A Stranger in a Strange Land

*This is response to the three photos by Marissa Othon. I realize her pictures are set in Panama, but I’ve never been to Panama and I have been to Washington State. I fell in love with it and so I’m transposing these photos (and adding one of my own) to Washington.

The mossy woods north of Seattle.
The mossy woods north of Seattle.

She liked looking at the boats. There was something so alien about them—nothing familiar to a landlocked Midwesterner. She imagined the fisherman’s life as hard and stinky and wet and cold—with more than a touch of danger. A few of them stared at her from their colorful boats as she walked slowly up and down their dock breathing in the fishy oxygen, trying to acclimate herself to a different sort of life. This was her home now and these were her new people; her first congregation.

Annie never pictured herself as a pastor. A teacher, maybe—but never a pastor. In her staunchly Baptist Midwestern family, men were the pastors. Women were great with children’s ministry and women’s studies, but not in the pulpit. And yet after she graduated with a teaching degree, she had felt an urge—almost a physical push to get her Master’s of Divinity. Now, three years later, she was going to pastor a small Methodist church in a tiny town about 30 miles north of Seattle. She had never been to the Pacific Northwest, so she was trying to soak in everything she could. She’d taken a ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor and then did some island hopping, loving the way the islands rose out of the ocean like large green eggs. She even saw some whales—just the top of them and a few “spoutings”—but miraculous. Even Anacortes was enlightening. There was this sort of hardware store for boats. Its windows were dusty and filled with old lights, oars, nets—all the strange accouterments of boats made to cut through the ocean. She found a pair of rubber boots in bright yellow and laid claim to them. She felt a bit more like a native wearing the bright boots until she realized that everyone else wore the dark red or dingy orange. She exchanged them for the dark red—she didn’t want to stand out as an outsider. She longed to be native—to belong to this forested and magical place where mist hugged the ground and deep green moss grew with impunity. She’d already found a few trails near the parsonage where she was expected to live. She liked to wander, but sometimes grew afraid. The forest was so tightly woven and secretive. There was a fallen log covered in moss that covered one part of the trail behind her new place. She hiked just that far and then sat and listened. So many sounds and so much creeping and growing vegetation. Fertile. The land seemed rich and fertile.

Her new church hunkered down on a blue-green hill covered with what Annie now knew were Red Alder, Western Hemlock, and fragrant Douglas Fir. She’d immediately bought a guide to the trees and vegetation of her new home. As she wandered the trails, she tried to identify the different types of trees. Another way of laying claim to this new place—the naming of things. The church itself was a dingy white clapboard with a steeple and bell tower complete with bell. And like the English churches of the 19th century, it even had a cemetery attached to the west side filled with the ghosts of fishermen past. Mist-covered for the last three mornings in a row, the parsonage hung back a ways—another dingy clapboard. Five rooms. Eight hundred square feet. It needed some work. Paint primarily. Maybe a few new fixtures. Definitely a new toilet and some more furniture. Her graduate school, garage sale decor didn’t fill up the space very well. She wondered if there was an Ikea in Seattle. She’d Google it later. The house’s one saving grace was the porch. It was big enough for a small table and chairs. (Another reason to find an Ikea!) Annie had sat on her steps for the last few mornings drinking her coffee and thinking about Luke.

First, a female pastor without a husband is asking for trouble–especially a female pastor not quite thirty. Somehow marriage had missed her in college and graduate school. It seemed to her that there were very few men that actually came marriage-ready. Lots of flitters and flirts. So after much coaxing and reassuring, Annie had ventured into the world of on-line romance. It was really hard for her—she was a very private person and throwing her photo out into cyberspace seemed a bit too irresponsible. Plus she felt extremely vulnerable, but her friends from graduate school insisted it was safe—you just had to be wary and careful.

It took her three friends two hours to dress her up, and “funkify” her cropped, dark brown hair with gooey paste. They then added some eyeliner and pale lipstick. She looked so different . . . not at all like a pastor. She wasn’t really comfortable with that look—Annie had convinced herself to avoid any sort of tight, possibly provocative clothing. She liked tights. Heavy, black tights under a loose-fitting pencil skirt. And boots. She had two pair of cowboy boots that she had worn in and now fit her feet perfectly.

The photography session began, and after several tries, Annie’s best friend Joy was finally satisfied. Thankfully, Joy was great with the computer and managed to get her profile up quickly. Then Joy, Debbie and Sydnie sipped some red wine with her while they waited for any responses. There was a few that first night–mostly middle-aged, balding men without a steady job. She passed. This was not going to work, so she didn’t check the computer until Joy came over a week later wanting an update.

Of course, there was more wine and more searching through her latest responses. They immediately tossed out about 20—they were kind of creepy and way too “hey baby.” But there was one—Luke. Luke Fewster from Seattle. A fisherman. His profile said he was 31, divorced five years earlier, no kids, a boat of his own called “Lois Jean” named after his mother. He liked to read, hike, and bike, go salmon fishing (of course—Washington, duh.), kayak—basically do all of the things that Annie rarely did, except for reading, biking, and hiking. Short hiking. More like a jaunt then a hike. She’d only been fishing a couple of times out on her grandfather’s pond. Not her favorite activity. The thing about Luke that pulled her in was his love for Jesus. Luke was kind of a radical, long-haired (blond) Jesus follower who was big on social justice issues. He led a group called “Fishers of Men” that worked with the poor, helped the other fisherman out when needed, and mentored at-risk kids in the local schools. Joy immediately pooh-poohed him saying, “This guy is all machismo and not looking for a wife…plus, what would you do in Washington? That’s ages away from here. And you can’t know if this guy is for real—he sounds too good. He’s lying.” And Annie had agreed for the moment. But as soon as Joy left, she’d pulled up the website, found Luke’s profile, enlarged it and stared at his eyes trying to see if she could tell what type of man he really was.  Sort of convinced (the brown eyes did it), she sent him a message. “Hi, I’m Annie. I thought your profile was interesting. Love Like to get to know you better.” Simple. Should she be perkier? Add some humor? Should she change “interesting” to “intriguing”? No. Intriguing implied mysterious which definitely implied a sort of sexual intrigue. Nope. She stuck with “interesting.” She stared at her message for a couple of hours, getting up and doing some laundry and cleaning the kitchen. Finally she realized that if she didn’t at least try, she’d never know. So she sent it.

And now, four months and hundreds of emails and phone calls later, she was actually in Washington . . . with a job . . . with a future that both scared and excited her. She could not believe it when the school had suggested her for the job. It was so far from her comfort zone. She’d thought Missouri or Kansas. Maybe Colorado. Never Washington. Washington was like another country. But within a matter of months, she’d visited the church, flown back to Texas, been asked to take the church and here she was—in the middle of a green-blue forest in a tiny house that overlooked a worn out church and mist-covered graveyard.

And of course there was Luke. Luke who lived just 30 miles away. Crazy.

She thought about meeting him in person for the first time as she wandered through the town’s harbor, peeking in the fresh fish booths and trying not to breathe too deeply. A few townspeople said “hi” to her. A bunch didn’t. She was already missing the Midwestern friendliness. These folks seemed wary, and she obviously was a fish out of water. Ha! She’d never been on the ocean until she’d taken the ferry from Anacortes. Today she was wearing her shorts, dark red boots and an OSU t-shirt, but she obviously didn’t blend in. The boots weren’t doing it for her.

Still she needed dinner. Luke was coming for dinner, so she needed what else, fish. And she needed to get to know these fishermen and women. One booth towards the middle seemed less crowded than the others, so she walked in and looked over the catch as if it was normal for her. She had to turn away from the slimy looking squid or octopus or something with long tentacles. Nope. Annie was not up for anything squiddish. And no lobster. She didn’t even know how to open one. Oi vey. What was she doing here?

–Help you with something? Need a fish for dinner? These are fresh—right off my boat. He was dark, maybe Hispanic. He seemed to know she had no idea what she was doing.

–Yes, thanks, she stuttered. I’m afraid I don’t know much about what is easy to cook or how to cook it or what to serve it with . . . I’m new here. I’m the new pastor for First Methodist Church. (Wow, she thought. I really impressed him with my verbal prowess.)

–Well, I’ll be. We got us a woman pastor. That’s somethin’. I’m Charlie Mendez. This is my wife, Ginny. We’re glad to meet you.

Ginny was small, with dark eyes, narrow lips and a wide nose. Her gray curls snuck out from under a Seattle Seahawk ball cap.

–I’m Annie Sinclair. Glad to meet you both. I afraid I’m having a bit of culture shock. I’m from Oklahoma. Not much salmon and halibut fishing around there. No ocean—you know.

They laughed lightly with a friendly sort of rumble.

–We can help you pick out your dinner. It’ll probably be lunch for a couple a’ days, too. Here’s a little recipe paper. It’s got some ideas on it that Ginny wrote up. How about you just let us choose for you?

–Thanks so much. I’d appreciate that.

Annie watched as Ginny and Charlie picked out a salmon and then gutted it, filleted it and chunked it into good-sized portions.

–Now you take this home and follow one of them recipes and you’ll have you a fine dinner. Get some rice and vegetables down at the market and you’ll be set. Charlie handed her the white paper-wrapped salmon.

–Thanks again Ginny and Charlie. Do you come to the church? I mean . . . it’s ok if you don’t, I was just wondering.

–Well, it kinda depends on the week. Sometimes I have to go out on my boat even if it is a Sunday. But Ginny here usually takes the boys.

She looked at the dark eyes and narrow smile. I look forward to seeing you then, Ginny. Bye.

She glanced back and waved while they watched her walk out to the gravel street and over to a bike that was chained up against a lamppost in front of a hair salon.

–Hey there, Pastor Annie, Charlie yelled from across the street. You don’t have to lock up your bike—nobody here will take it.

He waved and then turned to some customers.

She put the salmon in her basket, pulled her backpack tight and headed back home. First I’ll figure out which recipe I’m going to try, then I’ll get out the rice and cut up the veggies . . . She sighed, all of sudden nervous with anticipation and fear. A silent prayer shot up to Heaven. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. What am I doing? He didn’t answer. Typical. Oh God, Oh God, Oh God! What am I going to wear? A dress? No—that’s trying too hard. Jeans and a sweater? It’s July—too hot for a sweater.” She looked down at her shorts and Oklahoma State t-shirt and now muddy red boots. Maybe that maxi dress…

She kept pedaling, adjusting gears for the small hills. It wasn’t a long ride—only about three miles. Most of it was fairly level and graveled. Not too bad. She looked around her as she pedaled; forgetting for a moment that she was preaching to a new congregation in three days and she was about to meet “the man.” Instead she noticed that the mist was coming in again. She loved it and she loved riding through it. Sort of like riding through a cloud. The forest looked magical in its blue-green haze, while the ocean kept up it’s murmuring roar as she sweated up the hill to the church. That hill was the hardest part. She hadn’t made it up all the way yet and she wasn’t going to make it today. She got off and starting pushing the bike the rest of the way up to the church. She took out her keys and went in. The stone floor was smooth and cool. She wandered up to her pulpit and stood behind it for a while, looking out at the empty dark wooden pews. The stained-glass windows were dark and she could hear the ocean outside as the tides shifted with the moon. It was 5:00. Time to start cooking. Time to see if the flesh and blood man lived up to the emails and phone calls. And would she live up to his expectations? Crap. Why did she let Joy talk her into this? Annie locked the door to the church and pushed her bike through the cemetery towards the parsonage.

Through the mist, she could see a grey pick-up sitting comfortably in her driveway. Then she saw the man sitting on her porch—one leg stretched out with a book in hand. She pushed more slowly unsure of what she wanted to do. Run back to the church? Hide behind a tombstone? Jump on the bike and ride back into town as fast as she could? Then he looked up and saw Annie on her bike and smiled. She saw how he moved when he stood. How he wasn’t as tall as she thought he’d be. How his hair was shorter now, just sitting on his shoulders. How his dark brown eyes creased when he smiled. How one front tooth sort of turned a bit toward the other. Just a bit though. He spoke as he moved to take her bike and push it towards the porch, and his voice was gentle and honest.

–Hi Annie! What do you have in the basket?

–Salmon. For supper. I’m not sure what to do with it. Charlie gave me some recipes.

–Charlie Mendez? She nodded. Charlie’s a good guy. And don’t worry—I’m an expert with salmon. I’ll show you how to cook it.

And just like that, Annie relaxed and smiled. Luke took her hand and they walked inside together.

This is my post for the Weekly Writing Challenge.

Author: cindyloucamp

A displaced Okie living in Northern Colorado--or NOCO as the natives call it! I'm a retired high school English teacher married to an adventurous fellow who loves to hike in the mountains and go off-roading in our bright yellow Jeep Wrangler, Lucy. I am "Nana" to three wonderful kids and cherish every moment with them. Now that I'm retired, I've found that I actually love gardening--weeds are tools of Satan and my mission is to defeat them! I'm also a terrible coffee snob and will sniff out the best independent coffee shops in any town. Books, books, and more books is my personal mantra. Given the choice between clothing or books, books win! During this season of life, Jesus is teaching the importance of urgent prayer, daily Bible study, and reliance on Him and Him alone. I write out of the overflow of God's teaching during my time with Him.

2 thoughts on “A Stranger in a Strange Land”

Leave a Reply