You may know from prior books, we rented a cabin in the Canadian Rockies several times which we subsequently bought and remodeled. Marlene and Ned, owners of the fishing guide business and caretakers of our place, have gotten up in years. The old couple retired, we paid them for the business, let them continue to live in their cabin. They spent the bulk of the year traveling, came up during the summers. Four monks moved to a house we bought near the lodge, they run the operation now. One Canadian from our temple, a French monk from Montreal and two women from the San Francisco temple, both Chinese.
We’d shopped around for monks comfortable with nature and winter isolation. Over the years, two or three others came, worked for a year, wanted more civilization. I couldn’t blame them, I love being here, but we come in the cool, pristine summers, out of the heat and grit of Manhattan. Winter here is real winter, snowed in frequently. It takes a certain temperament.
We bought another houseboat, expanded the charters, added rooms to the lodge. Fishing only, no hunting allowed. Nothing happens during the frozen winters, they operate from the end of March through October. Down months are spent in maintenance. Boats and hard winter conditions means a steady stream of repair and refurbish.
The four are not exactly hermit monks, but taking parties out fishing, preparing meals, leaving the guests alone to enjoy the place, suits them. The customers mostly don’t know they’re Shaolin, or even that they’re Buddhist. They don’t keep the Gideon Dharma on the nightstands, although there are a few Buddhist books in the library they maintain for guests.
The library is comfortable, warmed by a big fireplace. Guests can bring their own booze, beer only on the boats. There is wine and beer available at the lodge, they don’t run a bar, just select your preference, pay for it on the honor system. Most people pay, even leave more than the posted price.
Board is included, a full buffet breakfast, choices are limited to basics, but quality is high. Lunch is provided on the boat, simple things, sandwiches, granola bars, bags of chips. Dinner is the fish they catch, if it’s a slow day, there’s plenty on ice to cover, add baked potatoes, pasta. In between, there are trays of snacks, candy bars, protein bars, also on the honor system.
“Francois, you look healthy, all is well?”
“Splendid Master Sylk, and here is the Abbess, Nikko, hello Zi! The whole crew, Amaya, Chloe, Dasha, Daria, and who is the little one?”
“This is Eloise, she has been kind enough to adopt us, she’s our tech guru.”
Eloise blushes, Francois says, “None of you ages a single minute. There is some mystery you withhold from us, oui?”
“Hardly, the secret is moisturizer, in vast quantities.”
Jan comes out from the lodge, “Daphne, Janah, welcome, come in, we have tea. All is ready.”
“Charles and Su Lin are on a charter?”
Jan, “Yes, the fishing is good, you are welcome to stay for dinner, but then it will be dark before you get to your place.”
“We want to get settled, but tea sounds great, how many guests?”
“Eight today, four leave tomorrow, six arrive for a week. Summer is always crammed. We are booked for the season.”
We had this problem a couple of years ago, we come during peak season and they had to take us across the lake, then restock in the middle, then come and collect us. That in the midst of fishing trips, turning over rooms, cleaning up, cooking and dealing with guests. We solved that problem by buying a third, then a fourth houseboat. Now we take ourselves over, we cross the lake for fresh supplies and when our trip is done, bring ourselves back. Plus, they have a backup boat if one needs repairs. The plus, plus is we have a nice houseboat to run around the lake while we’re here.
It’s near two, we climb aboard, I fire up the engine, go over operations with Dasha, Daria and Eloise. They alternate steering, I let Dasha guide it to the dock. Over the next few days, I’ll have them up to speed on maneuvering, it isn’t rocket science, mainly just don’t slam the dock, keep an eye on the water depth near the shore.
While the rest unpack and drop into chill mode, Dasha and I unwrap and set out sandwiches Jan gave us, add chips, everyone will want to enjoy being outside.
I look through the refrigerators, we have two, then the freezer. There’s fish, walleye filets in one fridge, eggs, milk, the freezer is full of steak, hamburger, bacon and ham, six pounds of butter, bags of shredded cheeses.
A check of the pantry shows cans of white beans, brown rice, boxes of Bisquick, Canadian maple syrup, pasta, jars of Italian sauces, condiments, as complete as we could hope for. I even spy a dozen jars of caviar
Dasha, “Will be seemple to cook. They haf everything I ask for.”
“You sent them a list?”
“Da, some I order and ship, Omaha steak, sausage, au gratin potato. Ees gud and comes already frozen. Jan doesn’t haf to go buy, I ship almost everything. She haf to buy buhter, aig, bread, meelk, we haf already ice machine. Too many of us for her to make shopping trip.”
“That was most thoughtful.”
“I want to know we haf everything, ees better for us cooking. They haf work to do, feeshing treep, then come to our house and make ready, check on solar panel, gas on, ice machine going, make sure toilet work, water running, no broken pipe from freeze. Next year, Daria, Eloise and I will come before everyone three or four days, work, get grocery.”
Janah, “I should have thought of that, thank you for taking care of it Dasha.”
“Ees better, you will find plant and berries, Dahfoney and I will make something gud. Also gud to haf steak and burgher on grill, only you are vegetable person. Eemaya, Vesnushki and Nikko like steak. I will make bleu chizz burgher also too.”
Janah giggles, “Guess my live off the land idea only travels so far.”
“Root vegetables, plants and berries are a nice alternative touch, but we don’t come here to pioneer, we come to rejuvenate.”
The first few summers we did pretty much live off the land. Gathered roots vegetables, herbs, lots of berries. Now, it’s more of a real vacation not a retreat. We like our comforts, Dasha is happiest when she’s in a kitchen, so we took our time out upscale.
Nikko, “Nobody rushing out to fish?”
“Don’t catch fish today, Jan has walleye filets on ice for tonight. If anyone gets up in the morning to fish, we’ll have that for lunch. We have lots of steak and burgers, I’m anxious to try out the new grill.”
Chloe, “Where is it?”
“Just off the porch extension. They extended the porch down one side of the cabin and put it there. It can get smoky and it won’t interfere with people enjoying the evening out front. Plus, it’s close to the kitchen window, I can hand stuff right through.”
Chloe, “That’s slick.”
Girls spread around the porch, Janah straight to her rock, her friends are already perched, waiting for the human who understands them.
Nikko and Zi decide lounging on the deck of the houseboat and studying the mountains is a good idea, the rest of us ease into chairs on the porch to absorb the splendid day. Any remaining tension drifts away with the gentle breeze.
We must have made the early forest news. Around three thirty, a shadow comes across the ground and my eagle pal, all eight foot wingspan of her, lands on the railing.
“It is good to be here again with our mountain friends. The skills you gave me have been most useful, protected me and my flock.”
The huge bird blinks at me, the message is clear, what good are skills if they don’t serve you? Our animal friends are like Dasha and Daria, efficient and pragmatic.
Eloise is staring, she’s a city girl, the idea that an eagle, a super size one, is perched on the railing not five feet from her would have been unthinkable had she not seen David Li with his birds at home. Still, this one is significantly more majestic.
Eloise, “You are talking with him, like David Li?”
“Yes, she’s a girl eagle, and is quite capable of communicating. They have enhanced my eyesight, my ability to see colors humans can’t, her acuity is unreal. She and her father were kind enough to share that.”
Eagle, “The young girl has not been in nature much.”
“No, she is reclusive, her skill is with machines, she made a flying machine that can see like the eagle, record what it sees and hears.”
“Yes, we want to take video of the lake, the animals, it cannot fly as high as you, is not as capable or graceful, but it serves us well in our work.”
“I come tomorrow, she will show me the machine that is a bird. Is it like the big machines that fly?”
“No, smaller than you, not as quick, but can fly straight up and down, side to side, even upside down.”
“She is intelligent, for a human. I will tell the owl, he will be most curious.”
She flaps her wings once, is aloft and up in the sky over the lake. She rides the currents for a time, then higher up, over to the mountain peak that is her home.
“Eloise, you have an appointment tomorrow with the eagle and owl to demonstrate the drone.”
Eloise, “Wow, my biggest test, I’ve been flying it for a couple of years, they’ve been flying for millennia.”
Amaya makes cocktails, serves them on the porch, Nikko pours wine for she and Janah. In between sips of vodka, Dasha checks baked potatoes and sets out condiments. I fire up the grill, fish only takes minutes. She takes a cherry pie from the oven, nicely browned on top with a sprinkling of cane sugar crystals toasted on top.
“Dinner ees now.”
They file in, treated to crispy skin baked potatoes, butter, sour cream, chives, creamed corn, grilled walleye filets and cornbread.
Chloe, “It somehow tastes even more glorious than usual, that grill is magic, Daphne.”
“Same one I just put on the roof at home, Twin Eagles Pinnacle Series. Glad I got a good one, the thing has amazing heat control, lots of grill space and a keep warm side grill. It gets hot as all get out, a rotisserie, stainless steel durability.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, tomorrow we will make burgher.”
Chloe, “Great! Do we have blue cheese?”
Dasha, “Da, bleu-chizz burgher, wiz ohnyon and mushroom eef Janah will find mushroom tomorrow.”
Janah, “You bet, I’ll have an onion mushroom blue cheese, you have buns?”
Dasha, “Da, we haf plenty, haf to freeze but ees no mahter, still gud.”
Nikko, “Is there more fish?”
“Plenty, girls need to stoke up, we have mountains to climb.”
Janah, “Pass the wine please, tomorrow morning I’ll collect mushrooms and berries, who are our fishing girls?”
“I’m taking Daria, Dasha and Eloise around the lake while you search, I’m sure we’ll bring back something.”
Zi, “I’ll go, I’d like to fish from the boat.”
Nikko, “I’ll keep an eye on Janah.”
Amaya, “Chloe and I will guard the porch until everyone returns, she may want to fish from the shore. I confess to being exhausted by the past few weeks.”
“Good, sounds like a plan. Now, if everyone will reload cocktails, Dasha and I will serve pie around the fireplace in twenty.”
Nikko stokes the fire, Amaya and Daria stoke the vodka, we’re quiet. Winding down, our busy lives take a toll despite youth, Janah particularly needs refreshing. Running the Society, the Shaolin Temple and chasing around Shadows is a demanding life, too often a brutal one.
Dasha and I pass around warm cherry pie, I’m glad to see healthy appetites, Dasha mentals, “Girls are burned up, gud to come here, no running beezness, no interview, no to be fahncy and making up. Even Eemaya ees relax.”
“When we’re in the middle of them, we like our busy lives. Caught up in it all, we lose perspective, don’t notice the strain and drain. We’ll be physically active here, but not mentally stressed. The point is fun, silliness, no rules, no obligations, no constraints.”
“Da. Sister ees relax, she and Eloise will make some gud idea because we come here. You will see.”
Janah, “What’s Dasha thinking?”
“She’s caught the point of being here, to see from a different perspective, she’s predicting Daria and Eloise will spring some as yet unknown advance on us.”
“She talks of practicality, cooks efficiently, is matter of fact, even blunt, yet she catches the vibe of things.”
“Benefit of a mind uncluttered by belief and opeenyon.”
Janah smiles, opeenyon is Dasha-speak for opinion, “It is so.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, we will sit with sister and look at stars, you will first bring us vodka.”
Dasha isn’t being bossy, she is actually asking for a drink, but her brain doesn’t operate in subtlety or nuance, it operates in facts. Amaya coaches the twins on how to handle conversation with outsiders. They don’t need it with us, they can be themselves.
We do zero for an hour on the porch, watch the sky, every few minutes a falling star zips past, a million, million sparkles twinkle above.
We have four full bedrooms now, Janah and I go off to ours. I haven’t the slightest what anyone else got up to, Janah and I are asleep minutes after our heads hit the pillows.
Dasha, Daria, Eloise, Zi and I are cruising around the lake, intermittent stops to try out fishing spots. The first couple don’t yield but a couple of crappie. Nothing wrong with that, they eat well, just that we need more than a couple. We get a few more at the next spot, I turn the boat closer to shore and they switch to lures.
Zi is staring intently into the water, “Daphne, turn off the motor and let the boat drift. There are fish here, twenty or so yards closer to shore.”
The fishing goddess smiles, they hit a dozen rainbow trout two or three pounds each. Beautiful fish, superb eating. Eloise squeals in delight, first fish she’s ever landed, first fish she’s ever touched right out of the water. Dasha and Daria take turns guiding the boat, Daria eases it against the dock like a pro.
Janah and Nikko are in the kitchen washing mushrooms and berries.
Janah, “Holey moley, rainbow trout, who’s the fishing pro?”
“We didn’t keep count, they all caught something. We could have brought in more, but there wasn’t a point. The fish we didn’t catch will keep just fine in the lake. The twins like fiddling around with the boat, I’m sure they’ll be out on the lake again.”
Zi, “That’s fun. We lost a couple, but we’re starting to get the hang of it.”
Dasha, “Zi ees see feesh under water. She can say where to aim lure, then feesh ees catch.”
Amaya, “Get out. That means Chloe can do it. If you tire of being city girls, you can build an incredible following as fishing guides.”
Chloe, “I hadn’t thought of it. Next trip I’m going, see if I can sense them. How did it happen Zi?”
Zi, “I was gazing along the shoreline, about fifty yards away, then back towards the boat. About twenty or thirty yards out, there they were, a dim light under the water. I didn’t try to do anything, they were just there.”
“Time for lunch, I’ll fire up my new toy, burgers in a half hour.”
Chloe, “Great, and fresh fish tonight?”
“Yep, they can sit on the ice until I have time to filet them.”
Chloe, “I’ll take them to the sink outside, I can get through several before lunch.”
Nikko, “I’ll help, we’ll get them finished.”
We have a filleting bench and sink on the rear deck. Keeps from having to deal with fish guts in the kitchen and the whole thing hoses down easily. Guts go in a bucket we dump in the lake, natural recycling. Two kendōka can filet fish as easy as they can filet bad guys.
Janah, “I’ll get the other stuff laid out and sauté mushrooms and onions, you can show Dasha the intricacies of the grill.”
In a few, Dasha is flipping burgers, stacks them on a plate, buns have toasted nice and even on the rack over the grill.
Inside, the table is set with slices of dill pickle, caviar, bleu cheese, the usual array of condiments and a bowl of sea salt and cracked pepper chips. Janah stacks her veg burger with sliced mushroom and onion, chickweed she’d found and sautéed, it tastes like spinach cooked, bleu cheese sprinkled on top. There is white wine, Coke Zero and iced tea.
It’s too nice to eat inside, so after burgers are constructed, we find spots on the porch.
Amaya, “Good God Dasha, marvelous. I have become addicted to these burgers, Chloe, pass the wine please.”
Chloe, “Daria, after lunch do you think you might take me for an hour ride around the lake, not to fish, just to cruise along the shoreline?”
Chloe, “Anyone else up for it?”
Nikko, “Yes, I think it would be nice.”
Janah, “I’m coming.”
The rest of us opt to hang around and accomplish nothing. The boat eases away from the dock, Daria heads east.
Dasha and Eloise decide on nude sunbathing, Zi and I sit on the porch and take in the wildlife stretched out in front of us.
Zi, “Dasha is so cute, Eloise brings new meaning to slim.”
“She does, nice round little buns though, the sun will do them good. The twins have darker skin, Eloise is fair, like Chloe. We need to make sure they turn over in a half hour or we’ll be treating sunburn. You know, it looks rather nice, cool air, warm sun, let’s join them.”
Four naked solar panels, we do a rollover half way, another thirty passes, “Okay girls, that’s an hour, let’s not get stupid, there’ll be sun tomorrow.”
We move to the porch, nobody sees the need to dress, an hour after that, the boat is a dot down the lake, then pulls to the dock.
Janah, “Bears steal your clothes?”
Dasha, “We make naked sunbathing.”
Janah, “In all the times we’ve come up here, it never occurred to do the forest nymph thing, I must be slipping.”
“Well, it’s only three thirty, got another hour or so before the sun starts behind the mountain,” clothes come off, they go out to the pier and soak up the remaining rays, our dock never had it so good.
The four of us go off to showers, then formulate a dinner plan, “What’s do you want for sides tonight?”
Dasha, “Meex vegetable in freezer, steer fry, also pasta, olive oil and garlic. I make cobble wiz berry Janah peek, we haf flour and granola, seemple.”
“Excellent, I’ll get the vegetables thawing, you want to grill the fish, or bake it?”
Dasha, “Grill already yesterday, we make breaded in oven, big favorite, spicy wiz habanero powder. Lots of feesh, we haf enough for lunch tomorrow, then steak tomorrow night.”
“I think we’ll bread all of it and cook it, then tomorrow we’ll have poached eggs served over the fish with hollandaise for breakfast, add blini. I’m thinking they’ll want to hike to the falls, we’ll pack light for lunch, then a big steak dinner.”
Dasha, “Da, ees better. Don’t say, we make gud breakfast surprise.”
“Good idea,” she’s developed more of a sense of play over the years, in the past she would have simply announced breakfast at dinner. It’s not a small thing for her. Her interest in cooking, and her natural talent for it, garners her lots of compliments, that slowly morphed into doing it not just for her own pleasure, but for the pleasure it brings others. The twins are not emotive, nor empathetic, surely not sympathetic, and they aren’t ever going to be. Still, they’re a long way from the identical near sociopaths we first brought home.
Panko Japanese breadcrumbs, mix in black pepper, salt, garlic and onion powder, habanero powder, dip the fish in beaten eggs then mash in seasoned breadcrumbs. I like Panko, the crumbs are small, crispy, cook nice and toasty. I cover the pan with breadcrumbs, it keeps the breadcrumbs on the fish from getting soggy, flip them halfway through to brown both sides.
Everyone’s done showering, the cocktail girls are fortified, Dasha is having hers while she keeps an eye on her cobbler in the smaller oven bubbling just so. At six thirty she starts pasta, I slide the fish into the big oven. We have a ton of filets, hope girls are hungry.
Nikko, “Daria took us farther west than we’ve been before, there’s a place where the runoff from the falls spills into the lake.”
Janah, “In all the times we’ve been here, we never knew where the runoff went, it must wind all over the mountain, the place Nikko’s talking about is five miles up the lake. From the falls, it’s plain the river takes a sharp right down the mountain, but I bet it pools someplace else and detours again from there.”
“Do you want to follow the river all the way down?”
Janah, “Don’t know if we can, there’s nothing like a trail and there’s lots of growth surrounding it.”
Nikko, “Might be able to go up from the lake and see how far we get. It isn’t deep, I think we could walk in the riverbed, and rock hop the boulders.”
“Why not? Take the boat down again, worst case it gets too steep and the growth on either side is too dense to climb though.”
Amaya, “I shall lounge on the boat while hikers go slog though the river. Perhaps a chilled sauvignon.”
Janah, “The river is more like a wide creek, we could see the bottom, isn’t more than a couple of feet deep. Walking the creek might work. Take the hiking poles, I don’t know how slippery it gets.”
Chloe, “I’m in, sounds like a little adventure.”
Amaya, “I knew you would say that, now I am compelled to go. You might get attacked by bears, or spawning salmon.”
Janah, “No salmon in the lake, fish here don’t swim upstream.”
Dasha, “We should explore property anyway.”
Janah, “Yes, we found places for our berries and herbs in the meadows to the east, we get mushrooms in the woods along the way. I think the farthest west I’ve gone is a mile or two and I didn’t spot any places as good.”
After dinner, we settle around the fireplace, silence is the order of the evening. Dasha and I hand around bowls of cobbler, as the fire dies, our girls wander off to bed.
Dasha and I are up early, get coffee started, make pots of tea, warm the oven and lay out a dozen and a half eggs. She starts the blini mix, which are merely thin pancakes, Russian crepes.
Girls wander in, coffee and a starter of blini with sour cream and caviar. I’m whisking egg yolks in a pan sitting over hot water, add melted butter until it’s the consistency I want, sprinkle just a hint of nutmeg and salt.
Dasha is poaching eggs, the fish left from last night is nice and toasty. A trout filet, poached egg on top, couple spoons of hollandaise.
Amaya, “Cripes, Daphne, where did you come up with this, it is divine.”
“I got it from Brennans’s in New Orleans, they call it Eggs St. Charles. Breakfast at Brennan’s is a local tradition, they recommend you take at least an hour and a half. They bring out courses slowly on purpose, in between enjoy a Bloody Mary or two, or a Milk Punch, milk, brandy, vanilla, shake until frothy, sprinkle nutmeg on top. You can use bourbon or rum instead of brandy, depending on preference.”
Amaya, “Guess we don’t have that here, I want one when get home.”
Dasha, “I like nootmaig, sound like aignog Christmas drink.”
“Eggnog has eggs, and you use cream, not milk, but yes, it has bourbon and nutmeg.”
Dasha, “We will add St. Charles aig and Meelk Punch to brunch menu at Ultra Violet, big hit, you will see.”
Nikko, “If it comes out like this, it’s a top seller. Why have you been hiding this recipe all this time?”
“You know, I had it stored in my head from someplace, then Dasha and I were figuring today’s menu and it just popped in my brain. We were discussing breakfast and I was staring at all the trout. Anyway, those of you who want to hike up to the falls let me know, we’ll pack a light lunch. Tonight is steak, get to test my new grill for beef.”
Janah, “Any more blini?”
Dasha, “I haf more meex, two minute only.”
They wipe out the remaining trout, nothing to store, just rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher.
While they organize for our hike, Dasha and I prepare packs, simple stuff, granola bars, chocolate, lots of water, couple of thermoses of green tea with a cane sugar kicker. They’ll be good and hungry tonight. The hike is the better part of an hour and a half, steep much of the way. The hike up the creek will be another day perhaps, our regular route is the most direct to the falls.
The falls are amazing, the only thing I’ve seen comparable are the Havasupai falls in Arizona. The water here is clear, all snowmelt, then blue green in the pool before it makes another creek that cascades down the mountain. The Havasupai falls have a unique mineral content and the water is a gorgeous turquoise green.
We freeze our feet in the icy water, spread out along the edge of the pool, the roar of the falls becomes white noise dampening out any rush of thoughts.
My friend the eagle swoops down next to me, “Hunting good?”
Eagle, “Here it is easy, lots of rabbit, mice, squirrel. The owl says he will come around soon, he may work with the young girl if you wish. We want to see the flying machine as well.”
“It’s at the cabin. As for training, that’s up to her but she won’t refuse, his grip has served us well, she has a strong mind, but we want to be careful. She has other skills, we want to be sure any new transmissions don’t interfere.”
Eagle, “What are her skills?”
“She can see colors humans can’t. She also has something we can’t quite figure out. She can see things in, how can I say it, in frames, like a series of pictures. When you fly, for instance, she can see you there,” I point, “then there,” I point a few feet over, “like you are still at each moment.”
She thinks this over, “She loses time? When the image stops, but it is really moving, what happens?”
“We aren’t sure, she says time slows, but when she goes back to seeing motion, no time is lost.”
“Then she gets a clearer view, in that moment the image stops.”
“That’s exactly it. We miss everything except our point of focus, she sees the entire field of view.”
The eagle blinks at me, reminds me of Dasha, “The owl will be interested, most curious bird, does it help in your work, killing Shadows?”
“Not so far, but who knows, so far we haven’t needed such a skill, it’s been evident who we are hunting, what goes on around them hasn’t been a factor.”
The big wings expand, like a shrug of her shoulders, “So many mysteries. I never thought to learn from a human, you are mostly stupid. Your flock is different, you should be eagles, or owls.”
“Thanks to you and the owl, I’m a bit of both, and most grateful.”
“You saved the hawk years ago, punished the hunters, we know the stories of your hunt for evil ones you call Shadows. It is our responsibility to help when we find humans worthy of it. Not many.”
“So there are others?”
“Yes, a few, I heard about, never met. Most are hermits, want to be far from your societies. They are good in themselves, lack the courage or capacity of your flock, so they stay out of it. Ones like you are few, and if they reveal themselves, your stupid societies will punish them.”
“They call us vigilantes, our rules do not conform to theirs.”
“They are fools, afraid all the time, we call them rabbits. They run to their holes and cringe.”
Dasha and Daria have been studying our conversation, the eagle says, “Those two have no sentiment, not fools. They should be dark, evil, but they are not, it is your doing.”
“We got them young, allowed them to be who they were, at the same time showed them something different. They are extremely intelligent. Like much in life, it was timing and luck.”
“No, it was the intent of the one with white hair. I will watch for your flying machine, perhaps tomorrow.”
With that, her wings extend, a powerful thrust, she’s airborne with a shriek, circles us for a time, then over the crest of the mountain.
Janah comes over, “They catch on quickly.”
“It helps if you’re smarter than we are.”