, as strange fate would have it, most of my writer friends from the Midwest are themselves poets, including Russ Brickey, and because poetry is also a major component of Emirati culture, I will begin this series with poetry. 

As I’ve explored the city here and spoken with Emiratis and expats, I’ve been asking people about life here, what people do, how people view the rapid changes here.  Abu Dhabi, and indeed the UAE as a whole, has expanded exponentially in the last 40 years (the seven emirates that comprise the UAE united between 1971 and 1972), and any evidence of the traditional life here only a generation ago is hard to find.  While the young Emirati women I teach are more than happy to wear the latest European or American fashions under their abayas and sheilas, bopping across campus with their iPods plugged in their ears and explaining with wonder and a bit of fear that they can’t understand how their own parents and grandparents ever lived without air-conditioning, they also frequently comment on the threat this new lifestyle holds for their traditions.  The young military cadets, too, express a desire to keep wearing their dishdashas and trying to preserve traditional foods and music. 

Many people I meet view poetry as an important element of maintaining their connections to the past.  One Emirati man I met, the cultural guide Ali Alsaloom (of Ask-Ali.com), told me about a friend of his who publishes poetry.  Wael Al-Sayegh, who holds a masters degree from the University of Glasgow, has gained some notoriety for writing and publishing Arabic poetry in English.  In this way, he is bringing the tradition to a wider audience while maintaining the formal elements of his poetic heritage.  In an e-mail, Ali wrote me “Wael is a great example of how Arabic Poets managed to inspire other nationalities to enjoy reading the Arabic poetry and raise the awareness of its richness.”  Wael himself wrote me in an e-mail that “poetry is by far the highest regarded form of artistic expression in the Arab world. The relationship between the Arabs and poetry is like the sand and the desert.”  He went on to give his account of the history of poetry here:

Before Islam arrived, the Arabs not only revered beautiful expression, they worshiped it. The Kabba, the cube shaped monument that Muslims today pray towards, previously had best poetry hung on its walls. These were known as the “Al Muallaqat” the very best poems from around the region. Poets back then were like pop idols today. Wherever they went a flock of fans followed. Then all that changed when a 40-year-old man came out with words that baffled the very best of poets with its beauty, so much so that many of them dropped to the ground and prostrated to its source. That young man was none other than the Prophet Mohammed PBUH[2] and those words are now called the Holy Quran.

As much as culture and international exposure have changed the Arab world, though, the love and reverence for poetry has remained constant.  Today, poetry is celebrated in national festivals, national book fairs, and national contests.  One of the most popular programs on UAE television is a reading series of new poetry; on our satellite listings, there is an entire channel called simply “Poet.”  I never saw anything of this sort in the States.  Imagine tuning into Fox or NBC and seeing Billy Connolly and Robert Pinsky sitting in matching armchairs while Kay Ryan stands at a lectern and recites from Say Uncle

Poetry is more important than entertainment, however—it is of vital national value:  Poetry and news of poetry appears almost daily in The National and The Gulf News, two of the English-language newspapers in the area.  Some articles celebrate the opening of a new poetry center or announce a new contest, others review the latest published collection, and a few—my favorite—discuss the culture of poetry itself.  One recent article reports on a rarity in Arab poetry: A woman made it to the finals of the national poetry competition.  This rarity is as much about the literary culture as the religion, actually: though the woman’s Saudi family has expressed moral objections to her participation in the contest (which is televised, and since poets much recite their works publicly, she must appear on TV without her veil), the article is news here because Arab poetry is dominated by men, who consider the ability to write and recite poetry a sign of masculinity.

Poetry takes an honored place in state festivals and is worthy of the statesmen themselves:  The current president of UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, is a renowned poet; the vice president, prime minister, and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has just released a collection of his poems translated into English, entitled Poems from the Desert, with a foreword by Paulo Coelho.  In it, Coelho explains that “reading His Highness’s poems, I try to imagine the conflict between being a poet and being a ruler.  But when I give a second thought to it, I understand that there is no conflict at all: when the ruler has the soul of a poet, he understands better the needs of his people. … His Highness’s poems help us to understand better the soul of a man and the heritage of a nation.”

But while poetry is worthy of rulers, it belongs to the people.  As Wael explained to me, “In a society like the Arabian Gulf, that has many restrictions of etiquette and decorum, one’s inner thoughts and feelings are seldom given a chance to be shared.  Poetry provides our society with that outlet, to let your hair down and just say what’s on your mind. It has a huge cathartic role.”  The culture of poetry here is so pervasive that, at the international academy down the street from our apartment, the schoolchildren spend their mischievous afternoons painting love poems on the lids of the dumpsters behind the school.  On my walks through our back roads, I often stop to read the few poems that remain.  One reads

Rose is red

Sky is blue

oh my friend

I love you

(Smeera) 

And another, directly below, reads

Zoo Zoo Zoo

I went to zoo

I saw a rabbit

Just like you

They are simple expressions, built on some of the most basic elements of poetry—nature and romance—but simple elements of everyday life remain the primary focus of Emirati Arab poetry today. 

The most popular form of Emirati poetry, Nabati poetry, is a Bedouin form, drawing on the common experiences of desert nomad life and written in colloquial Arabic (as opposed to the Classical Arabic of other poetry forms).  The form is renowned for its spontaneity, and poets in this form are valued for their ability to make beautiful use of spontaneous inspiration; to my Western mind, it bears some similarity with Romantic poetry, especially in its love of using nature imagery to express deep emotion, though the flavor is certainly distinct.  In a 2003 review of X, by Iowa poet James Galvin, Gianmarc Manzione begins by comparing Galvin to Keats: both poets, Manzione, are brave enough to explore the “awesome challenge” of conveying deeply personal human emotions and to “revisit themes endemic to lyric poetry since Sappho–desire, betrayal, trust, loss, loneliness and nature,” a challenge all the more difficult for Galvin, who write in “our cool age.”  But I could make exactly this comparison with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who frequently uses gazelles and falcons and soft, cool moon and glistening pearls to describe his heartache, his desire, his intellect, and his nation in poems like “As the Night Approached,” “Beauty So Natural,” or “O Soul Mate.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, one of the most prolific Nabati poets, devotes a lengthy page of his government website to defining Nabati poetry (there is also a browseable database of his poems in English):  Early Nabati poets, he explains, “sought to create a simple style, combining artistic flair with clear, direct expression.  The characteristics of the verse reflect those of the Bedouins of long ago.  [. . .] The recitation of Nabati verse is a mark of people’s respect for this heritage. Reading and understanding Nabati poems will also afford a greater understanding of the present.”

A few of my students are themselves poets and have expressed not only their deep love for poetry in general but also how they value poetry as connection to their past and as a tool to express their culture, and they are especially keen to preserve their poetry’s traditional elements.  Progressive or experimental poetry seem not to be the fashion here, and the few poets I’ve spoken to hold a passion for form, preferring metered lines and rhymes.  (I showed my male students some poetry by William Carlos Williams and part of a poem by Beth Ann Fennelly, and they said neither was their “cup of tea”; they loved Shakespeare’s sonnets, however.)

One student, Sumaya Abdulla, explained her views to me in an e-mail:  “Poetry to me is another language I speak, I write poetry myself,” she wrote.  “Personally, having this gift is really amazing, the words lining up in your head when you try writing about something is phenomenal, the whole process of writing a poem is divine. We live in a country where this gift is rather cherished and appreciated; it’s a sign of perception and wisdom. A poet is a respected figure in our society, most of our leaders are poets, and it’s to us a sign of good judgment. His Highness Zayed[3]—God rest his soul—was a poet, so are his sons and almost all of Emirati royals are.” 

Many Emiratis, in fact, view the American attitude toward poetry as shockingly apathetic and wonder Americans don’t value poetry more.  In an editorial in The National, communications professor Muhammad Ayish remarked on what he saw as an appalling lack of attention paid to Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” the poem she composed for Obama’s inauguration.  He complains that in America, “interest in poetry seems to be receding to the eccentric confines of academia and the literati,” and that “for many of us in the Arab world, this diminishing stature of poetry in American public life is hard to accept.”  I think Muhammad’s assessment is unfair, because while American poetry seems not to hold quite the place in political life that it enjoys here in the UAE, the poetry of “American public life” has evolved to fill other arenas, finding a more comfortable home in hip-hop and poetry slams.  And poetry remains an important part of American personal life, as well—when I led a creative writing workshop for teens in Platteville the last two summers, the students were anxious to explore poetry and demonstrated a remarkable talent for it.  And, academic though I may be, I continue to enjoy traditional verse forms.  I know, too, that poetry is alive and well in the Midwest and I look forward to reading new works in Driftless as the issues roll out.  But now, I am also relishing the artistic life in UAE, in a country that values verse tremendously, in a culture that celebrates the natural rhythms of language, and among people who are not afraid to let their hearts sing aloud. 

BIOGRAPHY:

Samuel Snoek-Brown is a fiction writer and poet with a doctorate in creative writing.  His work has appeared in Tonopah Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Orchid, Amarillo Bay, and others.  He is also an editor and co-founder of Driftless.  He grew up in Texas but came to love the cold Midwest and the snowy hills of southwest Wisconsin, but now he’s exchanged snow for sand; he lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two cats.


[1] Many words in Arabic have no exact transliteration, so spelling varies widely.  In cases where I quote Emiratis, I have altered the spelling of their comments, as well as some of their local shorthand, for a Western audience; however, I have left their grammar intact to give a sense of the Arabic rhythms.  As my own students have explained to me, Arabic often fuses ideas with a grammatical term that means something like “and, and” in a way that we would call a comma splice.  In Arabic, this structure is perfectly normal.

[2] PBUH is an acronym for “Peace be upon him,” a phrase of reverence that follows any mention of the Prophet.

[3] Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the late ruler of Abu Dhabi and “founding father” of UAE.  Emiratis credit his vision and leadership for the success of UAE as a nation.  He died in 2004 after more than 30 years as the first president of UAE.

Haiku by Gail Bull

from his hospice bed

watching squirrels

breed

Heart Sutra at the Coffee Shop by David Breeden

A woman waits

To talk with her ex

As I read

No ignorance and

No extinction

Of ignorance

The Heart Sutra says

And I see an intersection

Gravel and mud

With a stop sign

Never heeded

There is no learning

Might I add?

And no end of learning

There is “no”

Might I add?

And “yes” and a person

Moved to tears watching

Motion and no motion

Out a window

She puts on her coat

As the man stares after

There is this

And not this at all

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