Coming Home

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” -Lord Byron


Okay, there’s Seventeenth.  Here’s Eighteenth.  Twentieth can’t be that far away.

I was late.  I hate being late.  And for all errands that life offered, I was on a mission for some lousy teeth.

There are millions of people that care about how their teeth look.  Models and actors are paid big money to have great smiles.  I am none of those things.  My teeth need to break up pieces of food and keep my tongue in check.  That is all.

My dentist is of another mindset.  She is dedicated to making every smile look perfect.  She thinks that means straight, uniform, and pristine.

“I can’t retire until I finish off your front row”, she has often told me.  You would think I would have some say in the matter.  I am the one footing the bill and all.  Plus, there are our respective sizes.

My dentist measures at four feet tall.  I grew past her in middle school.  At over six feet, I still had not gained the upper hand.

It could be because I try not to pick battles.  She is a genuinely nice person.  Let it not be forgotten, she has very sharp tools that pierce, grind, and gouge around my overly sensitive gums.  If the person in charge of the numbing agents is on a mission, you comply.  I try to stay on her good side.  She might “accidentally slip” while trying to make her point.

That is why I was spending my day off like this.  Wandering the streets that I thought I knew around a lake I had seen countless times before.  The problem is that roads in mixed residential areas tend to curve.  The roads in their square grids collide with the curve of nature and the terrain.

Eighteenth Avenue was followed by Forty-Seventh.  The sam hill?  I didn’t just skip thirty blocks in a minute, right? 

Once upon a time my dentist would do everything in house.  Or, in office, I guess.  She would drill the tooth, empty it, and plug the tooth.  Done.  If it was extreme, we would have to wait for some miniscule piece of gold to be custom crafted.  By and large though, it was nice and simple.

No longer.  “See, they have these machines that can do a three-dimensional scan of…”  “Your section of the gums needs an insert so that the teeth below don’t…”  “If I send you to the lab they can custom-shade the tooth to its neighbors giving it a more natural…”

I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and took a moment to fume.  The directions from the bus stop had told me where to depart.  I had.  The directions had told me to walk a route.  I had.  So where was this dadgum place that would look at my tooth, which I did not care about, and turn it a shade that I had no opinion on?  I felt my annoyance in my jaw.

Maybe if I grind my teeth enough, there will be fewer surfaces for her to tweak.

In desperation, I made a turn onto a side road.  Yelm Street sounded peaceful enough.  I walked determinedly along its cracked concrete path as the houses crowded my peripherals.

A purple door?  Okay, if that works for you. 

No house should ever be painted entirely in bright yellow. 

But it’s still better than having a house with a three car garage.  And you have four cars parked outside!  Do your mortgage and your car insurance payments have arm-wrestling matches?  Dear word…

That is when I saw it.

I had turned off of Yelm, onto Birch, and found myself looking at a neighborhood book nook.  Normally people would make a small box, a square maybe a foot by foot in size.  The structure I was in front of was entire booth.  It was not painted.  It was stained.  The knots and rings were there for all to see and the recent rain had given it a nice texture.  There was a bench, just big enough for one person, nestled inside this creation.

I liked to see what collections of books were contained in these complimentary depots.  It seemed there was always a classical work or two, some pointless romantic debauchery, a middle installment of a series I had never heard of, and a book that had been wildly popular seven years ago.

large-black-slug-2I stood in between the bench and the books.  At my foot appeared to be a slug with its ooze trail leading towards the shelter.  I try not to kill animals in their natural habitat.  If they set foot (or whatever it is that slug “walk” on) inside my domicile, they are exterminated.  But nature is their domain.  So I lifted my shoe and tried to scoot the little guy over a bit.

The slug would not move.  I shoved and nudged, only to find that it was anchored to the floor.  I knelt down.  The” slug” was actually a carved piece of wood.  It was attached to the ground.  I brushed aside the leaves, the dirt, and the tiny bits of paper that had gathered around.  Underneath all the debris was a piece of wood.  It was a hatchway.

I looked at my watch.  I do not like to be late.  But one has to have priorities.

They’ll understand!  There’s a frickin’ escape hatch in the middle of the sidewalk!  Who isn’t going to go down a secret pathway in the middle of suburbia!  C’mon!

Tossing responsibilities aside, I grabbed hold of the knob and pulled.  The plank resisted at first.  With more effort, paired with a creaking noise, the hatch rose up to meet me.  My eyes fell upon a wood ladder and electric lights that beckoned me in.

I looked around one last time.  I pondered if some neighborhood warden or community watch group representative would jump out at me.  If I was not allowed to climb a water tower, was it okay to descend into this mysterious tunnel?

There was no one around to stop my adventure.  I lowered my legs onto the fourth and fifth rungs.  I grabbed the top rung sturdily with my right hand.  I pulled the door over my head and began my descent.

The ladder was not overwhelming.  I climbed down three or four flights and then found my feet on solid ground.  The lighting fixtures were hardly modern.  They looked like something one would find in a bunker.  They were affixed to the wall in a purely practical fashion, metal bars covering the bulbs.  The wire was strung and stapled loosely along the ceiling.  What really captivated me was the interior itself.

The floor, walls, and ceiling, were all of aged wood.  Oak, spruce, pine, cedar, it was as if an entire forest had been used to construct this space.  None of it appeared to be machine-processed.  Some of the lines were a little off.  I noticed a knot or two that jutted out slightly from the wall.  Every surface had been planed, sanded, and finished.  The walls were sealed.  The structure appeared sturdy.  Yet the craftsmanship did not yield to the demands of perfection.  I could almost hear the workers at the end of the day clap their hands together, take a step back, and say with contentment, “Yep.  That’ll do.”

Leaving the ladder and hatchway behind, I ventured farther into the structure.  I encountered a mighty hallway.  Giant oaks stood as pillars some thirty feet high.  They maintained some of their limbs, now used to hold more lights and crossbeams.  I walked and walked and the columns still stretched in front of me.

Slowly, the noise level began to rise.  What had been a soft murmuring grew into crowd noises.  A belly laugh echoed from an unknown older fellow coming from the right.  I heard a glass break to the left.  A whooshing sound caused me to duck.  I fell to the ground as something flew over my head and screamed.

From the floor I was able to get my bearings.  The hall opened up into a large space.  Immediately in front of me was a giant swing.  The rope, long enough to hold someone three times my height, was attached to a wood seat that was occupied by an ecstatic child.  Her pigtails flapped about without a care.  Each back and forth of the seat seemed to last ages.  The girl couldn’t have been happier.

“Oh, shoot.  You okay?”  A man with an apron and short curly hair rushed forward.  His plaid shirt fit with the décor, as did his strong arms that pulled me to my feet.  “We don’t get a lot of people using that entrance”, he apologized as he ushered me off to the side.

“What… what is this?”  I stammered as I tried to make sense of it all.  “Who is ‘we’?  Where am I?”

“Ah, a first timer”, the man said as he chuckled.  Taking the cloth he had tucked in the back of his belt, he did his best to brush the debris off of me.  “My name’s Thomas, and welcome to The Chapel.”

“Chapel?”  I looked up to the roof with its cathedral-like height.  “I can see that…”

“Well sure”, Thomas said.  “There’s more to it than that, though.  See, it’s an acronym of sorts.  The best we can understand it, they started listing off the types of trees that were used to make this place.  We got ourselves some Cedar, some Hemlock, a bit of Adler, plenty of Pine, lots of Evergreens—“

“Which is only the first of the flaws in the silly name of yours”, a new voice interrupted.

“You’ll have to forgive Stuart.  He… well, he has opinions.”

“I should not be listened to because of my opinions”, Stuart replied.  “I should be respected because of the factual nature of my comments and the lack of such in yours.”

black-moustache-clipartStuart took a moment for me to comprehend.  A bit shorter than average, he made up for it with a slight bulge around the sides of his shirt.  The sleeves on his white button-up were rolled up past his shoulders and creased immaculately.  His black shoes had a picture-perfect polish about them.  The moustache that took up residence on his face caught the light like only waxed areas could.  The tufts of hair threatened to overwhelm his features should the two waves of follicles ever crash into each other.  All this was less noticeable than the top hot that added a good six inches to his height.

“As I was saying”, Stuart continued as his moustache moved and jostled excitedly like two baby seals fighting for a fish.  “Allowing Evergreens as a key feature of the acronym is ridiculous.  It is more of a category or genre of tree while the other titles can be confined to a species.  Using Evergreens in a title conflicts with the others and should therefore be rejected.”

“I mean, you could always use Elm trees”, I offered.

“Elms?”  Stuart shook his head violently back and forth.  His top hat considered jumping off to a more stable resting place, but it hung in there long enough for its owner to pull it down securely.  Gesturing about the great structure, Stuart turned his gaze menacingly on me.  “Do you see any Elms here, sir?”

“Uh… no?  I have only been here about five minutes though.”

“Well I have been familiar with these grounds for over seven years”, he said with an air that was equal parts defiant and regal.  “I can assure you, no Elms were used in the construction of this majestic space.”

“Stuart thinks we should call the place ‘Chaps’.  Drop the ‘E’.”

“I think no such thing”, Stuart said as he rebuked Thomas.  “I am confident that a place like this needs no pithy name.  No label is required.  Putting a title on this building in no way enhances its existence.  Let it be.”  He nodded in agreement with his own statement and made his way to the nearby tables.

“What does the ‘L’ stand for?”

“Shh!”  Thomas rushed forward and waved his hands in front of me franticly.  “We’ve already woken the beast.  Best not to poke it with a stick.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked quieter this time, “what does the ‘L’ stand for?”

“We never really figured that out”, Thomas said as he leaned in close.  “Logs.  Lumber.  Something like that.  It drives him crazy.  ‘Chaps’ is a no-go, though.  It makes us sound like we have a mechanical bull.  Or that we’re a male strip club.  And I didn’t sign up for that.”

“Fair enough”, I said as I tilted my head and took in the people around me.  “That Stuart.  He sure is… curious.”

“Don’t pay him too much mind”, Thomas said.  “He’s our resident history buff, sure.  But he hasn’t even been here a year yet.”

“But he said—“

“Nope”, Thomas corrected.  “He’s been around the place for seven years.  As in, he came in the door once or twice before he started working here last year.  But he’s hardly the pro he claims to be.  Drops more things than any three staff combined.  That top hat keeps falling over his eyes.”

“Yeah that is quite the—“


“I was going to say ‘quirk’”, I offered.

“He’s got to keep all his opinions somewhere”, Thomas laughed.  “And they’d never all fit in a baseball cap.”

“So this Chapel”, I said.  “What is it exactly?  I mean, it’s not…”

“A cult?  Nope.”

“Did I say cult”, I asked surprised.

“Oh”, Thomas said.  “Sorry.  Some folks see us in our ‘bunker’ and start assuming.  The Chapel is a gathering place.  A restaurant that’s short on menu items and big on recreational space.  Our menu’s only one page and that’s fine with us.”

“How long has this been here?  How’ve I missed it all these years?”

“Now that’s where Stuart comes in handy.  See, we’ve got all kinds of junk and papers scattered around here.  He’s the one that who delved into all of that.  I can give you the general idea though.”

Thomas gestured towards a nearby table and pulled out a high-back pine chair.  He motioned for me to take a seat while he sat in the chair opposite.

“Near as we can figure, this place has stood for about an hundred years.  Folks came out here to start logging.  Clear the ground for new folks coming in while making a living off the tree industry in the process.  This is the early 1900’s, mind you.

“These guys, they knew that sooner or later they’d have to find a way to get their lumber out of here.  They started off clearing a long, straight path where a railway could be placed.  Chopped down all the trees for the route, got the ground nice and clear, and flattened the land for those tracks.

“The problem with that plan was that they had to find a railroad to connect to.  Then World War I comes around and these guys find that their Sitka Spruces are in high demand.  And they still have plenty of hills and rocks between them and civilization.  Happily, right about that time, logging trucks start coming around.  So they ditch their plans for the railway.  But they’ve got plenty of extra trees that they’ve cut down to get to the spruce.  And they got lots of workers that don’t want to sleep out in the cold or trek back to town.  That’s when they started building this massive place.

“We don’t know how they got away with it”, Thomas said with a shrug.  “You’d think those wars would take all the trees they could get their hands on.  But it appears that they didn’t have a whole lot of oversight.  Long as the spruce trees kept coming, the bosses didn’t worry too much about it.  Plus it seems like all the loggers’ free time was spent on building this place.

“Then they spent the years after the wars finishing this place.  They didn’t ever finish the rest of the land like they’d planned to.  Sure they built road for the trucks.  Most of them got turned into what are the neighborhood streets.  That’s why they all have tree names.  The building itself?  They let it reside comfortably in the terrain.

“It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  Plenty of cities have been built right over to make way for new roads and buildings.  You can go on tours underneath the new city and see all the old structures and leftover boilers and things like that.”  Thomas sat up a touch straighter and grinned.  “The big difference between those places and ours is that our place never closed its doors.  People have been using this building continuously the whole time.”

“That’s so cool”, I said, enthralled by my surroundings.  “I’m trying to figure out how I didn’t know about this place before.”

“You have to remember that progress kept going all around”, Thomas offered.  “We have houses built on all sides of us.  They rest on top of that hill over here.  Then there’s that development over there.  We still have a fair number of trees on all sides of us too.  That’s the thing about naming roads after trees.  People want those streets to be filled with the plants they’re named for.  Plus, with all the terrain and hills, about two thirds of our structure is underground.  From the street, we’re only a narrow entryway that looks like a church or an old library.  And six days out of seven, everybody’s going to drive right by this place.”

“You don’t advertise?”  I looked at the bustling staff and couldn’t comprehend it.  “No sign out front?  No online reviews?”

“We never really saw the need.  Plenty of people come through here.  You should see the nights we tie the swings up and put out our wooden bowling pins.  Floor’s not as flat as some might like, but it still draws a crowd.  It sure makes an awful echoing noise whenever someone gets a strike, though.  Every few years we get some fancy acrobats coming through and they have a grand old time, hooking up their gear from the rafters and putting on a high-wire show.  Little skinnier arena than they’re used to, but they say it keeps them fresh.

“They all found their way to our doorstop.  If too many people show up, it’ll lose something.”  Thomas pulled the cloth from his belt again and concentrated on sopping up a small puddle on the table.  “We’d get too busy.  Couldn’t have the one on one that we all like.  Or they’d try to replicate it.”

Thomas shook his head.  A tinge of frustration started to build in his voice as he rubbed at the table.

“A businessman would come across us and try to market us.  Try to recreate our structure in some mini-mall.  Then we’d have to pay for their advice.  We’d have to raise prices.  We’d have to bring in more customers.  We’d be obsessed with perspectives and expected growth and…”

Thomas put the towel behind his back and shook his head.

“It wouldn’t be worth it.  We’re doing fine.  Those that need to find us; well they make their way to our doorstop when the time’s right.  You can’t force these things.”

“True enough”, I replied.  “’When the student is ready, the master will appear.’”

“Ain’t that the truth?  Though we are saving up money to replace our septic tank.  Some improvements would be nice”, he admitted.

800px-Lid_of_a_rural_septic_tank“The first patent for a septic tank was granted in 1881”, announced a familiar voice.  “Of course, those earlier contraptions began failing in the 1960’s.  We should have addressed that years ago.  And the two-prongued outlets?  Come now.”  Stuart shook his head and sent his hat wobbling once more.  “Surely we can upgrade and simultaneously continue to provide the environment our clientele desires.”

“The man’s got a point”, Thomas agreed as he stood up and pulled a pad from his front pocket.  “I figure I’ve yammered at you long enough.  You hankering for a meal or something?  Some flapjacks?  Gritz?  First meal’s on the house.  Maybe you want to sink your teeth into a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy?”

Crud.  Teeth. 

“Sorry, I’m actually late for an appointment”, I said as I rose to my feet.  “I’ll definitely come back though.”

“Let me at least show you an easier way out of here”, Thomas offered.  “There is less of a likelihood of the swings bonking you on the noggin at the main entrance.”

I watched as the building widened out for the tables and main gathering area, then thinned itself down by a plain set of oak doors.

“Here ya go”, Thomas said as he pulled one of the door opens.  “Now you know where to find us.”

“I sure do”, I replied.  “Thanks for the tour, Thomas.  It’s been a pleasure.”

“Anytime… How about that?  I forgot to ask your name.  My bad.”

“Not a problem.  It’s Wilson.”

“Be seeing you soon, Wilson”, Thomas said as he went back inside.

I walked out to the street and turned around.  Looking at it from the outside it was an unassuming building.  The frame appeared to be tall and narrow, but altogether average.  It was wedged between houses with overturned tricycles on their lawns and parked vehicles.

I had passed the road before.  Yet I had not known what to look for.

I walked to the corner and regarded the nearby street sign.  In what I took to be a mocking tone, it declared itself boldly:  Twentieth Avenue.

Scott the Pretty Great Ventures Out

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Scott the Pretty Great Ventures Out

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” -Henry David Thoreau

(This is a continuation of “Scott the Pretty Great”. That first part can be found –here-, but I doubt that it is required reading.)

Scott whistled to his pet raccoon and the two walked to the other side of the room. Scott turned and walked to the back door. He was pleased to see his creation was following his movements from a distance. It wasn’t every boy that could create a robotic blue robot, let alone one that was so loyal.

Scott again turned to the rest of the warehouse, eager to share his robot with someone. Nothing had changed; all the eight year-olds were still focused solely on their workstations. The arrows on the floor pointed towards the main exit door, least the children should forget their instructions. Scott was feeling rather contrary and he began to exit through the entrance doors. A thrill that can only come through rebellion rushed through him as he continued walking in the opposite direction that the arrows instructed. He wondered what the other children would do and he looked around. Not surprisingly, no one had noticed. The others still toiled to make more car brakes and they had no time to see Scott’s curious act.

Scott waited for his raccoon to catch up. One of the hind legs seemed to be a little bit shorter than the rest, so the robot was forced to compensate. Scott considered going back to the bench and making the needed adjustments, but he couldn’t do it. The idea of turning around and voluntarily sentencing himself to another day of work was more than he could handle. Scott swung the door open, stepped outside, and was quickly joined by the raccoon.

The weather outside was quite pleasant. Climate was one of the great challenges that continued to plague the technological world. They could create perfect children, but they couldn’t guarantee them a perfect day. Most buildings were earthquake and hurricane proof, so structurally and property-wise, the weather and nature was a non-issue. Besides, should snow or rain ever start to fall from the sky, shelters and awnings would protrude over every walkway. Since no one ever veered from the walkways, there was never a need to be more than a foot away from the coverings.

Scott decided that he didn’t want to follow the paved path that was lain out before him. There was a tree that stood tall across from the warehouse. It was accompanied by a small patch of grass that was irresistible to Scott that day. He scooped up the robot in his arms, looked back and forth to see if anyone would stop him, then he ran right for the tree.

Looking up close at the base of the tree, Scott couldn’t help but smile. He put his fingers to the rough bark and felt the bumps and moss push against his hand while his robot pet rolled merrily in the grass. Turning his attention to the top of the tree, Scott marveled at the many branches that shot out. Each branch looked so healthy and alive complete with green leaves that waved to him in the slight breeze.

“Are you going to climb it or just stand there?”

Scott stumbled backward and almost fell on his toy robot. The raccoon saw him falling and skittered off to the side, allowing Scott to fall on the soft grass. He crawled on his hands and knees around the tree and noticed an old man sitting with his back against the bark.

“I didn’t mean to startle you son, but you were frustrating me.”

“What, I, what’re you doing here?”

“They still let a few trees grow here and there”, the elderly man replied. “Somebody’s gotta use them for something other than offsetting all those industrial smokestacks.”

“How do you use a tree?”

The old man sighed. “Son, that may be the most depressing question I’ve ever heard.”

“Sorry”, Scott answered.

“The really depressing part is that I’m not at all surprised that you asked. Guess they don’t think that sort of thing is important enough to program into yer noggin.”

“Actually, I…” Scott started to explain that he didn’t have all the information that other kids did, but he stopped himself. There was a more important topic that he wanted to know about. “Actually I’d appreciate it if you’d explain what you first said.”

“What, about climbing it?” The old man shook his head. “It’s as simple as that son; you grab a limb, pull yourself up, and then keep going as far as you’d like.”

“Then what happens?”

“There’s only way one to find out.” The old man punctuated his point by taking his bony finger and pointing it up the tree. “There’s no better way to do it than to just do it.”

Scott looked back up at the tree. It certainly seemed possible. The branches were close enough together, they all seemed healthy, and there was no one openly discouraging him from trying this activity. Scott looked back at the man who only jerked his head upwards impatiently.

Scott turned to his robot raccoon. The sun through the branches was giving him a new appearance. The parts of the metal and plastic that weren’t shaded by the leaves were reflecting the sun and showing each little screw and splash of paint that Scott had so joyfully added. The last time he had done something just for fun, it had turned out quite well. Why not?

Scott reached his hands above his head, the branch only just out of reach. He jumped, grabbed as firmly as he could, and felt his legs swinging slightly. With the few muscles he had, he managed to pull himself upwards while his feet made contact with the trunk. Half walking, half pulling his body up the tree, Scott felt exhilaration rushing up his body. No one had ever told him how much fun the outdoors could be. He climbed higher and higher until he couldn’t even see the ground through the leaves.

Scott stopped two-thirds up the tree and finally looked out at the world around him. The buildings were ordinary and depressing, but there was so much more to see. The crowds moved in a flow around the streets, cars zoomed to intersections then slammed on their brakes at the last minute. Beyond that, past all the ordinary, was a horizon Scott had only glimpsed before. Past the city, past the everyday business, was a sun shining on mountains and lakes. Scott had explored the outdoors before, but never in this kind of panoramic setting. For he didn’t know how long, Scott simply sat and took it all in.

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