No one wants to turn their kayak and head back. But we’ve been paddling for eleven days, riding the western swells over nightmare shoals, and are desperately out of supplies. Dry clothes are but a memory and the aroma rising when we pull off our cockpit covers is staggering—smoky wool and stale wet neoprene, pungent seaweed, the unmistakable musk of sleeping bag romances, and the rapidly decomposing leftovers of what little rations remain: Rye-Crisp which is anything but crisp, tea-bags used and re-used, barely colouring already-tannic outer coast water, and all the rolling papers stuck together in a long accordion spliff.
Lipstick and Spinster Lane
(Lipstick) Standing by my government truck fourteen kilometers from town; keeping chaos at bay in the woods or so it often seems. Down the hill comes an old four-door sedan—a real land barge from the early seventies, once proud in the country club parking lot, now just rusty and faded, sagging under a load. I wave it to a stop and the driver, a weary-looking woman, nervously glances at my forest service badges. I am surprised when I have a quick look inside the spacious interior—all the seats but hers are removed and the space piled high with firewood. The trunk lid flaps, unable to close for the burden.
(Spinster Lane) She was given a dead raccoon by a neighbour whose henhouse it had plagued. She wanted to make a hat so skinned it herself for after the five men through her life who brought her winter firewood and slipped rough hands under her camisole, she’d learned there was no one dependable. Scraping the lard off the inner layer, she gave it to her dog, Gizmo, Giz for short, who soon went paralyzed in the field, still breathing but not moving for a day and a night.
Stranglers, Water Thieves, Wide-mouth Pumpkins and the Sweet Talking Ladies in the White Trailer
The early summer lightning storms frolic a hellish two-step across the forested steeps of the north Island trailing fire from Wolf River up to the hemlock-balsam jungle of the Artlish that has rarely felt this devil’s lick. The unusual drought earlier in the season parched the forests into corn flakes and shriveled the needles and twigs. Lower branches curl down in search of scant water. Underfoot moss and lichen crumble to grey lifeless powder, the earth hollow in its thirst. Then, this swarm of thunderbolts. Big fires around Gold River, above Muchalat Lake along the umbilical power lines, and an angry sky close to Vernon Camp and blustery Atluck Lake
I had to know how far to push him, where his edges were, what set him off. For all I knew he could’ve been my last chance.
After thirty years of marriage to an oaf, one day I hopped in the Chev. Said I was going out for milk. I’d had enough, and the kids were grown. I did like so many women and slipped out the door one morning and drove west, toward the coast, watching the house fade away in the rear-view mirror until I could cover it by holding up my thumb. I didn’t tell him I was going, I didn’t pee in his shoes like my friend Sally did with her dearly beloved. No note, no nothing, just gone. I bet he’s still at home, waiting in his recliner for a supper no one’s going to bring.