Things in the sleepy fishing town of Cold Storage, Alaska, are changing. It’s the summer of 1968; the men are wearing their hair long, the Vietnam War is at its height, and multiple assassinations have gripped the country. But some things remain the same. Ellie’s bar is still the place to catch up on the town gossip, and there’s a lot to talk about, from the boys who have returned from the war (and the ones who haven’t), to the robberies that are plaguing the locals, to the new guy in town: a famous monk from Kentucky.
Ellie, herself a fugitive of sorts, is curious about this “Brother Louis,” and worries about his motives, but he seems harmless enough. However, when a handful of other outsiders arrive to town and start poking around the bar and asking questions, Ellie begins to have reservations. Have they followed this mysterious monk, rumored to be the famous author Thomas Merton, to Cold Storage? And what is it that they want, particularly the inept FBI agent with the strange name: Boston Corbett?
Inspired by assassination conspiracy theories, the life of Thomas Merton, and the changing tide of the ’60s, Blown by the Same Wind is a coming-of-age story for the town of Cold Storage itself.
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Although that August of 1968 had been relatively dry, in the beginning of the third week a slight low-pressure system moved in from the southwest with fifteen-mile-an-hour winds, causing moderate turbulence from sea level to fifteen hundred feet. But because of the clouds, the ceiling came down to seven hundred feet.
Brother Louis was anxious about flying. He had very little experience in small airplanes, let alone planes that took off and landed on the water. He had been disoriented ever since he left Kentucky. He had been planning this trip for two years, and at first he assumed it was going to be an out-and-back adventure, an opportunity to be in a remote location where he would be left alone to meditate and write. Someplace where his readers could not just drop in on him. But now he was not sure what he wanted. After his last talk with the abbot, he was feeling more like he had been exiled. He had traveled to Anchorage and around Juneau. He had met the nuns of the Catholic Church who spent their new lives teaching Native children, yet Alaska felt forbidding. Mountains rose straight up from the sea, with their rock walls and summer snowfields. The landscape was largely vertical, hard and cold. He became more and more aware that he was a heartbroken old man, soft and warm-blooded in a world of hard surfaces. God seemed to have His hands out like a traffic cop commanding pilgrims to stop and reconsider their path. He had imagined this as a trip to find other likeminded pilgrims, but the more he saw of the country the more he felt like a refugee.
Then there was his problem with the FBI. They had certainly frightened his abbot, but Brother Louis doubted the country’s top law enforcement agency would follow him to Alaska. He was not a criminal. He was a writer.
Annabelle walked from behind the wooden desk she shared with other pilots in the Juneau airfield. She had some papers in her hand, and her braids still poked through her ball cap.
“Louis?” She stood over him.
“Ah . . . yes,” he said as if waking from a troubled sleep.
“Good. You want to go to Cold Storage? This way.” She pointed to a door to the airfield. She didn’t wait for his answer. He simply walked behind her as if he had no choice in the matter.
The flight from Juneau was not particularly rough, but it took a bit longer because Annabelle had to stay out of the inland passages as she followed the coast down. There were just a few bumps. She looked over at the brother once she had cleared the floatplane pond, then rose up above the islands to the west. She had just the one passenger: a surprisingly handsome man with short hair who appeared to be very fit and in his early fifties. When he looked at the map, he put on his horn-rimmed reading glasses. He was wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans under a dark navy coat. She had half been expecting a fat man in a long robe eating a big loaf of bread and chugging a jug of wine, but instead this man looked like Ken Kesey when he smiled: big shoulders and strong arms. He had only one bag and a briefcase, which he carried, and a nice-looking camera, which he used quite often during the flight. He had many questions about the islands—who lived on them and how people survived. Annabelle did her best to answer his questions, but the engine noise made it difficult. They stopped to deliver mail in Pelican and the brother wanted to run around the town for a bit, but she asked him to stay close because they were not going to be there long. Brother Louis snapped a few photographs and asked her how she came into the country. When she told the story of her aunt and the Industrial Workers of the World, about the police chasing them and the policeman staying to live alongside them in the little roadless fishing town, Brother Louis was fascinated and could hardly contain himself from asking even more questions. Questions that Annabelle cut off by grabbing Pelican’s small pouch of outgoing mail to Cold Storage and starting the engine.
It was just a twenty-minute flight down the coast to get to Cold Storage. Annabelle circled over the town and buzzed the boardwalk. Then she flew a bit south and circled the little harbor with the grass flats up next to the steep mountain where Slippery and Ellie’s old cabin sat. This time of year there was a small coho salmon run, and two brown bears were fishing in the stream that ran near the cabin. Rain was falling now, and as the de Havilland Beaver banked hard to turn back toward town, Annabelle pointed down and yelled over the engine noise, “That’s the cabin I grew up in. That’s Ellie’s old place she told you about.” Brother Louis took another photo and then looked up with a broad smile.
“The bears . . . are they always there?” he yelled as she pulled back on the power and leveled out, pumping the flaps.
“Naw,” she said, “mostly just when the fish are around. They won’t bother you when they are eating fish. You got a gun?”
He shook his head as if it were something he had never considered.
“We’ll take care of ya.” Annabelle smiled, powered down even more, and began to put the floats on the water near the harbor.
Ellie’s bar had a small outdoor counter built under the eaves of the roof, and the bartender could serve five customers seated outside while they tended the bar inside. A sliding window kept things dry when the weather blew in hard. It wasn’t quite legal because the outside bar was reserved mostly for kids, who were not allowed into bars anytime alcohol was being served. But Ellie was sick of answering phone calls from kids asking permission for all kinds of ridiculous nonsense from their drunken parents, and refused to take responsibility for passing on instructions—or worse, lying—to children about their parents’ wishes. So it was well known that if a child came to Ellie’s any time of the day or night they could sit outside, rap on the window, and Ellie would give them a glass of soda, and they could talk to whomever they wanted. Sometimes Ellie had cookies for which she might charge a dime, but real store-bought candy bars went for full price. Ellie was stingy about those because she was worried about most of the kids’ teeth. She cut them off after two sodas, then served them ice water and sweet cherries after that.
The day Brother Louis walked into Ellie’s and set down his bag, Glen was sitting drinking his usual coffee and brandy, wearing his army jacket, and Ellie was letting him play her newest Lovin’ Spoonful album. Glen was nodding along with “Summer in the City.” Sitting on a high stool at the outside bar was a sixteen-year-old girl who was about to turn seventeen. She was blond and wore a short neon red-and-green tie-dyed dress with a thick rope of cheap wooden beads around her neck. Her hair seemed the color of spun gold and hung down her back uncombed but looked to be freshly washed. A person would be forgiven for being confused about how old she was because the girl herself seemed to be confused about her age. It seemed she had grown to maturity in just a matter of weeks. Yet most of her gestures and expressions were still childish.
Slippery and George, who was Ellie’s oldest and best friend, had recently commented on Venus’s development, telling Ellie she needed to keep an eye on her before a rascal high school boy married her. Ellie had ignored them, but deep down inside she knew there was some truth to their words.
“Brother Louis, I’m Ellie Hobbes. I run the place, the bar and the cabins. My man Slippery runs the boat. I’m sure you’ll be seeing him around. Good to meet you.” She put her hand out and he shook it. The brother looked down and noticed her left hand. She was missing two fingers completely and half of her middle finger. He couldn’t help wincing, though the stumps seemed to be healthy and well healed.
He has kind eyes, Ellie thought, but the type of tightness around them suggested he was feeling some pain.
“It’s very good to meet you,” he said in a resonant voice.
Did he have an accent of some kind? Ellie couldn’t be sure. Maybe eastern? Maybe Southern? Maybe he was just one of those intelligent fellas.
“Are you the kind of brother who can stand a drink before dinner?” she asked, and here Glen looked up at him.
“What are others having?” He looked around.
“I’m drinking brandy,” Glen said.
“I’ve got 7UP,” the young woman from outside said.
Brother Louis scratched his chin and looked around. “Well, after that flight over the mountains, I’m awful tempted to have a brandy with you, friend, but I think I will have what the lady is having. But could I buy a round for everyone?”
They all smiled as Brother Louis walked over to the end of the bar, where he was close to the open window and could get a good look at Glen.
The girl had her back to the rain just as the sun broke through the clouds. A rainbow showed over her head and the sun glowed behind her face. It was hard not to be stunned by her looks. She had both the angelic beauty of a Renaissance painting and the earthly sensuality of a much more worldly woman, but folded in on top of all that, she had the goofy body language of a child as she spun around on the barstool kicking her dirty bare feet and staring at the stranger in town.
“My name is Louis,” he said, holding out his hand first to the girl and then to Glen.
“My name is Venus!” the girl shouted, twisting her hair. “That’s my real name too. Some people think I made it up, but I didn’t. Venus. Venus Myrtle.” And she stopped her spinning to stare at him, so he could tell that her eyes were a bluish green.
“I’m Glen Andre,” Glen said. Then he paused, looked up, and asked, “So are you a Franciscan?”
The brother smiled and said, “No, I’m a Trappist brother a Cistercian actually. A brother of the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky.”
“What’s a brother do?” Venus called out, while Ellie put another soda in front of her. The girl was clearly excited to have an exotic visitor in town. “Is it a job? Like a priest?” she almost yelled.
“Wait a minute, baby. Remember, you can use your inside voice sitting here. He’s just right close, okay?” Ellie said.
Venus shrugged, blushing. “Sorry . . .” she said, and she was.
“That’s all right. Yes, being a Trappist is a job. It’s really one of the greatest jobs anyone can have.”
“Whattaya DO?” Again, she almost yelled, and again she was embarrassed. “What do you do?” she repeated in a small voice.
“We live together, and we do our best to love God, but more than that we do our best to be happy while doing it.”
“Why?” Venus asked softly this time.
“Because we hope if we do it successfully, if we can sustain ourselves loving God, if God sustains us and other people see how happy we are, then we hope that inspires others to love God as well.”
“That is SO COOL!” Here Venus couldn’t contain herself. “Oh, yeah, just groovy,” Glen said, picking up his brandy glass, downing it in one gulp, and putting it softly down. “It’s nice work if you can get it, I suppose. I got to be going, folks. Thanks for the drink, Brother.”
Then he was gone.
The remaining three were silent for a moment.
“He’s troubled . . .” Ellie began to explain.
“No, that’s okay. I do put people off sometimes. I wasn’t going to introduce myself by the name I use in the abbey. Like I say, it puts people off, but I’m afraid I was a little charmed by your enthusiasm, Venus . . . Which is a perfect name for you, by the way.”
“Thank you. Do you have another name?” she asked.
“I do . . . but I will only tell you about it later when I’m getting ready to leave. Okay?” He smiled at her and held his finger to his mouth as if he were telling her to hush.