Jacob and Rachel: The Prequel

Here is the promised prequel to the earlier “Jacob and Rachel” post.

Rachel Thompson knew it was over.  Not that there was ever really anything to be “over,” in that way.  They knew, both of them did, that it was nothing more than friendship; nothing more than a way to spend the last few weeks of their senior year in the most enjoyable way.  They had said that from the outset.  At least that had been understood from the outset.  She knew it.  How could he not have known?

What bothered her just a little now, as she contemplated how to end this non-thing formally and definitely, is that things had changed over that brief time.  Evolved.  She had, in fact, been surprised at herself.  How easily she had fallen – let her self fall – into a kind of carefree happiness in his company.  How easy it had been to let her guard down, to forget about her guard altogether, to forget about everything, really, and just rest in the moment with him. For the first time in her life, she swam in Walhonde River.  And she had not anticipated – had not been ready for – all of that laughter.  It had been unlike anything she’d ever known since early childhood.

She’d seen it happen to other girls.  How they had let themselves fall in to constricting and limiting circumstances based on the promises and charms of some really average Joe.  She’d also seen – she was sure of it – that these average Joes had calculated to do just that.  The one thing they were really good at, really practiced at, was this art of pressing the right buttons on any girl.  It was a cheap shortcut to get them where they wanted to be.

But Jacob hadn’t done that.  There was nothing contrived in his manner; no plan in his attention to her.  He, like her, had been relaxed.  More so, she thought, than he’d ever been.  He had not forced or manufactured anything.  It had just happened.

Or, as she now thought of it, not happened.  At any rate, she had now awakened to her situation and, she thought, to the situation Jacob, likewise, was in.  He had to see it the same way.  After all, he was the loner, the independent soul, the outlier – even more so than she. How could he not see it this way?  How could he not want absolute freedom as they were released from the confines of school and adolescence and the little town?

All these considerations had been true, had been obvious, if not spoken, from the very outset.  But she had to admit to herself it was the evening with David Dunnigan that had awakened her.  Here was a man – almost a man, anyway – who had seen and known a little of the world.  That world that beckoned to her as the antidote to the life she felt herself squeezed into there in Walhonde.  Here was a man – a guy, at least – who was totally hands-off, who was looking for his own open path, who would not want to tie anyone down, least of all himself.

And so, as she prepared for the last school dance, a date they had committed to long ago, she considered how to act toward Jacob.  She wanted her message to be definite.

And when he reached for her hand on the way into the gym – something he hadn’t done before – she refused him.  And, the evening went downhill from there. He got the message alright, and his reaction surprised her.  It was not the reaction of a man who knew all along that there was no ground for expectation; who wanted nothing, finally, but freedom.  It was not even the reaction of the confident and independent loner that she knew him to be.  Instead, he was bewildered, lost in thought all evening. Downcast.  Almost mute.

She could not let herself pity him.  That was the way of the other girls.  That would lead to the same results.   It would spoil all that had gone before and would make Jacob into something other than the person that she… well, not loved, but… knew him to be.  She did not relent.  She did not offer him any comfort.

At last, when they left the gymnasium and she saw the car – Jacob’s father’s car – with its hubcaps removed and laying on the hood of the car, she was so far away by then as to be unaffected for him.

They had not spoken in the last hour, but when Jacob saw the car he gave in

“Oh, look at this,” he said.  “The lug nuts are gone.  All of them.  I can’t drive this car.”

And now, after an evening of misery – an evening of causing misery – she was standing on the asphalt lot in heels and a formal gown with no apparent means of getting home.  And now it started to rain.  She wondered how things could possibly get worse in that moment.  But then they got better.  David Dunnigan was driving by the parking lot and noticed them standing in the rain.

His car slowed to a stop and he rolled down the window.

“What happened?  What’s going on here?”

“Somebody took the lug nuts off my car.  All of them.”

Dunnigan shook his head.  “Well, bud, you want me to call you a wrecker?  No way you can drive it like that.”

“No.  Not yet.  I think I can scrounge some lug nuts and get home.  Borrow some.”

“That’s gonna take a while, man.”

“Yeah.  I know.”

“You want me to drive her home.  It’s getting cold out here.  She’s gettin’ wet.”

Jacob looked at Rachel.  She nodded.

“Yeah.  You better.”

Rachel nearly dove into the warm and dry seat of Dunnigan’s car.  He drove away.  It was raining hard now and Dunnigan shifted the wipers to high speed.

“You all have a good time tonight?  At the dance?”

“Yeah.  It was great.  Can’t believe it’s over.”

“You glad it’s over?”
“Yeah.  I think I am.”

As they made their way through town, Dunnigan made a turn faster than he should have and Rachel heard a loose, metallic rattle as the can full of the lug nuts from Jacob’s car overturned in the well of the back seat.  She looked back over the seat and saw the lug wrench and the nuts strewn on the floor.  Her reaction was immediate and physical.  She lost her breath.  She clinched.  Her jaw dropped.

“Let me out of this car,” she screamed.

“Hey. Don’t get all huffy on me.  I’m taking those back to him soon as I get you home.”

“Let me out of this car.”

“It was a joke, Rachel.  Just a joke.  You wanted to get away from him.  I didn’t make it rain, you know.”

“You let me out of this car.  Right now.  Stop the car.  Let me out.”

“Rachel, it’s pouring the rain.  We’re half a mile from your house.  I can’t let you out in this. Calm down. It was just a joke. Guy’s do this kind of stuff, all the time. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.  Sorry I ever met you.  Stop the car.”

As they approach a stop sign, Dunnigan slows the car and Rachel opens her door full wide while the car is still rolling. The car stops, Rachel gets out, carrying her shoes in one hand and Jacob’s tux jacket in the other.  The rain continues to pour.  It is loud on the roof and hood of the car and on the wet pavement.

Dunnigan yells at her through the open door.

“I’m telling you, Rachel, I’m going right back there soon as I get you home.  Now, get back in the car.”

Rachel slams the car door and starts walking.  Dunnigan rolls the car slowly up beside her and Rachel scampers off of the road and off of the sidewalk and deep into adjoining lawns to continue her walk home and be as far away from the car as possible.  She is drenched now, her hair bedraggled, and she is crying.  She walks on. He follows in the car until she eventually reaches her house and goes inside.

Back at the school parking lot, Jacob has found a way back into the school where he gets to a phone to call his father.  Looking through the window onto the parking lot, as he speaks to his father, he spies Dunnigan’s car returning to the scene and sees Dunnigan get out and take a coffee can and a lug wrench from his backseat and walk with them toward Jacob’s car.

“Dad, just s second.  I may not need you to come down.  I think I may have solved the problem.  Standby.  I’ll call back.”

Jacob walks calmly from the building to his car.  Dunnigan is squatting by the driver’s-side front tire, tightening a lug nut.  He sees Jacob.

“Hey, bud.  Just went by the junk yard and found these.  Got twenty of ‘em.  Should be enough to get you home.”

“Where’s Rachel?”

“She’s home.  Safe and sound.  Nothing to worry about.”

“Stand up.”

“Hey, man.  Get off your high horse.  Trying to help you out here.”

“Stand up.  I know what you did and I know why you did it.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“You gonna stand up or am I gonna have to come down there to give you a whipping?”

Dunnigan takes a handful of lug nuts from the can, stands up and flings them at Jacob’s face.  Jacob turns and blocks them with his arms.  Dunnigan takes a wild swing at Jacob who ducks the blow and comes back with a right cross that smacks Dunnigan’s jaw.  Dunnigan staggers and swings at Jacob again and again misses.  Jacob repeats the right cross, again landing it on Dunnigan’s jaw.  He drops onto the wet pavement and rolls onto his side, gripping his jaw.”

“Damn.  Where did you learn that?”

“My dad.”

“I thought your dad was a preacher.”

“He is.  He didn’t teach me to fight, but he taught me how to fight.”

Copyright 2022

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About “Jacob and Rachel”

I’ve been blogging for a long time now.  Many years.  Yet there are still aspects of the game that remain mysterious to me.  Here is one:  I posted a story here back in August that I titled “Jacob and Rachel.”  The piece was from a novel I had underway several years ago.  I guess I stumbled back onto this segment somehow, thought it was pretty good, and on kind of a whim, I guess, I reposted the thing.  I got several “likes” on the piece at the outset – a dozen or so, which is about normal for this blog.  But then I posted another piece, another story, this one titled “The Last Day of Summer,” and, just like normal, I got somewhere between 15 and 20 “likes” on it, right off of the bat.  Normal.

But then this happened.  After the first little flurry of reactions to “The Last Day of Summer,” I started to see more “likes” coming in on “Jacob and Rachel.”   That is odd.  Usually when a post gets surpassed on the blog; that is, when another post is placed at the top of the blog, the underlying post gets no more attention. My regular subscribers have already read it or already seen and ignored it and that’s that.  But not this time.  It’s by no means a flood of interest (wish it was) but almost every day or night one or two new “likes” will be posted on “Jacob and Rachel.” 

What I want to find out is why/how is this happening.  Are the new readers finding this story posted somewhere else?  Are they digging down into the blog for some reason? Hearing of it by word of mouth?  I’d sure like to know.  Can any of you kind readers help me with this?  I’m not mad about it, by any stretch, or trying to assert any rights.  I just want to know how and why this post, submerged as it is now, continues to be read and to get attention.

I am so encouraged by the play this story is somehow getting that I have gone back to the old novel and started to rework it.  I’ve got quite a bit of the back story to “Jacob and Rachel” – some drama that will make the post you’ve already read make more sense.  Give it some body or context. I’ll be posting that one soon.

I’d appreciate any help/feedback here.

Thanks.

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The Last Day of Summer

We’ve been in school now for two weeks, but by the stars it’s still summer.  And what I know by now, having lived a few summers myself, us this: the last days of summer are the best ones.  The skies are still blue and far away, but the swelter and broil and sweat of the dog days are gone.  By the time my third hour begins, the morning mist has burned away.  I was wise enough to get a seat at the very back of the classroom, just below the windows.  And now the sunlight filters through and I feel the warmth on my shoulders as my nervous and insecure French teacher who seems a world away mutters on in a language I don’t understand and have no intention of learning. 

The hickory floorboards of this room were laid just after the Great War and they have been worn soft by decades of traffic and sweeping.  And as the sun starts to bake them they release a hint of the scent of the trees from which they came.  I rise, pretending that I need to sharpen my pencil, but as I stand I see through the window what I had really been looking for.  Johnny has parked his Honda 90 on the west lot.  There it is, red and shining in the sun.  I smile.  We’ll be on it in an hour while the rest of this sleepy and compliant student body is sitting in that smelly and overcrowded cafeteria, eating food that they would never choose if they had a choice.

The bell rings and I race down the back stairway, sling my books into my locker and slip out of the building through the woodshop. Only Mr. Fischer is there, sitting at his desk in the corner, eating his bag lunch.  I don’t have to worry about him.  He’s told me before that he’d be on the river too, if he had the choice.

As I pass through the hedgerow, I see that Johnny is already on the bike. And in a moment we are on the road and into the blue and gold and it is full summer again.  The wind in our faces wakes up all those parts of us that the school conspires to put to sleep.  But these hours are stolen.  We know that we are getting away with something.  We know our idea is a better one.  We feel like escaped criminals.

The thing we know that others don’t and the thing that has opened up life for us is this: the world is not what the teachers are telling us it is. They are laboring now in confinement, but by the stars it is still summer.

We turn the last curve in the road and see that the swimming hole is just as it was before.  Just as we knew it would be. The trees are still in full foliage and the green river is sun-dappled beneath them.  But the water is cooler now, and as we dive in, we shiver with life.

copyright 2022

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The Last Day of Summer

We’ve been in school now for two weeks, but by the stars it’s still summer.  And what I know by now, having lived a few summers myself, us this: the last days of summer are the best ones.  The skies are still blue and far away, but the swelter and broil and sweat of the dog days are gone.  By the time my third hour begins, the morning mist has burned away.  I was wise enough to get a seat at the very back of the classroom, just below the windows.  And now the sunlight filters through and I feel the warmth on my shoulders as my nervous and insecure French teacher who seems a world away mutters on in a language I don’t understand and have no intention of learning. 

The hickory floorboards of this room were laid just after the Great War and they have been worn soft by decades of traffic and sweeping.  And as the sun starts to bake them they release a hint of the scent of the trees from which they came.  I rise, pretending that I need to sharpen my pencil, but as I stand I see through the window what I had really been looking for.  Johnny has parked his Honda 90 on the west lot.  There it is, red and shining in the sun.  I smile.  We’ll be on it in an hour while the rest of this sleepy and compliant student body is sitting in that smelly and overcrowded cafeteria, eating food that they would never choose if they had a choice.

The bell rings and I race down the back stairway, sling my books into my locker and slip out of the building through the woodshop. Only Mr. Fischer is there, sitting at his desk in the corner, eating his bag lunch.  I don’t have to worry about him.  He’s told me before that he’d be on the river too, if he had the choice.

As I pass through the hedgerow, I see that Johnny is already on the bike. And in a moment we are on the road and into the blue and gold and it is full summer again.  The wind in our faces wakes up all those parts of us that the school conspires to put to sleep.  But these hours are stolen.  We know that we are getting away with something.  We know our idea is a better one.  We feel like escaped criminals.

The thing we know that others don’t and the thing that has opened up life for us is this: the world is not what the teachers are telling us it is. They are laboring now in confinement, but by the stars it is still summer.

We turn the last curve in the road and see that the swimming hole is just as it was before.  Just as we knew it would be. The trees are still in full foliage and the green river is sun-dappled beneath them.  But the water is cooler now, and as we dive in, we shiver with life.

copyright 2022

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It is Always August

It is always August.

If time would stop, it would stand still

Under the dog star.

Winter lingers, but all of that season is labor

Boots, gloves, scarves and coats

Off and on, on and off

Snow shovels and firewood

What shivering creature stops to contemplate a grey sky?

We spend March and April longing for June

And in May we are ecstatic and the days pass

Almost without our knowing

July is full swing

Long-planned travel, hours in the car

Hurry up and rest, hurry up and enjoy

.

Spring is bursting birth

and fall, dramatic death

But August is stasis

and we sit in the warm evening

by the still-warm water

and think it will always be this way,

it should always be this way.

There is no rush into August

Nothing is planned there

We sleep late

And sit outside all night

Who works or worries then?

There is no rush away from August

No one wants to hear that first bell.

Stop time.

Stay here.

Breathe.

Copyright 2017

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Jacob and Rachel

She heard the knock at her door and went to the front window and parted the curtain just an inch and looked out onto the front porch and saw him standing there.  He stood with his back to the late sunlight and she could not see his face, but the outline of his slender body was all she needed to be sure.  He shifted his weight from foot to foot and looked all around as he waited for an answer to his knock.   When he came to a rest, his head was a little tilted to the left as if he had just asked a question.   She had not seen him in eighteen years, yet she could have picked him out of a crowd from a block away.  She believed that she had never loved him, yet she was haunted by his form the way lovers are haunted.  In only a matter of days almost two decades ago she had done to him that very thing she had determined never to do to any man.  She had, in a moment of very particular circumstances, in a time of song and poetry, allowed him in.  And then, as heaven again turned to earth, she had run from him.  She knew even then, although she had tried her best not to know, the pain she caused him and she knew even then that he was justified in wondering why and in asking her why.  She also knew, by a few words dropped by a friend at Christmas or at some wedding or funeral, that he had never really healed from this, although he never approached her again.

All of it had happened between them in less than two weeks.  The circumstances had seemed to allow it, to call for it, even.  She had been aware of his admiration of her all through high school and she knew of his deep, unspoken respect for her person and his profound and justified doubt about his own chances with her.  He would have forgone any attempt with her if only to save her the pain of refusing him.  But there were others around them then.  Friends who knew of his desire and his reluctance and friends who also knew of her own loneliness, self-imposed though it was.

And it was the end of time just then.  The world they had known for all of their eighteen years was coming apart just as it ever has in that age.  Within only days every relationship they had known – those that had enriched and enabled them and those that had held them down – would be drowned like Pharaoh’s horsemen in the sea of time.  She knew that and welcomed it. It had been the focus of her thinking and desire for more than a year.  So much so that she never imagined that any other so situated had not seen the same thing coming and welcomed it just as she had.  

Particularly Jacob Eaton.  If anyone should have welcomed the imminent social apocalypse, it was him.  Jacob’s defining characteristic, it seemed to her, was his open-handed independence from every power and principality that held sway in the halls of the school.  Jacob’s penetrating intellect was obvious to anyone who interacted with him socially or happened to be in the same classroom anytime some unsuspecting teacher made the mistake of challenging him.  He was athletic, but found no home in any of the school’s sports teams.  He was attractive and at ease around the prettiest and most popular girls in the school.  They sat next to him when the opportunity arose and they confided in him and trusted him far more than in any of the boys they dated.  And the cliques, even those that others would have given an arm and a leg to belong to, it was as if he never noticed the strategies they employed to distinguish themselves; as if he was oblivious to their rigid hierarchies.  He paid no one any dues.

And yet he was no rebel. He seemed as unaware of his own particularity as he was of the anxious striving for inclusion and acceptance of nearly everyone else in the place. He never wanted to be first in line.  He just wanted out of the line.

These traits were so well defined by the end of their senior year.  He was going somewhere else; he was meant for or concerned with someplace or something else.  He was not at home here.  Rachel Thompson had by then become aware of the power of the light she could shine.  A smile or bit of polite conversation could raise the interests and hope of just about any boy in the school.  She had watched as other girls in the school employed the same powers – even if of a lesser strength than her own – to make boys fall all over themselves and end up in misery.  So she curbed any show of affection and stayed clear of any evidence of preference or intimacy.

But Jacob was a different kind of guy.  She could shine her light on him for this little time that was left them.  He would know her limits. Indeed, they would probably be much like his own.  It would be a glowing but passing season for them both.  There was a clear end in sight.  Then everyone would just walk away, hearts intact.

Oh, how terribly she had misread him.  Jacob Eaton had ignored the dominating, prevalent order at the school not because he was otherwise fulfilled, but because the empty spaces within him were broader and deeper than anything that juvenile order could fill.  He knew this much about himself: that those belongings and achievements that seemed to satisfy others around him would be no solace to him at all.  None of it was worth the effort.  And so he had walked calmly through high school, paying tribute to none of the gods of adolescence, fully aware that the longings within him would find no satisfaction there.

When God said “It is not good that man should be alone” He first formed out of the ground every beast that swims, flies, crawls or runs and paraded them all before the lonely Adam.  And Adam gave names to all the animals; to the eagle and hawk and dove, the lion and the zebra, the pig and the cow.  When all of that was done, the Scriptures say, Adam was still alone.  There was still no help-meet for him.  Every name that Adam gave to every animal was his way of saying that this creature is not like me.  How exhausting and finally disappointing for the lonely Adam.

It was only after this that God caused a great sleep to fall on the man.  He took out one of Adam’s ribs and from the flesh and bone of the man he created woman.  And when God showed Adam the new creature, Adam saw immediately he contrast.  This one was different.  This one was like him.  He gave her a name that was like his own.   Surely Adam’s speech here is ecstatic: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”  It is, after all, the archetypal expression of the most fundamental dynamic of human life.  The attraction that has survived almost intact for untold millennia; that has preserved and multiplied the race; and has given men the incentive for nearly every great accomplishment and the best consolation they will know this side of Jordan.

Jacob Eaton’s experience was much the same as Adam’s.  Given his rare intelligence and temperament, his young life had been a long process of giving names to the things around him that were not like him.  Things that did not provide the help he needed.  For Jacob, the naming was not of animals, but of people.  There were those who could run or swim or fly, but there was no one like him.  He found no true friendship anywhere.  There was no one around who could match his intellect; no one who perceived the world so deeply as he; no one who saw through the façades; no one whose desires were so profound as his own; and finally, no one for whom the search for companionship had been so disappointing, so frustrating.

But one evening alone with Rachel Sanders had changed all of that.  Here, finally, was someone like him.  Bone of his bone.  Jacob’s ecstasy then was like that of a prospector who has long since given up hope of but stumbles at last onto treasure unimagined – the pearl of great price.  The very attraction that Adam first knew and that was strong enough to be passed on from generation to generation without dilution and thereby preserve the race over centuries now infected every cell of Jacob’s body, every neuron in his brain, and every chamber of his heart.

Jacob sold everything – every hesitation; every reservation; every fear; every other plan or goal – and bought with his soul the field in which this precious pearl lay.

When she said yes to him, even though it was, as she thought then and as she thought he must have understood, all conditional, all applicable only to that brief time, that one season of twilight, time stopped for him.  She filled every empty space in him. He would have lived forever there.  His attachment to her was as strong and as distinctive as had been his detachment from everything else.

And there she was, right in the middle of the crime she had sworn never to commit.  She had led him on.  By any fair standard, the tokens she had shown him in that short season were encouragement.  He was justified in wondering why it all disappeared.  He was justified in asking her why.

She opened the door.

“Jacob.  Come in.  Come on in.”

She had anticipated the moment of awkwardness there in the foyer.  To embrace or not to embrace.  They were old friends.  The oldest of friends.  No one could see it any other way.  Not even him, if he were fair.  And surely his decade and a half in the highest reaches of the legal world had taught him something about fairness and perspective and how an individual’s feeling about a situation might be completely unfounded and how facts that unfolded as time passed would prove how unfounded.  And so much time had passed.  They had each had their share of life by now.  Enough disappointments and other joys as to give them long perspectives.  How could a simple embrace hurt anything?  How could it be misinterpreted now, this far down the line, this long after the first mistake?  They were different people now, more fully formed, more sure of their lives.

And yet.  As she looked him in the face only two steps away, memory rushed in on her like a wind.  She remembered his agony, his search for words, his confidence broken, his easy winsomeness dissolved.  And her own accordant suffering.  His questions “why” she could not answer. 

Never again.

She swung the door wide and stepped back and he entered and stood there in the foyer as if waiting for some direction.

“Here,” she pointed to the living room.  “Come on in.  I’ve still got coffee in the kitchen.”

He sat on the couch and she brought coffee and he took a sip and set his cup on the low table before them.  They were quiet for a moment.

 “I was sorry to hear about John.  I didn’t know him at all.  He was gone by the time I got there.  I knew people who knew him though.  He was loved and respected.”

 “I appreciate that, Jacob.  He was a good guy.  A good husband.”

 “You all never had any kids.”

 “No.  That wasn’t by choice.  It just never happened.  You still have time for that, Jacob.  You never know what might be around the corner for you.”

 “You have time, too.”

 “Not as much as you do.  Nature isn’t fair that way.”

 “I want to tell you right now that I’m not here to pursue you in that way.  I know that you wouldn’t want that.  I talked to Linda.  She didn’t say anything outright.  But I know how you feel.  It’s how you’ve always felt, I guess.”

She did not turn away from him, but she said nothing.

“But I wanted to see you because I think I have something important to tell you.  I’m not going to put anything on you.  I’m not going to make any request or promise.  I just have something to tell you.  I know that it’s kind of presumptuous to do this.  Just knock on your door uninvited, out of the blue like this.  But I wanted – I felt like I should, finally – I felt like I had to tell you about it.  It’s selfish in a way, I know, but I think there might be something unselfish about it.  Something that might help you.  Might tell you something about yourself.  Be valuable in that way.”

“It’s okay.  Go on.”

“You know, lots of people think the business I’m in is all about deception.  All about fooling the other guy.  Being clever enough to hide the ball.  And I’ll tell you that on many levels that is how the practice goes.  But at its best and among those who are the best at what they do, it’s about telling the truth.  I don’t mean to suggest that it’s either simple or easy.  It’s very hard to get to the truth.  Hard to recognize it.  You have to sweat to get there.  But it’s what works.  I’ve seen the greatest deals in the world go down the tubes because one party discovered some deception somewhere and that was it.  On the other hand, I’ve stuck my neck out and admitted things that might not have looked good on my client’s side and sometimes it has killed the deal.  But time has shown me that the deals I have lost that way would have been bad business for my clients in the long run.  It all comes back to you.  You tell the truth and you put yourself in a position that you don’t have to defend.   Lots of times what you thought was over will come back to life.  I’ve seen it happen.  You just have to be brave enough to lay your cards on the table.

“So I’m going to tell you the truth.  Not with the expectation of anything in return, but just because it’s true and the truth does something.  When it’s communicated unselfishly, it does something good for everybody.

“You know how fortunate I have been.  Some would say lucky.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Thanks for that.  But I can’t deny that things have broken my way, time and again, that I had no control over.  Doors have opened for me that I didn’t even know were there.”

“You worked hard, Jacob.  And you’re smart.  You’ve stayed out of trouble all your life.  You deserve what you have.”

“I think there is a real good argument that no one deserves what I have.  I can’t help but believe that it all might have been different if I had been born a day later or a day earlier.  But that gets me kind of where I want to go here.  I am not here to brag, but I have to talk some about my life to make what I say to you now mean what it should mean.  I beg you to stay with me here for a moment and the self-aggrandizing stuff will be over in just a minute or two.”

“Don’t worry about me.  I’ve already heard a lot about your life, but I would love to know more.”

“I have traveled in the best circles in England and Europe.  My best friend at Oxford was the son of the Duke of Devonshire.  He gave me entrance to . . .

Here Jacob stopped himself and sat silent for a moment.  He began again, this time more slowly.

“What I want to say is that in one sense, in one major, overriding sense, nothing I have seen or done, nothing I have achieved or been given, and, most importantly, no one I have met has changed my feeling about you.

“ I have worked for years to make that not be true.  The feeling for you is no help to me.  It’s something I have spent untold energy on.  And for no reason.  No reason at all to do that.  No chance that it would ever be anything other than just thinking.  But it was always there.  There has not been one morning or one afternoon, even in the busiest and highest times, when I did not think of you.  I apologize for this, for saying this to you, I mean.  I don’t mean to say that this is something you intentionally did or caused.  But it is there and it is undeniable and I think I have finally figured out why it’s there and I think that it might actually mean something to you right now.  

“I know that you’ve got to be searching, Rachel.”

And she gave him an answer that she would never have given until this day.  “Yes, Jacob.  I am searching.”

 “We all are, really.  Almost all of the time.  And we get hints sometimes.  After years of stewing, walking blindly, sometimes we get a clue.  And when that happens, it’s worthwhile.  It changes things.  Do you know what I mean?”

“I’m not sure that I do, Jacob.  But, please, keep going.”

“Well.  You’re thinking about buying that house.  The old Phillips place.”

“Yes, I am.”

“But you don’t know why, exactly, do you?”

“No.  It’s a feeling I have.  I can’t really explain it.  If I could talk about it to somebody – somebody who wasn’t trying to talk me out of it – then I think I might get closer to understanding it, myself.”

“Well, Rachel.  I am happy to say for once that just now, just for this purpose, I am your man.”

She smiled.

 “I think I have felt the way I have about you all this time because of the way you love.  You have loved boldly.  Your love has come from your own heart and it hasn’t been the product of prevailing opinion.  That’s what makes you you.  That’s what makes you different from everybody else.  That is why I was so drawn to you.  I saw something in you that I have seen nowhere else in this world.

“I saw it in your friendships all through school.  You were at the top of our little society back then, but you made connections with people who others ignored and avoided. And with your friendship, those people blossomed.  It was like they became other people.  I think they grew into what you saw in them.  That’s power.

“And so I am here to tell you that you have to do this thing that others are warning you against.   It’s who you are.  It’s what makes you you.  This may be your gift to the world.  The thing that only you can do.”

It was this last arrow, the one that Jacob aimed away, that finally struck Rachel’s heart. And an hour after he had spoken it, when their conversation was over and he was stepping back through her door and onto the little porch and into the late twilight, she knew it would be the last time he would ever call and she had to muster every bit of strength she had in her broken heart to keep from grabbing him by the hand and pulling him back.

copyright 2019

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Jacob and Rachel

She heard the knock at her door and went to the front window and parted the curtain just an inch and looked out onto the front porch and saw him standing there.  He stood with his back to the late sunlight and she could not see his face, but the outline of his slender body was all she needed to be sure.  He shifted his weight from foot to foot and looked all around as he waited for an answer to his knock.   When he came to a rest, his head was a little tilted to the left as if he had just asked a question.   She had not seen him in eighteen years, yet she could have picked him out of a crowd from a block away.  She believed that she had never loved him, yet she was haunted by his form the way lovers are haunted.  In only a matter of days almost two decades ago she had done to him that very thing she had determined never to do to any man.  She had, in a moment of very particular circumstances, in a time of song and poetry, allowed him in.  And then, as heaven again turned to earth, she had run from him.  She knew even then, although she had tried her best not to know, the pain she caused him and she knew even then that he was justified in wondering why and in asking her why.  She also knew, by a few words dropped by a friend at Christmas or at some wedding or funeral, that he had never really healed from this, although he never approached her again.

All of it had happened between them in less than two weeks.  The circumstances had seemed to allow it, to call for it, even.  She had been aware of his admiration of her all through high school and she knew of his deep, unspoken respect for her person and his profound and justified doubt about his own chances with her.  He would have forgone any attempt with her if only to save her the pain of refusing him.  But there were others around them then.  Friends who knew of his desire and his reluctance and friends who also knew of her own loneliness, self-imposed though it was.

And it was the end of time just then.  The world they had known for all of their eighteen years was coming apart just as it ever has in that age.  Within only days every relationship they had known – those that had enriched and enabled them and those that had held them down – would be drowned like Pharaoh’s horsemen in the sea of time.  She knew that and welcomed it. It had been the focus of her thinking and desire for more than a year.  So much so that she never imagined that any other so situated had not seen the same thing coming and welcomed it just as she had.  

Particularly Jacob Eaton.  If anyone should have welcomed the imminent social apocalypse, it was him.  Jacob’s defining characteristic, it seemed to her, was his open-handed independence from every power and principality that held sway in the halls of the school.  Jacob’s penetrating intellect was obvious to anyone who interacted with him socially or happened to be in the same classroom anytime some unsuspecting teacher made the mistake of challenging him.  He was athletic, but found no home in any of the school’s sports teams.  He was attractive and at ease around the prettiest and most popular girls in the school.  They sat next to him when the opportunity arose and they confided in him and trusted him far more than in any of the boys they dated.  And the cliques, even those that others would have given an arm and a leg to belong to, it was as if he never noticed the strategies they employed to distinguish themselves; as if he was oblivious to their rigid hierarchies.  He paid no one any dues.

And yet he was no rebel. He seemed as unaware of his own particularity as he was of the anxious striving for inclusion and acceptance of nearly everyone else in the place. He never wanted to be first in line.  He just wanted out of the line.

These traits were so well defined by the end of their senior year.  He was going somewhere else; he was meant for or concerned with someplace or something else.  He was not at home here.  Rachel Thompson had by then become aware of the power of the light she could shine.  A smile or bit of polite conversation could raise the interests and hope of just about any boy in the school.  She had watched as other girls in the school employed the same powers – even if of a lesser strength than her own – to make boys fall all over themselves and end up in misery.  So she curbed any show of affection and stayed clear of any evidence of preference or intimacy.

But Jacob was a different kind of guy.  She could shine her light on him for this little time that was left them.  He would know her limits. Indeed, they would probably be much like his own.  It would be a glowing but passing season for them both.  There was a clear end in sight.  Then everyone would just walk away, hearts intact.

Oh, how terribly she had misread him.  Jacob Eaton had ignored the dominating, prevalent order at the school not because he was otherwise fulfilled, but because the empty spaces within him were broader and deeper than anything that juvenile order could fill.  He knew this much about himself: that those belongings and achievements that seemed to satisfy others around him would be no solace to him at all.  None of it was worth the effort.  And so he had walked calmly through high school, paying tribute to none of the gods of adolescence, fully aware that the longings within him would find no satisfaction there.

When God said “It is not good that man should be alone” He first formed out of the ground every beast that swims, flies, crawls or runs and paraded them all before the lonely Adam.  And Adam gave names to all the animals; to the eagle and hawk and dove, the lion and the zebra, the pig and the cow.  When all of that was done, the Scriptures say, Adam was still alone.  There was still no help-meet for him.  Every name that Adam gave to every animal was his way of saying that this creature is not like me.  How exhausting and finally disappointing for the lonely Adam.

It was only after this that God caused a great sleep to fall on the man.  He took out one of Adam’s ribs and from the flesh and bone of the man he created woman.  And when God showed Adam the new creature, Adam saw immediately he contrast.  This one was different.  This one was like him.  He gave her a name that was like his own.   Surely Adam’s speech here is ecstatic: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”  It is, after all, the archetypal expression of the most fundamental dynamic of human life.  The attraction that has survived almost intact for untold millennia; that has preserved and multiplied the race; and has given men the incentive for nearly every great accomplishment and the best consolation they will know this side of Jordan.

Jacob Eaton’s experience was much the same as Adam’s.  Given his rare intelligence and temperament, his young life had been a long process of giving names to the things around him that were not like him.  Things that did not provide the help he needed.  For Jacob, the naming was not of animals, but of people.  There were those who could run or swim or fly, but there was no one like him.  He found no true friendship anywhere.  There was no one around who could match his intellect; no one who perceived the world so deeply as he; no one who saw through the façades; no one whose desires were so profound as his own; and finally, no one for whom the search for companionship had been so disappointing, so frustrating.

But one evening alone with Rachel Sanders had changed all of that.  Here, finally, was someone like him.  Bone of his bone.  Jacob’s ecstasy then was like that of a prospector who has long since given up hope of but stumbles at last onto treasure unimagined – the pearl of great price.  The very attraction that Adam first knew and that was strong enough to be passed on from generation to generation without dilution and thereby preserve the race over centuries now infected every cell of Jacob’s body, every neuron in his brain, and every chamber of his heart.

Jacob sold everything – every hesitation; every reservation; every fear; every other plan or goal – and bought with his soul the field in which this precious pearl lay.

When she said yes to him, even though it was, as she thought then and as she thought he must have understood, all conditional, all applicable only to that brief time, that one season of twilight, time stopped for him.  She filled every empty space in him. He would have lived forever there.  His attachment to her was as strong and as distinctive as had been his detachment from everything else.

And there she was, right in the middle of the crime she had sworn never to commit.  She had led him on.  By any fair standard, the tokens she had shown him in that short season were encouragement.  He was justified in wondering why it all disappeared.  He was justified in asking her why.

She opened the door.

“Jacob.  Come in.  Come on in.”

She had anticipated the moment of awkwardness there in the foyer.  To embrace or not to embrace.  They were old friends.  The oldest of friends.  No one could see it any other way.  Not even him, if he were fair.  And surely his decade and a half in the highest reaches of the legal world had taught him something about fairness and perspective and how an individual’s feeling about a situation might be completely unfounded and how facts that unfolded as time passed would prove how unfounded.  And so much time had passed.  They had each had their share of life by now.  Enough disappointments and other joys as to give them long perspectives.  How could a simple embrace hurt anything?  How could it be misinterpreted now, this far down the line, this long after the first mistake?  They were different people now, more fully formed, more sure of their lives.

And yet.  As she looked him in the face only two steps away, memory rushed in on her like a wind.  She remembered his agony, his search for words, his confidence broken, his easy winsomeness dissolved.  And her own accordant suffering.  His questions “why” she could not answer. 

Never again.

She swung the door wide and stepped back and he entered and stood there in the foyer as if waiting for some direction.

“Here,” she pointed to the living room.  “Come on in.  I’ve still got coffee in the kitchen.”

He sat on the couch and she brought coffee and he took a sip and set his cup on the low table before them.  They were quiet for a moment.

 “I was sorry to hear about John.  I didn’t know him at all.  He was gone by the time I got there.  I knew people who knew him though.  He was loved and respected.”

 “I appreciate that, Jacob.  He was a good guy.  A good husband.”

 “You all never had any kids.”

 “No.  That wasn’t by choice.  It just never happened.  You still have time for that, Jacob.  You never know what might be around the corner for you.”

 “You have time, too.”

 “Not as much as you do.  Nature isn’t fair that way.”

 “I want to tell you right now that I’m not here to pursue you in that way.  I know that you wouldn’t want that.  I talked to Linda.  She didn’t say anything outright.  But I know how you feel.  It’s how you’ve always felt, I guess.”

She did not turn away from him, but she said nothing.

“But I wanted to see you because I think I have something important to tell you.  I’m not going to put anything on you.  I’m not going to make any request or promise.  I just have something to tell you.  I know that it’s kind of presumptuous to do this.  Just knock on your door uninvited, out of the blue like this.  But I wanted – I felt like I should, finally – I felt like I had to tell you about it.  It’s selfish in a way, I know, but I think there might be something unselfish about it.  Something that might help you.  Might tell you something about yourself.  Be valuable in that way.”

“It’s okay.  Go on.”

“You know, lots of people think the business I’m in is all about deception.  All about fooling the other guy.  Being clever enough to hide the ball.  And I’ll tell you that on many levels that is how the practice goes.  But at its best and among those who are the best at what they do, it’s about telling the truth.  I don’t mean to suggest that it’s either simple or easy.  It’s very hard to get to the truth.  Hard to recognize it.  You have to sweat to get there.  But it’s what works.  I’ve seen the greatest deals in the world go down the tubes because one party discovered some deception somewhere and that was it.  On the other hand, I’ve stuck my neck out and admitted things that might not have looked good on my client’s side and sometimes it has killed the deal.  But time has shown me that the deals I have lost that way would have been bad business for my clients in the long run.  It all comes back to you.  You tell the truth and you put yourself in a position that you don’t have to defend.   Lots of times what you thought was over will come back to life.  I’ve seen it happen.  You just have to be brave enough to lay your cards on the table.

“So I’m going to tell you the truth.  Not with the expectation of anything in return, but just because it’s true and the truth does something.  When it’s communicated unselfishly, it does something good for everybody.

“You know how fortunate I have been.  Some would say lucky.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Thanks for that.  But I can’t deny that things have broken my way, time and again, that I had no control over.  Doors have opened for me that I didn’t even know were there.”

“You worked hard, Jacob.  And you’re smart.  You’ve stayed out of trouble all your life.  You deserve what you have.”

“I think there is a real good argument that no one deserves what I have.  I can’t help but believe that it all might have been different if I had been born a day later or a day earlier.  But that gets me kind of where I want to go here.  I am not here to brag, but I have to talk some about my life to make what I say to you now mean what it should mean.  I beg you to stay with me here for a moment and the self-aggrandizing stuff will be over in just a minute or two.”

“Don’t worry about me.  I’ve already heard a lot about your life, but I would love to know more.”

“I have traveled in the best circles in England and Europe.  My best friend at Oxford was the son of the Duke of Devonshire.  He gave me entrance to . . .

Here Jacob stopped himself and sat silent for a moment.  He began again, this time more slowly.

“What I want to say is that in one sense, in one major, overriding sense, nothing I have seen or done, nothing I have achieved or been given, and, most importantly, no one I have met has changed my feeling about you.

“ I have worked for years to make that not be true.  The feeling for you is no help to me.  It’s something I have spent untold energy on.  And for no reason.  No reason at all to do that.  No chance that it would ever be anything other than just thinking.  But it was always there.  There has not been one morning or one afternoon, even in the busiest and highest times, when I did not think of you.  I apologize for this, for saying this to you, I mean.  I don’t mean to say that this is something you intentionally did or caused.  But it is there and it is undeniable and I think I have finally figured out why it’s there and I think that it might actually mean something to you right now.  

“I know that you’ve got to be searching, Rachel.”

And she gave him an answer that she would never have given until this day.  “Yes, Jacob.  I am searching.”

 “We all are, really.  Almost all of the time.  And we get hints sometimes.  After years of stewing, walking blindly, sometimes we get a clue.  And when that happens, it’s worthwhile.  It changes things.  Do you know what I mean?”

“I’m not sure that I do, Jacob.  But, please, keep going.”

“Well.  You’re thinking about buying that house.  The old Phillips place.”

“Yes, I am.”

“But you don’t know why, exactly, do you?”

“No.  It’s a feeling I have.  I can’t really explain it.  If I could talk about it to somebody – somebody who wasn’t trying to talk me out of it – then I think I might get closer to understanding it, myself.”

“Well, Rachel.  I am happy to say for once that just now, just for this purpose, I am your man.”

She smiled.

 “I think I have felt the way I have about you all this time because of the way you love.  You have loved boldly.  Your love has come from your own heart and it hasn’t been the product of prevailing opinion.  That’s what makes you you.  That’s what makes you different from everybody else.  That is why I was so drawn to you.  I saw something in you that I have seen nowhere else in this world.

“I saw it in your friendships all through school.  You were at the top of our little society back then, but you made connections with people who others ignored and avoided. And with your friendship, those people blossomed.  It was like they became other people.  I think they grew into what you saw in them.  That’s power.

“And so I am here to tell you that you have to do this thing that others are warning you against.   It’s who you are.  It’s what makes you you.  This may be your gift to the world.  The thing that only you can do.”

It was this last arrow, the one that Jacob aimed away, that finally struck Rachel’s heart. And an hour after he had spoken it, when their conversation was over and he was stepping back through her door and onto the little porch and into the late twilight, she knew it would be the last time he would ever call and she had to muster every bit of strength she had in her broken heart to keep from grabbing him by the hand and pulling him back.

copyright 2019

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WE SHOULD GO DANCING

morning poem, september 26, 2015

Posted on September 26, 2015 by labeak52

.

WE SHOULD GO DANCING

.

I put on Sam Cooke and my feet move

I don’t even have to think about it.

(She was only sixteen. . . )

There is time this morning

I’m alone in the house

I have no deadlines

Or, for the moment,

I’ve chosen to ignore them.

I think “What is the best thing we could do?”

Right now. Tonight.

I empty out all other rhythms, schedules and demands

And listen to that honeygold voice

(Darling, you send me . . . )

And I let myself fall in

And go all the way back

(At first I thought it was infatuation. . . )

We should go dancing, you and I

What could possibly be better?

I can’t dance,

But you can

And we know each other so well now

Who cares?

Surely there is some place around here

With an old juke-box and a linoleum floor.

We’d never regret it

And might always remember.

If they made a movie of our lives

This is the scene we’d want to end it with.

(We’d say to ourselves, “What a wonderful world. . .)

Copyright 2015

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evening poem, july 5, 2022

If I could choose one day of my childhood

To live again

It would be one of these long days of summer

That never seem to end

I’d stay outside till the sky finally turned pastel

Then to my bed with the window open

So I could hear the slap of basketballs

On the neighborhood court

And the voices of the older kids

Who played on

It was the best of feelings

Thinking that the light would go on forever

And that summer would never fade

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The night before I was watching the weather radar every hour.  Long lines of green crawling up from the south; bad news for us.  We wanted to float the Big Coal River in the morning.  My son and I communicated through the evening, telling each other that it might just be alright, that we might get a break in the showers long enough to make our run. I continued to get the canoe ready and to prepare enough food for the day we hoped we’d have.

I watched the so-called “river gauge” too.  Bill Curry, the grand-daddy of the Coal River Group, showed me how to find the readings on line and warned me not to try the trip if the reading went “above five.”  He also gave me a map of the Coal River system, showing access spots and giving approximate distances for the stretches between those spots.  From what I could tell, normal pool for the river at Ashford – where the gauge was located – is somewhere around 2.5.  The river had been at that level for some days, but this evening, after some light but long-lasting showers, the line on the graph had started to rise, approaching, then passing, 3.0.  I went to bed, still hopeful, but not at all sure that we would make our trip.

When I woke up the rain had stopped.  The sky was still overcast and rain was still dripping from the leaves when the wind blew, but we decided to give it a try and loaded the canoe and started out for Dartmont. 

We leave Saint Albans at 8:15 and take back roads south to State Route214 and then to Corridor G at the Childress Road entrance.  We continue south from there to the next exit – Brounland Road.  We exit left there and proceed almost due south to the Emmons Road which follows the Big Coal River into Dartmont.   We make it to Dartmont by 9:15 and leave my son’s car there at Dartmont Park.  We have no qualms about that.  The park is a well-maintained and tended place, made for river-trippers like us, and we park the car in a gravel lot beside a picnic shelter.  While there we meet a man hitting golf balls.  He’s the only person in the park at this early hour.  We tell him of our intention to run the river from Racine and he comments that with the river running high as it is, we should expect to be back in Dartmont in about three hours.  That’s not too far off from estimates I’d heard elsewhere, so we hop back into my car and continue south, over Lens Creek Mountain and down into the little settlement of Racine.   This leg of the journey is different from the others.  We aren’t following the river now, and Lens Creek Mountain is a real mountain, not like the hills surrounding the Kanawha Valley that we are used to.  We’re on the road for just over 15 minutes when we start to see the outskirts of Racine.  A few houses clustered together, a church here and there.  

I’ve never been here before; never put the canoe in this far upstream.  I don’t know what to expect.  Racine is a small – population 245 at the last census – settlement – but as we see immediately, the facilities here for boaters leave nothing to be desired.  There is plenty of parking, all of it free and all of it near enough to the river to make carrying the boat to the water not too much of a task.   There are restroom facilities right there by the launch, clean and well-maintained.

I have put my canoe into a few rivers in a lot of different spots and you always worry that you are going to have to wade through twenty yards of waist-high weeds, hoping that you don’t anger any copperheads along the way, and then deal with laboring to get the boat down a long, steep embankment, and then sliding the boat into the water and getting yourself aboard without getting soaked.

No such worries in Racine.  The launch/pullout is paved, connected to the lot where we’ve parked the car, and slopes gently down into the river.  Access easy.  Loading easy.  By 9:45 we are in the river, paddling.  And here is one of the endearing points of the story.  In an hour and a half, we have gone from suburbia to a beautiful and wild canoe ride.  I imagine that people in cities all over the country travel for days and pay big money for an experience like this, and for us it’s only 90 minutes away.

At Racine, preparing to launch

In only moments we realize that the ride is going to be wilder than we thought.  We had imagined a leisurely, day-long float down this little river, but the hours of rain had intervened and right from the start we are at a pace much faster than we had planned for.  It seemed like no time at all before we hit the first white water.  That’s a term of art, I guess, and there are those with more canoeing and kayaking experience than me who might object to its use to describe what we experienced.  What we hit – and we hit it again and again – was not like the white-knuckle surging of the New or Gauley Rivers.  But the water we passed through, time and again, was white, and rushing, and the drops were pretty steep.  We were never really threatened, but we were bounced around a bit, took on a little water, and had to paddle constantly to find the right channel to pass through the rapids and to keep the boat straight in the current.

The downside of our day, I guess, is that, given the swollen river, now milky with runoff, we can’t see the riverbottom, can’t see the fish that we know swim in the long pools between the rapids.  I notice the absence of Great Blue Herons, a majestic wading bird that is common on these rivers and that are usually very much in evidence during a long float like ours.  I wonder if the water level or the increased speed of the current has kept them away from the water today.

But the day itself is beautiful.  The sun breaks through almost as we enter the stream, as if it had saved itself for us.  And the river, even though milky-green now with the rain, is also beautiful.  It’s impossible to capture the sight and the feeling in words, but here on the upper Big Coal, the arching birches and gigantic, overhanging sycamores on both banks almost meet overtop the river like entwined fingers so that in some stretches you are completely entunnelled in a shaded green cathedral.

On The Big Coal River, somewhere between Racine and Peytona

And what we miss in wildlife observation we more than make up for in sheer excitement.   We don’t stay in any of the pools for very long.  At every turn in the river – and there are lots of turns in this stretch – we see rapids ahead and start trying to make decisions about where to begin the navigation.  Do we go left or right around that island?  Where is the deepest channel?  Where must we paddle furiously to keep the boat under control?

I’ve taken lots of canoe trips in my day.  Many on other stretches of this or the Little Coal River.  Some on the Greenbrier.  Some on the New River. But what I notice today is something different than I have seen on any other trip.  As we look ahead to the horizon, I can see the drop in the river.  It’s more obvious in some places than others, but it almost looks like we are sailing downhill and not on a level surface.  That’s true, strictly speaking, but it’s always true when you are canoeing down a river, but it has never been so visible to me as it is this day.  I wonder if that has to do with the high water.

Big Coal River, looking downstream from the Dartmont pullout

At around 11:30 I sneak a look at my watch and start to think about where will will stop for lunch.  I think it will be more of a challenge than usual, since the normal beaches and landings are all under water now.  I start to pay closer attention to both banks, thinking that we should break soon and do our third hour of paddling after eating.  In only moments, though, we round another bend in the river and my son says “Is that my car?”

And it is.  This is Dartmont. We hustle to bring the boat to the right bank, grab some weeds and pull ourselves out of the river.  It would have been very easy just to sail right by our pullout.  We were moving fast and certainly were not expecting to see it for some time.  If we had passed it by I hate to think of what a task it would have been to try and fight the current to get back there.

 And so, we open our lunchbox at Dartmont park and eat under one of the shelters.  It’s overcast again now, and the wind carries with it the hint of more coming rain.  So, we leave the canoe on a level above the river there and head back to Racine to pick up my car – the one with the canoe rack.  In less than an hour we have the canoe reloaded and we are headed back to Corridor G and the Kanawha Valley, tired and happy.

West Virginia really is a place of well-kept secrets, and the upper Big Coal River is certainly one of them.

Big Coal River, looking upstream from the Dartmont pullout
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