Stringers – Seventh Wave

Seventh Wave

Bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling piercing the darkness and casting halos of yellow light through dense stagnant air, the only obvious window boarded up and pinned proudly with pictures of the town in its heyday. High tables and bar stools filled the room, peanut shells dusted the bare wood floor absorbing any spillage. The bar itself formed the centerpiece of the establishment, an enormous cedar log stretching the length of the back wall, carved in the likeness of a totem pole. Surveying the room Caspar set his sights in the direction of the cedar bar.

Being Saturday night the bar was fully staffed setting the number of employees at three; one leathered biker type and two indigenous barmaids. Biker type, an enormous bald-headed Spartan, was clearly the owner as he spewed abuse on an underage patron, but did nothing to discourage his cash contributions to the bars bottom line or healthy rate of liquid consumption. Barmaid one was either the owner’s wife or in training for the honor by keeping up in both leather and ballast. Barmaid two did not belong.

Tallish and lean, the young girl’s raven black hair was tied up in a bunch pinned together by a pair of bone needles, leaving the length undetermined. She glowed with healthy light brown skin, and possessed wide-set eyes with a depth that appeared to look at everyone twice, her knowing smile confirmed that assessment. From behind the bar and behind her back, aided by a wall tiled with hand stenciled mirror, the girl watched Caspar part the doors, evaluate the room and approach the solid wood bar. Carefully appraising this stranger as he edged for a stool, more curious than business she inquired for his ID.

Absorbing the California license, “Twenty-seven tomorrow, what brings you way up here?”

“Canoes,” was the one word reply that could just be heard over the bellow of biker type’s spouse to be.

Head tilted in query and with some concern, “You want to kill yourself on your birthday? You do know there’s a storm on the way?” Most ill-timed deaths in this neck of the woods were from alcohol or drugs, what this thoughtful looking stranger seemed to want to accomplish was new and curiously unexpected.

“So what are we drinking birthday boy?”

With second thoughts on a beer, “Water please.”

“Drinking to?”

“Brian Jones.”

Adding burger and fries to his request for water, Caspar sat quietly wrapped in his own thoughts, staring blindly into an infinity of vodka bottles mirrored back through reflective shelves. At some point in his reverie the girl had refreshed Caspar’s water, setting the glass just off-center of a soft blue notecard folded neatly down the middle. ‘Off at midnight’ in tidy block printing.

Stringers – Sixth Wave

Sixth Wave

Stringers in sky blue neon script, blazed away enticingly indicating the entrance to the popular dive and on occasion Chamber of Commerce. Caspar had noted the establishment en route to the cape and had made the six mile trek back for a celebratory beer and something to eat before ending the evening at the rugged overlook to spend one last night in Buttercup.

Parking well down the street he began the march to Stringers which balanced on a stone and cable bulkhead, the bar itself serving as the gateway to an old and rather suspect jetty. Defying Mother Nature, the pier rolled and groaned with the pull of the moon and the unrelenting strain and weight of surging sea water. Extending thirty yards or so out over the water Caspar could see the ends of cigarettes pulsing and darting in the darkness, a dance expressed by the hands that held them.

Darkness had fallen quickly this night as the clouds piled up blocking out the sunset and giving the damp salty air infused with smoldering tobacco and dazzling embers an added sense of the mystic. As Caspar closed the distance on the threshold, the sound of the incoming tide smacking the sea wall and pilings assured him he was indeed there.

Bumping through classic western style battling doors he was confronted with yet more smoke and smothered with the din of a bustling weekend crowd disproportionate with locals. Static from the sound system interfered with the driving rhythm of some popular grunge band, words that just managed to reach, but not register with Caspar’s ear. And if the channel had not just been changed on a screen mounted in the corner above a glass case displaying bounced checks, he might also have just managed to hear news of a storm brewing in Alaska. A storm that was sending a swell East South East reaching the cape tomorrow afternoon with a promise of waves breaking ten to twelve feet on the face.

Stringers – Fifth Wave

Fifth Wave

Well worn and dusted with sand, the black and white cover shimmered gloriously before Caspar’s eyes an effect enhanced by the fiery afternoon sun. In the foreground of the cover the silhouette of a young man perched on a rock platform staring out through a spray of mist as gauzy as cigarette smoke. Beyond the haze a wave of unknown proportions rose from the sea summoning the lone watcher as it curled and appeared to thunder across and off the edge of the page. Like father like son, Caspar was hit with his own inspiration.

Over the course of several weeks, utilizing what scrap he could pack-rat from the store, such as shipping boxes and aluminum foil, and spare resources he could acquire from his father’s workshop, including plastic wrappings, industrial glues, epoxy and varnish, Caspar set about fashioning his own surfboard from the pictures and specifications called out in his prized magazine. Lacking an ocean, or for that matter any other significant body of water large enough to generate wave or wake, the larger dunes of the Chihuahuan were the proving grounds for each new configuration.

And it was in these dunes that Caspar spent all his free time hauling surfboards to the knife-edge peaks of silicone sets and then skimming back down, imagining the lift of the rising sea and the sensation of the wind racing up the face of each new wave.

Time rolled on, and as it did, Caspar perfected his craft, repeated the drills, all the while helping to maintain an ever burgeoning family business. So it was the sum of like and similar days that filled the years to come, until the appearance of a man with an eye for the unusual who rightly went to work shaking hands, asking questions and taking pictures.

Artistic, absurd, without question unique, the unlikely Osberg site achieved iconic status in May of 1977, being named in New Mexico’s “Top Ten Quick Stops” by My Southwest travel magazine. Proudly adorning the cover a much matured Caspar, perched firmly atop the crown of a snarling beast clawing its way up the bow of the Osberg, right arm supporting his latest incarnation of surfboard, left hand raised to his brow deflecting the sun, plotting a course through the uncharted reaches. Three months later at the age of sixteen, Caspar having heard enough from so many passing travelers, said farewell to Las Cruces forever and hitched a ride west to California with a band of hopeful musicians to shape surfboards and in search of his first real wave.

Stringers – Fourth Wave

Fourth Wave

Caspar Kouyaté-Finn was incongruent if defined with a single brush stroke. But a more precise portrait would favor an intelligent boy, athletic nonchalance, tall for his age with softly browned skin, blue eyes and a janitor’s mop of floppy dark hair tinted with desert sun. Genetic blessings of an adventurous Senegalese mother and an industrious Norwegian father. Living in the northern Chihuahuan Desert just northwest of Las Cruces off I25, Caspar’s days would begin and conclude with the tasks of his parent’s roadside operation. Schooled at home, his only friend a thriving imagination.

With the rising sun Caspar could be found in a progression of repetitive acts. If not sweeping the sand that drifted in through not so tightly sealed doors he was stocking rapidly emptying shelves. If not pumping overpriced gas he was washing off bug splatter cemented to roasting windshields. If not dumping trash he was breaking down boxes and so on and so on all the while intent to overhear the tales told by the shop’s transient patrons about the exciting places they were off to or had recently left behind.

Schooling took precedence during the mid-morning hours. European and African history kicked of each session, followed by language both English and French, a course in mathematics and finally ending with the finer points of cooking akkra, boulettes du poisson, mafé and poulet yassa. Any edible remains of the morning’s lessons were sold from the shop’s kitchen as authentic traditional West African cuisine. Afternoon activities focused on the Osberg, and it was the eventual execution of these chores that lead Caspar to his second life altering discovery that day.

While washing down the mighty Viking craft, Caspar happened upon a thickness of papers folded upon themselves in the form of a tube and stuffed beneath one of the ship’s wide oak benches. Unraveling the packet revealed an aged magazine dedicated to the art of surfing, left behind perhaps, forgotten, discarded, no longer of use to the previous owner.

Stringers – Third Wave

Third Wave

Death by misadventure was the official cause. Nine point-three inches of rainfall can be expected in the Chihuahuan Desert annually. That same nine point-three inches of rainfall is also just enough to drown a collared lizard when its path leads to an open oil drum used to trap rainwater. Caspar found the unfortunate reptile at the bottom of the drum on his way to the ship where routine maintenance and a swabbing of the deck awaited. What made him look he’d never recall and how the lizard got there he’d never know. But there it was. floating on the surface, several feet from safety, still, silent, bloated, dead. Vibrant colors now dingy shades of pasty chalk. He poked the poor fellow with a stick forcing it below the surface. Held it there for a few seconds and then withdrew the stick allowing the lizard to bob freely back to the surface establishing it was quite dead.

What Caspar did recall with absolute certainty though, was the day of his discovery, for it was July 3rd his birthday; and only moments before he had heard about the death of a Brian Jones on the store radio, who coincidently, was found dead at the bottom of an outdoor pool on some farm in England and something or other to do with Winnie-the-Pooh. So on this celebratory day, Caspar wore a sort of weighted dread, a sense of his own destiny. Water, life-giving, life taking. Death by misadventure.

Complete with gangplank, metal anchor and magnificently carved steering wheel, the Osberg ship in all it’s glory captured the imagination of even the most uninspired of weary road warrior. Prow triumphantly bursting skyward, proudly navigating the shimmering golden sands of the endless wasteland, the full-scale replica portrayed an incredible vision of Viking craftsmanship and window into the shadow-side of Scandinavian dreams. Sails rippling with early morning zephyr, so realistic, it was easy to imagine the vessel crashing through bitter cold icy chop at some nautical pace on way to do battle in the Norwegian Sea.

Caspar’s father had spent months on this inspiration and countless hours carving the gripping-beast motifs that adorned the joins at bow and stern. Beasts grabbing at and grappling with mortal enemies, seen and unseen, in battle to save their souls. Bleached a shimmering chromatic white from a relentless sun the seventy foot long oak structure could accommodate up to thirty seamen on a series of benches running the length and breadth of the craft. It was this ship, the pride and joy of the curious little rest-stop slash diner slash road-side repair shop and gas station, that had been Caspar’s immediate destination. Destination temporarily forgotten however, given eight years of age, a short attention span and one very dead lizard.

Stringers – Second Wave

Second Wave

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

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

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

Stringers – First Wave

First Wave

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

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

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

Smoke

August slipped over the rugged coast as expected with a driftnet of salty dampness laced with the scent of Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and fertile decay. Cold air from the north flowing over the warmer water of the Pacific Northwest generated conditions producing a ground level layer of moisture that played with ones perception of time, distance, direction and perhaps reality. Making a distinction between mist and fog is a matter of visibility, a matter of inches, but this was clearly fog.

What the fog deprives the sense of sight it feeds the senses of taste and smell, at the same time amplifying anything auditory. Fog is as alive as any other of nature’s creations. It eats, sleeps and breeds thriving in an atmosphere satiated with water, resting, waiting for just the right temperature then bursting into billions of microscopic droplets scattering light in all directions like panic-stricken fairies. This fall morning as the sun rounded the shoulders of the jagged Olympics, crowning the ancient tree tops of the dense rain forest canopy, the fog was not the only thing fighting for its life.

Arriving late the night before the couple had not had a chance to observe the beauty of the coast and the surrounding woodlands. In fact if it had not been for the heart-stopping moment when they nearly hit the child standing in the middle of the road they would have missed their turn-off completely and continued aimless miles north lost and soon out of gas.

Slipping slightly sideways with the abruptness of hard braking the Subaru’s momentum ran out several feet from tragedy. Catching a profanity beneath a tight breath, the driver, a male thirty-something glanced sideways at his stricken passenger. Exiting the vehicle, the driver left his female companion in the warmth of the car’s cabin where she cautiously observed the dream-like scene unfold. Her husband and the child of perhaps eleven or twelve caught in a cone of weak yellow light that shaped and shifted with tendrils of smoke-like fog.

A young boy showcased in the car’s headlights. Black hair shoulder length, a child’s bright complexion, height mid-rib to the driver. Facing each other not quite at the edge of the road. Show of fingers pointing this way and that, more nods than words a pantomime of dialogue between two travelers.

*****

Wide smiles signaled the end of the conversation, a clutch of paper, some-kind of fabric, transferred from one to the other. Hands touched. Equal in swiftness to the youth’s appearance the child-like figure was gone, an apparition absorbed into the thickness of the cool night, the void filled by the piercing screech of a disgruntled owl.

“Everything ok?” the question coming from the passenger seat as her husband returned to the car.

“Better than ever, actually. We missed it, drove right by, back about half a mile on the right.” Power had gone out several hours earlier, a freak burst of wind, toppling trees, taking out power lines. Lights that would have indicated the lodge were dead.

“What about the kid?”

“Lives over there somewhere,” hand flipped in the general direction of the forest that encroached upon the dark road.

Settled back in the car the couple reversed direction intent on finding the lodge as quickly as possible. Alert now, keen eyes seeking, they spotted the lodge nestled comfortably thirty yards back from the road beneath a colonnade of Western Red Cedar. After parking the car, but before entering the office to register their arrival, the two weary companions snicked on the overhead reading lamp to check out the material passed from the young boy.

Unfolding a tired white sheath, smoothing creases, the two peered at a single page from either side of the console. A map. Roughly etched in faded ink the depiction of a hook-shaped bay. Waves indicated in the most northern section above where the hook pinched in from the south forming a natural breakwater. Additional markings suggested whaling or fishing, canoes, a sprawling village and a significant river emptying into the bay. What looked like a broken path snaking through a scrawl of dunes ended abruptly at an expanse of open beach.

Heads together in the lamplight, tomorrow’s agenda was set. Get gas, find the beach.

*****

Dawn awoke, its head buried in pillows of thick wet fog. News that the resort’s restaurant had burned down two years ago not a surprise. Needing gas and breakfast the couple shared the map with the bleary-eyed night auditor propped up all-elbows at the front desk.

“Jeez, I’m not familiar with this map at all,” puzzled lips, dull feigned interest. “Now if you go back ’bout thirty miles you’ll find the lake and another lodge. Restaurant there,” waking slightly.

“Or,” offering a different solution, sensing the pairs skepticism, “you could head twelve maybe thirteen miles that direction,” thumb bent north. “There’s a quick stop place, mostly bait, tackle, hunting supplies, but they should have something, some beers.”

Fog hung low, heavy near the ground, quicker lighter near things, swirled about. Leaving trace moisture on surfaces, droplets on leaves and dead petals, wisps prying at seals picking at locks, waiting at the car.

*****

Feeling more like fifty-seven miles fighting visibility the midnight blue Subaru was angling into the first of four crudely marked parking spots off the side of a silvered shed of smooth wind polished cedar. STO L crudely hand-painted in an arc above a tilted threshold. Front door refusing to close, refusing to open, undecided, buffeted by a new breeze.

Adjacent to the Subaru, but by two of four white lines, a black Ford F-150, mud encrusted, tailgate secured though not closed completely, the result of severe damage to the left rear of the vehicle. A thick wrought iron chain finished that business. Strapped down in the center of the truck’s black vinyl bed were four one-hundred quart coolers, stark white and in shocking contrast to the bottomless hue of the vehicle. Refrigeration assured with the addition of heavy silver duct tape strapping. Act complete with .308 Winchester racked across the rear cab window.

Exiting on the right between the Subaru and the truck, it happened before the woman had even closed the car door. Sound of cold iron chain raked against rigid steel, claws scratching seeking purchase on slick vinyl bed-lining, saliva flying, fangs bared, sick yellow breath. Jaws snapping tight within inches of her head at the furthest limit of the chain’s protection.

*****

“Six!” were the first words screamed, but not from the lungs of the startled couple. Rather a thick stump of a man, dressed in green-brown safari-flage and knee-high muck boots, whose appearance and command instantly settled the mad bull of a Mastiff that had been hidden from sight below the height of the coolers in the back of the Ford.

“Sorry about that guys, Six is really protective of his food.”

“Food,” from the man and woman in unison still stunned, thoughts spinning.

“The coolers, bears, nailed two of them this morning, butchered and packed on ice.”

“You feed it to the dog?” queried the man.

“Yup, all they’re good for.”

Hustling clear of the truck the beast and the stump the two crunched across newly laid pea-gravel that lead the way to the shop’s snapping door.

“Have a nice day, mind your self in this fog,” trailed after them and into the dimly lit store.

Half-stocked, thick wooden shelves caked with dust traced the same angle and slump as the floor. A touch of brine infused the stagnant air that filled the empty spaces between the rafters and aisles. What spaces were filled with cartons and cans held the promise of a junk food breakfast. Unseen was the old woman standing alone and silent behind the counter.

Upon closer inspection all the expiry dates on the prepackaged goods indicated months and days of seasons past. Outlines left in layers of dust. In the end Oreos and light beer in white cans were selected; if Oreos did expire stale weak beer would certainly mask it. While paying for their breakfast (Cash Only) and still a bit shaken, gas and the map about slipped their minds.

Spreading the map out on the thick glass counter top the woman inquired about the closest gas station while her husband studied a window behind the old lady. Reflected back a faint visage of the cashier and framed in a rough cedar casing an obscure view, a threat swaddled in gathering fog.

Placing the tips of her fingers on the map the old woman smiled and was able to seek out where they were now and without hesitation the nearest gas station. Seven miles down a dotted line, a line that began eleven miles from where they stood now. With what remained in the tank it would be close.

*****

They would reach the bridge that crossed over the Quinomish, a bridge that would lead to the Tribal Center. They were not to cross the bridge, but keep straight and a few miles further on they would find the gas station. Near the edge of the map the hooked feature was known as the Talon and protected the inner waters of the bay, the river the same Quinomish that passed under the bridge. Apprehensive when asked about beach access the old lady made it clear that once they went beyond the gas station they would be on the ‘Res’.

“Not where you want to be in this fog,” warned the shopkeeper.

With the old woman and her shop in the rear view mirror the couple broke into the beer and Oreos.

“Did you see that old lady’s eyes,” from the woman over a lick of hard cream center filling.

“Yeah, she was completely blind.”

*****

Driving on in silence, not noticing that as morning drifted along it was getting darker not lighter.  The fog was not burning off, but settling in, getting tight, getting cozy.

Thickening by the moment, the fog was moving faster now as it traced the course of the river. Moving faster nearer to the surface, peeling off in gauzy wisps that spiraled up into the cedars and firs, so many ghosts gathering in the treetops collectively weighing down the canopy. Bringing the car to a standstill the couple focused on the choice before them. 

At the crux, planted in a festoon of giant spiked fern leaned an old plywood signpost propped up from behind by a tangle of tree trunks and branches, epiphytes, plants feeding off other plants. The billboard itself raw unpainted wood. Two black symbols tattooed on the board; crude arrows, one pointing right, the other left.

To the right a bridge stretched out into the fog spanning the river below, the landmark noted by the blind shopkeeper. Dead quiet now, barely visible through the swirling fog, glimpses of movement, a menacing hide-n-seek of shape and formless dance as an owl sounded taking a bite out of the silence.

Bleeding out to the left, a dotted line on a map.

*****

Suspended in the sidereal, the winged horse was a welcome sight. Forty-five feet up caught in the diffused pink cast from a fluorescent incandescence, the proud red logo of Atlantic Richfield. They were not lost after all. Brief elation soured in an exhale of disappointment. Pulling up close, keeping a machine to the left, the price in the pump’s cracked window read .79/Gallon.

There had not been any gas here for at least thirty years. Rolling down the window to get a clear look, to make sure he was seeing the price correctly, the hum of electricity could be heard riding atop the ticking sounds of a gas pump meter as if fuel were actively being dispensed. Normal sounds, the sounds of life at a gas station.

“Lookin fo th beash…,” Janis Joplin like voice straining out of the mist.

“Hey there!” came the relieved reply from the Subaru, “Gas first, then beach, you work here?”

Floating out of the fog, a young woman appeared dressed in soiled clothing, face and arms speckled with painful looking scores. When she opened her mouth to speak, the gapped and fractured teeth explained her diction. A small malnourished looking dog cradled in her arms, shivering, burying its nervous little head to her chest.

“N ga hea…”

Nodding, he got it, no gas, understood.

Running on fumes, the afternoon drifting along with the fog, the couple discussed their options.

“Go back?”

“And run out of gas”

“Keep going then?”

“And run out of gas”

“And the beach?” the driver shouting, the window on its way up already half closed.

“Tha wa…” Janis straining her neck and pointing with her forehead, hands securing the small dog as if it would be snatched away at any moment and lost to the fog.

“Ca I geh a rye…” moments too late to be heard.

*****

Blind, no meaningful measure of orientation, the first house slipped into view, then one after another between loose herring bone fingers of fog, an endless parade of shambles.

Homes vacant, windows broken, fractured eyes staring, lawns un-mowed, unbalanced uneven, gardens untended, weeds wilting, paint peeling, scared and blistered, roofs collapsing, beams sagging, sections of siding stripped away exposing whale bones cracked and bleached. Boats scuttled with gaping holes, impromptu dry-docks where no one was working, registration numbers missing or sanded away. Cars, campers, trucks, no doors no wheels, no engines, dormant on cinder block chocks. The ‘Res’, abandoned except for the dogs.

Dragging a six-foot length of heavy gauge iron chain, the first of five thick-necked canines lay in the street directly in front of the car. Blood orange, blood brown and blood black with the soulless eyes of an empty shark. Two more born of the fog threw themselves at the passenger and driver’s side doors, clawing and biting at the glass, a fourth now on the roof unleashing a thunderous assault on the roof rails. The fifth launched itself on the hood focused menacingly on the two occupants, slobbering and spraying an iron colored viscosity across the windshield.

In the throes of escalating hyena-like laughter, jerking the car back and forth, slamming, grinding the stick-shift between gears to escape what seemed an inevitable breach in the security of the automobile, the car lurched to a grinding halt. Engine revving, wheels spinning freely, rotating and then not. Stalled, trapped and out of gas in the grip of dead silence. And now no dogs. Several minutes passed as the couple balanced precariously on the razor’s edge of terror.

*****

A thickness of trees to the right parted suggestively providing a glimpse of filtered light as the fog thinned, a momentary weakness in the armor. With caution and relief the couple slipped cautiously from the vehicle ready to retreat at the first sign of danger. Feet planted as firmly as nerves would allow the sounds and smells of human activity graced their senses.

Straining their sight as the moisture laden air began to gather once again they caught sight of an archway, a portal through the fog in the direction of light and sound.

*****

Compelled by the need for survival the couple made for the opening, ducking under what disturbingly passed for a dugout canoe suspended in mid-air the crew a scurvy looking raccoon bearing a pompous grin and a blue velvet tricorn. A cocktail of light, fog and fear playing tricks.

Time no longer existed as the couple followed the sounds and smells of hope across the rolling contours of the forest floor, a springboard of dead wood, dry leaves and pine needles. As the sounds became the beat of a drum and the signature of a voice, and the light became the heat of a fire and wink of burning embers, the curtain of fog withdrew presenting the awe-struck pair with a surreal imagery.

Several outsized shapes, each upwards of one-hundred feet in length and twenty-feet in height fanned out before them. Longhouses, made of heavy cedar planks, shallow roofs dusted with bark, smoke billowing from the chimneys.

With a calm brought on by the steady drum beat and meditative quality of the singing a map began to unfold. A village lay before the two, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Scattered before the longhouses were numerous cone-shaped fires, smoke curling and reaching skyward as it swirled about the salmon staked to cedar frames infusing the air with wisps of metaphysical quality. Tending the fires, natives cloaked in colorful robes, some wrapped in cheerful blankets.

Eye contact was made and even though no words were spoken thoughts were clearly heard, the two visitors were welcome, in fact needed for this ceremony.

The couple was gently escorted away from the smaller cooking fires and lead to the hub of activity. Central to a ring of dancers, singers and drummers was a flaming pyre casting spirit like shadows across all faces and form. Leaping and hooting about the fire was a giant gray owl features distorted by mask, smoke and contract.

A ceremony, a ceremony the couple knew to be honoring the life of a young son now gone, struck down the evening before. Silence, stillness, all merriment ceased allowing the circle to open. Eyes now clear and bright, the old lady from the convenience store reached out with forgiving hands, accepting the couple into the circle.

*****

Clear skies, not a hint of fog, broken dawn. Soon the sun would be shining down on the picturesque little tourist village as it prepared for the evening salmon bake, an annual celebration of the areas heritage. It was a neighborhood that beamed. Homes in spotless condition, lawns and landscaping precisely manicured. Cars washed, boats and trailers stored out of sight. Children and their dogs could be heard playing nearby.

Red and black whale totem patch proudly displayed on the left shoulder of his uniform, Chief Rithy Jims of the Quinomish Tribal Police was first to arrive at the vehicle. Fifty yards or so from designated public parking, the car sat askew the rough scrub of the gravel shoulder, resting on its undercarriage, rear wheels hanging precariously over a drainage ditch, front wheels in the street angled severely to the left in complete disregard for the ‘No Parking’ sign.

“No one walks anymore,” mumbled Chief Jims.

Inspecting the vehicle it was always the same, empty beer cans, junk food wrappers strewn about, full tank of gas. Sad state, but in his mind Jims smiled thinking about the five hundred-dollar impound fee that would be added to the tribes coffers. He made the call to dispatch requesting a tow truck stating that he would wait with the vehicle. It was a clear, warm and sunny morning with a hint of breeze through the trees, he would be happy to wait. He did not notice the map resting on the car’s dashboard.

West-facing, looking across the hood of the car, Chief Jims could see the trail-head, marked with an authentic cedar canoe propped atop two stumps carved with the likeness of paddles etched with elaborate xylography designed in such a way that in the fog the effect would be that of a canoe floating downstream. Youth of all shapes and sizes had manned the canoe with everything from garish department store manikins to a full-grown bull moose (stuffed), an odd capriccio. Today it was a raccoon dressed as a pirate. This landmark lead to the trail that would reach the ancient village site, a popular attraction, a place of numerous ceremonies, rituals and festivities.

Taking a deep breath the scent of salty dampness laced with Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and fertile decay sweetened the breeze. And for a moment he imagined the smell of salmon pinned to cedar stakes cooking on an alder-wood fire just beneath the sounds of dancing, singing and drums. Rumbling up from behind the tow truck snapped the Chief from his reverie.

Within moments the car was hitched and as the winch pulled the nose of the vehicle upward, gravity took control of the map and it slid from the dash, floating gently to the carpeted floor mat, slipping silently beneath the driver’s seat coming to rest atop several forgotten coins, the feather from a young gray owl and a gas station receipt from 1979.

Smoke – Finale

F I N A L E

Clear skies, not a hint of fog, broken dawn. Soon the sun would be shining down on the picturesque little tourist village as it prepared for the evening salmon bake, an annual celebration of the areas heritage. It was a neighborhood that beamed. Homes in spotless condition, lawns and landscaping precisely manicured. Cars washed, boats and trailers stored out of sight. Children and their dogs could be heard playing nearby.

Red and black whale totem patch proudly displayed on the left shoulder of his uniform, Chief Rithy Jims of the Quinomish Tribal Police was first to arrive at the vehicle. Fifty yards or so from designated public parking, the car sat askew the rough scrub of the gravel shoulder, resting on its undercarriage, rear wheels hanging precariously over a drainage ditch, front wheels in the street angled severely to the left in complete disregard for the ‘No Parking’ sign.

“No one walks anymore,” mumbled Chief Jims.

Inspecting the vehicle it was always the same, empty beer cans, junk food wrappers strewn about, full tank of gas. Sad state, but in his mind Jims smiled thinking about the five hundred-dollar impound fee that would be added to the tribes coffers. He made the call to dispatch requesting a tow truck stating that he would wait with the vehicle. It was a clear, warm and sunny morning with a hint of breeze through the trees, he would be happy to wait. He did not notice the map resting on the car’s dashboard.

West-facing, looking across the hood of the car, Chief Jims could see the trail-head, marked with an authentic cedar canoe propped atop two stumps carved with the likeness of paddles etched with elaborate xylography designed in such a way that in the fog the effect would be that of a canoe floating downstream. Youth of all shapes and sizes had manned the canoe with everything from garish department store manikins to a full-grown bull moose (stuffed), an odd capriccio. Today it was a raccoon dressed as a pirate. This landmark lead to the trail that would reach the ancient village site, a popular attraction, a place of numerous ceremonies, rituals and festivities.

Taking a deep breath the scent of salty dampness laced with Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and fertile decay sweetened the breeze. And for a moment he imagined the smell of salmon pinned to cedar stakes cooking on an alderwood fire just beneath the sounds of dancing, singing and drums. Rumbling up from behind the tow truck snapped the Chief from his reverie.

Within moments the car was hitched and as the winch pulled the nose of the vehicle upward, gravity took control of the map and it slid from the dash, floating gently to the carpeted floor mat, slipping silently beneath the driver’s seat coming to rest atop several forgotten coins, the feather from a young gray owl and a gas station receipt from 1979.

Smoke – Scene Eight

S C E N E    E I G H T

Compelled by the need for survival the couple made for the opening, ducking under what disturbingly passed for a dugout canoe suspended in mid-air the crew a scurvy looking raccoon bearing a pompous grin and a blue velvet tricorn. A cocktail of light, fog and fear playing tricks.

Time no longer existed as the couple followed the sounds and smells of hope across the rolling contours of the forest floor, a springboard of dead wood, dry leaves and pine needles. As the sounds became the beat of a drum and the signature of a voice, and the light became the heat of a fire and wink of burning embers, the curtain of fog withdrew presenting the awe-struck pair with a surreal imagery.

Several outsized shapes, each upwards of one-hundred feet in length and twenty-feet in height fanned out before them. Longhouses, made of heavy cedar planks, shallow roofs dusted with bark, smoke billowing from the chimneys.

With a calm brought on by the steady drum beat and meditative quality of the singing a map began to unfold. A village lay before the two, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Scattered before the longhouses were numerous cone-shaped fires, smoke curling and reaching skyward as it swirled about the salmon staked to cedar frames infusing the air with wisps of metaphysical quality. Tending the fires, natives cloaked in colorful robes, some wrapped in cheerful blankets.

Eye contact was made and even though no words were spoken thoughts were clearly heard, the two visitors were welcome, in fact needed for this ceremony.

The couple was gently escorted away from the smaller cooking fires and lead to the hub of activity. Central to a ring of dancers, singers and drummers was a flaming pyre casting spirit like shadows across all faces and form. Leaping and hooting about the fire was a giant gray owl features distorted by mask, smoke and contract.

A ceremony, a ceremony the couple knew to be honoring the life of a young son now gone, struck down the evening before. Silence, stillness, all merriment ceased allowing the circle to open. Eyes now clear and bright, the old lady from the convenience store reached out with forgiving hands, accepting the pair into the circle.