As he looked around the room Mike gave a huge sigh of pleasure and accomplishment. While it was great to be in his own home, it sure was a lot of work. Cleaning and putting stuff away was very difficult. He’d been at it all morning, every morning for the past two weeks: washing clothes, sweeping floors, vacuuming rugs, stowing even more stuff he had forgotten about, and, finally, today, cleaning the kitchen. He swept up the last bit of trash and emptied it in the waste-bin. A long look around he house brought satisfaction.
For the past year he had been living with his parents again, after seven years in a dorm. He glanced at the diploma hanging on the wall by the fireplace. His M. Div. was supposed to be proof that he knew almost everything he needed to know: except how to live a normal life. He had enjoyed working as an assistant priest in his parent’s church. However, it revealed that he knew little of how people lived from day to day. His entire life was spent living in his parents’ house or in a dorm. He knew little of how people lived their daily lives. So, he moved to the mountains to learn about life.
Well, that was half the story. The truth was more difficult. First was the awkwardness of living with his parents after seven years. Second was rather vague. He wasn’t sure about being a priest. Or, more precisely, what sort of priest he should be.
What he told his parents and friends was that he wanted to live near the woods; he wanted to hike and bike and go camping. He said he would miss working with Fr. Ted and Deacon Tomas, but he wanted to live a “normal” life for a while. The Bishop saw through this tale. But Bishop Jake grinned and said, “I don’t blame you one bit. I enjoy avoiding those two myself!” And then he told Mike exactly what Mike was thinking, saying that it was a very wise path he had chosen. The relief he felt when given the Bishop’s blessing gave him the strength to get moved and the little cabin set in order. So far his enterprise had been successful. He had a job in the Christian bookstore. He had friends who helped him move in. He had a nice place to live.
And what a wonderful little place it was! It was the kitchen that made the house. Even though it had been completely modernized, it still felt like a kitchen from the 1930’s. The ‘fridge’ was, by modern standards, compact. The gas—actually propane—stove was also rather small. A dishwasher had been squeezed in between the stove and the sink. So the kitchen really was modern, but the style of cabinets, the paneling and the linoleum floor gave it an old farmhouse look. He could imagine somebody’s Aunt Bea in there canning tomatoes or baking an apple pie.
The kitchen had no heat, except for the stove; the living room was heated by the fireplace. Both bedrooms were heated by propane heaters. The bathroom was odd: located in the middle of the house, it had three doors—one for each bedroom and one for the living room. The bedrooms were much like the kitchen, with old paneling and linoleum that exuded back-country living. He had furnished the guest room with two twin beds, a dresser and a lamp. His room had the luxury of a full sized bed plus a dresser and lamp. Rustic was a good word for it.
It was the living room that looked a bit out of place. It had been remodeled some time ago. The fireplace did look rustic, so did the old paneling on either side of it. But the old paneling on the opposite wall had been replaced by drywall and covered with an orange and yellow wallpaper that reeked of 1972. Three large windows opened on the porch, providing a restricted view of Tiny Falls. Between the windows and the fireplace he had set up an office area. The computer added to the time warp factor in the room. The only light came from the porch windows and some lamps. To help with the lighting he had mounted a full length mirror on the wall next to the bathroom door. He needed to do something else to brighten the room, but was not sure what would work.
The kitchen was separated from the living room by a long bar which served as the dining area. Stools could be set up in the kitchen and the living room for plenty of guests. Not that he expected a lot of guests. But he was going to have to buy some stools as there was no room for a table and chairs.
It had been hard trying to arrange furniture, find places to put things, cleaning every nook and cranny of the house. So he had gone riding every afternoon. That had helped him learn a bit about the valley. He had worked hard this morning and finished the job early. So he was free to go for a much longer bike ride. He filled his water bladder and slid it into place in his little backpack, along with his freshly cleaned water filter and a couple of sandwiches. After checking that the maps and his compass and other gear were still in their pockets, he pulled on the pack and grabbed his bike helmet.
On his way out the door he glanced in the mirror. For a half a split second he thought he saw that his skin was green. It was just weird light. But the fact that his friends called him “Kermit” made the illusion a bit more unsettling. He did look sort of like a long, skinny frog. And he enjoyed playing in the water. So maybe Kermit was a good name. He’d have to see if it fit him in his new life.
He stepped out of the door and took in a deep breath. The air was warm and humid, the breeze barely rustling the leaves of the trees. He could hear Tiny Falls singing its eternal praise to God. One more reason he signed the lease: it was a very peaceful place. He thanked God for providing this sanctuary.
Mounting his bike he headed toward the highway. He had been exploring the village, even riding down to The Plaza. Today he wanted to head up into the forest, to see the lake. He could take to the trails, following PayDirt Trail up and around. But it was after eleven and he wanted to spend most of his time at the lake.
It was called “BeaverDam Pond” but it really was a lake. They’d told him about it at Staley’s Store. It was maybe fifty feet deep in places. There was no actual dam, either. At least, that’s what they said at Staley’s. Named by mistake, they said; it was a natural lake, not created by beavers. He had wanted to see it anyway, but their yakking and tall tales made him even more curious.
Beaver Ridge Road was the main road through the valley. At the base of the ridge it became a set of switchbacks that worked their way up to the top of Beaver Ridge. The terrain past the top of the ridge was much less steep. It was a sort of a plateau where Beaver Creek merged with PayDirt Creek before the road slowly rose upward into the higher mountains. He had figured out that Beaver Ridge ran from the high point of Watson’s Roost northwest to join another ridge and become some really decent mountains.
He followed Beaver Ridge Road downhill, crossing PayDirt Creek and then Beaver Creek. Just past the intersection with Harrison Hill Road he found a parking area for BeaverDam Loop Trail. After studying the wooden map mounted on the edge of the parking area, he realized that he wanted to take the little trail that circled the lake.
His trail quickly crossed Beaver Creek at a shallow ford just below a small waterfall. The spray from the fall felt good; he lingered in it for a moment or two, letting it cool him. The little trail rewarded him with several access points to the lake. The lake was much larger than he had expected, and very beautiful. Unlike many mountain lakes, BeaverDam Pond was relatively oval. Probably about a mile long. As he rode around the lake, the access points provided great places to go swimming. They also provided excellent views of the mountains beyond.
But he was not prepared for the facilities at the lake access point that had been named the “Base Camp”. It looked like at least a hundred campsites, maybe more, many of them for camping trailers and motor homes. He found a store, a restaurant and a beach complete with lifeguards. Unlike the trail, this place was crowded. Amazing how the Forest Service had produced a commercial beach in the middle of the woods!
It was just before he had completed his circuit of the lake when he found something he’d never expected. The trail ran right behind an old stone church building. He spent a good half-hour exploring it. It looked like the Forest Service had been maintaining the building, but it was also obvious that it was no longer used for worship. The stained glass windows looked priceless. But most interesting was the way the various parts were removable. The information plaques told a story of how there were two churches, one Anglican and the other Baptist, that shared the building. They met on alternating Sundays. The building was in fantastic shape, due to the tax dollars keeping it properly maintained. As Mike examined the building he realized that he would not need much to hold a worship service there. Most important, it was still sacred ground.
He headed back on the main road, but his head was filled with thoughts about the stone church. So he jumped off the paved road and took PayDirt Trail back toward his house. When he reached the little stone dam he took advantage of the pool. He stepped in and let the water soak away the heat of the day. It was not deep enough to swim, but he could float on his back. Laying there, listening to the cascade of water on rock, he could not get the little church out of his mind.
Originally, he was going to take a year to learn how normal people live. One year serving in his parents church proved that he was not going to “work his way up to bishop”; God must have other plans for him. When he was hired at the Bible bookstore in The Plaza the manager had said, “For the Summer,” but then added, “we’ll see, then.” So he might need to look for a Winter job. And now he’d found an empty church building.
It occurred to him that he was hungry. He stepped out of the pool. There were some rocks that formed a ledge up above the pool. It was a very easy climb; he had been up there before. He retrieved the sandwiches from his pack and sat down on the rock to partake of his tiny picnic. A cardinal, a blue jay and a blackbird perched in some nearby trees, each watching him suspiciously. Except for the babbling of the water over the dam it was quiet. The peace on finds in the forest descended upon him. Even though he dared not speak, he did offer some silent thanks to God for this place.
Finishing his sandwiches and draining his water bladder, he glanced at the sun. He figured it was around two o’clock. The sun was beating down on him, but he was soaked and the breeze made it rather cool. The ride home would be quite chilly. So he tossed his shirt over the branch of a tree and hung his shoes and socks on another branch. Then he lay down and let the warm sun dry his shorts.
His thoughts returned to that little stone church and his future. If he really was going to be a priest, here was a chance to build a congregation. Well, maybe. First, he thought, he’d need to talk to the Forest Service. Then he’d have to sort things out with the Bishop. Then…well, he wasn’t sure. If the Forest Service let him, he could offer worship for the campers. But he wanted to reach the people in the valley who did not go to church. That would be difficult. But not impossible.
PayDirt Creek Trail was somewhat steep as it followed the cascading creek; some of the trail being “technical riding”; mostly because the trail was not maintained properly. He had ridden the trail a few times, so the time it took to get home was getting much quicker. Stopping at the ford just above Beaver Falls, he could see how Beaver Ridge Road wound down the ridge into town. The little branch that flowed by his new home was easy to see. Riding back up the trail a few yards proved that he could see up through the branch’s valley. His new home was visible through the trees. It was nice to know that he did not have to make the drive back to Rockbrough. A glance at the sun and he realized that there was plenty of daylight left.
So, he road down to Cross Valley Trail toward the village. He could see the steeple of the Baptist Church on his right and then the school on his left. Feeling energetic, he took the challenge of “The Downhill Run” uphill to Watson’s Roost. The ride across the ridge was fabulous. Still, he was not in the mood for paved roads and soon connected with PayDirt Trail and became lost in his thoughts. The sign that he was leaving the national forest surprised him. He was just above Staley’s Store. He was also very hungry and thirsty. A burger, maybe, or one of those fried bologna and egg sandwiches would be nice, he thought; maybe he’d get both.
There was a crowd in Staley’s. He found a seat at the counter and decided on the bologna and egg, with cheese, pickle and slaw. Eric was cooking, which made it even better. Patty brought him a root beer without asking. He smiled, thinking that he must be a ‘regular’ now, for her to do that.
Turning to the man on his right he said, “Hi, I’m Mike.”
The man grunted something that might have been “Hello” and took a bite out of his hamburger.
“Nice to meet you,” Mike responded.
There was no answer. He took a sip of root beer. Glancing to his left, he thought he recognized the young man seated there, but he was engaged in a spirited conversation with his friend.
Suddenly he heard someone speaking rather loudly, “How can the valley keep its character when you and Harrison keep selling off your land to subdivisions and shopping malls?” He recognized one of the men, a Mr. Smith. The other was new to him.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Mr. Smith was saying, “You move in here and start telling the long established families how to run things. When did you buy the McCoy farm? Two or three years ago? And you think you can tell us what we can do with our land?”
Eric stepped out of the kitchen and stood in front of the cash register. He spoke in a calm, but authoritative voice, “That’s enough!” He paused for just a moment and then said, “Rodriguez, you and Smith can talk about anything you want, but keep it civil.”
Mike knew a little bit about the argument. Rodriguez owned the farm located on the western side of PayDirt Creek. Staley’s was adjacent to the farm, which bordered the national forest up by the little stone dam and extended westward to border the land Mr. Smith had turned into a subdivision. The Rodriguez farm was one of the more prosperous farms in the valley. It was the old McCoy Farm. And that, Mike thought, explains why some call the little stone dam ‘McCoy’s Dam’.
Then Mike realized that the man sitting next to him was Phillip Harrison. He and Willie Smith were two of the valley’s political leaders. Inspiration popped into Mike’s head. A tense silence had spread over the store and Mike thought he could ease the tension. He leaned over to Mr. Harrison and asked in a rather low voice, but loud enough that everyone could hear him, “Do you know anything about the old stone church up by BeaverDam Pond?”
Instead of the tense silence loosening up, it seemed to draw tighter. He heard a couple of people make a whistling noise as they drew their breath. Then the man on his left said, “Hey! Kermit! Good to see you again. What you want to know about that church?”
It was the young man he had gone riding with one rainy day. Mike said, “Yeah,” then paused a moment and slowly said, “You’re Doug, I think; yeah, Doug number seven.”
His acquaintance laughed and said, “Yep. I’m Doug number seven.”
“Good to see you again.”
“So, what about that church?”
Mike sensed that he better be very careful. He said, “Well, I was riding up by the lake and I found it. It’s a beautiful old building. I just wondered about it. The Forest Service displays don’t say much.”
A huge guffaw came from somewhere among the tables. Then everyone laughed and the tension eased.
Doug said, “Well, I guess you asked the right man. Mr. Harrison’s family built that church.”
Phillip Harrison turned to Mike and said, “That’s almost right. The McQuillans and the Harrisons built it in the 1870’s. The rangers don’t seem to want to tell the story of that church. Short version is that the Baptists and the Episcopalians both worshiped there until the new churches were built in the village. It’s a long story, but there’s no massacres or murders so I guess the rangers don’t care to tell it.”
Mike nodded and said, “Thanks. It really is a beautiful building.” Then, testing the waters, he said, “Does anyone ever hold any worship services there?”
“No.” Phillip Harrison had turned to look at his neighbor at the counter. “I wish we could.” He sounded a bit melancholy, “The Forest Service wants it to be just like it was in 1880. But that just does not seem likely.” He shook his head and returned to his burger.
It was quiet for a few moments. It seemed that people were thinking about what he had said. Then someone at a table said, “Sure would be nice to see it used for it’s original purpose.” Another voice spoke quietly, “Yeah. Real nice. Might even help heal the valley.”
There were murmurs of agreement, but no one said anything else about it.
Doug spoke up, “Hey, Kermit, could we go riding tomorrow? I’d like to ride up to Lookout Knob. Okay?”
Mike looked at Doug and then said, “Sure. Meet here? Maybe nine o’clock?”
Lookout Knob offered a fantastic view. Doug pointed out a number of landmarks, including Watson’s Roost, PayDirt Springs, BeaverDam Pond, the McQuillian orchards and their infamous graveyard, the Cascade, and, most interesting to Kermit, the Old Stone Church.
It was also interesting that certain spots could not be seen. The Village of Beaver Ridge and Staley’s Store, McCoy’s Dam and Kermit’s house. Lookout Knob was on the forest side of Beaver Ridge and the ridge blocked the view of landmarks below it.
“So, you see how Beaver Creek and PayDirt Creek merge just above The Cascade” Doug was pointing out the landmarks and explaining the lay of the land. “So, why did they name the creek below the Cascade “PayDirt” when it’s obviously “Beaver” Creek?” Doug looked straight at Kermit and said, “I’ve argued that for years. But the government says it’s too late to change the names.”
Kermit smiled and almost laughed, but stifled it because of the look on Doug’s face. Then he pointed to the church and asked, “Okay, so the original community was way over where Sawdust Creek merges with Beaver Creek. Why did they build the church there, away from the community?”
Doug shook his head. “Don’t know.” He pointed toward the Cascade and said, “Mr. Harrison has some documents that the Forest Service won’t even consider. It’s a sore spot with him. Beaver Ridge Road didn’t exist. PayDirt Creek Trail was the road until around 1930. There’s a trail from the Forest Road below us over to PayDirt Trail. That’s part of the old road. Another part is where BeaverDam Loop Trail connects with that same Forest Road. So I guess people rode up toward what’s now McCoy’s Dam to get to the gap in Beaver Ridge.”
“Let me try to get this straight,” Kermit said, speaking rather slowly, “At first it would seem that the Harrisons and the McQuillians were the only families, but he said they built the church and both the Baptists and the Episcopalians worshiped in it. So I guess by the Civil War there were a number of families in the valley?”
Doug nodded. “I’m no historian. I guess you’re right. I know about the road because I ride the trails and I did some research. But there were a number of families in the area. McCoy and Smith came back after the war and began farming the land west of PayDirt Creek. Most people lived over near Sawdust Creek. But some lived in the flatter land where the village is; or in the area we call The Meadows now. The McQuillian and Harrison families had picked the best of the land up here. But I think there were a number of trappers and loggers in the area.”
“Thanks, Doug, for the geography and history lesson.” Kermit said as he walked over to his bike. Then he turned to Doug and asked, “So, we go back down the Forest Road to the Cascade and then…” he paused a moment, thinking about the trails and roads. Doug waited to see if he’d figure it out. Finally, Kermit said, “I think the shortest way back to my house is down Beaver Ridge Road. So, from the Cascade I’d take the trail to the main road. My house is halfway down the hill.”
Doug stared at him, then asked, “Your house?”
“Yeah.” Kermit grinned. “I moved in two weeks ago.”
Doug just stared at him for a minute or so. Then he said, “Sure, I’d love to see where you live.”
The diploma and ordination certificate fascinated Doug. After staring at them for a few minutes he asked, “So, are you a Catholic priest?”
Kermit shook his head. “No,” he said. Then, for clarification added, “We’re part of the ‘convergence movement’ which is a group of Christians who are trying to unite the various styles of worship.”
Doug nodded, and took a sip of the root beer Kermit had provided. It was obvious that he had no idea what his friend was talking about.
“Well, imagine a church that combines Calvary Chapel down by The Plaza with the Episcopal and the Baptists.” Kermit hoped this might give Doug some idea. But Doug still seemed not to comprehend. So he asked, “Which church to you attend?”
Doug smiled sheepishly and shook his head, saying, “I don’t. My parents used to attend the Baptist Church, but I have not been since I was fourteen. I hated it. I was always getting in trouble there.”
Mike nodded, remembering how he, too, got into trouble wiggling and giggling in church. However, one Sunday, just before dismissal, the priest called his name to meet him before leaving the building. He was asked to be an acolyte. More than that, this priest showed him all the items used in worship and told him about them. Soon, the liturgy became a sort of dance, a celebration he understood. As Mike remembered this, he noticed a slight look of pain in Doug’s face. He said nothing, but it was obvious that Doug would need some time before he could discuss the problem.
The two of them sat on the front porch, listening to the falls. Eventually Doug confessed his jealousy, saying, “Kermit, I’ve got to admit I envy you. I can’t help thinking that I might find a way to get you evicted so I can live here.”
Mike grinned. He asked Doug where he was living.
Doug answered, “In Beaver Ridge Apartments, just south of the village.” He took a deep breath and said, “Well, I needed to get out of my Dad’s house and I wanted a place closer to the village. Doug paused, lost in thought for a minute or so. Then Doug continued, “You know, Stafford Arnold was living here until a couple of weeks ago. When I learned he had moved out I checked on this place, but they said it was already rented.” Doug looked sharply at Kermit, grinned and then continued his story. “He’s moved to an assisted living facility in Rockborough. You’d like him. He worked for the railroad and retired to this house. His wife passed a few years ago. He’s got lots of stories to tell about the railroad. He grew up here, though. He might remember some of the history. Gene and I used to stop by to fish below the falls. Then we’d meet him and he’d tell us tales. Mostly the railroad stuff.”
Mike started to ask who Gene was when Doug said, “Oh, yeah, Gene is my older brother. He and his partner manage Chef’s Choice in The Plaza.”
They were quiet for a few more minutes, then Mike said, “Okay, Doug. You’ve got something you want to say. I realized that last evening when you invited me to ride up to Lookout Knob.” Mike smiled at him, continuing, “Look, say whatever you want. If you’d like, I can get my stole and hear your confession. That way I am forbidden to repeat what you tell me. I’d like to make this easy for you.”
Doug laughed, then said, “You’re good. You knew yesterday? Wow. Am I that transparent?”
Mike smiled, then said, “Well, do I hear your confession or do you just tell me?”
Doug laughed, “Okay,” he said, “It’s this valley. McQuillan, Padgett and Rodriguez are the three big farm owners now. Others, like Harrison and my family, sold their farms or the Forest Service bought them. Things have been fine until McQuillan sold some land to a developer who built The Plaza. Stores moved from the village to The Plaza. Then Harrison and others opened boutique stores and outfitting shops in the village. I own Top of the Ridge, for example. So, now, there’s a large group of people who liked the way things were before The Plaza. And there’s some who see the need for change and are trying to control it, not just ride the wave, so to speak. A lot of people think Harrison and my Dad are just ‘riding the wave’ and skimming profit off tourists without care for the land. That’s not true, but try to tell them. And then you mentioned the Old Stone Church. Phillip Harrison’s pet peeve.
“Oh!” Kermit shook his head. “No wonder it got tense.”
Doug frowned, saying, “You scared me. Sometimes Phillip can be a bit hot-tempered, like my Dad. Eric had to stop Rodriguez and my Dad. Then I had to stop you.”
“Well, I won’t tell anyone you’ve told me all this. No need to get you in trouble with anyone.”
“Oh,” Doug let out a short laugh, “They know.” He smiled wryly. “Everyone in Staley’s yesterday evening knows I’m going to talk to you.” He shook his head slightly and said, “I thought everyone in the place understood, except you. Of course, I had no idea you were an ‘M. Div.’”
Both of them laughed, nervously, thinking about the political tightrope they had to walk. Then Mike asked Doug, “So, what is Top of the Ridge?”
Doug took a deep breath, grateful of the change of topic. He answered, “My store. I sell camping and backpacking equipment. I also lead tours to the top of Yellowleaf Mountain as well as rock climbing on Panther Ridge.”
Mike suddenly understood fully what Doug meant about ‘riding the wave’ and wondered if he wasn’t doing just that.
As if to answer Mike’s thoughts, Doug continued, “But the main thing I’m doing in all of that is showing my customers how to enjoy the forest without damaging it. For example, there’s no trails to Yellowleaf or Panther Ridge. So we hike in by map and compass, from different starting places so we don’t hike the same ground. There’s lots of other ways to help protect the forest. My customers understand what I’m doing. It’s some of the locals that don’t get it.”
“Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.” Mike said, to confirm that he understood.
“Well, actually,” Doug was almost laughing again, “you don’t want to leave footprints because that means you’ve disturbed the soil. What you can leave is your own organic waste.” Saying that, Doug watched Kermit closely to see if he understood. When Kermit didn’t react Doug added, “Of course, the purist would pack that out too. But they have to make sure they don’t drink from the wrong jar.”
It quickly dawned on Mike what Doug was suggesting. They sealed their friendship with hearty laughter.
After Doug left, Mike began to pray. After a week of praying, Mike received an answer. The Lord wanted him to hold worship services in the old stone chapel. It took Mike two months to cut through the “red tape” of the Forest Service bureaucracy. His argument to the Rangers was based on the potential need of worship services for the campers and hikers. Eventually, the rangers agreed to worship services in the old church, but only if they were in the style of the original services. That was enough for Kermit. He wrote a letter to his bishop detailing the situation. The bishop was not so enthusiastic. He did not like the idea that Mike would be conducting services for two different denominations, neither of them his own.
Eventually, after lots of e-mails and phone calls, Kermit had what he needed. He would conduct services for the tourists, one Sunday in the Baptist style, the next Sunday in Episcopalian style, just as had been done before the new churches were built.
When the Baptist minister and the Episcopalian rector complained, he referred them to the Forest Rangers. The Rangers said that they now had someone who was willing to do things their way. He heard from Doug that the valley, except for the Episcopal Rector and the Baptist Minister, thought what he was doing was wonderful. Valley residents came to the first two services, but then returned to their own churches, as he expected.
There was one problem he had not solved. He needed at least one acolyte for the Episcopalian service. He postponed the problem by holding the Baptist service the first week. Desperation forced him to ask at that first service if there might be anyone with acolyte experience who would still be in the area next week. The Lord provided. A high school student named Aiden said he would be able to do it. When he showed up that Sunday, he had two friends, Matt and Chaz, with him. Both of them needed acolyte training, but they said they would help. It turned out that Matt’s Dad was a Forest Ranger, but it was some time before Mike figured out who Aiden and Chaz were.