Thursday, August 30, 2012

Contention (Shabbat XIV)

Contend, O Yahweh,
With those who contend with me;
Fight against those
Who fight against me.

Won’t you be the most powerful voice
Singing to me in my sleep
In the night and in the day
As I find these ditches to leap?

Won’t you show me how to wrap my hands
Around the pocketknife of grace,
The blade of freedom that reflects
Like a bright reminder of this race?

Won’t you take up shield and buckler
And arise to come to my aid—
And I don’t underestimate it;
I don’t underestimate the price you paid.

The spear that was stuck into his side
To show us the blessing of the price
Holds nothing to the spear I’m asking for
As I attempt to learn the meaning of sacrifice.

And I just long to know,
I just long to be sure,
I just long to hear it—
Father, won’t you say it?

Tell my soul,
“I am your salvation.”
And then I will rest.
And now my prayer is complete.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


He watched the drops of water
Fall from his hand,
From the snow melting on his palm,
From the meeting of cold and warm,
And splash on the wooden floor
Where a puddle formed.

His hand was numb,
But he didn’t move it—
Just watched and waited.

It turned from frozen to liquid
Just there in his hand.
It just happened.

And so the snow melted away,
It turned to water.
So he found a rag and soaked up the puddle
And wrung out the cloth into a pan.

He placed the pan on the stove
And turned on the heat.
Could it become any warmer?

He put a hand to his chest
And sighed.
It was so warm, this feeling,
So warm.
He desired to find out if it could become any warmer.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hatter Island: Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3: The Halssons

Theo knocked on the Halssons’ front door and waited.  He looked around—a snow drift had piled up on the path just beyond the Halssons’ cabin, though it wasn’t a large amount of snow that covered the landscape.  The previous night’s storm had dropped two to three inches of snow and had left behind clear blue skies.
The door opened and there stood a tall man who appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties.  He smiled at Theo and said, “Hello, neighbor.”
“Hello, sir,” said Theo.  “I suppose you’re already aware that I’ve moved into the cabin down the hill—arrived yesterday afternoon.  My name is Theo Gruen.  I figured I should come meet you first thing this morning.”
“Well, very good to meet you, Theo.  My name is Peter Halsson.  Why don’t you come inside for a few minutes?”  Peter held the door open and Theo stepped through.  “We were actually just about to head down to meet you.  This is my wife, Lela.”
Lela Halsson had dark hair and looked to be a few years younger than Peter, and upon even an initial glance one would be able to notice how beautiful she was, in an elegant sort of way.  She was taking off and hanging up her winter jacket as she turned to acknowledge Theo.
“Good to meet you,” said Theo.
“Good to meet you, as well,” she said.  “What brings you to Hatter Island, Theo?”
“Um, well....”  Theo realized he didn’t have a ready answer for that question.  “I guess I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  I suppose I’m just taking a long holiday—as far away from the bustle of society as I can get.  When I found Hatter Island, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a few months away from it all.”
“I can understand that,” said Peter.  “In fact, that’s probably why Lela and I live out here most of the year.”
“So you do live out here permanently, then?  Mr. Klima seemed to think that you would be away right now.”
Both Peter and Lela looked confused.  “We pretty much live out here all year round, yes,” said Peter, “though we do take a few days or a week every two or three months to head to the mainland for supplies.  It helps us to keep in touch with humanity whenever we get the chance.  But this Mr. Klima you mention...I’m not sure I know him.”
“He is the man who brought me out here on his boat.  He seemed as if he knew you folks well, or at least that he was acquainted with you.”
“Hm, that’s strange.  But perhaps I’m just forgetting about him.”  Peter turned to his wife.  “Do you remember a Mr. Klima, Lela?”
“No, can’t say that I do,” said Lela with a smile.
Theo furrowed his brow, but let the oddity pass that the Halssons didn’t seem to know of Mr. Klima at all.  “What do you two do out here?” he asked.
“Not much at all!” said Lela, momentarily placing a hand on Theo’s shoulder.  “Which is why it’s nice to have a neighbor here on the island for a change.”
Peter laughed at his wife’s joke.  “Actually, we both work out here.  I know, it sounds crazy; what could we possibly do out here?  Surprisingly we both keep relatively busy in this remote place.  I run and maintain an emergency radio station out here, which mostly just means that I make sure the weather band transmits loud and clear to any boats within range, and I remain on hand for whenever there is a vital message that needs to be sent out, but that rarely ever happens.  I suppose you wouldn’t have been able to see it when you arrived, but there is a relatively small radio tower set up on the other side of the island.  It’s probably still obscured from the north by the trees.”
“And I’m a biologist,” said Lela.  “More of a botanist, really, but my main occupation is to study the local flora and fauna.  There are a surprising number of unusual variations to be found on Hatter Island.”
“It sounds like you keep plenty active out here,” said Theo.
“Very much so,” answered Lela, “though it is also still quite relaxing for us.  But what about you, Theo?”
“You could say I’m looking for something right now,” said Theo.  What could he really tell them about his vocation anyway?  The truth was that he was unemployed just now.  Well, that was part of the truth, at least.  “I was once going to be an English professor, but due to some unexpected circumstances I instead became the owner of a small but successful marina shop in Oregon.”  Theo felt like he was saying these words from rote memory, as if they didn’t carry any real or deep meaning.
Thankfully, Peter and Lela were merciful enough to not press him further.  Instead, they offered him a cup of tea and did their best to make him feel at home.  Peter showed him the setup in the radio room at the back of the cabin.  Lela mentioned a few species of evergreens he should look for as he explored the island.
As he left their home, Theo decided that he liked the Halssons, and that they would make good neighbors.  Walking back through the sparkling snow down the path towards his own cabin, he now just needed to figure out what do with the rest of this beautiful day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hatter Island: Chapter 2

CHAPTER 2: Unpacking

Theo stared at the pile of boxes stuffed into the single room of his log cabin.  They were filled with the abundance of supplies he had brought along to help him survive the winter.  Mr. Klima had helped him carry the boxes up to the cabin before hurrying off for the mainland, hoping to avoid becoming caught out on the water when the worst of the weather hit.  So Theo was left to himself with a room full of boxes.  They would take some time to organize, so he began elsewhere.

He opened his large black duffle bag and sorted through it.  Clothes were the main items inside.  He wasn’t one to worry too much about organization in most cases, but he figured it might be useful to have some semblance of civilization out in the solitude of a remote Alaskan island.  So he removed from the bag ten shirts, six pairs of pants, seven pairs of underwear, two pairs of long underwear and sixteen pairs of socks (he had been mistaken when he told Mr. Klima that he had packed fifteen pairs of socks).
He took one of the shirts, the one nice, almost formal, shirt that he had packed, and hung it up in the small closet in the corner of the cabin with a hanger he had brought along.  When he had packed, he had questioned why he had thrown in this one nice shirt at all, seeing as he was headed to an obscure island off the coast of Alaska with nobody around to impress.  Now, however, with the Halssons just down the path, it turned out to be quite a useful decision.  Of course, he had no intention of going out of his way to impress these people, but if the need did arise for him to wear some nicer clothing in their presence, then he could simply go to his closet and find what he needed.  He also hung up another shirt in the closet, a red-and-yellow-plaid flannel shirt, not because it was a nice shirt that needed to be hung up in a closet, but because he had brought along a second hanger, and so with plenty of room in the closet, he figured he ought to use everything at his disposal; he deemed that this flannel shirt was the second-nicest he had packed.  The rest of his clothes he organized into the two-drawer dresser next to the closet.
Having unpacked his clothes, he removed the rest of the items packed in the duffle bag and placed them on top of the dresser.  These items included a comb, a bottle of aspirin, a bottle of shampoo, five bars of soap, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, a pair of nail clippers, a wristwatch a pair of heavy gloves for warmth, a pair of work gloves for decent weather, a black stocking hat and a blue cotton scarf.
He moved on to the smaller of his two bags, the one designated for books and related things.  He took out the books he had packed and placed them on the cabin’s wooden table one at a time.  It had been obvious from the initial assessment of this trip that books would be the primary form of entertainment during his stay on the island.  He had a university degree in English after all, he had figured, so they were just a comfortable way of life for him.  He had packed as many tomes as seemed reasonable.  The books included Moby Dick by Melville, The Idiot by Dostoyevsky, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Twain, Don Quixote by Cervantes and The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner, as well as Elantris by Brandon Sanderson for something modern, Figured Dark by Greg Rappleye for a bit of recent poetry, Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson if he needed some philosophy, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene in case he wanted some science, and a copy of the Bible to keep perspective.  The Idiot and Elantris were the only two books Theo had yet to read, but he often liked to revisit his favorite books whenever he had the opportunity.
Along with these books, he also brought three large-sized Moleskine notebooks and a handful of pens and pencils (and a pencil sharpener) in case he got a sudden itch to do a lot of writing or note taking.  He had never been a very good writer, at least not compared with some of the authors he admired most, but he nonetheless liked writing from time to time, especially when it was in the form of expanding on his thoughts about something he had studied.  He had also brought an mp3 player and headphones, accompanied by a large package of AAA-batteries—the only pieces of electronic entertainment he had allowed himself.  Listening to music helped him to concentrate sometimes while he studied.  Still, he left the mp3 player in the bag for the time being.
Before he at last went about the task of emptying and organizing his boxes of supplies, he found the one crate that contained matches and several butane lighters, and started a fire going in the cast iron stove using logs and kindling from the pile of dry wood that was left inside by those who had prepared the cabin for his arrival.  Outside was also a massive pile of wood, already chopped, under a large blue tarp.  By anyone’s estimation, it would be more than enough fuel to keep him warm for the winter.
So with the fire going, he removed his jacket and finally began sorting through his supplies.  In the box with the matches and the lighters, there also came six battery-powered lamps with enough 6-volt lantern batteries to last all winter, as well as two flashlights with a plentiful supply of D-batteries.  For some reason, the ten boxes of tea he brought along were also packed into this container.
From there, the boxes contained primarily foods and beverages, though there were the other essential supplies that Theo was glad to find that he had not overlooked, including towels and washcloths, bed sheets and blankets, a heavy sleeping bag that claimed it kept a person warm in temperatures as low as negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit (in case of a particularly cold night), two fluffy pillows, a small set of tools, duct tape and a full supply of toilet paper.  When he had first approached the house, he had not only noticed the huge pile of wood behind the cabin, but the outhouse as well.  At least he wouldn’t have to dig a hole in the ground for his business.  He hadn’t brought along a spade anyway.
One crate, packed on the inside with bags of ice, contained as many fresh fruits, vegetables and meat that had been able to be stuffed into it.  It wouldn’t be possible to use fresh foods for the whole winter, even if he limited himself, but he figured it would be nice to have a good variety of food for at least part of the time.  In this box, there was lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, milk, cheese, eggs, apples, oranges, bread, bacon and steak.  He would be able to store these things outside in the ice chest he had brought.
In the department of canned and longer lasting consumables, the many boxes held beans, soups, cream corn, peaches, pears, applesauce, three varieties of potatoes, green beans, sauces, sardines, tuna, noodles, gravy packets, potato chips, corn chips, four bottles of wine, a bottle of whiskey, and a full assortment of dry herbs and spices.  He would not be going hungry.  All of this was made useful and convenient as well with a full complement of pots, pans, plates, bowls, spoons, forks, knives, a spatula and a couple of can openers.
There were also jugs with twenty gallons of water.  Theo planned to make use of any and all rain and snow he could collect to fill his water needs, which should provide no problem considering the rather wet climate of southern Alaska, but he had also decided it was wise to bring along plenty of extra water in case he ever ended up with a shortage.
At last, with everything at least somewhat organized, placed into cupboards as much as possible, and with a good fire in the stove and his bed made, Theo looked out the window at the quickly approaching dark and the snow that had begun to fall.  He eyed the rough path that supposedly led west to the home of the Halssons.  He was eager to meet them and introduce himself, but it was getting late and it seemed like a better idea to wait till first thing in the morning to show up at their front door.
So he settled down on his bed at the end of this long day, thinking of the months to come in this place, and soon began drifting towards sleep.