Marguerite Reiss Kern E-mail Marguerite Reiss Kern
1003 NW Shattuck Way, Apt. 416
Gresham, OR 97030
 
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Prologue from "Alone At 60 Below."



It was eerie.

No other sound than the stillness of the snow against the shed roof. No stars. No moon. Just a single flame sputtering in the stove, like hope dying at my feet. No other being to call to. Only swirls of ice gazing down at me from frozen windows like two eyes.

Will they check on me? The quiet of the drifts against the door is deafening the cabin, a coffin of tattered boards. Suppose they don‚t come? And the blood clot crawls up my leg, my torso to my chest? What if I die alone? It happens all the time in Northern Alaska. People down in the Lower 48 don't think about it. But I, the school librarian, did not have to be told.

The wind howled my thoughts ahead of my thinking them. I glanced at the shed window. Frozen. Tight. I memorized inky clouds that had tromped across a whisker of moon blackening the North Alaskan sky.

"God help me, " I whispered.

"I am with you," I hoped divinity might have said. As good a hope as any.


The fire flickered and went out. My stiff hands fumbled a matchbook cover. Always I kept matches over my water jars. Matches could spare a life. My life. No getting around it. Survival was the game this far inland. The goal that I had had since arriving along the Upper Yukon river two months ago ˆ the completion of a book and the organizing of a library ˆ was at hand. They were the reasons I packed water, hauled a bucket to the woods and prayed over an earth stove. Now I was scared. The last match gone. The shed in darkness. Cut off from doctors by 300 miles or more. I wept in my mummy bag. I might never see my children again. Tears started my coughing. It was broken by a scratching sound. A wolf? A bear? I dozed. When I came to the pillow was frosted stiff. I scrambled to the floor and tried to stand. No luck. Pain in my leg. The cold wood like a knife up to my shinbone.

I stood on one leg, hopped across the shed to the electric frying pan and bird-walked back to bed. I still had electricity. My thermos still held water. I started it boiling on a trunk by my pillow, threw a sheet over my head, inhaled. Surely it wouldn't be long until I could breathe. Within minutes I stirred in coffee, then something soft and warm. But every mouthful became a fight to keep the food from clogging where the only air passage existed and to keep myself from choking on grains. No air passed through my nostrils. No taste. I could not discern if the fuel oil soot got into my food. Pain shot through my head. I had to have help. But standing was too hazardous. More red spots gathering on my leg. Must stay quiet until help comes. The school knew I was home resting. Convalescing. But there was no phone, no way to get help fast. That evening my head was too heavy to hold on the pillow.

The last I remember I was sliding off the upright position toward the floor. I was choking. Dear God, why had I come?




SYNOPSIS:   "JOURNEY TO BECOME UNLOST"

Nothing seemed more frightening to an Ohio children's librarian than finding herself in a strange bed in the French Quarter in New Orleans miles from home.

Miles from the children.

What got her there?

God.

Depressed after years of single parenting, she yearned to dance until dawn, to love again, to risk again, to live. But no door opened, until a deeply religious psychiatrist counseled, "We get stale. We need fresh breezes to blow in our lives. I want you to take your youngest, wind up your affairs, and take off for a whole new life. "

She quit her job, canceled apartment, credit cards, bank account, address, friends, and with a two-bed tent and $400 hit the road.

What happened to me?

My story will make greater sense if you know that for 20 years, I'd lived on a straight line: college, marriage, children, housewifery, trying to write. One scene, one world. Then in midlife, every familiar pattern was shattered.

Change crowded upon change. Divorce; loss of home and financial security; scattering of family. I'd tried to live by working and writing and barely survived. Around me were black silhouettes of concern.

"We must plow the earth, follow the cross, and plant new seed, " my doctor said, "The trick is to shake hands with risk ˆ then move ahead. New dreams are everywhere. They will hook us to a larger plan, a more meaningful purpose. "

I froze. I had no Damascus Road ˆ no voice whispering, "Go here. Go there. " Only a church-member psychiatrist saying, "We must break the shackles, drop the old for the new, sameness for zest, apathy for hope. "

I stuck doggedly to my fears. Plowing is a shredding, rupturing process bringing irreversible change. I'd never driven beyond Chicago. And the counterpart of adventuring can be idiocy. Meaning, nobody supported traveling to the unknown. I wanted a new state, city, career, church, friends, perhaps mate.

But -- where would we go? We'd need to drive to a town -- opening the aperture of prayer to its widest setting -- then deliberate where to turn, who to call, where to stay. Praying, "God, is this launching pad or nest? "

Being Quaker, I turned to scripture, the technique of the "fleece," and Pastor David Wilkerson, author of "Cross and the Switchblade," who offered the Lord a fleece before he set out for New York to save teens. His fleece worked miraculously, and his network, "Teen Challenge, " spread to 70 countries.

I followed suit. Bowing my head with my sister, we put a fleece before the Spirit, which didn't turn around at first. But in two weeks, it was so unbelievably fulfilled, I stuffed the car to the roof the day churches took our furniture. Sears inspected our car. David, 10, opened a map. We bade goodbye to Ohio turning west.

And, were gone a year crossing the country both ways, living on a Wyoming mountain, with Pentecostals in Casper, with a Quaker couple in British Columbia (where Immigration winced, "A lone woman and a child in an unpaid-for-car? "), had an accident, ran out of money, got separated, lived in a Commune, job-hunted In Boston, wrote grants in New Orleans, and learned.

The book spotlights the malady: "an ailment worse than cancer afflicting millions -- the disease of staleness." No medicine exists to cure the hopelessness of entrapment. Not even dreams. But, there is Otherness. And, there are nudges and promptings and proddings, many of which I am convinced come tailor-made to fit our individual needs. And can be trusted.

SYNOPSIS: A SLICE OF OLD AMERICANA - BIRTHING 21 WEEKLIES
  It was a slice of old Americana in a country seat where cousins married cousins and housewives stirred bacon grease and lye in huge backyard kettles to make soap when not engaged in sewing bees, quilting bees, chicken canning days, barn raisings or Sunday School picnics.  The chief social event of the farm community involved sidewalk sales on streets closed to traffic and a costume parade. Two newspaper editors, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, sitting  back to back in an old saloon in Mennonite country put out two weeklies with fight-opposition views.

Our most popular evening recreation was following the editor's car, which was following the hearse to freeway accidents, suicides, barn burnings, heart attacks or shootouts. I was one of six owners of the business and because I slept with the editor, I had a jump start on the latest tragedy that set off the air raid siren calling the town's volunteer firefighters into action.  As the years and six sons went along we chewed up and dished out thousands of column inches of Main Street USA. Everybody visited everybody Sunday afternoons, and our paper told it all until the tragic end.

 

 
 
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