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Johnny stood in the dark alone.  High above everything
he would now leave behind. He took that last step — the one
that would define him forever and reshape in an instant who he would then become ...

Johnny was a diver.  His father had first thrown him into the pool when he was three years old. A loud clap and enormous splash announced his second baptism.  Instantaneously, in the dark wet silence, he sank beneath all that he had previously known, and in the strange umbilical fear that now surrounded him ¬— he knew that this was for him.

Throughout his childhood, Johnny then spent much of his life ‘at the pool.’  First, at the public swim club at the corner of his street in the summers, and then later at the downtown ‘Y.’ Johnny competed on all the youth league teams as both a swimmer and a diver from ages 5-12.  

It was being a diver though that would shape Johnny’s future. When he finally got to middle-school, he was old enough to try out for the school team and made the team on his first try as a diver. From that time on, everything in Johnny’s life revolved around his time at the pool.  He was always the one to try everything ‘first’, no matter how difficult, and the team always looked to him to come through in the end when the score was close. To do that, Johnny not only needed to dive well, but he needed to pick dives that came with a high degree of difficulty.

He was proficient at all three diving events, the one-meter and three-meter springboards, and then his favorite, the ten-meter- high platform. On the high platform, Johnny was more than just proficient. It was when he was towering high above the water, with his fans watching from below, that he truly excelled.  

His specialty dive, and the one that won most competitions, was an inward two and a half from the ten-meter platform in pike position. Pike position, popularly called jack knife, was when your upper body was bent straight-forward and almost touching your legs.  This dive was the clincher that won consistently, often scoring high enough to allow his team to win too.  It was his favorite dive, and also the one that almost ended his life one fated afternoon almost a year before.

    His life Had Almost Ended Thirty Feet Above The Water

That afternoon, and from the back of the platform, Johnny set in motion a routine that he had done thousands of times before. He walked to the platform’s edge, turned around, and set himself with only his toes and the ***** of his feet on the concrete surface. He then bent his knees and threw both of his arms upward trying to launch himself toward the lights in the ceiling high above the pool.  This time though, something was different.

                 And Something Was Terribly Wrong

Johnny’s right foot slipped as he jumped causing his body to become unbalanced.  The strength and propulsion he needed from that leg was now gone, and he should have aborted the dive and just fell to the water below.  He didn’t. Driven by habit, instinct, and force of will, Johnny continued to try and complete the dive. He rotated forward in spite of his flawed take off while hoping he had enough height to be able to clear the platform on the way down.

                                     He Didn’t!

Johnny doesn’t know what happened next. All two hundred and fifty spectators below were awestruck and deadly silent as they sat and watched his failed takeoff from the platform so high above them.  Johnny woke up four days later in Memorial Hospital with his head totally wrapped in gauze and both legs braced in traction from the bottom of his hospital bed. As he stared hard at the ceiling above, he struggled to remember what had happened. He also had no clear idea as to who he was. This blank spot in his memory would continue to dominate his thoughts and bother him even more as the days rolled on.

Johnny had hit the platform hard, first with the back of his head rendering him instantaneously unconscious and then with the small of his back as he rotated forward and slammed into the front of the platform’s edge. This caused him to momentarily hang there, thirty feet above the pool, before rolling off the front of the platform and falling straight down into the thirty-foot deep water below.  His seemingly lifeless body appeared to bounce off the surface before it continued to slowly sink toward the light at the very bottom of the pool.

Luckily, Johnny’s coach and his brother Tom were lightning quick in their reactions, getting to him before he was able to submerge more than five or six feet.  The concussion from the dive, and medically induced coma to reduce the swelling, kept Johnny unconscious for four days.  When he finally did wake up, all he knew was that his head hurt. It hurt with a pain he had never felt before, and the room that he now found himself in looked very strange.

His nurse told him that hitting his head and losing consciousness may have contributed to saving his life. His relaxed body, when hitting the platform and then the water, was much less prone to injury in this state than if tense and contracted.

For six months Johnny stared up at that same ceiling. The memory of what had happened, or specifically lack of memory, haunted his waking and sleeping hours.  No matter what the hospital staff or his family did to try and distract him, he couldn’t help thinking about that dive.

            He Couldn’t Visualize It, But It Was Always There

Over and over, he tried to relive it in his memory, or what little memory he had left. The doctors told him that memory loss was normal with these types of injuries, and he would probably recall what had happened as time went on. His only previous injury had occurred when he scraped his elbow on the front of the one-meter springboard, reaching back while performing a half-gainer in layout position.  He asked his coach why, why had this happened after all the times before?  Did I not do everything the way I had been coached, and the way I was taught, he asked?

His coach said “Yes, you did, but accidents can and do happen, especially on the high platform, and even more so when your back is to the pool and your dive is executed so close to the concrete surface.” Johnny thought about the coach’s choice of the word execute, and how close he had really come.

                       So Close To It All Being Over

After six months in the hospital Johnny was finally sent home. He left on a ‘walker,’ but the doctors assured him that after three more months, the most he would need to get around with would be a cane.  Johnny had other plans.  He would have a two-week rest while he acclimated himself to being home, and then his outpatient therapy would begin. Johnny’s biggest struggle would not be his still ailing body but the lack of any clear memory. It continued to weigh heavier inside of him than any real memory could.

Johnny’s parents had a gala celebration waiting at their house when the ambulance arrived home.  All of Johnny’s family and friends were there, but the one he was most anxious to see was his dog Revo. He had been separated from him for over six months, and the memory of Revo was one of the few things that Johnny could recall.  Revo was a Portuguese Water Dog and got his name from shortening the word revolution. Revolutions were what Johnny was always working on as his dives got progressively more and more difficult. His coach was always including more revolutions to his dives as his talent and proficiency developed.  Revo seemed to know by instinct Johnny’s state of mind and would not leave his side for the next three months.

Johnny looked up on the family room wall and stared at all the medals, trophies, and ribbons that filled the space over the fireplace from end to end.  He didn’t remember winning any of them, although he knew that he did.  How can you know something with conviction and still not remember doing it he wondered?

He thought most about the one medal that was not up on that wall. Missing, was the one from that meet six months ago, the one that almost took his life and the one that would continue to haunt him until he could stop asking himself, why! On that fateful day, in spite of his failed dive, the team had still accumulated enough points to win.

Five days before the end of the third month that Johnny was home, he was again walking on his own.  It had been almost nine months since his accident, and he could once again leave the house and resume an almost normal life.  Except to him, normal had always meant a life centered around diving and his time suspended high above the water.

Johnny walked and he walked, until he could walk as far as the township pool —the one he knew he had been in many times before, and the one that looked back at him now from across the street and seemed to smile.  Was it a smile he saw or laughter that he thought he heard?  He wasn’t sure, but he was sure he didn’t like it, any of it, and somehow, he had to make it stop. Very isolated flashes had started to return to his memory about his last dive, but every time he focused on them, just as quickly as they came, they were then gone.

Part of Johnny’s ongoing (post hospital) therapy involved the pool.  He first started swimming by trying to complete one lap and then increased his distance by one lap a day.  After a month of swimming Johnny thought he was back to normal.  He did everything a normal kid did at the pool, with one exception…

Over a month had passed at the pool and there was still one thing Johnny had not looked at or faced up to. He had still not looked up at the thirty-foot high platform that extended out and over the far (and deep) end of the pool.  He would avert his eyes as he walked by it and always breath out of the side of his mouth that faced away from the platform as he swam his laps.

               There Was One Thing He Still Could Not Do

It was Johnny’s senior year in high school, and his mother and brother had been bringing work home since he had gotten out of the hospital so he wouldn’t fall too far behind.  One day before Johnny went back to school, his brother Tom had brought his lessons home as usual. It wasn’t the amount of work in the stack of books his brother carried that got Johnny’s attention, but the brochure stuck between two of the lesson plans that stopped him cold.

The brochure announced that in two more months that same swim meet would be happening again. It was actually on the same date as last year’s meet, and his name had inadvertently been added to the list of contestants. All that was needed now was his signed confirmation. This was Johnny’s senior year and his last year eligible to compete for the city medal, the one most coveted by all high school boys before they moved on to college or adult competition.

For the longest time, Johnny stared at the brochure until it seemed to burn right into his hands.  He knew in his heart that until he got past this, nothing else in his life would matter. He walked to where Revo was sitting patiently and looked deeply into his best friend’s eyes. He then sat holding him for what seemed like an eternity before he got up and walked back into the kitchen. Johnny then picked up the phone and called his old coach.

Coach Brackett said, “I think it’s too early, but I’ll let you know when you’re ready. I’ve been watching you swim, and no-one ever expected you to come back this soon.”  Johnny said: “This is my last chance, Coach.  In September, I’m off to college. I don’t want what happened last year to follow me there or to have the failure of that day be the last thing that anyone remembers who watched me dive. Mostly though, I have to complete that dive for me.”

                  He Had To Do That Dive For Himself

Johnny’s memory had also started to come back, but his recollection of that dive, and last year’s meet, were still fuzzy inside his head. “It’s your choice alone Johnny, Coach Brackett said, because at eighteen I can’t stop you. But what did your parents say when you discussed it with them?”  “I’ve told no-one else but you coach, and I’d like to keep it that way for now please.”

After hanging up the phone, Johnny walked deliberately to the mailbox.  His future and redemption were now enclosed within the envelope in his hand. His memory might still be spotty, but the determination inside his heart was never more resolute. He wondered why he felt so strongly about doing something that he still had no clear memory of …

Johnny’s strength and body weight were now almost back to where they were before the accident. He was able to sit upright in a chair for long periods, and it was decided that the time had come for him to return to school. His time at the pool swimming laps had worked wonders, and everyone was glad to see him back. They encouraged Johnny with his rehab as he left for the pool each day, but no one expected him to ever compete again.

If the faded memory of that day almost a year ago had plagued Johnny’s psyche, the anticipation of doing it again was now ten times stronger than before the accident. He would go to sleep at night praying for his amnesia to remain and keep the memory of that afternoon at bay for at least two more months.  As the meet got closer and closer, word started to leak out.  Well-intentioned family and friends started calling Johnny’s folks, concerned about his safety and welfare.

The tension at home became almost as bad as the trauma of what had previously happened.  There seemed to be no place for Johnny to escape, least of all inside his own mind.  He started spending more and more time alone. Through all of this, he remained respectful but refused over and over again to back off and withdraw when his parents asked.

Johnny thought about the one-meter, the three-meter, and then it would happen again.  He could see himself walking to the platform ladder, right before his mind would go blank.  Would he slip again on something that for years he had always stepped through, or would he climb the long ladder to the top and only have to turn around, and in his fear and humiliation, climb back down? He thought he knew the answer, but just thinking it was not enough. He had to make at least one more dive.

Johnny’s coach told him that he could do any dive he liked as long as it was facing forward off the platform.  That way he would be almost assured that if it wasn’t a high scoring dive at least it would provide a safe pathway to the water. The coach knew what Johnny might be thinking, and he wanted to take the pressure off by making his only choices perfectly clear.

Johnny listened.  He liked Coach Brackett very much and didn’t want to disappoint him, but he knew a forward entry dive just wouldn’t cut it.  That’s not the way you enter the water from an inward two and a half.  That dive had been his signature dive, and only by making it his dive again would he achieve the peace he so desperately needed. It would then release the freedom inside of him, liberating him from always looking back, and allow him to finally move on.  

He practiced the dive over and over in his mind until he thought his head would explode.  Every time his memory would go blank just as he jumped up and back, after pushing off from the platform, and always before starting his rotation forward. He couldn’t actually practice the dive because someone was always watching. Many nights he thought about sneaking into the pool and getting it all over with but never did.  He wanted this dive to be in front of the same people who were there to watch a year ago. What seemed only twelve months ago to them felt like a lifetime to him now.  He continued to visualize both the dive and the future it foretold.

He wondered to himself; why is the thing that used to seem the easiest now the hardest? He wondered until he could wonder no more.  No answers would come, and the hardest part was still out in front of him.  Would he be able to climb those rungs to an uncertain future— one that called out his name with a snicker in its voice?  He knew the answer was in only one place and in only one performance.  He knew things now that he never wanted to know again. He trained incessantly on the two springboards for the next seven weeks while doing only front entry dives from the ten-meter height.

The day of the meet came, and his parents were livid. Both had been hoping and believing all along that he would finally step down and their wishes would be obeyed.  With a kiss to his mother and a look in his father’s direction, who was now looking away and would not say either goodbye or good luck — Johnny walked out the door.

All was quiet as Johnny entered the pool through the southside door.  His coach was at the judge’s table, and all looked normal.  Johnny changed quickly in the locker room and started his warmup.  He had a series of three dives he would perform today, but he would only practice the first two.

After the one and two-meter springboard competitions, Johnny was tied for first place.  There would be a twenty-minute intermission before the high platform competition would begin, and Johnny used this time to sit in the locker room’s whirlpool and gather his thoughts.  It seemed like a really fast twenty minutes when he heard his name come over the pool’s public address system to report immediately outside.

When he got there, he saw a great commotion and at least fifteen people standing around the judge’s table.  He saw his coach in the middle arguing vehemently with the head judge.  When Johnny approached the table, his coach told him: “They’re not going to let you dive from the high platform. They said it has something to do with insurance and your being hurt just a year ago. In their minds, the springboards were one thing, but the high platform is something entirely different.”

“More arguing won’t do any good” the coach said, “I’ve tried every tactic I know.  You’ve had a good meet Johnny, and everyone knows you tried.” With that, Johnny went back to the locker room. He felt like his entire life had been pulled out from under him. He went into one of the stalls and closed the door behind him, sat down with his arms folded over his head, and cried.

All time seemed to drift away until Johnny heard a door slam and a loud bang as if all the lights had just been turned off. He didn’t know how long he had been in there, but when he opened the door all he heard was the quiet.  When he walked through the door to the pool it was almost totally dark, and everyone was gone.  The only lights in the building were the one’s shining from the very bottom of the pool and the single light attached to the platform railing at the top of the ladder. Johnny looked up at the platform which was shrouded in almost complete darkness.  He now knew, unlike ever before, just exactly what it was that he had to do — and he had to do it now!

                              It Was His Moment!

His entire life flashed in front of him in that instant. All that had ever mattered to him surfaced within him now.  As he climbed the ladder and finally arrived at the top of the platform, he looked down at the small pile of clothes that he had left on the floor.  As he walked slowly toward the dark edge, he thought about them and smiled.

For the first time he realized that it was much more than just his clothes that he had left down there behind him. He had stripped off something that for almost a year had dominated his waking and sleeping thoughts, something that had held back everything in his life up until today, and something that was almost gone …    

As he stepped forward, his future was released from his past. No fear had made it to the first rung of the ladder and what would happen in a few more seconds only he would ever need to know.

    
In the darkness, only wet footprints led to the southside door. All fear had dissolved powerless in the cold dark water behind … and there it was to forever remain!
10h · 21
Praetoriae
Protection is the veil
— that keeps enlightenment out

(From ‘The Road:’ April, 2024)
‘My Oldest And Dearest Friend’

It’s hard to explain the organic quality of a road unless you’ve been down it. Perhaps on a Motorcycle, in the dark and the rain, sometimes afraid, but always with your senses more alive than at any other time.

More feeling The Road than seeing it, and more wishing for the outcome than its certainty, The Road you choose is one that you must travel alone.

The Road knows that I am faithful and no longer in search of another mistress. I ride in awe of her beauty as she brings out the very best in me. Wanting her all to myself, she laughs at my folly, telling me that: “Of course, she belongs to me and to me alone,” as she watches me leave. The breath inside of me exhales, but the memory of what’s not forgotten lingers, and I go to bed each night feeling her turning inside me once more.

Alone on her twists and turns, my thoughts become guided taking me to places in her grandeur that I would never have gone before. Never promising destination, only duty bound, allowing me to find myself within every drop and elevation that her direction leads.

The Road Only Travels One Way … The Way I Need To Go

I am with her during times of her sickness too. Sitting in the waiting room of her road construction, I watch the large machines rip open her back, replacing what’s vital within her and allowing her to take me to places I have never seen.

The mountains and canyons stand in awe of The Road realizing they only sit in reference to what The Road already knows. Without The Road, their splendor would only be a bleak reminder of potential greatness within themselves. Without The Road to tell the story, their narrative becomes self-serving and unwashed and then unknown — not even forgotten. It is only The Road and its traveler that carries their message for today and a thousand more as it has always been. Footpath or gravel, asphalt or concrete, the surface is only that. It stands as an invitation to the traveler who is quickly absorbed in the motion it instills.

The Road can never offer you safety — protection being the veil that keeps enlightenment out. The Road offers much more. In its total exposure, it removes all invisibility exposing you for what you are today while presenting again what its next turn may bring. The Road places all things in motion, carrying your message inside its spirit while delivering you to a place of immediacy where you arrive alone.

The Road begins where excuses end, leaving weakness along its apron, allowing only true meaning to pass through and by. The Road has no toll beyond the one you set for yourself and has no permanent ending. Endings are something that have already been discarded and left behind.

Do you wish to be great or just to live among greatness? The Road never makes you choose. The Road needs to be ridden like oceans need to be crossed — all meaning pent up in the traverse of its direction. Understanding is just a myth here. True knowledge waits in the deliverance of how you feel once the travel is done.

There is no deal making to be done with The Road, that is for the hitchhiker and those from a lesser time.

If The Road ever were to end, it would end in the transcendence of your spirit — the place where lovers go to die and children of a greater God are born again. The Road gives you this without your asking, and without praise or blame you are accepted for who you have now and forever become.



(The West: August, 2011)
Does your life then come together
front to back
or
back to front
It takes years to clearly see
that both
directions
are a ruse
Life revolving as a circle
with you
inside
its center
All phases caught in a whirlpool’s tide
that ebbs
and flows
— divine

(The New Room: April, 2024)
Gray Mountain, Arizona

                                      October 2nd, 1995

Out of gas again! The chill that ran down the back of my neck when passing that last open gas station should have given me pause. I was so sure there was still a gas station open in the middle of the Navajo Nation, one that served great fry-bread, and one that would get me to Tuba City with a quarter tank to spare. As I fiddled with the radio, tuning into the Navajo language network, the fear inside of me was already questioning what the night might bring.

Six years had passed since I had been down this road. The gas station I remembered was now boarded up and deserted, just like the dreams of most of the people it used to serve. With not enough gas to either press onward or go back, I became a prodigal wanderer in search of a distant Samaritan. I was now seeking in the remoteness of my spirit — the hospitality of the kind.

                        In The Remoteness Of My Spirit

In eight more miles, I saw a gravel road leading to a small ranch house a quarter of a mile at its end. To the right of the house sat a Hogan, telling of native inhabitants inside. In this part of the west, near the New Mexico / Arizona border, it was assuredly Zuni or Navajo, and I bet Navajo, as I parked the bike and walked up the long stone driveway.

I left the bike back on the road to seem like less of an intruder and walked up to the front door while rehearsing what I would say. I was hoping that someone was home, and if they were, that they would open the door. People were very scarce in these parts, and new people usually brought trouble along with them as part of their welcome.

To my great surprise, an attractive middle-aged native woman opened the door before I knocked and said: “Yes, can I help you?” They were warm words coming from the middle of such loneliness that surrounded me, and I explained to her my situation and that my gas was almost gone. She looked down the long gravel driveway for what seemed like forever and then said: “The only gas that my husband Charles and I have is in our white pickup truck which is around back.”

She told me that her name was Juanita, and she was sure that her husband would help me. She then said: “He has just gone into the Hogan ‘to sweat’ and would not be out for more than an hour. If you will remove your shirt and shoes, you could go in and join him, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. Just make sure to announce your presence before walking through the flap.”

Still in my heavy riding suit, I took off my jacket and shirt and the padded boots I wore for touring. I felt a greater weight being lifted from me than just the clothes that I removed, and although I didn’t understand the feeling, I wanted to go inside.

I walked the short distance to the Hogan and stood outside its entrance wondering how I would feel having a stranger walk in on me. The silence of the open spaces overwhelmed me, as the sound of my heartbeat was the only thing I heard. With all that was inside me, I heard myself say: “Charles, my name’s Kurt, and your wife Juanita said it would be OK to come in and talk.” I stood there for a minute that seemed more like an hour until I heard a muffled voice from inside say: “All right, please enter.”

As I stepped through the flap the temperature change consumed me, and the steam coming off the hot rocks made it difficult to see. In the far corner of the Hogan, and with his back to the wall, sat an Indian man bare-chested and shoeless, with his head bowed and hiding his eyes. He had a bright yellow, green, and red bandana tied around his forehead. Its tails drifted down his back with the two ends resting on his belt. With his head still lowered he spoke again, asking: “Please sit down and tell me what has brought you to this place.”

I explained that my bike was almost empty, and he paused for a long moment before saying: “Your path has today led you in the direction of your own choosing. Sometimes without looking we most find our way. You now need to be able to find this inside of yourself once you leave”

                             Sometimes Without Looking …

Finally raising his head, he invited me to sweat with him. Already feeling the effects of the steam, and without any hesitation I said, yes, and we sat there in silence as all things started to change. He asked if I knew why the native man does this? I said: “It was for purification, and to come in contact with himself.” Then raising his head slightly, he said: “You surprise me strange visitor, you know more than was required and more than most know.” He then told me “I was expected,” and that he knew I was coming. He had known it inside himself since the last moon.”

                         He Had Known I Was Coming

He then spoke again: “We also sweat to come in contact with our past lives and those of our ancestors. It strips us of all place and time, focusing only on what’s real. Bow your head and think of nothing, and let the steam come inside you being thankful that on this day the Great Spirit has brought you to me. I will know what is happening, you don’t need to tell me, just feel the steam reach inside you as it frees you from all else.” As I did, a peace replaced my conscious self, and I felt my body leave the dwelling. I saw a distant ball-field of my youth, long ago and very far away.

My father was pitching to my grandfather who was catching. The in-fielders were all faceless and the outfield was gone. Through a connected vision I watched my grandfather pass a signal to my father, and staring as hard as I could I watched for the ball. My father wound up, pitching something toward me, and as it got closer it turned into a white bird with red eyes. The bird flew down low and went completely around me, and then coming up from behind, it rested on top my head.

I could feel its sharp talons grab my scalp as we lifted off slowly. Our speed increased, as we traveled to great heights out of the ballpark and into the dark. I don’t know if the flight lasted minutes or hours. I know that I did see my whole life, both the past and what was to come. I saw my children’s, children’s, children, standing off in the distance, all wearing a sign asking: “What is my name?”

We flew over the Great Canyon, the home of my Mother. We swooped down on the river as our reflections were released to the sky. At the North Rim. the talons let go and my body was now weightless, and in a mindless free motion I was allowed to begin again.

With this, I heard the gentle voice of Charles calling my name. Not from anywhere outside, but his voice was calling from within saying to me that: “Everything was all right and it was now time to come back.” I opened my eyes and Charles was still sitting with his head bowed before me, and without my uttering a word he said: “Ok, let’s go get you some gas.”

I ran to the bike and got the plastic siphon hose from the trunk, as Charles backed his truck down the long driveway, parking it as close to me as he could. We stood there and watched the small tube breath new life into the Venture, and he insisted that I fill the tank all the way to the top. I tried to pay him, but he refused and only asked for a favor — asking if he could ride on the back of the bike with me to a spot about five miles distant.

I waved to Juanita as we took off together, and in a few short minutes he tapped my shoulder saying: “This is the place.” As he got off the bike, there appeared to be nothing but desert and rock in the fading light. I watched him for as long as I could as he slowly walked East off into the darkness with my deliverance in hand.



Kurt Philip Behm
2d · 35
Colorado
I love it so
but stay away …
the mountains
prairies and streams

Each morning
the magic unveiling again
each night
a sky covered in dreams

I love it so
but stay away …
the cry of the wolf
in the snow

A warning to transients
skimming the top
of a landscape
— they’re never to know


(Leadville Colorado: March, 2021)
Georgia O'Keeffe is one of my biggest artistic influences.

Fearless, determined, and fiercely independent.

Two famous quotes ...

"You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare"

"Instead of words — there it is"

I've visited her Ghost Ranch and home at Abiquiu many times.  They're great places to write.

Wishing you all a great week.

Kurt
Three Forks Montana
                                         July 22nd, 1998

Headed south from Helena on Rt. #287, it was early on a bright sunny afternoon and I needed to stop.  The bike and I were both empty and needed a rest.  I was also that ravaged kind of hungry that only four hours of Montana scenery can create. We left Glacier National Park early this morning, and except for one quick pull-over for gas in Choteau, this little town of Winston Montana would be our first real stop.  Real stops are where the helmet and jacket come off, and the crushed soda can goes under the kickstand to keep it from sinking into the soft asphalt.

It was incredibly bright and warm and now thirty-five minutes past the lunch hour.  That’s what the hostess told me at the only Café in town as she was closing up until supper.  “We reopen at 4:30, but for now the bakery’s the only place in town that has anything at all, and they’re only open for another twenty minutes.”

It was twenty minutes till two as I hurried down the street. Just as the hostess had said, the bakery was still open. It had only one person working behind the glass cases, which were all empty as I walked in through the screen door.  Of strange interest to me was the pool table that sat in the middle of the bakery floor. It was in the middle and surrounded by eight small tables, each having two chairs apiece.  The ***** were all stacked neatly inside the rack, and there were two cues laying side by side on the green felt in the center of the table.

“All we got left is pie, and that’s only if you like blueberry,” the waitress said, as I walked toward her.” The bell on the screen door was still ringing and she had one hand on her hip.  She started to smile as she saw the look on my face. “I’m not kiddin, it’s all we got,” as she stared right into and through me as if she had known me all her life. “All you got is just about perfect I said, and can I get coffee along with it,” she not knowing that blueberry pie was a favorite of mine.  

The first time I ate it as a child I broke out with the hives, but it was so good I couldn’t help myself and I went back for more.
Aren’t many of life’s best things just like that!   The hives never happened again, but I still think about it every time I order blueberry pie. I always wonder if I’m going to leave the diner or café all swollen and red in the face, having trouble breathing and headed for the nearest E.R. for the EpiPen injection.

         From The Looks Of Things, This Town Had No E.R.

I sat there in the bright sunlight with the ceiling fan spinning slowly above me offering up a quiet thanks to whoever is in control of things like this.  With blue stains on my teeth and mouth, I went back up to the counter and asked the waitress if I could have just one more piece, and more coffee too.  She looked at me squarely and said, “I have only a quarter of a pie left.  How about if I give you this piece here and wrap up the last piece to go at no charge? If you’ve got a travel thermos, I’ll fill that up with the last of the coffee, it’ll only save me from having to pour it down the drain.  It’s pretty strong by now, but you already know that cause you’ve come back for more.”  “Strong is the way I like it” I said, and with a smile formed over a thousand miles, I thanked her again.

As I sat at the table eating my second piece of pie it reminded me that sometimes, just sometimes, the second time really is the charm.  Today, this second piece of blueberry pie was even better than the first.  I asked the waitress her name as I cleared my table, paid the check and tipped her.

“Agnes, she said, and you ride safe on that bike darlin, you hear.”

Walking back outside I still wasn’t ready to leave, so I put the pie and coffee in the bike’s trunk and started to walk around town to get a better feel for the place.

Dead still and quiet in the mid-afternoon sun, the Winston Montana shopkeepers were all safe behind their windows and doors. There was no traffic on the street.  It reminded me of those Twilight Zone episodes on T.V. from when I was a kid where everything seemed so familiar while at the same time being so strange. I walked the perimeter of the town and ended up back at my bike.  I slowly put my jacket and helmet back on, and in the glare of a south central Montana afternoon, I rode away.

The memory of that blueberry pie has stayed with me all of these years as a reminder that the best things in life are almost always honest and good.  In our daily confusion, we often get off track and forget the bounty that is right there before us — gifts that are usually just inches away from what we already know and are sometimes afraid to admit.  Afraid, because it might not meet someone else’s standard. We too often live in search of false glory — that which is often stolen from a ‘world of consensus,’ and that which is most likely now lost to us in its deception.

                       As For Me, I’ll Take The Blueberry Pie

If I could structure my life like the pie that Agnes served in her bakery in that remote Montana town, I would create an unfolding trinity of one for now, one for later, and then one for just in case.  ‘Just in case,’ is the great maybe, or mystery, contained within the possibility of our spirit. It’s in the knowing that something better is out there, and believing that that something is going to be good that allows us to hope.

The ‘now’ and the ‘later’ control our daily lives.  It is the ‘maybe, or the just in case,’ that gives us the great hope to go on when the place we now find ourselves in just doesn’t work. Like the three persons in one God, acknowledging the ‘maybe’ in our lives, provides the Holy Spirit for all vision and promise to appear.

The great Chiefs, Joseph and Crazy Horse, knew this inside them, as they led their people to strive even beyond the borders of their own beliefs.  Their pie for today and tomorrow had been taken from them, but they believed in their hearts that they would in fact eat again. In the land of the Great Spirit, and the home of their Fathers and Grandfathers, they knew they would some day feast around the Council Fires of those who had gone before.

From the mountaintops to the canyons, to the bakery in that small Montana town, people still search for that last piece of pie ‘to go.’ They wait patiently for the sweet taste of tomorrow to return, while trying desperately to hold on to the belief that — tomorrow will ultimately be good.

               And Tomorrow By Its Very Nature Will Be Good!

As I head further South on #287 the radio plays Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin In The Wind.’ In the song Bob asks once again “How many roads must a man walk down?”  

             Just One Bob, As Long As It Leads Back To Today  



Kurt Philip Behm
Before I knew the answers
life was one big question
Wonder hid round every turn
laughter as my Muse

As answers came the questions left
each day like that before
Laughter but an echoed wish
wonder lost — unfound

(Villanova University: April, 2024)
Chapter One: The Awkward Encounter

It was September, 1972, and the fall semester had just started.  Tonight was the first day of class.  I should clarify that as evening instead of day because this was night school.  I was a student majoring in English and Philosophy at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Only two weeks ago, I had moved into an old Victorian apartment building across the street from the University Field House at 54th St. and Woodland Avenue. Everything in Philadelphia is referenced as the intersection of two streets or thoroughfares.  Saint Joe’s was always referred to as being at 54th Street and City Line Avenue.  My apartment was a ramshackled old building in the middle of a black neighborhood.  I was the only white resident in the old three- story apartment building, and my apartment was on the second floor facing front. Every one of my new neighbors treated me great. There was a Baptist Church just to the left of my building and every morning at 8 they held services.  I never needed an alarm to get up in the morning because the singing and ***** music coming through the windows and walls were a reliable wake-up call.

I was working days in an Arco (Atlantic Refining) gas station about 15 miles away in North Hills Pennsylvania.  This station also rented U-Haul trucks, and my job was to pump gas and take care of the truck and trailer rentals as the owner of the station, Bob, was busy with mechanic work.  This worked well for me because between gas fill ups and truck rentals I got to sit in the office and finish my schoolwork.

Since moving back to Philadelphia from State College Pa., where I had been a student, all I brought with me was my most prized possession — a 1971 750 Honda.  I had customized it with café-racer accessories from Paul Dunstall because in those days you couldn’t buy a bike that looked like it belonged on a racetrack like you can today.  You had to build it.

I worked at the station five days a week (Mon – Fri) from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.  Then I hopped on my bike and headed back to my apartment to quick shower and change and then walk across the street to campus and hopefully make my first class by 6:00 p.m. On days when I got stuck in traffic or couldn’t leave at exactly 5, I would go straight to class wearing my Arco jumper with the smell of high-octane gasoline going with me.

Tonight, I was sitting alone on the first floor of Villiger Hall which was where my third level Shakespeare course was supposed to be held.  It was almost 6, and I was still the only one in the room — but not for long.  All of a sudden, I heard a high-pitched voice giving orders: “Yes, Dad, this IS the room.  Just push me in and drop me off.”

And that’s exactly what happened. A kindly older gentleman in his late fifties or early sixties pushed his son into the room. I say pushed because his son was in a wheelchair, and he parked him right next to me.  This made me very uncomfortable, and I actually thought about getting up and moving to the other side of the room, but my mother had raised me better than that. The boy in the wheelchair was in a full body brace with a special neck harness to keep his head upright.
If I had been uncomfortable before, I was beyond that now.  We both sat there in silence as the big industrial clock on the front wall ticked 6:02.  It was then that a proctor rushed into the room and wrote on the blackboard in chalk: “THIS CLASS HAS BEEN MOVED TO THE BARBELIN BUILDING, ROOM 207.

Chapter Two: Time To Move

As soon as the proctor had finished writing on the board, I saw this as my chance to escape.  I grabbed my bookbag and started to bolt for the door.  I only got halfway to freedom when I heard the loudest and most commanding voice come out of the *******’s body … “All Right Moose, Let’s Move!

I couldn’t help but hear myself saying (to myself) … “The ******* Really Can Talk.”  I was surprised, blown away, and his voice had frozen me in place.

“All right Moose, let’s get this show on the road.  Do you know where the Barbelin Building is up on the hill?”  I told him I did, and he said … “Put your book bag on the back of the wheelchair so you can push me up the hill before we miss too much class.” Again, his voice had a commanding effect on my actions and in robot fashion I put my bag on the back of his chair, grabbed the two push handles, spun his chair to the right and headed out the door. I was careful not to touch him directly because I didn’t know if what he had was catchy.

As I headed to the stairway to go down the 6 steps leading to outside, I heard that voice again … “No, not that way, toward the elevator” as he pointed off to the left with an arm that was not much bigger than my fingers. “The elevator key is between my legs.  Reach in and get it and then put it in the key slot and we can take the elevator down.”

                      THE KEY WAS BETWEEN HIS LEGS!

At this point, I was totally disoriented but had fallen under his spell.  I took a deep breath, reached between his legs, and found the key.  I then put it in the semi-circular keyhole and turned it to the right.  “Good, he said, it should come quickly, and we’ll be outta here.”

The problem is it didn’t come.  Seconds felt like minutes and minutes like hours as we waited for the elevator door to open. Finally, after an excruciatingly long time the elevator door opened and standing in front of us was the last thing I expected to see. It was another ******* in a wheelchair being pushed by a healthy student about my age.
As they tried to make their way out into the hall the ******* I was pushing said … “Don’t move!  Don’t let them out! And then he said … “I don’t know who you are or where you think you’re going, but this school’s only big enough for one ******* — and that’s me. For seven years I’ve been the resident ******* at St. Joe’s.  The next time I go to use this elevator and you have it *******, my big friend behind me is going to kick your measly friend’s ***.”

By now, I was in a kaleidoscope wrapped inside a time warp spinning at the speed of light. I had never been around anyone who seemingly had so little and acted so grand.

We made it up the hill that night in time to hear Professor Burke say … “Be prepared on Thursday (our next class) to talk about your favorite Shakespeare play and why.”

As I wheeled him toward his next class which also happened to be mine — we were both English majors —he reached out with a tiny hand and said: “My name’s Eddie, what’s yours.”


Chapter Three: So Different Yet So Alike

For the next fifteen months we were inseparable on Tuesday and Thursday’s nights.  We adjusted our Spring course selections to make sure we took the same classes.  Eddie was taking two courses each semester and I was taking four. It was a real struggle for him to take notes, but luckily, he had what many would call a photographic memory.

Many weekends he would visit me in my meager apartment, and we would listen to Van Morrison and the Hollies until the early hours of the morning. Eddie had two good friends named Steve and Ray who would drive him back and forth from my apartment.  My motorcycle wasn’t an option, although we fantasized about how we MIGHT be able to rig something up so he could ride on the back.  Eddie was a magnet and drew everyone into his circle.  He had defied the odds and not let the polio that he contracted at 4 dominate his life.  He slept in an iron lung because it was hard for him to breathe while lying down.

Eddie was bigger than life and bigger than ANY of the obstacles that tried to take him down.  Many times, I tried to imagine myself in his situation, but it was impossible. God had given Eddie a special power, and it allowed him to leverage the people and circumstances around him to make it through. I noticed early on that Eddie lived his life vicariously through the lives of others that he would have liked to have been.

Let’s say that my backround was at least colorful and unconventional.  I had been on my own since age 18 and had wandered the eastern half of America by motorcycle from Maine to Florida.  Eddie got to where he could tell my stories better than I could and when he did, I could tell he had actually lived them in his imagination.

Eddie and I had another connection.  We were both poets and loved to write.  He understood at a quantum level that to be a great writer you have to experience the words.  He had the remarkably wonderful ability to be able to do that through the actions of others. He also recreated the great stories of the famous authors we read.
  
Two weeks after meeting him I stopped thinking about him as a *******. Many times, it seemed like he had advantages and strengths that those who knew him could only envy.  The longer I knew him, the more I felt that way.

Chapter Four: The Invite

We had just returned to classes after a long Thanksgiving weekend when Eddie said: “My dad wants to talk to you.” My mind immediately wondered:  What’s wrong, have I done something I shouldn’t have.

At 10:05 p.m., when our last class ended and I wheeled Eddie down two flights of stairs, (this building had no elevator), his father also named Ed was waiting at the bottom of the stairs.  He had that big smile on his face that he always greeted me with as I handed the wheelchair over to him …

“Kurt, my wife and I are having a little party at our house the night before Christmas Eve, and we’d like you to come. All of Eddies friends will be there and you should be there too.  Please think about it, it would mean so much to my wife Margaret.”

I thanked Eddie’s father and told him I’d have to check the holiday schedule with my parents and then get back to him.  Being the oldest of 21 grandchildren, who were brought up in an enclave or compound of five adjoining houses, the holidays were always jammed packed with activities the week before Christmas.  Those activities though were not my main concern. I had nothing decent to wear.

My wardrobe consisted of 2 pairs of jeans and 4 t-shirts plus one pair of quilted long johns that I wore on the motorcycle when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees.  Add my brown leather WW2 surplus bomber jacket to the ensemble and that constituted my wardrobe … not very impressive for a 25-year-old man. In fact, staring into my closet that night, it brought home to me in a way it hadn’t before that my life was about to change.

I had recently decided to take a sales job with a local company that specialized in selling home furnishings to local department stores and general merchandise retailers.  This would be a major departure for me, but the salary would be four times what I was making at the gas station.  I hadn’t told anyone about this because inside I felt like I was selling out.  The company had advanced me $250.00 — a large amount in 1973 —to buy suits before I showed up for my first day of work on January 3rd.

I still didn’t have a car but that was another perk of the new job. They would be leasing me one after my period of orientation was over in early February.  But now, back to my quandary about Eddie’s party.


Chapter 5: E.J. Korvettes

Brightly lit with fluorescent lighting, the store seemed enormous as I walked from aisle to aisle.  I wasn’t shopping for suits. I was trying to find something suitable to go to a holiday party and meet people I had never met before.  As I got to the end of the aisle, I looked into the mirror that marked the end of the men’s department and took stock at what I was seeing.

My hair was shoulder length, and my beard was at least 4 inches long.  I had told my new employer that I would cut my hair and trim my beard before starting in January but hadn’t done it yet. In all honesty, I was still having second thoughts about making such a drastic lifestyle change, and I would wait until the last minute to radically change my appearance.

I stared into the racks of men’s sportswear until I found what I thought might work for me.  It was a beige, fisherman’s knit sweater in size large.  The sweater looked great, but the price did not.  It was marked $10.00, and unlike many of the garments surrounding it — it was not on sale.

I had $24.00 to my name that night, and $10.00 would mean I would be eating oatmeal and peanut butter until my next pay at the gas station.  I walked around for at least a half-hour until someone came over the loudspeaker saying that in 15 minutes the store would be closing.  I started to walk out but something dragged me back.  I put the sweater under my arm and headed for the register. I had made up my mind not to use any of the advance money from the new company until any doubts I had about taking the job were dispelled.
The next night at class I told Eddie and his dad that I’d be happy to join them on December 23rd.


Chapter 6:  December, 23rd

It was 6:45 on Sunday, December 23rd, when I arrived in front of Eddie’s brick row house in what is known in Philadelphia as the Great Northeast.  Every house on the block looked alike but the front door to Eddie’s was open with just the glass storm door closed.  I could see the house looked packed from the outside.

I didn’t stop but decided to go around the block.  I had one more problem to solve — what do I do with the motorcycle?  I knew Eddie’s dad knew I had a motorcycle, but I wasn’t sure about his mother.  Some people had bad impressions of motorcycles — and their riders — in the 1970’s, and I terribly wanted to make a good impression.

As I circled the block, I found an empty spot on the street about 5 houses away from Eddie’s house.  I parked the bike and hid my helmet inside the hedge that was separating the street from the sidewalk. I tried to flatten my hair, took off my bomber jacket and walked to the front door.  I never made it …

Before I could even get to the front door, a petite, silver haired woman dressed in red and blue rushed out on her front walk, put both of her arms around my waist, squeezed tightly, and said … “Oh Kurt, we are so glad you’re here!”

I’ve been greeted and hugged many times in my life, but nothing has ever come close to the hug I got that night from a stranger.  By the time she walked me through the front door we were strangers no more.

Eddie’s immediate and extended family were as warm and inviting as both he and his father had been.  I felt immediately welcome, and the night passed quickly as I met one family member after the next.
At 10:30 Eddie said, “Let’s go downstairs and listen to some music and we can talk.” I picked Eddie up off the sofa he was laying on and carried him down the 13 stairs into a finished basement.  You knew right away this was Eddie’s domain.  His stereo was against the stairs and pictures of the local Philadelphia sports teams were up on the walls.  

It was good to see him at home in his own element. That night we talked about the, once again, lousy year the Eagles had had (going 2-11-1) and the state of the war in Vietnam.  This was standard stuff for young men in their twenties.

At 11:20 I heard the basement door open at the top of the stairs and saw a girl with two legs covered in white stockings come down only 5 steps, sit down, and look over at us. I could tell immediately from the look on her face — she was not impressed.  She then got back up, headed into the kitchen, and closed the basement door.

“Oh, don’t mind her.  That’s just my sister Kathryn. She works the 3-11 shift at Nazareth Hospital. She just wanted to see who this guy is that she’s heard so much about.”

“I don’t think she was very impressed by the look on her face,” I said back.  “Oh, don’t let that bother you, you know how girls are — she’s just my sister.”

She may have been just his sister, but she was now inside my head, and I couldn’t get her out.


Chapter 7: Force Majeure

“My God, what is all that racket upstairs?  It’s a woman’s voice, do you think she needs help?”

“No, that’s just Kathryn screaming at her boyfriend over the phone.  They haven’t been getting along lately, and this has become a regular occurrence.”

There are watershed moments in life, and I knew this was one of them.  “I better go check,” I said. “You’re out of coke anyway.”  Without waiting for an answer, or tacit permission, I grabbed his empty glass and headed up the stairs two at a time. I opened the basement door and stepped into the kitchen just in time to hear … “Ok then, we’re OFF for New Year’s Eve.”

Kathryn’s mother looked at me and with a twinkle in her eye gave me the ‘Irish Wink.’  Having an Irish grandmother, who had always been the love of my life, I knew what that wink meant, and a voice deep inside that I had no control over started to speak … “So, you don’t have a date for New Year’s Eve? What a shame!” She immediately glared back at me with venom in her eyes. “Well, as it happens, I don’t have one either. Why don’t you go out with me unless you’re afraid of a guy like me.”

I could see her mother standing behind her shaking her head up and down as if to say … “Ask her again.” “I’m not afraid of anything — especially a guy like you.”  “Good I said, then I’ll take that as a yes.”  Kathryn stood there by the phone with a look that was a combination of anger and intrigue.

“I don’t know. Where would we go, and I’m not going on the back of any motorcycle.”  “We can go wherever you like, and I promise it’ll be in a car.  I hear Zaberers in Atlantic City has a great New Year’s Eve party.” Kathryn was still silent as her mother Marge answered for her: “That sounds like fun, I know you’ll both have a great time."

At every point in my life when I needed saving, it was always a special woman who saved me — they didn’t come any more special than Marge Hudak.
As she walked me to the front door that night, she hugged me again as she said … “Next time, just park your motorcycle in front of the house and bring your helmet inside …

                                    How Did She Know


Chapter 8: The Aftermath

That New Year’s Eve would be the best night in my entire life.  We danced and talked, laughed and gazed, and I think in both of our hearts and minds — we knew.

I went on to take that new job because now I could see a clearer pathway to the future, and it included more than just me,
Sixty days later, on March 5th, I asked Kathryn to marry me, and she said, YES.  Six months after that we were married on September 22nd, and this year, 2024, we will celebrate 50 years together with our 2 children and 4 grandchildren.

We lost Eddie, and both of his parents, several years ago, but their memory lives on inside of us growing stronger with every passing day.

There’s no telling where my life would have gone had I ‘escaped’ out of that classroom that night and gotten away from the *******. Meeting Eddie confirmed what I think I already knew deep inside — that it is our own insecurities and fear that handicap us the most.
That night, Eddie offered to me more than just his friendship, his wit, his intellect, and his great strength of character. Meeting him turned into the greatest of all of life’s gifts …

                                        His Sister Kathryn
“Truth
a distraction”
the media pouts
Constricting
those voices
trying to shout
Dumber
than dumb
brain dead by degree
Digging new graves
for the few
— still left free

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
The phone rang in Red Lodge.  The sun had already faded behind the mountain, and the street outside where the bike was parked was covered in darkness. Only the glow from the quarter moon allowed the bike to be visible from my vantage point inside the Pollard’s Lobby.  The hotel manager told me I had a call coming in and it was from Cooke City.  By the time I got to the phone at the front desk, they had hung up. All that the manager had heard from the caller was that I was needed in Cooke City just before the line had gone dead.  Because of the weather, my cell phone reception was spotty, and the hotel’s phone had no caller I.D.

Cooke City was 69 miles to the West, a little more than an hour’s drive under normal circumstances.  The problem is that you can never apply the word normal to crossing Beartooth Pass even under the best of conditions, and certainly not this early in the season.  I wondered about the call and the caller, and what was summoning me to the other side.  There was 11,000 feet of mountain in between the towns of Red Lodge and Cooke City, and with a low front moving in from the West, all signals from the mountain were to stay put.

Beartooth Pass is the highest and most formidable mountain crossing in the lower 48 States.  It is a series of high switchback turns that crisscross the Montana and Wyoming borders, rising to an elevation of 10,947 ft.  If distance can normally be measured in time, this is one of nature’s timeless events.  This road is its own lord and master. It allows you across only with permission and demands your total respect as you travel its jagged heights either East or West.  Snow and rockslides are just two of the deadly hazards here, with the road itself trumping both of these dangers when traveled at night.

The Beartooth Highway, as gorgeous as it is during most summer days, is particularly treacherous in the dark.  Many times, and without warning, it will be totally covered in fog. Even worse, during the late spring and early fall, there is ice, and often black ice when you rise above 7000 feet. Black ice is hard enough to see during the daytime, but impossible to see at night and especially so when the mountain is covered in fog. At night, this road has gremlins and monsters hiding in its corners and along its periphery, ready to swallow you up with the first mistake or indiscretion that a momentary lack of attention can cause.

The word impossible is part of this mountains DNA.

: Impossible- Like the dreams I had been recently having.

: Impossible- Like all of the things I still had not done.

: Impossible- As the excuses ran like an electric current
                         through all that I hated.

: Impossible- Only in the failure of that yet to be conquered.

: Impossible- For only as long as I kept repeating the word.

Now it was my time to make a call.  I dialed the cell number of my friend Mitch who worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Cooke City. Mitch told me what I already knew and feared. There was snow on both sides of the road from Red Lodge to Cooke City, and with the dropping temperatures probably ice, and possibly black ice, at elevations above 7500 feet.

Mitch lived in Red Lodge and had just traveled the road two hours earlier on his way home.  He said there had been sporadic icy conditions on the Red Lodge side of the mountain, causing his Jeep Wagoneer to lose traction and his tires to spin when applying his brakes in the sharpest turns.  The sharpest corners were the most dangerous parts of this road, both going up and even more so when coming down. Mitch warned me against going at night and said: “Be sure to call me back if you decide to leave.”

The Red Lodge side of the mountain would be where I would begin my trip if I decided to go, with no telling how bad the Cooke City descent would be on the Western side.  This is assuming I was even able to make it over the top, before then starting the long downward spiral into Cooke City Montana.

The phone rang again!  This time I was able to get to the front desk before the caller got away.  In just ten seconds I was left with the words ringing in my ears — “Everything is ready, and we implore you to come, please come to Cooke City, and please come tonight.”  

Now, it was my time to choose.  I had to decide between staying where it was safe and dry, or answering the call and making the journey through the dark to where fate was now crying out to me. I put the phone down and walked out the front doors of the Pollard Hotel and into the dim moonlight that was shining through the clouds and onto the street.  The ‘Venture’ sat in its soft glow, parked horizontally to the sidewalk, with its back tire pressed up against the curb and its front tire pointed due North.  The bike was not showing any bias either East or West and was not going to help with this decision.  If I decided to go, this choice would have to be all mine.

The original plan had been to stay in Red Lodge for two more days, awaiting friends who still had not arrived from a trip to Mount Rushmore. Then together we had planned a short stopover in Cody, which was not more than ninety-minutes away. From there we planned to take the ‘Chief Joseph Highway’ to Cooke City, which is both a beautiful and safe way around Beartooth Pass. Safety drifted out of my consciousness like a distant mistress, and I looked North and heard the mountain call out to me again.

As much as I wanted to see my friends, the voice that was calling from inside was getting harder and harder to ignore.  With the second phone call, my time in Red Lodge grew short in its importance, and I knew in the next two minutes I would have to choose.

I also knew that if I stood in the clouded moonlight for more than two more minutes I would never decide.  Never deciding is the hallmark of all cowardly thought, and I hoped on this night that I would not be caught in its web as victim once again.  

                                         My Decision Was To Go

In ten short minutes, I emptied my room at the Pollard, checked out, and had the bike loaded and ready at the curb.  I put my warmest and most reflective riding gear on, all the while knowing that there was probably no one to see me. No one on that lonely road, except for the deer, coyote, or elk, that would undoubtedly question my sanity as they watched me ride by in the cold dark silence.  I stopped at the gas station at the end of town and topped off the tank --- just in case.  Just in case was something I hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with, as the ride would at most take less than a half a tank of gas. It made me feel better though, so I topped off, paid the attendant, and rode slowly out towards U.S. Highway # 212.  

As I headed West toward the pass, I noticed one thing conspicuous in its absence. In fifteen minutes of travel, I had not passed one other vehicle of any kind going in either direction.  I was really alone tonight and not only in my thoughts.  It was going to be a solitary ride as I tried to cross the mountain. I would be alone with only my trusted bike as my companion which in all honesty — I knew in my heart before leaving the hotel.  

Alone, meant there would be no help if I got into trouble and no one to find me until probably morning at the earliest.  Surviving exposed on the mountain for at least twelve hours is a gamble I hoped I wouldn’t have to take.

I kept moving West. As I arrived at the base of the pass I stopped, put the kickstand down and looked up.  What was visible of the mountain in the clouded moonlight was only the bottom third of the Beartooth Highway. The top two thirds disappeared into a clouded mist, not giving up what it might contain or what future it may have hidden inside of itself for me.  With the kickstand back up and my high beam on, I slowly started my ascent up Beartooth Pass.

For the first six or seven miles the road surface was clear with snow lining both sides of the highway.  The mountain above, and the ones off to my right and to the North were almost impossible to see.  What I could make out though, was that they were totally snow covered making this part of southern Montana look more like December or January, instead of early June.  The road had only opened a month ago and it was still closing at least three out of every seven days.  I remembered to myself how in years past this road never really opened permanently until almost the 4th of July.

When the road was closed, it made the trip from Red Lodge to Cooke City a long one for those who had to go around the mountain.  Many people who worked in Cooke City actually lived in Red Lodge.  They would ‘brave’ the pass every night when it was open, but usually only during the summer months. They would do this in trucks with 4-wheel drive and S.U.V.’s but never on a motorcycle with only two wheels.  Trying to cross this pass on a motorcycle with high performance tires, in the fog, and at night, was a horse of an entirely different color.  

At about the seven-mile mark in my ascent I again stopped the bike and looked behind me. I was about to enter the cloud barrier.  The sight below from where I had just come was breathtakingly beautiful.  If this was to be the last thing I would ever see before   entering the cloud, it would be a fitting photograph on my passport into eternity.

I looked East again, and it was as if the lights from Red Lodge were calling me back, saying “Not tonight Kurt, this trip is to be made another time and for a better reason.” I paused, but could think of no better reason, as I heard the voice on the phone say inside my mind, “Please come,” so I retracted the kickstand and entered the approaching fog.

There was nothing inviting as I entered the cloud.  The dampness and the moisture were immediate and all enveloping, as the visibility dropped to less than fifty feet.  It was so thick I could actually see rain droplets as it passed over my headlight.  The road was still clear though and although it was hard to see, its surface was still good.  The animals that would normally concern me at this time of night were a distant memory to me now. The road stayed like this for what seemed to be another two or three miles, while it trapped me in its continuing time warp of what I still had to overcome.

It then turned sharply right, and I heard a loud ‘wail’ from inside the bike’s motor.  My heart immediately started racing as I thought to myself, ‘What a place to have the engine break down.’  It only took a few more seconds though to see that what I thought was engine failure was actually the tachometer revving off the scale on the dash.  The rear tire had lost traction, and in an involuntary and automated response I had given it more throttle to maintain my speed. I now had the engine turning at over 5000 r.p.m.’s in an attempt to get the rear tire to again make contact with the road.  Slowing my speed helped a little, but I was now down to 10 MPH, and it was barely fast enough to allow me to continue my ascent without the rear tire spinning again.

                                  I Could Still Turn Around And Go Back    

I was now at an elevation above 8,000 ft, and it was here that I had to make my last decision.  I could still turn around and go back.

While the road surface was only semi-good, I could turn around and head back in the direction from which I had just come.  I could go back safely, but to what and to whom? I knew my spirit and my heart would not go with me, both choosing to stay on this hill tonight regardless of the cost.  “If I turn around and go back, my fear is that in my lack of commitment, I will lose both of them forever. The mountain will have then claimed what my soul cannot afford to lose.”  I looked away from Red Lodge for the last time, and once again my eyes were pointed toward the mountain’s top.

It was three more miles to the summit based on my best estimation.

From there it would be all down hill.  The fear grew deeper inside of me that the descent would be even more treacherous as I crested the top and pushed on to the mountain town of Cooke City below.  Cooke City and Red Lodge were both in Montana, but the crest of this mountain was in Wyoming, and it looked down on both towns as if to say … ‘All passage comes only through me.’      

This time I did not stop and look over my shoulder. Instead, I said a short prayer to the gods that protect and watch over this place and asked for only one dispensation — and just one pass through the dark.  My back wheel continued to spin but then somehow it would always regain traction, and I continued to pray as I slowly approached the top.  

As I arrived at the summit, the road flattened out, but the cloud cover grew even more dense with visibility now falling to less than ten feet.  I now couldn’t see past my front fender, as the light from my headlamp bounced off the water particles with most of its illumination reflected back onto me and not on the road ahead.

In conditions like this it is very hard to maintain equilibrium and balance. Balance is the most essential component of any two-wheeled form of travel. Without at least two fixed reference points, it’s hard to stay straight upright and vertical.  I’ve only experienced this once before when going through a mountain tunnel whose lights had been turned off. When you can’t see the road beneath you, your inner sense of stability becomes compromised, and it’s easier than you might think to get off track and crash.

This situation has caused many motorcyclists to fall over while seemingly doing nothing wrong. It creates a strange combination of panic and vertigo and is not something you would ever want to experience or deal with on even a dry road at sea level.  On an icy road at this elevation however, it could spell the end of everything!

My cure for this has always been to put both feet down and literally drag them on top of the road surface below. This allows my legs to act as two tripods, warning me of when the bike is leaning either too far to the left or to the right.  It’s also dangerous. If either leg comes in contact with something on the road or gets hung up, it could cause the very thing it’s trying to avoid. I’ve actually run over my own foot with the rear wheel and it’s not something you want to do twice.

                     Often Causing What It’s Trying To Avoid

At the top of the pass, the road is flat for at least a mile and gently twists and turns from left to right.  It is a giant plateau,10,000 feet above sea level. The mountain then starts to descend westward as it delivers its melting snow and rain to the Western States. Through mighty rivers, it carries its drainage to the Pacific Ocean far beyond.  As I got to the end of its level plain, a passing thought entered my consciousness.  With the temperature here at the top having risen a little, and only just below freezing, my Kevlar foul-weather gear would probably allow me to survive the night.  On this mountaintop, there is a lot of open space to get off the road, if I could then only find a place to get out of the wind.  

I let that thought exit my mind as quickly as it entered. The bike was easily handling the flat icy areas, and I knew that the both of us wanted to push on.  I tried to use my cell phone at the top to call Mitch at home.  I was sure that by now he would be sitting by the fire and drinking something warm.  This is something I should have done before I made the final decision to leave.  I didn’t, because I was sure he would have tried to talk me out of it, or worse, have forbidden me to go. This was well within his right and purview as the Superintendent of all who passed over this mountain.

My phone didn’t work!  This was strange because it had worked from the top last spring when I called my family and also sent cell-phone pictures from the great mountain’s summit.  I actually placed three calls from the top that day, two to Pennsylvania and one to suburban Boston.

                                         But Not Tonight!

As I started my descent down the western *****, I knew it would be in first gear only.  In first gear the engine would act as a brake or limiter affecting my speed, hopefully without causing my back tire to lose traction and break loose. With almost zero visibility, and both feet down and dragging in the wet snow and ice, I struggled to stay in the middle of the road.  It had been over an hour since leaving Red Lodge, and I still had seen no other travelers going either East or West. I had seen no animals either, and tonight I was at least thankful for that.

The drop off to my right (North) was several thousand feet straight down to the valley below and usually visible even at night when not covered in such cloud and mist.  To my left was the mountain’s face interspersed with open areas which also dropped several thousands of feet to the southern valley below.  Everything was uncertain as I left the summit, and any clear scenery had disappeared in the clouds. What was certain though was my death if I got too close to the edge and was unable to recover and get back on the road.

There were guardrails along many of the turns and that helped, because it told me that the direction of the road was changing.  In the straight flat areas however it was open on both sides with nothing but a several thousand-foot fall into the oblivion below.

Twice I ran over onto the apron and felt my foot lose contact with the road surface meaning I was at the very edge and within two feet of my doom.  Twice, I was sure that my time on this earth had ended, and that I was headed for a different and hopefully better place. Twice, I counter steered the bike to the left and both feet regained contact with the road as the front tire weaved back and forth with only the back tire digging in and allowing me to stay straight up.

As I continued my descent, I noticed something strange and peculiar.  After a minute or two it felt like I was going faster than you could ever go in first gear.  It took only another instant to realize what was happening.  The traction to the rear tire was gone, and my bike and I were now sliding down the Western ***** of Beartooth pass.  The weight of the bike and myself, combined with the gravity of the mountain’s descent, was causing us to go faster than we could ever go by gearing alone.  Trying to go straight seemed like my only option as the bike felt like it had lost any ability to control where it was going.  This was the next to last thing I could have feared happening on this hill.

The thing I feared most was having to use either the front or rear brakes in a situation like this.  That would only ensure that the bike would go out of control totally, causing the rear wheel to come around broadside and result in the bike falling over on its opposite side. Not good!  Not good at all!

Thoughts of sliding off the side of the mountain and into the canyons below started running through my mind.  Either falling off the mountain or being trapped under the bike while waiting for the next semi-truck to run over me as it crossed the summit in the darkened fog was not something I welcomed. Like I said before, not good, not good at all!

My mind flashed back to when I was a kid and how fast it seemed we were going when sledding down the hill in front of the local hospital.  I also remembered my disappointment when one of the fathers told me that although it seemed fast, we were really only going about ten or fifteen miles an hour.  I wondered to myself how fast the bike was really going now, as it slid down this tallest of all Montana mountains? It seemed very, very fast.  I reminded myself over and over, to keep my feet down and my hand off the brakes.

If I was going to crash, I was going to try and do it in the middle of the road. Wherever that was now though, I couldn’t be sure.  It was finally the time to find out what I had really learned after riding a motorcycle for over forty years.  I hoped and prayed that what I had learned in those many years of riding would tonight be enough.

As we continued down, the road had many more sharp turns, swerving from right to left and then back right again.  Many times, I was right at the edge of my strength. My legs battled to keep the bike upright, as I fought it as it wanted to lean deeper into the turns.  I almost thought I had the knack of all this down, when I instantaneously came out of the cloud.  I couldn’t believe, and more accurately didn’t want to believe, what I was seeing less than a half mile ahead.

The road in front of me was totally covered in black ice.  Black ice look’s almost like cinders at night and can sometimes deceive you into thinking it holds traction when exactly the opposite is true. This trail of black ice led a half mile down the mountain to where it looked like it ended under a guardrail at the end.  What I thought was the end was actually a switchback turn of at least 120 degrees.

It turned sharply to the right before going completely out of my sight into the descending blackness up ahead.

My options now seemed pretty straightforward while bleak.  I could lay the bike down and hope the guard rail would stop us before cascading off the mountain, or I could try to ride it out with the chances of making it slim at best.  I tried digging my feet into the black ice as brakes, as a kid would do on a soapbox car, but it did no good.  The bike kept pummeling toward the guardrail, and I was sure I was now going faster than ever.  As my feet kept bouncing off the ice, it caused the bike to wobble in the middle of its slide. This was now the last thing I needed as I struggled not to fall.

As I got close to the guardrail, and where the road turned sharply to the right, I felt like I was going 100 miles an hour.  I was now out of the cloud and even in the diffused moonlight I could see clearly both sides of the road.  With some visibility I could now try and stay in the middle, as my bike and I headed towards the guardrail not more than 500 feet ahead.  The valley’s below to the North and South were still thousands of feet below me, and I knew when I tried to make the turn that there would be no guardrail to protect me from going off the opposite right, or Northern side.

                   Time Was Running Out, And A Choice Had To Be Made

The choices ran before my eyes one more time — to be trapped under a guardrail or to run off a mountain into a several thousand foot abyss.  But then all at once my soul screamed NO, and that I did have one more choice … I could decide to just make it. I would try by ‘force of will’ to make it around that blind turn.  I became reborn once again in the faith of my new decision not to go down, and I visually saw myself coming out the other side in my mind’s eye.

                                        I Will Make That Turn

I remembered during this moment of epiphany what a great motorcycle racer named **** Mann had said over forty years ago.  

**** said “When you find yourself in trouble, and in situations like this, the bike is normally smarter than you are.  Don’t try and muscle or overpower the motorcycle.  It’s basically a gyroscope and wants to stay upright.  Listen to what the bike is telling you and go with that. It’s your best chance of survival, and in more cases than not, you’ll come out OK.”  With ****’s words fresh and breathing inside of me, I entered the right-hand turn.

As I slowly leaned the bike over to the right, I could feel the rear tire break loose and start to come around.  As it did, I let the handlebars point the front tire in the same direction as the rear tire was coming.  We were now doing what flat track motorcycle racers do in a turn — a controlled slide! With the handlebars totally pressed against the left side of the tank, the bike was fully ‘locked up’ and sliding with no traction to the right.  The only control I had was the angle I would allow the bike to lean over,which was controlled by my upper body and my right leg sliding below me on the road.

Miraculously, the bike slid from the right side of the turn to the left.  It wasn’t until I was on the left apron that the back tire bit into the soft snow and regained enough traction to set me upright. I was not more than three feet from the now open edge leading to a certain drop thousands of feet below.  The traction in the soft snow ****** the bike back upright and had me now pointed in a straight line diagonally back across the road.  Fighting the tendency to grab the brakes, I sat upright again and counter steered to the left. Just before running off the right apron, I was able to get the bike turned and headed once again straight down the mountain.  It was at this time that I took my first deep breath.

In two hundred more yards the ice disappeared, and I could see the lights of Cooke City shining ten miles out in the distance. The road was partially dry when I saw the sign welcoming me to this most unique of all Montana towns.  To commemorate what had just happened, I was compelled to stop and look back just one more time.  I put the kickstand down and got off the bike.  For a long minute I looked back up at the mountain. It was still almost totally hidden in the cloud that I had just come through.  I wondered to myself if any other motorcyclists had done what I had just done tonight — and survived.  I knew the stories of the many that had run off the mountain and were now just statistics in the Forest Service’s logbook, but I still wondered about those others who may had made it and where their stories would rank with mine.

I looked up for the last time and said thank you, knowing that the mountain offered neither forgiveness nor blame, and what I had done tonight was of my own choosing. Luck and whatever riding ability I possessed were what had seen me through. But was it just that, or was it something else? Was it something beyond my power to choose, and something still beyond my power to understand?  If the answer is yes, I hope it stays that way.  Until on a night like tonight, some distant mountain high above some future valley, finally claims me as its own.

                     Was Crossing Tonight Beyond My Power To Choose?

After I parked the bike in front of the Super 8 in Cooke City, I walked into the lobby and the desk clerk greeted me. “Mr Behm,

it’s good to see you again, I’m glad we were able to reach you with that second phone call.  We received a cancellation just before nine, and the only room we had left became available for the night.”

I have heard the calling in many voices and in many forms.  Tonight, it told me that my place was to be in Cooke City and my time in Red Lodge had come to an end.  Some may need more or better reasons to cross their mountain in the dark, but for me, the only thing necessary was for it to call.

                                               …  Until It Calls Again





Gardiner Montana- May, 1996
4d · 64
If You Believe
What if you die
with no knowledge you’re dead
in the ground or the oven
no tears to be shed
What if you die
with the door closing tight
memoriam ended
devoid of the light

But what if you die
and a Voice filters through
a Voice you remember
from when you were new
And after you die
a Hand reaches down
pulling you back
— your soul Heaven bound

(1st Book Of Prayers: April, 2024)
Wrapping the words
in silence
tying them with a bow
Gifting them to
my other self
waiting still to know
Leaving them
at the doorstep
of one I’d chased so long
A thank you note
has just arrived
— those words turned into song

(Ronald McDonald House: April, 2024)
5d · 65
Cellar Magic
Like wine
deep in the racks
poems
carefully age
Each of a
vintage
a time and a place
— labeled to consume

(The Rathskeller: July, 2015)
The righteous
may struggle
the righteous may fall
But Hell
only exists
— in a place without love

(1st Book Of Prayers: April, 2024)
At age 45 I decided to become a sailor.  It had attracted me since I first saw a man living on his sailboat at the 77th street boat basin in New York City, back in 1978.  I was leaving on a charter boat trip with customers up the Hudson to West Point, and the image of him having coffee on the back deck of his boat that morning stayed with me for years.  It was now 1994, and I had just bought a condo on the back bay of a South Jersey beach town — and it came with a boat slip.

I started my search for a boat by first reading every sailing magazine I could get my hands on.  This was frustrating because most of the boats they featured were ‘way’ out of my price range. I knew I wanted a boat that was 25’ to 27’ in length and something with a full cabin below deck so that I could sail some overnight’s with my wife and two kids.

I then started to attend boat shows.  The used boats at the shows were more in my price range, and I traveled from Norfolk to Mystic Seaport in search of the right one.  One day, while checking the classifieds in a local Jersey Shore newspaper, I saw a boat advertised that I just had to go see …

  For Sale: 27’ Cal Sloop. Circa 1966. One owner and used very
   gently.  Price $6,500.00 (negotiable)

This boat was now almost 30 years old, but I had heard good things about the Cal’s.  Cal was short for California. It was a boat originally manufactured on the west coast and the company was now out of business.  The brand had a real ‘cult’ following, and the boat had a reputation for being extremely sea worthy with a fixed keel, and it was noted for being good in very light air.  This boat drew over 60’’ of water, which meant that I would need at least five feet of depth (and really seven) to avoid running aground.  The bay behind my condo was full of low spots, especially at low tide, and most sailors had boats with retractable centerboards rather than fixed keels.  This allowed them to retract the boards (up) during low tide and sail in less than three feet of water. This wouldn’t be an option for me if I bought the Cal.

I was most interested in ‘blue water’ ocean sailing, so the stability of the fixed keel was very attractive to me.  I decided to travel thirty miles North to the New Jersey beach town of Mystic Island to look at the boat.  I arrived in front of a white bi-level house on a sunny Monday April afternoon at about 4:30. The letters on the mailbox said Murphy, with the ‘r’ & the ‘p’ being worn almost completely away due to the heavy salt air.

I walked to the front door and rang the buzzer.  An attractive blonde woman about ten years older than me answered the door. She asked: “Are you the one that called about the boat?”  I said that I was, and she then said that her husband would be home from work in about twenty minutes.  He worked for Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City as their head of maintenance, and he knew everything there was to know about the Cal. docked out back.  

Her name was Betty and as she offered me ice tea she started to talk about the boat.  “It was my husband’s best friend’s boat. Irv and his wife Dee Dee live next door but Irv dropped dead of a heart attack last fall.  My husband and Irv used to take the boat out through the Beach Haven Inlet into the ocean almost every night.  Irv bought the boat new back in 1967, and we moved into this house in 1968.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun the two of them had on that old boat.  It’s sat idle, ******* to the bulkhead since last fall, and Dee Dee couldn’t even begin to deal with selling it until her kids convinced her to move to Florida and live with them.  She offered it to my husband Ed but he said the boat would never be the same without Irv on board, and he’d rather see it go to a new owner.  Looking at it every day behind the house just brought back memories of Irv and made him sad all over again every time that he did.”

Just then Ed walked through the door leading from the garage into the house.  “Is this the new sailor I’ve been hearing about,” he said in a big friendly voice.  “That’s me I said,” as we shook hands.  ‘Give me a minute to change and I’ll be right with you.”

As Ed walked me back through the stone yard to the canal behind his house, I noticed something peculiar.  There was no dock at the end of his property.  The boat was tied directly to the sea wall itself with only three yellow and black ‘bumpers’ separating the fiberglass side of the boat from the bulkhead itself.  It was low tide now and the boats keel was sitting in at least two feet of sand and mud.  Ed explained to me that Irv used to have this small channel that they lived on, which was man made, dredged out every year.  Irv also had a dock, but it had even less water underneath it than the bulkhead behind Ed’s house.

Ed said again, “no dredging’s been done this year, and the only way to get the boat out of the small back tributary to the main artery of the bay, is to wait for high tide. The tide will bring the water level up at least six feet.  That will give the boat twenty-four inches of clearance at the bottom and allow you to take it out into the deeper (30 feet) water of the main channel.”

Ed jumped on the boat and said, “C’mon, let me show you the inside.”  As he took the padlock off the slides leading to the companionway, I noticed how motley and ***** everything was. My image of sailing was pristine boats glimmering in the sun with their main sails up and the captain and crew with drinks in their hands.  This was about as far away from that as you could get.  As Ed removed the slides, the smell hit me.  MOLD! The smell of mildew was everywhere, and I could only stay below deck for a moment or two before I had to come back up topside for air.  Ed said, “It’ll all dry out (the air) in about ten minutes, and then we can go forward and look at the V-Berth and the head in the front of the cabin.”

What had I gotten myself into, I thought?  This boat looked beyond salvageable, and I was now looking for excuses to leave. Ed then said, “Look; I know it seems bad, but it’s all cosmetic.  It’s really a fine boat, and if you’re willing to clean it up, it will look almost perfect when you’re done. Before Irv died, it was one of the best looking sailboats on the island.”

In ten more minutes we went back inside.  The damp air had been replaced with fresh air from outside, and I could now get a better look at the galley and salon.  The entire cabin was finished in a reddish brown, varnished wood, with nice trim work along the edges.  It had two single sofas in the main salon that converted into beds at night, with a stainless-steel sink, refrigerator and nice carpeting and curtains.  We then went forward.  The head was about 40’’ by 40’’ and finished in the same wood as the outer cabin.  The toilet, sink, and hand-held shower looked fine, and Ed assured me that as soon as we filled up the water tank, they would all work.

The best part for me though was the v-berth beyond.  It was behind a sold wood varnished door with a beautiful brass grab-rail that helped it open and close. It was large, with a sleeping area that would easily accommodate two people. That, combined with the other two sleeping berths in the main salon, meant that my entire family could spend the night on the boat. I was starting to get really interested!

Ed then said that Irv’s wife Dee Dee was as interested in the boat going to a good home as she was in making any money off the boat.  We walked back up to the cockpit area and sat down across from each other on each side of the tiller.  Ed said, “what do you think?” I admitted to Ed that I didn’t know much about sailboats, and that this would be my first.  He told me it was Irv’s first boat too, and he loved it so much that he never looked at another.

                   Ed Was A Pretty Good Salesman

We then walked back inside the house.  Betty had prepared chicken salad sandwiches, and we all sat out on the back deck to eat.  From here you could see the boat clearly, and its thirty-five-foot mast was now silhouetted in front of the sun that was setting behind the marsh.  It was a very pretty scene indeed.

Ed said,”Dee Dee has left it up to me to sell the boat.  I’m willing to be reasonable if you say you really want it.”  I looked out at what was once a white sailboat, covered in mold and sitting in the mud.  No matter how hard the wind blew, and there was a strong offshore breeze, it was not moving an inch.  I then said to Ed, “would it be possible to come back when the tide is up and you can take me out?”  Ed said he would be glad to, and Saturday around 2:00 p.m. would be a good time to come back. The tide would be up then.  I also asked him if between now and Saturday I could try and clean the boat up a little? This would allow me to really see what I would be buying, and at the very least we’d have a cleaner boat to take out on the water.  Ed said fine.

I spent the next four days cleaning the boat. Armed with four gallons of bleach, rubber gloves, a mask, and more rags than I could count, I started to remove the mold.  It took all week to get the boat free of the mildew and back to being white again. The cushions inside the v-berth and salon were so infested with mold that I threw them up on the stones covering Ed’s back yard. I then asked Ed if he wanted to throw them out — he said that he did.

Saturday came, and Betty had said, “make sure to get here in time for lunch.”  At 11:45 a.m. I pulled up in front of the house.  By this time, we knew each other so well that Betty just yelled down through the screen door, “Let yourself in, Ed’s down by the boat fiddling with the motor.”  The only good thing that had been done since Irv passed away last fall was that Ed had removed the motor from the boat. It was a long shaft Johnson 9.9 horsepower outboard, and he had stored it in his garage.  The motor was over twelve years old, but Ed said that Irv had taken really good care of it and that it ran great.  It was also a long shaft, which meant that the propeller was deep in the water behind the keel and would give the boat more propulsion than a regular shaft outboard would.

I yelled ‘hello’ to Ed from the deck outside the kitchen.  He shouted back, “Get down here, I want you to hear this.”  I ran down the stairs and out the back door across the stones to where Ed was sitting on the boat.  He had the twist throttle in his hand, and he was revving the motor. Just like he had said —it sounded great. Being a lifelong motorcycle and sports car enthusiast, I knew what a strong motor sounded like, and this one sounded just great to me.

“Take the throttle, Ed said,” as I jumped on board.  I revved the motor half a dozen times and then almost fell over.  The boat had just moved about twenty degrees to the starboard (right) side in the strong wind and for the first time was floating freely in the canal.  Now I really felt like I was on a boat.  Ed said, “Are you hungry, or do you wanna go sailing?”  Hoping that it wouldn’t offend Betty I said, “Let’s head out now into the deeper water.” Ed said that Betty would be just fine, and that we could eat when we got back.

As I untied the bow and stern lines, I could tell right away that Ed knew what he was doing.  After traveling less than 100 yards to the main channel leading to the bay, he put the mainsail up and we sailed from that point on.  It was two miles out to the ocean, and he skillfully maneuvered the boat, using nothing but the tiller and mainsheet.  The mainsheet is the block and pulley that is attached from the deck of the cockpit to the boom.  It allows the boom to go out and come back, which controls the speed of the boat. The tiller then allows you to change direction.  With the mainsheet in one hand and the tiller in the other, the magic of sailing was hard to describe.

I was mesmerized watching Ed work the tiller and mainsheet in perfect harmony. The outboard was now tilted back up in the cockpit and out of the water.  “For many years before he bought the motor, Irv and I would take her out, and bring her back in with nothing but the sail, One summer we had very little wind, and Irv and I got stuck out in the ocean. Twice we had to be towed back in by ‘Sea Tow.’  After that Irv broke down and bought the long-shaft Johnson.”

In about thirty minutes we passed through the ‘Great Bay,’ then the Little Egg and Beach Haven Inlets, until we were finally in the ocean.  “Only about 3016 miles straight out there, due East, and you’ll be in London,” Ed said.”  Then it hit me.  From where we were now, I could sail anywhere in the world, with nothing to stop me except my lack of experience. Experience I told myself, was something that I would quickly get. Knowing the exact mileage, said to me that both Ed and Irv had thought about that trip, and maybe had fantasized about doing it together.

    With The Tenuousness Of Life, You Never Know How Much      Time You Have

For two more hours we sailed up and down the coast in front of Long Beach Island.  I could hardly sit down in the cockpit as Ed let me do most of the sailing.  It took only thirty minutes to get the hang of using the mainsheet and tiller, and after an hour I felt like I had been sailing all my life.  Then we both heard a voice come over the radio.  Ed’s wife Betty was on channel 27 of the VHF asking if we were OK and that lunch was still there but the sandwiches were getting soggy.  Ed said we were headed back because the tide had started to go out, and we needed to be back and ******* in less than ninety minutes or we would run aground in the canal.

I sailed us back through the inlets which thankfully were calm that day and back into the main channel leading out of the bay.  Ed then took it from there.  He skillfully brought us up the rest of the channel and into the canal, and in a fairly stiff wind spun the boat 180’ around and gently slid it back into position along the sea wall behind his house.  I had all 3 fenders out and quickly jumped off the boat and up on top of the bulkhead to tie off the stern line once we were safely alongside.  I then tied off the bow-line as Ed said, “Not too tight, you have to allow for the 6-8 feet of tide that we get here every day.”

After bringing down the mainsail, and folding and zippering it safely to the boom, we locked the companionway and headed for the house.  Betty was smoking a cigarette on the back deck and said, “So how did it go boys?” Without saying a word Ed looked directly at me and for one of the few times in my life, I didn’t really know where to begin.

“My God,” I said.  “My God.”  “I’ll take that as good Betty said, as she brought the sandwiches back out from the kitchen.  “You can powerboat your whole life, but sailing is different” Ed told me.  “When sailing, you have to work with the weather and not just try to power through it.  The weather tells you everything.  In these parts, when a storm kicks up you see two sure things happen.  The powerboats are all coming in, and the sailboat’s are all headed out.  What is dangerous and unpleasant for the one, is just what the other hopes for.”

I had been a surfer as a kid and understood the logic.  When the waves got so big on the beach that the lifeguard’s closed it to swimming during a storm, the surfers all headed out.  This would not be the only similarity I would find between surfing and sailing as my odyssey continued.  I finished my lunch quickly because all I wanted to do was get back on the boat.

When I returned to the bulkhead the keel had already touched bottom and the boat was again fixed and rigidly upright in the shallow water.  I spent the afternoon on the back of the boat, and even though I knew it was bad luck, in my mind I changed her name.  She would now be called the ‘Trinity,’ because of the three who would now sail her —my daughter Melissa, my son T.C. and I.  I also thought that any protection I might get from the almighty because of the name couldn’t hurt a new sailor with still so much to learn.

                                  Trinity, It Was!

I now knew I was going to buy the boat.  I went back inside and Ed was fooling around with some fishing tackle inside his garage.  “OK Ed, how much can I buy her for?” I said.  Ed looked at me squarely and said, “You tell me what you think is fair.”  “Five thousand I said,” and without even looking up Ed said “SOLD!” I wrote the check out to Irv’s wife on the spot, and in that instant it became real. I was now a boat owner, and a future deep-water sailor.  The Atlantic Ocean had better watch out, because the Captain and crew of the Trinity were headed her way.

                 SOLD, In An Instant, It Became Real!

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell the kids the news.  They hadn’t seen much of me for the last week, and they both wanted to run right back and take the boat out.  I told them we could do it tomorrow (Sunday) and called Ed to ask him if he’d accompany us one more time on a trip out through the bay.  He said gladly, and to get to his house by 3:00 p.m. tomorrow to ‘play the tide.’  The kids could hardly sleep as they fired one question after another at me about the boat. More than anything, they wanted to know how we would get it the 45 miles from where it was docked to the boat slip behind our condo in Stone Harbor.  At dinner that night at our favorite Italian restaurant, they were already talking about the boat like it was theirs.

The next morning, they were both up at dawn, and by 8:30 we were on our way North to Mystic Island.  We had decided to stop at a marine supply store and buy a laundry list of things that mariners need ‘just in case’ aboard a boat.  At 11:15 a.m. we pulled out of the parking lot of Boaters World in Somers Point, New Jersey, and headed for Ed and Betty’s. They were both sitting in lawn chairs when we got there and surprised to see us so early.  ‘The tide’s not up for another 3 hours,” Ed said, as we walked up the drive.  I told him we knew that, but the kids wanted to spend a couple of hours on the boat before we headed out into the bay.  “Glad to have you kids,” Ed said, as he went back to reading his paper.  Betty told us that anything that we might need, other than what we just bought, is most likely in the garage.

Ed, being a professional maintenance engineer (what Betty called him), had a garage that any handyman would die for.  I’m sure we could have built an entire house on the empty lot across the street just from what Ed had hanging, and piled up, in his garage.

We walked around the side of the house and when the kids got their first look at the boat, they bolted for what they thought was a dock.  When they saw it was raw bulkhead, they looked back at me unsure of what to do.  I said, ‘jump aboard,” but be careful not to fall in, smiling to myself and knowing that the water was still less than four feet deep.  With that, my 8-year old son took a flying leap and landed dead center in the middle of the cockpit — a true sailor for sure.  My daughter then pulled the bow line tight bringing the boat closer to the sea wall and gingerly stepped on board like she had done it a thousand times before. Watching them board the boat for the first time, I knew this was the start of something really good.

Ed had already unlocked the companionway, so I stayed on dry land and just watched them for a half-hour as they explored every inch of the boat from bow to stern. “You really did a great job Dad cleaning her up.  Can we start the motor, my son asked?” I told him as soon as the tide came up another foot, we would drop the motor down into the water, and he could listen to it run.  So far this was everything I could have hoped for.  My kids loved the boat as much as I did.  I had had the local marine artist come by after I left the day before and paint the name ‘Trinity’ across the outside transom on the back of the boat. Now this boat was really ours. It’s hard to explain the thrill of finally owning your first boat. To those who can remember their first Christmas when they finally got what they had been hoping for all year —the feeling was the same.

                            It Was Finally Ours

In another hour, Ed came out. We fired up the motor with my son in charge, unzipped the mainsail, untied the lines, and we were headed back out to sea.  I’m not sure what was wider that day, the blue water vista straight in front of us or the eyes of my children as the boat bit into the wind. It was keeled over to port and carved through the choppy waters of ‘The Great Bay’ like it was finally home. For the first time in a long time the kids were speechless.  They let the wind do the talking, as the channel opened wide in front of them.

Ed let both kids take a turn at the helm. They were also amazed at how much their father had learned in the short time he had been sailing.  We stayed out for a full three hours, and then Betty again called on the VHF. “Coast Guards calling for a squall, with small craft warnings from five o’clock on.  For safety’s sake, you guy’s better head back for the dock.”  Ed and I smiled at each other, each knowing what the other was secretly thinking.  If the kids hadn’t been on board, this would have been a really fun time to ride out the storm.  Discretion though, won out over valor, and we headed West back through the bay and into the canal. Once again, Ed spun the boat around and nudged it into the sea wall like the master that he was.  This time my son was in charge of grabbing and tying off the lines, and he did it in a fashion that would make any father proud.

As we tidied up the boat, Ed said, “So when are you gonna take her South?”  “Next weekend, I said.” My business partner, who lives on his 42’ Egg Harbor in Cape May all summer and his oldest son are going to help us.  His oldest son Tony had worked on an 82’ sightseeing sailboat in Fort Lauderdale for two years, and his dad said there was little about sailing that he didn’t know.  That following Saturday couldn’t come fast enough/

                          We Counted The Minutes

The week blew by (literally), as the weather deteriorated with each day.  Saturday morning came, and the only good news (to me) was that my daughter had a gymnastic’s meet and couldn’t make the maiden voyage. The crew would be all men —my partner Tommy, his son Tony, and my son T.C. and I. We checked the tides, and it was decided that 9:30 a.m. was the perfect time to start South with the Trinity.  We left for Ed and Betty’s at 7:00 a.m. and after stopping at ‘Polly’s’ in Stone Harbor for breakfast we arrived at the boat at exactly 8:45.  It was already floating freely in the narrow canal. Not having Ed’s skill level, we decided to ‘motor’ off the bulkhead, and not put the sails up until we reached the main bay.  With a kiss to Betty and a hug from Ed, we broke a bottle of ‘Castellane Brut’ on the bulkhead and headed out of the canal.

Once in the main bay we noticed something we hadn’t seen before. We couldn’t see at all!  The buoy markers were scarcely visibly that lined both sides of the channel. We decided to go South ‘inside,’ through the Intercoastal Waterway instead of sailing outside (ocean) to Townsends Inlet where we initially decided to come in.  This meant that we would have to request at least 15 bridge openings on our way south.  This was a tricky enough procedure in a powerboat, but in a sailboat it could be a disaster in the making.  The Intercoastal Waterway was the back-bay route from Maine to Florida and offered protection that the open ocean would not guarantee. It had the mainland to its West and the barrier island you were passing to its East.  If it weren’t for the number of causeway bridges along its route, it would have been the perfect sail.

When you signaled to the bridge tender with your air horn, requesting an opening, it could sometimes take 10 or 15 minutes for him to get traffic stopped on the bridge before he could then open it up and let you through.  On Saturdays, it was worse. In three cases we waited and circled for twenty minutes before being given clear passage through the bridge.  Sailboats have the right of way over powerboats but only when they’re under sail. We had decided to take the sails down to make the boat easier to control.  By using the outboard we were just like any other powerboat waiting to get through, and often had to bob and weave around the waiting ‘stinkpots’ (powerboats) until the passage under the bridge was clear.  The mast on the Trinity was higher than even the tallest bridge, so we had to stop and signal to each one requesting an opening as we traveled slowly South.

All went reasonably well until we arrived at the main bridge entering Atlantic City. The rebuilt casino skyline hovered above the bridge like a looming monster in the fog.  This was also the bridge with the most traffic coming into town with weekend gamblers risking their mortgage money to try and break the bank.  The wind had now increased to over 30 knots.  This made staying in the same place in the water impossible. We desperately criss-crossed from side to side in the canal trying to stay in position for when the bridge opened. Larger boats blew their horns at us, as we drifted back and forth in the channel looking like a crew of drunks on New Year’s Eve.  Powerboats are able to maintain their position because they have large motors with a strong reverse gear.  Our little 9.9 Johnson did have reverse, but it didn’t have nearly enough power to back us up against the tide.

On our third pass zig-zagging across the channel and waiting for the bridge to open, it happened.  Instead of hearing the bell from the bridge tender signaling ‘all clear,’ we heard a loud “SNAP.’ Tony was at the helm, and from the front of the boat where I was standing lookout I heard him shout “OH S#!T.”  The wooden tiller had just broken off in his hand.

                                         SNAP!

Tony was sitting down at the helm with over three feet of broken tiller in his left hand.  The part that still remained and was connected to the rudder was less than 12 inches long.  Tony tried with all of his might to steer the boat with the little of the tiller that was still left, but it was impossible in the strong wind.  He then tried to steer the boat by turning the outboard both left and right and gunning the motor.  This only made a small correction, and we were now headed back across the Intercoastal Waterway with the wind behind us at over thirty knots.  We were also on a collision course with the bridge.  The only question was where we would hit it, not when! We hoped and prayed it would be as far to the Eastern (Atlantic City) side as possible.  This would be away from the long line of boats that were patiently lined up and waiting for the bridge to open.

Everything on the boat now took on a different air.  Tony was screaming that he couldn’t steer, and my son came up from down below where he was staying out of the rain. With one look he knew we were in deep trouble.  It was then that my priorities completely shifted from the safety of my new (old) boat to the safety of my son and the rest of those onboard.  My partner Tommy got on the radio’s public channel and warned everyone in the area that we were out of control.  Several power boaters tried to throw us a line, but in the strong wind they couldn’t get close enough to do it safely.

We were now less than 100 feet from the bridge.  It looked like we would hit about seven pylons left of dead center in the middle of the bridge on the North side.  As we braced for impact, a small 16 ft Sea Ray with an elderly couple came close and tried to take my son off the boat.  Unfortunately, they got too close and the swirling current around the bridge piers ****** them in, and they also hit the bridge about thirty feet to our left. Thank God, they did have enough power to ‘motor’ off the twenty-foot high pier they had hit but not without doing cosmetic damage to the starboard side of their beautiful little boat. I felt terrible about this and yelled ‘THANK YOU’ across the wind and the rushing water.  They waved back, as they headed North against the tide, back up the canal.

      The Kindness Of Strangers Continues To Amaze Me!

BANG !!!  That’s the sound the boat made when it hit the bridge.  We were now sideways in the current, and the first thing to hit was not the mast but the starboard side ‘stay’ that holds the mast up.  Stays are made of very thick wire, and even though the impact was at over ten knots, the stay held secure and did not break.  We were now pinned against the North side of the bridge, with the current swirling by us, and the boat being pulled slowly through the opening between the piers.  The current was pulling the boat and forcing it to lean over with the mast pointing North. If it continued to do this, we would finally broach (turn over) and all be in the water and floating South toward the beach towns of Margate and Ventnor.  The width between the piers was over thirty feet, so there was plenty of room to **** us in and then down, as the water had now assumed command.

It was at this moment that I tied my Son to myself.  He was a good swimmer and had been on our local swim team for the past three summers, but this was no pool.  There were stories every summer of boaters who got into trouble and had to go in the water, and many times someone drowned or was never found or seen again.  The mast was now leaned over and rubbing against the inside of the bridge.  

The noise it made moving back and forth was louder than even the strong wind.  Over the noise from the mast I heard Tommy shout, “Kurt, the stay is cutting through the insulation on the main wire that is the power source to the bridge. If it gets all the way through to the inside, the whole boat will be electrified, and we’ll go up like a roman candle.”  I reluctantly looked up and he was right.  The stay looked like it was more than half-way through the heavy rubber insulation that was wrapped around the enormous cable that ran horizontally inside and under the entire span of the bridge.  I told Tommy to get on the VHF and alert the Coast Guard to what was happening.  I also considered jumping overboard with my son in my arms and tied to me hoping that someone would then pull us out of the water if we made it through the piers. I couldn’t leave though, because my partner couldn’t swim.

Even though Tommy had been a life-long boater, he had never learned to swim.  He grew up not far from the banks of the Mississippi River in Hardin Illinois and still hadn’t learned.  I couldn’t just leave him on the boat. We continued to stay trapped in between the piers as the metal wire stay worked its way back and forth across the insulated casing above.

In another fifteen minutes, two Coast Guard crews showed up in gigantic rubber boats.  Both had command towers up high and a crew of at least 8 on board.  They tried to get close enough to throw us a line but each time failed and had to motor away against the tide at full throttle to miss the bridge.  The wake from their huge twin outboards forced us even further under the bridge, and the port side rail of the Trinity was now less than a foot above the water line.

              Why Had I Changed The Name Of This Boat?

The I heard it again, BAMMM !  I looked up and saw nothing.  It all looked like it had before.  The Coast Guard boat closest to us came across on the bullhorn. “Don’t touch anything metal, you’ve cut through the insulation and are now in contact with the power source.  The boat is electrified, but if you stay still, the fiberglass and water will act as a buffer and insulation.  We can’t even touch or get near you now until the power gets turned off to the bridge.”  

We all stood in the middle of the cockpit as far away from anything metal as possible.  I reached into the left storage locker where the two plastic gas containers were and tightened the filler caps. I then threw both of them overboard.  They both floated harmlessly through the bridge where a third Coast Guard boat now retrieved them about 100 yards further down the bay.  At least now I wouldn’t have to worry about the two fifteen-gallon gas cans exploding if the electrical current ever got that far.

For a long twenty minutes we sat there huddled together as the Coast Guard kept yelling at us not to touch anything at all.  Just as I thought the boat was going under, everything seemed to go dark.  Even though it was early afternoon, the fog was so heavy that the lights on the bridge had been turned on.  Now in an instant, they were off.

                               All Lights Were Off

I saw the first Coast Guard boat turn around and then try to slowly drift our way backward. They were going to try and get us out from between the piers before we sank.  Three times they tried and three times again they failed.  Finally, two men in a large cigarette boat came flying at us. With those huge motors keeping them off the bridge, they took everyone off the Trinity, while giving me two lines to tie to both the bow and the stern. They then pulled up alongside the first large inflatable and handed the two lines to the Coast Guard crew.  After that, they backed off into the center of the channel to see what the Coast Guard would do next.

The second Coast Guard boat was now positioned beside the first with its back also facing the bridge.  They each had one of the lines tied to my boat now secured to cleats on their rear decks.  Slowly they motored forward as the Trinity emerged from its tomb inside the piers.  In less than fifteen seconds, the thirty-year boat old was free of the bridge.  With that, the Coast Guard boat holding the stern line let go and the sailboat turned around with the bow now facing the back of the first inflatable. The Captain continued to tow her until she was alongside the ‘Sea Tow’ service vessel that I hadn’t noticed until now.  The Captain on the Sea Tow rig said that he would tow the boat into Somers Point Marina.  That was the closest place he knew of that could make any sailboat repairs.

We thanked the owners of the cigarette boat and found out that they were both ex-navy seals.  ‘If they don’t die hard, some never die at all,’ and thank God for our nation’s true warriors. They dropped us off on Coast Guard Boat #1, and after spending about 10 minutes with the crew, the Captain asked me to come up on the bridge.  He had a mound of papers for me to fill out and then asked me if everyone was OK. “A little shook up,’” I said, “but we’re all basically alright.” I then asked this ‘weekend warrior’ if he had ever seen the movie ‘Top Gun.’  With his chest pushed out proudly he said that he had, and that it was one of his all-time favorites.

            ‘If They Don’t Die hard, Some Never Die At All’

I reminded him of the scene when the Coast Guard rescue team dropped into the rough waters of the Pacific to retrieve ‘Goose,’ who had just hit the canopy of his jet as he was trying to eject.  With his chest still pumped out, he said again proudly that he did. “Well, I guess that only happens in the movies, right Captain,” I said, as he turned back to his paperwork and looked away.

His crew had already told me down below that they wanted to approach the bridge broadside and take us off an hour ago but that the Captain had said no, it was too dangerous!  They also said that after his tour was over in 3 more months, no one would ever sail with him again.  He was the only one on-board without any real active-duty service, and he always shied away from doing the right thing when the weather was rough.  He had refused to go just three more miles last winter to rescue two fishermen off a sinking trawler forty miles offshore.  Both men died because he had said that the weather was just “too rough.”

                     ‘A True Weekend Only Warrior’

We all sat with the crew down below as they entertained my son and gave us hot coffee and offered medical help if needed.  Thankfully, we were all fine, but the coffee never tasted so good.  As we pulled into the marina in Somers Point, the Trinity was already there and tied to the service dock.  After all she had been through, she didn’t look any the worse for wear.  It was just then that I realized that I still hadn’t called my wife.  I could have called from the Coast Guard boat, but in the commotion of the moment, I had totally forgotten.

When I got through to her on the Marina’s pay phone, she said,  “Oh Dear God, we’ve been watching you on the news. Do you know you had the power turned off to all of Atlantic City for over an hour?”  After hanging up, I thought to myself —"I wonder what our little excursion must have cost the casino’s,” but then I thought that they probably had back up generation for something just like this, but then again —maybe not.

I asked my wife to come pick us up and noticed that my son was already down at the service dock and sitting on the back of his ‘new’ sailboat.  He said, “Dad, do you think she’ll be alright?” and I said to him, “Son, she’ll be even better than that. If she could go through what happened today and remain above water, she can go through anything — and so can you.  I’m really proud of the way you handled yourself today.”

My Son is now almost thirty years old, and we talk about that day often. The memory of hitting the bridge and surviving is something we will forever share.  As a family, we continued to sail the Trinity for many years until our interests moved to Wyoming.  We then placed the Trinity in the capable hands of our neighbor Bobby, next door, who sails her to this day.

All through those years though, and especially during the Stone Harbor Regatta over the Fourth of July weekend, there was no mistaking our crew when you saw us coming through your back basin in the ‘Parade of Ships.’  Everyone aboard was dressed in a red polo shirt, and if you happened to look at any of us from behind, you would have seen …

                               ‘The Crew Of The Trinity’  
                         FULL CONTACT SAILING ONLY!
6d · 77
New Pathways
Tollgates on redemption road
calling out my name

Turnstiles of a fated past ...
exiting the blame

Looking back all fares are paid
new pathways to begin

Eyes now closing, heart at rest
— salvation free within

(My Son Trystan & I — April 16, 2024)
Jimi’s grand apology
hidden in the words
In lyrics of his soul’s lament
Mary’s name is heard

The Jacks are in their boxes
as midnight plays its chord
Music sighing whispers red
—  Queen still untoward

(The New Room: April, 2024)
It was 1972 and my dad was sick.  Well maybe not sick in the usual sense of the word, but his hip was.  He was in Boston, it was mid-winter, and he was an orthopedic patient in the Robert Bent Brigham Hospital.

He had been selected as an early recipient of what was called back then a ‘partial hip replacement.’  It was called partial, because they only replaced the arthritic hip ball, leaving the original (and degenerative) socket in place.  Needless to say these procedures didn’t work long term, but for those unable to walk and in pain, they were all that was available at the time.

I was in State College Pennsylvania when the call came in from my mother, telling me my dad was in the hospital. He was in so much pain they had to rush him to Boston by ambulance and schedule surgery just two days from now. I was living in the small rural town of Houserville Pa. about five miles West of State College and there was at least eight inches of fresh snow on the ground outside. It was 439 miles from State College to Boston. Based on my mothers phone call, if I wanted to see my Dad before his surgery, I had less than a full day to get there.

It was now 5:30 p.m. on Monday night and my father’s operation was scheduled for first thing (7:00 a.m.) Wednesday morning.  That meant that if I wanted to see him before he went to the O.R., I really needed to get there sometime before visiting hours were over Tuesday night.  My mother had said they were going to take him to pre-op at 6:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, and we wouldn’t have a chance to see him before he went down.

My only mode of transportation sat covered outside in the snow on my small front porch.  It was a six-month old 1971 750 Honda Motorcycle that I had bought new the previous September.  Because of the snowy winter conditions in the Nittany Mountains, I hadn’t ridden it since late November.  I hadn’t even tried to start it since the day before Christmas Eve when I moved it off the stone driveway and rode it up under our semi-enclosed front porch.

My roommate Steve and I lived in a converted garage that was owned by a Penn State University professor and his wife.  They lived in the big house next door and had built this garage when they were graduate students over twenty years ago. They had lived upstairs where our bedrooms now were, while storing their old 1947 Studebaker Sedan in the garage below.  It wasn’t until 1963 that they built the big house and moved out of the garage before putting it up for rent.

The ‘garage’ had no insulation, leaked like a sieve, and was heated with a cast iron stove that we kept running with anything we could find to throw in it.  We had run out of our winter ‘allotment’ of coal last week, and neither of us could afford to buy more.  We had spent the last two days scavenging down by the creek and bringing back old dead (and wet) wood to try and keep from freezing, and to keep the pipes inside from freezing too.

After hanging up the phone, I explained to Steve what my mother had just told me. He said: You need to get to Boston, and you need to leave now.  Steve had a 1965 Dodge Dart with a slant six motor that was sitting outside on the left side of the stone drive.  He said “you’re welcome to take it, but I think the alternator is shot.  Even if we get it jump-started, I don’t think it will make it more than ten or fifteen miles.”

It was then that we weighed my other options.  I could hitchhike, but with the distance and weather, it was very ‘iffy’ that I would get there on time.  I could take the Greyhound (Bus), but the next one didn’t leave until 3:00 tomorrow afternoon.  It wouldn’t arrive in Boston until 11:20 at night.  Too late to see my dad!

We both stared for a long time at the Motorcycle. It looked so peaceful sitting there under its grey and black cover.  Without saying a word to each other we grabbed both ends of the cover and lifted it off the bike.  I then walked down the drive to the road to check the surface for ice and snow.  It had snow on both sides but had been recently plowed. There was a small **** of snow still down the middle, but the surface to both sides looked clear and almost snow free.

      I Knew That Almost Was Never Quite Good Enough

I walked back inside the house and saw Steve sitting there with an empty ‘Maxwell House Tin’ in his hands. This is where Steve kept his cash hidden, and he took out what was in there and handed it all to me. “ You can pay me back next week when you get paid by Paul Bunyan.”  Paul Bunyan was the Pizza Shop on ****** Avenue that I delivered for at night, and I was due to be paid again in just four more days. I thanked Steve and walked up the ten old wooden and rickety stairs to our bedrooms.  

The walls were still finished in rough plywood sheathing that had never been painted or otherwise finished.  I packed the one leather bag that my Mother had given me for Christmas last year, put on my Sears long underwear, threw in my Dopp Kit and headed back downstairs. I also said a silent prayer for having friends … really good friends.

                 When I Got Downstairs, Steve Was Gone

Sensing I might need a ‘moment’ to finally decide, Steve had
started to walk down to highway # 64 and then hitchhike into town.  He was the photo-editor of the Penn State Yearbook, and Monday nights were when they had their meetings to get the book out.  The staff had only ninety more days to finish what looked to me to be an almost ‘impossible’ task.

As tough as his project was, tonight I was facing a likely impossible assignment of my own. Interstate #80 had just opened, and it offered an alternative to the old local road, Rt # 322.  The entrance to Rt. # 80 was ten miles away in Bellefonte Pennsylvania, and I knew those first ten miles could possibly be the worst of the trip.  I called my sister at home, and she said the weather forecast had said snow in the mountains (where I was), and then cold temperatures throughout the rest of the Northeast corridor.  Cold temperatures would mean a high of no more than 38 degrees all through the Pocono’s and across the Delaware Water Gap into New Jersey. Then low forty-degree temperatures the rest of the way.

I put two pairs of Levi’s Jeans on over my long-johns. I then put on my Frye boots with three pairs of socks, pulled my warmest fisherman’s knit wool sweater over my head and finished with my vintage World War Two leather bomber jacket to brace against the cold.  I had an early version of a full coverage helmet, a Bell Star, to protect my head and ears.  Without that helmet to keep out the cold, I knew I wouldn’t have had any chance of making the seven and a half hour ride.  To finish, I had a lightly tanned pair of deerskin leather gloves with gauntlets that went half way up my forearms. Normally this would have been ‘overkill’ for a ride to school or into town,

                                   But Not Tonight

I strapped my leather bag on the chrome luggage rack on the rear, threw my leg over the seat, and put the key into the ignition.  This was the first ‘electric start’ motorcycle I had ever owned, and I said a quick prayer to St Christopher that it would start. As I turned the key I couldn’t help but think about my father lying there in that hospital bed over four hundred miles away.  As I turned the key to the right, I heard the bike crank over four times and then fire to life as if I had just ridden it the day before.  As much as I wanted to be with my dad, I would be less than truthful if I didn’t confess that somewhere deep inside me, I was secretly hoping that the bike wouldn’t start.

I was an experienced motorcyclist and now 23 years old. I had ridden since I was sixteen and knew that there were a few ‘inviolable’ rules that all riders shared.  Rule number one was never ride after drinking.  Rule number two was never ride on a night like tonight — a night when visibility was awful and the road surface in many places might be worse. I again thought of my father as I backed the bike off the porch, turned it around to face the side street we lived on, dropped it into first gear, and left.  I could hear Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ playing from the house across the street.  It was rented to students too, and the window over the kitchen was open wide — even on a night like this.

                  Oh, Those Carefree Days Of College Bliss

As I traveled down the mile long side street that we lived on, I saw the sign for state road #64 on my right.  It was less than 100 feet away and just visible in the cloudy mountain air.  I was now praying not for things to get better, but please God, don’t let them get any worse.  As I made the left turn onto #64 I saw the sign ‘Interstate 80 – Ten Miles,’ and by now I was in third gear and going about twenty five miles an hour.  In the conditions I was riding in on this Monday night, it felt like at least double that.

I had only ever been East on Rt #80 once before, always preferring the scenery and twisty curves of Rt #322.  Tonight, challenging roads and distracting scenery were the last thing that I wanted.  I was hoping for only one thing, and that was that PennDot, (The Pennsylvania Department Of Transportation), had done their job plowing the Interstate and that the 150 mile stretch of road from Bellefonte to the Delaware Water Gap was open and clear.  

As I approached the entrance ramp to Rt #80 East in Bellefonte, it was so far; so good.  If God does protect both drunks and fools, I was willing to be considered worse than both tonight, if he would get me safely to Boston without a crash.

The first twenty miles east on Interstate #80 were like a blur wrapped inside a time warp.  It was the worst combination
of deteriorating road conditions, glare from oncoming headlights, and spray and salt that was being kicked up from the vehicles in front of me.  Then it got worse — It started to snow again!

                                             More Snow!

What else could happen now I wondered to myself as I passed the exit for Milton on Rt #80.  It had been two hours since leaving the State College area, and at this pace I wouldn’t get to Boston until five or six in the morning. I was tucked in behind a large ‘Jones Motor Freight Peterbilt,’ and we were making steady but slow progress at about thirty miles per hour.  I stayed just far enough behind the truck so that the spray from his back tires wouldn’t hit me straight on.  It did however keep the road directly in front of me covered with a fresh and newly deposited sheet of snow, compliments of his eight rear wheels which were throwing snow in every direction, but mostly straight back at me.

I didn’t have to use the brakes in this situation, which was a real plus as far as stability and traction were concerned.  We made it almost to the Berwick exit when I noticed something strange.  Motorists coming from the other direction were rolling their windows down and shouting something at the drivers going my way.  With my helmet on, and the noise from the truck in front of me drowning everything else out, I couldn’t make out what they were trying to say.  I could tell they were serious though, by the way they leaned out their windows and shouted up at the driver in the truck I was following.

Then I saw it.  Up ahead in the distance it looked like a parade was happening in the middle of the highway. There were multi-colored flashing lights everywhere.  Traffic started to slow down until it was at a crawl, and then finally stopped.  A state police car came up the apron going the wrong way on our side and told everyone in our long line that a semi-truck had ‘jack-knifed’, and flipped over on its side, and it was now totally blocking the East bound lanes.  

The exit for Berwick was only two hundred yards ahead, and if you got over onto the apron you could make it off the highway.  Off the highway to what I wondered, but I knew I couldn’t sit out here in the cold and snow with my engine idling. It would eventually overheat (being air-cooled) even at these low temperatures which could cause mechanical problems that I’d never get fixed in time to see my dad.

I pulled over onto the apron and rode slowly up the high ramp to the right, and followed the sign at the top to Berwick.  The access road off the ramp was much worse than the highway had been, and I slipped and slid all the way into town.  I took one last look back at the menagerie of lights from the medivac ambulances and tow trucks that were now all over the scene below.  The lights were all red and blue and gold, and in a strange twisted and beautiful way, it reminded me of the ride to church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

                  Christmas Eve With My Mom And My Dad

In Berwick, the only thing I saw that was open was the Bulldog Lounge.  It was on the same side of the street that I was on and had a big VFW sign hanging under its front window.  I could see warm lights glowing inside and music was drifting through the brick façade and out onto the sidewalk. I stopped in front of the rural Pennsylvania tavern and parked the bike on its kickstand, unhooked my leather bag from the luggage carrier and walked in the front door.

Once inside, there was a bar directly ahead of me with a tall, sandy haired woman serving drinks.  “What can I get you,” she said as I approached the bar, but she couldn’t understand my answer.  My mouth and face were so frozen from the cold and the wind that my speech was slurred, and I’m sure it seemed like I was already drunk when I hadn’t even had a drink.  She asked again, and I was able to get the word ‘coffee’ out so she could understand it. She turned around behind her to where the remnants from what was served earlier that day were still overcooking in the ***. She put the cup in front of me, and I took it with both hands and held it close against my face.

After ten minutes of thawing out I finally took my first swallow.  It  tasted even worse than it looked, but I was glad to get it, and I then asked the bar lady where the restrooms were.  “Down that corridor to the right” she said, and I asked her if she would watch my bag until I got back.  Without saying a word, she just nodded her head. As I got to the end of the corridor, I noticed a big man in a blue coat with epaulets standing outside the men’s room door.  He had a menacing no-nonsense look on his face, and didn’t smile or nod as I walked by.  His large coat was open and as I looked at him again, I saw it – he was wearing a gun.
            
                                   He Was Wearing A Gun

As I went into the men’s room, I noticed it was dark, but there was a lot of noise and commotion coming from the far end.  I looked for the light switch and when I found it, I couldn’t believe what I saw next.  Someone was stuck in the window at the far end of the men’s room, with the lower half of their body sticking out on my side and the upper half dangling outside in the cold and the dark.  It looked like a man from where I stood, and he was making large struggling sounds as he either tried to push his way out or pull his way back in.  I wasn’t sure at this point which way he was trying to go. Something else was also strange, he had something tied or wrapped around the bottom of his legs.

It was at this point that I opened up the men’s room door again and yelled outside for help.  In an instant, the big man with the blue coat and gun ran almost right over me to the window and grabbed the mans two legs, and in one strong movement pulled him back in the window and halfway across the floor.  It was then that I could see that the man’s legs were shackled, and handcuffs were holding his arms tightly together in front of his body.  He had apparently asked to use the facility and then tried to escape once inside and alone.

The large guard said “Jimmy, I warned you about trying something like this.  I have half a mind now to make you hold it all the way back to New Hampshire.” He stood the young man up and went over and closed the window. He locked it with the hasp.  He then let the man use the toilet in the one stall, but stood right there with him until he was done.  By this time I was back inside and finishing my coffee.  The guard came in, seated his prisoner at a table by the wall, and then walked over and sat down next to me at the bar.

“You really saved me a lot of trouble tonight, son” he said, “If he had gotten out that window, I doubt I’d have found him in the dark and the snow.  I’d have been here all night, and that’s ‘if’ I caught him again.  My *** would have been in a sling back at headquarters and I owe you a debt of thanks.”  You don’t owe me anything I said, I was just trying to help, and honestly didn’t know he was a prisoner when I first saw him suspended in the window. “Well just the same, you did me a big favor, and I’d like to try and return it if I could.”

He then asked me if I lived in Berwick, and I told him no, that I was traveling to Boston to see my father in the hospital and had to get off the highway on my motorcycle because of the wreck on Interstate #80.  “You’re on a what,” he asked me!  “A motorcycle” I said again, as his eyes got even wider than the epaulets on his shoulders.  “You’re either crazy or desperate, but I guess it’s none of my business.  How are you planning on getting to Boston tonight in all this snow?”  When I told him I wasn’t sure, he told me to wait at the bar.  He went to the pay phone and made a short phone call and was back in less than three minutes.  The prisoner sat at the table by the wall and just watched.

The large man came back over to the bar and said “my names Bob and I work for the U.S. Marshals Office.  I’m escorting this fugitive back to New Hampshire where he stole a car and was picked up in West Virginia at a large truck stop on Interstate #79.  Something about going to see his father whom he had never met who was dying on some Indian reservation in Oklahoma.  He’d have made it too, except he parked next to an unmarked state trooper who was having coffee, thought he looked suspicious, and then ran his plates.”

“I’m driving that big flatbed truck outside and transporting both him and the car he stole back to New Hampshire for processing and trial.  I’ve got enough room behind the car to put your bike on the trailer too.  If you’d like, I can get you as far as the Mass. Pike, and then you’ll only be about ninety minutes from Boston and should be there for breakfast. If you don’t mind ridin with ‘ole Jimmy’ here, I can get you most of the way to where you’re going. I don’t think you’ll make it all the way on that two-wheeler alone out on that highway tonight.

The Good Lord takes many forms and usually arrives when least expected.  Tonight he looked just like a U.S. Marshal, and he was even helping me push my bike up the ramp and onto the back of his flatbed.  He then even had the right straps to help me winch it down so it wouldn’t move as we then headed North through the blinding snow in the dark.  Bob knew a back way around the accident, and after a short detour on Pa. Routes #11 and #93, we were back on the Interstate and New England bound.

The three of us, Bob, Jimmy and I, spent the first hour of the ride in almost total silence.  Bob needed to stop for gas in Stroudsburg and asked me if I would accompany Jimmy to the men’s room inside.  His hands and feet were still ‘shackled,’ and I can still see the looks on the faces of the restaurant’s patrons as we walked past the register to the rest rooms off to the left.  Jimmy still never spoke a word, and we were back outside in less than five minutes.

Once back in the truck Bob said “Jesus, it’s cold out here tonight. You warm enough kid,” as he directed his comment to Jimmy.  I still had on my heavy leather bomber jacket, but Jimmy was wearing a light ‘Members Only’ cotton jacket that looked like it had seen much better days.  Jimmy didn’t respond.  I said: “Are you warm enough kid,” and Bob nudged Jimmy slightly with his right elbow.  Jimmy looked back at Bob and said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.”

Then Bob started to speak again.  “You know it’s a **** shame you got yourself into this mess.  In looking at your record, it’s clean, and this is your first offense.  What in God’s name possessed you to steal a car and try to make it all the way to Oklahoma in weather like this?”  Jimmy looked down at the floor for the longest time and then raised his head, looked at me first, and then over at Bob …

“My Mom got a letter last week saying that the man who is supposed to be my father was in the Choctaw Nation Indian Hospital in Talihina Oklahoma.  They also told her that he was dying of lung cancer and they didn’t expect him to last long.  His only wish before he died was to see the son that he abandoned right before he was shipped off to Seoul during the Korean War. I tried to borrow my uncle’s car, but he needed it for work.  We have neighbors down the street who have a car that just sits. They have a trailer in Florida for the winter, and I planned to have it back before anyone missed it.  The problem was that their son came over to check on the place, saw the car was missing, and reported it to the cops. I never meant to keep it, I just wanted to get down and back before anyone noticed.”

“Dumb, Dumb, Dumb, Bob said!  Don’t you know they make buses for that.”  Jimmy says he never thought that far, and given the choice again that’s what he’d do.  Bob took one more long look at Jimmy and just slowly shook his head.  Then he said to both of us, “how old are you boys?”  I said 23, as Jimmy nodded his head acknowledging that he was the same age.  Bob then said, “I got bookends here, both goin in different directions,”

Jimmy then went on to say, “My mom my little sister and I live in a public housing project in Laconia.  I never knew my dad, but my grandma, when she was alive, said that he was a pretty good guy.  My mother would never talk about why he left, and I felt like this was my last chance to not only meet him but to find all that out before he passed.”  I glanced over at Bob and it looked like his eyes were welling up behind the thick glasses he wore.  Jimmy then said: “If I got to rethink this thing, I would have stayed in New Hampshire.  It just ‘seemed’ like the right thing to do at the time.

We rode for the next hour in silence.  Bob already knew my story, and I guess he didn’t think sharing it with Jimmy would make him feel any better.  The story of an upper middle class college kid on the way to see his dad in Boston would probably only serve to make what he was feeling now even worse.  The sign up ahead said ‘Hartford, 23 miles’. Bob said, “Kurt, this is where we drop you off.  If you cut northeast on Rt # 84, it will take you to the Mass.Pike.  From where you pick up the pike, you should then be no more than an hour or so from downtown Boston.

During those last 23 miles Bob spoke to Jimmy again.  I think he wanted me to hear it too. “Jimmy,” Bob said, “I’m gonna try and help you outta this mess.  I believe you’re basically a good kid and deserve a second chance.  Somebody helped me once a long time ago and it made all the difference in my life.”  Bob looked over at me and said. “Kurt, whatta you think?”  I said I agreed, and that I was sure that if given another chance, Jimmy would never do anything like this again.  Jimmy said nothing, as his head was again pointed down toward the floor.

“I’ll testify for you at your hearing,” Bob said, “and although I don’t know who the judge will be, in most cases they listen when a federal marshal speaks up on behalf of the suspect.  It doesn’t happen real often, and that’s why they listen when it does.

    More Than Geographical Borders Had Now Been Crossed,
             Human Borders Were Being Expanded Too!

We arrived in Hartford and Bob pulled the truck over. He slid down the ramp and attached it to the back of the flat wooden bed. Jimmy even tried to help as we backed the Honda down the ramp. They both stood there as I turned the key and the bike fired up on the first try.  Bob then said, “You got enough money to make it the rest of the way, kid,” I said that I did, and as I stuck out my hand to thank him he was already on his way back to the truck with his arm around Jimmy’s shoulder.

The ride up #84 and then #90 East into Boston was cold but at least it was dry.  No snow had made it this far North.  My father’s operation would be successful, and I had been able to spend most of the night before the surgery with him in his hospital room.  He couldn’t believe that I had come so far, and through so much, just to be with him at that time. I told him about meeting Jimmy and Bob, and he said: “Son, that boys gonna do just fine.  Getting caught, and then being transferred by Bob, is the best thing that ever happened to him.”  

“I had something like that happen to me in Nebraska back in 1940, and without help my life may have taken an entirely different turn.  My options were, either go away for awhile, or join the United States Marine Corps — Thank God for the ‘Corps.”  My dad had run away from home during the depression at 13 and was headed down a very uncertain path until given that choice by someone who cared so very long ago.

“It only takes one person to make all the difference,” my dad said, and I’m so happy and grateful that you’re here with me tonight.

As they wheeled my dad into surgery the next morning, I couldn’t help but think about Jimmy, the kid who was my age and never got to see his dad before it was too late.

On that fated night, two young men ‘seemingly’ going in opposite directions had met in the driving snow. One was looking for a father he had only heard about but never knew.  The other trying to get to a father he knew so well and didn’t think he could live without.

          

      Jimmy Was Adopted That Night Through The Purity
                        Of His Misguided Intention …
                       As So Few Times In Life We Are!
An enigma
wrapped in mystery
covered in secrets
risking hell
A legend
from the ages
bereft of sages
casting spells
The message
nondescriptive
in ephemera
laden tongues
Lucy in the sky
bejeweling
screaming deafness
— silence won

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 14 · 50
Silent Drums
The aftermath
of war …
the only
true peace  

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 14 · 96
Niagara Falls
When form betroths function
— the honeymoon awaits

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
The Day I Hit The Bear

The day started out like most days in the mountains. The sky was bright but not entirely sunny. It was a Friday morning at 8:37 when I pulled out of my ‘economy’ motel on the eastern outskirts of Roanoke.

I had spent the previous afternoon (Thursday) riding the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Carolina border to Roanoke. It was after 6 and the heavy tree formation along the Parkway had started to darken the road, so I decided to call it a day. Too many animals call that time of night nirvana for me to feel safe after dusk anymore.

After a quick stop at ‘Denny’s” it was off to bed in the $41.00 motel I found just off the entrance to the Parkway. I slept great, as I always do on the road and woke up at seven raring to go. After a gas-up and ‘breakfast’ at the B.P. station, I was back up the entrance ramp onto the parkway and making the left turn that would take me North all the way to Front Royal Virginia.

As I started North, I got to thinking. I was riding my beloved Venture Royale, which I had always referred to as just the ‘Venture.’ Most guys I know after establishing a love affair with their motorcycle name their bike like they do their children and dogs. I never had — it was just the Venture.

After 150,000 of the most unbelievable miles anyone could imagine, the bike still had the name it was given by its manufacturer  I had always felt guilty about that, but never seemed to be able to come up with the appropriate name.

As I left the Blue Ridge Parkway and entered Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive), the sky darkened and the posted speed limit dropped to 35. I’ve always wondered why the speed limit was only 35 here yet 45 on the Parkway just below. The makeup and complexion of the roads looked identical or at least so it seemed. It’s a long ride through the park to Front Royal at 35mph, and if you don’t stop you might make it in about three hours.

I was now at a consistent elevation above 3000 feet and the air and shrubbery started to feel and look like the Rocky Mountains. I stopped at a rest stop to use the facilities and drink some water and then quickly got back on the road because my goal was to make it to the Pennsylvania line before dark.

The Bike was running as well as it ever has, and after 22 years of faithful service that’s saying a lot. There are only 2 states we haven’t been to together (Mississippi and Rhode Island), and I’ve got both of them on my short list to round out the lower 48. The Venture, there I go again calling it something so bland, has also been to Alaska twice. It has made 5 cross-country trips and my favorite, a 10-day Odyssey with my son going up one side of the Rockies and down the other. The memories of our times together came flooding back as I rounded a large bend in the road to the left.

Then it happened !

Before I could react, downshift, or even pull the brake lever, it was directly in front of me. I saw it, and my life flashed in front of me at exactly the same time. It was a black bear, and it looked to be full size. Before I could even exhale it was less than a foot from the front tire of the bike.

BAMMMMM ! It hit like a sledgehammer. First it sounded like a small explosion just behind the front wheel on the left side. Then the back of the bike lifted up about two feet in the air. I had hit the bear and then run over it as it passed under the bike.

We’ve all heard stories about near death experiences that cause your life to flash in front of your eyes in that very instant. Trust me, it’s true, and here’s what flashed through mine.

Anyone who knows me, knows about my lifelong love for motorcycles and motorcycling. My first ‘car’ was a BSA Gold Star that I had in High School. My mother never knew about it because YES VIRGINIA — my Grandmother and Grandfather let me hide it in their garage.

I bought the first 750 Honda when it was introduced in 1970, rode it all through college and believe me when I say those Penn State winters were brutal. I didn’t know it was called Hypothermia, but I experienced it every week between November and March. I dated my Wife on that motorcycle and am lucky that I still have it tucked away in the back of my garage today.

Combined with my love for Motorcycles is my love of the mountains and the Rockies in particular. I have spent almost all of my vacation time during the past 30 years riding, touring, and exploring the Rocky Mountain West.

As a result of my time in the Rockies, about 25 years ago I also developed a love for bears. All bears. I love Black Bears, Grizzly Bears and Polar Bears, but if forced to choose the Grizzly would be my favorite. My 2 close encounters in Yellowstone, and my 1 in Glacier, with large Brown Bears changed my perception of life and what it means forever. I was totally at their mercy. Looking into their eyes, which the so-called experts warn you against, was a life altering experience that I’m glad to have done

Now, back to what flashed through my mind when the bear was about to make contact. It all seemed to happen in slow motion but I thought as I hit him that if this was truly the end — how lucky I was! YES LUCKY. To end my life doing the thing I loved the most, in a place (A National Park) I loved most being, and to have it ended by an animal that meant more to me than any other. It all just seemed fitting and right.

In that instant I was ready to go, and in a strange and still unexplainable way, I was almost thankful for it happening the way it did.

And then before I had even blinked my eyes, the rear of the bike was back down on the road and now sliding to the right. I counter-steered as I was taught when road racing, and after drifting across both lanes the bike ‘******’ straight up and started heading North again. Instinctively I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the bear run off into the tall grass on the side of the road and then collapse.

I went about fifty yards further up the road and stopped the bike and got off. It was damaged in the front and just slightly leaking. The radiator cowling was broken off and part of the lower fairing was gone. There was organic material all over my left tailpipe which I would later find out was brain matter from the bear. I got off the bike and walked back to where I thought the bear was laying.

He was right where I had seen him collapse and he had a huge opening in his skull where he had made contact with the bike. As terrible as this made me feel, something else made me feel even worse, --- he was still breathing.

Two hikers (a husband and wife), about my age were now walking toward the bear and had seen the whole thing happen. They were locals and worried that there may be more bears around. They both suggested that we leave the area quickly. They told me there was a rest stop two miles further up the Parkway on the left and that I would be able call a Ranger to come and assist (shoot) the bear. I thanked them as they left and watched them head down the trail directly across the road from where the bear and I now were.

I got back on the bike and hurried up to the rest stop. Just as the couple had instructed the nice woman behind the counter called the Ranger Station and they sent a USFS Officer named Gary Roth to talk to me. I pleaded with the Ranger to forget about me, (I was fine), and to please go help the bear. I was pretty sure the bear was unconscious, but even then, you can sometimes still feel pain.

That Ranger spent almost two hours with me, first checking my driver’s license and registration, insurance card, etc. I’m sure he was also doing a back round check on me when he went back to his SUV, and all the while the poor bear was lying in trauma on the side of the road.

These Park Officials claim to love their charges, the animals in the park, but today it didn’t seem that way. I would have gladly given the officer my bike keys and identification, which he could have kept while going back to help (dispatch) the bear. ‘NO’ was all he replied back when I made that suggestion.

Finally, the Ranger left after thanking me for stopping and filing the report. He told me that most people who hit bears (on average one a month) don’t even stop to report it. At this time of the year the bears are very active, as they are foraging incessantly for food, trying to gain weight before hibernation. They are more vulnerable to car and motorcycle traffic in the fall than at any other time. He also told me that I was the only one in his memory (19 years in the park), to have hit a bear on a motorcycle and to have walked (ridden) away.

As I watched him head South on Skyline Drive, I looked at the sorry state of the Venture. I felt guiltier than ever, still referring to my beloved, and now damaged bike, in such an objective way. I decided to ride back to where I had hit the bear and make sure the Ranger did what he said he would do.  By the time I traveled the two miles to where the bear had been, the ranger was gone and there was no sight of the bear. However he did it, the Ranger had removed the bear quickly and took him to wherever they take animals that have been killed on the road.

I turned the bike around and headed North again. As I passed the rest stop I looked over to see if maybe the Ranger had come back, but the parking lot was now empty except for one lone moped parked off on the grass to the right of the building. ‘Must be a camper,’ I thought to myself.

Looking straight North again in the direction of Front Royal, I noticed the ‘Venture Royale’ badge on the dashboard of the bike. An epiphany then happened that had never happened while riding before.

                                THE BEAR / THE BEAR !!!

I would never again refer to my beloved motorcycle as the Venture again. The spirit of something primordial had overcome both of us today and allowed us to survive. From this moment on, the bike will forever be known as — THE BEAR.

Roanoke Virginia
October 2012
Apr 13 · 28
Grey Matter
The philosophy
of language
its essence
rephrased

The alpha
and beta
unknown
without names

All dialects
freeing
the sound
of the ink

Without words
and their meaning
could
— we ever think

(Villanova University: April, 2024)
Apr 12 · 36
Unladen
When you no longer
carry
the burden of proof
true freedom
— in the wind

(Dundale: April, 2024)
Apr 12 · 150
Audible Ash
Silence ignited
sound into kindling
Sign language robots
— ears set afire

(The New Room: April, 2024)
Apr 11 · 95
Its Bonding Fear
Everest
makes brothers
of the fiercest  
enemies
of the most
distant strangers
of the worst
ill intended
of the lost
— and the found

(Kathmandu: May, 1982)
Apr 11 · 71
Just One
Freedom
without
conflict …
wishfully
thinking

Liberty
triumphs
at the point
of a
sword

The way
it’s been
since
the very
beginning

Give me
one
example
disproving
— my words

(Wayne V.F.W: April, 2024)
Apr 10 · 31
From The Source
The windmill is ready
the wind is not
Breezes far distant
never reaching the spot

Change in the offing
consent from within
One breath pouring outward
— and blades start to spin

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 10 · 56
Psalm 104
To stand in
Your shadow
its welcoming rim
Surrounding
my calling
to lead me within
Your aura
completes me
and lights up my way
To follow
undaunted
—Your love on display

(1st Book Of Prayers: April, 2024)
Apr 9 · 67
Una Quaestio
I know it’s
written
I don’t know
why
The heavens
tremble
as poet’s  
cry

To stand
anointed
in love’s
review
And pose
one question
rephrased
— anew

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Itching
itching
nowhere
to scratch

Rambling
rambling
balling
the jack

Freight car
open
voices
interred

The brakeman
singing
"Turn
"Turn
"Turn"

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 8 · 51
Compass Tears
Distance
is different
spurning
direction

The miles
a marriage
time
has divorced

Spaces
concurrent
flowing
together

As coming
and going
fade in
— remorse

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 7 · 58
A Blind Eye
Suffering fools
comes with the territory
— any true writer to know

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 7 · 52
Better Than Best
I didn’t stay young
but I never got old
My cards often weak
when watching you fold
I sailed into weather
the saltiest balked
And bit off big pieces
while walking my talk

I painted with brushes
DaVinci had blessed
And wandered and wondered
much better than best
I took from my heart
and gave to my soul
The circle expanding
— three halves to my whole

(The New Room: April, 2024)
Apr 6 · 115
What Is - Is
Truth needs no audience
or vows of acceptance
The eagle flies highest
— when flying alone

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Living
is earned
Dying
— is free

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 5 · 62
Skirting The Line
Touching
without feeling
Looking
without seeing
Talking
without saying
Lost
— in the dark

(Villanova University: February, 2024)
No more

Mothballs and cedar assault my nose

The dust mites and stale air dry my throat

A wardrobe that is just that



The lion roars no more

Neutered and robbed of his fire

The last time the words were read



In the darkness of this cell I fear the witch no more

Drunk at her cauldron

Slurred words conjure no magic



Snow driven mountains of pure white

Have dissolved into a gray haze

Footprints like bread crumbs dissolved



My desperate escape blocked

Solid wood between me and salvation

My world made infinitely smaller

-          When the gateway to Narnia can no longer be imagined, the magic dies

(Trystan Colin Behm- April, 2024)
Apr 4 · 51
Lost
In days of wonder
I wander alone
Lost in the transition
of being myself
Lost in the memory
of all that I’ve missed
Lost in the reasons
that chase me from sleep
Lost in the moment
today would deny
In days of wonder
— I wander alone

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 3 · 35
Poetic Alchemy
Freedom without question
Truth without doubt
Love without heartache
Hope without pain

Truth without question
Freedom without doubt
Light without darkness
— fault without blame

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
Apr 3 · 30
Pundits Of Ruin
Do nothings
wth tenure
poseurs sublime

Their barrels
sit empty
coated
with lime

The space
they take up
much better off
closed

For those
they have
poisoned
— Hades to know  

(Haverford College: April, 2024)
Apr 2 · 73
Quid Sum
Not an academic
Poet
Not a tenement
Poet
Not a beat or a blues
or a church Poet
Not a famous or infamous
or celebrity Poet
Not an Irish or Basque
or Welsh Poet

Not a formal
Poet
Not a casual
Poet
Not the kind that takes
to the stage Poet
Not a tenured or membered
or club Poet
Not a for profit or glory
or fame Poet

… just a Poet

(The County Line: April, 2024)
The gravity
of space
The gravity
of time
Forging
perspectives
Relative
in kind
Newtonian
dogma
At sixteen
he knew
By curving
the axis
It changes
— the view

(The New Room: April, 2024)
Apr 2 · 75
The Unboxing
Complexity wrapped
in simpler terms
Untying its ribbon  
— freeing the words

(Dreamsleep: April, 2024)
The arrogance
of conscription
the blasphemy
of denial

Abraham
shouting high above
to dam
the ****** Nile

We speak with words
deceptive
to try and steal
the peace

As blasphemy
that self destructs
in arrogance
— repeats

(The New Room: March, 2024)
Mar 31 · 178
Darkness Waits
She whispers in the night
to waiting dreamers

She whispers in the night
where tears have shed

She whispers in the night
to hearts abandoned

She whispers in the night
— and wakes the dead


(Ryszard & I: March, 2024)
Mar 31 · 25
Distant Hooves
America’s
faded glory
the polo field
reminds

Of years
of fleeting greatness
and hopes that lived
in kind

A child walks
the ball field
where ponies
used to tread

With memories
buried deep below
their grandeur
— all but dead

(The New Room: March, 2024)
Mar 31 · 39
Many Are Called ...
Heaven
has no doorbell
Salvation
has no ring
The call redemptive
from inside
Where Angels
— flock to sing

(1st Book Of Prayers: March, 2024)
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