Doug Bruns

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The False Cross (Part III)

In Adventure, Writing on June 3, 2012 at 6:00 am

The Southern Cross

Below is the ending to my story, The False Cross. Here is a link to part one. Here, part two.

All day it rained. The sky was a shade of concrete. Anne napped, cleaned the lodge, then napped again. As a child she had liked rain. It instilled in her a comforting calm, a forced relaxation. But as everything was other than before, so too the rain, which no longer relaxed her. Rather, it depressed her.

When Franz returned he was cold and, despite his rain gear, soaked through. He excused himself from dinner and crawled into bed shivering. He could not afford to get sick. His clients had come from far away and had spent significant money to fish the legendary rivers of Patagonia. One of his new arrivals, from South Africa, was a man named Reefer. Anne found his accent provocative and at dinner that night she joined the clients in Franz’s absence, sitting next to him. She was entertaining and laughing and full of life. Even to herself she appeared happy.

When she got into bed, Franz’s teeth were chattering, but his fever broke by morning.

The night sky of the southern hemisphere was familiar to Reffer and one clear night he pointed out the Southern Cross. Anne, for all her years in Patagonia, had never seen it and she hung on Reffer’s words as he explained that the Southern Cross is sometimes confused with the False Cross which is close by, less bright, and with stars more widely spaced. She relaxed her eyes and peered into the infinity. At one point she rested her hand on his shoulder. A week later he was gone and Anne wondered, if she’d asked, would he have taken her away with him?

* * *

The end of the Patagonian season is singularly dreary. Anne thought of Indiana where it was spring, remembering her youth on a street lined with oaks and a neighborhood brimming with kids on bikes. She pulled on a fleece and her rain-gear against the weather and left the lodge.

Bear sniffed the ground next to her. Franz had gone to Porto Monte to pick up the last clients of the season. He would also bring the supplies ordered on his trip two weeks previous. He would bring the mail and magazines and news of the world. From her bench on the island summit Anne watched his returning boat, its wake, a speeding V pointed at her heart. She tugged at her fleece and interlaced her gloved fingers. The south face precipice was sheer and she wondered were she to jump would she fall direct or possibly hit a crag? “There are a lot of ways of killing a woman,” she said to no one. Bear was tired and despite the cold and wind was curled up asleep under a sheltering tree.

She’d lost track of the seasons in Patagonia. Is this five, six? Each season had further isolated and diminished her, as if pulling her out of light and into deepening shades of grey. She used to be confident in her strength, but every day she grew weaker and feared a reckless sprint to the end. Yet, she was not lost entirely. Such was the nature of her condition: monitored.

Daily, sometimes twice, she fired up the satellite phone and watched the searching screen. Every day it failed to find a connection and she would turn it off and dutifully return it to the cradle. She slept during the day and at night she would lie awake fearing the return of the black diesel. Franz slept heavily and the dogs slept on the floor at their feet.

* * *

She rose. Bear turned and watched her as she slipped out of bed, then followed her out the door. In the morning, Franz found the dog at the end of the dock, looking to the water.

Two panic-stricken days followed until he realized that one of the seven boats was missing. Two years later he received a card, postmarked Paris. He recognized her handwriting. It simply read, Fish are our friends.

– the end –

The False Cross (Part II)

In Adventure, Writing on June 2, 2012 at 6:00 am


The second installment (of three) below. (If you’re just coming to this post, you should first read part one here.)

From the island summit the view was a magnificent three hundred and sixty degrees, bordered on the south by a 1500-foot granite cliff. Franz built Anne a bench at this spot and she often spent her afternoon here, sitting aimlessly. She tried to read but lacked concentration. Clients gave her books, perhaps sensing a need, and she would politely accept, but she was no longer a reader and the books accumulated on her shelf. This was a personal loss, for reading had once been a passion. The library reflected the corners of the earth from which a traveler will come to catch fish. She could read French and Italian, as well as converse in German and Spanish. As a child, she exhibited what her parents called a gift for language. But that was a long time ago.

Stone-like she sat on the bench and stared at the horizon. Frequently, an Andean condor would draft from below and linger suspended eye to eye. She wished at times that she was a photographer and could capture such things, but she’d grown used to being less than she wished, such that the notion never so much as settled on her, as hovered, like the bird, quiet and unflapping and with piercing vision. She started a journal two seasons ago, but it depressed her to read past entries, so she stopped.

* * *

When she greeted Franz at the dock he handed her a brown trout, a fish maybe seven or eight pounds, a large fish by any standard but not unusual for these parts. “Swallowed the fly,” he said. “Got it out and released him but he floated to the top.” Ironically, Franz hated to kill a fish. He said that fish where his friends. Anne thought this humorous and the only honest fight they ever had was upon hearing this the first time when she laughed at him. Anne said she would prepare a fish stew. He nodded.

The stew arrived at the client table in a large earthen pot, painted round with a mountain scene. Franz stood among the hungry clients with a ladle. He dipped but came short against the fish curled on the bottom, whole and intact. He lifted it from the stew, examined it, and removed the pot from the table to the kitchen. Maria caught his eye and nodded quietly toward Anne who was standing at the back door looking to the horizon. The night was overcast and the silhouette of the mountains was lost against the sky.

“Can you tell where the mountains stop and the sky begins?” she asked.

* * *

The next morning Anne realized that the phone no longer connectted to the satellite. She told Franz as he was loading the boat, holding the phone at arm’s length. “Dead,” she declared. He pursed his mouth and nodded. His clients sat fast and they soon were off across the water to the Land Rover waiting to transport them to the McKenzie boats. Anne watched them leave, petting Bear, the dog. The island was profoundly quiet and she imagined a mute satellite spinning far above.

– end, part two –

The False Cross (Part I)

In Adventure, Writing on June 1, 2012 at 6:00 am

In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin

I am going to do something different. I am going to tell you a story, in three parts.

Part one:

It was after discovering Chatwin that Anne decided on Chile. That landscape is littered with young people accordingly influenced, the naïve and the idealistic. It goes like this: They read In Patagonia, fancy themselves full-throated adventurers, ready a rucksack–as Chatwin called it–and head south. “Gone to Patagonia,” Chatwin wrote his boss. Anne was in New York, studying the culinary arts. She loved the city honestly for all the right reasons. Yet, her studies complete, she set out, full of cloudless spirit. That she met Franz, a fishing guide, and married and came to live in Patagonia is worth mentioning. Of greater interest, though, is how she unraveled on the isolated island they called home.

* * *

“We have a problem,” Anne said.

Franz looked up from the boat. He was burdened with gear. His client, Gino, stepped to the dock. “Boungiorno, Anne,” said Gino.

“Boungiorno, Gino,” she said. “And how was your day?”

“Buono. Extraordinary.” Gino smiled broadly. He had had a good day on the Rio Plano. He caught many fish, including a brown trout that was possibly the largest trout he had ever caught, including his record fish in New Zealand.

Anne said she was delighted for him. She patted his shoulder as he walked past, his waders chaffing. He waved to Giovanni who, having returned earlier, sat in front of the lodge smoking a black cigarette. Franz looked at Anne.

“We have a problem,” she repeated. He glanced at his client, now out of earshot. “Yes?” he asked. “Are the dogs okay?”

“The dogs are fine. I don’t think it is a serious problem, but it’s a problem, nonetheless.”

Franz handed her the fly rods and stepped onto the dock. It was an hour before sunset. The mountains were in shadow and the lake was calm, the sky a royal purple. The last boat was heading across the water to the lodge. The engine whined. The other boats were in.

“I got an email. Iridium is going out of business. We’re going to lose our connection.”

Anne and Franz had only a satellite phone with which to connect with the world beyond the mountains, to family, to the travel company that booked the fishing clients and arranged their arrival and departure, to the store in Porto Monte that filled their monthly orders for food and supplies. It was a link upon which Anne grew increasingly dependent as the weeks and months of fishing season stretched out.

“Like I said, it’s not a big problem.” She was calmer now that Franz was home. He studied her. Her companions during the day, the dogs, came over the hill to greet him. She slipped her arm through his and they walked toward the lodge. Franz looked at the sky. “No clouds,” he said. “Should be a good day tomorrow.”

* * *

One night Anne grew troubled in her sleep and fell from the bed, hitting her head on the table. Franz slept soundly through the incident, worn out from his struggles against the wild currents and eddies of his guided rivers. She told him she had rolled over in her sleep and fallen off the bed. But in truth she had had a bad dream in which a train came at her out of a night horizon, quiet until upon her, then rushing at her like a hungry thing alive, loud and earth-heavy. She threw herself to the side, out of its path. She did so just in time, the hot engine lurching past. But she fell from the bed and hit her head. She was embarrassed by the dream and did not tell Franz. Her bruise was noticeable in the morning, and she remained in the kitchen while Marie waited on the clients.

– end, part one-

False Starts and Other Notions.

In Writing on October 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm

A friend visited last night, a writer friend. He was telling me about the work practice of a well-known American man of letters, a novelist and poet, with whom my friend is particularly close. “He has everything thought out before he even starts,” he told me. I was green with envy. The little bit of fiction I have written began with an opening sentence and what followed was the anthesis of the well-conceived plot line. The opening sentence is the kick-off to the game and I never made it to half-time.

Here are a few samples, opening lines to a few of my failed stories:

“Elder Stone and Elder Harris visited Dave Burns and asked if he had a relationship with God.”

“He packed as light as he ever had packed.”

“He lay looking skyward.”

“He wondered about what Julie said, that he lived large, and how it fed his appetite to live larger still.”

“Anymore it took work to get into a good mood.”

That Anne came to live in Chile after reading Chatwin is not unusual.”

“I have been photographing seriously for several years and find it to be a convenient way to avoid writing.”

“A woman sat alone.”

Probably, upon reflection, it’s just as well they died the quiet death they did. It’s not only fiction that fails to construct itself properly. My non-fiction, the workshop where I spend most of my time, is also a meandering and stitching together of notions and themes. I was asked recently about this, about what I write about specifically. I’ve spent a little time thinking about this question and put together a proper and meandering response. You can read the essay, What Am I Doing Here? at The Nervous Breakdown.

Thanks for stopping in!

“Andromeda! Sweet woman!”

In Memoir, Nature on April 16, 2010 at 10:10 am


More than a dozen years ago I was outside a hut in the Presidentials. It was night, pitch-black, ink-black, and Don, my hiking buddy, and I were  looking at the night sky. We heard the door to the hut open–I think it was Lake of the Clouds–a sliver of faint light escaping, then creaking close again. A fellow hiker joined us, clamoring over the rocks in the dark, proclaiming that he had to see the milky way at least once a year or he suffered dire consequences.  It was easy to spot, splashed across the sky like sprinkle dust on black velvet. He sighed and spoke of contentment.

Galileo proved in 1610 that the Milky Way consisted of stars. Two thousand years before him Aristotle called it “the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were large, numerous and close together.” The point being, the night sky and the Milky Way specifically, have been a constant through the ages. As a species, we have existed under that night canopy, traipsed and sailed by its iridescence,  studied it, written poems about it. But, me, I have lost it. Unlike the hiker in the mountains, I never considered it important. There is no prodding motivation for awe. Isn’t that what the night sky does? Instill awe? How can I not want that?

I saw my first meteor shower as a young camper in Northern Michigan. I remember having sunburned my back from a day in a canoe and trying to get comfortable in my open air sleeping bag, my back blistered, when the first rock screamed across the night sky. It was followed by another, then many, a flurry of falling matches from the heavens.  Such things stay with a person. And yet, they don’t. Again, how can I not seek that out?

I’m starting to plan some camping trips for spring summer, which is what prompted this stream of thought. At fifty-four I am taking stock. I am making lists. No more of this rambling through life, not realizing what is important and thinking what isn’t is. There is not enough time to keep loosely hopping down that path. On the list, near the top, is the night sky.

Pascal (Pensées) on the universe:

The Universe is an infinite
sphere, the centre of which is
everywhere, the circumference

Bonefish, Sharks, Sunburn and the French

In Adventure, Travel on November 17, 2003 at 1:44 am


George, my friend in France, sent me an email. He had a cancellation on a fall trip he was putting together to the Seychelles. “We’re going to fish two new atolls. The bonefish have never seen a fly,” he wrote. “It should be quite good. Interested?” Of course I was interested. There aren’t many places left where fish haven’t met a sport and you’d better jump to when you hear about one. Seychelles, I seemed to recall, was off the coast of Africa. Beyond that, I’d have to consult an atlas. “Count me in,” I emailed back. I’ve got incurable wanderlust that, when coupled with fly-fishing, knows no cure.

I looked it up. The Republic of Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean, about 150 miles northeast of Madagascar. It is an island-country of 115 islands scattered across 154,000 square miles of southern hemisphere sea. Only a few of the islands, 15 or so, are inhabited. It is a place that existed in remote obscurity, little changed since first noticed in 1502 by Vasco de Gama. Then 25 years ago an airport was built on the largest island, Mahe, and tourism arrived. I mentioned my imminent trip to an acquaintance that had sailed through the Seychelles archipelagos in the navy. “It is the most beautiful place in the world,” he said.

They say that in life and in travel, it is the journey not the destination that matters. The notion befits the nineteenth-century adventurer where links of sea travel, rail, carriage, even horseback and foot travel were employed to deliver one to destination. Travel one hundred years ago evokes images of patient journeying, casual connections and quiet rendezvous. But in modern terms, I find nothing romantic or particularly pleasurable about the journey itself, assuming air travel is involved. And one is put off by more than cramped quarters and bad food. Once, on a flight home from South America, my row mate, a Chilean farmer, fell asleep and farted continuously until he awoke, smiling, as we touched down. But a passion for travel blinds the traveler to the disagreeable realities of the modern journey. Consequently, I booked an 8-hour flight to Paris, where I got a day room, napped a couple hours, dined with George, then, that evening, boarded Air Seychelles for the 10-hour flight to Mahe. I looked at my row mate and crossed my fingers.

I’m certain my blood carries a genetic intolerance for all conditions hot and sticky. I’m convinced my European ancestors came from cool latitudes. Maybe they were northern Europeans, Scandinavian perhaps. Living in the Mid-Atlantic, where two hundred and fifty years ago British solders were paid tropic duty, I am annually reminded of my aversion to summer heat and humidity. But I know I am an anomaly, more people than not like hot weather. My fellow passengers cheered as we landed in the radiant sunshine on Mahe. A member of the crew welcomed us to “paradise.” The door racked open and the ten-hour stale vacuum of the cabin filled with a warm salt-scented air. I immediately prickled with perspiration and thought of autumn back home, my favorite season.

I spent the night on Mahe along with my new friends, six French anglers, at the Paradise Resort Hotel. There were miles to go before I assemble my rod and wet a fly, but the next leg of the journey would not begin until morning. I called my wife, nine time zones away and told her I missed her a great deal. It was the last time we would talk for a week, for once I set out communication would cease. From the back lawn of my bungalow I watched the sun slip behind an island mountain, then escape below a perfect horizon. Venus rose. As the light faded, big dusky bats took to awkward flight, stroking the air with leathery appendages and pulling hard to traverse the evening sky.

In the morning we flew to outlying Desroches, out little plane circling for a better look before dropping to the asphalt strip, which rent the island foliage like a perfect scar. Desroches was named in 1771 by Chevalier de Roslan, commander of I’Heure de Berger, in honor of the Chevalier des Roches, Governor of the islands of France and Bourbon. Later, during British occupation, it was called Wood Island because of the dense vegetation. Palm trees stretch 100 feet skyward and one wonders how they root themselves in sand fine as confectioner’s sugar.

Aboard the Mbjui-Mayi, a 57-foot catamaran, we sailed from Desroches to St. Joseph Island, five hours by open sea. We trailed teasers behind the boat, small plastic red and blue fish that danced and bounced, slapping the waves with silly little wings in an effort to seduce billfish to the surface. Francois, Philippe and Jean Claude stood at the ready, rods in hand peering into the frothy deep. I was jet lagged and the gentle rocking of open sea transit upset my stomach. I watched quietly, breathing deeply and stayed focused on the horizon, where I’d been told the battle against seasickness is fought. Then, as if the sea congealed and took form in solid indigo, a marlin rose to a teaser. I had never before seen anything so quickly wonderful. Guide Nedi pulled in the teasers hand over hand, yelling in Creol, then French. The air was suddenly electric. The anglers threw big gaudy flies at the fish with 12 weight rods. There was shouting. I sat at attention. Goddamn, this is fishing, I thought. Then Francois pulled his rod hard and violently. He shouted. He was connected. All rods were stayed. Jo, Captain of Mbjui-Mayi, looked over his shoulder from the bridge. The fishermen yelled in French. They gestured. The marlin, now 50 feet off the stern shot through the surface like a great blue projectile, twisted in the air, frozen for a heartbeat. It then fell heavy to the sea. He sprinted again, now 100 feet off. The shouting increased. Skipper Jo frowned. The Mbjui-Mayi steamed forward still. Francois’s reel screamed and I looked at it and saw backing, then less backing, less still—more shouting, screaming even—Skipper Jo not understanding French—the boat continuing—another top break and jump of the fish. Then, with a little pop, the last of the backing separated from the reel. The line floated in slow motion through the air and silently fell into the water. Universal quite, but for the chugging engine. All turned to Captain Jo. Francois was red-faced. His eyes bulged. The captain asked what happened and for an ensuing two hours he was gently and politely upbraided for not stopping the Mbjui-Mayi, for losing Francois’s great fish, for not understanding French and for not knowing how to go about catching wonderful muscular beasts on a fly rod. I thought it a hell of a trip, so far.

Bonefish cast a shadow. You sometimes spot them feeding, their tail tipping above the surface, but when the sun is beating down and the water clear, when the sand and fish seem to coalesce to liquid beige, you search for a moving shadow on the bottom. There you find your prey. As our little party of six anglers spread out and shuffled across the lagoon I saw a bottom shadow, then another and several more. I false cast to the side, getting line into the air, forty, fifty feet; then squaring up I dropped the Crazy Charlie in front of the fish. This was my first cast ever to a bonefish, being a cold-water trout fisherman. “Let the fly lay a moment to two,” George had coached me. “Then when you see him come on it, strip it slightly, like a crab scurrying.” The fish followed my fly, then noised down to it. I slowly lifted my rod tip, felt the fish heavy on the line, and tugged–we were off and running. I knew what to expect, a blistering run, line to the backing, but knowing a thing and experiencing it is the difference between reading about sex and having it. My reel sang with the first run, for which bonefish are rightfully famous. Yes! This is why I had traveled 8000 miles. Water cleaved as my line accelerated. Jean Paul, yards up the lagoon, cleared back as the fish, a hundred feet from me, continued past him across the inlet. He cheered for me, his voice carrying across the flats. After two more runs I brought the fish to hand and released him after Nedi took my photograph. I was no longer a Bonefish virgin.

We began our trip back at the end of the week. We stopped for fresh vegetables on Poivre, where an inhabitant cultivated a garden. There is a legend surrounding Poivre: After Louis XVI was imprisoned in the French Revolution, the Dauphin, pegged as the next Louis, escaped and was taken in by one Poiret, a name he later assumed. Escaping France, Poiret (Louis XVII) reached the Seychelles in the early nineteenth century and settled, as the legend goes, on Poivre. He worked with colonists who were attempting to develop a cotton industry. In 1822 he moved to Mahe, claiming to be the scion of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Today many Seychellois believe themselves to be the descendants of Louis XVII. There is a restaurant, Auberge Louis XVII, on Mahe.

While Captain Jo bartered for lettuce and melons, I spoke to a local Creol. “Fifteen people live on Poivre,” he told me. He was young and dark. He wore no shoes. “The government pays us to live on the island. Here we work.” After six months the work contact would be up and the next group of fifteen would arrive. There was one phone on the island, hanging under a palm tree in the middle of the village. Electricity was seldom generated, as diesel fuel was expensive to import. “Many people leave anyway,” he said. “They go crazy here. There is nothing but sand and ocean.” I explained that some people in the States would pay to live here in what the brochures call paradise. He shook his head and smiled, then laughed slightly. “They crazy,” he said, pointing to his head. The next day we arrived back in Mahe.

I was attempting to leave Victoria, capital of Mahe, in a taxi driven by Bennie, a small man with pleasant features. He smiled often and when he did, his face creased deeply. His cab was clean. I was trying to return to the Eden Paradise Resort. “Breaker Reef Resort?” asked Bennie. “No. Eden Paradise Resort.” “How you come?” I had come into Victoria, the capital, on the public bus, directly from the Eden Paradise Resort. We had crossed the island, up and over the mountain, Morne Seychellois, 905m. “Other side?” asked Bennie. “Yes. The other side.” “Miami Beach Hotel?” he asked. “No. Eden. Like Garden of Eden.” It was a small island, only seventeen miles long, with six or maybe seven hotels. I expected a cabbie to know them all and hadn’t thought to get an address. My cell phone rang. I looked at my watch. It was seven in the morning at home.

“Good morning.” I knew the only person who had the number was my wife. “What are you doing up so early?”

“I couldn’t sleep. When did you get in?” He voice was squeaky from sleep, quiet and sweat sounding.

“This morning, around eight.” She asked what I was doing and I explained that Bennie and I were trying to find the Eden Paradise Resort. I glanced at Bennie and he smiled and nodded.

“Should I be worried?”

“No, don’t worry. It’s a small island. We’ll find it.” Several years ago, Carole and I arrived in Jerusalem on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. We dropped our bags in the lobby and rushed into the street to join the evening throng silently walking into the old city, to the Western Wall. We got lost in the moment, a mix of travel exotica, history and sensory satiation. Much later, as the early morning crowds dispersed, we realized that we had no idea where we were staying. In our rush to hit the streets we had failed to even note the full name of our hotel. It took until dawn, finding an English-speaking cabbie and driving to every place with the name David in it, to get back.

“Are you pulling a Jerusalem?” she asked. I told her I would call her when I got back to the hotel. I nodded to Bennie. “We’ll find it,” I said. He nodded and smiled deeply once again. I gave him a thumbs up. He aped me a thumbs up back.

Bennie and I found the Eden Paradise Resort, but only after calling George’s company in Paris and getting the district name, Port Glaud. “Ahh,” said Bennie. “Yes, yes, Port Glaud. Eden Hotel. It’s new.”