16 September, 2003

From now on, this blog is not only my online journal, but also a project, or assignment for my 310 class. Really it is of no consequence - it is the same thing. But what is happening is that I am writing most of this at nome and I copy it and put it online once a week or something. I don't know yet - at least I am keeping it all alive...

For Fiction 310


1. Yoni –
The streets were dark and heavy as I made my way home. The wine sat awkwardly in my stomach and felt like it was going to my head. I didn’t want to trip on the curb or fall in a puddle so close to home – I wanted to try and end the night with no scars to remind me of it. So I tried to put the night’s drama behind me and focus on getting back to my apartment without incident.

I don’t much enjoy heels, but at night with the assistance of streetlights seldom they are a hindrance to my wellbeing. Why the hell was Brauque making such an ass of himself? Why did Sheryll take his outburst so personally? And all of this in spite of Jared’s accident? Were they intentionally ignoring him or are they really so vain?

For once the emptiness of my part of town was a welcome change. I was too tired and confused to worry about being mugged. Likely, I would only need to explain my night and he would let me go understandingly, maybe walk me the rest of the way home. I hope I fed Ginger before I left. I wonder if I have to go in to work tomorrow……

2. Gerald -
Gerald hauled in the sail and reefed it as well as he could. It would hold. What was more important was staying on course. The wind was whipping around, circling back around him – it seemed to come from everywhere.

The storm came on so fast that Gerald hadn’t even been able to get his fowl weather gear on. Now he was soaked through; he was cold, but he hadn’t the time to notice or pay it any attention if he did. He loved his boat and was not about to lose it – or his life – in this tricky storm.

He kept saying that he’s seen worse, but there was something unusual, precariously vicious about this one. How did it drop so fast? Why was the wind swirling and turning like that? – he had nearly jibed twice while perfectly on course.

He would be a liar if he said he wasn’t concerned. He had been sailing for the last twenty years and most of it alone. It had been a long time since he had seen anything that surprised him.

But he knew that nothing was impossible here. He had never entertained the idea of safety at sea. From the first Gerald had submitted and given himself up; he would be the student and vassal. But it had been years since he had last been called into servitude and his mind was hard at work to figure out what it was that he was facing.

He was down in the south Pacific, south east of Samoa. It was January. What was going on? The winds were still increasing and light dwindled fainter behind the swelling clouds. “I’ve got to reef the jib or bring it in altogether,” he thought with surprise. This was totally out of the ordinary for this time and place.

3. Mose
“Hey man, grab that 44 and lets get in there after it.”
“Are you crazy Mose, I ain’t goin in after that thing. Put the bulls on it or something. Man, it don’t want to die – look what it did to Tam and Gin.”
“Get off your ass and lets go. The dogs’ve done there part. They ain’t seen many pig like that. But they ain’t gonna hold it long. Come on.”
“Shit, alright. Where’s Allan and Deas?”
“They’ll be here. They had t’ look out for Tam and Gin. It’s just one hog, now come‘on.”
They walked out from the bean field into the thicket lining the field. After about ten yards it opened up with the shade of the southern hardwoods. The dogs could be heard balling in the distance. With each steps they got louder and louder…

4. Addie -
Who is Addie….


Today is the day that Johnny Cash died. All day I have listened to his music – over and over again, over and over in my head. I have four versions of “Fulsome Prison Blues.” They play over and over and over.

I want to be sad, to be shocked that he is gone. I want to feel that sweet suffering of justifiable loss. But to me he has always had that eternal nature. His music could be a century old, its dusty and simple. Yet I know that last year he was up for a Grammy. How can this be? How could he be alive, still?

But he was. He was until today. I want to go and buy his new cd. Last week a friend was telling me about music he made with Bob Dylan. I love Bob Dylan so I’ll buy that one too. I want to catch up. I want a glimpse of the contemporary life of this man who to me has always seemed the grandpa of American music.

I want to buy Johnny a beer. I want to hear about all the places that he sings about – I think I’ve been to my share of them. Me and Johnny both used to live in Tennessee after all – there’s a start.

But he’s dead now. What’s more, I never knew him. He was a famous man that I know scant about except through his music. Isn’t that enough?

Music, isn’t it an expression of the soul, a true pouring out of something either conscious or subconscious, something that may be more truly ourselves than either our talk or our walk? Isn’t that art. Isn’t it an upwelling of creative forces unidentifiable by science or psychology?

So if I love the music do I love the man? Do I then have to agree with his politics as well? I don’t agree with my girlfriends politics, or my father’s for that matter. But I like Marilyn Manson’s politics…

Well Johnny is gone. Perhaps I don’t feel like I appreciated him. I appreciate, and always will, his music; but what about the man? I never knew him. I hardly knew he existed. Is this so strange really? Or is it in death that these existential questions rise in out throats and want to be mulled over.


Was it really the look on her face that gave away the gravity of the grave reality that was unfolding? Carla looked at me, or through me, past me – some sort of empty gaze. She struggled and stumbled on her words like an out-of-breath child, excited. But she wasn’t excited; to the contrary, she was shocked and breathy. She was slow with her words, fumbling with them, not really believing them. She half seemed like she self-accusing herself for lying, that what she was trying to say was not real but some trick that she herself could not readily identify. But it was of such magnitude and precedent that she was compelled the same. Was it a validation? Did she seek me out because by sharing with me the experience could become more real, she could be more sure, she could see in my eyes my acknowledgement of what she herself could not comprehend.

She stood there at the very edge of the driveway looking toward me. When I here my name murmured, I look into her with grave timeless anticipation. I lean toward her on my shovel awaiting her precious shattering words: “a plane, an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center.”


Willie Nelson softly strums as I look toward the computer for the first time this evening. What is a Writing Journal? What will it become? What will it mean to me? I already have a journal, and a dream journal as well – What will become of them? How different will this be?

Well there is little since in pondering. Tomorrow and the days coming will inevitably explain and revel, color and deepen these mysteries. What does it matter anyhow?

I am back in school. I have been sick, not the return to Montana I expected. At least I have been able to sleep well and not fall so far behind. My mind is slowly, slowly reawaking and regaining some of its old sense of this academia, this place and life I love so well.

For me, my classes are sparkling, glimmering opportunities, mysteries that I know can only enliven and invigorate my life and days. I get to study Blake and writing – fiction and nonfiction. My classes are all huddled together during the middle of the week offering me great leisure time to study as I will.

Bob, my neighbor to the north, has offered me a circular glass picnic table with a great green umbrella – it is sturdy and broad, and the wind hardly bothers it. Bob wants to use his porch for his new puppy and needed to store the thing and thought I might enjoy it.

Now I take all my meals into the yard. I have a lap-desk that I take out with me and I read the Bible and drink chai. The weather has been such a blessing – good healing weather!

So is this what a writing journal is? This isn’t fiction, but my life, my love affair with things that surround me. Cheesy, maybe, but I feel it, I feel so alive and excited; it is hard not to write floridly.

But I am writing with intention, with poise and a sense of focus and intensity. I am not venting so much as I am creating with that flow that naturally comes forth. But I shape it, naturally but with a stylistic curve and arc. It is a gushing forth, a spurting, an eruption! I am carving “the uncarved block.”

I am in love with writing, with journaling; for me, more natural, more free than fiction. This is true on more levels than solely the metaphysical. Journaling is factual but god willing it delves, our experiences delve, into the metaphysic, into the transcendental, into Jung’s “collective unconscious.” Hopefully our lives are imbued with the same glory as myth – heroic, tragic, romantic. Aren’t we the hero of our own stories? And what story could we ever tell better? What story could we know better, with more vivid description or imagery, passion and energy? I think my life is my story. I want to live it like a story, wild, reckless, always on the brink of utter disaster, always balancing between the great and the catastrophic? Does that make me brave? I think not – I think I am greedy for a good story to write, to live, and to remember.

So is this a Writing Journal? If it is I like it..

11 September, 2003

Life in Missoula is slowly cementing itself, becoming more determinant and linear. Perhaps it is me. My mind is slowly adjusting, my routine is materializing, my odds-and-ins are slowly disipating and once again "my life" is emerging.

I love it here but the last few weeks, my return home, have been trying. I find I am less comfortable without a sense of order. My house needed to be unpacked, I was jetlagged, I had a wedding to attend, I've been fighting with my girlfriend, I've had three months of back-mail to sort, I've twice had unexpected guest come and stay, bills to pay, no car to run all these errands, my computer was confirmed dead on arrival; I had no money to pay for all this - and, on top of it all, I have had Giardia.

I feel great concidering. Things work themselves out. My home again is my own. Things are clean again. My classes and books are in order. I won't continue - but my health is returning. I am stoked about all that is around me. My work is to study William Blake and the Bible - how great does life get? What more could I ask for my time. I have two classes completely devoted to my own writing. I have a four and a half day weekend and a full load of classes (12+ credits)

Who really cares anyway? Who is out there anyway? What is this site for now? I don't know what I am saying: life is good, maybe. Missoula is wonderful and this summer has given me so much to work with, so much direction now and for the coming years. I have found a sort of path to my dreams. That, perhaps, is exciting, but I will leave it for now. I must retain some secrets shant I. What does "shant" mean? I haven't a clue but it really wanted to go there and I am not in a rejecting sort of mood.

I have some stories that soon I will put on this page. I just want them to be in good form. "Thie Testement of James Cantey" is not in good form as a short story, but it will be a while maybe before anything is done about it. So I threw it out there. I reject nothing, nothing.

Here is a feeling: I hope I don't hurt people's feeling this semester. I fear I have so little time to give. I have choosen this, I know. But it means I have offered my friends dearly little time, very little of myself. I myself have taken it personally when friends of mine have withdrawn themselves.

I have to choose: what is most important right now. I am so excited to be in school but it is all consuming. I give it everything and there is little left. There are so many people whom I love and admire and I want them in my life - but this semester they fall forfeit to my desire to push and grow. This pains me but is my choice all the same. Will I be forgiven? Will people understand and wait or adjust?

Is this temporary or is it permanent?

When was the last time I was home to see family, for how long?

Does the possible future show any reconcilliation?

These are shadowy questions without heartening answers I fear. But this is life and choices come at a cost at this point on the road. There are many paths and I am glimpsing mine, but it is difficult and solitary and remote. Will I retain the support and love of my friends even if I take myself away from them? Will this sort of singular, distant communication suffice for personal contact? Am I worth the effort? Is my mail or writing worth reading and responding? I get so precious few responses already, when I am not so distant, as of yet hardly removed at all.

I wonder if anyone even realizes what I am refering to? I am speaking out of my heart and dreams without being willing to spill those actual contents onto the net. Perhaps I should. But I feel that making them materialize, makes them concrete, a sort of contract that I am then bound to because I have made "it" known. I am not yet so certain.

I will end with this confusion and think. Good Day
Namaste - jonah

PS - god bless all today, peace, for 9-11

This is a story I wrote last year. I like it but it isn't meant to be a story. It doesn't work. Maybe one day I will expand it because I like what it is about and what it represents. Many of you may likely have heard some of these stories in a different context. This is, of course, fiction....

By J. L. Manning

“Life ends; life begins; life ends.” These were James’ thoughts as he stared at the stars sinking above him. They blurred to streaks as his attention began to fade. The sea rolled sleepily beneath him. “Stars twinkle, pop, and are gone.” James had shredded all the dogma he ever encountered. No, he simply compressed it, stripped it of its bulk and excesses. He was left with a lean Joseph Campbell axiom his mother introduced to him in high-school: “Follow your Bliss.” Looking back he felt he had. He hoped she would be proud of him. This dictum had buried itself like a seed in fertile winter ground - waiting for its time. It became his mantra.

* * * * *
He remembered a night three years ago not unlike this night. He remembered lying in a fallow field on his way back from his first trip out west. Somewhere off I-70 in Colorado James stared up at the eastern remnants of the western sky. In the grass, on a mat, and in a bivy, there was nothing impeding his gaze nor was there any presence to disturb his dreaming. The westerly wind brushed his hairy cheek and hummed doggerel in his ear. He had fallen in love with the Rockies and the seemingly endless opportunities they opened for him. He had spent the summer in the Tetons - biking and hiking the lupine and granite covered slopes. It had taken him until now, at the age of twenty, to break the chains of southern tradition and its social bonds and mores. He was a southern boy, suffocated by the Carolina humidity and conformity. South Carolina didn’t have any mountains. Now, staring blankly at Andromeda, the Pleiades, and his sacred star, he knew he was changing and that from here forward he would have to live with boldness - with a vitality absent until now.
He remembered that first phone call: “Dad, I’m going to take a year off from school. I’m wasting my time. I don’t know what I am doing. I drink too much, and I’m not getting good grades or achieving my goals. This isn’t life I don’t think; everything seems disconnected. I have to get some things figured out.” That summer James found his way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming by following a new friend from Sewanee.
Living in the towering shadows of the Tetons, James found a sense of meaning in the simple and mundane. For the first time he was paying his own way. He waited the breakfast shift at Jenny Leigh’s so, when he got off at twelve, he had a good eight hours to frolic wherever he found himself. With an active mind, he had never slept well, always thinking into the deepening hours of night. But in Jackson, the weariness of biking or fishing through the day dropped his body into rest without the disturbance of nocturnal musings. He didn’t have the time, money, or desire to drink. He found joy in health and in the pursuit of vague images of dream. After all, he had come out west because visions of mountains haunted him; he dreamed of being a mountain man. But none of this had ever seemed real before. This was the discontentment he felt in school. It was someone else’s plan for him, not his own.
The sunny August days he spent hiking in Paintbrush Canyon south of Mt. Moran. He felt alive in a way he never had in the south. If he could make money - he could do whatever pleased him. Nobody was in control of his destiny but himself, and everyday brought him closer to realizing it. He discovered that pursuing truth was often more frightening than the common path, the lives of so many friends he had left behind. Nothing was particularly frightening about the South or Sewanee, the college he had attended in Tennessee. Everything was safe. Making his own life was fearful. He had no security, no one to blame but himself, and no one else to rely on. Climbing alone in the mountains made this fact fearfully clear.
Two weeks before heading back east, sitting on the western bank of the Snake River, he met Genevieve for the first time. He had seen her in The Rancher Saloon while he played in a pool tournament the week before. Feeling repetition has purpose, James sat and asked for her name. Conversation came easily, stories led to stories, memories spurred laughter and smiles, and too soon it seemed shadows started to encroach on them by the slate-colored river. Genevieve taught James how to climb. They spent the cooling days of fall scrambling up the Exxum Ridge and the East face of Teewinot. James’ dreams were materializing all around him.
As the time arrived for his departure from Jackson, he wondered if he was falling in love. He was unsure of his feelings; they were obscure and unlike anything he had ever felt. They couldn’t be reciprocal, he thought. He had to leave. In South Carolina, a job awaited him that could help him save enough money for a hike he was planning. James didn’t ask her to come along. He didn’t try. Their time had been so short; their relationship seemed bound to this time, this place; and James imagined the beauty he found in Genevieve, the love he now felt, would fade, would be spoiled if they tried for more. So he left her, never knowing what her feelings were, what she felt.
He drove the long silent drive down I - 70 back to South Carolina. He slept out in fields and thought and dreamed.

* * * * *
Wilson, an old friend, had gone to high-school in northern Georgia. On the phone one night, Wilson told James about the Appalachian Trail. He had hiked most of the Georgia miles and mentioned to James that some people hike the entirety all at once, called thru-hiking. The A.T. is 2,164 miles of narrow footpath that meanders along the spine of the ancient-worn Appalachians from Georgia to Maine. James didn’t know any of this at the time, but when Wilson described it, James knew that the Trail was the realization of his recently awakened dreams. To hike for six months through snow and rain and cold, subsisting on what he could carry on his back, sleeping in bivies and three-sided log shelters - this was the simplicity, the change he had dreamt of while staring at the western sky, the life he began in Jackson. To fail at the A. T. would be the failure of his deepest hopes and dreams; it would be the destruction of his imagined future. To succeed, however, to find happiness among the mountain ridges and meadows, to feel free like a Tom Bombadill - singing by some mystical stream, would cement his dreams into his true future.
“No, actually the Trail will probably take more than a couple of weeks, Dad. It runs from Georgia all the way to Maine.” Even saying it made his diaphragm tighten in his chest. “Yeah I’m serious, it’ll take about six months. No, no, I’m not taking my truck.”
For the first three to four weeks, his dad expected him home daily. He didn’t see his son as capable or serious - the same boy he had sent off to Sewanee. He felt James was grasping at wisps of cloud and would soon fail, come home, and go back to school like everyone else. Also, the A.T. was conceptually too far from anything in his world. “Why would anyone want to walk across the country anyway?”
Now at home, the fear of failure ached James’ muscles at night. Only ten-percent of attempted thru-hikes succeed. Why would he be any different? What would make him special? But fear drove him. He believed once on the trail it would become natural, not a struggle but an immersion.
Quiet winter months passed him in Columbia, working for his father, living alone on the farm outside of town. He hunted ducks with Wilson and waited.
He set off on an inconspicuous day in late February. He set out alone and ignorant. He had only camped for short spells and never alone for more than a couple of nights. His pack was too heavy and he was out of shape. His boots were too new, and they blistered his feet. For February, the weather was welcoming and clear. The trail made a green tunnel through the shrubby rhododendron and Mountain Laurel as it crept northward. After four or five days he met a man called Mr. Clean. Hikers on the A.T. go by trail names, made up names, which generally represent some characteristic of themselves, sometimes not. Mr. Clean, however, had a shiny shaved-bald head. He claimed to have hiked the Trail four times, and claimed he weighed over three hundred pounds when he first began, though he was prone to exaggeration, as James would later learn. Regardless, James appreciated his experience and Mr. Clean enjoyed the company. He helped lighten James’ pack and helped him to understand the small tricks of the Trail such as bounce boxes. This is a package hikers continually send to themselves. They fill any small box with things they only need occasionally - toenail clippers, town clothes (warn while doing laundry or eating in a restaurant), food bought in bulk, or seasonal gear, such as bug spray. When ready to leave town, they wrap it up and send it to the next town they plan on stopping in. Coincidently, Clean was also the author of James’ trail name. James reminded Clean so much of Jonas, a character in his favorite book, The Giver, he dubbed it “James’” trail name. With Clean’s help and the company of other trekkers, the Trail became tangible and palatable - a home.
Genevieve was everywhere. James saw her in the faces of strangers in the streets of towns he visited. He thought of her when he was exhausted or scared, also when he peered with contentment into blood-painted sunsets. The thought of her had a soothing effect as well as a motivating one. James loved the feeling; strangely, he didn’t miss her, but he relished how even now she accompanied him and urged him into his dreams.
After weeks of two weeks of straight rain - twice - through the El Nino summer of ’98 - James didn’t turn back. Vermont - there the Trail was a flooding stream. Never had Vermont seen such rain as that June when James crossed the Green Mountains. Life was ahead of him, not behind. He climbed Rocky Top and belted out, “Rocky Top, you’ll always be. . . home sweet home to me. . .” He saw the Mountain Lauren blooms blanket the Grayson Highlands in white, and he created rock art in New Jersey. Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire was his favorite stretch - the vistas of alpine hiking. The southern mountains are not tall enough to be above tree line, but in New Hampshire and Maine, there were miles of rock slabs and scrambling, the trail marked only with cairns.
Mountain after mountain, up and down, fourteen states, one after another, until he reached the top of Katahdin and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The mountain was as beautiful as Thoreau found it. From beginning to this majestic end, the Trail had been glorious. The physical suffering was little compared to the simplicity and peace it afforded him.
It was mid-August and classes would start back at Sewanee in a week and a half.

* * * * *
Back in Sewanee, he wore one pair of Carhearts everyday, one green capilene top. Now disenfranchised from the partying preppie crowd, he found a place for himself among the climbers and other outdoorsy folk. He and his two closest friends found an off campus house to share. It was a rustic one-room cabin with a loft and tin roof. They called the place Deep Woods as it was on Deep Woods Road and surrounded by Oak-Hickory forest. Robin, Jamie, who he liked to call “James,” and him would climb any time the sun was out. Robin was the sort of guy, drunk or sober, who would run through the woods barefoot at midnight. Jamie was the smartest, shyest, humblest, and most avid climber of the three. She even won the Benedict Scholarship, a $100, 000 scholarship for being brilliant and athletic. However, their favorite nocturnal foray was to find and climb all the tallest towers on the Cumberland Plateau.
Robin and Jamie were a couple of years ahead of James in school, and he had little intention of sticking around Sewanee after they left in the spring. Jamie was moving to Ouray, Colorado to ice climb and Robin was heading to California to sail. It seemed the time again to step off the edge of certainty.

* * * * *
“Hey Dad, how are ya? Good, well I have some news for you. I decided that I need to transfer schools. Tennessee isn’t the same anymore after the A.T. Life is different; I have different goals - or at least now I have goals. I need the mountains. I have always dreamed of Alaska, and when I finish up the spring term, I think it will be time to move on. No that’s fine. I understand if you won’t support me. You do what you have to do and I’ll respect that. This is what I have to do. That’s exactly what I’m doing, and I hope you will respect it.”
After spending the winter and following spring climbing and studying trees and rocks with Robin and Jamie in Sewanee, James moved blindly to Seward. He found a cabin off the grid up in the coastal range. No electricity or running water, certainly more rustic than Deep Woods had been - but mountains, space, and opportunity. He cut wood and carried water. He skied full-time and made it to the university part-time.
Wolves sometimes yelped along the river shortly before sunrise, and James would get up for a morning ski. At night he tried to dampen the fire down just enough so that there would be embers left to catch the following morning when he awoke. Each morning he dug a bowl of oats out of a twenty pound bag. In the summer he had eggs - but his chickens wouldn’t lay in the winter for the cold. The water on the stove was usually hot enough for chocolate by the time he returned from his ski. Winter soothed him, and he spent many hours reading Hesse, Coelho, Bach. He read Lord of the Rings for the first time. Galadriel reminded him of Genevieve. Where was she? Did she ever think of him as he thought of her? Did she miss him? He didn’t have a phone to call her if he had wanted to. He didn’t want to know anyhow. He had driven past without stopping. He wasn’t sure why.
The peaks around him were visited regular enough, but the quiet of winter seemed to calm his spirit as if his body wished to curl up and hibernate. He found rest and quiet more alluring than the snow-slopes. He remembered Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac which he read for a forestry class: “Where nameless men, by nameless rivers wander, and in strange valleys, die strange deaths alone.” These words were written about Alaska and their truth struck him. He climbed mountains alone; he was always alone, and the land was unforgiving. Storms and loose rock, avalanches or bears always threatened him, but somehow he always survived. He often was afraid, and he didn’t love fear - but the mountains, the trees, the solitude, and the test. But the fear seemed to make life mean something; he saw his life like a story in a book. It had form and shape where before it was a hollow obscurity. What were Jamie and Robin up to, he wondered?
In the spring, he did his first three-day fast in a stone circle he constructed on a high saddle somewhere in the Tongass. He imagined he saw a Grizzly that came aggressively up to his circle. It wanted to challenge him, he thought, but the bear couldn’t enter into the circle. James experienced so much he adopted the habit of keeping a journal to help him remember. He didn’t trust his memory to keep important visions with him. He had kept a journal on the A.T. but felt more obligation than satisfaction. In the slow winter he began to crave writing . He wrote shotty rhyming poems that he liked. He had never found any poetry he enjoyed reading; all he knew was the Robert Service his mother had read to him when she was still alive:
Strange things are done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold.
The arctic trails have their secret tales
That’d make your blood run cold.

The northern lights have seen queer sights,
But the strangest they ever did see,
Was the night on the marge of Lake LeBarge,
I cremated Sam McGee.

Sometimes he would write letters - to Genevieve, to his Dad, but he never intended to send them. Journaling was easier when he imagined a recipient to his thoughts, his fears, and his happiness.
“Dad. . . good , good. Hey, we need to talk. I feel like I’m starting to tread water in school. In fact, I don’t even go any more. I have run out of classes I want to take. Life is starting to get a little too easy and boring. . . Yeah, I know - but it’s time to do something else. I want something hard. This is the only life I have and I miss being scared. The mountains are my love, but I need the sea. I’ve been dreaming of great waves and storms. I imagine the sea must be the loneliest place on earth. Anyway, I’m going to come home and see family for a couple of weeks and then head down to Charleston and get on a boat for the Caribbean. I figure sailing is a paying way to travel. My friend Robin first got me excited about it. In Charleston I can work on my sailing skills and get a job on a big schooner or something and cut through the canal and cross the Pacific. I’ll then have to play it by ear and eye. Who knows? I want to work on my writing a little as well.”
This conversation James had been dreading. School was so important to his father. It represented direction and ambition. James’ father, Chappelle, was an old man, highly opinionated and even more stubborn. James expected a parting of ways with his resolution to leave school. But to his blissful astonishment, the contention he feared didn’t come. His old man had traveled the world in his youth as well. He had hunted elephants in Africa, bought horses in Buenas Aires, and gone to war in China. It wasn’t in him to berate James for a life too near to his own - even if he did disagree. James was also twenty-three years old, and in the years since he hiked the Trail, clearly did what he set his will upon, and his father had come to respect him for it.

* * * * *
After visiting with family and doing some sail training in Charleston, James flew to Antigua. Tyson, James’ sailing instructor, had sailed around the world in his younger days. He recommended Antigua because the Classics Regatta was held there at the end of May, which was three weeks away. James wanted to sail there via Fort Lauderdale but couldn’t afford the time.
James only experience outside the U.S. was the summer he spent studying in Palma, Spain right after high-school. Antigua would be a new experience for him and would offer new challenges. Immediately off the plane, he had to go through immigration before he could leave the airport. He was surprised by their concern over the fact he didn’t have a return ticket. “No, I don’t have another ticket because I have a job on a sail boat leaving from English Harbor,” he said. “No, I don’t have the captain’s verification, my friend found me the job.” He was making the story up as it came to him. He hadn’t expected any trouble, or not yet anyway; he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, but he felt he needed to do something proactive. Sweat moistened his neck as the uncertainty of the tension heightened. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but it felt bad.
When he had lived in Palma, he shared a flat with two guys from Antigua named Loren and Pyko. Like a fool, he hadn’t e-mailed either of them before he came. Trying to get things rolling my way: “I have a friend here named Loren Donwana, and he has a job lined up for me. I will be leaving in the next two weeks, no problem. It is all worked out” When I said Loren’s name, the immigration officer took a contemplative pose.
“I think I know him,” he said. “Loren Donwana. I think he was here two days ago get a girl who came in from France.” James about hit the floor. He knew it must be Loren. Loren was the most cunning ladies man. He was a stylish, hot-tempered Antiguan, a black man with sparkling white teeth and short neat dreads. It had to be him. The officer found Loren’s number in the directory and began to call. James was doubtful though - he couldn’t imagine Loren being home at night. He was always out, and tonight there was a Shaggy concert on the island.
Loren answered the phone. He had been in the airport, and he covered James’ story for him instinctively. The immigration officer put James on, and Loren started a tirade of cussing with his islander-accent James could hardly make out when Loren wasn’t upset: “You don’t fuck with these people, you hear me. I’m telling you man, don’t fuck around. I gave the guy my address. Get a cab and come on. Man you’re fucking crazy, you know that.” He didn’t sound pleased, but when James arrived, he was laughing at the unconventional, bold entry to Antigua: “Man, you are so lucky. Do you have any idea how fucking lucky you are? Man. In five minutes they would have flown you right back to the states and on your bill too. Fucking crazy man. I can’t believe you didn’t call me.”
Living with Loren in Antigua, mosquitoes attended to James all through the night unless there was a stern sea breeze. The largest cockroach, he had never in a nightmare imagined, lay dead on the concrete floor of his shower - which was too cold to ever be enjoyable. Despite his efforts, his skin would not tan and would burn if weaned from sunscreen. It was the second week of May and the Classics Regatta was a little more than a week away. All day, everyday he was refused work. “Sorry mate, we need someone with a bit more experience than you’ve got. Good luck though.” It amazed James how many captains were Kiwis or Brits - lots of strong accents everywhere.
James stayed with Loren until he found a little shanty to rent by the week. Really it was a cinder-block basement below someone else’s shanty. Antigua was an arid slum. Much of the population was enslaved by crack cocaine. Thievery was rampant and poverty a given. James’ toilet had no seat - and nobody had hot water. James would see a local that rode a bike that had only a back tire. The Antiguan learned to ride a perpetual wheelie wherever he went. Life was backward and dangerous. If anyone fell asleep or passed out on the beach drunk - they would have strange hands sifting out their pockets.
Boats from around the Caribbean and east coast of the U.S. came to Antigua for the Regattas. Power yachts and sailboats, racers and classics - most came only for the party. Any unemployed sailors who were looking for work were there as well. Many boats would soon be sailing on to the Mediterranean to avoid the coming hurricane season. These boats took on extra crew for the passage. This was a big time in the islands.
The festivities. There were beach parties almost nightly. Mount Gay Rum served free drinks - but on the islands, ice was a more precious commodity than rum. James asked for a coke and they wouldn’t serve him. If he asked for a Cuba Libre, he had no problem.
On the nights without Dionysian rum bouts, the parade of the unemployed would build fires on the beach and play music and drink rum - there was always rum. People were from all over the world - Victor was from Brazil, Nadia and Katia were Dutch, Philip was Irish, and so on. They spent the days walking the docks and the nights dancing on the beach. Victor got naked and Sven, a Austrian, sang Johnny Cash tunes with a classic accent that would forever haunt James. In The Last Lemming Restaurant, he met Chris and Kelly.
“6/5/00. Dad, an American girl named Kelly started walking the docks with me and teaching me about the different sorts of boats: sloops, schooners, ketches, yawls, brigs, ect. Do you remember my friend from Sewanee, Robin Fargason - probably not. He worked on a boat called the Californian. He’s also the guy that got me fired up to sail. Well, Kelly’s boyfriend, who is off on a delivery somewhere and will be back in two days, his name is Chris, also worked on the Californian - with Robin. They know him. Small, small world. I think they were good friends.”
This was a letter that James had written in his journal to his father. He never mailed it.
“I got to race in the Classics Regatta. I raced a schooner named Serenity, and we took second place. She is a beautiful yacht. The rig is a bit funny when jibing, though - some of the back stays have to be moved before the boom can swing across. A block swung up and socked me in the side of the head. The bastard almost knocked me out. Over all we communicated well and ran fast. I might try to race in the Antigua Race Week. These races are for the new super fast boats, not the old classics.”
“Still no luck finding a job. It’s been about three weeks, and I’m getting a bit nervous. In a week, most everyone is going to head out of here before the hurricanes start blowing. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t find a ride, improvise like always I guess. My friend Chris, who worked with Robin, has given me a good lead. I think I am leaving for St. Thomas to follow up on it.”
Through the grapevine of the unemployed, James found out Vixen was sailing for St. Thomas and needed crew for the passage. James had entertained the idea of heading to Panama on an old Norwegian clunker - but the captain, solo, was a copious stoner. He was a computer programming genius who smoked grass all day and was capable of getting his main halyard, which belongs atop the mast, stuck in the blades of his prop. James took this as a malevolent omen and opted to take his chances in St. Thomas.

* * * * *
The stagnant air James had been breathing for these past few weeks was pushed out by a new and long awaited front. Invigorated, he met George Shimert, the Captain of S/V Vixen II. She was a 1915 Herrishoff schooner. Herrishoff, a renowned shipwright, originally designed Vixen as a cutter, but George’s father had re-rigged her as a schooner.
George was none too unusual for a sailor - strong and dark skinned, great rum bouts fought and lost. His eyes were eerie - they looked like light turquoise. They really looked like the sea, if you could say such a thing about a sailor. Girls at the yacht club always stared conspicuously when he brought his boat into the bay. He could sail Vixen single-handed, an impressive feat. Vixen was a seventy-eight foot yacht with anywhere from three to five sails. Maybe his expertise gave him less patience for his crew. George screamed like he was in a loud storm: “Get that sail down, Christ - what the hell are you doing?” This was the first thing James heard as he walked aboard that morning.
George was yelling at Justice and Smitty - the crew for the passage. They were beginners as well as James. They came down to the Caribbean to visit two of their friends, Meg and Donny - Vixen’s former crew. Meg and Donny were leaving George to make a trans-Atlantic passage to Palma Spain and then spend their summer working in the Med. Vixen was too old for such a passage, so George takes her down to Venezuela every summer to get out of the hurricane belt.
The skies were bright and the seas calm the first day out, and James was already anxious to sail the boat. He had been waiting for so long it seemed. Never had he sailed something so majestic. After they had been underway for four or five hours, George decided it was time to take a break and teach the crew how Vixen handled. When he asked who wanted the helm first? James volunteered. He warned George that he had only helmed a little J-22. But, James knew how to read the compass. The wind was coming from the aft, over his left shoulder, and they were out of any sight of land.
James felt the timelessness of the sea and sail. Boats closely akin to this were sailed on these waters hundreds of years ago. He dreamed of this experience for so many nights in the past year. To helm a great vessel in a sea that did not yet know him. He had made a peace and bond with the mountains, but the sea was a stranger who hid her secrets behind dark eyes, only revealing her motivations slow over time.
As the afternoon ceased into early evening, little color shaded the empty sky, and the waves faded to a deep navy, cradling darkening shadows. James innocently began to fall off the wind, which he could only perceive by the compass, but reading it, he compensated dyslexicly by turning farther off the wind. As the compass continued to swing - he turned farther.
“James - come up - you’re falling off,“ George said calmly. He had grown comfortable with James at the helm and did not look behind him. He could feel the wind shifting as James couldn’t. Then: “James!” he yelled.
When George turned, the look in that man’s turquoise eyes revealed the nightmare that was beginning to fall upon them. James in an instant understood the malicious chain of events he had set in motion - he was jibing the boat. George leaped for the wheel; James was already bringing it around with the vigor of obsessed fear. “Would it be in time? Oh. . . my. . . god!” he thought in pleading disbelief. Fear.
This very scenario was discussed that morning - what accidentally jibing the boat would mean. What it meant was the unplanned and indiscriminate swinging of the boom and sail across the boat. Old boats like Vixen and Serenity had rigging that must be displaced each time the boat jibed. An accidental jibe would mean a forceful swing of the boom across the boat that would potentially snap the unprepared rigging on the other side, causing the mast to fall like axed timber into the swells. The collapsed mast would then become the weapon, the battering ram of the sea, to pound against the hull until it failed. If the remaining rigging could not be undone to release the mast, then the hull would at last fail and sink the vessel. This could be the demise of them all this far out at sea.
The sea seemed to grow quiet, still. The wind stopped. The sails luffed. Where would it be; where would it come? Were they doomed? Could a man be doomed amid such splendor and beauty as the failing light of day upon the sea? If the wind jibed the boat hard it could collapse the main mast. But maybe the jibe was saved. Where was the wind? It was so light, so faint.
Softly it came back to their necks and tense hairs. The mast began to swing. It seemed to James that it moved frame by frame - slowed, so he could experience the fear of each progression of the sail. It came - but as it came, he saw it truly came slow and without force. He grasped the sheet and laid back against the wind. The gust conceded as the boom tapped the rigging on the starboard side.
James breathed a deep breath for the first time in what had been the longest moment of his life. The rigging was safe, Vixen had righted herself, and George was at the helm. But where was the wind now? James stood on the starboard side with a sail that should be on the port. In his hand, he held a slack sheet with nearly ten feet of line at his toes. The wind is always lingering somewhere, and since Vixen had righted herself, the next gust came from rear starboard. When the wind caught the sail, it shot back like a spring to port with James gripping the sheet like his life. It yanked him right off his feet. He thought to himself, “I have strong hands, I have to hold on.”
There was no way - not a chance. Every bit of sheet was out, and, when it snapped tight, it whipped James out, far out into the twilit sea.
“The dingy, swim for the dingy, fast - holy shit,” astonished as he somersaulted through the air and into the rising swell. He hit the water paddling, and must have hit hard, though he didn’t feel a thing. He was nearly twenty feet out. George trailed the tender by a line behind the boat for such a rare circumstance as this. James impressively made the tender. He swung an arm over the gunwale and fingered for something to grasp as the dingy moved past him. Before anything was found, the stern hit him and nothing held. The dingy ripped away from him, like a taut ski rope after a fall, leaving him in the fading wake.
As Vixen sailed away, James had to accept that if he were to die in these swells, it surely was his own damn fault. James had broken the two greatest rules in sailing: don’t go overboard, and don’t jibe the boat - and James had done them in succession.
To his relief and ignorant surprise, the dingy was dropped behind for him. All he had to do was to swim up to it - if he could catch it. He was afraid that it might catch a current and be carried out of his reach. He swam with fear and every ounce of adrenaline he hadn’t already consumed and made the dingy for the second time. He crawled in and relief swept through him. He wasn’t going to drown after all. A smile found his face. The plan was to drop the engine, crank it up, and catch Vixen even before she turned around. He dropped the engine and turned to realize that, of course, the gas tanks had been removed for the passage. “Shit!”
Nothing to be done. He sat and smiled, adrenaline still electrifying his veins. He could not help but laugh to think of all that had just happened - “so quick and effortlessly.” The seas were about five feet, and James realized, as Vixen slowly came around and back into view, he could only see the top half of the masts. Grabbing a paddle, he stood on the bow and waved it as high as he could. Then they were gone - swallowed by ever-darkening swells. The current and failing light were not to be overcome, it seemed. They had lost him. They had been running with the wind, making it impossible for George to turn Vixen directly around. He had to tack in great wide zigzags to get back to the spot where James left them. Either George never found that spot or James was no longer there, carried by the current to elsewhere. Night fell and stars rose from the east.

* * * * *
James never saw Vixen again. The return pass missed or never came, only dusk, and then low came the Southern Cross; and the rising, waning moon. He had no beacon. He had nothing. The gunwales kept the sea-breeze off of him as he lie on his back in what was now his Boston Whaler. The sea was quiet and lazy. It seemed to welcome him. Was it whispering doggerel in his ear? The sky felt as it did that night out west - three years ago now - that time that came to feel like the beginning of times. Though the stars had shifted with his latitude, he still found his star, the star he decided was special to him - it was alone, bright in its solitude. He first found it while camping on the Olympic peninsula on his way back from Alaska. He called in Galadriel, and it was his token of the only love he knew: Genevieve. She was now rising in the northern sky.
The speckled heavens became a projector for all the memories that had graced James’ days and years. The memories that mattered most seemed to be clustered in the time since he had first seen the western sky three years ago - the Tetons, the Appalachian Trail, Alaska, Antigua, and many anonymous road trips into the hills.
Sleep never found James in the tender before the sun came around, and the eastern seas shown with dull morning pigments. Shivering softly, numbed by fear, and sore, he sat up to watch what lay on the sea beside him. “Nothing everywhere; spectacular nothingness - like Ed Abby’s desert.”
The warmth the sun brought wasn’t worth the toll it levied on James’ body. The heat was a welcome change, but it soon would burn. The clear skies offered no buffer as his skin, always sensitive, quickly reddened. There was nowhere to hide himself. The sun slowly stole the water from his swelling tongue and lips. The waves were still soft and cradled the boat between them. Then the night came again with a healing breeze.
The cool air soothed then burned his blistered shoulders with cold. This night, James would sit back against the aft bench, because he could no longer lie comfortably on his back. He could lie on his side but preferred to gaze out at the sky. The Southern Cross gracefully arched across the horizon with the false cross just ahead. With lack of light pollution and James’ physical euphoria, stars loomed like crystal chandeliers over him, twinkling and turning.
“Shouldn’t I be thinking about death? I am dying. Why don’t I seem to care? Everything seems so beautiful somehow. Life so simple - as it was on the Trail. I don’t even have to worry about eating or drinking - or dying of cancer for that matter.” He laughed, but was wholly sincere. “I am, however, delusional with dehydration, hunger, and exposure. I am not afraid anymore, but I may be crazy.”
Dolphins danced through the bioluminescence. He could see their glowing orbs even beneath the waves. Why was he such a spectacle for them? Hours later, a large plume of bubbles billowed through the foam, glittering in the silver moonlight, and then another, and then another in a great trail of boiling water, and then they were gone. James had never seen a whale. “Come on, give me a berth,” he asked, “a tail, a fin, for me, something.” Nothing. And then another day rose over him.
The day passed and then the night.
As Galadriel fell far to the northwest, the rising sun tinted the windward waves. A distant freighter came nearly into view. James stood high on the prow and screamed a cheer to the sea for his life. With hands raised he dove straight up then down, down, splitting the glimmering darkness that would swallow him. He would not surrender himself, not yet, not ever, but would dive until failure, until darkness surrounded him, and he had nothing left to give.

* * * * *

Shortly after James’ disappearance at sea, George sent his apology and explanation of James’ death to his father. He explained the accident and how dusk had fallen at the crucial time and how they had searched for days afterward. With his letter, George sent James’ possessions - a pack containing some clothes, leather sandals, sleeping bag, pad, and bivy; a pot and camp stove, a knot tying book, Dharma Bums, a bone handled knife, a small leather satchel containing some of his mother’s ashes, and his journals. In his journal, his father found all of James’ unsent letters as well as a handwritten will:

The Testament of James Cantey:
Indeed, this day was bound to come. Do not believe it has come too soon for me. It has not. I hope you can accept this as I have - my choice to live the life I loved, the life I found beneath my feet. Indeed, it is the lives that are bought with tears that go long and end well. I searched for such a life, but I found bliss instead. My life was one blessed with sunlit days. I could always dig up a smile. Is this not the way a dying man looks upon the departing world? A life such as this has a different spectrum of time. The hourglass moves a faster rate forward.
So I am gone and likely to what could be called a bad end. Maybe not? I would like to have died in service. I often dreamed of fighting a grizzly to a loss. I liked the thought of dying in a storm at sea. Did the mountains take me in the end? I feel I am owed a more difficult, be it painful, or utterly disgraceful death. Know I always meant well. And please, someone please find a girl named Genevieve and tell her I am gone and that she was always with me.
Having said this, I hope you can relax and smile and see that things tend to happen of their own accord, that somehow this was all supposed to be and is therefore not so awful after all.
“Not all those who wander are lost”
- Tolkien
“Follow your Bliss”
- J. Campbell

* * * * *