From the Author
High atop a gray limestone cliff a copper-skinned boy watches the sun rise. Though the long June days have darkened his tawny skin to a burnished copper, they have not and will never warm the deep water. The sun reaches the boy. But the lake is still dark, shaded by the rock.
The cliff is nearly bare, adorned only by two ancient trees and a number of red pictographs. One is larger than the others. It is a hand, palm out, that sends its warning down the length of the lake. The cliff is older even than the lake. It shoots hundreds of feet straight out of the cold dark water.
The boy often finds arrowheads and spear points near the cliff. Most from his people, but some from the others who have passed this way. Some in friendship, some in anger. He looks out over the water and feels the telltale ripples. A pair of canoes move towards him, towards the cliff. Tourists. Cottagers. Their sounds carry across the dark still water. Though the words are indistinct, their tone carries feelings. The feeling of morning tiredness mixed with hope and anxiety for the coming day, for the adventure on the cliff at the end of the lake.
The boy repeats a silent prayer, words he has said to himself and to his Manitou a thousand times in this place, on this rock. Words passed on to him from his copper-skinned grandmother, whose people were keepers of this place before the cottagers, before the loggers, before the prospectors, even before the missionaries. Simply before.
He touches his necklace, a leather strap that carries a silver medallion that houses a large purple arrowhead. He tucks it under his shirt then slowly, precisely, gracefully, as though this vertical world was his natural habitat, he climbs down the cliff to await the canoes.
The girl dips her paddle again and again, with a delicate yet practiced and powerful rhythm. The last of the early morning mist hangs in clumps and patches just above the black water. She looks ahead at her father's narrow back. An open toothy smile spreads across her face and she tips her head back slightly in a quiet prayer. She thanks her God for all this, for the day, for her father. As she opens her eyes they track again to the cliff looming at the end of the lake. A flash of silver glints from the ridge line.
"Did you see that?" she asks.
"See what?" her father answers.
"Nothing," she says.
She dips her paddle slightly deeper, pulls slightly harder, glues her eyes to the ridge.
The girl, her father, and the boy sit in the sun with their backs to the rock. Their feet dangle hundreds of feet above the water.
"This is beautiful," the girl says.
"Yes," the boy answers.
"And high," her father adds.
"Yes," the boy repeats.
"What's that over there?" the girl asks. "The darker part of the forest? It's almost round."
"A group of spruce trees. It's a special place. Important to my people. All my people." He emphasizes the word 'all'.
He fixes the father with a look. The father looks away.
"Can you take me there?" she asks.
"No," the boy answers. "And you must not go there."
"Important how?" she asks.
"Important in a way that people from away do not understand," he answers.
The girl and her father share a perplexed look and an awkward moment gathers momentum, threatens to spin out of control. Before it can, the boy asks, "ready for the last two pitches?"
He stands up, hands the rope to her father, and heads up the cliff.
Joshua Tree National Park
The coffee skinned man has walked through this desert before. Felt its warmth, felt its desolation, and felt its beauty seep into him. It rejuvenates him. He has come here each fall for years. At first, just to walk. To be in the immenseness and the silence. To be away for a few days. Away from her crippling illness, her need, her pain. It's selfish. But she understands, and encourages him to go. She knows he needs this time. That it sustains him through the inevitable and interminable northern Ohio winter. When the pain will be the worst. When she may not leave the chair. When her workers will meet her at the door and wheel her to her lab at the start of the day. When he will meet her at the end of the day, and carry her inside, and tend to her and love her and be loved.
She knows he needs this time. And she needs it too. To not feel like his burden for a time. To pray. Alone. Because she knows that very soon, when it is finally over, when her pain ends, his will begin. That prayers will end for him. That he will curse whatever God has made this happen. She knows he will survive this final sadness, but suspects he will be forever altered. So she sends him away each fall to the desert he loves.
On this morning he has walked far back between the rocks and mountains in the desert. The air is still, his footfalls excessively loud, intrusive. The colors at sunrise. The scents of slowly opening flowers. Peace. The desert at sunrise. Hope. Far from the trailhead. Solitude, farther from the road, closer to life.
He returns to the plants and trees on the desert floor. Begins to hike between the thousands of cactus, towards the birds, towards the dam.
"I've never seen it like this," he says.
"Neither have I," she says. They stand together and apart, backs to the rock, facing the acres of water hidden in the high desert.
She is much younger than he. Pretty. Lithe. More than a child, less than a woman. A climber. She turns away from the water, back to the rock. Traversing, falling, traversing, falling. From a shelf of rock inches above the desert floor. The rock is brown, light brown, dark brown, sandy brown. Featured, polished in places from too many hands. Disgraced with chalk. While this generation marvels at the nearby native carvings, later generations will wonder at the careless, senseless destruction wrought by the chalk. Chalk to dry hands while climbing rocks adrift in an ocean of sand. No grass grows in this spot. Too many foot steps and too many crash pads have destroyed too much.
A pony tailed boy lies slumped in the shade of a shed sized boulder. Climbed into submission. Returning to dust.
"May I," the coffee skinned man asks?
"You may," she answers, stepping back from the rock.
"Nice," she offers.
Her smile comes quickly, spreads, erupts.
She steps off, approaches him, hugs him tightly. She tips her head back and once again looks into his eyes. She fits in his arms. Feels like she has been there before, belongs there.
"Thanks mister," she says. She squeezes him again, then skips away, throws herself down onto her boyfriend. Kisses him. He wraps her in his arms.
The man looks away, memorizing her touch.
It could not have been more powerful. A certain specific power he is sure he has felt before, no longer thinking that to be impossible. For he knows there are some things he has forgotten and some things that can not be explained. Things he sometimes remembers in the certain perfect isolation of the infinite silence of the trees and bushes and rocks and sand of the high desert.
About the Author
JT was born and raised in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. Growing up literally steps from the Bay of Quinte, water, ice, fishing, swimming, boating, and drowning were very early influences and appear frequently in his work.
Educated at the Royal Military Academy, the University of Ottawa, the University of Dayton, the University of Cincinnati, Long Island University, and Case Western Reserve University, JT has spent countless hours studying a wide range of subjects including math, English, computer science, physics, and law. Many of his stories are set on college campuses.
JT is a certified rock climbing guide and can often be found atop crags in West Virginia, California, Mexico, and Italy. Rock climbing appears frequently in his writing.
JT has witnessed firsthand many traumatic events including the World Trade Center Bombing, the Long Island Railroad Shooting, a bear attack, a plane crash, and numerous fatalities, in the mountains and elsewhere.
Disasters, loss, and confronting personal fear are common themes in his writing.
While "boy meets girl" appears to be JT's dominant genre, readers will experience a variety of styles and themes in his simple yet complex writing.