Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XI, Issue XI

For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” -- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

His friends called him "Digory," a reference to "the Professor" in C. S. Lewis' novels, for Joe Kirke was indeed prone to spend time in his books. His friends Fred and Charles found him to be a great asset in rounding out their crew for adventures... and the three young men LOVED adventures! Their latest was the "Five Continent Challenge,"where they would drive on every large continent of the world in one road trip! They had just forayed into Egypt across the Sinai and were making their way back as Joe was planning to join his older cousin Kate, Kate's husband, and her friends on a trip to the World's Fair in Alaska.

Kate had scolded him: "Don't be late!" as he Skyped her from Cairo. She was not so much worried about his resolve as the road-worthiness of the van the three companions had dubbed: "Evelyn," a reference to a movie they had seen were a girl joins a road trip to find her birth parents. In the movie, "Evelyn" finds herself mired in beach sand and Kate still had her doubts about the three friends' journey up the "Road of Bones" as the Lena Highway was called. The road was originally built by gulag prisoners and when they died, the story goes, their bones became part of the roadbed. In any case, Kate inwardly wished her cousin and his friends safely back on Big Diomede.

So far, the most impressive sight the young men had beheld was that of the stone towers of Lena Pillars National Park near Yakutsk in the Russian Federation. “Sort of like Natural Chimneys on steroids,” Joe had exclaimed upon seeing the giant formation. Indeed the stone towers of Augusta County, Virginia seemed small in comparison. Also impressive was the sheer magnitude of open country one passed through on a motor trip through Asia. The three found genuine respect for the professional drivers who traveled this hard road, especially when ‘Evelyn’ experienced a broken belt. One of these ‘Road Knights’ pulled up behind the steaming van following the unwritten code of the wilderness highway. The driver rolled out a new belt stretched from a spool of all-purpose tape and after the repair was tested, put the kettle on his portable stove and the men shared tea!

One could hardly call what they shared conversation, for the Mongolian driver spoke no English and seemed to the three as if he were a likely descendant of Genghis Khan... at least that was how the story wrote itself in their minds.The young men imagined him living in a ger and drinking copious quantities of mare's milk, to be sure. He seemed friendly in a fierce sort of way and communicated quite well with hand gestures punctuated regularly by his toothless smile. Kate was right to prod her cousin. The endless highway created a sense of eternal plodding. The young men found this intriguing, especially compared to the panicked pace of school… partying, panicked study and sweating exams all seemed so exaggerated in pace and importance compared to motoring endless and unchanging roads. The return trip offered more of the same. The three friends were actually enjoying the pace of earlier times!

They seemed excited enough about the fair. Indeed there would be interesting exhibits. "Nations of the North" told the stories of Alaska's indigenous peoples, now recognized as Nations within the Republic. The Israelis had unveiled a slew of new technologies that one had to see in person to really appreciate. The men were awestruck at the magnitude of the spectacle that awaited them, but hid it behind jokes about the "cheesy" Rupert Zimmerman Museum. "You know, it has his car in it!" Fred remarked. "A man's car does not lie about him!" The young men all attended Liberty University in Virginia where there was a Jerry Falwell museum. The museum had Falwell's Father's Model T on display. In the exhibit, two mannequins, one representing the elder Falwell, are stuffing booze into the car. You have to remember that this is a Baptist University!

The young men often retreated to the roof of their dormitory to plan their adventures, having hacked the security code for the roof door.

Fueling a Lada on the Amur Highway.

The elder Falwell, a Lynchburg businessman, had been a bootlegger and had even shot his brother in an altercation, not exactly the kind of thing one wanted remembered in his personal museum, but family history is family history. Zimmerman, after he lost everything one time, bought the sedan and drove it as he rebuilt his interests. When the great bridge was completed, Zimmerman led the procession across the span driving the Toyota. He chose the faithful ride over his classic Porsche, remarking that the President of Russia had opened the Amur Highway driving a yellow Lada. The Russian President had himself driven everything from Formula 1 cars to tanks, but for the opening chose to drive a car his people could identify with.

Zimmerman's story was at least as complex, but since his daughter Elizabeth was the force behind it it mainly focused on how he came to be inspired to build great works. The burning of his tent was truthfully presented along with his ruthless past. The night he witnessed the first accident on the bridge and the death of a trucker was told as well. "Zimmerman was a tough old curmudgeon," Fred continued. "Didn't he fight in the war and get shot and all that?" Joe nodded. His Grandfather had actually met the man, and told a different story though. Joe, for his part, wanted to remain in the companionship of bravado and didn't correct him.

Now the trio had come to Taba, where one leaves Egypt and enters Israel. Here things began to go badly. The men had left Israel without a multiple-entry visa and were now improperly documented! A trip to a consulate might be required to fix things and that would put them behind schedule. Charles decided to haggle with the border official... a bad choice as it put them in a sort of 'penalty box' as far as entering the country or retreating to Cairo. Eventually the young men were turned back. they had lost much of the day and decided to check in to a motor hotel on the Sinai road. There they had a fitful night. In the wee hours of the morning, Fred noticed that "Digory," or JOE an we should call him, was nowhere to be found.

Assuming he had taken a stroll to unwind, the men resumed their attempt to sleep but by morning it was clear that something was amiss. Several Egyptians were in agitated conversation outside their window. The two remaining men switched on BBC news and were stunned at what they heard. Large numbers of people had simply vanished! Early reports had this happening around the globe. Some world leaders were not accounted for and the TV anchors fished for explanations. The most repeated was ''space aliens' had likely abducted them. There was an eerie quality to the disappearances that made this all too plausible.

Major Metropolitan areas were under curfews, the report said. Transportation was at a standstill. Border stations were unmanned. Fred looked at Charles. Charles looked at Fred. Their unspoken: "Let's do it" echoed silently in both of their minds. They grabbed their gear and Joe's too. "He's got to be somewhere around here!" exclaimed Fred. Now's our chance! In their fear the two loaded the van and sped out into the morning light, hoping to find Joe before it was too late. An armored car was rolling into town. The men panicked, heading for the uncrossable border. There was one old Arab man at the booth. He was alone and clearly felt quite overwhelmed. Fred flashed a visa stamp... not the correct one, mind you, but the poor man in the booth waved him through.

What do we do now?" Fred moaned. The only obvious thing to do was wait around near the checkpoint and hope for 'Digory's' return. Both men felt that was pretty unlikely though, given the fact that so many people were unaccounted for. "We probably won't get much help from the authorities, will we?" But there was no time to mull the situation over as presently a large contingent of Israeli Defense Force troops appeared, announcing that the border was sealed. Israel was at war!

Recognizing the two as hapless American tourists, the IDF took them into protective custody and escorted them and their van into the country. They were taken to a military compound and sternly warned that they must stay there: "...until things are secure again." "We'll let you know if we find your friend, but it is not too likely," a tough man in fatigues told them. Joe's cell phone was among the items in his luggage and Fred felt he should call Joe's older cousin on it to let her know what was happening. The phone rang through to the voicemail, which the robo-voice said was full. Fred tried some general numbers for Big Diomede, but there was nothing. Even the BSB Information Centre yielded an endless busy signal.

Fred thought to himself: "This is so beyond unreal! There is NO WAY to get in touch with anyone! Then he remembered that Joe, though he seldom mentioned it, did know how to pray. "I wonder if the Divine would hear me?" thought Fred, and he continued by addressing that unknown Divine, pleading quietly out of the deep needs he felt in his own heart. Somehow he felt the urge to rummage in Joe's duffle and he found a well-worn Bible alongside of a little book titled: "Notes to Priscilla and Aquilla." Fred dismissed the Bible, indeed his schoolmasters had assured him repeatedly that there was no truth to be found there. The government school teachers had told him it was a book of myths, the Bible School professors had underscored this sentiment with their arbitrary proclamation that everything BUT this is false. Fred was not particularly in the mood for another theological discourse, but he picked up the second volume. It was skinnier and that he found that both reassuring and non-threatening. He began to read. The volume was well-worn and Joe, in an earlier time in his life, had marked it quite a bit. Joe's handwritten notes in the margins introduced Fred to a deeper side of his friend. Here was a side that to be quite honest, Joe had concealed from his traveling companions. The book promised to show its readers "a more excellent way." Fred needed a reality better than his present one, so he read on.

Military custody in Southern Israel is not all that bad. The chefs are Kosher and since every young person is required to serve, the military culture is, shall we say, 'broader' than that of many countries. The accommodations were simple but clean. Fred and Charles found a lounge where they could catch up on the news on TV. Here they grasped the magnitude of the situation they had fallen into. Normally the whole drive would have taken a long day from Cairo to Amann, but now it had stretched to two days and the sealing of the borders made it impossible to continue. Even if Joe somehow materialized at that moment, there would be no easy drive across the Jordan River Crossing.

The Pavilion
The Pavilion of the Cherokee and Monacan Nations at the Fairgate World's Fair. Since America's original nations are recognized in Alaska's Republic, many were represented at the fair by specific pavilions. The pavilion is modeled after a typical house of the Eastern people.

'Nations of the North' is a popular exhibit.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2016, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved


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