In two weeks I travel back to Minnesota for the first time in six months, since moving to Portland. And honestly, Portland feels like home to me in a way that Minnesota never really did, even after living there for 52 years. But there are a few things I miss about Minnesota – my children, of course! And my dear Minnesota friends too. But one place that I always loved to visit is Duluth, the harbor city on Lake Superior. It is such a lovely city, and I grew to love it especially as it was the first place I traveled to as a single woman, and it welcomed me with open arms. There is something about watching the massive freighters moving in and out of the harbor that I never grew tired of; anxiously listening for the horn that would sound the opening of the beautiful steel lift bridge. And Lake Superior herself is a goddess; a body of immense water that reminded me of the ocean, with a rocky shore that only nature could create. So I offer a poem, and a story I wrote with Duluth as the backdrop – enjoy….
The Dreaming Lake
At night she dreams
The queen of all lakes
Regal upon her throne of rocky shores
In her dreams she is the ocean, the sea
Bellowing out a ghostlike moan
Her waves of passion churn the water
Slapping the rocks and leaping in a dancer’s arc
Icy hands pummel and knead the stones
Into smooth and weathered solidity
Nightmares conjure up storms
Of massive proportions
Arrogant vessels of hardened steel
Who dare to sail upon her anger
Are snapped apart
Like the frail branches of a tree in a storm
She swallows up bites of metal
Digested for eternity
She dreams of her massive girth
That human eyes are unable to perceive one shore to the next
She is infinite space
She awakes from her dream
Stretching gentle ripples across her surface
Tenderly kissing the rocky shore
Her voice now mute
Sunlight tiptoes upon her
Glinting patterns appear
Like constellations fallen from the sky
Remembrance of her status comes to light
That of a lake named Superior
Yet inside of her resides
The heart of an ocean
And the soul of a sea
The words shot out of him and lay at her feet – spent shells from the shotgun that had become his mouth. Sophia stared at Chad – shaking her head in amazement, she grabbed her purse and without saying a word she walked out the door. She got into her car and with shaking hands on the steering wheel she somehow managed to drive to the coffee shop. In a trembling voice she ordered a cup of coffee that she hoped would calm her down despite the caffeine. She sat down at a table, glancing around nervously, hoping she didn’t see anyone here she knew. Sophia looked around for something to write on. All she could find were the napkins in the dispenser on the table. Perfect – they were so perfect for writing out the words she had wanted to say for so long – it’s over, their marriage; Sophia no longer wanted to share her life with Chad. The pen tore through the flimsy paper of the napkin as she wrote the words. For five long years she tried, she had tried so hard to make it work. But what she had really done was try to make him be someone he wasn’t. Chad could never be Joshua, her sweet Joshua – she missed him so much! It had been a mistake thinking that marriage to someone so different from Joshua would help blot out his memory. And they were so different from each other in every way. As far as appearance went Chad was a giant compared to Joshua, and not a Jolly Green Giant either, more like the fee fie fo fum type. Sophia had grown tired of Chad’s judgments of everyone and everything – Joshua had been so open minded. Sophia and Joshua could sit for hours, having deep philosophical discussions about so many things. Chad just didn’t find Sophia’s opinions or thoughts that important. Every time that Chad acted like Chad, it just seemed to cause a voice in her head to scream how much he was Chad and not Joshua. But his biting words had finally become too much, although she couldn’t really blame him. Joshua hung like a specter in the air between them at times. They had become like a love triangle – Sophia, Chad and Joshua – and everyone knows that marriage needs to be a straight line between two people, not a geometric shape made up of three.
When she got home he wasn’t there. Good, Sophia thought and relaxed a bit. She knew that she owed him an explanation after walking out in silence, not bothering to stay and fight about it, but she was so tired right now. Oh my, Sophia swore she could hear his voice again – at times she wondered if her grief made her crazy. “Hey baby”, the voice said, “you need to get out of there. Come to me – you know – our spot. I’ll be there – I miss you.” It wasn’t really his voice, yet it was. It was the voice that used to speak to her so gentle, so tender – oh, it was Joshua alright. Sophia opened the hall closet and found the duffel bag. She threw it on the bed and packed what she would need for the next couple days – clothes, toiletries. Then she found the cds – hidden back in the corner on her side of the bedroom closet. Sophia grabbed them and saw his face staring back at her – “Please baby, sing to me” – she would always plead. She uttered that same plea to him now. She changed into a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt that said UMD Bulldogs on it – a symbol of “their” time. Grabbing her sunglasses off the dresser, Sophia thought she better leave Chad a note, not just about where she had gone but about the end of their marriage as she saw it. But she was just so damn tired and wanted to get out of their house and out of town. There were too many memories here and she only wanted the memories from the place she was going to. It may have been an act of cowardice and a slap in the face as well, but Sophia took the napkins from the coffee shop out of her purse. They said all that needed to be said, except for this part that she added: I’m going to Duluth for a couple of days and we’ll talk when I get back. Please don’t call – I’m really sorry it went down like this – Sophia. She lay the napkins on the kitchen counter, along with her wedding band on top of them and walked out the door; her heart already on the road miles ahead of her.
The radio station was fading out; along with the anger and sadness that Sophia had felt when she started on the road to Duluth. Now her emotions were from a time past. Remembering was bittersweet; bitter because Joshua left her, yet sweet because he had been with her for a time. And the time they had been together was only sweet – not bitter. Sophia reached across to the passenger seat where she had put the cds. She slid the plastic disc into the cd player and waited for it – the first notes of the song and then that voice. It was just like the first time she heard him sing, how something touched her heart and she felt some sort of connection, crazy as it seemed at the time. Sophia allowed her mind to drift and play the movie in her head that had been her and Joshua. She remembered with a smile how they met – and how he had gently teased her – she actually blushed thinking of it.
The trip to the Platter Palace was her reward to herself for getting an A on her first college research paper. Sophia had cried tears of frustration over writing that paper, but they were worth it after seeing her grade. She loved psychology and wanted it to be her major, but her professor for Intro Psych was so tough! So when she made it past that first paper with flying colors, she felt she deserved a little something. The Platter Palace was the name of the record store in Duluth were you went to buy your music if you were a true music lover – not like going to Best Buy where you were in and out of there in 5 minutes, and most of the music department staff could have cared less about music. Sophia loved the atmosphere at the “Palace”, the name given to the record store by the regular customers. It was quaint and quirky; they not only sold music but also incense, clothes and jewelry that reminded Sophia of the 60’s, and the display cases that held the “paraphernalia” that so many of the college students seemed to have money for. The people who worked there knew everything about music and not just the top 40 stuff. Sophia had engaged in many long and deep discussions with the staff there about different artists and their music. And there was always great music playing in the store. She was looking for a cd by someone she had heard on the college radio station – his name was Joshua Walker. When Sophia heard his song on the radio, she felt as if her heart was taken over by the lovely voice she heard – it was incredible! It was the strangest reaction, as if she knew him. She shook that aside for the time, but had made note of his name. Now as she scanned the aisles for Joshua Walker in the cd bins, she just couldn’t find him there. Sophia went up to the counter and asked the clerk for some help.
“Who are you looking for again?” he asked her.
“Joshua Walker – I think he may be a local artist but I don’t know. I heard him the other day on KUMD and I just loved his song – and most of all his voice! He has the most beautiful voice – I hope you can find his cd for me.” Sophia thought she had better stop talking or else this guy helping her would think she was a flake and she was finding him rather attractive. He was not too tall, kind of skinny with straight jet black hair that almost hung in his eyes. Sophia was barely five feet tall and she preferred being with someone who wasn’t towering over her.
“Here it is – we have a special section for local artists – you know, so people can find them easier – at least most of the time it’s easier finding them there. But I don’t mind helping you out at all. I really like this guy too. And I hear he puts on a great live show. In fact, he’s playing at The Thirsty Sailor this Saturday night if you really want to hear him sing. I’m planning on being there for sure so maybe I’ll see you there if you decide to go.”
“Thanks for all your help and for the heads up on the show. I’ll see if I can talk my roommate into going with me so maybe I’ll be there too.” As Sophia paid for her cd she secretly prayed that her roommate Laura didn’t already have plans for Saturday night. She wanted to get to know this Palace guy better. As she drove back to her dorm Sophia realized she didn’t get his name – oh well – she wouldn’t forget what he looked like. When she got to her dorm room Laura was there and Sophia told her about Joshua Walker and the upcoming show he was playing. She also mentioned the attractive guy from the Platter Palace who had invited her – kind of.
“Yeah, why not,” Laura said when Sophia asked her about going to The Thirsty Sailor on Saturday. “It might be fun and maybe I’ll get lucky and meet a thirsty sailor.” Sophia was sure that Laura’s main objective of college was not getting a degree but getting a man. She was cute and perky, and always dressed as if she were going out somewhere, unlike Sophia who preferred jeans and a t-shirt, which usually had a band or musician on the front of it. Laura left to go to class and Sophia had the tiny room to herself. Good, she thought, now I have some time alone to listen to the Joshua Walker cd. She opened it and saw the picture inside the case- he looked familiar. Now she recognized him – it was the clerk from the Platter Palace – there was no mistaking him. Oh, that was really cute – the way he led her on and didn’t tell her who he was. Actually, it was kind of cute and now she was intrigued. Was he just being humble? Or had he been flirting with her? Well, she was going to find out Saturday night. Sophia was going to make sure she let this Joshua Walker know that she caught on to his little game – and she smiled a little smile thinking about it.
The Thirsty Sailor was one of those bars that had been around forever it seemed. Years ago it had been full of the workers off the huge ships – the freighters that came through Duluth on their way to either load up or unload cargo. But then the college students took over the bar and on the weekends the stage was frequented by the local music talent. Sophia and Laura walked into the small tavern and took notice of the obvious nautical theme – pictures of ships everywhere, stuffed seagulls on the walls along with thick rope strung across the front of the bar.
“God I hope this Joshua Walker isn’t going to sing any sea shanties,” Laura commented.
“Very funny,” Sophia replied, “If you had listened to his cd like I told you to, you’d know what kind of music he sings. And it isn’t sea shanties!” Joshua Walker probably fit best into the singer-songwriter genre; a bit of folk, a bit of rock – kind of Dylanesque but with his own style.
Laura took off her coat, revealing a tight, low-cut purple shirt along with the very tiny denim skirt she had on, paired with black boots that went to her knees – “hooker boots” is what Sophia called them.
“I feel out of place here – how long do we have to stay?” Laura said as she took a seat at the bar.
“We just got here and we are staying long enough so I can talk to Joshua Walker and tell him ha, ha, very funny,” Sophia said defiantly. They both ordered a beer and turned toward the stage; someone with a guitar was making his way out. He came and sat down on the empty chair that was in the middle of the stage. It was the familiar face that Sophia recognized from the Palace – she was trying to decide if he was the type who would mess with her or if he was just being humble. He played around with his guitar as if he was trying to tune it to perfection. Finally, Joshua Walker spoke into the microphone.
“Thanks for coming. Here’s a new song I wrote for someone I just met this past week. I don’t know if she’s here, but I hope she decided to come.” And with that he launched into a song called Who Am I.
“Oh my God!” Laura said to Sophia above the music, “He already wrote a song for you! How romantic!”
“How do you know it’s for me?” Sophia replied. But she knew – somehow she knew he had written it for her. But he still needed to explain himself, why didn’t he just say who he was from the start? She didn’t like playing games. He played a few more songs and then announced that he was taking a short break. Good, Sophia thought; now I can try and corner him.
Joshua came out to the bar area, looking to order a beer. They spotted each other and Sophia left Laura with the new friend that she had just made. He gave Sophia a smile and said, “Thanks for coming to hear me play. I guess my secret’s out, huh?”
“Yes, the secret’s out alright. Why didn’t you just tell me from the start?” Sophia asked him.
“Sorry – I guess I just didn’t want to come off like some kind of egomaniac. It was too embarrassing to tell you “yeah, that’s my album and why don’t you come hear me play?” I’m always surprised when people come in and buy my cd but I shouldn’t be – after all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Putting my music out there? I just love writing the songs for the sake of creating them, and being able to record an album and play for people is the icing on the cake, you know?”
“Well, you shouldn’t be so humble about your music – it’s amazing! You have the most beautiful voice. And your songs – they are so touching,” Sophia gushed.
She could have sworn he was blushing, even in the dim light of the bar. “I was inspired to write that first song after I met you – after I realized what I had done, not telling you who I was. I’m sorry I wasn’t completely honest with you. Hopefully the song makes up for that, maybe?”
Sophia didn’t know what to say. “It was lovely,” she said in a quiet voice that made her wonder where it came from.
It was time for the second set to begin. Joshua walked out and gave a quick wave to the audience before sitting down on the lone chair. His slight figure seemed to be swallowed up by the stage, even in this small venue. He played his quiet songs and while Sophia listened the noise from the people around her seemed to fade away. It was just Joshua and her. He played songs with such lovely melodies and words full of meaning. Sophia watched him as he sang with his eyes closed, gently touching the strings of the guitar. It was as if he made love to her, his guitar, and she rewarded him with luscious sounds. Then it was over and Sophia came back to life as the lights came on all around her.
“Are you about ready to go?” Laura had made a new friend, male of course, and she was anxious to go somewhere else and keep the party going.
“Just hold on – I’m finishing my beer.” Sophia was trying to drink it so slow, hoping that Joshua would come out again. She got her wish when she saw him come through the backstage door. He was obviously looking for someone, and Sophia realized that someone was her when their eyes met.
“Hi – did you enjoy the show?” he asked her.
“It was great,” Sophia told him, “I didn’t want it to end.” She wondered if maybe that sounded a bit too forward.
“Can I buy you a beer?” Joshua offered.
“Well, my friend who drove me here is anxious to get going.”
“I can give you a ride home if you can wait around a bit. I like to hang out for a while after I play,” Joshua explained. Sophia almost ran to Laura. “I have a ride home so you can leave anytime you want.” That was fine with Laura as she seemed engrossed with her new friend.
“I’ll take you up on that offer,” Sophia told Joshua after she hurried back to him.
“Great!” he said. “I wanted to ask you – do you like watching the ships coming and going out of Canal Park? I was going to go down there and see if I could catch the one coming in about an hour from now. Do you want to join me?” Canal Park was the area of Duluth where the huge cargo ships came in and out of Lake Superior. There were two piers on either side of the canal, with a lighthouse at each end. The street was lined with eclectic shops, a variety of restaurants, as well as places to stay – inns and hotels – and then there was the Lakewalk – the walking trail that ran alongside the lake with wooden benches set on the rocky shore. Sophia loved watching the freighters coming and going – the massive ships of crimson red steel that seemed to move at a snail’s pace never ceased to fascinate her.
“I’d love that,” Sophia told him. They finished their beers and he told her to wait while he grabbed his guitar from the backstage area. Joshua had the sweetest smile on his face when he came out to meet her, guitar case in hand. “Let’s get going so we don’t miss it!” he said with such enthusiasm. It was so infectious and Sophia found herself wanting to skip out to the parking lot, wondering what had gotten into her. She was usually more reserved but Joshua had seemed to find a place in her that she had kept hidden. It was the place of sheer enjoyment; the place of letting go and having fun! It was the place of not caring about what anyone else thought of her.
He came around and opened the door of his rather beat up car for her – such a gentleman! She had to kick aside the empty fast food bags and papers by her feet as she got in – he wasn’t a neat freak like her by any means.
“Sorry about the mess,” he apologized, “I was going to clean it up tomorrow – I’m not scheduled to work. If I had known I’d have such a pretty passenger I would have taken care of cleaning it out sooner.” Oh, he had quite a way with words, Sophia thought. Was he really sincere or just trying to get somewhere with her? She didn’t want to be so cynical, but too many guys just wanted only one thing and she was tired of that game.
“Well, thank you – it’s just fine. I tend to be a bit obsessive about neatness myself, but I don’t judge anyone by their messiness,” Sophia told him.
They drove the rest of the way in silence, but Canal Park was only a five minute drive from The Thirsty Sailor. In the early hours of the morning, the main street of Canal Park was deserted; all the shops and restaurants were closed and the mood was one of a dark calm. Even so, Sophia didn’t feel unsafe with Joshua. Her intuition told her that he would be a perfect gentleman and he had already shown that in the brief snippet of time that they had spent together. Joshua parked the car and they got out and went to check the shipping news monitor that continually flashed the arrival and departure times of the big ships. They didn’t always run true to schedule and Sophia hoped that they hadn’t missed it.
“It looks like we have some time to kill – the James R. Barker arrives around 0200 – that’s 2 a.m. in regular time – and it’s a little after 1:00. How about if we take a walk down the Lakewalk a ways until we see the lights of the ship?” Joshua offered.
“That sounds great, but I’m not really dressed for the weather.” Sophia hadn’t worn her warmest jacket and even in summer the breeze off the lake dropped the temperature quite a bit.
“I have an extra sweatshirt in my car if you don’t mind wearing it – sorry if it isn’t the cleanest but I just keep it around just in case, you know – the weather here changes in an instant sometimes.” Joshua went and grabbed the well worn Platter Palace sweatshirt and offered it to Sophia, who gladly slipped it on underneath her jacket.
“Thanks – I would have dressed warmer had I known I’d be outside watching the ships.”
They started off down the wooden planks that made up the Lakewalk. It wound around the lake until it veered off into downtown Duluth. Sophia had never been down to Canal Park this time of night, morning actually, and it was pristine silence. She could actually hear the lake. It had a sound, all its own – a roar like the ocean. The waves slapped against the rocks on the shore and she could hear the splashing of the water. And the moon was a golden reflection on the water that shimmered as the waves came in. They walked a ways and then started back towards the pier as they spotted the lights of the ship, barely discernable but like a firefly on the water. The ship moved slowly so they still had time to kill before it made it to the pier area and through the canal. And besides, the liftbridge would have to be raised and that was an audible signal that no one could ignore.
“Why don’t we sit for a bit until the ship is a little closer?” Joshua found a bench on the shore for them to rest on. They sat there, in silence again and Sophia hugged herself tight, despite the extra clothing Joshua had given her.
“Are you still cold?” Joshua asked. “You can move closer to me – I don’t bite, you know.” Sophia sidled a bit closer to him and he gently put his arm around her, almost as if he were afraid she would break. But Sophia didn’t mind at all; it felt so comfortable with him. She relaxed into his arms and felt her heart start beating, so strong. As if she knew exactly what to do, she lifted her head to his and their lips found each other in a sweet kiss – nothing intense, nothing passionate, just a kiss full of innocence. But they both felt more than innocence underneath that kiss and knew there was a connection building between them.
“You are so special – I felt it when you came into the store. Call it instinct or intuition but we have something. Don’t you feel it? Even though we’ve just met?” Joshua was pouring his heart out to Sophia.
“I felt it the first time I heard you sing, crazy as that sounds. Like I knew you, even though I didn’t at the time,” Sophia confessed.
“Would you get up for a minute? I want to do something.” And with that, Joshua took out his car keys and carved into the wood of the bench, Our Spot – Sophia and Joshua.
“There – now this is our spot – to come to every time we come here.” What a touching romantic gesture – Sophia was genuinely moved by what Joshua had just done.
“Oh, look!” Sophia cried, “The ship is almost here!” She started running towards the pier where the huge mass of steel was slowly making its way. She was jumping up and down and had forgotten all about Joshua in her excitement, but he was close behind, smiling at her enthusiasm.
“You really love watching this, don’t you?” Joshua smiled at her.
“Oh yes!” Sophia gushed, “I can’t explain what it is, but I never get tired of watching the ships – it is so exciting!”
Joshua stood back and watched Sophia with a fondness that he knew would grow to be much more than that. After that first night watching the ship at Canal Park, they came back when they could to their “spot” – the bench with their claim on it – until that fateful night when Sophia’s sweet Joshua left her.
Sophia came back to the present – the undeniable present of no Joshua on this earth any longer and now her marriage in pieces that could never fit back together. She tried to turn her head as she came closer to the spot – she knew it so well even though the flowers that used to mark it were no longer there anymore. Those damn ice storms that came to Duluth and all because of that damn lake that blew in storms of large proportions – storms that not only caused cars to slide off the road into road signs that could kill but could also sink ships – ships as big as the ones they had loved to watch. Sophia knew that the endless tears could never bring him back but they came anyway. She tried to push them down as she drove so she could see the road as she drove to Canal Park. When she got to the familiar area, she pulled into the parking lot of one of the hotels, hoping against hope that she could find a room at such late notice. But first, she had one place she needed to go to. Early on in their marriage, Sophia and Chad had come to Duluth a couple times. Chad knew how much Sophia loved to watch the ships, and he tried to make it “their” place, as if he could wipe away her past with Joshua that seemed to cover them like a light mist at times. But it was never the same with Chad, even though Sophia tried to make it fun. It would always be “their” place – her and Joshua – and now she walked to the familiar bench. She found it easily and ran her fingers over the words, now worn but still visibly carved into the bench. With a weary sigh she sat down on the bench, grateful that there were few people around.
“Joshua, can you hear me? Baby, I came – just like you asked – to our spot. I’m reclaiming Duluth as ours again, it always was. I was wrong, and I hurt someone trying to make them be you. There can never be another you. I miss you! I miss you so much. I don’t know what I’m going to do now, except just sit here and hope that you’ll help me. Tell me what to do sweet baby, what do I do now?” Sophia heard only the sound of the waves for a time, no voice speaking to her. She had almost fallen asleep when she heard a voice. “Excuse me, but do you know where I can find out about the ships coming in? I just moved here and everyone says I have to watch it at least once.” Sophia looked up to see a ghost – the voice came from someone who looked just like him – they could have been twins!
“I’m sorry,” the Joshua twin said, “I didn’t know you were sleeping.”
“No, no – I was just resting. Let me show you where the shipping schedule is. I love watching the ships – your friends were right, it’s something you just have to experience. My name’s Sophia by the way, and what’s yours?” She got up from their spot and Sophia knew that everything was going to be alright.