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Fiction by Jane (Cohen) Stinson
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Part 1. Joe

Only a Christian, a Bible-Swinging, Hallelujah-Singing, Fall-On-Your-Knees-and-Beg-Forgiveness- Christian would have named them Baptism Falls. The Ojibway had named them Tettegouche which meant “falling water”, or maybe it was “high water”. Joe had forgotten most of the Ojibway language he ever knew. He moved lightly through the life burgeoning everywhere beneath his feet, hoping to avoid crushing any part of it, imagining the lushness of the greenery that would fill this place by late June. Patches of snow decorated shadowy places, untouched by the early spring sun, awaiting the shifting of the planet to a more advantageous position. The tiniest of white flowers promised to open fully by late-afternoon but Joe could not wait. The high path up to the falls was still laced with almost-melted iciness so he took the lower path that climbed gradually up the back of the cliff. The footing was surer, even though walking it meant fighting the sharp tearing branches of the heavy underbrush. Taking a fall here could be calamitous. He did not intend to fall and break part of his body so that he might be trapped here to starve to death or be discovered by a pack of wolves that would tear him apart, piece by piece. He might consider jumping from the height of the falls when he got there. They were high enough to guarantee a swift fall to death. He wouldn't even have to jump. He could just stand near the edge on a rock and slip accidentally into the relentless rush of the water to be swept over the edge of the cliffs, and then be caught up in the final scheme of things. He pushed his way through the thick brush that survived under the protection of the tall pines, breaking a thousand tiny, still-frozen branches as he moved, wondering what a plant felt in winter, wondering what he felt in winter, whether his mind froze around the edges when the ground froze, or whether his emotions congealed from November through April, so that he was unable to deal rationally with reality. He knew this path he was following up the back side of the falls, and the high, steep one, as well as he knew the stairs in his and Becky's house, rough-hewn, unsanded lumber cut from the trees of the reservation, as unfinished as their lives and their work. From their studios on the second floor they looked out on Lake Superior, the huge inland fresh water sea that maintained a vision of perfection for the mind. The acreage above the lake where he and Becky had built their house was a piece of land Joe had loved from the time he was a kid. Dad had often taken him there just to sit and study the lake and sky and how they blended into each other, blues stretching to the empty horizon, and then again blues rising vertically to the beginning of time and space. It was the only place for their house so Joe had asked the Tribal Council for that land. It would make an inviolable aerie where he and Becky would dwell with all the spirits of the lake and sky and there paint magnificent pictures for them. Joe pulled himself up over the top of the cliff and stood in icy aloneness alongside the river as it plunged down the water-smoothed stone and ran wildly away towards the lake, churning and flashing against the iron red rocks of the river bed, a fantasy of sunlight and water that sparkled brilliantly in his eyes and made them tear. He stepped tentatively onto a wet rock. It would be simple if he just slipped. But he didn't slip. Perhaps it wouldn't work anyway. Perhaps it would only be an accident. Broken legs or hips or backs were not on the agenda. He might use the small revolver he carried for protection to end abruptly all thoughts, all hatreds, all disappointments and all possibilities. This was his land, the land of his grandfathers, an eternity removed from the white civilization of the

The Witch Tree