“Abraham and Isaac Go Camping in the Porcupines”

Patchwork Lit Mag, Issue 4 2022
What could be a better bonding experience than a father/son camping trip?
“Dad, what are the knives for?”

And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou
lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a
burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.
–Genesis 22:2

“Strange Mom didn’t want to come with us.” Isaac tried to start a conversation. “She loves camping.” True enough.
“I wanted a guys weekend. Just you and me.” Lame.
When I told my wife the same story she, too, knew I was lying. Ironically, had I told her the truth, that this was a sacrificial journey, Sarah would not have believed that either. She knew how much I loved our only son.
My plan was for Isaac and I to do a little fishing, walk the Presque River trails, watch the sun set on Lake Superior, then make s’mores, and finish the day with prayers of thanksgiving to a demanding God. In the morning I’d build a stone altar, unwrap the sacrificial knives and— Well, you know the story.
Admittedly, this camping trip wasn’t what YAHWEH envisioned when He commanded me. He wanted a mountain in the land of Moriah. Well, international air fares being what they are, that wasn’t going to happen. We live in Platteville, Wisconsin. I teach accounting at the U of W there. The Porcupines were the best I could do on short notice.
YAHWEH posted a How To– video on YouTube to show me what HE had in mind: blueprints for the stone altar, the prescribed wine, an obsidian knife for surgical precision– YouTube deleted it. They have a policy against human sacrifice. Still, I made a promise with HIM centuries ago, that’s how Isaac was born. I had to fulfill my contract, even if it was unlikely to hold up in a Michigan court.
The flaming pyre to send the sacrifice up to Heaven was another problem. The posted park wildfire danger was Level 5 (Extreme) because of the drought. Groundfires were prohibited. The prudent thing to do was hide the body.
I’d tell my wife the kid ran away with a fishing guide twice his age who looked great in jeans and a tank top and liked her men a little on the young side. That story was the best I could come up with on short notice. Sarah would
know I’m lying no matter what I said. “Your lips are moving”, she’d tell me.
Honestly, I don’t know why HE demanded this of me. Was it a test? Was HE looking for validation in the Post Covid Era? Was it a slow day in Eternity? Or was it part of a cosmic plan I was too stupid to under- stand. All I knew was that even HE can’t always get what HE wants. No one can.
We stopped at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Visitor Center to check in and purchase our $10 daily fishing licenses. That was the highlight of the day for Isaac because of the young woman working the counter. At 6’1” she towered over him. Even in the baggy dark olive pants, boots, and drab uniform shirt, my son was smitten.
Struggling to make conversation while filling out the fishing application, Isaac told her, “I’ve always wanted a job like this.”
“I haven’t,” she said. Her badge read, Aoife Bryne, Trail Coordinator. “It’s seasonal. I get paid $12 an hour. I was supposed to be working the information center and registering campers or else managing the bookstore. I’ve got a double major, business and psychology. I wanted to work in HR, but they made me a trail coordinator.”
Though startled by her outburst, Isaac was not deterred. “Trail coordinator sounds like something I’d like to do.”
Aoife looked up from the paperwork and their eyes met. “It’s part trail maintenance, brush clearing, and mowing, and part park police, except without a badge or weapon of any sort.” Isaac took in her every word. “I say, ‘Excuse
me, ma’am, but masks are required for indoor park programs even if you’re vaccinated,’ or ‘Sorry, to bother you, sir, but pants are required in state campgrounds.’” My only son laughed. “‘Excuse me, miss, but even though
recreational use is legal in this state, smoking marijuana in public is still illegal.’”
At a loss for conversation, Isaac commented, “You have an unusual first name.”
“It’s Irish. Pronounced “ee-fah”
“Aoife,” my son mooned. “It’s lovely.”

I collected our fishing passes, trail maps, and campsite permit, then strolled over to the bookstore to give the young folks a minute. I heard my son say the obvious, “My name is Isaac,” and “We’re camping at site 52,” information I
was sure Aoife had already noted.
Isaac and I had a good day. We hiked along the root beer colored Presque River. Gradually he’d opened up to me. With the pandemic, his last year of high school had turned to shit: remote learning, the soccer season cut short
because of a COVID outbreak, no Senior Trip, virtual graduation ceremonies, Prom cancelled.

That final blow was a mixed blessing. Isaac and Tiffany Delgado had dated exclusively since they met in 8th grade in the Lego League Robotics Club.
Their senior year Tiffany took a sudden interest in wrestling, attending matches on the UW Platteville campus where I taught. “Go Pioneers!” Just before Christmas she appeared at the high school wearing a Varsity Letter jacket
belonging to a sophomore wrestler named Wyatt Grundell from Denmark, Wisconsin. Wyatt wrestled at 157 and briefly attended my Intro to Accounting class in the fall before switching his major from Business to Soil and Crop
Tiffany eventually confessed her duplicity the night before Spring Break. She was going to Cancun with Wyatt’s fraternity brothers and sorority sisters. “I’m ready to set aside my childish ways.”
Isaac spent Break in his room in the company of his well-worn copies of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
But I digress.
As evening approached I considered our meal options. Our fishing attempts had produced nothing more than a mouthful, all catch and release. Isaac’s last meal would be Hormel Chili or fried Spam and potatoes. Then Aoife appeared in full ranger uniform and Smokey the Bear hat despite the unseasonable heat. One hand held her citation book. In the other was a stringer of walleyes. Isaac jumped up from his canvas deck chair.
He looked good: curly brown hair, dark eyes, and a chiseled chin that offset the prominence of his nose, broken three times playing rugby for the local club team. He was not the stereotypical accountant’s kid.
Aoife smiled. “Any luck fishing?” She saw the cans of Spam and knew the answer.
“Had great afternoon with Pop, but a lousy day for catching fish.”
I pointed to the walleye. “Looks like you had some success.”
Her faced flushed with anger and she waved her citation book in our direction. “I caught two Badgers from Kenosha without park permits or fishing licenses, marinated in Old Style, who assumed a ‘sweet young thing’ like me would
let them off with a warning. Stupid old farts!” Aoife caught herself and turned in my direction. “No offense.”
“None taken.”
“I’m supposed to be off-duty.”
Interesting. “What happened to those yahoos?”
“They’re packing up their campsite. I called a ranger who’ll escort them out of the park. They were in no shape to drive.”
“What happens to the fish? They’re nice looking walleyes.”
Aoife stepped forward. “I thought you might like them. Otherwise I’ll leave them out for the bears.”
“I love walleye–” Isaac blurted out.
“There’s too much fish for the two of us,” I suggested. “If you’re off duty, perhaps you’d join us for supper?” Isaac beamed.
“I’ll need to change.”
“That will give me time to clean them.”

She handed me the stringer. “I thought I would get experience in bookkeeping and customer service. Now I think
law enforcement might be a better career path.”
“Keep your options open,” I suggested.
“Should I bring something to drink?”
“Pop’s got that covered,” Isaac said, pointing to the two coolers by our canvas tent. “No stranger ever leaves our home thirsty.”
Aoife found the remark curious. She took another look at my muscular son in his cargo shorts and Clown Shoes t-shirt. “I’ll be back.”

Because of the fire danger, I pan fried the fish on the Coleman stove with butter, and my secret lemon pepper panko beer batter. On the second burner I fried an obscene amount of hash browns.
As I was plating the walleyes, Aoife appeared wearing cutoff denim shorts, a black tank top, and sandals. The ranger hat had been replaced by a Brewers baseball cap that failed to contain her unruly red hair. She was carrying a small
backpack and a blanket. “What do you have to drink?”
Isaac escorted her to the coolers. He opened the larger of the two, our beer cooler. “Oh my—” she said.
“Pop’s into craft beer.”
She read off the names. “River’s Edge, Three Blondes, Dead Bear Brewing, Founders, Tenacity Brewing from Flint…. All Michigan beers.” “Drink local,” I said. “It’s the eleventh commandment.” She grinned her approval.
Aoife was not a casual beer drinker.
She pulled out a Haze Road from Five Shores. I grabbed a Kusterer Salzburger Marzen. I handed Isaac a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.
“Dad, I’m only eighteen,” he protested.

Aoife and I both had a good laugh at that.
I’d been teaching Isaac the intricacies of craft beer since preschool.
My only rule was he couldn’t share the beer with friends. On his own he’d decided to be the designated driver at every high school party. The arrangement worked for us.
We settled down to a long leisurely beer-soaked meal, rejoicing in the bounty YAHWEH had provided.
Eventually the conversation slowed. “It’s almost sunset. You two should go down to the lake,” I suggested.
“I brought a blanket,” she said. “I know a spot—”
It was the way she said it— The hair stood up on the back of my neck. “I’ll do the dishes.” They left the campsite hand in hand.

Hours later just before they returned, I retreated to the tent and feigned sleep. I heard rustling outside. Aoife said softly, “Don’t be nervous.” Soon enough I heard their moans. After midnight she whispered, “I have to go.” A few
minutes later Isaac entered the tent, trying not to wake me.
Unable to sleep, thinking of the sacrifice I would make in the morning, I spent the night listening to Isaac snore. I arose at sunrise and began gathering rocks for the altar. I’d barely filled in the first layer when the voice of authority broke the morning stillness. “Stop right there, before I have to restrain you.”
“What are you suggesting?”
Aoife was in full ranger uniform, boots polished, ranger cap strapped on her head, uniform crisp and pressed, shoulders squared. “Regulations must be followed in Michigan State Parks: ‘No stone altars, no human sacrifices,
and absolutely no fires.’”
“I wasn’t…,” I protested as Isaac emerged from the tent.
“Pop wouldn’t….”
She waved us off. “No need to explain. YAHWEH is a harsh and demanding god. I can’t stop you from following orders from HIM,” the imposing Trail Coordinator affirmed. “I can prevent you from doing it in a Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.”
Isaac stared at the stone outline on the ground beside me, the obsidian knife resting beside the altar cloth. “Dad. Is this true?”
I stepped toward him. “Son, I was told….”
Aoife interrupted. “YAHWEH changed his mind.”
“What?” Even as I asked the question, I recognized the power and authority wrapped in her ranger uniform.
“Do you think you’re the only one YAHWEH speaks to? Your wife Sarah called the ranger station and alerted us.” Her hands rested on her hips, the same position my wife assumed before she handed me my lunch. “Does it always have to be about you, Abraham?”
“I yield to your authority.”
“Not mine,” she said humbly. “HIS.” I started gathering up the rocks. “Not so fast. You’ll still need a sacrifice.”
“But what–”
“It must be something rare and precious. Something that proves your fidelity to the One True God.”
“I have nothing–”
As if with one mind, Aoife and Isaac turned their heads to the beer cooler. “The Utopias,” they said in unison.
“No…,” I moaned.
The pinnacle of Samuel Adam’s brewing is Utopias (Yes, with an s), a beer that is barrel-aged for decades, and hand-bottled. The 2017 decanter of Utopias in my cooler came from a batch of just 68 casks which yielded only 13,000 bottles. I’d spent several hundred dollars for this beer. The term beer doesn’t begin to describe it, 28% alcohol by volume (ABU), more like a Cognac. Miller Lite is 5%.
I’d saved this Utopias for a special occasion, planned on drinking myself into oblivion with it and then drowning myself in the lake after I’d slaughtered and immolated my only son. YAHWEH apparently had other ideas. And HE
knew my wife.
“Perhaps we should leave your father to do what he must do,” Aoife suggested.
“We could go swimming,” Isaac suggested.
“I don’t have a suit,” she demurred.
“This early in the morning I don’t think you’ll need one.”
“The water will be cold.”
“There are ways to warm up afterwards.”
“My shift doesn’t start until eight.”
“That should be enough time—”
After they disappeared down the path, I gathered the stones and formed a small pyramid, saying a prayer of thanks as I sheathed the knife. Reverently I removed the Utopias brew kettle decanter from my cooler. I moved to the altar.
I twisted off the copper cap to reveal an another tightly sealed pop-off cap. That, too, I removed.
I sat in my lawn chair prayerfully, savoring the aromas wafting from the bottle. Finally I lifted the Utopias, tilted the bottle, and slowly poured the dark libation onto the altar and into the soil from which it came. In the tent I could hear my cellphone announcing a new text. That would be Sarah.
When the decanter was empty, I set it on the ground beside me, resisting the temptation to taste the drops remaining on the rim. I closed my eyes and found peace.
After Aoife left for her shift, my only son and I had a lengthy conversation about the nature of the Divine and the inscrutability of the Female, we lifted several pints in praise of both, stopping the revelry before lunch so I’d be sober enough to drive home that afternoon. Miraculously two small loafs of French bread and three smoked perch appeared in the food cooler. We had them for lunch.
On the way out of the park we stopped at the ranger station. I bought postcards at the gift shop. Isaac checked us out with Aoife. She handed him a brochure about opportunities for summer employment and kissed him on the
cheek. I got a wave. My son and I began our journey home.






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