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Lost Spirits of the Lake Where a Mother Found the Face of a Mountain

Paul Haeder: Fractured images of a father chopping wood for the pot-belly stove. A mother torn between the beatings and the bottle, yet raging inside Tory is the feeling of slag spilling over a metal barrel.

She wakes up in a flash of pouring sweat. The tires rolling through the mud startle her, but she knows not to jerk or bring attention to her stowaway mini island of absolution.

Lost Spirits

The smokestack clouds rise from the vestige of volcanic up thrust. Tory likes that about Mount Hood, how it’s its own weather machine and cloud incubator. Anything else in her past is a blur, broken frames of a slideshow. The mountain, however, is a constant weight in her brain.

Fractured images of a father chopping wood for the pot-belly stove. A mother torn between the beatings and the bottle, yet raging inside Tory is the feeling of slag spilling over a metal barrel. The red glow of her life witnessing beatings and the assaults. A brother up in the rafters of the rain-spilling barn. US Army Ranger Dead on Arrival. The arrival being the hurricane cone of childhood vigilance from beatings and humiliation and the pursuit of happiness first with pain and the fright of war, then the drip-pan hell and ecstasy of intravenous drugs.

Fractured images of a father chopping wood for the pot-belly stove. A mother torn between the beatings and the bottle, yet raging inside Tory is the feeling of slag spilling over a metal barrel.

Eyes of two barn owls her only witness to her last moments with Jimmy-boy before she cuts and runs. Out of the glow of morning lifting shadow from the mountain, she packed Jimmy-boy’s Army Ranger rucksack with as much as she could roll up before the rotting mold of a hungover mother came pouring into the small kitchen.

Tory touches Jimmy-boy’s feet, as he is like an exclamation point in the shadows of a roof-fallen barn that served for nothing more than a refuse bin, all shadowy with old man’s beard and foot pad moss spread throughout the rafters. Light cuts into the sides and roof, and where Jimmy-boy is, a light rain drips onto him. Stalactite or stalagmite, she thinks while touching his bare feet and ankles. Irish ropes with demonic skulls braided in were tattooed on his ankles and legs up to his calves after his first deployment. She touches them, traces the bumps from the last remnants of veins that have collapsed under the strain of hypodermic needles.

Tory was there for two sisters, sometimes for her mother, and never for her hunching father while Jimmy-boy went inside the black womb of war for the rich man’s adventures in torture in the Middle East. Somehow the country expects boys and a few girls to come out whole, like some Norman Rockwell placemat at the Cracker Barrell. Boys to men to decrepit beings. Girls to women to slaves of pain and military sexual assaults. The project of war Tory always rebelled against, and protested.

Jimmy-boy swings lightly in that after-death pendulum rock. His last vision, she thinks, were the piles upon piles of spent paint cans, beer cans and whiskey and other booze bottles. This once old quintessential red barn Tory’s grandparents tried to keep up had now turned into a nightmare on Huckleberry Lane, the updrifts and downdrifts of the mountain constant reminders to her that a white clan mixed with German-French-Dutch was the seed of filth and despoilment in this land of Salish and river tribes.

She rolled up clothes and made sure the shoes were paired, and then stuffed Jimmy-boy’s field rucksack with as much as she could find in the dark before her mother cracked open her bloodshot eyes looking for a dram or two perk-me-up. Before the old man limped to old stove to reheat the coffee from two days before.

Tory took the money stashed in some old Swisher Sweet box. Took the lighters and the smokes, too. Her last words to the world were to the girls on the other side of the hallway, still asleep: “You have to find the angels, Dana, Darlene.”

The road down from the dirt track is already lit up by the father of the growing thing inside her. He is two years older, and also wanting to lift away from the old people, the surly loggers, and leave behind the cut of the land by the offspring of Oregon Trail miscreants and want to be’s. Somehow, even the uninitiated children of the pioneers knew asphalt, gasoline, bulldozers, the rot-gut of modern food, life, TV and boredom were blasphemy to the mountain.

Tory had written poems about the mountain, the last bear trails, the still intact small herds of elk. Entire books about the hell and heaven visions inside her head.

To tell the girls now about the egg growing inside, with their fire-throated parents in dervishes of ancient pain, cyclical sexual abuse and beatings, Tory wants to parachute out into another world. She knows it’s going to be her biggest regret.

*--*

“There’s nothing more to say,” Tory says to the tall brunette. Her angel is swaddled now, carried off by the woman who calls herself Ruth, but Tory knows it’s all a rouse. She knows this moment is the only salvation for her angel, Angela.

The woman’s entourage includes her husband, big, thin cotton sport jacket, grey goatee and hands that show the work of pen and computer mouse. Another fellow is in sweat suit, and he’s something out of a Scorsese movie.

“Child mother surrogate granddaughter clouds old camp baby clothes the strain in my breathing no breath left for Jimmy-boy.”

The other angels – her sisters -- now in foster care, her kid sisters, 14 and 16, their mother full of the same cancer Tory has eating at her. Father worthless, still in his anger after each pitch of empty bottle where Jimmy-boy with his perfect self-inflicted slip knot noose hung, his face not at peace but bearing the strain of eyes screaming out against the life he was whet nursed to and his tongue as large as an eggplant between rotting teeth.

Tory knows her life was meant for something else – the poetry, the visions, her own clock set way outside the confines of those old parents and a broken system and resentment and the entire mountain full of the wrong people in the wrong land.

Voices from trees and crows, and the wind spirits, Tory writes about. Tory and her seed inside, the cancer inside bones, so young, everyone says. Tory writes her story, long lonely journey into nightmare. Tory goes one or two more with her own nights held down by interlopers, the white demons of the Oregon Trail, offspring, her own father, and later, the devils of the night, white and spindly, the meth monsters of Portland.

Alone, in a deep canyon, fed by streams and fish and huckleberries. The kid who took her under his wing, brings her food and fresh kill meat, a child really, this seventeen-year-old Tory saved from a knife fight under the gloom of Stump Town drizzle, and he is in unrequited love with this hitchhiker almost 10 years older.

She writes furiously as the cancer comes into her like the clouds gathering around the glacial shawls of Mount Hood, and as her angel grows. One year old in the tent, and in the woods, Angela will have a book she’ll know is her mother’s story, or, her own might begin here.

The magic of the night in the river ravine is part of Tory’s story, 26 years making sense out of the cacophony of absurdities and alienations, a tribe of people she brings with her on the page. Incongruences, these stories, hers, and the light of the word will live somewhere.

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I will not die alone, and the few months with check in hand, the selling of a child for the betterment of the child, Tory tells as many people she knows she is at peace. These people – Angela’s adopted parents -- are not blessed with Tory’s street sense, but they want a new love in their lives. The toss of the coin of the realm Tory knows is the luck of the draw in life. Her own life spewed out onto this magnificent country ruined by the spittle of the white man and his toxins.

*-* *-*

Pah-To and Wy-east, Wasco legend had the two mountains close to the Columbia river, where a bridge or arch spanned the river which was a calmer, fuller force, and full of pooling areas as big as lakes. The two mountains were jealous of each other, in awe of the other, and so they made the earth tremble, knocked trees down, and eventually, the jealousy got so bad the two mountains, Pah-to (Mt. Adams) and Wy-east (Mt. Hood) started brawling as mountains do – tossing granite, scree and basalt at each other.

The Great Father in the sky heard from the people and the animals, pleading for intervention to stop the feuding of Pah-To and Wy-east. As volcanoes do, they got angrier and angrier, throwing hot flaming stones at each other, filling the beautiful lake under the arch with flames and hot red stone, and that lake dried up from the hissing boulders and boiling caldron.

The great power above was tiring of the shenanigans of the two mountains, and eventually the two mountains caused a great earth shaking, with all the trees sliding into the river and that great arch collapsing. The river was no longer the same, now full of rocks and waterfalls and rapids.

The Great Power was so angry he came down, stood near the two white mountains, and took one and threw that Pah-to as far as he could, and then the other, Wy-east, was tossed as far as he could in the opposite direction.

The two mountains stand there, apart, watching the great Columbia River on its way to the sea.

*--* *--*

Angela takes the book, the hard back and traces her mother’s face on the jacket. Two Angry Mountains Making Peace: The Story of Tory Eagle Spirit Jenson, and the people at the bookstore look at the strong chiseled face of Tory’s Angel, and Angela is tall and muscular, having the fortitude of a mother who left home under the same feuding those two mountains did in the legend of Wasco.

Angela is talking about her own story and her mother’s, two separate lives, hers splintered from the ugly family line and her own mother’s gift to a child to carry on in a family with the semblance of normality, with the physical comforts Tory and Jimmy-boy and the younger girls never saw.

Angela has taken the gift of walkabout and knowing with a camera and canvas and has traveled the world looking at shape – the shapes of cultures denigrated and harassed by the very tools of capitalism that she was lucky enough to benefit from at an early age.

Tory wrote about the strong winds of pain inflicted on so many people like here, and she wrote about the visions of mountains and their spirits, and the hard-scrabble mental chaos of drug use, running from the law, and finding a slice of life in her last lurch through gravity with her cancerous bones.

Angela’s paintings and photographs cover the gallery wall, and the images are of those spills, the split earth, bulldozed and sprayed with acids to reveal the metals of war and commerce and white man’s subjugation.

Brown and black people pounding earth and mud and hill and cliff for the ores of the warring White Man, and Angela is proud of the way and shape of things now, and her mother’s book, published a month after she died, and now, years later, revived by her daughter.

The Lake of Lost Spirits, another book, about all the work Angela did to find her mother’s spirit, the living one, and all the work Angela has done to bring to light the killing fields of her adopted father’s profession – mining. Honduras, Chile, New Guinea, Australia, Congo, and the American Southwest.

*--* *--*

Smart Crow pretended he was wise and lied about a vision: A long cold winter with a lot of snow, endless chill, death. He told the hunters to kill as many animals as possible for the cold winter. Plain Feather at first refused but gave into the sly Smart Crow’s story.

He killed many deer and bear, and then a herd of five elk, he killed all but one, and that one he wounded. Plain Feather didn’t know that was his guardian elk, and he followed the wounded elk deeper and deeper into the forest.

Deep in the mountain he found a beautiful lake, and not far away he saw the wounded elk in the water. A voice said, “Draw him in.” The voice kept repeating, “. . . draw him in . . .draw him in.” Soon, he was next to the wounded elk, and the elk said, “Why did you disobey me, Plain Feather?”

All around him in the lake were the spirits of all the animals Plain Feather had killed, and the elk said, “I will no longer be your guardian. All around you are the spirits of the animals you have killed. You have disobeyed me and killed my friends.”

Plain Feather went back to camp, on his hands and knees, sick with this knowledge. He went into his teepee and died.

Even after, the Indians called the place Lake of Lost Spirits. Beneath the blue waters are the thousands of spirits of the dead. On the surface is the face of Mount Hood.

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For Angela, the face of her mother is on the surface looking down at the dead spirits of the millions of people murdered by the force of warrior miners and devil oil diggers.

Paul K. Haeder