No man (or woman) is an island. Welcome, weary travelers, to The Inn Between. Join Gabriela Jones, a recent botany undergrad, in her new job as Innkeeper near the rural town of Shearwater.
New episodes bi-weekly on the quarter moon. Written and read by Bailey Loveless
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Special thanks to Yewande Akinse for her poem "Son of Soil." You can find her at https://yewande.me or on Twitter (@ADwande). Yewande Akinse is a Nigerian Lawyer, Storyteller, Poet, and Author of two collections of poetry titled ‘A tale of being, of green and of ing..’ (2019) and Voices: A collection of poems that tell stories’ (2016). Her poems have appeared in Afritondo, Trampset, Galleyway, Lumiere Review, Floodlight Poetry, and elsewhere.
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LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This podcast is inspired by and recorded on the Indigenous lands of the Coast Salish people of the Pacific Northwest. We celebrate and honor these ancestral lands and their stewards--past, present, and future.
THEME MUSIC: Yonder Dale / Tiny Surprises / courtesy of www.epidemicsound.com
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Welcome, weary travelers, I’m Gabriela Jones, the new innkeeper of The Inn Between, where the trees are green, the rooms are cozy, and the locals are amazing. Whether you’re listening for the first time or have been here before, come on in and prop up your feet—metaphorically speaking of course—and pour yourself a cup of coffee.
I’ve heard it said that trying to make a new friend is a lot like trying to catch a fish; you have to patiently sit for a long time before you find the right one. Now I’ve personally never caught a fish before, but seeing as how I’m just a blubbering fish out of water, socially and evolutionarily speaking, I’m inclined to agree. I’ve only been out of school for a short while, but it’s not hard to see that the adult world is not quite as conducive for getting to know people. And if I being honest one of the most difficult and nervewracking things about moving across the country to a new job in a new place was not knowing anybody. Now I’ve been too busy with work this summer and met so many people that I frankly was too worn out to notice. But after my coffee date with Frank, it dawned on me that I still don’t really have any close friends here yet.
But lucky for me, I was able to see what I hope to call an old friend and may have even made a brand-new one because, on this last week’s lunar eclipse, a very special repeat guest checked in overnight. Now, of course, the last time I’d seen her was back in episode 6. I didn’t try hosting a party after that particular disaster, but I was watching the sky from the porch when a familiar bright face appeared at the edge of the forest just as I hoped it would, bringing along with her a white shaggy dog.
“It’s good to see you both. Whoa, there big fella” I said as the giant shaggy dog jumped up on me.
“Oh don’t mind Major,” said the moon-skinned lady. “He’s going through a phase.”
“Will you need a room this evening?” I asked.
“Yes please,” she said with a nod. “We’ve traveled far, and it will be a long time till we come back this way.”
“Where are you two going?” I asked.
“Oh traveling abroad,” she said.
I led the two of them upstairs to the Planets Room when her cold fingers brushed my arm. “You seem sad,” she said.
“I’ve just been tired,” I said.
She looked at me with a dark stare but wished me goodnight while the dog Major gave me one last affectionate lick on the hand. However, when I woke up in the morning, I found the following left in the guest book in her beautiful, loopy loop letter handwriting,
“I’ve seen the earth enough times to know that humans are rivers, not islands.”
Now I couldn’t disagree with what she had written. Sometimes it does feel a little like being on an island out here—a beautiful island with the most amazing tourists but only one resident who does get a little lonely from time to time. Now don’t mistake me, I deeply appreciate all of my great friends and family back home in Florida who have stayed in touch. I know that we will always care about one another, but you’re there, and I’m here, and it’s dawned on me that talking online or just greeting people for work isn’t enough to fulfill all of my social needs. I need good friends here. The kind of friends you visit the pumpkin patch with or give the intimate details about the date you just went on. The kind who come over for popcorn and board games or to just relax. The kind that knows you and unwaveringly supports you. And after all the things that happened last month, it would have been nice to have a couple of those kinds of friends to call upon.
Now every other Friday, Nancy, the general store owner down in Shearwater, drives her truck up with supplies to restock the inn. Occasionally one of her 26 grandsons accompanies her. But to my surprise, this last Friday she was accompanied by another girl—a girl about my age with beautiful long hair wearing a red flannel shirt. As soon as Nancy got out of the truck, she took me into a hug with those great big bear-like arms of hers and introduced us, saying “I’d like you to meet Angie! My future granddaughter-in-law!”
Angie smiled and said, “Now, now, Nancy, Tom, and I aren’t even engaged yet.”
I don’t know how else to describe Angie as anything but as cool as a cucumber, exuding confidence and self-assuredness in a way that I respect. She seemed so natural and relaxed, perfectly in her element just standing there, and I felt immediately both intimidated and desperate to be her friend in a way that left me a bit lost for words. I’m not proud to admit this but I was pretty desperate to impress them both.
“Nice to meet you,” I said in a way that I hoped wasn’t too blustering as offered out my hand.
“Likewise,” Angie said with a smile. “I’ve never met someone who likes bananas so much.”
“What do you mean?” I said caught off guard.
She pointed to the bed of the truck, and inside were several boxes of bananas.
“Are those for me?” I said.
“I got a call from Kasper Leake asking me to add them to the order,” said Nancy. “He seemed to think you’d be needing them, lass.”
“He called you?” I said.
“Oh yes, he’s such a gentleman,” said Nancy.
Now I was perplexed and oddly jealous that I had not received a phone call from the mysterious Mr. Leake, but I cleared a space for the bananas on the top of the fridge, and after we finished unloading the truck, Nancy said that they had brought me something else. Reaching into a cooler on the back seat, she pulled out a glistening whole grey and pink fish.
“Freshly caught and cleaned by Angie,” said Nancy.
I thanked them and asked them what kind of fish it was. But the surprised look they gave me made me blush. “It’s a native coho salmon,” Angie gently explained. “Have you ever seen a salmon run?”
I told her that I hadn’t.
And Nancy brightened! “You should take her!” Then turning to me, Nancy said, “Angie is a marine biologist, she knows her fish, lass.”
At this point, I was feeling a bit embarrassed since dear Nancy had more or less just voluntold Angie to take me out. But Angie was completely unphased.
“It’ll be a good time to go,” she said. “I know some great spots I could show you.” And with that, we made a plan for her to pick me up on the following Monday.
All weekend, the weather seemed to reflect my anxious mood. It rained and rained without letting up, till Monday afternoon as I was lacing up my hiking boots. With my raincoat on and the little away sign set out on the front desk, I paced around the inn looking for random things to do. I ended up just sitting, re-reading the latest entry from my favorite guest, and then flipping through the guestbook where I found a new poem that I had never noticed before. It read
“Son of soil
man is formed by breath, water and the earth
son of soil and flesh, blood and soul, seed, wind
one with sea in brotherhood - breadth and depth
dwelling with nature as both friend and fiend
nature; the womb with which future is skinned
exhaust not land of its bounty and pride
trigger not seas off boundary and guide
defile not sky of its grace, beauty
earth is our home. Here is where we reside
duty, stewardship and continuity”
It was written in glacier blue ink, bordered by little doodles of oceans and rivers and trees, and signed at the bottom by Yewande Akinse. I was tracing the words with my fingers when I heard a honk outside and an unfamiliar jeep pulled into the drive with Angie at the wheel. She waved me into the car, and off we went into the woods.
Down the highway winding through the pine trees, I asked Angie probably too many questions in an attempt not to be awkward. But I learned that she was originally from Shearwater, had left to study marine biology in Seattle, and was back now, working to restore one of the local rivers.
“It used to be one of the most productive salmon rivers in the region,” she said.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’ll show you,” she said.
“How long have you known Nancy?” I asked.
“Oh forever,” said Angie. “Everyone knows Nancy. At this point she’s like a second mother.”
“And you’re dating one of her grandsons?” I prodded.
“Yep. Tom. High school sweethearts,” said Angie.
“That’s great,” I said. Unsure of what else to say, I asked if she knew much about Mr. Leake. “Not really,” she said. “I mean yes, I know who the Leake family is because small town. But I never really knew them, you know. Then they moved away when I was like thirteen or fourteen.”
Then saying it was about to get bumpy, she turned off the main road.
Bumpy, dear listeners, was a tame description. As the jeep rumbled through the muddy forest road, I gripped the armrests of my seat for dear life. But we finally stopped on the top of a wet hillside. My teeth were still rattling around in my head but in the distance, you could hear the river.
Getting out of the jeep, we hiked through the mud through thick ferns and ancient evergreens, moss hanging from every branch, till we reach a rocky path where the forest shrunk into a short mass of baby willows. Down below us was a raging river of cerulean blue snaking away from the mountains in the distance. Angie confidently continued down the narrow, steep path towards the river, and I carefully plodded belong behind her, taking every precaution not to trip and possibly fall to my death. At the bottom was an overgrown rocky outcrop where the water fell still and we could speak without shouting over the river cascades.
“This whole place used to be dammed up, flooded the whole area. See those white lines? That’s where the water was” said Angie, indicating the streaks on the rock high above us.
“That explains why all the trees are so young right here,” I said, pointing to the little juvenile willows growing on the shoreline.
Angie nodded. “But the dam rose the water temperatures and disrupted salmon migrations for the past 100 years. We estimate it decreased the salmon population here by at least 90%.” She turned and kneeled at the water’s edge. “We’re lucky they’re here at all.”
She was pointing at something in the water and I squinted trying to make it out. Then there was a silver flash, and I realized the pool was full of hundreds of salmon waiting to swim upstream.
“Thank god for all the rain this weekend,” said Angie. “The rivers were getting dangerously low after the summer.”
I said, “I’d never thought of that before. How the rain affects the fish. Are they waiting for something?” I asked, watching the delicate fins carefully treading against the small current.
“They’re conserving energy for the jump,” said Angie, pointing to the rocks just upstream. “See, their mouths opening and closing like that? They need some berries.”
“Wait, what did you just say?” I said. “Salmon eat berries?”
Angie laughed. “These ones do. They’re special.”
“You’re making that up,” I said with a laugh.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” she said with a wink. She straightened up and I walked with her upstream towards a bush. It was covered in round, fish roe orange berries flourishing right next to the cascades. She shook a few of the berries loose into her palm and with a smile, she tossed some into the river.
As the berries fell towards the water, a giant fish of grey and army green shot out of the river like a harpoon. His face came towards us, his mouth puckered, and his eyes were stern and steady. Catching his query midair, he swallowed the little orange berry and glided over the top of the rocks before plunging back into the water.
“Did that really just happen?” I said. “Did that fish just catch that berry?”
“Sure did,” said Angie with a laugh. “Why don’t you give it a try?”
I nodded and grabbed a handful of the bizarre little berries, tossing them in. And then suddenly, the cascades were full of fish as long as my arms, coming in endless waves over the top of the cascades, racing towards the mountains.
Holding a berry up, I asked Angie if they were safe for humans too. She nodded, and I popped some of them into my mouth as three more salmon cleared the falls. “They’re magnificent,” I said.
“The berries or the fish?” said Angie.
“Well, both, but the fish. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I said.
“They’re amazing,” Angie agreed. “The whole ecosystem here depends on them. The river and the forest feed them and in turn, they feed the forest and the river.”
Falling silent, we sat down and watched the fish. I held my breath each time one dared to clear the rocks. Closing my eyes, I pictured myself under the water. I wondered if I would have either the courage or the instinct to jump. But in droves the fish seemed to fly across the top with perfect confidence and freedom, the autumn sun catching on their scales.
All the while, I snacked on some of the berries and asked Angie if I could take some home. She said that I could, that they make a great jam. So we gathered some up, and then with the late afternoon sun setting, returned to the jeep. I was probably gushing the whole ride home, but I was just very grateful for the experience and the opportunity to get to know Angie. Truth be told, I was really hoping that she would want to keep hanging out, and so I thanked her probably one too many times for taking me to the river.
“No problem,” she said. “Do you still have that fish I brought you?”
When I said that I did, she offered to show me how to cook it if I was free the rest of the evening, and so we spent the rest of the night hanging out in the kitchen. Angie seasoned the salmon, I mashed the berries into jam, and we laughed as if we had been friends for years. The jam did turn out pretty great if I do say so myself, and I have some extra so I’m going to send some along to my professor, Doctor Perry Wrinkle, for his analysis. And the salmon. Oh the salmon. When it came out of the oven, it was a perfect glistening pink. I smiled, thinking of how now the forest and the river were feeding both my belly and my spirit, and then imagining a few of the ways I can repay them back.
Till next time listeners,
Be kind, get to know someone or someplace better in your local community, and don’t forget to water your plants,
Hello. It’s Bailey Loveless, writer and usual reader of Gabriela and the Inn Between. Thank you so much for joining us on today’s episode and special thanks to our guestbook contributor Yewande Akinse. Yewande is a Nigerian Lawyer, Storyteller, Poet and Author of two collections of poetry titled ‘A tale of being, of green and of ing..’ (2019) and Voices: A collection of poems that tell stories’ (2016). Her poems have also appeared in Afritondo, Trampset, Galleyway, Lumiere Review, Floodlight Poetry, and elsewhere. Thank you so much for your submission and for sharing your poetry with us! We are currently looking for guestbook submissions for season two of Gabriela and the Inn Between, so if you or someone you know writes amazing nature-inspired prose or poetry, please consider sending us a submission, link and info also in the shownotes.
If you enjoyed the show, as always please consider tipping your innkeeper over at Ko-Fi or gabrielaandtheinnbetween.com, links in the show notes below. Not only does your contribution go directly toward Gabriela’s student loans, but it costs less than your favorite latte, gets you to access to bonus content, and advertisement free. New episodes of Gabriela and the Inn Between release during the quarter-moon phase, with the next episode scheduled for November 30. In between time, keep warm and keep well. See you next time, folks