The Fishing Trip

I had stopped drinking hours earlier when my drunken friends stumbled through the darkness and found their tents. Zipped into sleeping bags, clothes rolled into makeshift pillows, they were oblivious to the rock and bony surface roots they slept on. I had dozed off, curled up in a folding chair beside the now fading embers. I woke stiff and chilled, hands jammed into my pockets. Loonsong hung somewhere between dream and daze. A barred owl was calling for her mate.

They were camped on a small island on Barney’s Lake.

I was soon wide awake, loosened up and shook off the cold. Moving slowly and carefully as though the hour were fragile, I stepped onto the smooth bedrock peninsula where we landed the canoes. The sky was a dense mass of stars, the Milky Way a light speckled ribbon from horizon to horizon. Not a breath disturbed the lake. The heavens were reflected in perfect detail. I turned the canoe over and with one knee on the stern, slid it gently into the starlit surface. Without picking up the paddle we drifted out and away from the campsite.

The middle of the night is a lucid time, reason sluggish, dream-shy and humble.

At first it appeared like a dark cloud moving in from the east but as it crossed the sky it didn’t shape-shift like cloud. Nor did it move with the steady push of the high altitude winds. Instead there was a recognizable rhythm to the movement that I realized was the thrust and glide of a boat being rowed. It was as though I were beneath the water looking up at the underside of an approaching dory. As it drew closer I could see the oars dipping, rippling the stars, disappearing, dipping again.

The rowing stopped and the boat glided until it was almost directly overhead. Something arced over the side and fell toward me. A small meteoric object with a thin wisp of light for a tail. It stopped mere feet from the canoe, hung for a moment then began to move up and down as though someone above were jigging. The thing was spoon shaped, lovely and almost discernible. It was sort of like a sparkly snow globe and something was turning inside. I was barely breathing, though my heart was pounding and trembling was beginning to rock the canoe.

At the far end of the lake a loon laughed. Near the campsite a barred owl called for her mate.

It moved closer, I could almost see what was inside. Almost. I reached slowly and it brushed my fingertips, did a half turn on its luminous thread then pulled up and just away. I put both hands on the gunwale and tried to steady the canoe. Then it dropped right in front of my face and I could see exactly what was inside. I snatched fast. It yanked away. I stood quickly. Grabbed and caught it!

An oar dipped and pushed the dory toward the tents below. Something arced over the side and fell. A small meteoric object with a thin wisp of light for a tail.

In this silent room

I have gone deaf inside. I can’t hear my thoughts. Not a single word in this silent room.

Suzanne returned from work to find the house as it was when she left that morning. She picked the mail up off the floor, leafed through and tossed it on the round, marble topped table. Odd there were no lights on. She hung up her coat and went into the kitchen. Breakfast dishes piled in the sink, milk, coffee cream and an open bag of rolled oats still on the counter.

“Tim.” she said, suddenly nervous.

He was sitting in the living room. His eyes met her as she entered.

“What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

She wanted to cry with no idea why. He was sitting in the overstretched T shirt he wore to bed, baggy cotton pants, bare feet in slippers. Smiling the saddest smile she had ever seen. The room was in semi-darkness, lit by the streetlight outside. Tim blended into the small living room, half swallowed by the sofa, surrounded by large leafed and hanging plants and a thousand things on little ornate shelves and assorted tables. For some reason she didn’t switch on the lamp but took a match, lit some candles and sat in the chair across from him. She had never heard words spoken perfectly before, until he opened his mouth and told her that she was beautiful. Suzanne felt as though she were being seen for the very first time in her life.

“Where are you?” she whispered.

Winter Nights

I went to bed with the window wide open. Snow in the forecast. White sheers rippling wraithlike waves of faint light and shadow.

Sometimes on cold winter nights I step outside on the deck before turning out the lights and going to bed. I stand there in my T-shirt and slippers, almost always thinking of the same three things. One is the eternally silent, deep space and divine nature of the cold. It exists with such thoroughness and indifference. This is a time when I open rather than curl inward, standing still getting colder and colder. I can do this because of my second thought. On the other side of the closed door the house is warm and comfortable. Finally I imagine someone less fortunate. I linger longest on this, visualizing myself without a home, on a street in shadows and rags huddled into myself aware that tonight I might die. I stay until I’m too cold, go back inside and close the door.

As the first snowflakes find their way through the window onto the sill and bedroom floor I have my first dream. I am dead. Travelling over six inches of crusty snow down a hill between grey, brittle trees, abandoned bird nests of grass, hair and twinkling ice crystals. One of Brueghel’s hunters returning late to a deserted village. No form or footprint marks my passage.

Waking, the room feels like outside. The end of my nose is cold and I can see my breath. In the second dream you open the front door and appear surprised. I remove my snowshoes, bang them together and plant them in a snowdrift. When I ┬áturn the door is closed but I’m on the inside. Our children are laughing and wrestling on the floor with a handsome stranger. Everyone stops.

This time when I open my eyes I don’t go back to sleep. Frozen in a snowdrift, I remember a night sixteen years ago. It was just after midnight and I was sitting with my mother in her sixth floor apartment. My father, after a long illness, had died that morning. We had our chairs turned and were looking out the large sliding glass doors onto the church parking lot below. Large flakes of snow were falling, illuminated by streetlights. Suddenly a large snowy owl, wings spread wide appeared, sailed directly at the window, veered and descended to sit on a snow covered branch across the road. Six stories up, framed in a rectangle of light we wept. In grief and joy and wonder.