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Remaining Whole (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
I've rewritten The Philosophical Hermit a bit, let me know what you think.

Remaining Whole

When I was in college I was convinced to go one more family vacation. We were headed north to the Lake of the Woods. We decided to rent a cabin at Prothero’s Post, a little mom-and-pop operation my father and grandfather had stayed at in the past. Both my parents and my grandparents were coming along. My father saw it as a good fishing trip. I saw it as a good way to make up the ground I lost when I quit playing football, baseball, and basketball. I had always been more of an actor than an athlete.

We drove north. For some reason I was nervous about going through customs, but my concern was unwarranted:

"Where are you headed?"

"Northwest Angle."

"Where's home?"

""Milaca, Minnesota."

"All U.S. Citizens?"


"Carrying any alcohol?"






"All right then, have a nice time."

We could have been moving C4 and cocaine across the border and we wouldn’t even have to lie. After a few miles of dirt roads and metric road signs we were back on U.S. soil. Once on the Angle we headed straight to Prothero's Post, our home for the next week. The little resort was opened by Dale and Grace Prothero in 1963, and they have been its caretakers ever since. Dale and Grace came out to meet us as soon as we arrived. Dale was a corded, wiry little man, his face scored with laugh-lines. Grace was grandmotherly and kind, and she invited us in warmly. The two of them were hard workers. They confided that they built each of the five guest cabins, the lodge, and their own house, each of them hewn by hand out of trees the two of them fell. They maintained the northernmost permanent residence in the lower 48 states.

The next morning my father and grandfather went fishing without me, which was fine since it was still cold and windy when I woke up at 9:30. I had a rousing day, mainly occupied by playing SCRABBLE against my mother and grandmother, sweeping in for the kill near the end (ONYX for 66 points). Dinner, as it would be every night during the trip, consisted of a meat (steak), some sort of potato (baked) and a vegetable (peas). We would not eat a bite of fish all week.

As a fishing trip, the vacation was a bust. With water temperatures only flirting with fifty degrees, nobody caught fish. The family’s total catch was one northern pike, one smallmouth bass, and one freshwater clam, all thrown back into the icy waters. Two straight days of rain didn’t help. I tried going fishing the first day it rained. We woke up early and strapped on our raingear, thick, rubberized layers in bright yellows and oranges. We hunkered down into the boat and set our jaws against the cold as the boat screamed out over the choppy waves. We didn’t talk very much. I spent most of the day hunching into my raingear and doing my best to stay dry. We still didn’t catch any fish.

“They’re not very eager,” my grandfather would say every fifteen or twenty minutes. I would nod and rub my hands together. I didn’t catch anything the second day either, since it’s hard to catch fish while hunkered down in the cabin with a book. Dale suggested that we may have better luck chasing loose women.

When not in our cabin during rain days, I spent a lot of time in the warm, homey lodge talking with Dale and Grace. Morning or night Dale was on the dock to send off fishermen going out on the big lake or to tie off their boats when they returned, congratulating them if they caught fish or giving them grief if they didn’t. He spent rainy days in the lodge, pouring coffee out of a steel urn and telling stories about life on the Angle. I found out that in addition to building the cabins, Dale also built most of the furniture at the little resort. He was a jack-of-all-trades, a plumber, builder, cabinetmaker, carpenter, fisherman, storyteller, and concierge. He was the one to tell me about Houston.

The lodge was honey-colored and stout, with a warm, homey interior. When I was exchanging stories with Dale I noticed a portrait on the wall. It was a man who was clad in a wool shirt and floppy hat, paddling a canoe. Dale told me the man’s name was Houston, deemed “The Philosophical Hermit” by James Kimball, a writer for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. Dale smiled when he talked about the man, so I pressed him for more details.

Houston was a hermit who had moved north to escape the collected ills of society. This is not to say he was antisocial, in fact, he once said “I used to regard myself as one of the world’s foremost misanthropes, but I have found to my considerable surprise that certain individuals I like very, very much. It is just humanity in mass that horrifies me.” Though well-spoken and quirky, Houston did not consider himself deserving of the title “The Philosophical Hermit.” Of it, he said “It seems to me that philosophy, to amount to anything, should be an effective substitute for ill nature, hate, profanity, and the allied ills of man. But so far I have been unable to make it work for me. So, for that reason, I don’t think I can call my idiosyncrasies a philosophy.” Indeed.

Houston lived in his cabin with his sole companion, a loyal mutt named Sally, who was the Blue Ox to Houston’s Paul Bunyan. When Sally passed away, Houston, in one of his interviews with Kimball, gave what may be one of the greatest canine epitaphs: “If, in whatever celestial dimensions she may now occupy, a dog’s status is determined by the depth of the affection with which it was regarded by its boss, or by the wholehearted fulfillment of its allotted mission on earth, then Sally, if not actually Queen of the Realm, must certainly enjoy a place high on the roster of VIPs.” I found my drawn to Houston and his eccentricities, just as Grace and Dale were. The two of them were happy to tell me about their friend.

Dale and Grace’s own cabin was decorated with woodcuts Houston had designed. Each of them was intricately detailed. Houston, during those long winters in the cabin with Sally, carved beautiful wildlife scenes, etching in the individual leaves on the trees and each of the waves on the lake.

Aside from Sally and his companionship with Grace and Dale, Houston lived alone. He hunted, fished, and gardened without a soul around him for miles. This solitude didn’t last forever. Eventually the loggers drew closer, and the silence of the woods was cut down by chainsaws and pulp wood trucks. Houston had plans to go north into Canada, 160 miles from the nearest road. He never made the trip. Instead, Houston killed himself in 1981 with a large quantity of dynamite. He left no suicide note.

After hearing these stories, I noticed Houston’s deerskin jacket and pants hanging on the wall of the lodge, next to a pair of canoe paddles. Only then did I realize the effect he had on Grace and Dale. I shared their fascination. To forgo almost all interaction with others in favor of the lake and the woods seemed attractive, especially when wedged into a cabin with my family on a rainy day.

My mother and grandmother headed home midway through the week, leaving me with my father and grandfather, neither of which was very talkative. Dinners (meat, potatoes, vegetable) were taken in relative silence. One night, when we decided to play cards, my grandfather decided to teach us how to play the card game Scot. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a very good recollection of the rules. After an hour or so of trying to decipher his scoring system and making sense of “four plays five, then five plays six” we finally gave up and went to bed.

My plans for male bonding seemed to have fallen through. I was still the kid who didn’t like shagging fly balls, sitting in a boat, or not catching fish. I still took a book and escaped to the porch after dinner. Things started to change in the last few days. The fishing didn’t get any better. I didn’t start having long, hear-to-heart conversations with my father and grandfather, but I didn’t mind the long periods of silence in the boat so much. Though we weren’t saying much the three of us were together, and I realized that being together counted for something. Our companionship, however quiet, wasn’t such a bad deal. Necessary, even. Grace and Dale still seemed to get along fine, and they had been in the same cabin together for years. Even Houston was a changed man without his companion Sally.

I played cards with my father and grandfather, listening to my grandpa tell his golfing story again, the one about his buddy getting hit by the cart. I’d heard it before, but instead of complaining I settled into my chair and played my cards. When it was time to make dinner, the three of us all pitched in. We were together, peeling potatoes, boiling vegetables, and flipping burgers. As Houston put it, “Man is an animal which must give of his love if he is to remain a whole being.”

I couldn’t have put it any better myself.


Senior Member
for starters, you need to get a good punctuation guide... semi-colons are generally unsuited to creative writing, appropriate only in scholarly or technical works... and you're not using them correctly here, in any case... colons have no reason being there at all... especially not to introduce dialog, as you've done...

i didn't really get much farther than the first paragraph, so i'll leave the content for others to comment on... too many overlong paragraphs is part of what turned me off, so you might want to consider breaking them up into more manageable blocks...

sorry i can't be more help... hugs, maia


Senior Member
jetmanjake said:
Er, I'm pretty sure colons are supposed to be used to introduce quotations, at least when following Modern Language Association guidelines, as shown here: http://www.bridgewater.edu/WritingCenter/manual/MLAformat.htm

Is it not appropriate to use the same guidlines for non-fiction writing?

This is an exerpt I found follwing your link.
When you use a whole sentence to introduce a quotation, use a colon rather than a comma before the quotation.

Example 3: O’Reilley claims that graduate students in literature have sought spiritual or emotional nourishment in literary works: “Like so many of my generation in graduate school, I had turned to literature as a kind of substitute for formal religion, which no longer fed my soul, or for therapy, which I could not afford” (15).

I believe this refers to quoting someone, not writing dialogue. Though dialogue can be quoting a conversation that happend, it's dialogue because it's a conversation.
In a paper where you would quote someone as saying something to support your point, as in a thesis, then you would use this style.

I hope this clarifies.


Senior Member
as cyber noted, the MLA rules are for scholastic or technical writing, not creative works...

you should use 'strunk & white' and a good punctuation guide like shaw's 'punctuate it right!' for stories and essays... in articles, you can use the more formal marks, but the comma is all you need here...


Senior Member
from the git-go, it's way too dry and blah to make me want to read beyond the first paragraphs, jake... so i'm sorry to say i didn't even get to the character connections...

needs some oomph pumped into the writing 'voice' for it to be a good read, imo...

hugs, maia