The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
It was a sopping wet June day; June had been a wet month. Rainy day after rainy day had been spent on working on the equipment in the shop and the machinery shed, for when the fields dried out enough to work, Tom and Ken were going to have to push hard to get somewhere back on schedule.
Finally, there hadn't even been that much to do. Tom turned to watching daytime television with Chet, while Carolyn worked at her job in Geneva; Ken, predictably, spent as much time with Judy as he could. Now that they were no longer commuting to Wrightsville, Judy was again getting her workouts at the YMCA, and the rainy day gave Ken a perfect chance to be with her.
Judy had no more than settled in the car when she said, "Ken, we've got a problem, an all-out, major problem."
"What's the matter?"
"I don't see why... " All of a sudden, comprehension settled over him. "Oh, yes, I do. Does your mother know yet?"
"No. Lori told me on the phone just a little while ago. She hasn't worked up the guts to tell her parents yet."
"Yeah. They're going to get married next weekend."
Ken shrugged. "Well, there goes the canoe trip. What are we going to tell your mother about going to Western?"
"I don't know," Judy said, shaking her head sadly. "She just barely bought the idea of me living with Lori up there."
Ken crossed his ankles and drove on silently, watching the windshield wipers flop back and forth. A few miles later, Judy uncertainly broke the silence. "It won't work this time."
"To just go ahead and do something and let her find out afterward. Once I've proven to her I can do something, she usually only gripes about it, but doesn't make an all-out issue of it."
"How about your father?" Ken asked.
"Whatever we do, he'll have to know what we've got in mind."
Ken stared silently past the windshield wipers some more. "Maybe we could just go ahead and do it," he said finally. "You remember the handicapped counselor at Hinckley? Maybe they have someone at Western that could set you up with someone like Lori."
"It's possible," Judy conceded. "At least we'll be able to tell mother we can look into it. That won't shut the door entirely." She sighed and continued, "I get so tired of these continual hassles with mother. It sure would be nice to get away for a few days."
"Yeah," Ken said. "Go somewhere, just you and me."
"We couldn't do it now," Judy said, shaking her head. "Not after what happened to Lori. They'd never believe we're not doing something."
Whenever the rains let up for the fields to dry out a bit, activity on the Sorensen farm was hectic. The last of the corn got planted weeks behind schedule, and soybeans were later still. When the fields were dry, the tractors sometimes ran twenty hours a day, working under floodlights to catch up.
Having something to do made Chet feel a little better; he still couldn't work a fraction of the amount that Tom and Ken did. Judy made it out to the farm almost every day, sometimes able to see Ken for a few minutes by taking him a meal to eat in the field. There wasn't always something that she could do to help out, but she helped where she could and there were plenty of places for her to learn a new skill. For instance, when corn had to be sprayed, Chet rode the tractor with her for a couple hours, teaching her the basics, and then sat in the pickup truck resting between mixing more spray and pumping it into the spray tank.
The brunt of the work fell on Tom and Ken. Ken spent endless hours crawling across the field on a tractor seat. While there were times that seemed special, like those when a big chore was done, most of the time it was just plain dull. Sometimes, Ken just stared out at the passing ground, trying to be as exact in his driving as he could. When he drove the big 4630, he could play Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings tapes on the tape player, but even though he didn't spend all his time on the big John Deere, even that got dull after a while.
While Ken was sitting out there with the roar of a tractor in his ears, he thought about many things. He thought about Judy, of course; but he thought about school and what he wanted to do after it was done; he thought about the sunrises and sunsets and the birds flying overhead, and, to be sure, he thought about how he would like to get away for a few days without having school or farm work hanging over his head. The big canoe trip had been planned and planned again before it had been washed out, and he keenly missed the possibility of going.
Though it was an afternoon when they could have worked, Ken took off for a couple hours so he and Judy could go to Bob and Lori's wedding. The wedding was a small one, due to the short notice, held at the Arvada Center United Methodist Church. Arvada Center consisted mostly of the old brick church, built in 1867, and the township hall across the road. It was a very traditional ceremony, with Lori wearing her sister's wedding dress and her sister serving as Matron of Honor; Ken was Bob's best man.
Bob had managed to find a small house to rent in Willow Lake, and there the couple would make their home. Lori told Judy she hoped to work on her degree again someday, but when she said that, she didn't sound too hopeful. Ken knew that things weren't going to be easy for them; Bob didn't make that much on his job at the mill.
It was raining a few nights later when Ken and Judy went to the Young Adults meeting at the Arvada Center church basement. There were, as usual, about a dozen young people in attendance, but this time Greg Jones and Danielle Lee were there, the first time Ken had seen either of them since the summer before. "Still going to Isle Royale?" Greg asked.
Ken told him the trip had been washed out, but then got a bright idea. "You said last summer that you might like to go there some time. How about you and me going?"
Greg thought the idea had merit. "I'll have to talk it over with Dani," he said. "Except for the odd weekend during the school year, we only get to see each other in the summer, and I'm not sure how she'd like to see me gone for two weeks."
"Bob and I were only planning on being gone a little over a week," Ken told him.
"I got to thinking about it, last fall," Greg said. "Out of a nine day trip between weekends, you spend at least four days traveling to and from the island. You can't get a real good trip in the time that's left."
"That bothered me, too," Ken admitted. "I could stand two weeks, but we'd have to squeeze it in between the second cutting and school starting."
"Sounds good," Greg agreed. "Let me talk it over with Dani later, and I'll get back to you."
Greg called Ken back the next evening. "I've got a counter-offer," he said, getting to the point. "Dani would like to go, too. She had a lot of fun on that trip we took last summer. I hear you and Judith are getting real close. Any reason we couldn't take her along for a fourth?"
"I'd have to ask," Ken said. "I'm sure she would love to go, but that's not the only problem."
Ken called Judy as soon as he had gotten off the phone with Greg. "It's the chance to get away we've been waiting for," he told her. "You and Dani can share a tent. With another couple going, nobody will think anything funny is going on. You can tell your folks that it's kinda like that church trip last summer, only longer."
"I'll have to talk it over with Daddy," Judy promised. "But if he agrees, I think he and I can work it out with mom. Are you going to have anything for me to do out there tomorrow?"
"I think Tom can find you something," Ken told her.
"Fine," she replied. "Why don't you pick me up in the morning, and we can talk about it then."
I got a letter from Western yesterday," Judy said. "They said they would see about finding me a suitable roommate. So, that's settled. Mother doesn't much like the idea of me staying with someone I don't know, but I think Dad and I have her talked into it. I want to get that settled and in the past a little before we take on this canoe trip."
"You do want to go, don't you?"
"I've wanted to go since you brought the idea up last summer, but it just never seemed like it would work," she said. "Then, after what happened to Lori, the chances of our going any place for any length of time were nonexistent. But, having another couple along makes things different."
"Yeah, that's just what I thought, too," Ken agreed. "People won't think anything of it. I'll tell Greg you're pretty sure, but can't be absolutely certain for a while."
"What's on for today?"
"Combining wheat. It's ready on the Duck Farm, and Tom thinks the ground is dry enough. You'll drive grain shuttle, and I'm going to spread manure in the pasture, then try to clean up some of the weedy spots in the beans."
The weather let up on them in July, and slowly, they were able to get back on schedule; never completely, since some things, planted later, developed late. For example, they had expected to get to harvesting oats before the second cutting of alfalfa was ready, but it turned out that the hay was ready early, thanks to all the rain.
Still, by early August, things were as caught up as they could get. One morning, the four young people were able to pile their camping gear and supplies into Greg's big Oldsmobile and take off north for the tiny village of Copper Harbor at the tip of Michigan's upper peninsula.
They camped at a state part the night before they were to take the ferry to the island. As they had the year before, the girls stayed in one tent, and the guys stayed in the other; but after the ferry had started it's six-hour trip across the blue expanse of Lake Superior, Greg and Dani had a surprise for Ken and Judy.
"Dani and I have talked it over," Greg said. "We'd like to split up by couples. You guys go your way, and we'll go ours. That way, we can each have several days by ourselves."
"It just too good a chance to pass up," Dani added. "We won't be able to be by ourselves for almost another year, again."
"That wasn't the plan," Ken protested. "What are people back home going to say when they find out?"
"There's no need for them to find out," Greg smiled. "You guys are going away to college a few days after we get back. So are we."
"I don't like it," Ken said. "We've got enough hassles with Judy's mother already to want to risk another one."
Several minutes of discussion settled nothing. Greg and Dani were adamant on getting away by themself, and wouldn't hear of any other idea. Finally, Judy said, "I think Ken and I had better talk this over privately."
The wind was fresh out on the bow of the boat, and an occasional drop of spray came up over the rail to splash on them. "I wonder how long ago they cooked that up," Ken wondered.
"Probably before Greg called you back," Judy commented. "Too bad he didn't tell you then."
"We wouldn't have gone, then. Greg could have guessed that."
"It's no secret why they want to go off by themselves, is it?" Judy smiled. "They probably figured that as much as we've been seeing each other, we've been doing what they want to do."
Ken nodded. "So then, we wouldn't mind, either."
"Yeah," Judy admitted glumly. She turned and looked out over the bow; nothing but the emptiness of Lake Superior lay ahead of them. "We can't turn back now."
"I'll tell you one thing," Ken said. "If we do refuse, I'm not looking forward to two weeks with them. They're going to spend all their time either on our cases or sneaking off into the bushes."
Judy stared at the water flowing by. "We wanted to get off by ourselves," she commented. "But, we didn't plan anything, just because it wouldn't look very good."
"That's one thing," Ken said. "They've got the same problem. They can't rat on us, because they'd give themselves away, too."
Judy looked up with a smile, then turned and kissed him. "Let's do it," she said. "Just because they think we're doing something doesn't mean we have to do it."
"All right," Ken agreed. "Let's just remember one thing."
"Bob and Lori."
Judy shook her head. "That's all I've thought about since Greg brought this up."
Ken tried to avoid sounding bitter as they split up their gear on the dock at Rock Harbor, at one end of Isle Royale. After they had finished and arranged for canoe rental, Greg announced that he and Dani were going to portage their canoe over into the next bay, and work their way counter-clockwise around the canoe route that surrounds the east half of the island. "Have fun," Ken said.
After they left, Ken and Judy went to have a Coke at the little store near the dock and discuss what they were going to do. "We can't portage our canoe and follow that route," Ken said. "It's possible, but with me doing most of the hauling, the portages will be slow, and we'd have to hurry too much."
"I can carry some of the load," Judy said stubbornly.
"I know you can," Ken said. "But we'd spend too much time carrying, and not enough time canoeing."
"Then what are we going to do?"
"Take another route," Ken said, pulling out a map of the island.
After half an hour's discussion, and a consultation at the ranger station, they decided to go down the long, narrow bay of Rock Harbor, then take a series of short portages that would get them into Siskiwit Lake, near the middle of the island. After a portage out of Siskiwit Lake, and back through another string of lakes, they could arrange to have a boat pick them up.
"Sounds reasonable," Ken said. "One big portage, and a lot of little ones. I guess we can handle the big one if we have to. We've got plenty of time, and we can take all we want."
The first couple of days were leisurely. In the middle of the day, the winds usually blew too hard for safe canoeing. When the wind was up, they sat on shore, confining their canoeing to the morning and evening calms.
It had seemed strange -- somehow wrong -- for them to sleep side by side that first night, each in their own sleeping bags in the tiny pup tent, but after meeting other people the next day, they realized that no one cared if they were married, or whatever. After that, they were as comfortable under the circumstances as they would have been if they were a brother and sister taking the trip.
It was nice to be able to get up when they felt like it, and not be driven by having to do something. Ken did the cooking, what cooking there was to be done. Their meals weren't much; either something dumped from a can and heated in a pan, or freeze-dried meals that required water to be boiled before adding the food.
On their second day, the wind kicked up about the time they were passing Daisy Farm, a campground at the head of the bay, partly closed off by the smaller islands that formed Rock Harbor. It was a convenient place to stop for the day. Since they were able to get into the campground early enough to get an Adirondack shelter near the water, they decided to spend their second night there.
"Oh, look, Ken," Judy called as they organized their gear in the shelter. "Doesn't that say it all?"
Ken looked where she was pointing. On the wall of the shelter, someone had written in ball-point pen, "And one day we must begin our own great explorations. No longer will we find a hand to hold us, or a voice to call us back."
Ken agreed after one look. "Boy, is that the story of the last year."
"Yeah," Judy nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah."
Later that afternoon, they got out their maps and studied their route for the next two days. "The way I figure it," Ken said, "We'll get up early tomorrow, paddle down to this Moskey Basin, and then have to portage at least two miles into this Lake Ritchie. That's going to make for a big day."
"Right," Judy agreed. "You're going to have to go back and forth over that trail for at least twelve miles to carry all our stuff. I wish I could be more help."
"Can't be helped," Ken shrugged, continuing to stare at the map.
Judy studied the map a while longer. "Too bad we can't go out in the big lake," she said finally, pointing at the map. "Look here. If we were to head out of the bay, and follow the shoreline around, we could come out where we're supposed to be picked up, at Chippewa Harbor. We could go up through that chain of lakes to Siskiwit Lake, then work out way back to Chippewa Harbor."
"Yeah, there aren't many portages along that route, and none of them big," Ken agreed. "But that's taking quite a risk, heading out into the big lake."
"This is supposed to be a vacation," Judy said. "I hate to see you killing yourself on the trail tomorrow. What if we got up real, real early and got right started? If we really hurried, we ought to make Chippewa Harbor before the wind and waves come up."
Ken looked long and hard at the map. It was a good seven or eight miles of paddling. For the first half of the trip, there were occasional bays where it might be possible to seek shelter, but on the second half, there wasn't much but open coastline. Still, it looked like only two or three hours of hard paddling, and if the wind showed signs of picking up, they could hole up in one of the little bays and wait for evening before they had to commit themselves to the second half of the trip. "It can't hurt to get up early and go take a look at it," he said finally. "If we don't like it, we can turn back and start the portage."
The stars were still out, and dawn was a mere smear in the east when Ken woke up; it was his normal rising time, this summer. He stepped outside to look at the sky. "Oh, Judy, come look," he called.