Interview with Ferry Woman, Miriam Konrad:

Porchsitter:First, I’m delighted you agreed to be interviewed. I’m assuming, you’re a native of Lemuria and Duwaimish, yes?

Miriam:Lemuria, yes, Duwaimish, no. My great, great grandfather swam ashore after a shipwreck near Duwaimish when he was a young man. The Alluvial Mine had just been discovered and all along the coast people were talking about it. He decided to continue the adventure and get rich if he could, so he joined the first group headed inland. They got lost and arrived at the mines nearly starved. My great, great, grandmother was one of the first to offer the party food. It was love at first sight and he stayed. Worked the mines the rest of his life, and his sons, and their sons.

Porchsitter: And did he get rich?

Miriam: He found a fair amount of gold. The area built up fast, but there wasn’t any real luxury, it was too far from the coast to bring in big stuff, roads were bad, the countryside was arid and sparse. But they lived well.

Porchsitter: And your parents?

Miriam: Dad mined some, trucked food in on the side. I joined him for a few years, but the deeper you dig the harder it is to shore up tons of rock and dirt. Walls and ceilings had been caving in. Too many men had died. The owners finally closed it.

Porchsitter: Mining’s an unusual occupation for a woman? Were you the only one?

Miriam: Then, yeah. Now tourists come, mostly women; some to find a nugget or two, others to do soul work.

Porchsitter: So when the mines closed the family moved to Duwaimish?

Miriam: No, just me.

Porchsitter: Lemuria’s a big continent. Why Duwaimish? Following your ancestor’s footprints?

Miriam: Partly, but I’d always wanted to see the ocean. Once I got to the coast, though, I knew it wasn’t the sea calling me, it was the river and the Isle of Ancestors.

Porchsitter: Did you become a ferry woman immediately?

Miriam: No, that’s not permitted. First, I did odd jobs around town, later I held the main torch job on the Island.

Porchsitter: Torch job?

Miriam: Someone has to maintain the torches that light the cavern and the passageways for the ancestors and those who seek them. Torch workers also check for structural cracks and damage in between the regular scheduled inspections. With my experience in the Alluvial Mines, I was a natural for the job. You know, the isle’s honeycombed with hundreds of tunnels branching out from that main cavern. A famous Lemurian myth warns that one day all of Lemuria will collapse and sink into the sea and it will begin in the Hall of the Ancestors.

Porchsitter: That’s chilling! And after the torch job?

Miriam: I worked the orchards on the island. Loved the apples, the trees, the fresh air. I put a request in for ferry woman and one day I was called. Thought at first I’d made a mistake when I saw all the studying.

Porchsitter: Studying?

Miriam: Yeah, didn’t expect it. River lore, Lemurian history and myths, geography and geology of the whole continent and specifically this area. Then all the practical stuff: tides, engine and boat maintenance, poling, emergency procedures, communications, daily reports.

Porchsitter:Why the academic subjects?

Miriam:To qualify for an “Ancestral” job, you have to go back at least three generations on one parent’s side and two on the other, then you have to pass academic courses, practical ones related to the specific job and finally, you have to be apprenticed to an elder. There are studies for that, too and workshops. And, of course, I had to meet one of my own ancestors in the cavern.

Porchsitter: I had no idea!

Miriam: I studied nights and weekends for three years, while I saved to buy the Sow’s Ear. Fortunately, there’s no charge for schooling and room and board was included.

Porchsitter: Amazing! One more question. The Sow’s Ear is a strange name for a boat, how did that come about?

Miriam: We don’t usually disclose our choice, but since this is for Soul Food Ravens I will. Part of our final exam is to use the experience of meeting our ancestor to name our boat. My two sisters were very lovely, delicate and sweet as a teacup, mother used to say. When she left us and took them to the City of Ladies, she wanted to take me, too. I overheard my parents argue and father say, “Miriam stays with me. You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.” It hurt so much. I left soon after and never saw him alive again.

When we met in the cavern and I asked my one question, all I could manage was, “How could you?”

He cried and told me he knew it would break my spirit if I’d gone with them and been forced into a life of afternoon teas and party dresses. In my heart I knew he was right and had always loved me. What I thought cruel, was just his unfortunate and clumsy act of love.

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