Jan Johnson



I exist to save Orleans.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know where it is.  East of Domremy, where I live.  It’s an hour’s drive from Coos Bay.  Just think of one of those drippy Oregon forests and put some cows between the clear cuts.  I was born here, at home.  I’ve never called another place home.

It’s green here.  There are about 300 shades of it year round in the Douglas firs and the hemlock and cedar, which smell so nice – like a hope chest.  You can’t do much to stop things from growing in this climate. Except for towns, I guess.

I baby-sit for one of the Burgundys.  That’s the family that owns the big dairy operation here that sold the land with my fairy tree to the invaders. He lives next door to us with his wife, Jackie, and their two little girls. Jenna is 22 months and Jessie is almost four.  Both the girls are towheads with dimples just like their dad’s and they both talk all the time.   

Babysitting in somebody else’s home brings you in contact with all kinds of things you don’t want to see.  Once Jenna pulled out a desk drawer and scattered bits of paper and pens all over.  After I put her to bed, I picked up the mess and found a picture of a bunch of girls I don’t know sitting on the hood of his Camaro.  Somebody scrawled the words “grunting ointment” on the picture.

He asks the same question every time he fetches me to baby-sit.  “Hey Joanie, you got a boyfriend?”

It is my voice Cathy who told me my will and God’s will are quite the same on the boyfriend issue.  The first voice I heard was Mike’s.  He told me not to be afraid, that Cathy and another voice, Maggie, would come as helpers and I should heed their advice.

Most advice isn’t worth heeding.  Everyone seems say “change!”  My mom thinks I spend too much time alone but in solitude I find the quiet to hear.  With people, I spill out.  I need solitude to fill up again.  I tried explaining this to my mom.  She just looked out at me from her square face that sits between all that long, hippie hair streaked with grey.  “Joanie, honey, don’t you ever think you want a boyfriend?”

My mom teaches English at the community college in Coos Bay.  My dad’s a wildlife biologist.  Most of the kids here have parents who work in the lumber mills.  We’re vegetarians and we don’t own a TV.  Sometimes it’s hard to make conversation.

Burgundy shrugs.  “The timber companies bring jobs.  You, Joanie, live in a stone house.  Most people here live in doublewides.”

Once, when Jackie and the girls were out of town, Burgundy threw a bachelor party for one of his friends.  He hired a stripper to drive out into the country and take off her clothes in the name of entertainment.  I could see them from our place almost a mile away, which is what happens when you cut down the trees.  You can see what other people do.

They put her up on a stage-like contraption and she started to take off her clothes.  She wasn’t very pretty.  Kind of old and fat.  I could see the rolls on her stomach from here.

The guys yelled “Pig!” and threw empty beer cans at her.  Maybe they were full.  You can’t tell how heavy things are with your eyes.     

She yelled back at them.  “It’s freezing out here!  I’m not going to do this if you can’t behave!”

She sounded like the mom.  But they didn’t behave.  So she put her clothes back on and asked Burgundy for directions back to the freeway.  I could hear even from here that he gave her all the wrong directions.  She’s probably still driving around in her beat-up Fairlaine, lost.  That’s the other thing that happens when you lose the insulation of trees.  You can hear each other.

Anymore, all I want to hear are my voices.  They tell me that I must save my country from the forces that will destroy it.  I did not speak of my visions, not that the voices told me to hide what they revealed but out of dread of the reactions.  At the beginning, I made the mistake of mentioning a few of the things my voices said to my parents.

“Joanie, Sweetheart,” my dad would say, “We just don’t understand this Jesus thing.”

“It’s not Jesus.  It is God the Father commanding me through the voices of Saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret.”

“Joanie, honey, we’re not even Catholic.”

I do not fear.  My way lies open.  I have my voices with me even if I am otherwise alone.  I was born for this.


At first, I did nothing to heed my voices.  I couldn’t understand why they would ask a 15-year-old girl who knows nothing about politics or fighting to save her country.  But Mike, Cathy and Maggie insisted.  They told me first to seek backing from our mayor, owner of a combination sub shop/ pizza parlor/video arcade. Robert de Baudricourt.

Robert is a practical man, not one to put much stock in voices.  The first time I walked into his sub shop/pizza parlor/arcade to tell him what the voices commanded, he ordered me home so my parents could give me a good thrashing.

But in my audience with Robert, I told him that a terrible misfortune would befall a logging team in Herrings, south of town.  I predicted that a wash on a logging site would flood out land under a man’s feet, and a crew of 12 would perish in their attempts to save him.  Twice more since his initial rebuke I visited Robert to tell him I must be with the governor before mid-Lent, though I wear my legs to the knees on the road.  But only when the prediction of tragedy at Herrings came true did Robert give in.

“I’ll give you a horse and my men Metz and La Hire as escorts.  Let come what may.  I’m sick of hearing from you.”


I had expected Robert to give me bus fare so that I might board the Greyhound that hisses to a stop at the gas pump every Wednesday at 10:25 a.m.  But horses and men would do just fine! We saddled up and I at once went on guard against glory and pride.  That takes extra effort when you sit atop a fine bay stallion!

“When do you want to start, Angel?” asked Metz.

“Better now than tomorrow, and better tomorrow than the day after!”

By stopping by my house for pants and boots, I bumped against my father.  When he saw Metza jokester in his late twenties with a goatee wearing batik printsand La Hirea Vietnam vet six-feet-six with forearms as big as hamshe forbade me to set out on any trip with these strange men.  I told my father the voices promised that no harm can come to me, for I am under the protection of Heaven.  I told him that my voices will guide me through the wilderness I have chosen to traverse, even though the journey will test me sorely and break my heart.

“I’m a man, Joanie, and I know men.  If you’re looking for a broken heart, there’s easier ways to get one.”

I’ve got to get out of here!  Cathy told me to be patient and my parents would be moved by God to let me go.  And they were.


My fellow travelers do not share my vision, yet they thrill at the adventure of a horse trip to Salem.  The plodding pace discourages no one.  In fact, it allows time to meet others who wish us well and sometimes give us sandwiches and coffee, not because they believe in the voices but because enthusiasm is catching.

We sleep at night in churches.  We also pick up other riders.  Do they believe in the voices?  Or do they merely want to strive?  By the time we reach the capitol, a guard knew we were coming and detained us.  He said:  “You little bitch.  Why don’t you go home and tend your cows.”


I awoke suddenly to see a man scurry, mouse like, in a motorcycle helmet.  I ran to find him because Cathy told me to.  I chased him through the dark capitol building, feeling the bumps of the wall to guide me.  He knew the twists of this maze, but the soft leather sound of his shoes skidding on the cement gave him away.  When his labored breath reached the base of the steps, I commanded him in the name of God to remove his helmet.  I switched on the light and recognized the bulbous nose and drooping eyes.  The governor of the state of Oregon.                                                           

From the top of the staircase, I told him of the plight of Orleans.  I told him misfortune befell the countryside because of the vice and impiety of its citizens.  The oppressors have come as instruments of wrath.  Many children of our land, including magistrates and leaders, have leagued themselves with the enemy.  But now, because of their insolence and cruelty, the invaders must leave or be driven out by force!

His eyes retreated into his soul and he gave me no reply, in words or in action.

So I told him I bring news from the Green Things.  They will give him back his kingdom in the next election.  In this I am a messenger for the Green Things.  Set me bravely to work.

This time, the governor’s baggy eyes met mine.  “You want to join my campaign?”

“I want to join the campaign to free Orleans.  It is God’s will to deliver the people of Orleans from the calamity upon them.”

He crossed his thin arms in front of his chest.  “If it’s God’s will, why does God need help from the governor of Oregon?” 

“God doesn’t have hands.  We are God’s hands.”


Waiting.  Entropy, Maggie says, is bound energy and now I know what that means.  After the initial news stories, a family in Salem took me in to sleep in their rumpus room on the fold-out awaiting a message from the governor on his support.  The governor sent his advisors and lieutenants to ask of me things that do not fit my mission.  I grew ill content with so much questioning and being detained from accomplishing what I was sent to do.  I’ll last a year, Maggie says. 

At last, the governor relented.  Or at least he asked me to a gala in the rotunda.

The family in Salem outfitted me in black tights, a blue tunic and a doublet decorated with fleurs-de-lis.  Upon entering the great hall, men in tuxes and women in glittering gowns tittered.  Hands covered mouths.  Unafraid, I stood before the governor to tell him my truth:

“I have come and am sent by God to bring aid to you.  I wrote a letter to the invading timber companies.  I tell them they should go back home and leave our trees alone.”         

A woman with Petula Clark eyeliner barked a laugh.  “Doesn’t she look like a boy!”

“The witch of Coos.”

A man swirling the champagne in his flute looked into the glass, not at me.  “Why do you hate the timber companies?”

“I hate no one.  I beg the timber companies for peace.  The peace needed with them is that they should go back to their homes and leave our land.”  

No matter what the courtiers thought of me, the governor led me by the elbow to a seat beside him at the banquet table.  While we ate, the voices told me of his private concern.  I leaned toward him and spoke low.  This was a private matter, between the governor and God.  

“You are the true son of your father.  You are not a bastard.  You deserve your place in this world.”

His face opened, as if air and water had been let in.  I knew I had touched the spot that kept him from trusting in his true value.  The rest of the evening, we laughed and joked and ate to overflowing.


With the governor’s backing, we set out for Orleans!  The bay horse that Robert de Baudricourt gave me stomped as I raised a standard with the fleur-de-lis as a background against an emblem of the Fairy Tree, a Green Thing.

The National Guard with their canvas-flapping green trucks rumbled along behind.  Behind the trucks followed volunteers on horseback, in wheelchairs, kids on bikes, a carload of old ladies in a brand new 1977 Buick Riviera.  Many, many who heard about our campaign to free our land joined on foot.  The media too followed.  With help from my voices, I could tell the sincere from those who would profit from the infantry’s hunger and boredom and loneliness.  I told those who sold trinkets and t-shirts and drugs and sex to be gone.  I told those who waved corporate logos on banners to align their companies with this cause to be gone.  I told those who took the name of our lord in vain to stop.

The timber company’s security detail met us at the gate on the logging road.  Five armed guards with tin badges stood behind the 30-foot fence a fortress itself in cement, steel and crowned with razor wire.  I rode forward with my message:  “You have no right to this land.  The Green Things, through me, command you to abandon your siege.  If you do not, we will drive you out in the name of God.”

The tallest security guard hitched his thumbs into his belt, looking me up and down.  “To hell with you, you filthy witch.”


We camped for several days in the mud and drizzle, eating canned stew and Vienna sausages provided gratis by a local grocery store we passed along the way and pita bread and humus from a health food store in California that supplies members of the Earth Now! and Green Justice groups that have joined our campaign.

The timber company did not respond to my letter and would not give me an audience.  The captains in the National Guard opposed any offensive action.  Their orders are to protect me and my retinue should anyone attack us.  They themselves cannot instigate any violence, although I sense them itching for a fight.

The members of the national environmental groups stand in line at the town’s one pay phone to talk to leaders in faraway places.  

Once, after prayer, I came upon half a dozen of them gathered, speaking in low voices.  “You are holding counsel without me!”

“You’re not excluded.  You weren’t here.”

“You have been at your counsel and I have been at mine.”

Gamaches from Earth Now! sneered through his beard.  “Kiddo, leave the tactics to us.  We know cops.  We know media.”

“And what do you propose?”

Gamaches rolled his eyes, shook his shaggy head sadly and glanced at his compatriots to see if they shared his exasperation with my ignorance. “We wait for reinforcements.  It’s safest.”

“The counsel of God is safer and wiser than yours.”


“Why so blue, Angel?  Metz put his arm around my shoulder.

I looked away.  “I am not an angel and you shouldn’t call me that.”

By the time the environmental groups sent reinforcements from California, the timber company hired more goons for their security detail.  We were still outnumbered.

La Hire grunted.  “Kiss it goodbye, Sweetheart.  The enviros want control.  They’d rather lose than include you in their game.”

“This is not a game.”

“Oh but it is!”  Metz pranced in his court jester-like way, demonstrating the game of war as played by the knights of old.  He used twigs to show how the knights would wait for the other side to set up a defense with stakes.  On the high ground!  During lulls in the action, they would challenge members of the other side to jousting tournaments, complete with spectators.  Chivalry!

“That’s why those old wars lasted a hundred years with the peasants taking the casualties.”

Metz pinched my cheek.  “That’s why they needed a little peasant girl to introduce some common sense so they could surprise the enemy, win and go home.”

La Hire exploded with his huge laugh.  “Not me.  I’m not going home.  Back in ‘nam I was screaming every time we landed that helicopter.  If I weren’t here with you, screaming in the forest, I’d be screaming on the street.”

Poor La Hire.  Before Vietnam, his only family was a biker gang in Chico, California.

Metz pulled the twigs out of the ground, muttering happily that we will win and go home.  Metz is such a comfort.  He brings me such ease.  “Metz, my Lord’s counsel will be accomplished and will prevail, although blood will flow out of my body above my breast.”

One bushy, black La Hire eyebrow curved into a question mark.  Then he exploded again with his trademark laugh.  “Don’t you think, Metz, that our Joanie should come with us to a game?”

“As our date!”

Metz’s familiarity bothers me, but he and La Hire joined this campaign first and proved their merit in care of the horses and their mettle with their uncomplaining good natures in the face of rain, cold, hunger and boredom.

Besides, I love football.  Back in Domremy, I cheered at every home game and rode the bus for most of the away schedule.  This night, we saddled up and added three horses to a procession of pom-pom-decorated cars and honking trucks bound for Orleans High.  Fans volleyed insults back and forth from vehicle to vehicle.  Our horses snorted and danced in jumpy war-horse anticipation.

But as we neared the stadium, I grabbed the reins of La Hire’s roan.  Something was happening and happening without us!  “In God’s name, my counsel has told me I must attack.”

We galloped toward the beaming lights of Orleans High School’s stadium where, in the parking lot, Gamaches and his crew had sprayed “PIGS” on the asphalt and some of the pickups.  Gamaches and his men were getting the worst of it.  But those in retreat saw me on my bay with my standard.  I brought it along to wave like a pennant at the game.  Suddenly, a cheer went up:  “The Maid, The Maid!”

Those in retreat turned back and fought on.

Metz glanced uncertainly at me.

I nodded at his feet.  “You have good spurs.  Use them.”

“To run away?”

“To chase!”

La Hire was already off and I had to spur my bay just to catch up.  “Do you pray, La Hire?”

“Yes.  I pray ‘God, do for La Hire what You would wish La Hire to do for You, if La Hire were God and You were La Hire.’”

“I think we could use that prayer now.”

A rock caught La Hire in the temple and blood burst out of his face.   He fell from his roan.  Burly men surrounded him.  I menaced the mob from atop my bay.  They fought me mostly with words.

“Leave these two losers and let us show you a real man, cunt.”

“We’ll burn you at the stake like a witch.”

The exhilaration of my first battle made me playful.   “If you can catch me,” I shouted.  The bay thundered off.  The mob left La Hire and pursued me.

You wouldn’t think people would bring weapons to a football game, but a lot of people out here hang a gun on the rack in their pick up.  By the time we arrived, all ammo had been spent and they were mostly slugging, biting and ripping shirts.  A few still used the butt of their rifles as clubs.

One muscular man with a blond buzz cut must have been a bow hunter.  He stood atop the cab of his truck, shooting arrows.  In my excitement, I rode into his range and noticed my predicament too late.  The arrow hit me below my neck and stuck out my back.  I fell from the bay.  Metz rushed to my side.  He snapped off the end of the arrow.  I grasped the shaft and gave it one yank, removing the shaft along with chunks of flesh and blood.  I sought my voices but could not hear them through the pain.

The mob was on us.  Metz fought them with a two-by-four he wrestled from somebody.  I tried to stand to escape but the loss of blood made me woozy and I fell down.  Metz could not possibly hold them all off.  It was Gamaches, who I argued with earlier, who lifted me and locked me into the passenger seat of his VW bug.  We rattled away just before I passed out.


I awoke to see many back at camp nursing wounds.  Some were taken to the hospital.  I have sinned.  I put people in danger.  I fell back asleep, the exhausted sleep, outside comfort.

In the morning, I felt strong enough to get out of the car, now soaked with my blood, and knew that the time had come for me to go to the task before me:  to make others brave.

In the pink morning light, the barbed-wire-topped gate that locked off the people from the logging operation looked flimsy and permeable.  I retrieved my mud-splattered standard from the storage tent.  Someone had done exactly as I ordered:  saved the standard no matter what happened to me.  I felt proud of whoever did it.  Still stiff, I lifted a ladder with my one good arm and leaned it against the barricade. I coughed and gasped for breath, winded already.  But my voices urged me onward.  With the standard wedged against my neck, I climbed with one hand.

The others, waking up in the mist and chill, gathered around.  I could almost feel disappointment and discouragement lift like fog in the sun.  My injuries slowed the climb up the 30-foot gate blocking off the logging road.  Nearly everyone in camp was awake and watching by the time I reached the top.  Then I turned to face those gathered underneath and, with my good arm, extended the standard like a beacon.

“The day is ours!”

Courage is contagious.  A second ladder paralleled mine.  Then a third.  Then more.  One brave act lifts others by association.  We swarmed over the gate and flooded the compound.


Never underestimate the power of even a small victory among people who have been losing for a long time.  I have never seen such revelries. Our group included musicians who played harmonicas, banjos, washboards.  Everybody danced.  Everybody sang and did the hand motions to The Village People’s “YMCA.” Suddenly, out of nowhere, food!  Good, tasty food:  steaming pots of spicy chili, warm bread, spaghetti sauce made with fresh oregano, potato soup tangy with garlic.

But the violence of the day shocked me.  I never wanted to see such blood or to feel responsible for the carnage.  Tears came, although no one should ever see me sad.  It is God’s will that I give them hope.  Sometimes this ever-present crowd seems a burden to uplift.

I cry out to my voices:  “Make the invaders go home so we don’t have to do this anymore!”


But later, renewed with the love and energy I feel in the presence of my voices and free from the anguish of doubt, I am able to write the governor everyday.  God, I remind him, is stronger than his fear.  Bravery is a public service.


“This child continues to give political advice where it is neither sought nor welcomed.”

“You don’t watch television?  You don’t see the appeal?”

“Her letter says you could win re-election without advertising.  Imagine!  An election bid with out a war chest!  Can you imagine?  Sir?  Sir?”


Success does nothing to improve my governor’s capacity to make decisions.  I chafe when I learn he tries to make peace with the timber companies.  He plays all sides.  We sit in Salem and enter one disappointing series of talks which produce no conclusion after another.  I receive a clear message from Mike, Cathy and Maggie:  “Daughter of God, go, go, go.”


“She is not what I imagined.  She doesn’t accept my great regard for her, my wish to keep her here at my side.”

“Lot of girls getting that way these days.  Blame Gloria Steinem.”

“But even if she were a boy, she’d want to act!  She wants results that I can’t have.  And why does she have to hang out with all those heavies?”


We left the governor with his flatterers and courtiers.  La Hire, Metz and a few others put on war paint again.  The governor doesn’t share my vision to drive the timber companies from our land forever.  Valuable time wastes.  My voices said I would last a year.  My year, technically, is up.

Once, when we had to cross a little gully full of spring runoff, I helped the men fill the stream with bundles of sticks so we could cross.  They saw it as an act of military genius.  One time I suggested we might be able to move a raft of supplies across a river more easily if we waited until the wind shifts, which it usually does that late in the day.  They thought it was an act of God.  In fact, these things you know if you live in the country.  The men come mostly from the city.

But they have their skills.  Gamaches knows how to lace a bullet with cyanide.  La Hire knows how to pack gunpowder into a pipe bomb.

When they’re talking big, they talk about M-16s.  When they’re really talking big, they talk about weapons-grade uranium.


My voices come less frequently now and I spend time alone – listening for them and away from the men, who listen to other voices.  Gamaches admires the discipline and skill of the new Free Liberation Front.  Metz quotes Mao Tse-Tung.  An eight-track plays The Beatles singing about revolution.  We skirmish more but win less.  That’s why the men listen elsewhere.  Everybody wants to back a winner.


By the time the leaves fall from the trees, we have definitely been pushed back.  We survive now deep into the forest, where it feels like back-to-school weather cool mornings, hot in the afternoon.  I never really liked school.  I’m glad for my rogue life, glad for a plate of beans and wieners for dinner, glad for the chance to gather the last honey-scented blackberries before they shrivel.     

That’s where I was when my captors pulled me from the bay.  I was outside the walls of our compound just to collect those last berries.  We didn’t even really need them for food.


 “What makes you think St. Michael talks to you?”

“I had the will to believe it.”  Now the voices speak through me.

My captors tell me my voices are insanity, delusions.  How can my voices be insanity when I feel such peace in their presence?  Now, unjustly accused of ridiculous crimes, I wish I had them – or anyone – to tell my troubles to.  Where is Metz?  Where is La Hire?  Where’s my mom and dad?


“She did get me re-elected.  We probably could pay this ransom?”

“She went off message.  Big time.  Chairman Mao.  Weapons-grade uranium.”

“That wasn’t her.  That was her people.”

“You can build a statue for her later.  For now, you can’t touch her.”


“Do you enjoy our little chats?”

“My voices tell me to bear them faithfully.”

“You do know that we’re recording all of this for posterity.  Everything you say will be part of a beautiful trial that anyone even hundreds of years from now can read.”

“I have tried to tell the truth in everything as best I could.”

As long as my voices are with me, I do not fear.  Still, I wish I were home in Domremy.  I wish I could smell lilacs instead of urine in the night bucket.  I want to walk out the door into the warm embrace of sunshine rather than to steal a sliver of light certainly no heat from the tiny window in this box.

I am a prisoner of war and war by its nature sacrifices the young.  Still, I feel forsaken and friendless in the hands of enemies.  This is the voice of the fiend that comes during coughing fits in the dampness of the cell.  I dream of steaming bowls of dumpling soup and a hot water bottle against the spot in my lower back where a guard kicked me.  I listen to rats scratching in the walls and worry about the unshaven men who guard me, glance at me, drink from a paper bag.

They tell me I could be released, if I abjure.

Abjure.  Renounce everything I’ve said and done.  Then I can leave this terrible place.  They want me to say my voices came not from God but from the Devil, in whatever legal ways they can without sounding too much like members of the Inquisition.


“It says they threw gas on her and burned her alive.”

“Holy shit, I only met her that once.  That was the girl we were talking to.  She’s in my yearbook.”


A life of great passion is not a bad life, even if it ends early, and a life of great passion almost certainly will end early.

My voices tell me that people won’t remember my cause, won’t necessarily believe in the justice of it, but they will gather their own courage from my passion.  So I watched Burgundy light the match with acceptance, lifting my eyes to the green hills of Orleans.

Copyright © 2003 Jan Johnson.  All Rights Reserved.

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