Sitting at the edge of the peninsula/bluff at Portuguese Beach, I was struck by something blitheringly obvious: Mama keeps secrets. I enjoy watching the ever-changing face of the water, sometimes all glitter and dazzle, sometimes gray whompers with lather on top, but I know that under there is a universe that’s not mine to see. Most of it’s meant to be there, but nowadays a lot of it isn’t. I know there are creatures dying with bellies crammed with plastic, others crippled by drifting nets, aquatic plant life confused as all hell by the shifting temperatures, but what I see is Mama’s ever-beautiful face.
One of our friends is a professional geologist, and he can take you on a magickal mystery tour of what’s under your feet in your own back yard, all the way down to the core and back up. It dazzles the mind but is only visible in the imagination. I’m on good terms with my garden’s topsoil, but after about two feet down it’s a mystery. Ah, but what’s in that two feet! An intricate busy dark world of never-seens and seldom-seens, all doing their own work as they see fit, and I enjoy their company when they wriggle into view.
One of the things I appreciate about ubiquitous on-line videos is their glimpses into the privacy of these worlds, things I will never see with my own unaided eyes. But hey, that implies sitting in front of a computer. Better yet is learning from Mary Oliver’s poetry, understanding what it is to pay attention. Sometimes it seems to me that attention is noticed, and that a very slow conversation begins. To my dying day I will remember high noon at Stronghold.
I drove solo from Wisconsin to California in our big Dodge van, tracing the route of the Green Tortoise bus. Part pleasure, part research. At a ranger station I was babbling about how soul-struck I was by the majestic earth around me and was overheard by a man smoking quietly at an outdoor table. He beckoned me over and asked if I planned to visit Stronghold. When I said I didn’t even know what that was, he gave me directions for the off-road tracks I would follow but said I should first stop at the Cuny Café and ask permission from his sisters to go onto the family’s land.
I did, they did, and I did. I found out later where I’d been. If you’re curious, go here:
I parked near the narrow trail onto the peninsula, walked out to its center, spread my leather cloak on the ground, and offered water to the directions. Not having known that I would be visiting sacred ground, I had no tobacco, but the water sufficed. I knelt, sank into what I call “stopped time,” and listened while all the tiny noises slowly returned.
The wind was furious and disorganized, coming from every which direction, but then it stopped abruptly. After a few breaths, it blew gently from the east, stopped, then south, west, and north. A pause, and then once again the multidirectional tumult. I felt seen, welcomed, acknowledged. I had paid attention.
—From the Fool—
This summer I got an awful allergy. Itchy eyes and sneezes, but the worst was the runny nose. I got some pills that are supposed to work, but this time they were overwhelmed. I remembered that in the summer my mother drizzled pretty bad. She said it was from growing up on a farm, but I didn’t have that excuse.
Friends gave me lots of advice. That’s the problem with friends. I won’t say which things I tried. What I remember them telling me, for what it’s worth:
- Nose plugs, like for swimming, but watch out if your eyes start to bulge.
- Two joints in your nostrils and keep inhaling. Repeat as needed.
- You might have been adopted and it wasn’t your real mom so you didn’t really inherit it, but by now it’s probably too late.
- Tincture of poison oak.
- Pick a fight and get slugged.
- Wait a few months.
- Try other pills. You might make a medical breakthru.
- Boil your nose. Google to see for how long.
- Close your eyes and visualize a gently flowing crystal mountain stream, and then you see it slowly dry up and vegetation withering and the trout flopping dead on the bottom and the stink of tar and strip-mining the hills and traffic blare and gunshots, and that’ll damn sure stop you thinking about your nose.
- Light road flares and stick them down in the holes. Or maybe that’s for gophers.
- Stick on a red rubber nose like other Fools and think of it as yours. Except if you sneeze it might fly across the room.
Fortunately it stopped before things got out of hand.
Two conferences upcoming, and I’m going solo. I don’t quite know what to expect from either one. But that’s a plus. While I gravitate toward comfort, there’s an attraction for me of coming into places where I don’t have a clue why I’m there. I guess that’s why I’m there.
The first is a weekend men’s gathering in the Mendocino woods. I know some of the people, whom I like a lot, but I have an instinctive impulse, in spiritual gatherings I’ve attended, to gravitate to the edge. And yet I’ll be in the car next Friday toward a weekend without computer, alcohol, or any goal for being there beyond the being there.
And then in early June to a writers’ conference in Santa Barbara. From the redwoods to hotel talk-rooms. In my experience, these are much like theatre conferences, wherein lurk endless panels on fundraising, promotion, butts in seats, using social media, and breaks of glancing at name tags to see who’s worth talking to. The writing industry, in my limited experience is not much different: marketability…the hottest genres…building your platform…grabbing your reader by both nostrils one paragraph into your novel—and glancing at name tags to schmooze the agents.
Why why why? I can’t imagine any significant writers in the last four hundred years coming to one of these things. Our own shift from a total focus on theatre into writing fiction is not out of feeling the odds are better in that game, or that the game is somehow more virtuous. And yet I go, in hopes of some discovery in this alien landscape.
The best path in both, I suppose, is to traverse the miles without expectation and let my instincts guide me. I might get a staggering insight, a friend, a productive contact, an idea for a story, a tick bite or poison oak—no telling. Just put my hands out for the gift.
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© Bishop & Fuller 2016