Action & Thought
Fire Tear
Cat Wanderings
The Clam
Isaac's Bullet
Slippery Ice

Action and thought coalesce as one,
The truth is won

    Amid the roar of battle, I dance. My feet move, left and right, in and out, keeping time with the drum of my heart. My arms swing, slicing and chopping their way to victory. Adrenaline, channeled by my mind, courses throughout my veins. One after another my enemies fall. Pausing to catch my breath I risk a glance at the battles raging on about me. Bitter combatants are locked in the dance of death. They too show signs of wear: beads of sweat rising on their foreheads, jaws set in rigid acceptance that their battles are far from over, and a defiant glare in their eyes proclaiming to the world that they will be triumphant despite all odds.
     From out of the crowd, the swirling mass of chaos, strides a lone stranger. There is a confidence in his voice, as he issues his challenge to me that I have not perceived in my other opponents. Nor does his air of dignity lower as our battle begins. I soon find that not only am I having difficulty in asserting dominance, I am struggling to keep alive. The world begins to spin around me. I am laboring to keep my feet when I see it; he has let down his guard. My chance at victory floats within my grasp. I coil my body and unleash it for the killÖ

    Öand my ball drops into the net. Backspin! I should have known. I am standing in the Student Union among the clash of pool balls and the roar of the arcade machines. I have just lost my last game of Ping-Pong for the night. Defeated, I walk up to my dorm room and crawl into bed. My body is numb and yet my mind races on; why do I have to push myself to play so hard for so long, why did I lose, why canít I sleep? Yet as fast as the defeated portion of my mind can spew out questions the rational part provides the answers: you play for so long because you love the game, you lost because you were tired and made a mistake, and you canít sleep because the voices in your head wonít shut up! It was then that it dawned on me; I hadnít lost. Yes the score was 19-21, but what had my opponent gained from his win? I was the one who had stepped up to his level of play. I acknowledged my mistake and learned from it. I, despite losing the game, was the one who had gained from the encounter. It all became clear. With defeat comes knowledge, with knowledge power, and with power triumph. I had won.


Looking out across the river valley from atop the hill, trees twinkle with the crystal brittle brilliance of the noonday sun shining off the ice encasing each little twig. Crisp and clear, the air stands still. It is as if the weather is in shock, like a little boy looking appaledly at the results of his temper tantrum. The storm left us with a world wrapped in ice, a crust so thick and hard and slippery that all activity has come sliding and skidding to a halt. All activity, that is, except for the sliding and skidding itself, which is why I am standing here today at the top of the sledding hill.
    No sleek, slick, classic runnered sled have I. Mine is a battered hunk of faded orange plastic. The handles have long since been torn off. Deep gouges run the entire length of its belly, and the sides have been crushed flat and popped back into place time and time again. My sled has character.
    I thought my sled and I had seen it all. We have plummeted down ten foot vertical drops, scrapped over half buried rocks, and wrapped around numerous trees. We have seen a lot, but never before have we seen ice like this, ice that engulfs everything.
    Pure, raw, uncompromising ice is all that I can see as I gingerly set my sled down at the top of the hill. I kneel deliberately into the back of the sled, and leaning forwards tentatively clutch the broken ice that forms the launching pad. Somewhat apprehensively I look down at the icescape below me. To the left are two big boulders of snow built before the storm, now with the ice as hard as actual stone erratics. The hill itself begins with an abrupt drop, then eases into a gentle slope, before once again plunging into a steeper grade. At the bottom of the hill is a great expanse of flat shiny whiteness. Beyond the field is a river, its moving water fighting off the ice. Allowing my eyes to drift back across the field to the bottom of the hill I see, sculpted in snow and glazed with ice, a glorious terrain feature. A jump. Two feet tall and angled a solid sixty degrees. I shiver at the thought of mounting this amazing mound. Am I really ready to risk taking that jump? Searching my mind I find no reason against it. I've got a whole new world of excitement to be experienced and nothing to lose. Why not!?
    With that, I thrust my sled off the edge, flinging myself into the initial descent. The ice at the top is rough, rumbling and crunching underneath. Kneeling high I allow the sled to bump up and down and side to side, absorbing the movement with my legs while my center of gravity maintains a straight line. I steer gently, leaning slightly and grazing the ice with my fingertips. It is a test of agility, not too difficult, but crucial in shaping the rest of the run.
    Having surpassed the initial plunge over rugged ice, I glide smoothly into the gradual sloping section of the hill, savoring the crisp wind created by my rapid descent. Now that the initial rush is over I straighten out the haphazard course that my sled was taking, and settle into a smooth glide.
    Midway down the hill I decide to try something, an experiment if you will. My right hand reaches back, my left forwards, bracing off the ice for a split second, just long enough for me to twist my spine around and execute a 360-degree turn. My head spins, showing me for an instant a panorama of the world. Revolving Ďround, now facing down, I find that I have underestimated the slickness of the ice. I begin another spin. Spinning out of control now a second time around, I give up. I am powerless against this ice. I am doomed. Again, I see all that is around me. This time, now that I am beginning to get used to spinning I am able to get a clearer look at the hill above. I see the path I took only a split second before, yet it seems like an eternity of spinning. Now that I have twice twirled Ďround, I am beginning to gain an understanding of what is going on. The third time the sled spins I am ready for it. I have figured out how to correct my course. Coming around again, facing forwards for the third time, I gently drag my left hand behind me and shift my weight away from the clockwise turn. I succeed in straightening out the sled. Third time's the charm.
    Now I look ahead and see a scary sight. The jump in all its icy glory looms ominously before me. No time to think. I must act. Grazing the ice with my hand, I aim my sled for it. With clenched fists I pound the ice, rapidly accelerating down the slope. Grace is sacrificed for speed as I put all my force into making the sled go faster. When the time is right I cease my furious efforts and lean back. Muscles tingle with the adrenaline that rushes through my veins. A split second before impact a particle of doubt flashes in my mind; is this really safe? Should I really be doing this? But by then it is too late. I am in the groove above the jump; there is no turning back.
    I hit the jump with jarring impact. My body tenses, muscles contract, vertebra compress, and jaw clamps tight. I am thrust into the air. I fly, leaving the sled, the ice, the hill, and the world behind. Arms and legs stretch out. The wind catches my hair. I toss back my head and release a primal scream of shear ecstasy.
    Then I am falling, plunging down to the ground. Wind rushing in my ears. My body twisting uncontrollably in the air. I am never going to land on my feet. No hope remains, only fear. Fear of pointlessness. Fear of regret. Fear of pain. The force of the impact shakes me to the core. I land on jagged, unforgiving ice. I lie there in a ball of pure pain, cold, crushed, crying.
    The next day, muscles that I didnít even know I had hurt. Overflowing with pain, pointlessness, and regret, I ask myself, "Is it really worth it just for that fleeting seconds flight?" No, of course it isnít worth it for that alone. But yes, it is worth it for the experience as a whole, for it is

-Johanna Kohout

Fire Tear

Sitting alone on a log beside a fading campfire at the edge of the pine forest, I gaze up at the stars. Orion, Taurus, the winter constellations, the ones I know, the oneís she taught me, are starting to appear again. I lower my gaze and stare into the shimmering coals. A solitary tear trickles down my face. Getting caught in my beard, it is suspended for a momentary eclipse of eternity. Then it falls down, down into the flames. Vaporized, there is nothing more of it than a bit of moisture in the air. "That tear was a mere side affect of the smoke in my eyes," I tell myself, but is it?
    Those first few campfires we had together managed to sandwich themselves neatly in between a mind numbing Christmas vacation and a devastating ice storm. For four fleeting nights we sat silently side by side and stared into the flames, watching as their heat magically melting away the barriers between us. But it was not to be. Fate had other plans. So here I sit by the fireside, smelling the sweet cedar smoke, and trying to put the past behind me. I wonder if those flickering flames will work their magic again?

Cat Wanderings

"Where are we going?" asked the four-year-old boy. The angelic white cat that was his traveling companion ignored him as only a cat can, and continued to pad silently through the forest. He tromped behind kicking rustling leaves as he went. Through his worn, white-kneed overalls the autumn air nibbled at his legs. His fingers found refuge in the cuffs of his red flannel shirt as the low late evening sun descended upon the horizon.
    The thrill of the adventure spurred him on. Heíd succeeded in escaping the confines of his house and running off into the woods again. This time he had an accomplice in his crime, a veteran feline escape artist who led him deep into the leafless trees.
    "O kitty kitty kitty, where are we?" sang the boy. This caught the catís attention, for it was the call normally used to signify that her dinner was served. She stopped and turned to look inquisitively at the boy. Smelling no food, and seeing only the clumsy human child stumbling along behind her, the cat indignantly resumed stalking. He followed her still further into the evening.
    By now the sun was getting lower, elongating the shadows that were gradually enveloping the forest floor. The leaves on the ground faded from intense red to dull brown as the sun went down. Stuffing his hands deep into his overall pockets he imagined the shimmering hot air above the wood stove at home.
    "Kitty, take me home," said the boy. He walked on, his feet swooshing softly through the leaves, dragging slower as he became more and more exhausted. Fatigue washed over his body like mercury. Its great liquid weight saturated his skin, forcing him to lie down among the musty leaves.
    "Kitty ... home," sighed the boy as he drifted off. The cat walked over, turned around and around and around and curled up into a warm white ball next to her boy.
    As the sun slid down below the trees, the boyís mother came out of the house wearing a nightgown that glowed white in the moonlight. She drifted across the lawn to the fringe of the forest and bent over to give the cat a pat on the head. Picking up her son, she carried him off to bed.

* * *

    Years later, I was still trying to follow that cat, yet her body had long since expired, leaving only her memory in my mind. I wandered in the forests behind my boarding school dorm, not knowing what I was looking for or where I was going. I wandered in circles searching for something to seek. Some undiscovered joy evaded my perception. I knew that there was more to life than this void of feeling, which was wearing away at my heart as my enfevered mind ran circles Ďround my wandering body. But what it was I sought remained beyond my grasp, beyond my sight, beyond my self.
    My hair became a mangy mess and a scruffy brown beard dirtied my face. For months I had been drifting aimlessly, covering the same ground, going nowhere. With each pass I became less and less aware of my surroundings. The leaves exploded in fiery color and fell to the forest floor, but I saw neither their blazing beauty nor their gradual demise, so lost was I in the search. But the harder my mind worked to discover what it was I was looking for, the more walls of logic were built up within me so that by the time winterís snow had covered the land, I was buried in confusion.
    The weather also seemed to be confused. It was the middle of the winter and yet it had been raining for days in the normally snowy town of Hebron, Maine. Raining a freezing rain that clung heavily to the power lines, and coated the roads with black ice. The Sturtevant dormitory doors were adorned with signs that said, "Stay inside!" I took this as a personal challenge to escape, but now I had no cat accomplice to offer me direction. I was alone.
    That night the rain stopped and it was time to make my move. I tied a rope firmly to my bed frame. Then I opened the window and the icy air hit me with a blast, but it didnít bother me, for I welcomed the refreshing cold. I flung the rope out the window and climbed down hand-over-hand, rappelling off the wall, my fingers raw from the cold and burning from the rope. The pain cleared my head, giving me something to focus on. Reaching the ground, I rubbed my hands together to revive them. Exhilarated by the escape, I walked briskly, winding my way between floodlights, staying out of sight. But when I made it to the trails it began to rain again, returning me to my usual somber mood.
    The rain poured the tears of emotion that I couldnít find from the sky and clung, frozen, to each little twig, suspending sadness all around me. The trees groaned under the oppressive ice. The softwoods would bend under the burden. White birches bowed until their tops touched the ground forming frozen arches across the trails. The fragile poplars and ancient oaks did not fair so well. With a crack that I could feel resonating in my chest they began to break, overwhelmed by the ice. The entire tops of trees came crashing down, dragging with them twigs, branches, neighboring trees, and my perception of reality. I had thought that this was a rational and fair world in which a person could live in peace by simply playing his part. The trees said otherwise. Scurrying about like a rat racing for cover, I ran from the noise of the falling trees, erratically dodging side to side. As I ran my feet broke through the icy crust and caused the snow underneath to flood my boots. My feet became too numb to feel the hard packed snow under my arches. Running at break-neck speed, dodging trees, I slipped on a patch of thick crust and fell, skidding on hands and face across the ice. Cut from the fall, my cheeks stung as my blood hit the frigid air. Falling and getting up, falling and getting up, I ran. I ran from the crashing branches, I ran from the rain, I ran from my thoughts, I ran from the numbness that held my heart, and I ran from myself. Then my body reached its limit and all became darkness.

* * *

    In the distance was a tiny light piercing a hole in the darkness. Gradually the light became larger, filling my field of vision. Blinded by its pure whiteness I tried to blink, but my eyes wouldnít close. My whole body did not seem to be responding. As I adjusted to the glare, the light coalesced into a human form. It was a woman of angelic beauty whose alabaster skin shone with the radiant warmth of her heart. Her golden hair, lighter than air, rose up off her shoulders, wafting in an ethereal wind. She floated silently before me, saying not a word with her delicate lips, but speaking to me with her eyes. Those glistening blue oracles looked deep into my soul and conversed directly with my heart.
    The woman lifted a delicate hand and I watched as my own hand floated up and into hers. The darkness around us swirled. Shades of gray and brown began to blend themselves until a dark forest formed. Fog choked the air, stifling all sound and blurring my vision.
    Before me I could see an aged apple tree. Once a noble plant, it had stood alone and aloof in the center of a field bearing proudly the products of its years. A forlorn few pieces of fruit still remained, hanging stillborn and shriveled but refusing to let go, refusing to fall. Those limbs, once so strong, were now gnarled and twisted, bound by great vines that coiled about the tree. The vines held it in a hypnotic trance, leeching its life away, but not allowing it the relief of death.
    Around the tree a thicket had encroached. Tall leafless naked fingers reached for the sky, trying to outdo their neighbors so that they, themselves, might not die. It was into these trees of hopelessness that I was led. We wandered through the thicket and came to a field of thorns, which tried to tear our incorporeal clothes as we walked. There ahead among the thorns I saw a splash of color, a red rose. I wanted that rose. I ran ahead of my guide, pulling her along. The brambles became thicker. I pushed on, never letting my eyes off that rose, that one object of color among the shadowy shades of night. The rose remained unmoving yet out of my reach. It hovered there, unwilling to allow me to approach, but I pushed on, failing to notice that I had left my guide behind.
    I turned and found myself facing the apple tree again. Bewildered, I looked around, but there was nothing, no rose, no thorns, only darkness, void. I turned slowly to face the tree. Looking among the gray uppermost branches, shrouded in the heavy fog, I saw a glimmer of white. Without hesitation, knowing that this might be my only chance, I lunged forwards. Grabbing the lowest limb I swung myself up into the tree. I was struck by the stench of rotting apple wood, which smelled like the discordant marriage of a rotten egg and a dead rat, and almost fell back into the darkness. I blocked out the stench and willed myself to scramble higher and higher. While I clung to the topmost branches among the fog, a feathery soft hand floated down. I released my hold on the tree and reached upwards. Her hand caught me before I fell, pulling me up above the dark clouds and into a radiant starlit night.
    Near the horizon Mars glowed alluringly red. Above him Orion and Taurus circled in their eternal dance of death. I was so entranced by the stars that I almost didnít notice my celestial spirit drifting away. I turned around and saw the North Star. Gazing at its guiding light, I caught sight of a falling star leaving the sky, and made a wish as it flew by. The new moon rose, a line of light in the star bright night.

* * *

    The line of light became wider and wider until I awoke lying on my back in a confused yet blissful stupor with my arms spread out on the ice. Closing my eyes, I slowly brought my pointing index fingers together to touch my nose. Having satisfied myself with that basic test of coordination, I decided to try standing. When the blood had ceased its mad rush into the brain I found that I was on Singepole Mountain, several miles from campus. How strange, I thought, to have come all this way in the darkness without even knowing it, and my feet arenít even frostbitten.
    I stood at the top, and yet there was not a breath of air, just overwhelming sun and snow-shine glare. Its rays bounced off the crystal brittle brilliant forest below, which was encased in ice from that winterís otherworldly weather. The ice storm was over, and this day, this perfect clear day, felt as if the sky had just let out a sigh of relief. I too let out a sigh. My moist white breath clung to my beard, and my nose was a rosy red. Squinting through the glare, I surveyed once more the frozen forest in the valley below. The trees were in a state of suspended animation, encapsulated by ice. The sheer stillness soothed my heart. I closed my eyes and tilted back my head. The insides of my eyelids glowed red from the reflected rays of the low winter sun. I inhaled slowly and deeply, filling my lungs with the invigorating mountain air, sending a warm shiver tingling down my arms and out through my fingertips. Yawning, my world became the yawn; eyes pressed tight, mouth stretched wide, and my ears rushed with a wind that wasnít there, on the top of an icy mountain in Maine.


    I the needle poking its way tentatively through the double layer of fabric, dragging its trail of thread behind it. The needle and thread snaked their way along, binding the two pieces of cloth together. As I gained confidence I imagined them moving with greater precision and ease. The stitches became finer, the seam became straighter. "Now I'm ready to sew!" thought my four-year-old mind.
    This is one of my earliest memories. A memory not of actually sewing, but a memory of the thought process through which I taught myself to sew. This method of visualizing how something should be done, and then doing it, has stuck with me. Every time that I decide to make something, whether it is leatherworking or carpentry, I picture a possible result in my mind as a goal and use that as a starting point.
    Last winter I had a problem that I solved in this manner. I had just made a pair of snowshoes, but my feet would get cold every time that I went for a hike. I envisioned my solution: a pair of footwear warmer than anything sold in stores. After collecting materials I took my vision further. I imagined my feet encased in wool socks, felt boot liners, slippers made from a sheep hide, an old poncho sewn into a water resistant liner, and finally a pair of knee high Eskimo Mukluks. Once the picture was clear in my mind it was only a matter of time before I was snowshoeing with warm feet.
    My mental visualization process does not limit itself to physical applications such as leatherworking and carpentry. When computer programming I also picture an end result. Here this process becomes slightly more complicated for, when programming, there are actually two products: the visual output to the screen and the lines of code that create that output. For a program to be good it is essential that both aspects be well thought out so that the program is easy to use and it is also clear to other programmers how the program works. Thus this simple procedure achieves results in a variety of situations.
    Now that the eager little four year old has visualized how it is done he tromps down the stairs calling, "Mom, mom, I want to sew."
    "I don't have time to teach you right now," my mother responded with regret. She was completing building our house.
    "No, no, you don't need to teach me. Just thread a needle for me," I spoke with the utmost assuredness. She rummaged about in a drawer, found a needle and threaded it for me. Then my mother did the best thing that a parent can do for a child; she left me to my own devices.


    The freshly lit flame flickers to and fro, dancing in the darkness, stirred by a soft breath. The newborn flame also breathes, taking in oxygen and gnawing vigorously at its white umbilical wick. I hold my breath and stare into the flame, entranced. It stands tall and proud, reaching resolutely for the sky.

* * *

    Clouds chose to shroud the sky that week so long ago, hiding the warm sun. The rain simply would not stop. The playground looked as if all the color had been drained out of it, leaving only somber shades of gray. Rain bombarded the puddles forming dimpled mirrors reflecting a distorted reality in which the magnificent play-structure palace became a blurred blob of brown. Yet, despite all this gloom she was still in high spirits, stomping through the puddles in her bright red rain boots. She ran up to me where I stood sullenly under the overhang of the roof. Her eyes gleamed in defiance of my melancholy mood as she grabbed my hand and dragged me into the rain to play.

* * *

    I wonder when it was that our play became serious? Ah, those were the days. But why did she choose to follow the path that she did? She was always so innocent, so full of life. A solitary tear trickles down my face as I remember that sad day that we each went our own way. The candleís flame is momentarily flattened by a gust of moist wind. Sitting here with my back turned indifferently towards the door I cannot tell who has entered the café, nor do I care, for my mind is not here. It is walking down the memory of a city street.

* * *

I despised cities, and this one was no exception. The day was overcast, drab, and gray. I gave a tug at the stifling tie that clung to my neck. Though it had not yet begun to rain, I could smell the storm hanging in the filthy air.
    I would not have recognized her had our eyes failed to meet. She was standing there on the street corner in what should not have passed for a red dress. It had only been five years since we graduated but she looked like it had been at least ten. Though her body was worn her ebony eyes still shone with her rebellious attitude. I had been walking briskly, head down, grasping my briefcase with white knuckles, wishing that I wasnít there. I donít know what made me look up to see her. Fate I suppose.

* * *

    The sharp click of heels draws me back into reality. The flame has eaten a large wax-filled crater in the candle. The clicking circles my table and she sits down opposite me. She wears an ageless mask of makeup; skin powdered pure white, eyebrows plucked and re-drawn in as thin black lines, lips unnaturally red, and yet despite all that her dark eyes have not lost their timeless untamed beauty.
    The candle's fading flame still illuminates her face, though it is half-drowned in its own wax.

The Clam

    In the tidal pool there were two basic occupations with which the residents whiled away their worthless lives: hiding and cowering. When the tide was low, they cowered from the sun, fearful of the flying gulls. When the tide was high, they hid from the legions of hungry starfish. Generations of clams and crustaceans lived, never leaving their little pool, which was the entire world to them.
    There was one crazy old clam named Talop who thought that there was more to life than the tidal pool. Talop went around arguing with the other sea creatures, trying to tell them that there exists a greater world beyond the bounds of their pool. The other clams weren't stupid. They let foolish old Talop argue them into the mud with his 'wisdom' and wit. They knew better than to mess with fate.
    "Imagine, if you will," Talop said to his companion one day, "that a cluster of clams lived within a single spiraling shell buried in the sand. Imagine that they never attempted to leave this shell, and spent all their lives buried beneath the muck, never seeing the glory of the green seaweed or gray rocks. Try, I beseech you, to imagine what it would be like to live like that."
    "Uhhh, wouldn't they die?" was the clam's reply, answering perfectly yet understanding nothing.
    Frustrated with his fellow pool dwellers, Talop decided that it was time to leave the tidal pool, to prove that there was a world beyond the one in which he had lived his whole life. At low tide, the wiry old clam dragged himself up out of the pool. Looking back over his shell he saw not his home, but the mirrored reflection of the sky, shimmering pale blue above, with wavy white clouds wafting in the wind.
    The wind, Talop felt this strange new sensation brushing at his shell. It was odd, harsher than the pull and push of the tide or the circular action of the waves, harsher, yet at the same time exhilarating. Then the wind stopped and Talop felt for the first time the hot sun radiating down on him, heating his shell. He had only a moment to marvel at this newfound warmth before a dark shadow covered him. Looking frantically back towards the pool he saw the reflection of a giant white form plunging down upon him. The gull grabbed him and took off into the air.
    The pool, his world, shrunk away below him. All around he could see other worlds like his. Then, beyond his world, beyond the neighboring worlds and the dark voids between them, he saw something that took his breath away; a vast world compared to which his was but a grain of sand. "Would the others believe me if I told them of what I have seen today?"
    Talop never found out the answer to his question. The gull dropped him on a rock and pecked out his innards. Serves him right for messing with fate.
    "Tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, [than] to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them"(Hamlet 3.1)

Isaac's Bullet

    The lynch mob moved as one, stampeding down the dark dusty road. "Hang the witch! Hang the witch!" shouted the preacher at the head of the mob. "Hang the witch! Hang the witch!" echoed the rabble.
    A single shot sliced through the sky. A single bullet went hurling straight into the heavens.
    Isaac stood calmly on his front steps, half-eaten apple in one hand, smoking gun in the other.
    The angry mob paused momentarily at the sound, then surged towards their goal. The bullet's velocity paused instantaneously at zero and began its voyage down. Isaac looked directly into the preacher's eyes, confident in his knowledge of the world.
    The preacher raised his Bible over his head and spoke, "God shall punish thee for thy sins, Newton." The bullet sunk itself in his skull.
    They buried him in unconsecrated ground.

Slippery Ice

    One of her favorite pastimes during the winter months is to sit out on the balcony and watch people fall down on the ice.
    Some people simply lose their equilibriums. Their arms shoot out to counterbalance, and their feet remain beneath them. At this she lets out a sigh, not of relief, but of regret that they didn't fall.
    Other people fall down. Their arms and legs flail uselessly in the air and they land hard on knee, hip, or butt. At this she lets out a hearty chuckle, amused.
    There came a day when someone simply flat fuck fell. She was smiling before he even hit the ground. She was smiling at the look on his face as he went down. That look of someone who has perceived his doom yet is powerless to prevent it. She was bent over double laughing hysterically when the ambulance came.