Trip of a Lifetime
By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest
Throughout much of North America, the first snows of winter have
already fallen. The paddling season is drawing to a close. But winter
doesn't put a stop to imagination, does it? As ice locks up the lakes
and rivers, and as the snowbanks grow deeper outside our doors, we can
still re-live past trips and look forward to next spring. Even in the
darkest, coldest days of January, we can hear the cries of the
returning geese and see bare earth poking up through the melting snow,
if only in our minds.
For Brenna Trent and her husband Ed Fletcher, however, March has
already arrived. Beginning this week, we'll follow them as they get
ready for the "trip of a lifetime." We'll look over their shoulders as
they plan, and join them in checking off all the items on their gear
and food lists. Then, once everything is ready, we'll go along with
them as they head north to chart the last voyage of Henry
Hudsonand maybe to learn why he never returned.
A reminder: This is a work of fiction. With the exception of a few
public figures, whose actions and utterances are the products of the
authors' imaginations, all the characters described in this work are
fictitious. And, while many locales named in this work do exist,
others are entirely imaginary. Even the geography of real places has
been altered from time to time for dramatic purposes. This is a work
of the imagination. It isn't a river guide.
October 31, 2000
Brenna Trent leaned heavily against the
scuffed wooden counter, sitting half on and half off her stool. She
made swift, slashing strokes with a soft pencil in a sketchbook that
rested on her knee. Every so often, she glanced up at the customer
standing in the cone of light illuminating the narrow aisle between
two of the shop's floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
The man was wrapped up in a wool greatcoat whose ragged hem fell
below his knees. He was a terrific model for an artist, with his wild
white hair and immense, straggly moustache. His jowls sagged in folds
and bloomed with broken veins, framing a magnificent hawk's beak of a
nose. His eyes, too, were hawk-like, set deep in dark sockets. He
looked like an Old Testament prophet who'd fallen on hard times, and
he'd been browsing through the books for well over an hour. He gave no
indication that he intended to buy anything.
Brenna smeared her little finger across the pencil line to enhance
a shadow. When she looked up again, her eyes met the man's. She
smiled. He smirked furtively. He'd noticed her watching him before,
and now he saw she was doing somethingmaking notes,
maybe?in some kind of big pad. He started to feel nervous. He
wasn't much of a reader, but he'd come into The Book Locker to escape
the chill March wind that was driving cold rain against the shop
windows and rattling the bare maple branches outside. Maybe this lady
knew he wasn't going to buy anything, he thought. Even though she was
smiling, her alert eyes scared him. He was scared of a lot of things
these days. He grabbed a paperback off the shelf without looking at
the title and took it to the counter.
"Will that be all?" Brenna asked pleasantly.
"Yep, that's all," the man said, rummaging for the tattered wallet
in the deep pocket of his brown corduroys. Brenna set her pad down on
the counter. The man saw the sketch.
"Hey," he said, both startled and flattered to see his penciled
likeness, "that's pretty damn good." The man grinned as he handed over
two worn, one-dollar bills. "Where'd you learn to draw like that,
"Oh, I taught myself," Brenna said, giving the man a few pennies in
change and slipping the book into a small paper bag. "Do you want the
"Naw," the man said, suddenly embarrassed. "Ain't got no place to
put it." And he turned without another word and bolted for the door,
brushing past the postman in the entry alcove. An icy gust blew
through the stacks of musty old books.
"Brenna Trent, Edward Fletcher, The Book Locker, Occupant.... Yep.
It's all here," said Dan, slapping the wad of mail down on the wooden
counter. He paused for breath. He wasn't as young as he used to be,
and the mail bag seemed to get heavier now when he walked his route,
instead of lighter, like it ought to do. Didn't make no sort of sense,
he thought. His breath returning, he checked his watch. Always time
for a little conversation.
"How's things today, Brenna?" he asked, wheezing a little, and
then he shrugged his shoulders to take some of the bite out of his
"So-so, Dan. And you?" Brenna raised her eyebrows in a good
approximation of interest while she thumbed through the stack of
letters. Bills and junk-mail mostly. "Visit Exotic Vietnam," one
brochure read. Ed's going to like that, she thought. Trip of a
More bills. And one catalogBBHaricot's Guide to Gear for
2001. There was a lemon-yellow kayak on the cover and a tree-lined
lake in the background.
"The wife's all in a fever for spring," Dan continued. "Wants ta
get the garden in. I tell her it's too early. Anybody can see it's too
early. But does she listen to me? No. She ain't listened to me for
gettin' onta twenty years now." Brenna nodded sympathetically, with an
expression that suggested she thought the wife oughta listen. But she
didn't say anything. Dan looked at his watch. Gettin' late, and the
mailbag wasn't gettin' any lighter. Time to go. "See ya tomorra!" he
said, and he headed toward the door.
Brenna shivered as a gust hit her again, then started leafing
through the catalog, pausing as she always did at the two-page spread
of canoes and kayaks. "This year's models!" the copy said, and all
around them were pictures of smiling, fit, tanned folks frolicking on
sunlit beaches and hanging out on weathered timber docks. They're this
year's models, too, she though enviously.
It had been a long time since she and Ed had frolicked on a sunlit
beach or hung out around a dock. Every year, when the sun started
getting up earlier and the ice went out on the river that ran through
town, Brenna would feel funny. Restless and uneasy. Then a day would
come when she'd hear the big Canada geese calling to each other, way,
way up, heading north. And she'd start smelling the earth again, and
remembering the years when spring meant whitewater and long weekends
in the old VW, its shaky front-end held together with wrappings of
leather boot-lace. Those were the years when she and Ed went off every
chance they got, chasing the runoff from river to river all over
northern New York and Vermont. That was a long time ago, she thought.
Brenna sighed. She hadn't heard any geese yet, and the neglected
garden at the back of the shop was still buried deep in dirty snow.
She glanced again at the two-page spread of canoes and kayaks,
wondering if spring would ever return. She shrugged her shoulders
unconsciously, looking for just a minute a lot like Dan the postman.
Then she slipped off the stool and made a half-hearted attack on the
books nearest the counter with a feather duster. When she reached the
end of the first aisle, the door to the back room creaked open and Ed
walked in. He saw her and smiled. She forgave him.
"Look at what I found in that box of magazines we bought from the
Norman estate," Ed said, holding up a copy of something called
Mercator's World. Brenna tilted her head to see. What a
wonderful, terrible cover, she thought. It showed a
paintingnineteenth century by the look of it. A bearded man sat
in the sternsheets of a big open boat, tiller in one hand, staring out
with mixture of sadness and determination. A boy knelt at his feet,
gazing pleadingly up at him. The boy looked close to tears. In the
foreground, a young man sprawled listlessly under a fur robe,
obviously weakened by sickness or exhaustion. Behind them all, ice
flows towered menacingly. The small boat and its occupants were alone
in a wilderness of ice and water. Brenna shuddered involuntarily. It
didn't look like anyone was going to get out of that wilderness alive.
"What do you think?" Ed asked. He hadn't noticed the shudder. When
Brenna didn't answer, he repeated, "What do you think?"
"I think," Brenna said abruptly, "that the guys in that painting
died a long way from home."
"Of course they did," said Ed. "Look at the title. It's a painting
of Henry Hudson. Remember what happened to him? He sailed into James
Bay, looking for the Northwest Passage. After wintering-over at the
bottom of the Bay and nearly starving, his crew mutinied. They set
Hudson, his son, and all the crew-members who were too sick to work
adrift in the ship's boat. Nobody knows exactly what happened to them,
but one thing's for surethey died a very long way from
Brenna took another look at the cover of the magazine. Written in
bold letters across a snow-covered peak were the words "Charting
Hudson's Last Voyage."
"Not exactly a cheerful read," Brenna commented wryly, wondering where
this conversation was headed.
"Nope. Not at all," said Ed. He sounded pretty happy about it,
though. "How'd you like to do it?"
"Die surrounded by icebergs somewhere near the bottom of the Bay?
No thanks." Brenna's voice had a sarcastic edge. She was finding it
harder and harder to follow Ed's drift among the flows. She turned
away and reached out reflexively to dust a section of shelf.
Ed touched her arm. She stopped dusting and turned back toward him.
He looked amused, and a little bit worried, too. "Not die,
Brenna. Live. For the first time in a long time. Follow the
geese north. Go right up to the Bay. Shut up the shop. Go north. Maybe
even chart Hudson's last voyage."
Brenna was silent. She looked at Ed. She looked at the magazine
cover. At the bearded old man and the pleading boy. At the implacable,
waiting ice. She raised her head again, staring hard into Ed's blue
"Yes," she said. "I'd like that very much."
Behind her, the ancient Chauncey Jerome clock on the shelf over the
shop counter started to strike the hourten minutes early, as
usual. Five o'clock. Quitting time.
"Yes," Brenna said again, quietly. "Let's go."
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2000 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.