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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter 3

It has been a wonderfully busy family week with little time to write, but I was encouraged by my middle daughter the other day. She said she had begun reading this "Still Waters" story and liked it. She advised me, however,to add a caveat reminding readers who may know our family that this story is FICTION. It does not depict me or my family. As Kim put it: "And you're not as reclusive as that Sinclair guy."  I thanked her for pointing out the contrast and reminded her that fiction is more believable when the author draws upon the things he knows. In this case, I have a purpose in developing the Sinclair character as I have. I also informed her to look for the subtle recurring themes of rock and water. She recalls the unforgettable experience we shared four summers ago that triggered this plot, but honoring Kim's request, I'll add that there is a huge difference between reality and real events that may give birth to fiction. As they say in the movies, "any resemblance between my family and the characters of this story is purely coincidental."

I should also say that it is my practice to modify "chapters" long after they've been posted. One such change can be seen in Part One: 

"The rhythm of his daughter's flip flops was one of the many sounds of summer that he loved. The drums and noise of a neighborhood garage band was a sound he loathed, but fortunately they only practiced before gigs, which were rare and rightly so. Before and after the so-called music they forced upon all those in earshot came the ruckus of raucous voices and squealing of tires that impressed no one but themselves. He was less puzzled by the testosterone-driven behavior than he was that the parents had seemingly relinquished any say in matters of their home. Once the two Sinclair girls had asked if they could walk around to the other road to see the band practicing, and their father's emphatic NO triggered a list of reasons so disproportionate to the curiosity that prompted their request that they couldn't help but snicker at him. He snickered himself for having recited so thorough a treatise from thin air when he could have merely said, 'It is my goal in life to keep you from the company of such boys.'"

Part One-C

Dr. Sinclair and his youngest daughter trudged, with arms laden, to the tool shed in the shady corner of the yard. Chipmunks scampered in the holes around the shed as he opened the double barn-door. To his left was an assortment of snow shovels and a tangle of long-handled tools and they emptied their arms among them, standing them up as best they could and quickly shut the door. Dr. Sinclair snapped shut the padlock on the door, and dusted off his hands with two passing claps of his palms as if to officially signal an end to his morning's chores.  As they walked away from the shed, the chipmunks peeked out of their holes.

Kenzie ran up ahead as Anna, his oldest daughter, came down the gentle slope to meet her father for the first time that day.

“Well, I’m ready to shoot the raging rapids. Are you?” She laughed, taking his arm.

Her anticipation surprised him. After all, they were simply going tubing down the Muskegon River, and idea they had gotten from a brochure in a motel lobby the summer before. Still Water Rock was an inner-tube livery at the widest part of the river that ran through the town of Big Rapids. As the livery's name implied, the water there was ideal for entering the river just upstream from where current became swift enough to keep the small business afloat.

Big Rapids was a bit of a misnomer. There had been rapids a century or so before when water rushed around the boulders that had broke from the rocky banks as the river carved its way through time, but over the recent decades the boulders that made the river dangerous had been removed by various canoe rental businesses in an effort to extend the life of their fleet. The only rapids that remained were engineered for effect in the shady city park. Other than that, there were no longer rapids to speak of in Big Rapids but the large-font name made the motel brochures sound like high adventure was in store in spite of the serene picture below the words.

"I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be to float down a river," he smiled.

"We should get a canoe or some kayaks. That would be even more fun."

"I've canoed or kayaked the best rivers in Michigan, and it is fun, but right now the thought of floating sounds wonderful. You don't have to think. Don't have to paddle. Don't have to steer. You just stick together and go with the flow..." He leaned his head back and smiled as if adrift in his own description.

"That's how I feel in a kayak except I'm more in control," Anna said.

"Control is highly overrated," her father suggested, not fully certain of what he meant, but we can go kayaking sometime--just the two of us. Not today, though. Today we're going with the flow."

"I can't wait!" Anna smiled, squeezing the crook of her father's arm.

Anna often missed out on these family day-trips. She was a barista at a local coffee shop that was doing everything possible to compete with Starbucks and for all practical purposes should have been called Wannabee's. It had everything but the long lines at the counter. Her schedule had become more demanding than what she had expected of a quaint sidewalk bistro. “After all,” she had reasoned a few days earlier, “the whole idea of a café is to be carefree and romantic. How can it feel that way if they work us so hard?”

As a father, he understood the illogic of her thinking, but he smiled as if in agreement because he knew she was a hopeless romantic who couldn’t help but see the places she was forced to be as if they belonged in the context of some story. There was something else behind her complaint of working too many hours. Her job—as all jobs do—had swept her from her carefree teen years to the duties of adulthood with little warning. Days like this one on the river were to be enjoyed not planned. They would soon pass, he knew, and found enormous pleasure in the fact that Anna had taken his arm to cross the yard.

As Anna cornered the garage, she heard a rattling noise near the gutter and jumped aside. A chipmunk had gotten half-caught in a box trap. It’s legs were bound in the door while his from feet were scratching frantically against the trap’s steel floor.

“Dad, do something! Look at him!” she screamed.

Kenzie came running, then stopped short when she saw the lifeless tail and hind legs hanging from the trap.

“Oh, oh, oh,” she stammered, prancing in place. “Oh,” was all she could say.

“Why do you even have these traps?” Anna scolded.

"Oh, oh, oh..." Kenzie said, her lower lip trembling.

“These are live traps. They catch them live. I’ve never seen one get stuck half-way like this. He'll be fine. I’ll be right back.”

He grimaced as he placed the box in the car and then drove a mile down the road to the woods beyond the bayou. As he lifted the sprung latch of the cage, the creature slowly pulled itself from the trap, using only his front legs, and hobbled into the thick ferns. His hind legs were not moving. He hoped this was merely due to lack of blood—like when his own limbs falls asleep and tingles until it regains life.

“Good luck,” the professor mumbled, pushing his glasses up his nose.

He felt the hypocrisy to wishing well a thing he actually wanted dead. He’d often thought, if it weren’t for the girls, he’d buy a pellet gun and shoot the countless chipmunks from the window of the house for sport. They were ruining the yard and possibly the foundation of the house itself. Sometimes they ran down into the borrows of the turtle garden, but they never shared the space for long. Still he wanted to free his yard of the ubiquitous rodents and could imagine shooting them one by one. So why not stomp the life out of the one that drug itself from the trap? Shooting was one thing. It was distant and metallic like a game on the carnival midway. Stepping on a chipmunk was a-whole-nother thing. He couldn’t do it. Killing was not in him, not the kind of killing one could feel.

He mocked his own mercy as he U-turned the car toward home and mumbled, “What a waste of gas.”

Waiting in the driveway were the girls, making dramatic gestures toward their wrists that wore no watches, but they were also smiling and acting up the way sisters eight years apart do, meeting somewhere in the middle of their shared ages.

“Did you let him go, Daddy?” Kenzie asked.

“Yep, he crawled off to bother someone else,” he laughed, and he knew he’d made the right choice not to kill it.

Clair came from the cool house where she’d been watching from the window.

“Here’s an extra bottle of water for each of us. It’s supposed to get hot. Can’t have too much water. I wrote our initials on the lids.”

Dr. Sinclair began rolling backward down the driveway as the garage door slowly closed then stopped with a jolt, hit the button to raise the door, and jogged up the driveway.

"Whatdja forget?" Clair said out the open door, but he did not reply. He came back with a black mesh laundry bag and a short length of rope.

"You'll be glad we have this to put the water bottles in. I'll tie it to my tube so our hands can be free. The river will help keep the water cold."

It struck Clair as a clever idea compared to the many other things he might have gone back to get--his wallet, his sunglasses, his towel. It showed the kind of creative forethought and problem solving that she had come to expect from her husband. She didn't say so, but James knew these were her thoughts when she took a deep breath, shook her head, and smiled.

The car backed down the driveway just past noon—three minutes behind schedule. There was no one waiting for them, of course, but his wife Clair believed that time well spent must first be contained and that living without fixed schedules was like carrying an armful of groceries in a torn paper sack. James had proven her theory right all too often. Without the target of a noon departure, he’d still be frittering away in the yard. Three minutes was a manageable rip.

According to his laptop’s Flash-Map program, it was a two-hour-and-thirteen minute drive to Big Rapids.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter 2

Previously:  "[Dr. Sinclair] began putting on his soaked T-shirt. Pulling it over his head, he stopped inside the shirt as if somehow separated from the outside world...."

“Come on out, Daddy. You look like a turtle,” Kenzie laughed. “Come on out.”

Her father’s head pressed through the neck hole.

“Here are your glasses. I cleaned ‘em on my towel.”

“Thanks, Hon.”

Putting them on, he smiled down at her, but she was looking at the new landscaping behind him.

“Awesome! So that’s what you were doing with all those heavy rocks.”

“I tried to describe it to you when I brought the rock home from Kansas last week.”

“I know, but I couldn’t picture it.”

“I was going for a sort of stone-age look.”

“It looks like Bedrock—you know, where the Flintstones live. Do you think the turtles will like it?”

“Like it? They’ll love it. They’ve been watching me work all morning. I just put that huge slab over the main cave. That was the hardest part.”

“What happened to the bark hut you made last summer?”

“It didn’t survive the winter,” he said holding up what was left of it.

Dr. Sinclair moved a small boulder from the passage that led from the old part of the habitat into the larger, newly landscaped area. Two pairs of box turtles entered the stage on cue and began nosing their way around the new terrain as the towering father-daughter shadows looked down in silence.

He was thankful for his daughter’s increasing interest in this peculiar pastime. His wife Clair and six-teen-year-old daughter, Anna, found the whole turtle thing a bit eccentric but humored him and tried to hide their smiles whenever they asked, “How are the turtles?” He didn’t mind. He saw the humor himself at many levels. As a word-smith, he knew that the sound of the word turtle was smirkable—but when spoken in the context of a 56-year-old man “tending his turtles” it was downright laughable. It might have been different if he were a herpetologist in the science department, but he was an English professor, and his interest was not in reptiles per se —only box turtles.

The hobby had started innocently enough.

Driving home from a writer's convention in Colorado three years before, Dr. Sinclair was in a daze as he drove the long stretch of I-35 through western Kansas. The sight of a box turtle in his lane startled him as if from sleep. He winced at the thought of feeling the slight bump under his tire, but there was no bumb, and he stopped to rescue the thing from becoming road-kill.

Picking up the tightly sealed shell in his hand brought to mind the box turtle John Steinbeck described in Chapter 3 of The Grapes of Wrath. Dr. Sinclair often used that chapter in his lectures on imagery or foreshadowing and had read it so often aloud to his classes through the years that he could nearly recite it as he paced the front of his small lecture hall, peering into the faces of students. Each year fewer seemed to listen. They sat blankly behind laptops, pretending to take notes, but their eyes were not engaged. They knew little of box turtles and completely missed Steinbeck’s’ use of a regional creature to depict the grit in the face of obstacles; they seemed to know little of seeds intent on being spread (and what that detail had to do with the story); they missed the implications of good and evil as shown by the car that swerved to miss the turtle and the one that swerved to hit it.

Occasionally, however, while looking up from his copy of Grapes, his eyes would meet those of a few students in the crowd equally engrossed in Steinbeck’s craft, and he couldn’t help but smile a little and think to himself even while reading: “Thank you, Lord. Two or three in this school of fish who listen and understand. That’s all I ask each semester.”

There was no end to what could be taught from Chapter Three of Grapes, and now seventy years after Steinbeck penned the words about the turtle crossing the highway, the professor had swerved to miss one and stopped to get it off the road. He had never seen one up close and marveled at how perfectly the hinged shell worked. It felt like hardened shoe leather, closed up tight. There was no coaxing the thing out for a peek. Perhaps he should have gently tossed it in the weeds far from the pavement. "But what if he's going the other way? He'll simply cross the road again. Next time he'll be a goner," he winced. "Kenzie might like it," he thought, and began walking back to his car.

He curled the plastic floor mats of his car into a pen on the passenger-side floor and kept an eye on him the rest of the way home to Michigan. From their on the floor, the turtle looked up at him with cautious, trusting eyes. The two shared this strange and quiet company for twenty hours.

Over time, through the convenience of E-bay, Dr. Sinclair’s turtle population grew to include several other specimens, most of them Eastern Ornates that looked as if a Native American child had painted countless yellow sun bursts on their shells. They were basically maintenance free. Fruits and vegetables and bits of chicken supplemented the bugs and worms they found on their own. At the first signs of frost and snow, went deep in their caves and burrowed even further in the soft loam. In Michigan, about half of a box turtle’s year is spent deep underground, emerging well after the robins return. These were just some of the things Dr. Sinclair and his daughter had learned together since the first turtle arrived. 

Kenzie was without guile and genuinely shared his fascination with the seemingly prehistoric creatures and the world he had created for them.

Presently, father and daughter stood with their shadows like clouds above the place watching the four creatures study the new terrain.  

“Oh, I almost forgot,"  Kenzie said, "Mom told me to tell you we’re leaving for Big Rapids in a half hour.”

“I know, I know,” her father moaned. “I’m right on schedule. I just need to fill the pond to see if the waterfall works.”

“Waterfall? What waterfall.”

“This shallow pond is a place for the turtles to hydrate, but under those rocks at the deep end is a pump that pushes the water to the top of that wall and then it falls down the rocks to the pond.”

“Cool,” Kenzie said, “Can I see it work?”

“There’s a remote control switch over on the patio table. Go get it and I’ll tell you when to turn it on.”

Kenzie’s feet flip-flopped across the lawn and picked up the small device. To the left of the patio, was the outside central air unit, which turned on with a loud click and a whirl from the hidden fan within. From the wall above the AC unit came the gritty sound of aluminum sliding against aluminum as a window of the master bedroom opened, and the silhouette of Mrs. Sinclair spoke from within.

“James, you need to clean up so we can go. I sent Kenzie out to get you, not to start playing with the turtles.”

“I thought we were leaving in a half hour…”

“We are, but it’ll take you that long to get cleaned up.”

“Alright,” he muttered, knowing he often underestimated the true time it took to finish one thing and begin another. “We just want to see the waterfall work, and then we’re done.”

“It wouldn’t hurt if we left a few minutes early,” said his wife.

“This will only take a minute. Okay, turn it on, Kenzie.”

The faint hum of a pump was heard until it was drowned out by the sound of water bubbling in a puddle behind some hostas, babbling along tiny rivulets, trickling down layers of rock and splashing back into the small pond. Even the turtles took note of the sound and lumbered toward it to drop over the stony edge and soak in the cool water.

“It looks great,” said Mrs. Sinclair from behind the screen.

“The turtles like it, too, Mom,” said Kenzie.

“You two and those turtles. Now come clean up, James. Everyone’s ready to go but you.”

The screen slid shut with a thud.

“Can I hold one before we go?”

“Sure, watch what they do. Their first thought will be to try to get away, out of reach. When that doesn’t work they simply box up. He reached under the net, and it was as he said. He handed her the neatly sealed capsule a little bigger and flatter than a croquet ball. Using her fingernail, she counted the growth rings on one of the scales of the shell and continued reviewing what she knew out loud.

“Cornice is the top shell. The scales are scutes. This one is 12 years old. She looked at the bottom. This is the plastron. It’s concave—curved in—so it’s probably a male.”

“Very good, Kenzie. It is a male. If he opens up you’ll see the orange scales on his front legs and the big curved claws on his hind feet. See how the design of his hinged plastron fits perfectly against the cornice? The shell is impervious.”

“What’s imper…vi.. What does that mean?” she asked.

“Good question. It means: difficult to penetrate—hard to get into.”

”Like when you were trying to open that little locket Grandma gave me to put a picture in, and you had to use the little screw driver for your glasses. Was that impervulous?”

“Impervious,” he tutored. “And yes, that locket was impervious until I got that screwdriver. Sort of like a pistachio nut without a crack for your thumbnails.”

The turtle opened its shell and studied Kenzie’s face.

“This one’s name is Rip because of that little rip in his shell?” she said.

“Remember: they are yard guest not pets” he explained for the umpteenth time. “Pets require affection and attention and these turtles have need of neither.”

Kenzie disagreed but didn’t say so at the time. She enjoyed studying the turtles’ patient ways; she liked most that when she studied them, they seemed to study her back.

“Why are they watching us, Daddy? Are they afraid?”

“I don’t think so. Not anymore, but they’ll always be wary. They’re carnivores. I’ve seen them hunt down toads and eat them alive.”

“Gross, Daddy. You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m not. They usually eat bugs and worms and berries--in that sense they're omnivorous--but I’ve seen them eat good-sized toads. That doesn’t make them bad, it makes them wary, because carnivores always suspect of others what they themselves might do given the chance. Knowing who to trust has been essential to survival since Paradise was Lost.”

The literary allusion was lost on the eight-year-old, but by then he was merely thinking out loud.

“Let’s put him back and get going before your mother starts hollerin’ for us again. Help me with the netting and then we’ll go. Wait a minute,” he added. "Wait just one minute. How did I miss that?"

He reached to far side of the space at weed that had sprung up through two large stones and gave it a yank.

"Ouch!" he said, putting his finger to his mouth.

"What happened, Daddy?"

"Oh, nothing, there were little thorns on the stem."

"Is it bleeding?"

"Not bad. Just smarts. I didn't see the thorns when I grabbed it. I hate when that happens." He smiled studying his finger for fragments.
They pulled a fine black net, from the high back wall of the landscaped habitat to the low wall that encircled the front and kept the turtles safe inside. With their arms full of yard tools, Dr. Sinclair and his daughter trudged to the shed. From ten feet away, the fine netting disappeared, and the lower vegetation hid the turtles.

Kenzie called that corner of the yard their “turtle garden.” It was a garden of sorts—and it had grown considerably each summer to accommodate the small pond with lily pads and cattails. All around it were wild flowers, hollow logs, bridges, and hibernation boroughs. As of that morning, there was now a half-ton of Kansas limestone slabs laid out in prehistoric hills and holes complete with a waterfall. Around the perimeter were variegated hostas. It was, indeed, a garden. Making it so was essential to his wife’s tolerance of its increasing size and cost. Dr. Sinclair never forgot, however, that the real purpose of the world he’d created was containment: keeping the turtles in and predators out. “To Preserve and Protect” as he’d often read on the side of the police cars in their small town.

What he failed to see was that, in many ways, his life had become as cloistered as the world he had created. Privacy fences were not allowed in their wooded development, but their half-acre backyard was hedged in with tall tangles of ancient lilac across the rear, towering yew trees, evergreens to the north, and to the south a row of Rose of Sharon and an overgrown grape arbor whose broad leaves were as valued as the few grapes it produced. All of which served as natural barriers to the world beyond. It's not that he didn't like people. His days were full of people--students and peers and strangers--and that suited him fine, but it was the incessant conversational nature of his days that prompted him to cultivate the natural walls that surrounded his yard, his sanctuary.

This family outing, tubing down a river with his wife and two daughters, was a pleasure that ranked higher on his calendar than any of the social functions expected of him during the school year. Little did he know the events of this day would change him forever.
To be continued...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Still Waters" Chapter 1

A long short story (or short novella) in progress

The man had turned his thoughts to stone. The shelter he had made the year before was little more than swaths of bark lashed to bent limbs, and the weight of snow had nearly flattened it.

Stone, he thought. Stone and rock could bear the winter weight and stand the test of time. A cave would be ideal. Such niches, he knew, could be made impervious to all but the life held deep inside. With the breeze of the nearby lake and the shade of the tall oaks overhead, a grotto of sorts is what he had in mind.

By mid-summer, the man had found a spot just beyond his previous claim, but properly executed, the site would go unnoticed by those who might accuse him of encroachment. He carved out the earth, and hauled stone slabs to mask the cave's mouth.

Earlier in the day, he had heard the sound of drums in the west, but they had stopped without notice, and the high-pitched hush of heat made him eager to finish his task.

He stood above the cave’s entrance, his back bowed by the weight the last large slab held between his outstretched feet. His brackish skin glistened in the sun. His bloodied knuckles nearly touched the ground.

His frame seemed made for such grunt-work. His mind was void of all but primal thoughts, those of mind and matter. This final slab was a capstone of sorts, chiseled and shaped to fit, and had to be precisely placed to hide what was below. Once let go, it would take two men to lift again. There was, however, no second man--at least none he trusted knowing of this place.

The arms and hands and fingers waited for a signal from the head, but just when all was ready for the drop—his eyesight blurred. This loss of vision had occurred before but never when his hands were indisposed.

From deep within, a groan grew into a frustrated growl as the man shook his head from side to side until his eyes could see again. He blinked hard at his mark on the ground. The signal from head to hands came, his arms pulled back just as his fingers gave way, and the slab dropped with a thud to its final resting place.

The man stood upright, turned his face toward the sun, and filled his lungs with air.

In the brief silence between breaths, a faint rhythm began in the distance. It was not the drums he'd heard before—that sound and those who made it meant nothing but trouble. This patter was a welcome whisper compared to the drums, a delicate flapping rhythm, coming closer with each beat and familiar as the touch of his own skin. Without looking, the man knew what it was....

“Daddy, Mom says to put your shirt on so you don’t get sun-burnt,” the little girl said above the patter of her flip-flops flopping against the soft skin of her feet.

The rhythm of his daughter's flip flops was one of the many sounds of summer that he loved. The drums and noise of a neighborhood garage band was a sound he loathed, but fortunately they only practiced before gigs, which were rare and rightly so. Before and after the so-called music they forced upon all those in earshot came the ruckus of raucous voices and squealing of tires that impressed no one but themselves. He was less puzzled by the testosterone-driven behavior than he was that the parents had seemingly relinquished any say in matters of their home. Once the two Sincalir girls had asked if they could walk around to the other road to see the band practicing, and their father's emphatic NO triggered a list of reasons so disproportionate to the curiosity that prompted their request that they couldn't help but snicker at him. He snickered himself for having recited so thorough a treatise from thin air when he could have merely said, 'It is my goal in life to keep you from the company of such boys."

Dr. James Sinclair still stood staring at the sky. Since dawn, the Head of the English Department at Riverdale College, had been landscaping with heavy slabs of Kansas limestone. It was a sweltering day in late June, the perspiration that had soaked his discarded T-shirt was now dripping freely from his skin, and trickling from his scalp to his eyes. As he was putting the last and largest stone in place, his was head slightly lower than his arched back, and a steady stream of sweat began trickling from his gray hair to the crow’s feet of eyes, and was now dripping into both lenses of his horned-rimmed bifocals—like eye drops into teaspoons— until he couldn’t see a thing. It had happened twice that day, but never without a free hand to remove the useless specs. He had no choice but to shake his head until the glasses flew off, a feat more difficult than he had guessed. Thus the frustrated scream.

“I’m wearing my last-year’s swim suit;” his daughter jabbered, “‘cause Mom says the river might be muddy, but this is my new towel. See what’s on it? Turtles.”

She dramatically tossed the beach towel around her neck as if it were a feather boa.

“Don’t come any closer,” her father snapped.

Kenzie froze in her flip flops.

“My glasses are on the ground somewhere.”

“Where?” she asked.

“I don’t know, and I can’t look for them until I find ‘em.”

It was a tired line he used whenever he misplaced his glasses, which was often, but it always made his daughter smile.

“There they are—by the badminton net,” she said running to fetch them. “How’d they get way over here?”

He pretended not to hear his daughter’s question as he began putting on his soaked T-shirt. Pulling it over his head, he stopped inside the shirt as if somehow separated from the outside world. The damp cotton felt good against his face. He blotted his briny eyes and thought: How did the glasses get there? The answer would confirm that his red face was caused not by the noontide heat, nor by the burden of stone, but by rage, the most thoughtless of all human emotions. In fact, as he had often lectured, rage was not an emotion at all. It bypassed the brain and back-flushed the senses; it was an animal-like reaction rooted deep in depravity.

A wave of guilt washed over him in its aftermath, sapping what little strength was left in his arms as they emerged from the sleeves of the shirt. And for what? he rebuked himself. So what if your glasses were filling with sweat. So what if they were blinding you…so what if the stone was about to crush your fingers. What does it say of you if, given the cause, your voice give way to a godless scream? What does that say of you?

With his face still hidden in the shirt, he pressed the cool cotton again against his eyes and pondered his own questions, but in truth, it was the answers he ignored.

To be continued in installments once or twice a week as time permits...

Note: "Still Waters" is an experiment in third-person fiction.  The ideas for the story began simmering four summers ago and are based on an actual event but completely stretched beyond the first-person account and real characters. I know where I plan to take the plot, but I'm still wrestling with how to get there. It is quite a departure from my normal style and subject matter, and may even be a bit disturbing by the conclusion. When complete, it will be a long "short story" best read in one sitting, but as always, I'll blog it out here in four or five "parts," a process that helps motivate me to complete my "works in progress." Please bear with me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mr. President, Perhaps...
Your Kicking Foot Should Go Full Circle.

For several years, the Emerald Coast of the Panhandle has been our school's Senior Trip destination. Two weeks ago, we were there enjoying the white beaches of Destin, Florida.

No matter the size of the group we take each year, there are always two or three for whom it is the first time they have flown or the first time they have seen the ocean (we let them call the gulf the ocean in this case). It stands to reason that it is also the first time some of the seniors have seen dolphins and pelicans in the wild. (This picture is not from Destin. The oil booms were not yet in place when we were there.)

The day before we flew back to Michigan, one of our young ladies was trying to take a picture of a pelican in flight along the beach.  I can't remember if she succeeded or not, but I know it would make her sick to see these pictures.

We live in that area of the gulf for just one week each year, I can only imagine how the people who for generations have lived there are feeling right now. Already their tourism has been decimated, their charter fishing boats docked by either mandate or lack of customers, and now their pelicans (which is the state bird of Louisiana) are being grounded by crude sludge and boxed up in crates for attempted rescue.

How could this happen? Look under any one of the sinks in your house, and you'll see a shut-off valve on both the hot and the cold water supply lines. Those valves are required by building codes for convenience and safety in the event that a leak occurs or a pipe breaks above that valve. If a leak occurs below that valve, there is a main shut-off valve in the basement of your house. If a leak occurs in the supply line to the house, there is an underground shut-off valve somewhere between your home and the street, and your area waterworks engineers know exactly where it is. Millions of homes across this country have at least three shut off valves between the street and the sink.

My point? If "code" requires so many shut-off valves for clean water, how in the world have we allowed an industry to have not one shut off valve in the thousands of giant man-made verticle pipelines capable of spewing millions of gallons per day into one of our treasured resources? Don't get me wrong. I'm not against oil or off-shore drilling any more than I'm against city water running to my house from the supply line near the street. I'm just flabbergasted that companies like BP are allowed to drill and install miles and miles of "plumbing" without a viable shut-off system, and I'm equally flabbergasted that President Obama has been so inept at helping SOLVE the problem BEFORE making enemies and criminals of those he's left in charge to fix it.

This underwater oil gusher is nearly 60 days old. For the first 50 days, our president was in damage control--unfortunately it had nothing to do with the gulf; he was controling the damage to himself. For weeks we heard nothing but blame and litigation and most recently threats for some a** kickin'.

I try to avoid politics here at Patterns of Ink, but can you imagine the different treatment this news story would be getting if it had occurred under the previous administration's watch. Listen to this report on British television. The leak is dumping 40,000 barrels (not gallons) per day into the gulf. This may be BP's liability but its OUR PROBLEM.  It's not the white cliffs of Dover, England, that are being ruined; it's our own shoreline. How could we as a nation be so ill prepared for this containment and clean-up process?  This is a disaster that requires not a politician, not a lawyer, but a true leader. (Thank heavens we are learning this now and not during "World War".)

I think its time for the President's kicking foot to go full circle and find his own rear end.

In the meantime, it would be good for us to remember that we are allies with Britain. The U.S. will play the Brits in the World Cup Soccer match today. I have a feeling this British Petroleum mess will add some tension to that match. But I also sense that Obama has not liked the Brits for some time. Did you know that one of the first acts Obama performed upon moving into the White House was sending a bust of Winston Churchill back to England ? (It had been a gift from Tony Blair to our country.)  I hope that the spirit of this old WWII song, will remind us of a far more desperate time when the Yanks and Brits banded together. The U.S. and English relationship continues to serve a much greater purpose. This is a time for team work not a reenactment of the Revolutionary War.

Here is an update found in the New York Times two days after this post. It develops this latter point.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Ten Days Ago,
We Were on These Beaches with our Seniors.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Galarraga Robbed of Perfection
But Not of His Character
[Update at end of post]
Even if you missed the Tiger game last night, you will no doubt see the replay of the blown call that robbed Armando Galarraga of a perfect game, a feat never accomplished in more than 100 years of Tiger baseball history. The replay--even without slow-mo--shows the runner was out by half-a-step. It is so obvious that Umpire Jim Joyce humbly appologized to Galarraga minutes after the game.

This AP article reported: " [Umpire Joyce said] 'I just cost that kid a perfect game.'

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Joyce asked to speak with Galarraga. Denied the first perfect game in Tigers history, Galarraga appreciated the gesture. “You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,”’ Galarraga said. “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”

The real story is not the first picture that proves the call was badly blown; it's the picture of Galarraga's smile in response to the blown call. This guy should be heralded as the new hero of sport. The game does not make us who we are--it shows us what we are. Remember Galarraga every time you see professional athletes, on or off the field, acting like a jerk, a drunk, a thug, a sexual predator, or an over-paid, raving, self-centered megalomaniac.

Listen to this ESPN interview with Galarraga. This young man understands that character and understanding that "we are only human" is far more important than perfection. Galarraga may have been robbed on that final call but his character was put on display. This is what baseball--and all sport--should be about. I'll say it again: The game does not make us who we are--it shows us what we are. Oh, that there were more role models like this. Oh, that all of the Tiger fans spewing over this blown call could take a deep breath and act more like Galarraga today and in the days ahead. This world would be a better place.

Do I think the commissioner should intervene and correct the record? Yes. Just as Joyce admitted he was wrong, I think that the runner, Jason Donald, could make history by honorably setting the record straight and taking that "hit" out of his average. Instant replay is another discussion. This is a historic and indisputable error, and  I agree with Jon Morosi that Bud Selig should correct it for the good of the game. Whether or not that happens, in the meantime, I will take my cue from this new sports hero... and smile.
See more complete coverage and commentary on the blown call here.

Update: I've never been more proud of the Tigers. Selig did not overturn the call, but the Tigers handled the matter with absolute class the next day. Jim Joyce was behind the plate. Chevy gave Galarraga a 2010 Corvette; Galarraga gave Joyce the line-up and sincere handshake; Joyce broke down in tears. Tigers won, and afterwards, Manager Jim Leyland gave a great, tear-jerker press conference after the game.  Remarkable pitcher. Remarkable ump. A great moment in baseball.

Here is a day-after article that reflects similar thoughts to those I shared in this post. Maybe he reads here at POI. (Ha Ha)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Come Hell or High Water,
We Are in God's Hands [Psalm 139:7-10]

A couple weeks back, I mentioned that I was entering the busiest days of our school year and would not be writing for a while.  I’ve been posting pictures of my granddaughter, etc., but this feels more like Facebooking than "writing" in that I’m just sharing news about my family—or in this case, some real news affecting my family.

Between all the headlines about the BP’s attempts to secure its oil spill in the gulf, Arizona’s attempt to secure its border with Mexico, and Israel’s attempt to secure its borders on the Mediterranean, one could get the feeling that the world is feeling pretty insecure right now, and it is.

One thing each of those stories has in common is that they are more or less caused by man. That is not the case with the event that has been on our minds since last Thursday. We first heard about it in a text message from our daughter Kimberly who simple told us she was safe and not to worry. We had not yet heard anything on TV or the Radio. In fact, nearly all of the information below, I had to research on my own. There has not been much main-stream news coverage about it. First some background:

Our daughter attends college in Chicago where met a fine young man from Indiana. He has lived in Guatemala for nearly ten years with his missionary parents.
(I nabbed these two recent pictures from Kim's Facebook page BEFORE the event happened. Other photos are from the linked articles. Double-click to enlarge.) 

His name is Nate; they've been dating for over a year. We have enjoyed his company in our home on a number of occasions (since we live just 2.5 hours from Chicago). The last time he was with us, he asked permission to take Kim to Guatemala to meet his parents at the close of the school year. We understand the importance of such meetings at this time in their life and gladly agreed to the trip. Kim had her passport from last summer’s  work in Croatia, so it was simply a matter of getting an airplane ticket, which was surprisingly reasonable.

So two weekends ago, Kim and Nate flew down to Guatemala and were having a nice time visiting and working alongside Nate’s parents (whose ministry to the people of that region is worthy of much more than this brief mention). There days also included some recreational trips to the mountains and jungles and other points of interest, like the Pakaya Volcano a few miles from Nate's home.

Nate and his brother (and thousands of tourists annually) have climbed that volcano in recent years, but Kim and Nate merely looked at it in the distance. [That is not them in the picture.] Based on the years Julie and I visited each others "stomping grounds" when we were dating, we know it is  important to add the dimension of “past” to present relationships. We are very happy Kim has been able to see the places Nate knew during those formative teen years. We feel we have gotten to know Nate's family much better through the emails, text messages, phone calls, and Facebook updates since Kim has been there. This has been especially true during the past five days.

You see, Kim and Nate were supposed to be back in Michigan last Sunday night, but God saw fit to let them share a different adventure for an additional week.

Thursday night, they felt the earth shaking and soon afterwards it began “snowing” black ash. Pakaya "has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala.... After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965..." and has been considered active ever since, but Thursday's eruption was the most devastating display Pakaya has shown in the nearly ten years that Nate's family has lived there. No Kim and Nate were not hiking the mountain when it happened. (One reporter and some curious people who were present were killed.)

When all was said and done, there were three inches of ash on everything including the commercial jets at the airport Kim would have departed from the next day. Instead, all flights were cancelled. Kim called to inform us that it would be a day or two before the airport was open for business. But wait; it gets worse.

As we all know from the Oil Spill Story in the gulf, we are also now officially in that region’s hurricane season. Guatemala also has a hurricane season and two days after the volcano erupted, as they were trying to dig out from the ash, tropical storm Agatha hit the same area. This was a torrential downpour that led to flooding. People unfamiliar with volcanic ash might think that the rain would help the clean-up process. But what happens when a downpour  sends millions of tons of volcanic ash into one of the worst sewer systems in the semi-modern world? The system clogs with mortar-like mud. Once the drainage system breaks down all that flowing water rushes through an enormous underground cavern system that is honeycombed under much of Guatemala’s populated areas.

This sink hole from this past weekend is not an optical illusion. They have happened before in Guatemala. It is a clean “bottomless pit” that dropped like an elevator shaft 30 stories down into the earth. Can you imagine the epic feelings of ancient and eternal fears that overwhelmed the first person who discovered that hole after it opened up at that intersection? There’s really no way of knowing if anyone discovered it by falling in because far down at the bottom of it are the raging waters that carved out the caverns in the first place. It gives me the creeps just looking at the picture. I don't suppose there is any way to fill such a sink hole. In a wealthy nation, I suppose there would be a way to build a bridge over it and make it a tourist attraction. But as you can see from the footage below, Guatemala is not a wealthy nation. Days later, they have still not even put barricades around the site.

Over 150 have died in the aftermath of the volcano and storm and 100 others are missing. Kim is safe with Nate’s family and we are getting daily updates. I am confident that whatever their relationship may be in the future (which is not for me to guess or discuss here) that this extended visit will play a major part in there understanding of each other.

This experience may also add an important distinction to the well-meaning adage: “Do your best and God will do the rest.” By that I mean: a possible misuse of that adage is that we are called to do our best in our own strength and then leave the rest to God. Serving the Lord is not a tag-team proposition. We don't work alone and then tap the Almighty for the heavy lifting. Choosing to serve God is a joint venture each day. We truly "do our best" only when we allow him to work through us.

The images of volcanoes, mudslides, floods, and sinkholes give new meaning to that old phrase “Come hell or high water.” Even so, there is security in knowing we are in God’s hand. This is true not only when we choose to hold it, not only when we tap it for help, but when we fully understand that we are in the center of his palm—come what may.
Nate and Kim drove to the closed airport yesterday and were able to get tickets on the first plane scheduled to depart for the states on Thursday. So if all goes well, we will be getting a first-hand report on the situation in Guatemala when Kim gets here from Chicago on Friday afternoon. Please pray for safety as she and Nate fly back. We have not worried about them through this ordeal, but we do grieve for the hardship of Nate's parents and the people they serve in the weeks and months ahead.


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