The Trail Back Out was named an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Awards Finalist in the category Fiction: Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed.
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Tradition is a fine thing. I’ve hung on to Thanksgiving even though I live overseas. Actually, I hang onto the holiday probably because I live overseas. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.
Our traditions include what I grandly call The Annual Eating of the Elk. The Germans involved in this ritual just refer to it as Elchessen, or the Elk Meal. Whatever.
For years, the Spousal Unit spent two weeks out of every single December, January, February and March up in northern Sweden. The Artic Circle in the dead of winter doesn’t offer much in the way of culinary pleasures. The highlights were these:
Going out for pizza in a pizza parlor run by two Iranian refugees who had fled SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and ended up staying. The pizza was meh but every order came with a free dish of cabbage cole slaw. Because cole slaw is traditional? Because cole slaw is Italian? Because cole slaw provides a desperately needed source of Vitamin C?
Fresh reindeer blood, available by the vat in the local grocery store (say Yum everyone!)
White bread that is sweetened
Rumps of elk
It became tradition that my husband and his colleagues always packed German bread and bottles of whiskey in their suitcases before they flew north. Because alcohol is expensive in Sweden, and nights up there are reeeeeally long.
It became tradition that the engineers returned home with packages of elk roasts.
Thorsten, Spousal Unit, Konrad and Gerhard all used to work in Sweden. Only Gerhard still does that gig: he’s now responsible for bringing back the elk. Eventually, this evolved into an on-going 20+ year (!) tradition that Thorsten cooks an entire elk dinner for the engineers and their mates Bettina, Heike, and yours truly. *
It’s almost impossible to find a common weekend free when you’re trying to get a group of Germans together. Those 6 weeks of vacation time they’re famous for getting? Germans take every single minute of that time. Good luck coordinating 7 people’s schedules and pinning down a night when everyone’s available to meet for a dinner. We still talk about the year we ended up eating elk roast in August. It was the hottest day of the summer and over 90° in the apartment. (Thorsten’s kitchen had heated to way over 100°.) The heavy meal and accompanying heavy red wines were deadly.
But, Tradition muss sein.
Thorsten has it down to a culinary science, an art form. He marinates the elk in red wine and spices for days. Then he puts it in the oven to roast until it shrinks to about half the original size. Thorsten serves it with gravy, homemade Knödel and cooked red cabbage.
I asked Thorsten for his recipe and have translated it for you here, just in case you have 5 pounds of elk roast hanging around in your freezer.
20 Teile Baguette (ein Teil etwa so gross wie ein kleines Brötchen) abschneiden. Brot in kleine Würfel schneiden. In warmer Milch einweichen. 5 Eier dazugeben, ebenso 250 Gramm gewürfelten und angebratenen Speck. Ebenfalls 2 klein geschnittene und angebratene Zwiebeln dazugeben. 2 Bund Petersilie kleinschneiden und dazugeben, salzen und Muskatnuss reinreiben. Die Masse gut durchmengen bis ein homogener Teig entsteht. Falls die Masse zu trocken ist Milch dazugeben (Teig muss gut durchgezogen sein).
Tennisball grosse Knödel formen und 20 Minuten in Salzwasser ziehen lassen.
Wer keine Zeit hat kann die Petersilie schon fertig geschnitten aus der Tiefkühltruhe nehmen. Ich nehme immer 2 Becher a 40 Gramm.
20 Bread Dumplings
Cut about 20 small bread rolls into small pieces. Soak bread in warm milk. Add 5 eggs and 250 grams of diced, fried bacon. Add two small diced, sautéed onions. Add 2 bunches of chopped parsley, salt, and grated nutmeg. Mix the dough well; add more milk if too dry. Make 20 big dumplings the size of tennis balls and cook them in simmering saltwater for 20 minutes. If you don’t have the time or can’t find fresh parsley, use 2 packets of frozen parlsey.
2 kg Elch
2 Beutel Sauerbratengewürz anrösten und mit 2l Rotwein ablöschen. Kurz aufkochen lassen, Beize abkühlen lassen und Elch für 4 Tage einlegen.
Elch abtrocknen, salzen und von jeder Seite 1 Minute scharf anbraten. Fleisch aus Bräter herausnehmen. Wurzelgemüse und Tomatenmark im Bräter anrösten. Rotwein-Beize dazugeben und aufkochen lassen. 8 Teelöffel gekörnte Brühe dazugeben. Bräter in den auf 180 Grad vorgeheizten Backofen geben und Fleisch ca. 2 Stunden schmoren lassen. Fleisch herausnehmen, Flüssigkeit durch ein Sieb in einen Topf abgiessen. Sosse etwas einkochen lassen mit braunem Sossenbinder zur gewünschten Konsistenz abbinden. Zum Schluss 150 Gramm crème fraiche unterrühren.
4-5 Pound Elk Roast
Roast two packs of Sauerbraten spices and add 2 liters of red wine (a bottle of red wine is ¾ of a liter). Let the marinade cool and then marinate 4.5 – 5 pounds of elk in it for 4 days.
Remove and dry the meat, salt it all over, and sautée in oil 1 minute per side. Roast some root vegetables and tomato paste; add the marinade and let the mixture come to a boil. Add 8 tablespoons of broth concentrate. Place roasting pan with elk in sauce in a 180° C (375° Fahrenheit) oven and cook for 2 hours.
Remove the elk. Purée the sauce or pour it through a sieve. Cook down the sauce to your desired consistency; add corn starch if needed. Before serving, stir in 150 grams of crème fraiche.
If you make the same dish for the same people for enough decades, one of two things will happen. You become the Master of the Meal known as The Annual Eating of the Elk.
Or you order take-out pizza from the 2 Iranian guys.
NOTE: I first published this post 5 years ago. I reprint it as a prayer for our world. —Jadi
The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.
I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.
A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:
“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.
An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.
A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.
The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.
The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.
In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.
“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”
Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.
He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.
The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland. We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.
Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.
Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.
Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.
A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”
Grounded is the story of how two people react when cyberattacks lame the world. It’s also the tale of a father’s love for his son, a woman’s search to feel alive again, and what the Arctic Circle and a temple in a remote corner of India reveal.
I wrote the first draft in 2002, worked on it for over a year, and put it aside for a decade. I returned to the manuscript last year and reworked and rewrote. This book has had a very long gestation period, and I believe it was worth the wait. Please read it and let me know if you agree.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
For 14 years my husband spent half of every winter up in northern Sweden, working on a frozen lake. The engineers flew up for 2 week stints, leaving home on Mondays and returning two weeks later on a Friday evening charter flight.
The very last year that Uwe did this stint, his company began to allow family members to take advantage of the flights. At the end of March 2001, on the vernal equinox, I flew up to meet Uwe in the region broadly known as Lappland.
My flight was delayed while President Putin flew through European airspace back to Russia. By the time I arrived it was close to midnight, and we had to drive an hour further north to reach Arjeplog. It was a bitterly cold -22° and on either side of the deserted road the snow piles loomed. But we kept stopping the car to get out – the Northern Lights were dancing in the heavens! So far north, surrounded by nothing but woods and the glittering of stars, the aurora borealis played across the horizen.
I heard a weird background swishing noise underneath the sound of my heart beat. I was listening to the borealis. As I stood on the frigid road my optic nerves took pictures of the Northern Lights. It was so quiet that the part of my brain which processes sound picked up signals leaking out from the images. Early explorers in the Arctic Circle reported this experience. (They discovered when they put their hands over their eyes, the sounds went away.)
The Lights are caused by disturbance in the magnetic field of the earth’s poles. Energy generated by solar winds is hurled from the sun at incredibly high speeds. The solar winds get stopped when they hit the magnetic field. Electrons and atoms from the windstorms collide, and that creates the lights.
In some parts of Sweden and Norway, people earlier described the aurora borealis as the reflection of Silleblixt, millions of herring swimming in the sea. The Eskimos have a legend about the Northern Lights. They think the aurora borealis lights up the trail of the afterlife. This is a dangerous, narrow path that souls must take when they leave dead bodies and head to heaven.
Some cultures mention the lights as dancers in the heavens. Scotsmen call the Northern Lights ‘Merry Dancers’. In the Middle Ages, if people saw the Northern Lights and they contained red, it meant a war was starting somewhere in the world. The red color was death and the blood being spilled in battles. I just saw different shades of white lights and no other colors in the spectrum. And I definitely thought they were alive, like dancers.
The next day we drove north and officially crossed into the Arctic Circle. The trees ended altogether and the landscape beyond this point was a dome of snow meeting an azure sky.
The Swedes refer to this time of year as winter-spring, the 5thand most beautiful season of all. I made a snow angel
and spotted a rare Arctic white ptarmigan. We drove past spots on the deserted roads where black garbage bags hung dark against the snow. These are a signal for drivers that a herd of reindeer is grazing somewhere nearby.
That weekend is the only time I have seen the Northern Lights. They have danced in my memories ever since.
(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)