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White stretches all the way to nowhere. The apex kisses the horizon in secret and white cannot be separated from white like marble lips locked in eternity. Lady Lake is Michelangelo and sculpts her Superior domain into classical form. This is Keweenaw Bay.
Highway 2 curves around the bay and if I turn and look northeast I can glimpse this endless white where it’s impossible for me to discern the frozen lake from the cloudy sky.
Once beyond the bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan emerges a wintery forested wilderness. Lodgepole pines and slender, leafless birch cluster across rolling hills and open up to lakes and streams. The snowpack doesn’t measure up to a third of what the Keweenaw has and yet there’s plenty for snowmobilers.
Small towns come in and out of view as we drive through. We are headed to one of the largest rural VA hospitals in the nation — Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center. Everyone we’ve encountered in the medical system has been top-notch, but chasing down resolutions is like chasing unicorns.
Do the answers really exist?
Today, we had breakthroughs and more tests scheduled. Today, we gained a glimmer of hope.
Look, there she goes — the last unicorn. The maiden’s quest and protector, the unicorn has hidden since the rise of western civilization. Perhaps as women claim their bodies and voices, their lives and livelihoods, the unicorns will return.
But we have our own Carrot Ranch mythology when it comes to unicorns. When the literary community first began to solidify, we discovered that with safe space to explore we turned to dark writing. In retrospect, it signaled that we were willing to risk writing deeper into our truths and imagination. We trusted each other enough to present writing we wouldn’t typically pen or share.
It was a validating moment.
To lighten the mood I joked that we’d take on writing “unicorns and rainbows” next. The official prompt was “mythical creatures,” and it gave way to more dark writing and yet became one of the most profound collections we’ve assembled at Carrot Ranch. It is now Chapter 12 in The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. And why we have a unicorn in our book trailer:
Work has begun on Vol. 2. In September, I put out a call for Rough Writers, and we added to the fold. From this group, 30 writers are participating in building a unique anthology that begins with 99 words first crafted here. It’s a process that will see fruition by the end of 2018.
Everyone who writes here has an essential identity from Welcomed Lurker to Constant Ranch-Hands to Ranch Ambassadors to Rough Writers to Friends to Patrons to Readers. We are all part of Buckaroo Nation — a status the community has bestowed upon those who write at Carrot Ranch. Our community is vibrant with creativity and diversity; our mission is simple — make literary art accessible.
To that goal, the Ranch is what you make of it. Bloggers can find their way through Carrot Ranch to a hub of important and exciting blogs. Fictioneers can participate in a prompt and discover other prompts within the greater community. Memoirists can find other like-minded writers. Same goes for most genres. Authors can find a platform that extends their own and newbies can learn from those with more experience.
Flash fiction is both a fun and worthy literary form, as well as a writing tool. You can learn more about my thoughts on the power of flash fiction here. You can also extend your writing reach as a guest essayist or taking on an advanced fiction challenge here. Raw Literature is a series that allows us all to discuss what we write, how, and why. You can join in every Tuesday.
Because the mission of Carrot Ranch Literary Community is accessibility, I want to make sure everyone here has a chance to participate in Vol. 2. I’m opening a section for “Friends” that will include responses to a new prompt. Because this is a published book, I will work with each writer to polish their submissions. You will get a bio along with our Rough Writers. It’s an excellent opportunity to build your writing portfolio.
If you are interested, please respond by March 14, 2018:
February 22, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a unicorn. It can be realistic or fantastical. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by February 27, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 28). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
NOTE: The following is from The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1.
The Secret Stall by Charli Mills
“I don’t wanna pick blackberries. They got too many thorns.” Libby stuck her throbbing thumb in her mouth.
“Look, Libby’s a baby.” Her brother Joe pointed, and their cousins laughed. Libby headed to the barn. The cat was nicer than these five boys.
“Here kitty…” She could hear boy-chatter across the yard. It was dark inside. A shuffle sounded from behind the farm tractor. Careful not to trip over tools, Libby made her way to the back where a glow in the stall revealed a shining horn.
It was attached to a unicorn sleeping on a pile of quilts.
Props whomp-whomp-whomp a steady rhythm like the heartbeat of the plane. Cold air seeps through my window, and I can’t help but stare beyond the plane’s beating blades. It’s the only hint of sun I’ve seen over Svalbard since arriving in January. Sherbert hues of lemon and raspberry will be the single spoonful of sunlight for one hour and 54 minutes. And then it sets.
You might be wondering if my snow enclave with Lady Lake Superior has morphed with the Norwegian Arctic, but I assure you I’m still trapped by her snowy tendrils and merely dreaming of staring out the window at the only bit of sun my middlest daughter sees these days.
Mine is a voyage of the imagination. My daughter is the one who experiences the moment in person.
Rock Climber (or perhaps her arctic name should be Ice Cave Empress) lives in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway. She recently posted this photo on her way to a remote job (as if Longyearbyen isn’t remote enough) in Svea. I’m along for an imaginary ride, hearing the endless whomp of the blades, feeling it connecting me to my daughter whose ice caverns are far away from my icy lakeshores.
As inhospitable as ice might be, my daughter writes that the movie, Frozen, has nothing on the ice caverns above Sveagruva (which means Swedish Mine, Svea to the locals). Sculpted frozen flows open like crystal orchids. My daughter explored inside with the small mining town lit up in the valley of snow below. She watched the Northern Lights pool and spray over a glacier, not bothering to take pictures because she said a camera could never catch the dance.
For now, her greatest danger comes from avalanches. A third of housing in Longyearbyen is under avalanche watch, so Rock Climber and her partner, Chef, are working in Svea where they can find rooms. Workers are only allowed 10 days rotation. They don’t seem to mind the dislocation, flying over partial sunrises and endless glaciers. They relish their life on ice.
I’ve come to welcome mine, too.
Last week, Winter Carnival unfolded across Michigan Tech University. Engineering students from nations around the world pulled the traditional over-nighter to finish building ice castles and sculptures. This year, Camelot rose just a few blocks from where I write. Frozen in ice, King Arthur kneels at the sword. Ah, I knew Superior was the Lady of the Lake! Here are the winning sculptures:
Ice ages. I don’t refer to “the” ice ages — I mean, ice grows old. It gets heavy and lined, pocked and dirty. It melts and turns crystalline until grabbing on to more layers of snow. It reminds me of aged cheese. But don’t worry, I’m not going to spread it on a cracker and eat it. I know what the critters do on ice!
Outside my front window, I watch five squirrels run the same tree branch trail around and around. As they bounce from bough to bough, snow plops to the aged ice below. I watch as my daughter flies over glaciers. If the snow extends from here through Canada, across to Greenland and over to Svalbard, are we standing on the same continent of ice?
Where does a mother go when the birds have fledged? I’ve watched male mergansers inflate their heads during their mating season, then shrivel up and fly away. The female mergansers remain, hiding nests from sky-prowlers like eagles and owls. Tufts of feathers emerge as baby mergansers. They grow bold and take to deeper waters and diving. I’ve seen the pond full of mergansers on the verge of flight and within days find only the emptiness.
A few mothers linger about. Neatening up the nest? Taking up grass knitting or reading the stars at night like books, no longer worried about death raining down as eagle claws? The babes made it. The mothers are on their own.
Rock Climber lands in Svea and already morning has turned to dark of night. The whomping blades shudder to stop, and she walks away from the window to new sights and adventures. I tidy up my ice and think of her laugh. My daughter is only an ice flow away. The polar bears slumber and the sun is making a return. She’s the Ice Cavern Empress, and I’m a writing merganser dreaming of sherbert on ice.
February 15, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story on ice. It can be an event on ice, a game on ice or a drink on ice. Go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by February 20, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Pups on Ice (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Garan blew past Danni, kicking up clumps of powder from the recent snowstorm. When he hit the ice, all four paws skittered, and he crashed to his chest, sliding across the smooth expanse.
Danni let out a hoot, and the herd of German Short-haired puppies slowed their bumbling approach to the ice. They pestered their mother, Det and yipped at their father who scrambled to gain traction on the pond. The runt took a bold step, then slipped on the glazed surface.
One bumped another, and then the chase-slipping began. Danni laughed, the only audience to Pups on Ice.
By Irene Waters
As you read this I will be sitting on the high seas, nearing the equator, out of range of the internet so I will start by apologising for what will seem my tardy response to any comments. Don’t worry I will get there and look forward to coming back to a conversation in full swing.
Initially, I was planning for this post to discuss what memoir is but decided that I have already written a post on the difference between memoir and fiction so instead I will direct you to that and write instead on the work of Memoir.
Have you ever thought about why you read memoir? Have you ever noticed that you read memoir differently to the way you read fiction? I know I do. I am supercritical with memoir if I find what is written to be unbelievable. If I discover after I have read a memoir that it is not true – I feel angry, duped, used. I never feel that way about reading a fictional work. We feel this way because we read believing the story to be true.
For the reader, a memoir can be a guide through the human experience. It may be an experience that the reader themselves is undergoing and they are looking for an insight into another person’s experience on which they can draw strength for what they are undergoing or give us an understanding of a different kind of life. We can learn from another’s true life experience as we know these real-life characters lived, and we can get guidelines from them as to how we can live our own lives. For the inarticulate, a memoir may offer expression of what they are feeling but which they find impossible to express. It lets the reader know they are not alone with what they are experiencing. Predominantly in reading memoir, we are looking for how the narrated “I” deals with situations to become the “I” of now. We are looking at identity creation. We are honing in on the reflection of memoir.
This brings us to what I find fascinating with memoir – all those different “I” characters. Have you ever thought about how the author – the narrating “I” is telling his/her story and yet is a different person to the person they are narrating – the “I” then or narrated “I” who is a constructed “I”. There is also a past or historical “I” who is the person who can be verified as having lived but this “I” cannot be reproduced exactly as they were in the past. Finally, there is an ideological “I” who knows the cultural rules of the time. Identity is embodied in all these “I”s that we meet with memoir. P. Eakin said: “We learn as children what it means to say ‘I’ in the culture we inhabit, and this training proves to be crucial to the success of our lives as adults, for our recognition by others as normal individuals depends on our ability to perform the work of self-narration.”
If you are writing memoir are you aware of your “I” characters? I believe this is why people read memoir and why memoir is written. It is the biggest difference between fiction and memoir – the narrating ‘I’ as the present day person who does the remembering and offers reflections and interpretations of the past events allows us to see how the author’s “I” character has changed. If the memoir is a ‘coming of age’ story we will read how one ‘I’ changes to another. In a conversion narrative the ‘I’s will be separated by a chasm. It is not unusual for there to be circumstances where the “I”s don’t like each other or understand each other. This is one circumstance where third person can be used in the writing of a memoir (past tense first person is normal) as it shows the disconnect between the ‘I”s.
The modern way of writing memoir using fictional techniques I believe (and remember this is my opinion) detracts from the reason people read memoir. If you use all show, not tell you are allowing the reader to construct their own thoughts on how you got there, how your identity changed and they lose that important part of memoir – the reflection by the narrating ‘I’. This loss leads to the loss to the reader of the author’s gaining of self- awareness and the impact this has on their identity creation. This is one of the fictional techniques that I am loathe to encourage to the exclusion of telling. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Next month I will look at dialogue in memoir.
Please feel free to join in Times Past. This month thanks to a suggestion from Charli, we are going to stay at school and examine learning to write. Write a post of your own and link up to my Times Past Page, leave a comment in my comment section or in the comment section when Charli posts her memories of learning to write. Don’t forget to put where you lived at the time of the memoir, your generation and whether it was a rural or city area. Look forward to reading them on my return.
My winter habit is not flattering. The drab-green wool coat is oversized to fit layers of bulky clothes over a bulky body. Dry air makes static of my hair which I braid and stuff into a fur-lined mad-bomber found at the thrift store. My face beams pale as a winter full moon. Dressed against Lady Lake’s constant onslaught, I feel captive to my winter clothes.
I’m going to a dance class once a week and I disrobe before entering — unwrap the scarf, unbutton the coat, kick off each boot and pull my thick socks back up. Next, I remove the hat and my hair has enough electricity to form a halo I haven’t earned yet.
Every fiber cries out to flee but my body disobeys instinct and lumbers into the room with the black floor. My daughter teaches here. She’s spent a year coping with deep injuries and adjusting to an autoimmune disorder. And yet still she dances. The class she has convinced me to try is Feldenkrais. I know it has helped her through her injuries and pain, but I’m no dancer.
In fact, I tend to be a walking head. Body awareness is something I gave up incrementally as pain drove me from the body into the greater and less painful expanse of the mind. I used to ride horses, leaping over irrigation ditches and riding the heights of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ve skied Black Diamond trails in the Tahoe Basin; I’ve rodeoed and ranched; hauled hay and worked road construction. I didn’t dance but my body was strong.
Now I write strong. I live in my head and ride the currents of Lake Superior and race my characters over trails on horses from the Pony Express. I era-hop and gender-morph. There’s nothing I can’t write and I choose the stories I want to bring to light. I’m in control.
Of my legs, I’m not in control. There I was lying reluctantly on the floor scuffed by jazz shoes. Yes, yes, I was supposed to be on the provided yoga mat but I couldn’t even control that matter. During the last class I agonized over the tight band of rocks that had solidified my hips, and yet by the end of class, I felt soft, shaky and strangely not pained. This class I’m crushing my rib cage, flopping like a trout when the command was “gently flex your ankle…back…and…forth.”
When we switched to the right leg after a series of neck contortions and a “rest” on our backs as my left leg twitched, I prepared for more flopping. But my left side obeyed. I could connect to the movement. Okay, I thought, I’ll use my imagination and pretend to do it on my right because that’s what the instructor had advised us. Everyone else was using their bodies and while we worked both legs, I flopped and seized and pretended like nobody’s business.
After surviving dance class — and mind you, I will insist it’s a dance class. The dancers all think it’s a rest for their bodies, although my daughter has attributed much of her healing to Feldenkrais and is close to achieving her goal of dancing ballet again. My goal is to survive class, pretend my way through it and get to a point where I don’t look like the dying trout on the floor.
After class, I remain shy and don’t speak up about my experience. But I tell my daughter. The instructor politely turns her head to hear and I realize she needs the feedback. So I explain how my leg muscles on one side refused to obey. The first day of physical therapy after a back surgery went wrong, I was dismayed to learn my muscles were not “firing.” They still were not firing seven years later.
However, I could feel it so strongly on my right side that I pretend I felt it on my left. I acknowledged that I didn’t look like I was doing it but in my mind, I was a dancer working her legs. I felt foolish. To my surprise, the instructor smiled and said, “You have good Feldenkrais instinct; that’s exactly what you are to do.” Feldenkrais uses the mind to heal the neuropathy in the body.
Walking up the hill to Milly’s to write while my daughter subs for a jazz class, I feel as if someone just told me I can ride a horse again.
Do nuns feel this way?
Maybe that’s an odd thought but I’ve had nuns on the mind since they came up with a story that Norah Colvin wrote for wet ink. She expressed a story familiar to those with a Catholic education during an era when even public schools used corporal punishment. Her story sparked a discussion about nuns, and I’ve had them on my mind ever since.
The first nun I can recall has no name. It was kindergarten and my mother dropped me off at a baby-sitter’s house before school. She had a town job off the family ranch. I walked five blocks to Sacred Heart Parish School. My family was Catholic; I was not. That’s what happens when teenagers procreate. To say I was an outsider despite my plaid skirt and red sweater was an understatement. Yet, I recall no cruelty from nuns; only family members.
My teacher was not the knuckle-wrapper my father told me he had in school. Instead, she was concerned. I think they were all concerned — unbaptized, rebellious and imaginative. My mind got me busted at age 5. The pet frog was the first to go. My grandfather took care of that one, sharing the imagined moment, asking to hold my frog which I gave him. He then threw it on the ground, squashed it with the heel of his cowboy boot and declared that pet gone.
I tried to explain that the girl I drew on the tree branch was not another imaginary friend, but it caused an emergency parent-teacher conference. I still recall the nun explaining the lesson to my parents — I was to circle the greater amount of birds either below or above the tree branch. Duh. I knew it was the flock of birds above. That’s why I drew the girl flying with them. She wasn’t imaginary. She was me. And I flew with the greater birds.
If my early experiences with nuns disappointed my imagination, my later experiences fed it. After a wonderful, restorative and mind-opening experience at a liberal arts Catholic college in Montana where I learned of the contributions of nuns and anchoresses throughout history (Hildegarde of Bingham, Heloise, Julian of Norwich) I met two former nuns in Minneapolis. That’s where I learned an intriguing concept — nuns who drive.
My friends openly spoke of their convent days and why they joined and why they left. One had been the only nun in her convent with the ability to drive. It was not often a skill a nun needed. She spoke philosophically about nuns who drive in that they are often the ones more apt to try new skills or ideas. They often led. And they often left. Nuns who drive drove away.
I’ve thought of this throughout my creative writing and even wrote a short story about a nun from the 1850s who knew how to drive a wagon. She flees a convent in Hawaii and becomes a mule-skinner in the California gold fields. Her imagined story intrigues me and maybe one day. I’ll rework it and dig deeper into that tale. I’m also inspired by this nun who drives:
After my walk up the snowy streets of Hancock, I wondered if nuns also lived on the Keweenaw. Turns out a parish only 17 miles away in Lake Linden had a large Canadian-French population, cutting timbers for the copper mines. Nuns from Quebec were dispatched to teach parish school in 1886 and continued until the school closed in 1971.
With the tunic-lifting winds and biting snow, I wondered what nuns wore beneath. According to anecdotes and an interesting book about what nuns wear, they would have worn pantaloons or even long-underwear. And thick socks.
I also questioned whether or not nuns would be an appropriate prompt.
My hesitation is that nuns are people, too. I know what it is to be pointed out as “other” and that’s not my intent. On the first day of Black History Month in the US, I think we all need to be mindful of how history has developed in this country. The blunt way to say it is that America was founded on the backs of slaves and indentured female servants, taking lands from indigenous tribes. It’s a history of dehumanization that will nip at our heels until we find a way to reconcile our shared humanity.
And a part of that harsh history is the religious persecution of “other” faiths. Catholics were often despised and persecuted in American history. My ancestors were Catholic Scots deposed from their homeland in the mid-1700s because of their faith. They relocated to the colonies, fought in the Revolutionary War, settled in Missouri and pushed a herd of cattle to California during the gold rush. They built the parish church where I was born and kept their faith throughout all those generations.
I have no nuns — that I know of — in my family, but I do have a priest for a great-great-grandfather. Nothing in life is simple, but our stories are rich, complex and varied. I’m going to expand the prompt to include anything that is black and white from a nun’s habit to a B-stripe juggling ball and chickadee to rigid black and white thinking. To get you creatively motivated, here’s a wonderful video from the KC Bonkers tribe in Hancock. And yes — for those of you with astute eyes who know about my wandering days, that’s my RV stored at the Bonkers family homestead.
I believe art (and the imagination to expres it) is similar to Feldenkrais. We might feel a bit like a flopping trout trying to create it, but if we keep pretending we will build a bridge from what we imagine to the page we write upon.
February 1, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features something black and white. It could be a nun in a zebra monster truck, a rigid way of thinking, a bird in a tuxedo — be imaginative and go where the prompt leads.
Respond by February 6 , 2018, to be included in the compilation (published February 7). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
New in Angels Camp by Charli Mills
Sister Maria D’Abreau soaked the hide, tamping it down with a wooden pole. Her black dress felt softer than her habit packed away.
Henry watched, leaning against the corral. “You got laundry skills, I’ll say that much.”
Maria kept silent. What Mother Superior failed to teach her, living rough in mining camps had. She wouldn’t provoke a prickly miner down on his gold dust.
She stopped to test the hide, smiling when the hair slicked beneath her fingers. It would make the chore easier.
Father Kincaid approached. “The lass knows rawhide as well as mules.”
Henry spat. “We’ll see.”
Earth has an edge and I’m standing on its fault line. Snow sweeps out in front of me, wind-sculpted and hiding the brown bones of autumn battles. I’m alone on the beach, on the edge of the earth, tempted to walk on water, but knowing better than to give into the urge. Some curiosities the cat never returns from and I want to return if only to tell the tale.
Before my solo journey, I interrupted a party of parka-clad tourists. Like Sir Ernest Shackleton, I’m the hero on pause, answering questions before I can continue. The tourists, notably excited by rare winter wonders, have a single burning question: “Do you live here?”
“Yes.” Not here as in on the frozen beach of Lake Superior, but here as on the Keweenaw.
They understand, whistle through their breath, and shake their heads. Here is impressive to visit, worth the drive from downstate or out of state. Then the next question: “But why…?”
How do I tell them I’m captive to the Snow Queen, Lady Lake, that I’m a snared wanderer and a minstrel of sand and snow? Do they even understand the battlefield they stomp over in high tech snow boots unaware that Superior undulates unforgivingly below them?
That’s not a snow drift but her hip bone and she’s going to knock you to her watery depths if you don’t take care. Look, her ribs fly exposed overhead, she’s circling, circling. Do you belong to her? Don’t wait to find out. Flee! The battles renew, surge when you least expect.
But I give the less complex answer: “Rocks. I like rocks.”
“Oh.” They sound disappointed and inwardly I chuckle. No, these won’t draw her attention. She like admirers. One lingers, though.
“What kind of rocks?”
I look at this man before me and his eyes show a snap of curiosity. I can tell he feels Lady Lake’s presence but doesn’t know what it is. Asking about rocks is like asking for a sip of whiskey when you really don’t understand what the pub is all about.
Looking down, I see my cruel mistress has erupted stones for me as if she knew I’d take this chance to glimpse her. Okay, so I’ll give the nice man a taste of firewater. “Oh, agates,” I say.
“Ah, agates.” He turns and walks away.
So I say something more intriguing, wondering if Lady Lake has me doing her bidding now. “Prehnite is my favorite though, especially copper inclusions.”
“Copper inclusions?” This man has too much curiosity to be on this beach safely.
“Um, yes. Prehnite is milky white, sometimes yellow like old peas, but sometimes it has copper and radiates hot pink and kale green bursts of inner crystallization.”
“Oh! Are you a geologist?”
I want to tell him the truth — I belong to Lake Superior, I’m her siren’s call. But I say, “No but I raised one.” My smile is meant to look innocent, motherly.
“Let’s go!” His friends are already safely up top the hill over this battlefield. I can hear movement trickling beneath. I say no more and turn to walk away. Wisely, he retreats to his friends but stumbles across another eruption.
“Hey! Hey–I found something. A rock! It’s green!”
Overhead I see Lady Lake floating as clearly as the Lady of Shallot in her watery grave. I turn back and the man approaches, holding out a rock in his now ungloved hand. It’s the size of a tomato, steely gray, pocked with vesicles, filled with glittering pistachio green crystals. Oh, Lady Lake, you are toying with him. “Ah, that’s basalt filled in with a secondary mineralization of epidote. Anything the color of pistachios is epidote.”
“Cool!” He has no idea what epidote is or how common. But it is spectacular, especially when the crystals aren’t beach-pummeled smooth. He grins and pockets his find. “I see why you like living here.”
She’s snared another. He’ll always want to come back to this beach. At work, likely an office job, maybe even as a CEO, he’ll be in the middle of a meeting, taking notes or giving direction, and he’ll think of that rock and how many others might be waiting on that beach. When the wind teases his hair, he’ll look the direction of Lake Superior and not know why.
Father Baraga, black robe to the Ottawa and Ojibwe, ministered to the tribes of the Upper Peninsula, becoming a grammarian of their languages. For thirty years he crossed these peninsulas, often on snowshoes, and dared to take on the Lady Lake. No one knows why he dedicated his service on her shores, and no stories speak of his interest in rocks. But he did tend to the immigrant copper miners, too.
It’s true that he never left the Lake once he arrived. From 1830 until his death in 1868 he lived here. One dark and stormy night he set out in his little canoe after hearing about an epidemic outbreak in the village of Grand Portage. Whether he intended to cross Lake Superior, only the Lady knows. She blew up into fierce seas, tossing about the priest and his guide in the birch-bark canoe. Whatever happened that day between Lady Lake and Father Baraga, he never forgot the feeling of salvation when she dumped him safely on a sandy shore at the mouth of Cross River. The cross, the father erected and it stands in stone.
She likes stone.
It may seem a minor miracle for a canoe to survive her battle-fraught waves but consider the Edmonds Fitzgerald. Fully loaded with iron ore, she kept that booty for herself.
Now alone and having walked as far as I can down the beach, I look back and take stock like human recorder. She uses many of us, I’m certain. Today, she called me to the Lake to see what she had wrought. I’ve enjoyed her home-visits, her playful flurries of snow, her blinding, whirling blizzards. I’ve missed her on the days when she recedes, but can always glimpse her denseness hanging gray over the distant shore.
Today, she is atmospheric. Layer upon layer of gray lifts into the blue sky edged with white feather tips — her rib cage hovers over me. Lady Lake gently blows, wind reverberates through the birch above on the hill. Somehow, I felt her call. It was a blue sky day, so why not?
Like Father Baraga must have felt at some point in his journey, I drove out of Calumet and caught my first winter glimpse of Lake Superior. Where blue horizon meets blue water, I only saw white, and white and gray. Terror frizzed across my nerves and I heard the words of the black-robe echo across time, What the hell was I thinking?
It was too late to turn back. Literally, there was no place to turn around. I nearly missed the cut-off to Calumet Waterworks beach. I turned sharply and my car slid. Missing the snowbank, I slowed down, heart pounding like the ghost of stamp mills. I reasoned that I was only going to look. After all, with 132 inches of snow in less than three months, I was not getting near the beach. The parking lot was plowed so I pulled in. Just to see.
Lady Lake had Superior locked in a violent freeze.
Birch trees on the hill remained buried to their lowest saddle. Picnic tables emerged like slates in the snow. Park slides and swings froze in time and snowbanks. The snow, compact, formed a bridge to the stairs that now drifted snow like shutes to the beach below. And yet the clever wench had blown a small trail, exposing enough steps for daring feet. And by now you know I can’t resist seeing what the rocks might be like below.
That is how I came to stand on the edge of the world, staring down the remains of a battlefield. Trees like soldiers dropped from their banks in October and November. Violently the waves spewed their denuded trunks against the cuts into the hillside. Like brown broken bones, they protrude through the snow and litter the beach. Another line of driftwood. A smaller and less forcibly tangled line of littered driftwood forms a secondary barrier. Between the two Lady Lake has sculpted ice and snow like finger painting in Elmer’s Glue.
I stand on the edge. It’s so quiet I hear the constant trickle of the Lake as if the water has been pruned back like roses and it can only ooze between grains of buried sand. In a display of force, piles of sand and beach rocks erupt like mini volcanoes through the crust of snow. Lady Lake has sculpted these along the edge into frozen pedestals. Memory recalls this is where the waves lapped to shore. No lapping now.
More fearsome yet is the battle yet raging between water. Like brothers at war, ice versus liquid rips the lake bed. What might look like dunes or drifts of snow made by a runaway bulldozer I know to be waves, sand, and rock transcending space. The lake ice scatters with foot-thick sheets upended and perpendicular to the shoreline. Lady Lake circles overhead, a war rages in slow motion below — behold the power of Lake Superior in winter.
Welcome to the edge. Dare you pick up a rock and never forget her call?
January 25, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that goes to the edge. Consider what the edge might be and how it informs the story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 30, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Grounding (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls
Too late for planting tomatoes, Danni seeded more radishes. Ike complained they bit back, but if he left for Iraq what did it matter? She’d eat spicy radishes alone.
She kneeled along the row, tamping each seed. The earth felt solid beneath her hands. With no more seeds to cover, Danni dug into the ground that remained unplanted. Sifting loamy earth through her fingers she found a marble. She rolled the green glass in her palm.
If it was Ike’s decision and she was to stay home, why did she feel pitched over the edge into an unknown future?
Just call me Wrong-Way Charli.
I might have boots but they don’t always go the beaten path. You might find me calculating the drop on a rock face or attempting to access a naturally secluded beach. The faintest hint of a trail through forest duff speaks louder to me than the exposed dirt of the worn path.
Adventurous? Mostly by accident. More like curious. As in curiosity-killed-the-cat. I’m Shirley temple chasing the bluebird of happiness. I’m Hayduke weeping at the beautiful places of solitude. I want to know what’s over the rise, if the loons will give chase, and take time to look for just one more agate. I want to be there when the hawk flies past unscheduled.
Snow condenses in layers now. The merengue grows stale. Lady Lake keeps a fresh coat of white paint over it all but cut into the layers and it’s turning grey. The county recently bladed our street and I can see snow in geological layers. Have we been buried for eons? It feels like it.
I press each foot into my boots and tighten the laces. My red cap and scarf keep me warm and I look like a plump elf in my dark green wool coat that flares like a dress. I grab a tote bag, my wallet, and my headphones. These snow boots are made for walking and I head out the door to shop the co-op on the hill.
Passing by the fresh cut of snowbank I can no longer read the Fire Lane street sign. It’s buried. The snow slides like grease with each step and I struggle to stomp my way up the hill. Beneath is a compact layer of ice more solid than concrete. Snow sits in the saddles of trees, taking up permanent residence. Ever-present flakes kiss my cheeks. Lady Lake is loving today.
The heater in our car stopped blowing. Without the fan, the windows ice over making it impossible to drive. Thus I’m experimenting with being car-less. I’m walking to buy my dried mango slices and Wisconsin cheese. I overfill my tote with vegetables to make bone-broth soup. The flu is raging through Hancock and across the canal in Houghton. Fresh snow, fresh veggies — my plan to stay well.
Magnificent Mondays rolled around and car-less, I put out a call for a ride. It’s a twice-monthly gathering of local creatives at the Ripley House of Healing where I will debut my TUFF workshop. Through a few missteps in communication, I got a ride (next time I’ll know to go outside and wait). It was lovely riding in a warm vehicle that I didn’t have to brush off the snow to ride in.
Liking this car-lessness, I let my cake baker know that I wasn’t able to meet up with her downtown, could she swing by the house? This time I put on my boots and elven winter-gear and waited outside. She’s a homesteader and makes gorgeous cakes from whole ingredients. She even bakes vegan. But this first cake will be German chocolate with the sides and middle frosted with traditional pecan and coconut.
Later that evening, I had a meeting for local entrepreneuers. I asked for another ride and was delighted when a local poet and book designer answered the call. We laughed all the way down Quincy Hill and over the canal bridge to the meeting. She lets her inner child run wild with the sharp wit of an adult. I find her fun and fascinating.
We laughed at her car, which was leaking gas. She had recently replaced her rear windshield after it shattered in the cold. This poet lives 16 miles up the Keweenaw Peninsula, so she had to drive to Houghton without a rear windshield in the snow. She said now she can claim she’s a Yooper. After fixing the glass, the mechanic told her about the leak. She asked, “Will my car explode?” After he replied no, she was relieved because things seem to be exploding in her car. It made my heater problem sound better.
About the time I thought I would fully embrace car-lessness, the Hub looked at YouTube videos and figured out how to fix it. He does have his moments. That’s how I came to be Wrong-Way Charli. I got my car back.
Today has been a flurry of preparation and blowing off nervous energy for my presentation and book signing tomorrow. I have felt the rainbow of emotions from over the moon excited to down in the dumps depressed. I feel moody as a teenager, not a time I wish to recreate in my life. I breathe. Following the breath in…following the breath out…and carry on.
When I found out the Vet Center has no projector, I researched buying one. Surprisingly they aren’t too expensive but it wasn’t in my budget, like cake and local advertising. The Vet Center and my lovely group of veteran spouses helped me track down a rental at Finlandia University which is on the Hancock side of the canal. I talked with the librarian who explained to me how to find the campus library.
First, let me explain Quincy Hill. It’s so steep that the Quincy Copper Mine on top of the hill built a special tram to deliver ore to the smelters and docks below. It’s so steep it’s now a ski resort. Mind you, it’s a hill, not a mountain, but its verticle climb is impressive. In snowstorms, some streets are blocked.
And that’s what I drove up today, a blocked-for-one’s-own-safety Quincy Hill Steet. It was one of those mistakes a person makes and realizes it’s the wrong way, but stopping would be worse. So upward I drove, willing those snow tires to work. The car slipped and careened, the dashboard flashing the light to tell me I had lost traction. I know, I know! Two young boys with shovels watch me, probably hoping to see a backward Yooper left turn.
At the crest of the hill were three choices: another hill to the right, a sharp dip downhill to the left or straight into a cavernous parking lot. I say cavernous because the snow banks were so tall and tight at the entrance it looked like driving into a snow cave. I opted for the cave, after all, I am presenting on the hero’s journey tomorrow.
My elixir turned out to be that I found the Maki Library. The door looked rather industrial and I thought maybe it had to do with being a university library. No other cars were parked in my cavern, so I approached the door and walked down the hall. Five people turned around and stared at me. That’s when I read the sign that said staff only. I had entered the wrong way and could see the front lobby beyond. There was no escaping my error.
A man with a ponytail and glasses halfway down his nose asked, “Can I help you?”
Awkward situations bring out my inner comedian and I pointed to the staff sign and said, “I’m looking for a job.”
He smiled, so I told him I was the person picking up the projector. He then escorted me out of the staff area into the lobby. Without further complication, I became a public member of the Finlandia University Maki Library, and I successfully rented a projector, cords, and speakers for free. Then I had to ask how I was supposed to get to my car. “Best go the way you came, Wrong-Way Charli.”
And that’s how I got my Yooper name.
January 18, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes boots. Whose boots are they, where do they go and what is their significance? Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 23, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 24). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Easing Frustrations (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Between public affairs and citizen scientists on her archeology dig, Danni wasn’t surprised to see Ike show up with his dogs.
Now she had someone familiar to lash out at. She stomped her boots down the gravelly trail toward Ike and the pointers at his side. Danni trudged past the silent volunteers. She marched right up to Ike and he swung her up into his arms, planting a lingering kiss on her angry lips.
Danni sagged against him. He growled in her ear, “I missed you, Babe.”
“Damn it, Ike. I missed you, too.” She refrained from kicking him.
Could it be Canada’s gift of a mid-winter Chinook? Perhaps a pressure ridge explained by a climatologist on the evening news that I never watch? Whatever the reason, Lady Lake has retreated to her ice-water mansions and allowed the Keweenaw to recall blue skies.
On my walk, I follow the road that curves downhill, and an unexpected melt exposes pavement like random ink blots. In a region with less snow, one might see ground but ours remain firmly girded by mounds of crisp meringue. Along the driveway, the drifts grow taller than the hood of my car.
The previous week, Jasper, one of two huskies I live with, escaped his pen because the snow drifts and the piles I’ve pushed off the deck until it grew taller than a single story of a house created a land bridge similar to the one I imagine first Americans crossing from one continent to another.
Once free of dog fencing, Jasper roamed the neighborhood and found a rabbit. To my great sadness, the rabbit did not survive being discovered by a husky. I knew that bunny — I’d watch him every night after the household sought slumber. It was the bunny-hour when he’d hop from behind Mrs. H’s garage and burrow his way into our dormant garden.
Who minds a bunny in winter eating what remains of unharvested kale? Evidently, Jasper.
We all awoke to crimson snow, blotted like a crude ink painting by a deranged editor has gone mad with a red pen. You can’t blame the dog for following instinct. We hadn’t realized the bridge formed a means of escape. Never had I mourned a rabbit, but somehow as I age life becomes more precious; spilled blood so wasteful.
That’s when the warmth arrived and the snow ceased to fall. Every time I took the stairs, I could see the red snow from the landing window. I wanted fresh precipitation to cover the evidence. Ever notice how difficult it can be to confront our shadow selves? We see dogs as loyal companions because we want to believe in higher motives for us all.
In the end, they are dogs with instincts and we are fallible to protect the life around us. Recently I read a profound statement that each one of us is dying our own way. I’ve heard it before, that we began dying the day we were born. Even Mel Gibson as his famous character, William Wallace said, “Everyone dies, not everyone lives.”
It’s the second part of that line which draws my attention. The snuffing of a winter rabbit reminds me of my own mortality, yet it is the capacity to feel sorrow at its passing that reminds me to live. To know joy we must know sorrow. To live we must confront the inevitability of death. It comes down to choice.
I know what not living looks like. I’ve seen it in the suburbs with families who train up their children to be conformists. I’ve seen it in the rural areas with people choosing to be separatists, carving out hidey-holes and hoarding food for times of impending doom. I don’t want to pretend death doesn’t exist or that I can avoid it in a bunker. I want to live. I want to throw ink and shape the blots into stories that break through conformity and hiding.
Ink has vexed me these past months. Writers depend upon ink as if it were our bloodline — without ink there could be no written stories, no books, no pages of WIPS to mark with an editor’s red pen. My desk holds no quill or bottle, but my printer drinks vials of the stuff. Ink has run dry.
First, it was black. Makes sense, after all, I write and print pages in black ink. To purchase the recommended replacement, it took me a month to save up the extra cash. By the time I replaced it cyan began to falter like a disappearing Keweenaw sky in winter. Yellow followed and soon magenta. Colorless, I switched to grayscale.
Then my printer decided it couldn’t do black anymore. I bought another but it refused to print, saying the colors must be replaced too — it did not have enough ink to maintain printer quality. Is that some analogy for writing (oh, you know it is)? Without the lifeblood, we can’t produce. Without choosing to be ink we go dry and nothing happens. Nothing gets written. No stories emerge.
It took another month to afford the three colors. My list of what I needed to print bloomed. No store carries my printer brand, so I ordered online. When the brown delivery truck arrived I rejoiced. Ink had returned like the sun! Ah, blast it all — the ink catridges fit but my printer declared “can’t detect.” Learning I could return the inks, but needing to print a return slip, I ordered a cheap off-brand.
It didn’t work, either.
Finally, I called the printer company, and after I recited printer models and serial numbers, and tried the ink cartridges with the rep on the line two conclusions arose — first, I ordered an incompatible but correct brand, and second I ordered the wrong brand. My printer would not accept the microchips in either. Microchips? Yes, ink is chipped and I don’t feel good about this technological advance.
Give me ink. Give me life. Let me create freely, unfettered by monitoring, policing, judgment or microchips.
The irony of it all is that I had to order yet a third round of ink before I could return the first two. At least I get my money back for the frst two or else it’d be after the return of daffodils before I was up and printing again. Ink arrived today along with a splurge purchase of a turquoise infinity scarf decorated with golden-red foxes. I plan to wear it to my Vet Center book event.
Tonight I’m late in finishing this post not because of my nocturnal writing preference but because of a follow up to the Jasper story. We blocked his land bridge but he found access to it nonetheless. Knowing dogs, once they catch the scent of prey, they’ll keep sniffing so I’ve become mindful when I let him out and supervise his outdoor time.
Someone else let the two huskies out, and I realized it when I heard the other, Ilya, barking his stranger-danger bark. Thinking, Jasper might be out, I rushed to the door to the deck and pen below and Jasper pushed into the porch. Relieved, I called Ilya who was barking at a man parked on the road that had been ink-blotted the day before but now was buried beneath a fresh snowstorm.
Through the pelting snow, he yelled up to me as I stood on the deck, something about hitting a dog with his truck. Knowing Bobo was inside on the couch, Jasper on the porch and Ilya making conversation in a blizzard difficult, I assured him it wasn’t our dogs. Then he said, “But I hit the dog you just let in.” My heart stilled a brief moment.
By then my SIL had come out and I told him Jasper had been hit…by a huge truck. The man explained it was snowing and he tried to stop when the dog bounded out in front of him but his brakes locked on the fresh ice, and he slid into the dog. He followed Jasper to our place and watched the dog get back into the pen. We thanked him for his kindness in letting us know, otherwise, we’d have had no idea of the event.
Tonight, we’ve monitored Jasper after a call to the vet. No long bones seem to be broken, his stomach is not distended and his gums readily pink (if he had internal bleeding his gums would stay white after pressing upon them because of lack of blood flow). But the dog is contrite and sore. He pressed into my thigh with his big husky head and I crooned in his ear, rubbing his shoulders.
I told him, “Sometimes we get lucky and find bunnies in the big world. And sometimes we get hit by big trucks. But for tonight, you’re alive Jasper and I’m grateful.”
I suppose we seek a balance between reckless living and fear of dying. Don’t be afraid to use your ink, but don’t take it for granted either.
January 11, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about wet ink. It can be artistic, writerly or something completely off-the-wall. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 9, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
The Evaluation by Charli Mills
“Looks like an athlete running.”
“Definitely a giraffe dancing the mamba.”
I can’t tell if the suit showing me ink blots takes my answers seriously. He’s just another cog in the government wheel of oppression.
“A storm with black raindrops.”
His pictures are stale blots. After watching FBI agents shoot my mother why would I conform to the government? They killed the adults in our compound. I’m only 13, but I know the freedom he doesn’t.
“A deer in the willows.”
My imagination is wet ink. I’ll survive captivity to create a better world.