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Fiction by Jane (Cohen) Stinson
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They lived in Minneapolis for a time but once she saw the north shore of Lake Superior she was never happy in the city again. Perhaps that had been his first mistake. He should not have shown her the reservation. As they drove north from Duluth along the shore on that first trip home, Becky was intoxicated by the colors of the water, the forests, and the cliffs with their plunging waterfalls. She fell in love with the beauty and made Joe fall in love with it again. She nagged and begged and pleaded until they left the city. It was hard to give up the teaching and the feeling of belonging to academia he had enjoyed, but it had given him time to paint as he had never painted before. He sometimes spent ten hours a day painting, as if there were not enough time to finish his projects. At first Becky had been completely happy. In some strange sense she had come home. She learned all of the legends and history of his people. She became Ojibway. At first she would spend an afternoon or two during the week at the gift shop in the center of the village, talking to the tourists, telling them the history of the handicrafts for sale or perhaps one of the legends of the Ojibway. If they were interested she might even drive them out to see the Witch Tree. From the first time she saw it Becky was entranced by that incredible tree that hung out high above the lake, its trunk torturously twisted by the winds that swept around it endless season after endless season, century after century, even before the first European explorers discovered it. The fascination was not just with the twisting of the Tree but with the illusion that it had no root system in the earth that embraced it. There was a root. If one explored the circumference of the Tree one could find a slender root that anchored it in the ground and supplied the nutrients required for life. But Becky chose to ignore that almost invisible root and spoke only about the Tree as being without roots, making it a tree of remarkable magic. The Ojibway regarded it that way and Becky outdid the Ojibway on the subject. She began to go there at least once a week, always taking some tobacco along to leave at the base of the Tree as her gift to the spirit of the Tree. She tried desperately to paint the Tree, as though if she could capture the ethereal disconnectedness of it she could somehow explain her own existence. Early in the morning she packed the Jeep with her sketch pad, canvas and easel, her paints, brushes, pencils, charcoals, and pens, and drove the ten miles up to the dirt road to the Tree. It wasn't an easy drive but only unreasonable weather kept her from her obsession. Her studio was filled with sketches and paintings of the Tree. None of them were good so they weren't hung. They stood in stacks against the wall, reproaching her for her inadequacy. Joe had suggested she take a couple of courses at the university in Duluth but she didn't want to leave the reservation. It had become her home, with the built-in safety net, the people who accepted her for what she was. The women in town liked her because she was sweet and kind and helpful and loved the handicrafts they made and tried to sell. The old men loved her because she pried old stories from them and was ever eager to learn more about the old ways. The young men liked her because she was pretty and fun.

The Witch Tree - page 3