Thursday, August 18, 2011

The End of Soapy, A Cracked Head, and "Mean Ole" Trent

Last week I re-enacted the famous shootout between Skagway's gold rush villain and hero, playing all three roles of Soapy, Frank, and Narrator. This was and is a much disputed event in Skagway history, of late picking up speed as Soapy's descendants and others begin to clamor. Frank, they say, did not shoot America's most notorious flimflam con man of the Wild, Wild West. Jesse Murphy's name is bandied about. Also accusations of a cover up.

Murphy was one of the four guards who refused Soapy entrance to a "private" meeting at the end of Juneau dock, where the town had gathered to decide the villain's fate. Murphy probably did fire a gun in the unexpected explosion of violence. Still, whatever way you cut up the story, you consistently end up with the infamous show down between Skagway's two opposing factions--Frank Reid and Jefferson Randolph Smith, aka Soapy.

It happened the night of July 8, 1898, after an eight-month "reign of terror." Virtually all coin and gold coming in and out of Skagway was funneled through Soapy's pockets. This bothered Frank Reid, a businessman. Skagway's reputation was beginning to blunt commerce. Ironically, and according to one of Soapy's thugs, Reid and Soapy had been partners, Soapy a silent partner in Reid's Klondike Saloon. But they split almost right away; each man desired to run Skagway in his own way and bad blood thickened.

A hundred years later, we take visitors up to the old Gold Rush Cemetery to visit these dead men and tell them all about the nefarious affair. This past July 8, anniversary of the shootout, my friend Shari and two other drivers decided to act it out. Straightaway I stole the idea, encouraged I'm sure by the lingering spirit of Soapy, and began acting it myself whenever I took visitors up there.

The cemetery climbs the mountainside right off the Skagway River. A gnarly place. Notice the rooted ground, paths lined by rocks. Sharp rocks.
I choose my spot carefully, leery of root and stone. But one day last week I must have gotten myself off stage. In the full spirit of things, as Soapy, I flung myself straight backward, shot through the heart by Frank Reid, and whacked my head with a thwack and a crack on a rock. I heard the sound--whack--like that of a baseball bat smacking a ball clean over the fence. And then a collective gasp from my audience. But I wasn't finished. I rolled my head to the side and hung out my tongue per usual. I got up to carry on as Reid. People started to rush me.

"That hurt," I agreed, "but I'm all right, and I'm not done." I staggered around with a bullet in my groin, finally fell to my side, fired yet another bullet at the dead Soapy, and yelled, "I got him, boys, by God, I got him." And smiled. As did Frank, heedless to his pain, euphorically pleased with himself.

But no one was smiling a minute later when it was discovered I had blood running down my head and onto my shirt. Lovely. Ducky. Now what? I still had to get everyone up to the overlook and the concern gathering around me was making that awkward to navigate. I kept insisting I was fine until one kind lady, who revealed she was an OR nurse, showed me her hand with my blood all over it.

A second shock wave. I was determined, however, to finish the tour. "Really, I can do this," I insisted, everyone digging into their pockets for tissues to staunch the flow of my blood. Finally a big fellow by the name of Dan came alongside and took my arm, "Sweetheart," he whispered, "we don't want you to take us up there. You need to call your dispatch."


I was really quite bummed: folks herding me back to the bus; breaking into the first aid kit; cold compress not working; a tour guide from another company supplying me one of his; my tour snatched away from me--handed off to Bronn who graciously took over, bringing out another bus. One kind lady slipped me a fiver, with expression of how much she'd enjoyed "the show," and next thing I knew Casey, goddess of our dispatchers, had me at the clinic and I had to have three staples slammed into my head. I declared after two that I'd had quite enough. Really. The physician assistant (we have no doctor here) disagreed, but she at least ceased and desisted.

"Can I go back to work?"

If I kept my coat on, I figured, over the bloody shirt, I could still catch my second tour. Carol agreed and wrote me a note; but no, mean old Trent, transportation boss, would not let me. 

I of course recognized the next day that he'd have been an idiot to put me back in the bus. One, I kept bleeding and did have to go back to the clinic that afternoon. Two, I had a doozy of a headache that ringed my head. My face even hurt. But all that "pain and suffering" with no financial gain whatsoever for the day? I was grateful for the $5 the nice lady slipped me and, later, the $10 Bronn shared after taking my people back to the dock. 

Trent did let me return to work the next day, and just two days ago I got the staples out. To be honest, I'd have rather gone and struck my head against another rock than do this. But Carol popped them out before I could flinch. No big deal. 

And, yes, I am right back at it, re-enacting the shootout. More delicately this time, to be sure. I even station people to protect me from the stones. Still, and this is just between you and me--do not tell Trent! --I did bang my head again yesterday, not hard, but enough to make me blink tears. I'd set my head right down on my bump and the skin still too tender to touch.  

But that's the way it is up here in Alaska. A knock on the noggin doesn't slow us down. It requires a bullet.
Frank Reid: He Died For the Honor of Skagway

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Golden Shadow and A Skagway Friendship

My friend Nick is an odd bedfellow to be sure. I use the term metaphorically, yet I have loved Nick from almost the first moment I met him a year ago here in Skagway, Alaska. Rather, I should say I love the inner shadow and light of this man, a dichotomy, a puzzle, a cynical dude who is very much in touch with his dark side. His good side? Not so much, he says, but that's just plain silly. What am I talking about?

Carl Jung was one of the first to name our shadow. For every up there is a down, for every left, a right. Life is a tension of opposites: good and evil; kindness, rudeness; politic and unwarranted. Grace, justice. Daily, unrelentingly, we are required to choose between this or that and our shadow is everything we choose not to do, be, say, think.

For instance, if we choose to be an artist we choose not to be a scientist. If we choose to be tough, we choose not to be tender. Thomas Moore in his The Care of the Human Soul writes that "the person we choose to be... automatically creates a dark double--the person we choose not to be." Robert Johnson calls the Shadow "our psychic twin that follows us like a mirror image." And this is what Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde is all about.

The shadow is not all "bad" however. Much of it is good--surprisingly and wonderfully good. Euphorically good. The homophobic who decries homosexuality in reality can find tolerance in his shadow. Mr. Tough Guy who is self-sufficient, uncaring, and disconnected with those around him can't help but discover the opposite if he looks for it. A racist can find love. It therefore behooves us, as we age and from time to time, to re-examine our inner selves and check out what bag of surprises our shadows hold.

Most of us resist because we have come to believe we are our persona. We're a bad ass. Or we're Nice Guy. In reality we're both. But if we ignore our oppositions, we miss our Golden Shadow--our chance for wholeness and creative expression.

Not that chance doesn't come knocking. Murray Stein posits that at midlife the shadow begins to agitate. Like it or not, he says, our un-chosen self bubbles to the surface--and it needs to be, he says, "dealt with in a new way, because the seeds of psychological renewal and of possible future directions for life lie hidden within it." Ah...renewal, new direction, creativity. He calls it the Golden Shadow, and William Zinzer in his The Golden Shadow tells us that the integration of our oppositions is experienced as an explosion of creative energy, new focus, a wellness of being, and closer connection to God. 

I yearn for that wholeness--and the loss of fear and self-doubt that now fractures me. That hinders my creative edge. My un-chosen self is once again bubbling to the surface.

Robert Johnson says that to own your shadow, to really know it, "is whole making. No one can be anything but a partial being," he writes, "ravaged by doubt and loneliness, unless he has close contact with his shadow." Raised in the evangelical world, it's a handicap in finding this necessary contact with my shadow, yet I believe God brings people into our lives when we're open (or when they are--it's not always about us). But never the person we'd pick.

Amy and Nick
Most certainly, I would not have picked Nick. Totally agnostic, cynical, no filter, mocking, at times unmerciful in his assessments, he is everything I am not. Unafraid of his flaws, well acquainted with his dark side, he's brutally honest and delightful in his humorous and sometimes contemptuous jabs at the pretensions of life. "Why do you need that shit?" he asks me. Why indeed? I revel in the question, for it's portal to the dark unknown that is in me, and key to my Golden Shadow.

Yup, love the guy. He's good for me. Might make him a little nervous to hear it.; in fact, I'm sure it does but I don't give a shit.

#6: 6 of 6--Camping In The Wilds

I've done a lot of camping in my life, but never in the wild.
It was Bethany, I think, who wanted to explore Annie Lake; someone had said it was a good place to pitch a tent. Within minutes after leaving Robinson's Road House, we turned left, west. Except we drove forever along Annie Lake Road. Ah, finally, the lake. But what the heck? no turn-off? We kept going. And going.

And going.

And then a fancy sign for a B and B way out in the middle of nowhere. Where? We just had to check this out. Big fancy sign, nothing but forest. So we drove into the lonely road and drove some more. And some more. And forever we drove and finally ended up at a rustic ranch nestled in the forest with nary a sign that indicated it was the B and B.

By this time it was around ten at night. We still had to set up our tents, make supper. Wayne circled Bethany's car back around 180 degrees and five minutes later nosed the Scion into clearing. "Stop the car! Stop the car! Here! This is it! Stop the car!" It was it, we were excited! The Perfect Spot!

There's something to be said for the raw land, good friends, dinner baked on the coals, midnight sun, and the flutter of wind in the trees. We ate well, laughed well, slept well, and in the morning Bethany patiently cooked us up a grand slam breakfast of pancakes and potatoes.
I don't know about you, but I love Alaska, I love exploration, I love the stillness teeming with life.