by Calli Seren
Bryna Ericksen shares a gift for healing, growth, and wacky friendships in the northwoods.
| There was a gentle grace even in her simple movement from the cushioned rocker on the porch to fill the feeders just beyond her doorstep. The rainbow hued dress that flowed over her long willowy frame and tickled her ankles seemed a fitting complement to the backdrop of ferns and wildflowers she neither trimmed nor tried to keep at bay. Even the burnished curls allowed to stream well past her shoulders in a riotously wide halo were long since abandoned to their environment; neither tamed nor toned, but rather allowed to age and mellow as the woman herself did here.
For Bryna Eriksen, the forests would always whisper a melody so pure it was inevitable that she would make her life here. Here where life was abundant, wild and wanton, and one could still hear melody in the trees and the gentle rhythm of the water surrounding them.
Bryna's gift was music, but not the jarring notes of a discordant tune and bass set so deep it reverberated through the very bones of the listener. No, her gift was the song of the soul. She heard the lowest frequencies and the highest ones, and if despair was different than despondency; she always listened for the sweeter notes of hope around the edges as she knew in time - it could surpass the others.
Her quest was a simple one. To share the music with souls who'd forgotten how to sing. Her door like her heart were always open and if simple fatigue hummed softly, love soared at a frequency so pure it could create the purest harmony when mixed into a life that was battered or bruised. Many without ever knowing why, sought to look into eyes the color of the sky at dawn and knew they were heard, even if they couldn't speak a word.
It was a morning of reflection and a small smile curved her rose colored lips as she brought a cup of tea to her mouth and inhaled the aroma of this dew kissed morning and watched a pair of loons circling Mapiya Bay. It seemed apt that someone's Sioux relative had chosen a name where the water's mirror like surface truly reflected a "Heavenly Sky" painted with billowy clouds and loon song.
The delicate planes of her face crinkled in silent laughter as she recalled her journey here. The she "would" find her way to the north woods had never been a question, though the how had certainly spend a good deal of time competing for answers in her otherwise less than practical poet's soul.
Bryna had lived one dream, fresh faced and full of vision; she'd landed an entry level job at a prestigious Chicago architect's firm. Diploma in hand and with a specialty in historical restorations; it had been a rewarding if hectic 20 year career. Looking back over those 5 years since, she knew at the time she hadn't meant to completely leave it behind; only to find a respite from the hurried pace and too much concrete surrounding her.
One failed marriage behind her and with her daughter Sera taking her DePaul campus by storm in her usual and completely dauntless pursuit of a "total experience" - Bryna was ready to look for a tiny retreat across the boarder. And "tiny" was certainly the operative word as what she'd managed to save would perhaps cover a parcel the size of a postage stamp with an updated outhouse, and then only if she was very lucky! The fact was - she'd never been very good with money unless you could count giving it away or spending it on those she loved.
What Bryna had in abundance was faith. While others laid down roots and planned for the future, that concept might as well have been written in Swahili for her! It was a language she neither spoke nor tried very hard to understand unless it was to make her well intentioned family happy. What made Bryna happy was as foreign to them as their world was to her.
Perhaps it was their mongrel heritage that brought them all together yet separated them so distinctly. How one could have a Norwegian father with a proud vein of Algonquin blood coursing through his soul yet completely joined to an Irish Catholic woman so profoundly connected both to her religion and her ancestors and "not" be tugged into a spiritual vortex would've been the true mystery. The fact that they were all deeply connected in one way or another was a given, nursed as they were by both love and lore from an early age.
Bryna's revelry was interrupted as Nuttah's brindled tail swept a wide path across the low stone laid table sending tea and trinkets flying in all directions. Bryna's menagerie was led by a sweet tempered collie mix who believed in keeping her master's brood in line, even when her master forgot. While Nuttah tolerated the feline boarders and accepted the canine companions who frequently passed through, she loved Bryna and couldn't resist washing the honey from her cheek and the crumb of muffin dangling from those laughing lips.
"Oh, Nuttah", "you wonderful silly girl", she hummed, "it must be breakfast time, huh?" Nuttah may have been a gift from a rescue shelter but her name was a gift from Bryna's father, Algonquin for "my heart" - she was all that and more to Bryna. General mascot and gentle host, Bryna thanked the heavens that Nuttah was still a baby and there would be many more years to share.
Bryna's made her way from the porch to the small feed shed. It made her chuckle to think that once this had been the old logging camp's outhouse but now housed the assorted dinner for countless guests who always seemed to be passing through, be it fawn or black bear, raccoon or possum - there was something for everyone here in this windowless pine structure. She took and old key from her tatted pocket to unlock the padlock dangling from the rusty hinge and sent up a soft if distinct ping that seemed to signal curious if shy movement in the forest fringe beyond.
Nuttah was spinning in joyous circle that threaten to sweep her smaller companions in every directions so Bryna scooped up Frey and Freya, a pair of terrier mixes, before they sailed across the twig strew lawn and got buried in the taller grass at its' edges. Dishes and food in hand, she made her way back to the winding porch and laid out breakfast for her current group of companions and gingerly scooped up the debris from her own scattered breakfast.
For early March, the past week's unusually warm weather had been an unexpected treat meant to be enjoyed out in the brilliant sunshine. Her eyes surveyed the mostly thawed surface of the lake and the tiny buds sprouting in the leafy canopy above her. While her career had taken her to many areas of the country, often for extended stays; she was always drawn back here where magic and miracle were reborn in this cycle of life and seasons.
She drew back the wide sliding glass doors, juggling swept up ceramic and paper, intent to deliver it to the trash bin in the kitchen around the corner. Before she could slide the door shut however there was a flash of white and gray as Zeus and Irisa, her once feral companions; sought their own taste of the almost spring air.
The feline pair often ventured out to "play" in the forest they had once called home, and Bryna simply stopped to watch them scamper up an old birch and enjoy a moment from their favorite perch. She knew they wouldn't wander far and would return when it suited them. They like Nuttah loved and now trusted this woman but they would never be completely tamed. Bryna felt blessed that she'd been allowed to ease their paths in the cold wintry months past, but accepted that they would always need to feel the freedom of the wilderness around them.
To call this place an escape would be neither wholly true nor completely false but this home that had been carved from the woods was uniquely Bryna, littered with trinkets that glimmered in the sunshine and begged to be held and touched. There were cherished, if tarnished, old photo frames holding sepia toned memories, misty at the edges but somehow softer than the images suspended there.
If music was her heartbeat, then color was her breath. The rose hued knotted rug was well worn and as she preferred to say, well loved. The table with its inlaid tiles was a rainbow of teal and turquoise, pinks and coral; and if the wood around its edges was scarred by nicks and crayon marks, they were simply a legacy of the love shared there, meant to endure rather than to be sanded or sprayed away.
The mighty hearth that carved its place the length of a sun kissed wall was a labor of love. It was a gift of milky quartz and honeyed agates placed by hands of those she'd touched and those who had chosen to help warm this place that had welcomed them as much as the woman herself had.
There was perfect symmetry in the random outcroppings of stones and mortar that held candles of every scent and hue. Once a stone mason had offered to level the rough surface, but to Bryna - the imperfections were a glorious gift neither meant to be sanded or chiseled to fit. To her eyes, they already did.
It was a rich if quirky life here in the northern town of Aponi. It seemed fitting she should find her place in a town that meant "butterfly"; for she had found both a place to bloom after a long cocoon and grow wings that brought her soul peace. You could loft a pebble through the treetops and almost always hear the soft plunk as it met the surface of one lake or another. Water like life here was abundant and forgiving.
It welcomed the driven executive who crossed the state's border to head north to a cabin in the woods. The locals viewed the term "cabin" as a broad euphemism for the term. Those who'd spend their life here would bemoan the elaborate structures and view the satellite dishes as alien appendages on their once pristine landscape.
The truth however was as it usually is - somewhere in the middle. Aponi was a sleepy little town and tourism was nearly its only industry. Mayor Susie Tinker gleefully, if privately, cheered the tax dollars brought by those "cabins" as they built much needed schools and funded both the local theater group and chili Sundays. She skillfully played peacemaker with the old guard who ruled the town council and populated the zoning boards.
It was a gloriously messy dance that she led but she was just as comfortable with a sleepy waltz as a spirited tango when the situation called for it. Her gift was that folks didn't even realize they'd danced until the music stopped and most were sorry when it ended.
If Bryna's walked with a gentle step, Susie embraced a wacky, wonderful, and noisy one. It surprised no one that these two would call each other friends. Somehow, one could just as easily pick up where the other left off and Susie grounded her friend and loved her. Both knew that was a gift beyond all others.
March in Wisconsin was a total crap shoot as far as Susie was concerned! Forget in like a lion and out like a lamb, it could just as easily be a case of the great abominable paying a surprise visit on April 1st with a fresh flaky 8 inches of the white stuff right about then the old rickety city plow had been retired to Hank's Mobil for some much needed spring resuscitation.
This particular Sunday afternoon however was a balmy and bright 53 degrees and that meant you saw more Bermudas than fur lined boots. You could easily spot the visiting southerner, still bundled in their parkas as the locals danced a jig around them in their recently dug out sandals and shades.
Yep, it made Susie giggle in that low growly way of hers as she plopped all 5'1" of spitfire and gloriously rounded hind end into the old Buick. Susie had a theory that if God had meant for women to be sticks, He wouldn't be waiving around all the goodies like Tom and Stella's Tiki Turtle muffins, already wafting aromas of dark chocolate and caramel into the morning air. Men needed something to hang onto when they danced and Susie obliged with curves that were dangerous even when they weren't wet!
Those muffins were calling to her as she cruised past the brand new stoplight and "Tom's Tiki Time Tavern". Ever since Tom and Stella had gone on that 7 day Hawaiian cruise last fall, it was out with the mounted Muskies and Moose heads and in with the wicker, grass skirts, and palm tree mural behind the old oak bar. Mind you they couldn't afford a complete makeover all at one time so the battery operated hula dancers at the ends of the winding bar had to share equal time with the black bear salt shakers and napkin holders. If the knotty pine and eagle shaded lamps looked a bit incongruous atop the teal grass place mats, like everything else in Aponi, the tavern/diner/bakery had a flavor all its own and you'd be hard pressed to define it.
Bryna's birthday was next week and Susie was headed out of town in her direction with a BIG surprise that made her wiggle in her seat with glee. She patted herself on the back for her true stroke of genius in thinking this one up and couldn't wait to make her way through the Nicolet forest to her doorstep. Through the years they'd come up with any number of assorted and wacky adventures, but this one was both wacky and she knew, sentimental at the same time. The mix they both like best.
The fact that they'd be headed for the Lake of the Torches Casino would be a dead give away if Bryna spotted the envelope in her back pocket. Though her friend seldom wished or pined for anything for herself, she had a secret weakness revealed many years ago over some less than aged Merlot. If she almost never turned on the ancient TV hidden in an old oak cabinet, Bryna was glued to it this past fall as the great D himself danced his way across the screen and to the coveted crown.
As that supermarket bottle grew empty - Bryna confessed that while other pre-teens were rocking out to "Joy to the World", she was crooning "Go Away Little Girl", to her poster strewn walls and a chocolate eyed pre-pubescent heartthrob. That night the girls resurrected a hidden treasure of old if scratchy LP's that had them dancing and singing at the top of their lungs through the entire Osmond family history, if abet unsteadily and with more than a few giggles along the way.
It was memories like these that brought a gentle smile to Susie rounded cheeks and truth be told, dew to her honeyed eyes. Susie had a heart as big as the mountains and everyone knew her blustery facade hid a perfectly gooey and deeply sentimental heart. The things that separated Bryna and Susie were fewer than those that united them and Bryna heard Susie's true music from that first moment that seemed so long ago now.
Susie's tenure as Mayor was a fairly recent one. Long term resident, she had been the town's only and thus very successful; real estate agent as the boom times of the 90's reached into a new decade. Northern Wisconsin lake property was in high demand as busy boomers looked to escape back to nature and enjoy simpler times, even if only for long weekends.
When a call came 5 years ago from a windy city architect looking for a "cabin" in the woods, Susie had visions of a nice fat commission check after placing her in one of the glass and steel faced $400K condos that had sprung up after somehow making it past the old guard on the zoning board.
When Bryna pulled up to the office in a not so new Blue Bonneville that was choking out a suspicious black plume, that dream of a fat paycheck was evaporating in the crystal clear north woods air about as fast as the noxious substance emanating from that rusted back end.
"O M G", Susie thought, "that hair" - "it must've stood out a good 4 inches from her head and down her back in completely untamed swirls" - "she obviously hadn't been spending any of her design dollars in a beautician's chair!" "If that wasn't enough, did anyone seriously still own tie-dyed maxi dresses anymore - let alone actually wear them?!?" "You could actually hear her coming with the yards of beads and bangles draped across the muslin fabric - she was a veritable walking wind chime!"
Often now they'd howl just thinking about that time when Susie stood dumbfounded at her office window, listings crazily thrown to the winds and thinking - "now what"!
That "what" was as Bryna liked to say, providence in a hundred ways neither of these women could've anticipated that August day but divine guidance was more than a theory to Bryna. She both expected and accepted it. She knew her path had never been completely her own, but trusted wholly she'd be guided and allowed to hear the music and perfect harmony of a place when the time was right.
As she stepped from her car, this quaint tiny town was whispering a welcome in her heart, and she knew she was a very small way from home. She simply trusted that the woman she was about to meet would take her the rest of the way.
As Bryna made her way across the sidewalk to the glass fronted entrance, Susie noticed her eyes for the first time. You could fall into them not because of their unusual hue that seemed to change in the filtering sunlight; but because even from a distance, they seemed to touch you to your very soul. As she opened the door and reached out a slender tapered hand to grasp Susie's - there was not so much as a "shake" as being enfolded between two palms that left you stunned from the unexpected and completely enveloping touch.
"Oh, Hello" - "Thank you for giving up your Saturday afternoon to show me around", said Bryna. And she meant it. The thought that she might be considered a "fat paycheck" never having crossed her mind. Susie replied, "Perhaps we could sit down" (and she really needed to at this point), "and review some listings concerning what you had in mind?"
"Oh, I'm pretty easy", grinned Bryna, "if it has trees and something slightly more updated than a tent, I know I can be content here". Judging from appearances, Susie would be lucky to secure her a single birch and perhaps an old trailer buried somewhere deep in the woods! The strangest part though, Susie REALLY wanted to find a way to help this woman. For reasons beyond her at this point, she knew Bryna belonged here.
Scrambling for a way to salvage this meeting, Susie grabbed the MLS and removed the bookmarks from the back pages to scour the much more reasonable front ones. The woman was an architect after all, perhaps she'd welcome a real fixer upper!
As they shared a cup of darkened coffee, Bryna shared a bit about her career and her love of restoring old buildings whose "bones" as she called them - "called to her".
A light bulb went off in Susie's brain. "No, it's impossible", she thought - "the bulldozers are were due at the end of the month". "The old Crandon place had been deemed unworthy of even an extended investment by the State's Historical Society"!
Still...Susie thought, there had been more than a little bickering as the locals fought to keep their cherished landmark and more important, to deny the developers at least that particular piece of shoreline. It couldn't hurt to take a quick ride out there and see if Bryna heard these very old set of bones, "calling to her"!
"Let's take a ride", "there's something I'd like to show you", Susie said. "I'd love that", replied Bryna as she rose from the chrome plated chair. It was a short walk around the building to the lot in back and Susie's new champagne tinged Buick. It provided luxuriously soft honeyed leather and refreshingly cool air as the conditioner hummed along with the Celtic tune playing softly in the background.
The trip out to the old Crandon logging camp was a short 10 minute ride from town but Bryna hungrily gulped in the sight of the pretty downtown with its colorful blocks of homespun candy stores, souvenir shops, and diners. She wanted to take it all in and capture it in a place she could easily pull it out again in the hectic weeks to come when she returned home.
As they left the county highway to enter the woods, Susie reluctantly interjected, "don't expect too much", "the place has been abandoned since the 20's and it's a bit rough around the edges". What she hadn't expected as they pulled up to the old logging camp was the absolute love and acceptance she saw shining in those gentle eyes.
What Susie saw was a broken down bunkhouse that most everyone thought unredeemable as every manner of wildlife had long since claimed the huge stone and log faced building. The structures surrounding it, dining hall, blacksmith's shop, barn, and old outhouse, had acted as dens for lazy black bears who didn't embrace the chore of digging out the forest floor when perfectly fine accommodations were available for a nice winter nap and to birth their young. If they had to share their quarters with the occasional bandit and her brood, they were companionable roommates.
What Bryna saw was a "lodge" and a haven, with a view of the most beautiful crystal clear lake and a proud river running from it - all surrounded by fragrant pines, birches, and bird song. "It's beautiful", she whispered, almost in awe of the gift she felt privileged to view.
For the first time in years, Susie stepped back and caught in the moment, began to see something beautiful in the broken and bruised buildings, and she knew somehow, this woman was meant to give them life again.
As they wandered the shoreline, there was a sonorous stillness, quiet yet resonating deeply; as the calm surface accepted the image of a beaded woman and gently blurred the image of where one began and the other ended. If you could see minnows and the occasional crayfish navigating the shallow sandy bottom you sensed if you couldn't quite define, a marriage being blessed here between woman, water, and land.
For Bryna, there was angel song as clear as the gentle coos from a pair of morning doves preening each other on the sloping grassy banks leading to the water's edge.
Without understanding why, Sue sensed a reverence in the moment and almost regrettably sought to bring the woman back from where ever she'd gone, "Miss Ericksen?" she queried softly...
"Oh, sorry", "please call me Bryna", she replied as she brought her eyes back to her guide. "I was lost there for a moment. It's almost like praying just to stand here isn't it?" "It has such a spiritual presence you can't help but feel a part of it".
Well, Sue wasn't so sure about that. What she was sure about was that it was going to take a whole lot more than "spiritual presence" to change the current trajectory this property was on. At this point, and in this short period of time, Sue seriously questioned whether this woman who appeared more ethereal than matter possessed the very real core of substance that would be required for the task ahead.
What Sue couldn't know was that Bryna's own journey hadn't been graced by only calm waters. As a single parent, Sera's father had disappeared both emotionally and financially almost from the day their daughter was born.
She'd raised her daughter on heavy doses of love generously laced with tolerance, and frequently little else. The fact that they'd survived the early years were as much a testament to a committed and supportive family as it was to a deep vein of tenacity in the woman herself. What Bryna possessed was a quiet if mighty strength that reached the highest peaks when it came to protecting those she loved.
While life had thrown Bryna more than a few mountains not of her own making, she readily accepted with gracious humor that there were many smaller hills she'd personally helped to create one little scoop at a time. She'd simply chosen to see blessings in every passage and the true gift of empathy being offered. She compassionately accepted that how one chose to view those myriad forays was a personal choice that everyone had to make for themselves.
If Bryna now possessed a bottomless well of forgiveness and compassion for others, it was because she'd patiently learned how to walk before she could climb. Abundance so easily granted to others was often so difficult to grant oneself. She'd had to surrender to the path she knew she would need to walk that would allow her to genuinely share with others, acceptance of the woman in the mirror first.
What she chose to manifest and nurture now was her gentler side, but like every walk, it was simply a choice. All she'd learned wasn't lost but simply dormant for lack of need with so much of her original work done in a daughter happily settled on her own path, and a family living their own choices.
That Bryna would need to dip into that well of experience now, she readily acknowledged but she now brought with her an unquestionable faith that she would not be wandering this new path alone. She was wrapped in a set of gossamer wings that would gently place her where she needed to go and whisper in her heart the words she needed to find at exactly the perfect time she needed to find them. She wholly surrendered to a perfection she was incapable of creating herself but that she'd learned had always been there for the asking.
"Bryna, I need to tell you about this place but I'm not sure this story is mine to tell", Susie said. "If you have time for a bite of lunch, there's someone I'd like you to meet that I think can give you what you're looking for". There was little doubt in Susie's mind that what Bryna really wanted went well beyond this place's recent history and would instead dip well back to its beginnings. If the morning muffin rush was over, there was a couple waiting back in town who shared a history with this place that would finish the story far better than Sue could ever hope to tell it.
"Oh, I'd actually love to stay forever, but lunch would be a good place to start", grinned Bryna. "There was the most gorgeous smell coming from that tavern next door to your office. I'd absolutely love to go in and see it if we had time!"
"Funny you should mention that", said Susie. "Tom Crandon, the owner of that tavern is also the great great grandson of the original owner of this place. It was actually that tavern I'd hoped to take you to for lunch", but she didn't seem happy as she said it. There was a small frown creasing those gold flecked eyes.
As Bryna tipped her head, she asked gently, "Sue, there's something bothering you that you're not saying, isn't there?"
"Bryna, I'm truly sorry I didn't tell you this originally", "there's and offer pending on this property and it's pretty much accepted that it will be signed next week." "Schultz Developers has plans to clear away these old buildings and erect a waterfront resort in their place." "The city and Tom himself fought the move but the taxes alone were threatening to pull him and his family under". "No one would see another way".
Why in the world this bit of bad news would cause this woman to rapidly spin around and grin was WAY beyond Susie but the answer was quick in coming, if completely dumbfounding!
"Oh, Sue", she grinned as she whirled them both around, "then I've gotten here just in time to find that "way" haven't I!"
Incredulous, Sue replied, "BRYNA!" "Have you heard of Schultz Developers?" "They're one of the largest, and I might add, richest construction and development firms in the State!" "Turning this around isn't going to be anywhere NEAR a cake walk!"
"Hmmm", eyes twinkling Bryna replied, "Sue...just so you know, I REALLY adore cake, and I think I'm ready to slice off a great big chunk of it if you're with me on this!"
And thus began the tenuous stirrings of a friendship born of purpose and more than a little laughter. Sue had no clue in the world "how" this was going to be turned around but she was beginning to believe that somehow it just might!
When Bryna linked her arm through Sue's for the short walk back to the buick, the woods echoed a booming laugh as Sue recognized the soft notes growing stronger as Bryna's sang, "Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew, but through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all and I stood tall....and when she reached the chorus - there was no longer one voice but two - "AND DID IT MY WAY"...
"God", "My mom loves Frank", Sue said, "Yeah, mine too", winked Bryna as they hopped in the car.