Monthly Archives: June 2011

Here is the next instalment of Lindy.  As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.

Chapter Twenty-One:
In Which Things Get Much Worse Indeed

If you have ever noticed how the distance between one thing and another can change depending on how you are feeling, you will understand a little how Lindy felt as she walked to the bridge that afternoon.  Her first walk from The Crofts to the bridge with Moe and Cleanna had gone by in a moment because her heart had been full of gladness and a glorious spring morning.  This second time, however, with evening coming on, and with the weight of the house’s anger, and with the fear of what Khurshid was about to do at midnight, the road seemed ever so much longer.  The pillow and the blanket she was carrying were not very heavy, but they were bulky and awkward, so she was always stopping to readjust her grip or to switch arms, and though it was not nearly as cold as the night before, there was a cool breeze blowing, so she was a little cold too, and the road dragged on and on, so it was getting dark by the time Lindy came at last to the edge of the forest and looked out across the river valley.

She had been able to hear Khurshid’s camp for some time already, and even from across the river she could see that fires were burning redly everywhere, and the whole valley smelled of smoke and mud and rot and even nastier things.  She was still not sure what she intended to do, but her feet seemed to follow the path, whether she willed them to or not, and the path led them down the hill and across the plain and, without any hesitation, right to the highest point of the bridge.  There she unrolled her sleeping bag and crawled into it, so that she was sitting against the wall of the bridge, the sleeping bag pulled up around her and the pillow tucked between her head and the cold stone.

It was not yet quite dark, and it soon became clear that Lindy’s presence on the bridge had not gone unnoticed.  At first there were only a few shouts and pointing fingers in the midst of the general noise and chaos in the valley below, but soon there were more and more people looking up to where Lindy was sitting.  The meadow gradually quietened, and  a crowd gathered at the foot of the bridge, and when there was nothing but silence across the valley, Khurshid himself stood on his carriage throne and looked up toward where Lindy lay.

“Lindy,” he called, “you must be eager to see your surprise if you’ve come so early, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait like everyone else.”

Lindy said nothing, just looked steadily into the clear evening sky, still grey with the last light of day.

“Are we no longer on speaking terms, dear Lindy?” Khurshid mocked.  “Very well, but we will speak later, and then you will answer me, I assure you.”

Lindy still kept quiet.  Khurshid’s taunts no longer bothered her somehow, and the sky above her was too lovely to spoil with even a glance in his direction.  The first stars were appearing, and her sleeping bag was growing nicely warm in the chill air.  Though she was only a few short steps from her enemy, and though she was only a few short hours from watching him invade her adopted home, she was full of a strange peace.  She did not yet know what to do, but she knew somehow that she was where she should be, and she felt content despite everything.  She still desperately wanted things to turn out right, of course, wanted her mother and Alisdair to be rescued more than anything, but her heart was at peace.  It was not a feeling that she ever managed to describe to me while she was telling me her story, but anything worth feeling is like that, I think, so I did not ask her to explain any further, and you will have to content yourself with that as well.

Lindy was never sure if she actually slept there on the bridge that night, lying on the hard, smooth stone under the high, clear sky.  She could not remember closing her eyes or falling asleep or waking up, but she did remember falling into something like a dream.  She thought that she could see the constellations sail across the sky, and she felt like she was drifting too, just like the stars, as if the bridge had been picked up by a silent and tremendous wave and floated along among the cool, white lights of the night sky.  The stars began to swirl, and there were ribbons of them gathered like mist, and Lindy felt only how small she was in the midst of everything.  After a moment she realized that the stars looked familiar again, and it seemed to her that she was now in two places at once, both on the bridge in The Weald and on the railway that ran down the middle of the street in front of her own house back home.  She had the feeling that the two places were the same somehow, that she was hovering between them, and that she could go home again that very minute if only she willed it.  The idea tempted her for a moment, but she knew that she could not abandon her mother and Alisdair, though it was comforting to feel that she was so close to home after all.

Suddenly, there was a shouting and a roaring and a beating of drums at the foot of the bridge, and Lindy all at once found herself very much awake again.  She scrambled out of her sleeping bag to her feet and looked down the curve of the bridge.  Huge creatures had seized Khurshid’s carriage by the bars along its sides and were dragging it step-by-step up the bridge, while the crowd pressed after it, waving torches and brandishing weapons and beating drums and playing horns.  The procession moved slowly, but it was not long before it had come close enough for Lindy to see the faces of the beasts struggling to pull the vast carriage and to see Khurshid sitting sprawled on his throne.

She backed along the bridge a few steps, just to be sure that she had the veil between Khurshid and herself, and then she waited for him to come.  She tried to think what she should do, but her mind was still distracted with everything she had just seen and with the feeling of being so close to her home, and she could not seem to make things come clear.   “If only the bridge was my home,” she thought, “then Khurshd wouldn’t have any right to it,” and this idea suddenly seemed to make perfect sense to her, though she had no idea how to go about making a bridge a home.

“Lindy!” she heard Khurshid cry, and there was a profound silence as the voices and the drums were stilled.  “You are indeed a most surprising child.  I thought you would be much too frightened to keep our appointment tonight, but here you are.  You must be very anxious indeed to see the surprise I have for you, though a smart girl like you has probably guessed what it is already.”  He skipped down to the very last stair of the carriage and held out his hand to her.  “Come up to my throne, my dear, and I’ll show it to you.  I’m certain you’ll find it most interesting.”

“You can show me from there,” Lindy called back, her voice much braver than she felt.

Khurshid threw back his head and laughed aloud.  “Very well, you may keep your distance for now, though it will not save you for long.”  Then he motioned grandly in the air with his hand and began slowly to remount the stairs of the throne as a small group of figures made their way from the dim mass behind the carriage into the light of the throne’s torches.  Though Lindy already hoped that her mother and Alisdair and Moe would be among the group, she still cried aloud when she finally made out their faces as they were shoved roughly to the stairs of the carriage.  Everything else became instantly unimportant.  The lights and the crowd and even Khurshid himself all but disappeared from Lindy’s mind, and in their place was only her mother and Alisdair and Moe.  She could not even remember afterward what it was that she shouted when she first saw them, only that she ran across the veil, no longer caring whether she was putting herself into danger, and she threw her arms around her mother.

If anyone said anything for the next few minutes, Lindy never knew, and if they did anything, she never knew that either.  All she knew was the warmth of her mother’s face and the smell of her hair and the sound of her voice murmuring from behind the gag.  It was as if time stopped for a moment, and Lindy found herself wishing that it would stop forever, even as the rest of the world began to return to her and a she began to remember once again exactly how serious their predicament really was.

It was only then that she heard Khurshid speak again, much closer and much softer.  “I’m so glad you like your surprise, Lindy.   I knew you would.  And your happiness will make it all the more enjoyable for me after we cross the bridge and I kill you all,  just as I killed the other Keepers.”  He looked mockingly down at her.

A gong sounded then, a huge, deep sound that seemed to come from the earth itself, and everyone looked up startled to seea vast sheet of dancing colour, like the northern lights that Lindy sometimes saw at her Grandfather’s house up north.  The colours were in long streaks that reached up from the centre of the river all along its length, splitting the bridge at its highest point and reaching as far as the eye could see into the night sky.

“The veil!” Khurshid cried, and his eyes looked wildly joyful.  He turned back to Lindy.  “It will soon be time,” he said, “and I think we’ve had quite enough of this scene for now, don’t you darling?  It’s time that you took your seat to watch my triumph.”

Lindy saw two figures approaching from the sides of the carriage, the feline woman she had seen the night before and a tall, thin man who walked on all fours like a lizard, balancing on his tail when he stood.  She did not know how much time was left until midnight, but she knew that it must now be short, and so she knew that her own time was just as short.  She tried desperately to think what could be done, but her mind only kept repeating, “Make the bridge your home,” and she had no idea how.

She felt the lizard-man put his hand on her shoulder, and she flinched back instinctively.  “Get away!” she cried, because there was nothing else she could do. “This bridge is my home!  You can’t touch us here!”

The lizard-man shrunk back for a moment, and the woman paused as well, shifting into the shape of a spotted, black panther, but Khurshid only laughed.  “You foolish girl,” he snarled.  “A place isn’t your home because you throw a few blankets on the ground and say so.”  He stalked down the stairs, seized her arm, and jerked her to her feet.  “Now, ” he said, “you will sit where you’re told, and you would be wise not to interrupt me again tonight.”

He dragged her up the stairs of the carriage and threw her down at the foot of his throne against the chest of crowns, then seated himself on his throne.  The crowd still waited silently, and Lindy kept quiet too, looking down past the heap of crowns in the open chest to where her mother and Alisdair and Moe were tied at the foot of the carriage.  She knew that this was the end of things for them and for her and for The Crofts, but she could not really bring herself to believe it.  Everything had turned out wrong, despite her best intentions.  She had followed her visions and only lost the crown.  She had gone back to face The Crofts and only been rejected.  She had tried to make the bridge her home and only been captured.  She had failed time after time, and now there would be no more chances to make it right.

“If only,” she said, so quietly that even she could hardly hear herself, “if only Alisdair had never given me the crown.”  She said this only absently, without meaning much by it, but she happened to say it just as her eyes were on Alisdair’s crown where it sat atop all the others in the chest below her, and she found herself wondering what might happen if she were to put the crown back on Alisdair’s head right that moment.  She turned her head very slightly to the left, just enough to see that the tall, reptilian man was still standing guard over her, and she could only assume that the panther-woman was standing behind her as well.  She had no time to think any further, however, because just then there was a rippling shout that began at the furthest flanks of the great crowd and swelled to its center, almost like the wave at a baseball game.

Lindy could not at first understand what had caused the outcry, but she soon saw that the veil of light was being eaten up at both ends by a ripple of silver flame, like a sparkler burning from both ends, moving ever closer to the bridge from each side. The flame moved only slowly, but Lindy guessed that it would be only minutes before the two waves of silver met at the bridge and the veil of lights was eaten up entirely.

“At last!” she heard Khurshid shout to the crowd behind her.  “The veil falls, and there is no one to renew it.  At last we return to our rightful place.”  Another roar went up, and Lindy turned to see that Khurshid was now standing on his throne and looking back across the screaming throng below him.  She also saw that the guards on either side of her had turned as well, looking up to where Khurshid stood framed against the light of a hundred torches, and she realized that she needed to act then or not at all.  Though she had no idea if it would actually help anything, and though she was almost certain that she would be caught and punished before she could even manage it, she darted forward, seized Alisdair’s crown from the golden casket, and ran down the steps of the carriage.  Then she set the crown on its rightful owner’s head.

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I have this idea.

The publishing industry has traditionally produced different editions of texts in order to market them to different kinds of customers, from lightly annotated popular editions to help readers with places, names, archaic terms, and unusual language, to heavily annotated academic editions that come complete with relevant historical material, critical essays, chronologies, bibliographies, and every other textual apparatus imaginable.  These editions are, of course, limited by the number of customers willing to buy them, so they tend to include mostly the major texts, and they tend to be edited by scholars who are more or less experts in their fields.  Texts that are not commercially viable or that are edited by people who are not experts in their fields are understandably left unpublished.

However, publish-on-demand style websites like Blurb or Lulu or Xlibris, among many others, now make it possible, at least in theory, for people to make their own editions of public domain texts quite easily.  The texts themselves are readily available from sites like Project Gutenberg and Digital Book Index, and they can be simply copied and edited and published as new editions with the tools provided by the publishing sites.  The cost is nil, except to have the new edition printed, and the result is an edition that meets the precise needs of the one who edited it.

The most obvious users of personal editions would be teachers.  In fact, the idea first occurred to me when I tried and failed to find a decent academic edition of G. K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill.  How hard would it be, I reasoned, to lift the text from Project Gutenberg and add my own introduction and notes specifically for my class?  As I thought about this, I also realized how easy it would be to make course specific collections of essays or short stories, so that I would always have exactly the texts that I wanted and not have to bother paying for anthologies that restricted my choices and never had the texts I really wanted anyway.  I am at the moment working on some of these kinds of ideas.

There are other less obvious uses for personal editions, however.  For example, I might make notes directly into a digital copy as I am reading it and include appendices of anything that it prompts me to write, so that I can publish a very intimate edition of the text.  A group of friends might read a text together and compile their responses into an edition.  A conference on a text might collect the papers that were presented and gather them into an edition.  Wherever critical or scholarly work on a text takes place, in other words, it should be possible to gather that work together and to create an edition of the original text that includes this work.

Of course, these editions would not often be interesting to anyone who was not directly involved in their production.  An edition prepared for my class or myself or my friends or my conference will likely only be interesting to my class or myself or my friends or my conference, but just because something is only locally valuable does not necessarily mean that it is less valuable.  In fact, for me, the one involved in the production of these editions, personalized texts of this sort might very well be an invaluable record of my intellectual practice through my teaching, studying, and discussion with others.  Their interest to third parties would hardly be relevant.

On the other hand, by publishing personal editions publically rather than just making notes privately, it becomes possible that someone just might find the personal edition useful and be able to access it.    As a teacher, I might be able to find an edition of The Napoleon of Notting Hill or a collection of Renaissance literary criticism that is in fact useful to me, because someone else has taken the time and the energy to make it.  As a reader, I might be able to find an edition with a style of notation and commentary that is particularly conducive to me, because someone has taken the time and energy to make it publically available.

So, there you have it: my idea.  Let me know if you think it has merit.

I came into the pub in the middle of the day, not for any reason really, not even to have a beer, just aimlessly, because I had nothing else that needed doing that afternoon, and there was a guy at the bar, the only other person in the pub, reading a book.

“What are you reading?” I asked him, because I always ask people this, even if I’ve already seen what they’re reading.  I like to give them the chance to say it out loud, to confess it with their own lips.

“It’s Bolano’s 2666,” he answered.  He said this quietly, only flicking his eyes away from the book for the barest of moments, annoyed, then hunched down with his brown corduroy jacket up around his neck.

“What do you think of it?” I persisted.  I still hadn’t ordered anything, and the bartender hovered across the bar from me, but I wouldn’t meet his eyes, wouldn’t give him the chance to ask me if I needed anything.  I turned my back to the bar to avoid him.

The reader looked up this time, set the book on the bar, open, hard covers spread, without its dust jacket.  “Are you really asking,” he said gravely, “or are you just making small talk, because if you’re just making small talk, I’ll probably punch you in the mouth.”

His eyes were dark and round and something else, speckled maybe, and I saw that he meant it, and I thought, “This guy reads for real,” and I wanted to talk to him even more.  “I really want to know,” I assured him, and I tried to sound as sincere as I could, because I’ve read 2666 twice now, and I love that book, and I’m always trying to get people to read it, so I really did want to know.

“Fine,” he said, gripping the lapels of his jacket like a child reciting a presidential speech, “let’s just start by saying it’s the greatest novel written by anyone in any language in at least a quarter century.”

“Good,” I answered, “as long as we don’t end there, I think that’s good.”

There is a little place down the street from us, a cafe and a pizza shop in one, nothing very fancy or very remarkable, except that it is independently owned and operated by a woman who used to live next door to us.  We only go into the shop occasionally, but the owner always welcomes us warmly, and she often gives my kids a couple of timbits or day old doughnuts for free, just because we are her neighbours and because my kids can be very cute when they know that free pastries are on the line.  She did this again yesterday when I bought a coffee while we waited for the toy store to open, and I began reflecting on how often this sort of thing happens in my neighbourhood.  Our housemate works at the little grocery store near our house, and we know several of the other staff by name, and they greet us, not as customers, but as neighbours.  My kids play with the kids of the woman who often waits my table at a local pub.  The people who run my independent video store know me well enough to alert me when new titles come in that I might like.  The guy who teaches my kids music is also the organist at our church.  The staff at the used bookstore stop to talk with me when I see them on the street.  The guy who runs the clay store, which my kids love, also plays on my basketball team.  I have known many of the vendors at the market for something like twenty years, well enough that some of them sent cards when my father-in-law passed away a few years ago.

As I was reflecting on these things, it occurred to me that this kind of community is entirely natural to my kids, however uncommon it might be in most places.  My kids expect that our family will know the people who run our shops and join our activities, that they will live next door or down the street, that they might come to our place or we might go to theirs, that we will exchange greetings when we pass them on the street, that we will stop to talk with them when we meet them at the library or the park.  They believe that this is how the world is, because they have never experienced the world in any other way, and this is both a wonderful and a terrifying thing to me: wonderful, because this is exactly the experience of neighbourhood and community that I value so much and spend so much of my time and energy fostering; terrifying, because I know, as my kids do not, that most of the world is not like this, that they will one day, sooner or later, be confronted by a world that is in many ways the very opposite of this conviviality.  There is no good solution to this tension, I know, but I hope, at the very least, at least in some ways, that my children can grow up experiencing the world, not as it is, but as it should be, and that they will be inspired to build this world themselves as they grow into their own families and their own communities.

This is another of the Manitoulin stories that I am writing.  I have now posted these stories in a single file in the Island Stories section of the Longer Works page for those who might like to read them altogether.

Cutting Trail

It is early yet, but I wake, smelling cedar and woodsmoke and old mattresses and mosquito repellent, the smell of the camp, the fire, the forest, all of it, still the smell of summer to me now, all these years later, and I am lying in the top-right bunk, my head closest to the window, its pane already cracked on the morning I am imagining, and broken now.  The sun is just rising, and the crack in the glass glistens like frozen lightening, and everything is quiet, not completely, with birds singing and squirrels dropping pine cones from the canopy and trees swaying in the breeze and coals popping in the woodstove, but profoundly, because these sounds do not break the silence so much as they deepen it, make it a mystery.  The sun finds its way between the log walls, between its upright cedars, peeled and knotty and chinked with some kind of cement that is crumbling away, leaving holes for the wind and for the cold but also for the light, weak still and diffused, that finds its way through the mortar and speckles my sleeping bag in patches of lighter green, patches that drift with infinite patience.

I can hear the others beginning to stir, and I slip to the floor, into the cool, trying not to wake the younger ones.  My clothes are hanging on the bookshelf, as near as possible to the black, rust-ringed ventpipe of the woodstove, where they will be warmest.  They are as warm as my bed was, and all the warmer because I have just plunged into the cold of the forest-shadowed, still-darkened morning, my bare feet on the chill of the linoleum with its coal-melted pockmarks, because I have just shed my shirt and shorts, sleep-warm, to feel the morning more keenly.  I am tempted to stand there a moment, prolong the chill and the expectation of warmth together, but the day promises too much, and I am too eager, and I turn to where my clothes hang on the roughcut bookshelf.

I helped make the bookshelf when I was just a child, watched the pine trees being felled and then sat on the back of the old tractor as it pulled the log wagon from the camp up Jerry Co. Road and Timber Bay Road and Carter Bay Road and then along the few hundred yards of Government Road to Lentir’s sawmill, heavy with the smell of diesel and engine oil and conifer.  The logs went through the sawblade, pass after pass, and the planks fell, mostly bark at first, but thicker soon, the sawdust pluming upward and then settling in fragrant piles.  I watched as the men stacked the furred boards, marked with the sawblade’s half-moon scars, piled them on the wagon, left them waiting to be joined by mismatched nails, some heads broader than others, some steel and some brass, driven on angles that had them splitting the wood, but the shelf they became holds books just the same, and it serves also to keep my clothes close to the stove.

It was on the bookshelf that I caught a mouse once, with my bare hands.  I was sitting in the old armchair, the one that used to be Grandpa’s favourite chair, but had become his camp chair, slowly disintegrating, year by year, taking root next to the woodstove.  I was sitting there one morning, my coffee on the bookshelf, my feet on a length of firewood set upright, close to the stove, and I was reading something, I no longer remember what, a fantasy novel or some poetry.  It was later in the morning, after breakfast had been eaten and the dishes washed but before the day had really begun, and I looked up for my cup, saw the mouse from the corner of my eye, and it froze where it was, along one of the bookshelf’s vertical edges, halfway between two shelves, so that we were eye to eye.  I laid my book down on the floor, not slowly or carefully, just as I would, and I put one hand below the mouse, only an inch or so from his head.  It turned around then, quickly, so I put my other hand above it, trapping it along its narrow path, and I took it by its tail, held it close to my eyes, looked at it as nearly as it could, watched its forepaws swim, not frantically, but with a perfect nonchalance, until I took it outside and dashed its head against a tree, threw its body into the woods.

On the morning I am imagining, however, that other morning, the profoundly quiet morning, there is only my warming clothes on the bookshelf, and I dress alongside my brothers, our voices, whispered and sporadic, fulfilling the stillness of everything, establishing its vastness through our insignificance.  We have not lit the lamps, only stoked the fire in the stove, so we dress and pack in the dimness of the firelight and in the suggestion of a still invisible sun, a light that appears only as lightening in a broken window and as patches of colour that drift through holes in the wall.

We cook eggs and bacon in the cast iron pan, bacon first, crisping in its own drippings, then eggs on top, roughly scrambled into the grease and into the now crumbled bacon. The coffee is perking on the stove too, popping, softly popping, and we say nothing as we pull our chairs next to the stove, its door cracked now, to warm ourselves as we eat.  The coals burn red in the draft of the stove, and the new wood blackens and flames, and it feels like the stove is the centre of everything, not just of the three of us who are eating around it, not just of the cabin that it warms against the cool of the forest, but of everything, the world and the universe and everything.  This is what the fireplace means, I think, it means the place where you begin and end, where you leave and return.

It is this centre that we will soon leave behind as we close the too-wide screen door, softly, so as not to wake the others with its characteristic bang, but I hear the bang anyway, because I have opened and closed that door too many times, because I have heard it screech as it opens and slam as it closes too many times, and I can no longer hear one without the other.  The screech of any screen door now, no matter how distant, is always the screech of that wooden camp screen, with its long diagonal board running between too-distant corners, and my mind always follows the screech with a slam, so I hear it slam that morning, though we do not forget to close it softly, and it sounds like a finality, like we are being cut off from the fire at the centre, at least for a time, and I feel this as an exhilaration.

We enter the forest at the back of the cabin, between the old tractor and the outhouse, though I cannot now find the spot exactly, not after the scrub plants have had so many years to grow, and not after the tractor has been moved over beside the new winterized cabin, its crankcase engine refusing ever to die completely and its chassis repainted until it is immune to rust, and not after the outhouse has slumped and toppled, its particle board chewed by porcupines and rotted by damp.  Too much time has passed.  The marks we made were too ephemeral.  We set out that day, passing between the tractor and the outhouse, to cut a path, to blaze a trail, but all signs of our passing have themselves now passed, and I cannot find our blazes, though my search is diligent.  The world does not remember like I do.  Its memories are overgrown, while mine are stark, barren, like solitary trees on a wide plain, and what stands on the plains of that morning is the instant, only just an instant, when we pause beneath the eaves of the forest and let the trail, not yet a trail, but soon to be a trail, choose for us where it will be, the instant when we feel its need, like a living thing, to be. Not just because the road to the lake, the usual one, is circuitous, first winding away from the lake, through the woods along Jerry Co. Road, just a set of tracks, split by grass and devil’s paintbrushes and buttercups, bordered by raspberry canes and dogwood and sumac, and then spilling out onto the logging road that runs along the hundred acre woodlots toward Carter Bay Road, then another two or three kilometers more to the beach, and not just because the new trail will be more direct, will be straight through the bush to the beach, a walking trail at first, then broader and clearer each time, firm, direct, from camp to beach, but also because the trail simply needs to be, because our willingness to make it has breathed a spirit for it that now requires a form.  This is what stands in my memory, the trail’s need to be, a lonely and aching need now that it is only a memory, but an intimate and insistent need then as we stand before it, hesitate, and are pulled along by it, into it.

We bring with us a machete that we have discovered in the woodshed that summer, its handle wrapped in cloth tape and stained with rust along the blade, a wicked looking thing, so that we hardly dared pick it up when we first found it, just looked at one another to see if it had affected us all with the same dread, and then looked back at the menace of it, the bloodiness of it, though we knew rust from blood.  It was probably brought to the camp by one of our uncles, we supposed, or maybe by one of their hunting friends, but it was clearly unclaimed, lying there rusting in the shed, so we cleaned it and oiled it, sharpened it with the whetstone, replaced the tape on the handle, all the while telling stories about it, until it had become something mythological, hovering somewhere between the sacred and the profane, a gift from nameless gods of no firm allegiance.

We bring the limbing axe too, a hatchet head mounted on a full-length handle, deeply worn and darkly stained around the grip, that somehow survived its first axe head, as few handles do, and has now been whittled down to fit the hatchet head and become the limbing axe, longer than the hatchet, lighter than the logging axe, slenderer than the splitting maul, perfect for trimming branches from felled trees or cutting roasting sticks.

I carry the pack first, while the other two wield the machete and the hatchet, one clearing the brush, the other felling small saplings and obstructing limbs.  The machete makes a swishing sound, punctuated by sharp pings, through leaves and stems, swish-ping-swish-ping-ping-swish.  It flickers in the growing sunlight, a rhythmic flash to accompany its rhythmic sound, and it leaves the ground stubbled and bristled like an unshaven face, and the hatchet follows, treading the stubble of the machete underfoot and cutting more deeply into the stuff of the forest, taking the limbs and the saplings, mostly cedar and pine, leaving them to line the path and to scent the air with pitch, like the incense of some sacred procession.

The cuts we make are deep, we think, deep enough to make a lasting wound through the forest, to make a trail of blood that can be followed, something to be reopened again and again, to be packed with ash or horsehair until the scar has formed, a ritual scar, a duelling scar, to show where we have passed, what we have done, badges of honour that we inflict on the body of the forest. We do not merely blaze a trail, we emblazon the flesh of the forest, claim it, make it one of us through the scars of our tribe, through the mutual drawing of blood, for we receive wounds as well as give them, take our mensur marks with the necessary courage, with the requisite indifference, as falling boughs and tangled thorns and stinging nettles trade us mark for mark, badge for badge, brand for brand.

These are the sort of marks that we might expect to find even years later, on our own bodies and on the body of the forest, if we thought about such things then, but we are enraptured by the still open wounds we are making, cannot imagine a future, not of any kind, certainly not a future where we will come looking for traces of the blows we strike today, where we will need those traces, search for them, and not find them, where we will wonder whether the stumps have been covered by forest litter and the severed limbs hidden by new grown branches, or whether we are looking in the wrong places, because the marks that seemed so telling have disappeared in that short a time. We cannot imagine that this thing we are making, this spirit taking on flesh, this need drawing us forward, this presence becoming fuller and heavier in our wake, will ever be anything than it is now. It will always be in this moment of becoming, always be bleeding itself into being.

I first knew the blood of trees like this when I watched the maple sap drip down spigots into tin pails in the sugar bush behind my grandfather’s farm, thinking that the bleeding of the sap, drop by drop, pling, pling, pling, into the empty bucket, and then deeper, hollower, plink, plunk, plonk, as is it filled, that this bleeding made the tree real, made it be.  The maples were still just waking into spring, still just dry bones awaiting flesh, but their blood flowed in them, flowed from far beneath the snow-patched ground to grant each branch a veil of the goldest green to set against the cloud-patched sky, and I stood there to see the drops collect, like the blood that had dripped from my brother’s arm when he fell from the monkey bars and broke the bone so that it punctured the skin, and we helped him home with those same drops falling behind us at every step, and it was unalterably true then, looking into the pail, that everything real must bleed, that only blood makes something truly be, and the sap became suddenly sacrificial, like a cup held to catch the last life of a dying God.

We do not stop to collect the sap-blood that we spill that morning, but it is no less sacrificial in its way.  The blood of a sacrifice is no less holy if it falls to the ground, serves rather to sanctify the earth on which it falls, makes it holy ground, so that we could not turn back if we wanted, could not go back that way, not without taking off our shoes and rending our clothes and putting ashes in our hair, not without consenting to go on our knees, our hands clasped before us, like pilgrims on a sacred way, mopping up the blood with cloths to be the relics of some future faith.  The path behind us is hallowed by the blood we have spilled, by the wounds we have made, and we are no longer worthy to walk it, because it is our sins, our violence that has made it holy.

At last, so soon, the sun rises above the trees, and the dawn chill disappears, all at once, between two breaths, melting the pitch of pine and balsam so that it smears our blades and coats our hands, collects falling needles and flakes of bark to rub our skin to blisters.  The dew evaporates, thick and clinging, mixes with the sweat that no longer cools but paints our skin in streaks of dirt that collect in the corners of our eyes and the creases of our bodies.  Everything has changed, between one blow and the next, and we are staggered by this new and sudden forest, humid and calescent, swarmed by deer flies, swift and relentless.  We stop often now, every time we trade places, exchange pack for machete, machete for hatchet, hatchet for pack, and the pack, once a burden and a nuisance, becomes a relief from the labour of the trail, lightening with every stop, as the water is shared around, dwindling far too quickly.  The ground keeps opening into meadows now, thin grasses growing in the crevices of the shield rock, a hatch of grasses across the lichen-covered stone, like a miniature landscape of fields and hedgerows, so we must mark the path as we can, drag fallen logs from the forest, move what stones can be moved, and all the while there is the sun and the sun-heated rock, and we have not, as best we can guess, gone even a third of our way, though the sun is high enough for us to eat what food we have brought, sheltering in the shade of a birch stand.

We have misjudged. We did not scar the forest, only forced ourselves a little way from its womb, from the frozen lightening and the drifting green sunlight and the gentle fire at its centre, and now we are infants, crawling about in a world we could not have expected. We do not inflict the trail on the forest. We cling to it, like an umbilical cord stretching bloody and white-blue behind us, or like Ariadne’s thread, unspooling through labyrinthine fears, or like the cord tied around the ankles of priests, to drag their bodies from the holy of holies if they should anger their God and be struck down. We dangle on the end of the trail, our weight holding it taut behind us, and our greatest fear now is that it will break, be eaten up like a trail of bread crumbs, leave us untethered to face whatever monsters or gods await us in the forest’s holiest and most labyrinthine places.

The thread of the trail grows tighter and tighter behind us, fraying and unraveling as our arms tire, as we allow ourselves to weave now, between trees and around meadows, taking the path of least resistance, scarcely breaking the skin of the forest, and still, we can only be perhaps two thirds of the way to the lake. We take off our shirts and wrap them in awkward bandages over our raw and blistered hands, and our bodies, pale still so early in the summer, are soon sun-red and scratched, smeared with pitch and pine needles, traced with lines of sweat and dirt, as if the forest is writing its story on our skin, leaving its icons and hieroglyphs, fearful scripts, intelligible only to itself, but surely the language of some primordial magic.

On other days I will walk beneath those same trees, quite apart from any trail, and the forest will move me, and I will write about the dogwood shooting up from the litter, the scrambling junipers, the saplings of spruce and balsam, the birch and cedar, and I will write that they make the sky stand vertical, that they rupture its vastness, trouble its expanse, urge it still higher to the terror of its beyond, and I will write that their limbs are like roots burrowing into a blue, thin, transparent soil, their trunks suspended above a green, impenetrable sky, adrift between two heavens and two earths, surrounded by long shadows, sun-flung and invisible, their branches becoming roots that are cast, insubstantial, into earthen skies, and I will write that the sun strikes down through them to touch the ground and grant each branch and leaf beneath its halo all of gold, but on that day we are unmoved. It is a far different forest that we walk, a forest of stern will and fearful incantations that tolerates us only for a time, inscribes itself on our bodies, drives us through its sacred places, covers our traces almost as soon as we have passed.

It is into this forest that the sun begins to cast itself, so soon, before we have reached our end, touching lightly the tops of the trees to our left, and we know that we have failed, that the trail will not find the lake to link the cabin to the beach with a sure, straight line, not on this day or on any other. The sun sets as finally as the slam of a screen door, and something finds release in us, as if the line that tethered us has been cut by it, as if we are no longer bound to make our scars, no longer tethered to the womb or to the one who holds the thread or to the ones who wait to pull us from the inner sanctuary. We have been loosed into whatever awaits us, be it monster or god, and we no longer walk but run, dodging and tripping and stumbling and running, for it seems to us that we can make out the blue of the water through the trunks of the trees, a blue that has been revealed only by the setting sun, and it calls us, though it is still a long way off, calls us, as surely as the trail has driven us.

It has us by the ears and nostrils now, drags us by sound and smell as much by sight, the water-blue, there, somewhere beneath the sky-blue, there, between the crowding trees, there again, and broader now, nearer and more certain, a rolling-and-crowned-with-white-blue, a curling-and-traced-with-green-blue, through the last of the cedars and over the pitted stones, it casts our things aside, tears our clothes from us, and seizes us at last.

Here is the next installment of Lindy. Those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.

Chapter Twenty:
In Which Lindy Has Words with The Crofts

When everyone had finally gone to do the things that needed to be done, Lindy was left to dress and make herself as presentable as she could.  She had only the same clothes that she had been wearing for days, the same ones that had been torn in the forest and mended by Amena and dirtied by a day and most of a night of walking.  Even when she dusted them off, they still looked like something that the hobos in movies wear, and she was almost glad that there was no mirror in the cottage to show how tangled her hair was.  She ran her fingers through the knots to try and straighten them, but she doubted that it improved things much, and she was too worried about her mother and about everything else to really care about her hair anyway.

There was really not much else for her to do, so she went to the door and laid her hand on the latch, but she was not sure whether she was ready to see anyone quite yet.  It was as though she was feeling every emotion at once.  She had been so relieved to be back at The Crofts and so happy to see everyone again and so certain that they would find a way to rescue her mother and Alisdair, but now it looked as though there would be no rescue after all, and all her happiness with mixed with anger and frustration and disappointment and despair.  All she really wanted to do was to stay hidden away in the cottage until everything was over, but somehow she lifted the latch anyway, and somehow she found herself stepping out into the midday sunlight, and somehow she managed not cry or scream or do any of the things that you and I would probably have done if we were her.

Outside the cottage, people of every shape and description had settled themselves around the arch and its platform.  They looked like the pictures that Lindy had seen on the news of refugees from wars or disasters, huddling in small groups and clutching a few things too precious to leave behind.  Their faces were all tired and worried and frightened, and Lindy began to realize just how many lives she had put at risk by losing the crown.  She had never imagined that so many people lived in The Weald.  There had been a good many at the feast in the great hall, of course, but they had mostly come from other worlds, and The Crofts had otherwise seemed so empty and lonely right from the moment that Lindy had first wandered among its cottages. Now it was overflowing with people waiting their turn to go through the arch to places that Lindy could only guess at.

Even so, The Crofts still felt lonely to Lindy.  Maybe it was because there was still no one to live in the little cottages, or maybe it was because there would soon be no one left to live in The Weald at all, or maybe it was because Lindy herself felt so terribly alone, but she felt the same sadness and waiting about the cottages that she had felt when she first saw them, and she also felt the same sense that she belonged to them somehow, even if she could not protect them.

Clinton and Nydia were already waiting beside the arch.  Lindy watched as a group of refugees approached them, and there was the now familiar shimmer in the arch, and the platform was empty once more.  Clinton looked up and motioned for Lindy to join him, but everything felt wrong.  She knew that it made perfect sense to send everyone away to safer places and to destroy the arch before Khurshid could use it, but she could not bring herself to believe that there was no other way.  If only she could speak to Alisdair or Amena or Penates, or even The Crofts, anyone who might help her know what to do.

“Hello, Lindy,” Clinton said, “would you help Nydia organize those who are leaving?”

“Yes,” called Nydia, “I could really use your help.”

There was nothing so very upsetting about what Clinton and Nydia had said, and Lindy knew that they probably intended only to make her feel useful and included, but for some reason it made her furious, and being furious over something so unreasonable made her even more furious, but it only took her a moment to realize that she was really only angry with herself for not having done what she knew she needed to do.  She had been so caught up in everyone being so kind and not blaming her for what had happened that she had forgotten why she had come back in the first place.  Whatever anyone else said, and however much she wanted to believe them, Lindy knew that this whole situation was her own fault, and she knew also that she needed to face up to it, and that meant going to apologize to The Crofts, however hard it might be.

“No!” she said, quite sharply, more sharply than she intended.   Nydia looked surprised at her tone.  “I mean, I’m sorry, I know you’re just trying to include me,” she said, “but there’s something I need to do.”

Lindy suddenly felt much better, and she realized just how much she had been dreading her meeting with The Crofts, and how much she had been trying to avoid it, and how guilty she had been feeling for not being brave enough to do it after she had come all this way.

She turned toward the house, along the same path where Clinton and Moe had led her when she had first arrived.  The grass was much more trampled that it had been then, and there were now many voices to break the stillness that she had felt that morning, but there was still something mysterious and unnerving about that walk, as though it would never end in the same place or in the same way twice, and when she reached the door of the house, it seemed like more than just an ordinary door to her.  It seemed like a door that might lead anywhere, like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or like the mirror in Lilith or like the arms of the angel in The Garden Behind the Moon.  “If I go through that door,” she thought, “anything might happen,” but then she remembered that going through the arch and climbing the long stairway and crossing the bridge had been much the same, and she felt a little better, so she reached for the handle.

As soon as she touched it, The Crofts filled every bit of her like an electric shock.  She was frozen, unable either to open the door or to take her hand away.

“How dare you come back here?” the house roared through her mind.  “You have destroyed me, and now you come to my door and ask my hospitality!”  Lindy felt her body shaking with the house’s rage.  “You are a liar,” it cried, “a liar and a traitor and a fool! And I was the greater fool for trusting you.”

Lindy tried desperately to focus her mind on calming The Crofts as she had done before, but the emotion of the house overwhelmed her.  She could not even find the strength to speak, and her mind was overrun by emotions and images that were not her own.  She saw the cottages of The Crofts ablaze, and she saw its doors torn from their hinges, and she saw its towers tumbling in ruin.”

“You brought this on me!” the house screamed.  “You gave the last crown to him, and now he’s coming, and I’m ruined.  Look!  Look at what you’ve done.”

All Lindy could see was fire and smoke and darkness and falling rubble.  She had a glimpse of the library with its books torn and scattered, fire licking at the doorframes.  She saw the long table in the great hall smashed into kindling for a bonfire that rose almost to the vast ceiling.  She saw her own cubby with her things broken and scattered and her window smashed.  And then she Penates, sitting on his hearth and weeping into his hands.

“Please,” Lindy managed, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” raged the house. “And what good are apologies now?  Will they keep me from ruin?”

“They won’t, I know.  I don’t think anything will.  But I really am sorry.  Really.  I did what I thought I should, but everything went wrong, and I’m sorry.  You were right.  I just wasn’t strong enough.”

Suddenly the house’s rage became sorrow, and the change shocked Lindy’s mind all over again.  She found herself crying with great sobs, and she would have fallen to the ground if her hand had not been fixed so firmly to the handle of the door.  There flamed through her mind images of countless people, one after the other.  She recognized none of them, but she knew that they were Keepers and other residents of The Crofts from across the years.  She saw people walking among the cottages and looking out from windows.  She saw people feasting in the great hall and eating in the kitchens and watching plays in the theatre and reading in the library and doing all the other things that people had done as they lived in The Crofts and made it a home.  With each face that flickered through her mind, Lindy could feel the house’s sadness, as if it was looking through photographs of old friends who had died, knowing that there would never be any more such friends, and she felt as though she might drown in the house’s sorrow.

At last, Lindy saw Alisdair’s face among the rest.  he was sitting solemn and kindly in a leather chair, and Lindy felt her own grief match the grief of The Crofts.  “I’m sorry,” she cried again, though she knew that Alisdair’s loss had not really been her fault.  “I didn’t know.”

“What do you want of me?” The Crofts demanded.  “What can you possibly want of me now?”

“I want to keep my home from Khurshid, just like Amena and Penates, and my cubby here is the only home I have now.”

“This is not your home!” the house thundered, it’s renewed anger washing over Lindy’s mind.

“I know,” Lindy said, feeling just how true this was.  “I know it’s not really my home, but I thought at least the cubby could be my home.  Couldn’t it?”

The Crofts seemed almost calm now.  “A place is not your home just because it looks like your home, or just because you have put your things in it.  You have to make a place your home.  You have to do something to make it your home.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Nobody can tell you what to do.  You’ll either know, or you won’t.  But this is not your home,” the house paused for a moment, “and soon it will be nobody’s home at all.”

“Can’t I at least go and get my things from my cubby?” Lindy asked.  She felt tired all of a sudden, as if she had been standing there at the door for hours.

The Crofts hesitated a moment, but then relented. “Take whatever you want.  It makes no difference now.”

At once, Lindy’s hand was released from the doorknob, and she sank to her knees as her things appeared beside her.  It looked like the whole contents of the attic were there, but most of them were not really important to her.  All she wanted was her old sleeping bag and her favourite pillow that she used for propping herself up when she was reading.  She had no idea what exactly she would wanted with them.  She told me later that even asking for her things had been a whim, and it was only after everything was sitting on the lawn that she felt how much she needed that blanket and that pillow, though she was still not sure why.

Still weak and trembling from her encounter with the house, she put herself back on her feet and walked over to her sleeping bag, rolled it up, and tucked it under one arm.  Then she put her pillow under the other and set off down the path toward the bridge.  She could not have told you exactly why she went in that direction, except that it seemed the only thing left to do, so that is what she did.

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On June 11th we will have our last Dinner and a Doc before the summer break.  We will screen Pietra Brettkelly’s The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, which follows Vanessa Beecroft, an installation artist who works primarily with the human form, as she goes through the process of adopting two orphaned Sudanese twins, Madit and Mongor Akot, exploring how this decision changes her art. Just as a warning to parents, the film does contain some nudity. Here are a few links for those who would like to see more about the film:

1) The official trailer for the film;
2) The official website of the film; and
3) One of Vanessa Beecroft’s art installations – VB61.

We will be meeting at First Baptist Church, Guelph, which is located at 255 Woolwich Street, eating at 5:30 and beginning the film at about 6:00. Please post a comment or send me an email to let me know if you will be coming and if you would like to bring something to contribute to the meal.

Here is the schedule for upcoming months:

July/August – Off for the summer
September 10th – Chicago Ten by Brett Morgan
October 8th – Prom Night in Mississippi by Paul Saltzman