Monday, September 14, 2009

The Keweenaw Seduction

by Zinta Aistars

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The words await me. All day yesterday, all evening by the crackle of the fire in its stone fireplace, then waking in the night—a pulsing, red 3:46 on the clock beside the bed—I could feel the approach of the words. That is why I am here. Here, at Black Bear Cabin, secluded in the Keweenaw northern woods, to welcome them. It is a little like a tryst between lovers. Illicit, perhaps, because there is that dance, that zigzagging approach, when you’re not quite sure you should ever meet, ever touch, ever feel your own yearning flesh against the warm skin of those words.

But I am here, and I’m not going anywhere until we have consummated this dance.

Up in the night, padding barefoot on the hardwood floors of the cabin, from my bedroom into the big room, drawing my fingertips across the stone of the fireplace, now cool, I move the green plaid curtains to one side and peer out into the night. For a moment, I think I sense more than see … the shadow of the words, lovingly stalking me. My heart beats with anticipation.

I am here to write. A thousand words prior tossed away. Oh, many thousands, many. Entire manuscripts. A writer must kiss many frog manuscripts before finding the prince of them all. I am here, now, here, and my arms are open, my heart is open, my mind a great ear that listens for them, and my hands, my fingers tremble ever so lightly… because I remember that kind of magic. When the words come.

And still, I tease. I flirt. Let them pursue me. I brew the pot of coffee, I break the two brown eggs on the pan beside the two sausages, toast the fresh bread and butter it. Eating with appetite, I put the dishes into the sink, wash them with slow, lathered swipes of the sponge, and then go out to walk in the surrounding woods. The morning is cool and misty. Rags of a light fog catch in the treetops and wisps hang loose from limbs. I walk the perimeter of the land, looking over my shoulder at the cabin. It charms, the picture of peace. Brown logs snuggled against the woods, a matching place, logs against living trees. These are maples and oaks here, great, strong trees. Fir trees and pines with soft needles. I pick up acorns, both green and brown ones, and put them in my pocket. I plan to take this place and this moment along with me, wherever I go from now on.

This is the place. Where the words and I will join, at last.

We have struggled mightily. Oh, we have wrestled and fought and nearly had one another by the throat, thumb pressed to pulse until consciousness seeps away into near death. Only to come back to life again, coughing and spluttering, gasping for air. Insisting on life.

I could not write when life was a mess. Simple as that. Never could. It could be that a woman, a mother, at least, is made that way. I had to care for my children, I had to run from job to job, pay the bills, for there was no partner in my unnamed crime. I had to know my brood safe and well before I could even begin to think of myself—and the words.

I am here now, in this safe place, the place I carry along inside of me now. A heart that is badly bruised, lined with scars where there were once breaks, now healed, if only pulsing a little with a remembered pain at certain triggers of memory. My heart now is strong and whole and glad. Yes. Funny, almost, to me. That my heart could beat on like this and know happiness again. Yet it is what I have felt, enough times now to know it is not a mere haunting, but something real and with root, tapping down into my core. A happiness that comes up out of me and is dependent on no one else. I felt it driving north to this place. My car window unrolled to the fresh northern air, hair whipping in the wind, a smile spreading over my lips. A grin, even. I dare say it now, unafraid of any jealous gods who would take it from me. I am happy. I am. And I hold it to me, and I know, I know this is what I will need to write again.

So I am here now, in the Keweenaw woods, the bright white page before me, like the clean white sheet of a bed, and the words and I are about to make love happen...


Light dims in my temporary paradise. Reverent, I watch the day come to a gradual close. I have remained at the cabin all day. All day, I have written, written the words, followed their path, at times guiding them, at times letting them guide me. So. This is what it feels like to be a writer. I mean, truly a writer, immersed in this work from morning into night, with no other distraction. Free to listen to the voices in my head and my heart. What wonder. I skim the dozen new pages written with warm satisfaction.

Work is not chore if it is, as Joseph Campbell said, following one’s bliss. Being productive today has given me strength, rejuvenated my spirit, and encourages me to follow this path to its end, however long it might take. The writing is good.

Occasionally rising from my work to prepare a meal, or stroll the perimeter of the surrounding woods, or simply to stand on the deck at front of the cabin and listen to the birds, I enjoyed this creative immersion immensely. At day’s end, I fired up the grill in celebration, searing a steak, bringing to tender readiness corn on the cob, Keweenaw-grown potato, green pepper, and a dozen brown crimini mushrooms swimming in melted butter, and finally, poured myself a glass of red wine and set in to enjoy my meal. Well done, Z, well done, I grinned to myself and for myself. The day was all I had hoped it might be. A pearl among days.

The sun setting, I put match to the wood and pine cones I’ve arranged in the stone fireplace again and settle in to read. First, The Daily Mining Gazette, filled with local names such as Locatelli, Wittla, Junttila and Arola. The Finns, I see, are still plentiful here. Then, I open The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer. Ever the sashaying reader, between Brewer’s chapters, I sneak in a poem or two by Derick Burleson, an Alaskan poet, from a collection entitled Never Night—and am amazed at what power and beauty simple words can hold.

The fire crackles and spits comfortably in the fireplace. Night deepens in the windows, and I rise to pull the curtains. The cabin fills with soft, golden light, giving the log walls a golden honeyed color. Someday, I think, someday my every day will be like this…

For now, I have a day such as this one to hold as a promise of what is to come. And the work to be done until I get there.

Monday, September 14, 2009


It takes effort to rise from the comfort of the downy cabin bed, but I wake with the realization, a little sad around its edges, that this is my last full day in the Keweenaw. I must take hold of all of it, squeeze from it every last drop of juice. Up with me!

How good life could be if we but lived where we wished, lived how we know best, lived true to our selves. Every day an awaiting sweet fruit to peel as the hours go by. While my life has settled into a steady and stable groove now (steadiness and stability, as those who have known me beyond the past few years, has not been a mark of my life), and the various dramas and tragedies have been left behind (at last), I can pay off the dues of the past, make right, and begin to pay for a future of freedom. Who knows how it will take shape… but I suspect the Keweenaw will play some part in it.

I am a little anxious, a speck nervous, to look at the dozen pages I wrote yesterday. In the light of a fresh morning, will they still shine? Will they still please me? Will I resist the seductive delete key this time?

A streak of pale yellow light melts across the horizon, the day calls. I want to drive up to the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula today, a plan I abandoned the other day because I was too eager to get to the cabin and dance with words. I will write less today, but I will instead pack away the memories, the sense of this place so that I can weave it bit by piece into the pages yet to be written. I will pick up the Superior-washed stones to bring back with me. I will take more photographs. I will stand and listen, to the waves, to the woods, to the wildlife hidden away around me, just out of sight. I will take in the tiny towns I pass through—Kearsarge, Ahmeek, Mohawk, Allouez, Phoenix, one copper mining town after another, some of them more ghost than flesh and blood population. Until I reach Copper Harbor at the very tip, where my father brought me as a child, where he set up his easel on the beach rocks to paint and I sat in the stones with my own pad of paper, trying out my own hand at sketches of boats, cottages, trees. I’ll stand atop Brockway Mountain and look out, out into the beyond, Lake Superior but also my own future. And know it is mine to shape.

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