Suspicious Counterparts

Rain pounded like nails into rooftops and wind whipped a typical day into a tattered mess. Fallen trees and a swollen Cascade River blocked the only route out of town into the lower valley. The mountain pass had already closed for the winter from too much snow. Several residents that remained all gathered at the local watering hole to numb their anxieties that blew in off the Sound.

According to weather reports picked up on the satalite radio, the region was slapped with a Pineapple Express that brought hurricane force winds and about a half a foot of rain which forced many of the rivers to crest nearly 25 feet above flood stage, leaving the area devastated. Tens of thousands are expected to be without power and clean water as evacuation missions are underway. Governor Thompson has declared a state of emergency and his teams are working very hard to get ahead of the situation.

An old brown box with an antenna and wires tacked to the wall was only a disguise for the real receiver placed on a shelf below the bar. Speakers were hidden throughout the old rustic room and like everything else, the original exterior was mostly for show as the entire place underwent complete restoration when Bill bought it several years back. Anyway, he liked his sound system and spent pretty money on having it all wired and properly installed with a satelite uplink that fed both his stereo and widescreen. It came in handy at times like this when most everything else was shut down. The old lodge had become a sort of refuge during harsh storms and the deep of winter. The few patrons just sat quietly listening to the weather report.

“The good news for many is that there is a strong high pressure system pushing in from Alaska that will give the area a short break as the winds from the south die down overnight. However, this is a massive system moving in from the north and temperatures are expected to drop below freezing by Wednesday night and keep sliding down into the teens through the weekend. This is going to bring a deep freeze to the rescue and clean up operations as we are expecting to see snow begin to fall by Thursday night.  This is not good news for the Red Cross as thousands have already been forced into over crowded shelters.”

A brief break of static as an invisible anchor interupts. “We will have complete coverage from our news team and the status of the rescue operations coming right up. But Sam, it sounds like we should expect snow.”

“Yes, that’s right. With temperatures hanging around 20 degrees, most of the region should expect about 4-8″ of snowfall at sea level and, get this, we are going to see around 5 feet of snow dump in the Cascades over the next few days. Folks, we are not expecting the mercury to bump above freezing through our forecast for next week. Talk about a turn around. This weather script reads like two mighty titans battling for winter; the Pineapple Express and the Alaskan Gulf Stream. We are witnessing a rare series of storm activity that only few old timers could recall stories of a similar nature. I will continue to monitor this storm and have updates throughout the day as this thing starts to take shape over the next few days.”  Sam Smith reporting with the weather channel.

“These guys bug the hell out of me! Just look out yer window and you’ll get yer weather report.” Jasper slumped against the far wall fingering a cigarette and another beer. He moved into town a few years back as a transient – one of the last real loggers moving around the mountains looking for work, according to him anyway. But Jasper was harmless enough and Bill the bartender let him clean up an old shack behind the lodge where he first landed and would likely stay no matter what anyone said anyway. So Bill helped him rather than attempt to run him off and it worked out pretty good in the end. Jasper was a good hand to have around and was reliable when we wasn’t drinking too much. Frank just tolerated him.

“Hey Bill, I’m glad you decided to stick around this season. I think we would’ve had to break in the door otherwise.” Bill was a husky man with large broad shoulders and a gnarled red beard who stood just about six feet with a presence who would make the largest of men take a second thought on anything improper.

“Thanks Frank. Yeah I never did mind the winters around here, but it looks like we’re off to a pretty wild start – early in the season, too. Anyway, what can I getcha?” Bill glances up to the exposed rafters and silently hopes that the old lodge will hold up as another gust pounds like a sledge hammer trying to gain entrance.

“For sure. Yup – let’s have a bottle of the Black Label. We can pretend we’re in Flagstaff with Jim and Betty for the season.” Frank smiles as he says this remembering how his neighbors tried to convince him to spend the winter with him down there. They went every year, and since Frank’s wife had died, asked him to come along. But he knew that they counted on him to watch over their place while they were gone.

“Oh yeah – those two are loving it about now, I’m sure. Too hot for me though.” Bill lets out a low rumbling noise of displeasure at the thought of being stuck in the hot desert then pours himself a glass and sits back against a barrel behind the bar. “I’d rather shovel the five feet of snow for the winter.”

“What would I have to do then?” Jasper slurs from the corner.

“What you always do Jbird, drink and keep the fire going.” Frank poked back. Jbird was his nickname for Jasper because his guess was that Jasper had done some time before landing in Cedar Point.

“Actually, we had better all make sure wood is stocked because it sounds like we are in for a long winter. Someone should check on Lucy over on Timberline also. She is going to be alone over there this season.” Bill said pointing to Frank.

“No problem – I live closest to her anyway and I have to look in on Jim and Betty’s place also. I’ll need to shut the water down so nothing breaks over there. In fact, maybe Lucy can look after their dog Tumor? At least she would have company and something to do. Tumor is a good dog.” Frank replies

“That’s actually a pretty good idea, Frank.” Bill pours himself another shot of Black Label and looks for the receiver. The satelite helps them feel like they are not as isolated as they really are and offers some perspective on the rest of the world. But their reality is remote and can be treacherous, even in a modern world with some of the technology available to them. Wood is still the most reliable source for heat and they still need to split it with an axe and many of the houses up in the high country are still on the grid, which can become very unstable at times. Of course, one of the renovation projects that Bill made when he bought the old lodge was to take it completely off grid using solar, hydro and other sustainable tricks to keep all the modern luxuries available and functional throughout the year. He figured it was how the place would pay for itself and it did. More than once someone from the lower valley had come up to profile the lodge in some magazine or newspaper. Of course, no one was going to get up there for several weeks at this point. Too many people from other parts were in trouble and Cedar Point was not going to be in the radar.

A Winter Crossroad

A blanket of soft snow covered everything, stopping most people in their daily track. It was the first of December and a successful slow journey to the lower valley took place around noon to swap children with other family and friends. One went there and another came here. In both directions, abandoned cars piled alongside in ditches and run-offs. No one was hurt; mostly just bent metal and broken headlights.  

I slipped around and through the potentially dangerous conditions. Fortunately, I had grown up in the snow and so driving in these conditions were not threatening other than the occasional inexperienced driver that slid by recklessly. I thought about the time of year and the economy. “No one is hiring this time of year.” I could still hear the lady’s voice speak candidly about the true nature of job prospects in the area. Her stare peered over thin black rims as she sat there. 

It could be a long winter, I thought, and realized that I needed to take a deep breath and get creative. I was doing everything I knew how to do. A profile was slowly taking shape online that I could direct potential employers to. I was downloading and learning some of the latest software applications that would help me sell my capacity to do good work. My resume was taking on various forms and I was targeting companies from all over the country blasting them with cover letters and word documents touting my excellent work experience. But so far nothing came but the silent blanket of snow and a calm grey cloak of winter cold.

My friend, a writer in the lower valley, is near completion of her book. She works from home mostly leaning on her background in journalism as a freelance writer to help from month to month. For me, this is a dangerous time. I could very easily slip into bohemia and embrace another stab at making it as a writer and finally finish one of those books started long ago. But there has never been support for this endeavor and no patience remains for this dream to have a chance. But how else should I spend my time when looking for proper employment seems futile and hopeless? Should I use my skills in graphic design to make a really cool sign for the onramps?

Where do I go from here?

I realize, as I make my way back up the road I was told not to take, traction is actually pretty good. The girls are giggling in the backseat and the icy waters of the Puget Sound blend into the sky line. A black raven glides from somewhere out of the woods above the road and swoops down over the cliff edge to someplace else below where humans do not go. Another one pops up into view out over the water from somewhere below. It could be the same bird.

My speed is marginal and I am cautious. I know that I could easily be happy living someplace remote and focused on nothing but my writing and my health. It makes me think about what is considered responsible these days. It makes me think about true intent and where we must go in order to please. Who is the judge of such things? What should decisions be based on? How would my family survive it? Could I afford to support and maintain two ideals simultaneously? At what point am I able to embrace and celebrate who I am and the needs I have to be human? Should I not be celebrating my family instead? If only my family accepted celebration.

As I continue north, the road becomes thicker and more treacherous, but I am careful. The car in my rearview has slowed considerably and shrinks into the landscape. Unemployment represents much more than a job and financial capacity of the monthly demands. The trial presents a cross road, a time to choose and decide based on a set of circumstances that resemble some aspect of our value systems and a balance of our dreams as we look out onto the canvas of our life. There is freedom that comes with it also. But what would it be?

I have been told many times that I am nothing and there is no hope for us because I am forty years of age and have nothing. Despite my feeling insult by these drunken accusations, it is true that I have destroyed credit with ‘failed’ attempts at self-employment and with it those closest to me have no faith left, no hope.

While I understand this and continue to yield to other perspectives than my own, I find myself safeguarding my esteem with various levels of rationale, clearly designed as measures of self preservation.  Thoughts go back and forth between heroic confidence and self loathing. But then it is surmised that this is simply part of the trials of this life and it is my job to document them. With that, I am brought back to my core instincts as a human and what I need for myself – beyond anyone else – beyond perceptions of what employment is or isn’t and how wealth and poverty play into identity and how classes are forged in this society. At times, the only things abundant are the reminders of the failings  and those efforts, which paralyze hope like a pinched nerve.   

Today, I am an artist. This is a safe place because it dwells across class lines and is not judged so much on factors of wealth. But this, too, is a dangerous place whereas the idea of it contradicts the opinion and beliefs of those closest to me. Though, I have to wonder, if so close, then how can life be so misunderstood?

It is a strange trick that plays out in many relationships all over the world. It is a dichotomy between people regardless of their race or social standing or gender or anything else. Values exist no matter what they are and so goes the search for the thread to identify appropriate action to move from unemployment and back into the midstream of life – or at least that which we perceive as being midstream and our interpretation of life.

Hanging with my friend reminds me that there are many streams.Tree branches become heavier and the road is slick with anxiety as people white knuckle their cars through the twisting curves of the road. I have been here before. I have always made it through just fine and hear my thoughts hang on tight to that internal voice as I make my way. It is a tricky thing keeping balance for each passenger involved in the journey. But at some point, the passengers will take up their own path and I pray that they do so without compromise of who they are and that they can celebrate themselves and those around them with love and compassion and without judgment.

I can see the final turn a little ways beyond two cars that got parked in the ditch. I think about continuing on past and heading into town for a few things. But it occurs to me that the day is early and that perhaps I should save it for later. So I make the turn and head up the hill where I wrestle with time as the light wanes into another winter storm.