by Judith Shadford
My response to running water is instinctive, right up there with my response to Wagner, Rachmaninoff, Charles Villiers Stanford, Harry Potter, David Tennant. You get the idea. But since water is one of the four elements, I’m thinking about water. Water and time.
A couple years ago during a road trip to Santa Barbara, I detoured off the I-5, up into the mountains to see Crater Lake for the first time. I was encased in a gorgeous cloudless day as I twisted up through the foothills, through little towns with a couple garages, a café, maybe, one stop light. Not much traffic. Farther into the forests, I found a little turnoff and ate my lunch on the bank of the Umpqua River.
What a broad immensity of running melt water. It seemed like the river itself broke the law of seeking its own level. No white water. Pale celadon green, more than its banks could contain, arching midstream without flooding.
The Umpqua is eventually controlled by dams and dwindles off to the northeast, its companionship to the road replaced by the Clearwater. Visible mountains now at the 8,000 foot level. Instead of June, time had turned back to early April. Snow everywhere. Then Route 138 stopped winding and arrowed due east across an uninterrupted snow-bordered landscape. I zoomed past the road into the park and added another 10 miles before I gave into knowing I’d gone too far. U-turn. And the reason for my seeming inattentiveness was clear. The North Entrance to Crater Lake was an expanse of unplowed snow. Tantalizingly close and utterly inaccessible.
The alternative was to angle off toward the South Entrance, full of what-ifs and thrust back into the first week in June. Looping down and up again, winding into the park I arrived at the parking lot next to the Lodge (open) and the iconic lake. I nosed into a dirty ten-foot snowdrift with melt water desultorily running across the macadam, seeking something lower, maybe something warmer.
People milled around, many carrying little plastic bags with toys from the gift shop, wondering if this was the Crater Lake Experience. I scrambled up a snow bank and looked at The Lake. Just like all the pictures, as if there should be a rectangular frame around the view. Then clouds turned the sky gray, and I needed to get to the hotel down the road.
Which was disappointing, because the hotel was certain it was Upscale, though ignorant that a guest bumping luggage up two flights of steps to a tiny room didn’t quite fit their image. The dining room was laden with sentimental (pink) tchkotchkes and the food was highly mediocre. But there was a moment the next morning.
The lady behind the desk handed me a much-duplicated, hand-drawn local map. She said I had to “Follow Mill Creek Road south to a little parking lot on the left. Walk down a quarter-mile trail to the Rogue River.”
On the basis of Why Not?, I did.
Softly padded down the mossy trail. The fragrance of pines, of the earth itself permitted my trespass. Shadows and brilliant sunlight filtered through the forest. Tiny white flowers clustered under huge ferns. A massive horizontal ancient pine supported a row of foot-high balsam seedlings. Over and through all was the sound of water pouring relentlessly over rocks and downed trees. The taste of the mist-laden air turned the earth back to creation—fresh, new.
Here was the true destination of my trip to Crater Lake. Off to the side, without signs, without souvenir shops.
There’s a wonderful Robert Frost poem—“West Running Brook”—that describes the unchanging flow of mountain water. The water dances and rushes, pours over rocks in great foam pillows until it hits a rock just so and leaps into the air, catches the light, and then it’s all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey because, like our lives, the linear progress of “what comes next” has been broken.
Our life runs down in sending up the clock
The brook runs down in sending up our life.
The sun runs down in sending up the brook
And there is something sending up the sun.
It is this backward motion toward the source,
Against the stream, that most we see ourselves in,
The tribute of the current to the source.
It is from this in nature we are from.
It is most us.
Where we are from. The Question of the Millennia. Because we know we are from Somewhere Else.
Flowing water surely expresses linear motion, doesn’t it? Source to sea. Seeking its own level. Yet we know that’s not true because its downward rush to the sea is interrupted by the bouncing backward, glancing to its source.
Do we think that life flows falling over the edge of a cliff, pounding, relentless, ruthless, sweeping us toward some inevitable relentless, ruthless destination? Unknowing, uncaring?
Because that’s not enough. And it’s not true. As much as we consciously monitor our lives—last week, ten years ago; as much as we monitor time, nanoseconds, light years, we still haven’t hit the mark. The ticking gets us to work on time, yes. Marks occasions, certainly. But you don’t have to be a Whovian to know that time travel happens, well, all the time.
I sit at my computer, typing, while my imagination takes me back to that rush of water from 2011. And a tiny portion of my mind—neither looking straight ahead or back to the source, is pondering whether or not I want a vodka tonic at Happy Hour.
Frost is right. Life is much more like our backward motion against the stream. Our lives aren’t even a wiggly line. We never get entirely comfortable in the here and now, because we dwell inside the great sphere of our past that also contains our future because, when we get there, we recognize it—it’s familiar.
And over our shoulder, even as we dash ourselves against rocks, we glance back to the Source, take fresh compass readings, and hurtle ourselves toward the familiarly new.
Judith Shadford has lived in Spokane since 2008, after a career in marketing in New York City and Santa Barbara, California. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop of Pacific Lutheran University of Tacoma, Washington in August 2009. She has had short stories published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Shark Reef Journal, Spok-Write, Armchair Aesthete and several now-defunct literary magazines.
by Maggie Montague
Shalom was how my grandfather greeted us as my family was ushered through the door of his 300 square foot apartment in downtown Los Angeles. The air was thick with year-round heat locked in by pasted down windows and tasted of stale books. The word felt funny on my tongue as I said it back to him. Shalom. It felt heavy and useless, falling without meaning as he pulled me face first against his tweed suit coat, as he asked me to call him Sabba.
Shalom was described to me in my private Lutheran elementary school as Judaism’s word, like salvation or grace is to Christianity. But the reduction seemed wrong to me, even as a ten-year-old . It was my sabba’s word; it was stuffed with musty tweed, a fedora and pieces of egg in a mustache.
Strangely enough, in Costa Rica I found another meaning for shalom. It seemed odd that I was studying Biblical Themes of Shalom in Central America, but in the end, it made sense. Shalom wasn’t Judaism’s word or even restricted to my sabba. In Hebrew, it roughly translates to the way things were meant to be, the true purpose of an object, or the unobscured function. It is relationships unscarred and mended, green fields met with the dew of the morning, and the wide girth of laughter.
It remains scented with my sabba’s laugh, his thick accent as he proclaimed my father the “greatest man in all the world,” but it also contains the hope of a tomorrow better than today. The peace of a God who seeks to mend the broken between us.
Maggie Montague is in her third year as an English major and art history minor at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Native to southern California, Maggie has always loved stories whether in life, her own writing, books, or artworks. Item number one on her bucket list is to go on an archaeological excavation in the Middle East.
Shalom image is from here.
by Katie Cunningham
The plans are to meet at the Bon Odori at 2:00. This is a soft time: when your uncle set it, he actually didn’t mean it. Get there at 2:00 means leave the house at 2:00. That’s what all the cool kids do.
The Bon Odori’s at a Buddhist temple downtown, but you and your family are not noobs to this gathering, so you know the secrets. There’s really only one secret. The secret is that you are always late, and thus will never, ever be able to find parking. There is, however, this really nice high school with curbside parking about seven blocks away from the Bon Odori, and your dad knows to go straight there. He glides left, left through the neighborhoods, and secures the parking space. It is an optimal space, except for the fact that it is seven long blocks uphill from where you want to be.
That just means it’s time to walk down Seattle hills like a boss. You know exactly where to go. The neighborhood has a thumping heartbeat, and in the hot and sticky air it’s like something’s alive, pulling you into the center. Into the Bon Odori. You can tell you’re getting closer when the neighborhood starts to wheeze, a high-pitched tinny recording of Japanese women singing “miyaaama koe a yoi yoi!” The heartbeat punctuates the downbeat of every measure, a thumping that gets inside you and reminds you of last year and the year before. You’re almost there—just right down this block and right again, and it’s in front of you. The Bon Odori.
Over the shoulder, over the shoulder
The number of people at the Bon Odori, for some reason, never ceases to surprise you. The festival takes place smack dab in the middle of a street, and people set up on either side of it with their black-and-red blankets and lawn chairs. At first it’s just a trickle: one little girl playing on a lamp post, an older couple holding hands in adjacent lawn chairs. As you walk past, however, the crowd thickens: towards the middle, people are stacked shoulder to shoulder, and you have to grab the back of your mom’s purse to make sure you don’t lose her. Towards the middle of the crowd, you give a double take over the shoulder. Everyone is pretty much a sweaty mob of T-shirts and shorts, but there was an unexpected flash of color—a woman wearing a sakura kimono. In fact, there are a few women and men who come in kimonos every year. The awkward part? They’re always white.
But that’s cool—today’s a celebration of culture, anyway, and it’s nice to see people enjoying it in all the ways you can. You hear your name over the shoulder, and you turn around to see your cousin Ciara running at you.
Back (wipe off the sweat), back (wipe off the sweat)
Ciara gestures over at the rest of your family, gathered up at the very top of the opposite street’s hillside because no one got here early enough to claim a coveted streetside position. However, the sitting space isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of priorities. Instead, everyone’s hungry, and it’s time to get somen.
Even though the Emerald City generally has cool and temperate summers, there’s always one day that is obnoxiously hot and feels the need to make it up to the nineties. That day will be the day that you are at the Bon Odori. Luckily, there’s a remedy. If you go back, back, behind the Buddhist temple, wiping off the sweat as you go, you’ll find yourself at a food stand that sells the only thing for a hot day: somen. Somen is a thin Japanese noodle, made of wheat flour, that is served in a cold tsuyu sauce with green onions, and as it slips down your throat it cools you off and refreshes you better than sticky ice cream (two booths over) or a blast of water in the face (your dad, when he gets bored).
Because the heat makes you hungry, you’ll have more than one bowl of somen. More than two. Probably more than three. It’s good stuff, okay?
Push the cart, push the cart, push the cart
There are a ton of things to do at the Bon Odori after you have acquired your somen—you can peruse shops, skip rocks at the park above the temple, or even go inside the temple and meditate for awhile. But there’s one reason you go the Bon Odori, and that’s this: to dance.
The Bon Odori’s dances happen in big circles in the street, with about twenty or so experts who teach the hundreds of other people who decide to join in. Your family’s favorite dance is the tanko bushi, or the Coalminer’s Dance, which is always left for last because it’s easy and everybody knows it. This year, like every year, you try to convince the party poopers to join in on the fun. You push your dad and Ciara’s dad, trying to bribe them with games of golf or an ice cream run.
However, the fathers remind you that they are the rides home. Your father reminds you that he just bought you not one, not two, not three, but four bowls of somen. He offers to take pictures from the sidelines. He refuses to dance.
They’re good points, and he knows it. He’s safe.
Clap clap, clap
So you, your uncle, Ciara, and the rest of the gang run to the street to join the circle. You’re ready to dance the tanko bushi, which you’ve done so many times and for so many years that the steps have become a mantra in your head. Left, left, right, right, over the shoulder, over the shoulder—that’s the digging, to your left side, your right, and then two big shovelfuls behind you. Back, back. When you were younger, your uncle used to explain that the sweeping-across-the-brow movement was supposed to be wiping off the sweat, because it could get hot in the mines. You found out last year that he was wrong. You’re supposed to be making an “O” with your fingers across your forehead, like a coal miner’s lamp. Push the cart, push the cart, push the cart—the day’s done, and you’re taking the ores up the perilous paths out of the mines. Safe! This step’s always funny—left foot forward, you pull into a quick squat and sweep apart your forearms an umpire’s sign for a safe play. Clap clap, clap. The dance is over, everyone is laughing, your dad’s smiling from the sidelines, and everyone on the sidewalk and in the street is clapping, high off of the excitement of the last dance, happy from the somen and glad to have taken part, for one more year, in the Bon Odori.
Katie Cunningham is a sophomore English major at Whitworth University. When she’s not busting a move at the Bon Odori, she can usually be found reading, writing, or eating somen.
Photo credit: The Seattle Times
by Mackenna Kuehl
Instructions: Remember to set your alarm for 6:15 am, the exact time when you need to go and wake your mother up. Make sure mom sets her vibrating alarm as well, just in case your alarm doesn’t go off. Kiss mom and brother goodnight, then get in bed.
Lie awake for about half an hour and make sure mom turns off the TV downstairs, or it will make a buzzing noise and keep you awake. Listen for her to lock all the doors, and reset the security system. When you hear four clicks and an electronic beep, it’s safe to drift off to sleep.
The alarm clock goes off. Reach over and turn it off, then pad down the hall to wake mom. Her bed is vibrating and her alarm is blinking, but she’s still asleep. She can’t hear you open her door, so make sure to touch her gently, softly, don’t jar her from her deep sleep, nothing but your touch can disturb her. Slowly stroke her arm. Lay your head next to hers and wait until she starts to stir. Shake her arm a little until her lids open. Good, you didn’t scare her; she hates being scared awake.
Once she’s up, you can go back to bed. Mom will wake you up at 7 so you can get ready for school. At 7, the creak of the door hinges wakes you, but keep your lids closed. Let Mom stroke your arm until the sleep leaves your heavy lids. Rub your eyes and sit up.
The water from her bathroom sink is still running, go to her room and turn it off. Get dressed and make sure your little brother is awake. Take him downstairs for breakfast. Mom is busy getting things together for work, she didn’t hear the toaster pop, so your toast is a little burnt and dry, but that’s okay. You’ve learned to like it that way.
Mom leaves for work a little earlier than you have to leave for school, so make sure she’s looking directly at your lips when you say goodbye. Sign”‘I love you” and wait for her to sign back. Watch as she kisses your brother and then leaves through the garage door. Listen as her car pulls out of the driveway. Finish breakfast and make sure you and your brother both have your backpacks and house keys. Lock the door on your way out and walk to school. Drop your brother off at his kindergarten class and tell him to meet you in your fifth grade pod at 2:45 so you can walk home from school together.
Go to your classroom. Forget your lunch. Don’t bother calling mom from school. She won’t be able to understand you over the phone. Mooch some lunch off of your friends. They have better food anyway. After school meet your brother and walk home together. Make sure he does his homework, then do yours.
Mom comes home an hour later. Tell her about your day, half in broken sign language and half in over enunciated words. Don’t get frustrated when you have to repeat yourself three times. Just try to be clear. Enunciate.
Don’t bother yelling. It won’t make a difference. Scream anyway when she turns around. You won’t get in trouble. Your friends get in trouble for yelling, but you don’t. Scream to the top of your lungs. Relish the sound of your voice as it fills the room and dances in your ears. Scream until your chest heaves and there is no more air. Raise your foot to stomp on the ground, and then stop. Mom will feel the vibrations in the floorboards. Gently put your foot down. Scare your little brother.
You shouldn’t scream anymore.
Stop screaming and go watch TV.
Your face is red.
Watch cartoons with your brother with the captions on. Mute the TV. You’re so used to reading the captions that you don’t need the sound anymore.
Mackenna Kuehl is a senior at Whitworth University. She is an aspiring writer, avid reader and animal lover. Her neurotic golden retriever, Sam, is her biggest supporter and the inspiration for many of her pieces.
by the Rev. Martin Elfert
The scar runs up my forehead, starting just above my right eyebrow. Perhaps half an inch wide at the bottom, it narrows out to a thin line as it rises higher. If you were to look upon the scar in extreme close up, maybe in one of those “what is it?” photos that children’s magazines sometimes publish, you might take it for valley or even a canyon, proof for J. Tuzo Wilson’s theory of tectonic plates.
I have thought about making up stories about the scar. Of the many possibilities (motorcycle crash, explosion while battling super-villains, fall from a Jules Verne-esque hot air balloon) a fencing injury is my favourite fabrication. Sabers at dawn, a question of honor. But I keep coming back to the scar’s actual history. There is a weight in the truth.
In truth, the scar is the only thing that still can be seen – the legacy, if you like – of that disease which has nothing to do with keeping the rain out of your house. Shingles.
The shingles began as a red dot, “you are here” on a map. Over a few days, the dot engaged in gleeful reproduction, doubling itself and then tripling, spreading out until I began to look as though I had done spectacularly poorly in a fistfight, my right temple a passable representation of the rockier parts of mars. I understand that I am lucky that the pain was as mild as it was. I understand that I am lucky that my left my eye was untouched. Now, some six years later, the scar is all that is left. And I have surprised myself by coming to like it.
I don’t have tattoos. Not because I object to them. But simply because I have never been able to imagine an image or a message that I would want to look at in perpetuity. And, more than that, because life is putting enough marks on my body without seeking them out. There, on my shin, is the record of mountain biking in Banff in 1996. There, on my shoulder, are the old borders of a mole that looked worrisome. There, on my forearm, is the cautionary tale about power tools. There, on my eyebrow, is the meeting with the coffee table when I was four. And there on my forehead. There is the remembrance of shingles.
Evidence of pain and mistakes and misadventure, I guess. But even so.
These scars and I have become friends.
I suppose that curious friendship is why I was surprised, kind of shocked, even, when the doctor looked at the scar on my forehead last week and said, “I could get rid of that for you. I could reduce it to little more than a line.” It was his casualness that startled me. It was as though he were talking about knocking down a superfluous wall in a house, cutting down an old tree, painting over the misguided colors on the walls of a bedroom.
But that’s my scar that you’re talking about.
I said no. No thank you, doctor. And I realized that I have come to love each of these scars. They are my stories, the tattoos that this beautiful life has given me. They are records, not just of pain, but also of blessings. Outward and visible signs.
There will be more.
Martin Elfert serves as a priest at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, WA, where he has the privilege of crafting worship for and with children. His advice column, “Father Knows Best,” appears Tuesdays on Spokanefavs.com and, nationally, on religionnews.com. Martin lives in Spokane with his wife, their three children, and their long-haired miniature dachshund, Baudelaire.
Eyeball image is from here.
Those of us here at Rock & Sling are pleased as punch that our editor, Thom Caraway, has just been named the first poet laureate of Spokane.
In this role, Thom “will serve as an ambassador for Spokane’s literary community, presenting his work publicly several times a year in an effort to encourage interest in poetry,” explains an article the Spokesman Review.
It’s an honor well deserved. Our heartiest congratulations, Thom!
by Jenny Brown
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. –Romans 8:14-17
The first time I meet my daughter Miranda is in a small, stuffy room in Guangzhou, China. We are waiting with seven other American families, also meeting their babies today. Everything is strange here. It smells vaguely of perfume and food, not baby powder or diapers. All the officials are speaking in serious Chinese, which none of us understands. We can hear babies crying: are those our babies? Someone else’s? Shouldn’t we know our own baby’s cry?
This is the culmination of a very long process: months of paperwork and seals and couriers and waiting and travel; years of struggle with loss and infertility. We have been thinking about nothing but this for over a year. And now it is time. The shift from hope to joy is almost unbearable; it is too unfamiliar.
With no fanfare (shouldn’t there be fanfare?) a door opens, and a woman from the orphanage holds out an eight-month-old baby. What baby? Whose baby? That baby doesn’t look like mine at all, but then all I have is a two-inch square picture from four months ago, and babies change so fast. The woman calls a Chinese name. No. Not our baby. Oh, God, I think. What if I don’t recognize my own daughter?
Another woman comes out with another little girl. I scrutinize her from across the room. Mine? Maybe? I hear the name and felt slightly dizzy: no, not mine. Another. The room is full of parents and babies now, cameras flashing. A child reaches out to touch her new mother’s blonde curls, bewildered: she’s never seen that before. Kisses. Tears. Another baby. Another. Not mine.
And then a different woman comes in with a baby in her arms. The whole room goes quiet, or it does for me. I know her immediately. Oh, there she is, I think, my whole body relaxing. Oh. That’s the one I love.
* * *
I ask my eight-year-old daughter to set the table for dinner. She is on the couch reading a book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this time, but it could just as well be The Phantom Tollbooth or one of the Boxcar Children mysteries or some fairy tales or All-of-a-Kind Family or Little Town on the Prairie or the back of a toothpaste tube. She drags herself off the couch, still reading. Two knives, one page. Three forks, one page. A glass, one page. Two more knives. A napkin. Two pages. If she could get away with it, she would hide under the bed and finish the book and forget about dinner. She asked for black high-top Converse sneakers because they were like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s black, high button shoes. I am seeing my own childhood unroll before my eyes.
Oh, there she is. That’s the one I love.
* * *
On good days, I think this must be how God feels about us, all his adopted children, coming to him and crying Abba, Father. Sometimes this relationship forms in total unfamiliarity – we come to him with a different language, a different culture than his culture of love and mercy. We come to him with our violence and jealousy, our needs and desires and blindness, our inability to ask for anything God would choose for us. Yet he still knows us as his children, knows us unhesitatingly, swiftly, choosing us over and over again. And sometimes he knows us because we are like him, made in his image: creative, conscious, remorseful, loving, grateful. All that he has is ours; being adopted makes no difference to that inheritance of joy and life everlasting. He holds us in his arms, each soul a tiny bewildered baby, and says, There you are. You are the one I love.
Jenny Brown teaches French in Whitworth University’s World Languages & Cultures Department. She reads while cooking, while running, while talking on the phone to her mother, and is working on a solution to reading while asleep.
by Kellan Day
Go my children with my blessing, never alone. Waking, sleeping, I am with you; You are my own.
This one line of a hymn played on repeat in my head as I trekked out to Spokane for ten weeks this summer. Having never entered the Pacific Northwest, my heart throbbed with nervousness and my hands weakened as they grabbed my flimsy plane tickets. My mission for the summer was to “discern a call for pastoral ministry.” And to paint an art mural – all 350 square feet of it.
Salem Lutheran Church, in short, was the faith community that wrapped its arms around me and taught me again that I wasn’t alone. As I was preparing to design the art mural, it was Salem’s mission and sacramental theology that inspired most of the content: a church rooted in its community, committed to seeking shalom and a place where others – who may be different than the cultural norm – are able to flourish. Mentally handicapped, physically disabled, gays and lesbians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old – all were welcome at Salem. So their building must reflect that, right?
Here in this community, enveloped in Salem’s support, I designed the art mural with three sharpies and many cups of Indaba coffee. The wall was then primed in a sheer white, and the design was drawn on the massive wall. I wasn’t alone. Adam helped prime and Kai helped draw.
Painting came next. For two and a half weeks straight, I was up with the sun, heading to the wall to paint. Never alone. Janice and Cheri painted with me almost every day; Janice refused to leave until I had descended from the ladder. These two 60-year-old women were my intimate companions for those weeks.
And the rest of the community stopped by too – delivering Gatorade and dark coffee, offering many words of encouragement, asking to paint a stroke or two, and giving us a break with their conversation. The mural was not painted alone: West Central and Salem Lutheran painted the mural with their chatter and offerings of praise.
And it was in those moments of communality and sweaty backs and paint running down our faces that I realized ministry happened. It was in those moments that I realized that the pastoral calling is so much more than the traditional roles assigned to the pastor.
For a pastor is not called to be a pastor just in the pulpit or as he or she breaks the holy bread. No – a pastor is called to be a man or woman who will listen to the stories that spring forth from mornings of painting. A pastor is called to bless those who walk by the mural and offer their words of praise. A pastor is called to listen to the words of an aching person and community. A pastor is called to paint. And to leave art wherever she walks.
We do not do this alone but with the body of Christ around us and the Spirit moving through us.
Thanks be to God for those who taught me how to be a pastor this summer. And for the many stories in the scorching sun. And for your communal love that reminded me frequently that I was never alone.
Kellan Day is a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. When she is not perusing sacramental theology or creative non-fiction books, she enjoys picking up a paintbrush, immersing herself in wild mountains and forests, or exploring the foreign terrain of new recipes. She plans on attending Seminary for her Masters of Divinity after taking a gap year that will [hopefully] provide rest, clarity, and new passions.