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Excerpt

Excerpt

The Salt Garden

Sophia Fleming

 

There are places within us we do not often share,
And sometimes do not know so well ourselves.
Places of longing and love,
of near-forgotten dreams and secrets we cannot speak.
These places are sometimes found by others, and once glimpsed,
there is no turning away.

 

I found something today.

One of those somethings you imagine finding, then wonder what to do once you have it.

I paused before plunging my hand into the cold seawater, the first of three attempts to reach the object. Water always teases perceptions. I nearly missed it. And how that would have changed today and perhaps my tomorrows also.

A slight flash of sunlight magnified within the water caught my eye as I walked along the tidal pools. Square objects don't abide with the rolled and worn shapes of the sea, so I knew it was made by human hands. A small metal box, perhaps, or a piece of wood with something reflective attached. I made the guesses as I approached.

When I found it, a sense of a dream enclosed around me. There are plenty of dreams I've wished for, or even better, desired the real-life experience instead of the dream. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to put words upon the page, to attempt to capture what I cannot have in reality. Be it some moment of elation or love or reconciliation. Some moment so perfect that it must be captured in writing or in a moving picture. A moment with background music, maybe the sound track to Casablanca. The scent of the sea and the touch of wind upon my face would give me a look of eternity, and dare I dream, of beauty, even at my age. Perhaps I'm overly dramatic, but it isn't often that I find a true treasure along my sea walk.

My, how the water was cold and the tidal pool deeper than it appeared as I carefully bent along the craggy crevice. A woman of my age must be careful along those wet rocks; I'm not the youngster I once was, and some days it feels as if I've always been old. That icy salt water chilled me to the bone, all the way up to my pushed-up sleeve. The surge in and out of waves soaked my walking boots. Just as I thought to pull away, my fingers touched that reflected something in a tangle among the seaweed and rock. A spider starfish observed my quest from a few inches away. The wind whispered in my hair that the scent of weather was in its touch, but no movie music filled the spaces.

The treasure --- for all beach litter is a treasure, even the old boot I found decades ago, which now serves as a geranium planter --- was nearly more sea than civilization. A book with a metal cover plate. It was so tarnished and dented that the lock had rusted shut.

My walking stick (some call it a cane; I prefer walking stick) back in my right hand and the ocean's treasure burning a hole in the pocket of my raincoat, I shortened my usual route and high-stepped it toward the cottage.

The outside is clean now, at least from seaweed and the sludge of the deep. Rubbing my hands together, it feels as if I've found the Holy Grail. I stare closely, then attempt to break the lock with a steak knife. I try several times before it opens with a click. Barely lifting the cover, I see pages glued together in a solid soaked mess, and I fear they'll disintegrate at a touch. It's a miracle paper could survive in all that salt, but recalling images from other shipwrecks, I know it's possible.

It's surely from that shipwreck.

The Josephine made Orion Point a historic landmark. That stormiest of nights back in 1905 became emblazoned upon my mother's memory as she scoured the shoreline with her family in search of survivors.

What was this book's journey before the wreck that plunged it to the bottom of the sea? Whose hands once turned the pages? Were any creatures from the deep inspired by the message inside? That's my foolish thinking, yet I savor such fanciful thoughts.

For over fifty years I've kept myself here on Orion Point. My wide world shrunk to these eighty pine-covered acres of West Coast woodland with one dog and one neighbor as companions. Orion Point may never be the same after today. I must think and pray.

It feels as if life-changing capacities are held within this book I found. I know it's God's nudge that I've tried to ignore for a while now. He's opened a door. I've seen many seasons cycle around me during my seventy-odd years, changing me as they've gone. This feels like the first cold breezes of a monumental storm. Maybe it's all my imagination.

Somehow I think --- and fear --- it's not imagination but truth.

My old dog yawns at my feet as we warm ourselves beside the fire.

An artifact should be sent to a museum or the archaeological society for examination. A team of scientists has been diving and probing the ocean floor for the past week at the shipwreck site; surely they'd want this relic of the sea. It may be their probing that brought it to me.

I know these things, but tonight as it sits in a strainer on my kitchen counter, and as I sit beside the fire warming the chill from my old bones, I cannot help but want to keep it.

Somewhere I have a very old newspaper article my mother kept, telling of objects found from the wrecked Josephine. Clipping such stories was a hobby of my mother's, though as I now think back, it was more of an obsession. As a young girl living in the new stone house on the Point, she'd been here that night of howling wind and fierce water. She met the storm, carrying a kerosene lantern behind her parents as they brought blankets and searched for survivors. In her older age, she recalled the slow dawn that revealed the choppy waves filled with debris and the pale twisted bodies washed ashore.

The stories from childhood return to me now, stories of the ship's demise off the rocky shore that became my play yard and later my sea walk. Mostly, thoughts of the stormy crash never entered my mind full of youthful musings. Other times it was with adventure and danger that I replayed my own fictive illusions of what had happened.

As I rock in this old chair, I can nearly touch those days gone by. I can hear Phillip and Helen, just children then, shouting out a welcome, coming to the Point to play. We'd inevitably find our way to the rocky piece of shoreline within view of where the schooner floundered.

"Let's get Ben," Phillip said so often, standing atop a rock where the crisp wind tickled his cheeks, and his brown hair fluttered up as if to sweep him away. I first loved him in those days, seeing the essence of life that filled him and overflowed upon us all. People were always taken by Phillip, from childhood until his death. There was something of the eternal in him, I believe. Something that reminded of things beyond the moment, and it drew people to him. Few felt it as strongly as we did --- his sister, Helen; Ben; and I.

"Let's save Ben from his father," Phillip would say.

Our feet would rush along the path to the lighthouse. Ben would have too many chores, his stern father staring at us as if we were intruders from an invading land. Within an hour, we'd pick the nets clean, rake the stalls, stack the firewood, and polish the glass on the lighthouse tower until it gleamed in the sunlight --- dismissing every excuse his father could think of to keep Ben from frolicking. The chores completed, we'd head for the forested trails beyond view of the lighthouse. Ben would be ours.

"Let's be pirates fighting upon the rocks as the Josephine is sinking behind us," Phillip shouted more to the sea than to us.

Ben needed a few minutes to shed the coat of his father's tyranny. Then suddenly he'd raise a piece of driftwood like a sword saying, "We'll kidnap the girls and take them to the South Seas."

"No way." Helen's hands fisted on her hips. "Girls can be pirates too."

Their voices remain with me tonight. I wonder if Ben remembers them while he sits before his fire in that same lighthouse, just a quarter of a mile away. Does he remember our losses and find longing in the days of youth?

How have so many years passed us by? Every year amazes me more, and yet the feeling of a journey's end rises as an eventual destination through the fog of future.

An emblem from the Josephine came to me today as if delivered from the past. I've picked it up a dozen times, imagining what words could be written inside. What if it belonged to that woman, the one the ship was named after, the one my mother recalled when they found her barely alive that frigid morning?

When Ben comes by, I'll show him the book. Speculating on what is hidden within its pages reminds me of the days of yesterday, but these memories comfort me without inflicting the usual pain. Such comfort feels good to these old bones. Surely the scientists searching the wreckage would like to see it.

But for now, it is mine.

The Tidal Post

Your local paper serving Harper's Bay since 1882

Road Closure for Winter Months

Scheduled delays on the reconstruction of Wilson Bridge have brought the project into the dreaded winter season. For the next several months old Highway 7 will be closed.

Harper's Bay will be inaccessible by road to the residents of Orion Point. Ben Wilson, lighthouse curator and resident of the Point, responded with a hearty chuckle when interviewed. "I always come to town by boat anyway."

Reclusive author Sophia T. Fleming, the other resident of Orion Point, was unavailable for comment.
 

 

Claire O'Rourke

I'm stranded.

This truth has taken ten distinct minutes to fully sink in. I'm stranded along a coastal road with the dense woodlands turning dark around me, and no one will be coming this way tonight. The road is closed.

Technology is worthless. At least when your car breaks down on a deserted highway and the little receptor bars on your cell phone announce there is no way it can find its home antenna.

Vaguely I recall the orange signs some miles back that I didn't read in my haste to get out of Harper's Bay before the town tightened like a boa's embrace to keep me from leaving.

"Claire O'Rourke, no one can abandon their hometown." Those would be my mother's words from earlier this afternoon. I think she says them, or some similar version, every visit. I'm not trying to abandon my hometown, only put some distance between it and me. I know where I'm supposed to be going, and it's not to Harper's Bay.

I tabulate the sixteen miles to town, the growing darkness, and the ominous clouds overhead. As a bird flies, Orion Point holds the closest residence. But a bird flies over the thick, deep forest and over the bridge detour that engineers blocked off. Even as a girl walks, Orion Point holds the closest home, but the driveway is long and hard to find in its nearly overgrown state (at least it was overgrown last time I saw it in high school; it might be completely eaten by woods now). And I've never actually been to the house of S. T. Fleming. It's somewhere near the northern edge of the densely forested peninsula. Strange that such a mysterious place is within miles of where I grew up, and I've never seen it.

Of course, almost every citizen of Harper's Bay is curious about S. T. Fleming. Every year daring high school students make a trek toward the Point with ominous tales of why she shuts herself away from the world. Aliens and UFOs are mentioned or, of course, ghosts. No one ever comes near the house. Mrs. Fleming, she knows to lock the huge iron security gate.

Locked security gate --- that could be another obstacle toward reaching help.

Ben Wilson lives in the lighthouse at the very tip of Orion Point, but I'm not sure of the way to that either, except that it's beyond Mrs. Fleming's place.

It's strange to be here when I should be cruising down Highway 101, excited to be driving a fuel-efficient car with low miles I bought at a great price and listening to a book on CD over my stereo (Dickens's Great Expectations, since it's been a while since I read it). Strange too, as I headed off just half an hour earlier, I wondered, Perhaps I'm not supposed to be on this road out of town. That quick thought was followed by turning a corner in the road and spotting cement blockades in my path. As I braked abruptly, there came a sudden lurch and pop beneath the hood. Voilà! Stranded.

I toss my cell phone onto my seat and try to recall any place along this mountainous, old Highway 7 that receives phone service without walking miles. The hood is up on my politically correct vehicle (which means it gets over 30 mph). The cold is coming off the sea, and I can barely hear the waves half hidden by thick foliage and the coming darkness of night. Looking beneath the hood into the labyrinth of hoses and shiny metal parts, I try finding a resemblance to the Willy's Jeep engine I helped my father work on in junior high. A whole world of differences separate a '47 Willy's and a 1998 Honda beneath the hood, like comparing the intestines of a wall clock to those of a computer.

A large, moss-covered rock beside the road provides a hard seat as I stare at my broken-down, new-to-me car --- the kind that doesn't have a warranty. Suddenly the thought returns that I again brush away like the raindrop that splatters upon my jacket sleeve.

Maybe I'm supposed to stay.

Today my mother told me about a great job at the local paper. Her definition of a great job pretty much means it's located within a twenty-mile radius of home. My journalism degree would put me on top of the application stack, she's sure of it. I could move into the bungalow at the back property --- Dad's inventor's studio that went awry and now is shamefully used for storage --- such a cute little apartment it could be.

Earlier I was leaving town. With the road before me, I was escaping little tinges of my hometown's seduction. The quaint life that conjures thoughts of a forest called Walden, my parents close by (which I would actually enjoy), and sleep (oh, how I sleep with the sound of the sea around me) begins to stir up a yearning I quickly beat away. Once I'm home in San Francisco, I'll wipe my brow in relief for escaping again. I always do.

San Francisco reminds me of all I need to accomplish. I missed an important meeting on Friday, needing the day to come here to pick up my car. A friend on her way to Seattle dropped me off, and Friday was the only day she could go. My supervisor at the San Francisco News & Review said it'd be fine to miss the day, but talk was circulating about changes, new roles, promotions. And then at church a meeting is set for tomorrow --- the singles group is planning a trip to Mexico. A missions trip might also help me connect with a few other singles. With so many people in the group and my busy life of dreams to realize, I've gotten to know very few.

Alone next to my car, I realize that I've made few connections since moving to the city after college. My list of acquaintances is long, but only a few have slid over into friendships.

"Are you dating anyone?" Mom asked earlier, as if she doesn't ask me on our weekly phone calls, or perhaps she thinks I'll suddenly confess a secret love life because we're together in person.

"No, Mom, no one." My mother once would ask if I was dating anyone "special," and now she just asks if I'm dating. Her two best friends have been grandmothers for some time now, and every time I visit she tells me how they share grandchildren pictures and funny stories while she has none.

"There's no one at all?"

I could share the stories of the three men I've dated in the last year. Hancock and I dated for three months, though I don't think we completed a single meal without a long line of food getting stuck in his teeth. I'm not talking about once in a while or a little speck of food. For several weeks, I thought he was testing me or something. We'd eat, say a scone at Starbucks, and as Hancock explained about the seminary class he'd attended that day, he'd smile or grimace, depending upon the class --- eschatology always produced a grimace --- and there they'd be. The blueberries or cinnamon or just scone stuck between gum and teeth.

I lost five pounds dating Hancock. What's worse, he dumped me. He said his studies were making it too difficult to build a relationship. I'd wanted to quit after the first date, but his sister, who was a friend from church, kept saying sometimes it takes time to recognize the person God has for us, even when they've been before our eyes all along. Hancock was definitely before my eyes; I was just disgusted by what I saw.

Tayler was definitely the best-looking guy I've ever dated, which really helped my confidence level after Hancock's rejection. One of those heart-stopping kind of guys, the kind you wouldn't really want to marry 'cause most single women on the planet would be looking at him with wonder and you in critique. But it was nice to be the reflection in his eyes, even for only a month. He knew I was a Christian from the beginning; we met at the church singles group. But I guess he'd never dated a Christian who really meant it. Once he discovered that things such as casual kissing in the choir room weren't an option, he pretty much moved on. I think he was rather accustomed to being the downfall of women's convictions. He left me at a restaurant with the dinner bill. Should I tell this to Mom?

Mark, an intern at work, took me to lunch. Well, kind of. Our department was supposed to have a get-together, but we were the only ones who showed up. He did pick up the bill, so does that count? Mom would say it did, but I didn't want to actually date Mark anyway. He picks at his ears when he works on the computer. So that might make me sound a little shallow and/or immature, but if a guy's idiosyncrasies are my pet peeves, what's the use in considering forever with him?

"Mom, life's too short to spend seeking some elusive guy."

"You could spend a little time seeking him."

"What if it's not my calling in life to get married and have kids?"

"I know it's my calling to be a grandma, and my calling hinges on you."

"Oh, brother."

"Yeah, I've given up on him, your brother. He'll probably become a professional mountain man before I see him near the altar."

"Mom, I think he is a professional mountain man, not that a mountain man won't find a mountain gal."

"I think he's married to a tree."

She has a point. My brother, Conner, grew up reading books like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Surviving in the Wilderness, and My Side of the Mountain. He's had a tough time separating adulthood from childhood forays into the wooded areas of our youth. One Christmas he showed up at my parents' doorstep looking like Bigfoot --- I hardly recognized him until he showered, shaved, and pulled his hair into a ponytail. Conner and I stayed up until 3 a.m. telling each other stories --- mine of San Francisco and his of adventures along the Pacific Coast trail and working odd jobs from outfitter to assistant biologist. If Conner settled down, worked banker's hours, wore a tie, and drove a minivan, I'd lose all faith in a world of individuality.

The rain that started like a spit-wad match is now pelting me back into my car.

The door slams and here I sit in this compact space. Suddenly I realize that I'll have to sleep in my car. No one is coming down this road tonight --- the bridge is under construction and the whole town knows it. I have to quit thinking about serial killers, werewolves, and bears. Hey, killers and werewolves and bears, oh my! Great, now I'm making Wizard of Oz jokes with myself. What's that a sign of --- hypothermia? But I'm not cold --- not yet.

This was simply an overnight trip to buy a car. My mom's old boss had the Honda for sale at a steal, and Dad checked the engine. It was worth the trip home a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Or so I thought.

"A good attitude is a choice." My father's words, and ones I don't want at this point. I know that God is right here even in my trouble --- especially in my troubles. And I have some supplies. Just before I pulled from the driveway, Mom carried out a new blanket she'd bought for me. A supersoft chenille that's quite warm. Dad had filled my red Starbucks thermos with coffee --- the special Holiday Blend. And on a whim, I had stopped by Old American Bakery on my way out of town. Even living in San Francisco with its famous bakeries, this is my favorite. Perhaps because I worked there for several years in high school, and the owner, Martha Washington (a descendant from the original she claims), always adds a dozen sticky buns to my order of sourdough and honey wheat breads.

Blanket, coffee, food. Guess I could stay trapped a week and survive. Perish the thought.

Diving back into the sputtering rain, I glance toward the thick growth of ferns, bushes, and pines that could hide almost anything, then quickly open the trunk and pull out what not so long ago were goodies and treats. The loaf of sticky buns and a jug filled with Harper's Bay pure H2O are now "provisions." The chill turns quickly toward cold as icy fingers creep along the collar of my jacket and the edges of my ears. Unzipping my suitcase, I gather extra socks for my hands and feet, sweats to pull over my jeans, and several shirts in case my coat and blanket aren't enough.

Images of lions and tigers and bears --- or killers and werewolves (I recently watched an old werewolf movie) --- are beginning to eat away at my fearless resolve. My faith has been like that lately, a little tattered on the edges, though I only notice during moments of forced reflection. God is with me and I should listen, but sometimes it's hard to hear over life's distractions

Mom's mention of that job returns. The Tidal Post, the local weekly newspaper, has a circulation of several thousand and consists of local news and once in a blue moon the mention of a newsworthy item beyond the Del Norte County borders. The Tidal Post is humorous reading for me when I visit. Since I began working at the San Fran News & Review two years ago, I've seen the humor of small-town headlines. In the city, you don't read headlines like

FISHING TOURNAMENT LANDS SOME WHOPPERS
CITY COUNCIL TO MEET AT EDDIE'S GRILL
ANNUAL YARD SALE EXCEEDS PREVIOUS TURNOUT

This makes me think of next week's possible headlines at The Tidal Post:

STRANDED GIRL SPENDS THE NIGHT IN CAR
MISSED BY NO ONE

And it's true. No one will miss me tonight. Or tomorrow. Or really the next day, even though I should be at work on Monday. How long will it take for anyone to wonder?

It's going to be a long night.

The Memoir of Josephine Vanderook

October 1933

I would have followed him to the end of the world.

Some would say that I did.

Yet one night at sea after so many others upon the water, one night of wind and rain, one night destroyed our lives, and it was I who would return to Boston alone.

It is a night that has haunted my days.

Despite these years between that life and this one I've lived without him, the words between us have not left me. I trusted him with myself, gave him my very being. The having and losing of him opened a void within me that I have yet to fill. He was neither the beginning nor the end of me; nevertheless he was explicitly essential.

The story herein is mine. The writings of Josephine Vanderook. I am writing at the request of the Harper's Bay Historical Society as a shipwreck survivor and woman of this early century. These pages will record the memories and the thoughts I've gathered as the years have passed. Yet I write them for Eduard, first of all, who left me in that lonely land of the western seas, who gave me something that I continue to claim as mine alone. I write for my children also as a tale of caution or as a guide, though I have yet to discover exactly how my story can change another life. And I write for the understanding of a generation. Perhaps the retelling of events will finally settle this loss within me, and I too may be free of it, even after so many years.

Regardless, I begin. I begin with Eduard.

I first saw you in my father's library, surrounded by books. It was the eighteenth day of April. My father had invited a gathering of community members, and I saw you as you entered. Even though we spoke and you asked my name, I did not believe you truly saw me, for mine was not the only name you asked as you met others in the room. Certainly I did not expect you to remember me. I could not know that you would change my life in such profound ways.

But that would be some time later. . . .

The Tidal Post

Bridge Debate Continues

Should old Wilson Bridge be demolished once the new sprawling bridge is completed nearly 100 feet above the original? That topic has been hotly debated, sparking anger, protests, and division in the community.

While state officials hope to attract tourists to the state park and Harper's Bay, giving a much needed boost to the economy, many locals want the smaller historic bridge to remain and fear that the bridge construction will change the small-town atmosphere of Harper's Bay. . . .

Excerpted from THE SALT GARDEN © Copyright 2004 by Cindy McCormick Martinusen. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.

The Salt Garden
by by Cindy Martinusen