Category Archives: Memories

Witches Island and Burnt Offerings

It was on the banks of the Mississippi river, across the street from Grandpa and Grandma Schwab’s, down a steep, steep bank of sand and dirt, stinging nettles, gnats and mosquitoes, and big, tall, leafy trees that I saw Witches Island for the first time.

The grass was high and the bank along the river was cooled by shade and water. Grandma had sprayed us liberally with Off mosquito repellent. Immediately beside the bank the water was still. Not far from there though it looked fierce and swift. From where we stood, looking north, the river flowed southeast. And it was there, downstream, to the southeast, that the waters parted on either side of a point. “Look Grandpa! It looks like there’s an island over there.” one of us said. “Oh, that’s Witches Island down yonder.”

Are there witches? Is it scary? Is it safe? “Yes. I’ve been told. Yes. So I hear. I don’t know.” he answered. Grandpa was a storyteller, a weaver of tall tales. He was a legendary teller of legends. One day, when the river was lower, and the witches are maybe out fishin’ in deeper waters, maybe he’d take us there.

When the day did come we didn’t bring our rods with us to Witches Island, exploring and fishing were exclusive. Today we had to be aware of drop-offs, deep under currents, slippery rocks, loose rocks that fall on tennis-shoed feet, and all sorts of other rocks that caught, cut, and trapped little feet. There were a few fallen trees as we skirted the bank sloping up to where across the street was Grandpa’s farm. We soon entered unknown territory, and that alone was excitement enough!  Grandpa stopped, told us not to make a sound. He had to hear if it was safe enough to approach; then where.

Not much further southeast he heard some rapids. Perhaps there? Maybe the witches had constructed a bridge? Maybe we could cross it without being caught? There was no bridge but the water was indeed  shallow enough for eight and six year olds to cross without falling into the depths. We crossed safely and were on Witches Island!

There were lagoons and quiet waters, sand and sandy beaches, trees and more trees! We found some iron stakes. They weren’t from witches but probably from the days when logs were sent down the river. Grandpa said that they sometimes used to stake some of the logs together or fasten them to the shore. We even saw what we thought to be a house! Is that the witches house Grandpa? He didn’t know but if we crept real quietly we could take a look. We did. All the while our eyes big, half-scared, half-excited. Would we run screaming? I didn’t know how I would react if I saw a witch. Turns out, the house was probably, Grandpa said, a hunting blind, long abandoned. Maybe it was abandoned because of the witches? He didn’t know. Could be.

We headed home. The same way we came because it was the safest. And we made it back to the banks of the Mississippi at Palomino Acres. We still had to climb that big cliff with the stinging nettle, but from where I stood, from the water’s edge where I would one day soon throw stones into the mighty Mississippi and my cousin would also throw stones but while standing directly behind me, I saw Witches Island and knew I would return.

The island’s mystique drew me back but faded only in regards to fright and fear and witches. It changed for me to become a place where the Mississippi took a break and invited me to do the same. Tony and I would walk down to one of the island’s lagoons and swim in the still waters on hot summer days. The water there was also warmer because it didn’t move much. The bottoms of the lagoons were soft with sand and the banks too.

One time, the only one time we actually did get scared, and that was because of me and had nothing to do with the island or the waters or the weather, was when we had canoed from Grandpa’s and set up camp on Witches Island. We were safe in our tent, the fire was dying, and the weather still. There was occasional rustling in bushes and such but we knew there was nothing to harm us. It was then I told of the story. I told of the story called Burnt Offerings.

I told my brother Michael, and our two Tony friends, Tony Miskowic and Tony Villar, about the family that rented a house for the summer. When they arrived the house was an absolute dump. The lights weren’t working, the gardens were a shambles, everything was dilapidated. Then, while the mother was preparing dinner, she cut herself. There was no need to look for spare light bulbs because suddenly all of the lights in the house were functioning as though with all new bulbs. The elderly aunt, a firecracker for her age, found herself wanting to sleep in just a little bit more each morning. And each evening she’d retire a little bit earlier. And each day the house became more beautiful. And each day she stepped closer and closer to death; and then she died. The story continued until the house had completely rebuilt itself and killed its occupants. And when the owners returned they were so pleased with the wonderful house guests whose portraits were already placed on the bureau of the top floor suite…In Mother’s room!

I slept well. Real well in fact, but it was the others who told me the next morning that they were all so scared and couldn’t think of much else that night than the house that rebuilt itself by killing the people in it.

Eyes to the Sky

Late July, that’s when we first became aware of it, the long light of summer. Rays of late evening sun promising fewer hotter days to come. In the evening the grass cooled, and the world around refreshed itself for a short time before night fall.

I made my way to the chicken coop, an old dilapidated construction of old church board and corrugated tin. It had been opened to the south to serve as a loafing barn; and in an effort to protect the animals after several “murders”  was reinforced with two interior cages. A plastic pool for bathing and drinking completed the estate known as Fort Francis and Snow White’s Castle.

Each night I made my way to the coop just before the last rays of sun slipped behind the woods in the north west. From the west window of Fort Francis, looking south through the coop I saw Francis himself. Still. Looking upwards, his head tilted to the left. I took a few more steps; cautious and curious. Then I saw Cindy, Razor Beak, Mo’Kah, and Gray Wing all looking up with their heads tilted in various bird positions. A hawk? I looked up and saw nothing in the sky.

I continued slowly and what I saw as I rounded the southwest corner of the coop was a new visitor. She raised her head slowly. “Oh, hello.” I said softly to the young doe sipping water from the pool, only five feet away from me. Without any sort of start, the deer turned and walked into the woods. The birds themselves, the chickens and ducks, seemed almost as amazed as I was. She was really beautiful. And I wondered how long they had been watching her.

Time for bed little guys.

 

Hello Goodbye

On the night before I decided to leave you, I told you that I had no desire to ever leave. For eight years I cared for you, and I loved you as a cherished friend, and together we cared for our friends. They visited us. They shared their lives with us through friendship, nurturing and pain. They stayed, and they called our home their own. My love for you was eternal.

I never cheated on you, and you never offered me more than your beauty, your history, your story, your tenderness in an ever changing world. You, my hearth, my demanding and giving place to call Home.

Life, they say, is what happens when you are making plans. And Life, in an instant, changed us forever.  I knew that it would change you more than me. I knew that your charm would fade. Your tenderness would disappear.Your ties to our friendships would dissolve and be gone. You would become cold and efficient. Productive. Perhaps, to another’s eyes, you would become beautiful and cared for, but you would change dramatically for sure.

Now, one year later, I stop by to collect the remaining pieces of our past together. You are still a part of my past; but you are not a part of my future. I see the vision of your new caretakers; efficiency, productivity,industrialism, profit, and a different sort of caring.

Gone, the habitat of the animals that lived among your hedgerows and bramble. Gone, the hedgerows created by 175 years of farmers’ toil; now buried from the future. Maybe someday they will be resurrected again. Goodbye to the 150 year old apple trees I tended in the memory of those who tended them before me. Gone the branches for birds to nest, nooks for squirrels and raccoon. Gone, the little creatures that fed and were fed upon between the stones, vines, branches and grasses. No more place for the foxes and groundhogs. They must follow the coyotes to a new place, and hunt on livestock or for pets in their new homes.

Goodbye, to where my little hens roosted, the home of ducks that danced each morning to greet the day. Goodbye to the home of countless swallows; I’m sorry you flew so far to see your home locked and shuttered. Goodbye to the grave of my pal Arthur. You are with Ra, in the heavens, resting in His rays of sunlight. I can only tend to your grave in my thoughts.

Hello, Mayfarm Goodbye.

 

Welcome Home!

The plane descends, seat belts are fastened and chair backs are returned to their “Upright and locked position”. The mountain appears and the plane banks north to land. Welcome home.

There are places where the heart beats a little quicker, where emotion and memory surface; sometimes tears well. Welcome home. I saw this once while landing in Buenos Aires. I was looking out of the window on approach and a passenger said to me, “It must be like a vacation for you.” No, I replied, it’s like coming home, I looked to a woman across the aisle beside me as she wiped tears from her eyes. Welcome home, I said to her.

My heart beat faster when I would leave Miami in the early morning hours just before sunrise; something about leaving that sexy town that I called home at sunrise got to me. And for the eight years I lived in Canada? Nothing. Nothing on approach, nothing on landing and nothing on taxi in. Nothing.

It puzzled me at first; but then I passed through the doors of Canada Customs into the terminal and saw my countrymen, diverse, expectant, reserved, waiting for their loved ones. My eyes welled with tears and I say, “Hello Canada! I’ve missed you!” and people would look at me funny; some smiled. I said that for eight years, and I say it still, when I return. And when I leave Canada I say the words of a young passenger as the plane turned onto the runway. “Goodbye Canada, we love you.”

I’m back in Seattle now. It’s been about a year. And the funny thing about my return? My friends, none of them, welcomed me back. They welcomed me home. And after an eight year absence, one filled with great experiences in a fascinating country, I’m back to the city I have held close since I first laid eyes on her in 1972. This is the city of my dreams. “Seattle has always been good to you Steve.” said my ex.  And it is the city that will always welcome me home.