Donuts Coffee and The Trump Years


It was just a cup of coffee and a donut. In the edgy aftermath of last Tuesday’s events though, it was a small reminder that normalcy still exists. A glimmer of hope in caffeine and a chocolate and nut covered life-preserver of deep fried dough. There was a reminder of my grandma’s kitchen on a random Saturday during my childhood, when she and my mother sat around her linoleum kitchen table and we kids would palm  a sugar cube from the rose patterned dish and pop it into our mouth, savoring the sweet dissolving granules before darting off to play. Coffee and donuts and a reminder that we might be ok.

On Tuesday night, I had turned off the noise well before the final results but too late for the knowledge that against all odds and reason Donald Trump was going to be the next President. Bigotry, hatred, xenophobia had won the day. Enough of his supporters, who had spent the campaign sugar coating the message behind a Make America Great again slogan had elevated a racist sexual predator to the highest office in the land. I imagined even a priapic JFK and a mentally unbalanced Nixon whirling in their graves.    It remains possible that the office will shape the man but that’s not a hand I’m willing to double down on. Not when the dealer shows a jack and I’m holding an eight and a seven.   On Wednesday, I was in the throes of an emotional storm. The weather changed with alarming irregularity, and I rolled from anger to despair to fear and to hopelessness, often within a period of ten minutes. The cycle repeated itself and seemed to be both quelled and fed by the emotions of my coworkers.  If there was a Trump supporter among us their discretion held their elation at bay. The majority were like me, in denial, despair, fear and uncertainty. Shock might be the best summation of what we were all feeling and we shared during our coffee breaks and lunches our frustrations. It was good to have the therapy of work and the company of others. The gay man expressed his fears openly and we affirmed him. A woman could not contain her anger, curses peppering her words freely and received without judgment from the group. Earlier I had received a general email from our Pastor that members of our congregation had been calling her all day, with similar worries and so many questions. She decided to open the church that evening, for quiet, for prayer and for conversation as needed. I had already decided to go, but as I heard my coworkers vent, I knew with a humility borne of the Spirit that I would be carrying their burdens with me. It was the first time in my life that my prayer responsibility had taken on such immediacy.    I had a few minutes to kill before I headed to the church. There is a Dunkin Donuts that lies on busy Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, due east of the church. It had been a meeting place of some of the older men from church, who gathered informally at the Church of The Holy Donut every Monday morning. Due to work and other distractions I had never been privileged to join them, but the symmetry seemed especially appropriate this heavy evening. In a past life I had even taken a Sunday School class there in lieu of the sloppily prepared lesson plan for the day. I became at least for one Sunday a hero to a group of bored middle school students but that’s another tale. This day it just felt better than an overpriced latte and muffin.    Dunkin Donuts is a strip mall stereotype, all glass, metal, brick and harsh fluorescent. It does not carry the too often pretentious ambience of Starbuck’s; truthfully it probably fits the preferences of a Trump supporter than a suburban liberal. But it has tables, and chairs and it has coffee and donuts. Sometimes that’s all you need. As the early evening commute crawled by and the working girls paraded their wares just outside the plate glass I ordered a medium coffee, “black please” and a cake donut covered in chocolate and chopped nuts. I spoke with the proprietor and listened to this Asian man express his own bewilderment and unstated fear of what the future held for someone like him, a thickly accented person who may have felt, rightly or wrongly, caught in the cross-hairs of President-elect Trump. I smiled and tried to express my sympathy via a shoulder shrug and told him about the high school kids on the overpass at 130th holding signs with little hearts and “love wins” written on them. A lifeline of hope, just as his lifesaver shaped donut was standing at the ready to bolster mine. I sat down and enjoyed what turned out to be the best donut and cup of coffee of my life.  Three days later I’m still being buffeted by my own emotional wind storm. A few things have emerged though, that hope exists. It is there in the simple companionship of fear, anger, and despair. It is there in a quiet spot to pray and light a candle, or just light a candle if prayer does not come easily. It is there in the unexpected text from your child, asking after the state of your soul and assuring you that he and his generation are not about to roll over for hatred. It’s there in simple pleasure of life, a cup of coffee and nut covered donut. Our hope should give rise to both vigilance and action when it is called for. I fully expect that call to come often in the years ahead. Just remember to stop for a cup of coffee and a donut occasionally.  Namaste

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Thomas Merton and The Politics of 2016

“The tragedy of a life centered on “things” and the grasping and manipulation of objects, is that such a life closes the ego upon itself as though it were an end in itself, and throws it into a hopeless struggle with other perverse and hostile selves competing together for the possessions which will give power and satisfaction” Thomas Merton, Zen and The Birds of Appetite.

Does this sound like anyone we know? Thomas Merton shared this observation in 1968, yet it is not difficult to connect these words to the current Presidential campaign. I have no trouble identifying Trump with the tragedy Merton speaks of. Donald Trump not only personifies the ego unchecked, but his campaign has been a perfect example of one who exploits the “hopeless struggle” to achieve his own ends. Of course, Trump does not operate in a vacuum. Millions of his supporters, some more vocal than others, see in Trump a leader who can help them hang onto their things, be they material or be they ideological. They operate with an ideology of how the world ought to be, a world of American preeminence and its citizens, the deserving of course, the beneficiaries of that preeminence. Yet Merton, were he still alive, would be quick to point out that this life of things, of grasping after things and manipulating others to get things is not simply a Trump problem. It is in all of us, lest anyone be ready to remove the speck from his brother’s eye before removing the log from their own.

I think Merton, bathing in the still fresh waters of Vatican II, saw an ancient church that had fallen into the trap of the material and had lost sight of the core. He was exploring parallels between Buddhist notions of suffering and it’s causes and the Catholic(Christian) idea of Original Sin. He began to see similar solutions between the Buddhist goal to disengage from the source of suffering (self-interest) and God’s self-emptying on the Cross and the Christian’s duty to follow the example of sacrifice. Let’s be honest with ourselves, any politician manipulates the desires of their followers to gain and maintain power; Hilary Clinton not excepted. Yet there is in Clinton and in her career, a recognition of the notion that something must be done to alleviate the suffering caused by our grasping. Trump on the other hand has a word for those who fail; Loser.

I’m speculating of course on the thoughts of a visionary who died nearly fifty years ago during a journey of discovery in times just as volatile as the current. I do feel confident that Merton might have much to say about our current politics, would be encouraged by the papacy of Francis and critical of the evangelical right that clings to a candidate so diametrically opposed to the teachings of their “personal Lord and Savior.” I think he would be critical of those of a more progressive religious sense as well. I think Merton would be asking why do we remain silent?





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Mark Lane- Flawed Hero

I saw a small announcement in the paper the other day that Mark Lane had died. Lane, a social activist, lawyer and fly in the ointment of the powers that be wrote the book Rush to Judgement a brutal autopsy on the conclusions of the Warren Commission. Lane argued that the Commission had begun with the assumption of Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt in the assassination of John F Kennedy. With Oswald dead and unable to speak for himself, Lane volunteered his services as Oswald’s attorney before what amounted to Oswald’s trial and conviction. At the end of the hearings and with the production of 26 volumes of material the Commission did indeed conclude that Oswald was the gunman and that he had acted alone. For Lane the sheer volume of material was nothing more than an attempt to mask the truth.

                I went to a lecture given by Lane at Shoreline Community College in the spring of 1976. The Kennedy murder had fascinated me from the moment it happened even though I was only 8 years old in 1963. I had devoured Jim Bishop’s The Day Kennedy Died and William Manchester’s The Death of a President. Kennedy had been a hero in our household and I suppose I was trying to understand why and how an insignificant warehouse worker could cut down the author of the New Frontier. In 1976, I had heard the conspiracy theories but still harbored a belief that Oswald had acted alone and that the Commission had done a thorough job. Viewing the recent Watergate Scandal as an anomaly, I never had reason to doubt the Commission’s version of events, believing that the honorable men we placed in positions of power would never lie to us about such momentous matters. Then I went to Lane’s lecture. I read Lane’s book. It proved to be a seminal moment for me. I began to wonder if the basic integrity that I assigned to our public servants was an illusion. Watergate was not an anomaly but business as usual in DC. Lane cracked the door open to the idea that the men in power, and at that time it was still mostly men at the controls, were less interested in serving the highest ideals and more interested in serving themselves. In the fall I would enter the UW, a bastion of radical thought and healthy pessimism. I would learn of our dealings in Guatemala and Iran in the 50’s and wrote a paper on the way the media was played during the Gulf of Tonkin crisis. Yet despite all that, I’ve never lost my faith in the principles ensconced in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.  

                Over time of course, even Mark Lane began to lose his luster. Lane suffered from the liberal tendency to make excuses when faced with facts. In 1978 Lane represented the leader of the People’s Temple in San Francisco, Jim Jones. When Jones led his followers into mass suicide, Lane continued to defend the group, claiming Jones was harried by a vast conspiracy of CIA and other government officials. It was a lesson to me that men on either side of the spectrum were capable of twisting truth.

                Over the years since reading Rush to Judgment I’ve immersed myself in the Kennedy conspiracy literature. The sheer magnitude and paranoia surrounding all the theories eventually convinced me that it was an unhealthy place to go. I don’t know that I’ve ever come back to acceptance of the Warren Commission’s conclusions; to his credit Lane exposed a hurried and preconceived verdict. Enough questions remain unanswered and at this point may never be answered. We’re just not going to know. In the end, Lane, and others, have taught me that citizenship is not so much pledging allegiance than living allegiance by maintaining a constant tension between distrust and commitment to the higher ideals we avow. Even if it means you have to call the assholes out.

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Tangled Vines

Unless and until you understand the biblical concept of God’s unmerited favor, God’s unaccountable love, most of the biblical text cannot be interpreted or tied together in any positive way. It is, without doubt, the key and the code to everything transformative in the Bible. People who have not experienced the radical character of grace will always misinterpret the meanings and major direction of the Bible. The Bible will become a burden, obligation, and weapon more than a gift.

Richard Rohr- Daily Meditation January 25, 2016 “God is Eternally Giving Away God.”

Grace unearned, Grace Unlimited, Grace that is Relentless.

How I deal with my measure of Grace, well, that is between God and I.

I have No claim on arbitrating Grace between God and anyone else. Not by my baptismal privilege nor any sense of God’s mark on me (be wary of the self-proclaimed anointed ones)

It isn’t really up for discussion but….

Whether we have our own salvation fearfully worked out,

or not…

Toward others we are un-occluded vessels for God’s Grace

If our occlusions get in the way of God’s unrelenting pursuit of the Other, then we need stand down lest we delay God’s work in them and by that delay The Kingdom.

Because in the end…. Mercy and Grace are inextricably twinned in God’s heart and we should be cautious when we take pruning shears to that wild tangle.

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Imagine: 35 Years After the Death of John Lennon

I was in a classroom at the University of Washington the night that John Lennon was killed. We were preparing for final exams, and this would be the last lecture before the quarter ended. I had already earned a Bachelor’s in History but I was unable to quite let go of the world of academia. One because as anyone who has a history degree knows, the only thing you are prepared for is either further study, or working in a copy shop. I was doing the latter as I continued to explore my options. Number two was that I honestly loved the process of learning in a college setting. Given my high school track record and my GPA, no one might have guessed that I would ever find myself in the rigors of college level work. I did and during that time in 1980 I was weighing options as varied as getting a second degree in Communications with an eye toward newspaper writing, getting a teaching certificate, or going on to graduate school, maybe even eventually winding up at the University of Virginia to study and write on Thomas Jefferson and earning a PHD. That way I could stay in the safe world of the university until I died or failed to earn tenure. The world was still my oyster.


The class was some introductory level course in newswriting though I can’t recall the name or the number. It was taught by a woman professor who wasn’t too far removed from the very seats we were in that night. She came into the room on the third floor of Thompson Hall with a stricken look on her face. She set her briefcase down on the floor beside her rather than on the lectern as was her usual manner. She spoke a single sentence, “John Lennon has just been shot and killed in New York. Class is cancelled.” She picked up her briefcase and headed back out the door. We all sat for a moment and then in stunned silence put our notebooks back into our backpacks, capped our pens and filed out of the hall, many of us following the professor down to the Hub where we watched the news unfold. An obsessed fan was all we knew about the assassin, Yoko had been with him and some wondered if she had been the target due to her perceived influence of the Beatles breakup ten years before. I had many thoughts swimming in my head at the time but for some weird reason I kept thinking that Lorne Michaels’ offer of a thousand dollar payout for a Beatles reunion on Saturday Night Live was never going to happen now.


In the days that followed more information emerged about the killer Mark David Chapman. In the end the verdict is still murky due to Chapman’s self-serving statements and for many ears a less than sincere expression of remorse. The catalyst seemed to be that Lennon had offended Chapman’s “born again” Christian sensibilities with the song Imagine.


“Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today


Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace,…”


The irony was that it wasn’t so hard to imagine those words setting a fevered mind on a path of violent reaction. This is not to say religion caused Lennon’s death, but like a gun in the wrong hands it isn’t too hard a leap to make a connection; to say nothing of combining the two. So now less than two weeks after the events in Colorado and San Bernardino, where fanatics with weapons decided to impose the “wrath of God” on innocents we can only “Imagine.” And then we have to get to work.

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Politics as (Un)Usual

When someone wants to stir the political pot there are a number of ways to get the media’s attention. One is to reel off bombastic one liners ala Donald Trump. The media loves controversy and Trump provides controversy at a level unseen since the days of the penny press. I read recently that one of the ways that the civil rights movement gathered attention to their non-violent demonstrations was to specifically target locations where they knew law enforcement would react violently. Their rational was that the media would pay little attention to a protest if all they could report on or take pictures of was folks sitting peacefully at a lunch counter or on courthouse steps. I was reminded of this over the weekend when I watched the takeover of the Bernie Sanders rally in Westlake Park last Saturday by two members of Black Lives Matter Seattle.

I didn’t make the connection that this was an act of political theatre right away. I thought it was a little appalling and counterproductive to be honest. My reaction was a conditioned response to disruption for the sake of disruption. What does it accomplish? I also asked, why Bernie? If anyone was going to be sensitive to the cause of BLMS, it would be Bernie Sanders. What I didn’t understand was the depth of dissatisfaction with the political process that lay behind the protest. My perspective began to change when quite by accident I happened upon an interview on MSNBC with one of the Saturday agitators, and let us be careful how we interpret the word agitation. It is not always a bad thing to stir the pot.

As I listened to Marissa Johnson speak I was deeply impressed by the depth of her conviction and her articulate defense of the Saturday action, and actions she has engaged in before. This was not her first interaction with a politician or with authority. But this time she garnered national attention and was given an opportunity to speak to a national audience on matters relating to the racism that still grips this country. A racism that unfortunately crept into my own silent thoughts when on Saturday I dismissed Johnson and her colleague as just being “angry black women.” Though in my defense I’ve also dismissed black hooded anarchists as “over-privileged dilettantes” and even too strident (my opinion) environmentalists as “crazy tree huggers.” But that is what often happens to the worst and the best of us when we allow the media to create the narrative. Instead of motivations that go behind the act, the act becomes the story. Or the actors are hauled before the court of public opinion with accusations that they are a Sarah Palin dirty tricks plant. This happened to Johnson as her upbringing in what she called a “Tea Party” home was used to tie her to a Tea Party agenda and dismiss out of hand her motives before she had a chance to explain them.

I watched the rest of the interview then looked for it on-line and watched it from the beginning. Johnson did not take the bait when asked about her youthful support for Sarah Palin and her evangelical upbringing. Quite simply she was radicalized by what happened in Ferguson and what keeps happening around the country with police and black men, armed and unarmed. Her views changed; in religious terms you might even say she “repented.” She went on to argue that the media and politicians, even Sanders, dance around the issue of racism that is embedded in our politics, in law enforcement, in our religious institutions, in our social structure as a whole. It may be latent, undetectable to those who don’t consider themselves racist until they are confronted with their own limitations as I was on Saturday. It is also quite clear, that when a white supremacist filled with hatred guns down a bible study group, or a candidate for the Presidency dismisses illegal immigrants as “rapists” and worse, and goes unchallenged by those of us who should know better, that it is blatant.

When I was an undergraduate and becoming aware that a degree in History was not going to get me very far in the world, I began to think about pursuing a second degree in journalism. I was still naïve enough to believe that journalists were dedicated to truth and objectivity and that this was a spot that my idealism might find expression. Of course I wasn’t so naïve that I didn’t already understand that objectivity is a difficult ideal to obtain. But in the quest there had to be some nobility. Those plans got put on a railroad siding as life intervened of course and the years have created in me a certain disillusionment with journalism overall. To be sure there are those dedicated to unearthing truth and holding the three branches of government to the standards expressed in the Constitution. But more often than not media likes to play the gotcha game and then stand back and report on the fireworks. It’s a pretty show but in the end we’ve accomplished nothing. How can we not respect those who understand the dynamic and are willing to challenge it by exploiting it?

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Prayer for Holden


Tucked away in a remote valley in Washington’s North Cascades lies a community hell-bent on living and establishing the Kingdom of God in the world. Holden Village, a Lutheran church retreat center that opens their doors to everyone, is a place that holds deep meaning for me. Though I’ve only visited there three times, the last more than twenty years ago, Holden continues to keep a hold on my imagination and give me hope of possibility in the midst of impossibility.

As of early this morning, the Wolverine complex fire was two miles east of the village which was evacuated of all but essential personnel last week.Firefighters and village residents and staff remain confident that efforts to contain the fire and protocols already in place, including the metal roofs on most of the buildings, that Holden will escape the flames. Of course this is fire, a natural occurrence that has no mind of its own and no objective other than to consume everything in its path. This fire was caused by lightning strikes and it is difficult not to pay proper respect to Mother Nature and her natural cycles. If anything provides a clue to how miniscule our efforts to subdue her can be this fire does. And while we pray the hand of God would stay the flames and preserve this special place, I don’t know of any villager who believes that God operates in such a way as to preserve or destroy a church retreat. But in the case of Holden, whatever the eventual outcome, the Spirit that informs and guides Holden will not let fire be the last word.

Holden was the dream of one Wes Prieb who heard that the mining company that owned the property was ready to shut down and sell it off, including the structures. From the Village’s website; “A newspaper report about the closing caught the attention of a fellow named Wes Prieb, who was living in Anchorage, Alaska, at the time. Wes did not know quite where Holden Village was, but that didn’t stop him from writing to the company, inquiring as to price. Howe Sound promptly replied that the asking price was $100,000. On April Fool’s Day, 1958, Wes—by now a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Seattle—wrote a second time. Again a prompt reply: still $100,000. Two years later, again on April 1, Wes wrote suggesting that the property would be “desirable” for use by the church or Lutheran Bible Institute. He received a telegram instructing him to call the company’s office – collect. The company wanted to give the village to LBI.

Wes realized that it might be time to let LBI know what he’d been up to. College officials were stunned and skeptical. With Wes, they made a trip to Holden and were awestruck by the facility, the size and potential. They also recognized restoring and maintaining the village was beyond the tiny college’s financial capacity. With start-up funding from several national Lutheran youth groups and efforts from many volunteers, the non-profit Holden Village, Inc., was formed.”

I don’t know about you but Wes either had been touched by the sun, or he had been touched by the Son. From those audacious beginnings Holden has grown into an internationally recognized place for retreat and renewal. On my last visit, members of the Seattle City Council were citizens of the village at the same time our church hike group was there with others from our congregation. It isn’t just for Lutheran’s and it isn’t just for those bearing the Christian appellation. But make no mistake, it is a vision and working model of God’s Kingdom. I called the folks with us at the time as citizens for that is who we became. Residents and citizens of Holden.

My first visit to Holden was as a chaperone for three members Luther Memorial’s youth group. I was still pretty young myself, married less than three years and a father not yet a year. But I leapt at the opportunity to go with the three young men as “adult-supervision” and we set out to drive across Stevens Pass, and up to a place where the Lady of the Lake waited to carry us up Lake Chelan to a place called Lucerne, not much more than a dock and a couple of outbuildings. The boat mostly serves as transportation for tourists headed to Stehekin but carries pilgrims from North Seattle and Minnesota and even Luther’s Germany to the dock at Lucerne. Holden lies a twelve mile bus ride up a winding gravel road. That is one way to get there and by a wide margin the most likely way.

But you can walk into Holden as well; if you have about a week and a ride to the trailhead an another ride at the dock down lake. I’ve done that twice in my lifetime, again with a contingent from Luther Memorial. Heading up the Suiattle River drainage one passes a spectacular campsite with an open air lavatory view of Glacier Peak that is hard to beat. Continuing east one passes a remote cabin before heading up to intersect the Pacific Coast Trail, a short descent to glacier fed Lower and Upper Lyman Lakes, Crown Point Falls and down to Hart Lake before hiking into the outer reaches of the village, past an old ball field and abandoned foundations of houses for married miners. The village itself is a collection of buildings one would expect to find in a mining operation, including dormitories, recreation hall, and a kitchen and dining hall. I’m not sure how we timed it both years but we managed to coordinate our arrival with the village’s observation of world hunger solidarity day. After five days on freeze dried spaghetti and “meatballs” and iodine treated water, rice and beans were not what we were craving. But portions are generous and by Friday the village barbeque more than makes up for the delayed gratification. The village even then was very “green” and very attentive to the danger of fire. Smoking was allowed but make sure the butts go into the sand filled cans.

But Holden was about more than healthy eating, Smoky the Bear, and a warm bed and soft mattress after a few days on rocks and Top Ramen. Holden Village is a cooperative community that asks a little of the residents but gives back much more. Sounds like what Jesus was talking about to me. One can enjoy informal classes or discussion groups ranging from how best to deal with frostbite to practicing non-violence and everything in between. A substantial library, a worship space for evening vespers, bowling on a hand operated lane, and ice cream sundaes between 7 and 8:30. If that doesn’t suit you, there are opportunities for service ranging from helping in the kitchen to running the printing equipment or working in the bookstore. Or you can wander back out onto multiple trails that take you back up to Hart, or off to Holden Lake or down to a quiet spot on Railroad Creek where you can take in the spectacular peak named Bonanza. The kitchen will even cook the trout you pulled from the creek that morning. Or you can wander up to the old mine which is currently in the midst of a major remediation project that will see the removal of the giant tailings piles which have been poisoning the lower part of the creek.

Personally I didn’t really appreciate Holden at the time for what was going on. In the midst of the Reagan Era, it was easy to dismiss the villagers as throwbacks to the 60’s. Idealists that refused to come into the real world. What I didn’t realize at the time but what Holden was teaching me nevertheless was that these were not hippie rejects singing Kumbaya and living in a dream world but a people with eyes directed faithfully to a future Kingdom. Holden doesn’t hit you over your head with it, but using a bad metaphor, it leeches into your soul like the poisonous tailings. One is certain death, the other though is the promise of a different life.

I am watching the Wolverine fire with more than passing interest. Holden is a place that crept into my system a long time ago and stayed there. As I continue to grow and try and understand what God wants to do with me I realize that the Holden I experienced will have a lot to do with whatever the outcome is. I pray the fire misses this special place, not only mine, but for many. But I am CERTAIN that if the worst should befall this place, that it will not be the final say. Holden will almost certainly rise from ashes. I include myself among a people that believe in resurrection, not just at the Tomb but even for someone like myself and most certainly for a place called Holden Village.

I was moved to write this from a post a friend of mine made this morning on Facebook. Another member of our rag tag youth group and resident of Holden. I share Aimee’s words because they not only made tears flow, but words as well.

“I dreamt of Holden Village last night. I awoke with the Holden Prayer in my mouth; Holden is more than just a place, it is a state of mind. May the Village be safe from the fire…

‘O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’”

Picture 1 Fire Hoses protecting the village

Picture 2 Pastel I did based on a small creek that feeds into Railroad Creek just outside the village.

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