Two Sides to Everything

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Crescent Bar on the Columbia River

It’s early in the season in the Northwest, so the countryside is not crowded. That’s good. But the weather hasn’t cleared up yet. That’s bad … for a potentially leaky roof. It’s a longer rhythm up here in the Northwest. The sun appears at 5:00 am and sticks around for 16 hours. Not only is there more rain, there’s more light. No wonder everything grows so green. I dashed from the North Oregon Coast, just ahead of the rain, and landed at Crescent Bar on the Columbia River. From there, I rode Alice over the spine of Washington, across the Cascade mountains. We stopped for a breather at Ponderosa Peak.

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The view from Ponderosa Peak

After crossing Washington State, I camped out at La Connor, near Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. Fifty years ago, as a freshman at UCLA, travelling with the rugby team, we took the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was at sunrise. I was standing on the bow … the sharp light in the sky folding in and out of the clouds, the wind whipping off the water … I have never forgotten.

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The San Juan Islands

This time I took a ferry out to Friday Harbor, as far as I can go without crossing to Canada.

Boats are clearly a way of life in the San Juan Islands. The ferries carry hundreds of cars and trucks between the islands every day. The main cabin of the ferry has jigsaw puzzles laid out on some tables, so that shifts of passengers can work on them, taking for granted the spectacular display of the world around them.

The Puget Sound is beautiful here at La Connor. It is an Indian reservation. ‘Lone Tree’ is an ancient Douglas fir, broken in a storm 3 years ago, that has stood watch over the Swinomish lands for generations, guiding those who navigated this part of the bay.

This experience is the opposite of a city, like Los Angeles, where I lived as a young man. Richard Feynman, the eminent scientist, liked to say that there is always another way to see anything and that being able to see things in another way was important to understanding the universe. As a boy, in Darwin, I hung out at the beach all the time and set my schedule by the tides. Then I went to school in the city and forgot all about it.

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Lone Tree at dawn

Here, at the edge of Puget Sound, I can see the flow change direction again. I don’t see how the native tribe could not believe that they belonged to Nature and owed everything to her. Back then, what happened, happened. There were no contradictions. There was nothing to worry about. They were home.

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Lone Tree at dusk

 

Doing nothing, once again

Hanging out with new friends at a camp is fun, but it isn’t long before I get restless. It’s all in my mind. I know. But now that I have spent some quality time alone, I am aware of how much energy I put into dealing with the imagined expectations of others. Am I talking enough? Did I say too much? And so on. The expectations that I project on others bump and bruise the way I see the world. Expectations are not things. They don’t have an existence on their own. (I tell myself).

Doing nothing, once again

I am sure that the other person does have expectations of some kind. We all do. Expectations are impossible to avoid. I was surprised how all those expectations rose up in my mind, while I was with the others. Didn’t really focus on them. Just aware. Like the tumbling of a dryer in the background, expectations swirling around. I notice because I have put so much time into avoiding them, generally. Now I am on the road, answering only to myself. I have a chance to take on the tangle and discover which expectations belong to me.

Sand and a bubble smallIt seems almost too obvious to say, but this road trip is a journey inward as well as outward. I relate it to the latest scientific descriptions of reality. Life is a particle when it’s looked at and a wave when it’s left alone. When I am operating with the bits and pieces of this world, getting from here to there, dealing with this and that … it’s all about particles … things and straight lines – everything in its time and place.

When I am doing nothing, going nowhere, I experience only waves. There’s nothing at the top and bottom of a wave. Like the swing of a pendulum, the sweep of a deep breath or the steady beating of my heart. Waves come and go, always in motion. And for there to be any awareness of motion, there must be stillness, every now and then.Water Circle small

The freedom of life on the road is that when the ‘particles’ get to be too much, we can jump back into the ‘waves’ with renewed appreciation.

Spider web smallA moment spent doing absolutely nothing at all is like the zero in mathematics – a point around which everything can spread out and make sense. This is how nothing is something.

I am feeling that pulse now. I have had enough of the Grey Days, the fog that shrouds the Oregon coast. Soaking everything in sight. Time to get back into the sun by moving East. That wasn’t my plan. But that’s the thing about expectations. They can change at the drop of a hat … or at the sign of rain.

The edge of the ocean is the place to be though, when the sun is out. All the elements in one place. On Grey Days, for which the Oregon coast is well-known, the light and the lines are all mashed together and there is nothing to notice. Having had some sunny days, I know what I am missing. Tomorrow, I expect to be in Washington.

Sitting still. Doing nothing. Remembering the light.

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Waiting for the Light

Every photographer knows the feeling. “If only the light were over here, or over there”. Of course, it is hardly ever just so. The landscape scatters the sunlight all over the place. Standing in the shadow, anticipating the arrival of a flood of photons, is always a guess at best. What is certain is that the light will shift with the swing of the planets. What is dark will be light, eventually. It will rarely be exactly what I expected.  It is always more or less, but it wouldn’t be at all, if I hadn’t waited.

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Eel River

This is early morning by the Eel River. I was waiting for the sunlight to reach the water, when I realized just how much time I spend waiting for the Earth to rotate, so I can have the light where I want it to be.

At first, it’s a guess as to where the light will be. How else do you capture the freshness of a morning? Like capturing sports action, by the time you see it, it is too late. Fortunately, as the world turns, there is always another chance, if you have the time. There will be another day for the light to be in the right place.

The value of the light is that it disappears, every day. No wonder, in the old days, we worshipped the coming and going of the sun.

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Rogue river by Humbug Mountain

I love how the light softens as I travel north. In the Southern desert, the sunshine is savage. There, I can almost hear the sharp light tearing at the landscape. Even the invisible wind can have an edge to it. Among the redwoods, the light wanders in quietly, slipping silently between the massive trees and sliding along the glassy rivers. There are no horizons in the forest. Waiting for the light can be a challenge. It doesn’t just jump at you, as it does down south. The sun’s rays fall, like a light rain, in between a hundred shades of green.  In the desert, the light arrives suddenly and bounces off the landscape. In the forest, the light, like inspiration, shows up in its own good time.

It only took me nine months to discover that I can use my smartphone as a wireless Internet connection to my laptop. With Verizon’s unlimited plan, this seems to be the way to go on the road. Makes me wonder what else lies along my path that will take me a long time to discover. What else am I waiting for? What else will I see when the fog lifts?Fog iin trees

I was watching the sun burn away the morning mist over the Klamath river this morning and I felt a sense of moving forward into an unknown life and an awareness of losing threads of the life I have been holding onto.

A zen master might say there is no going back, but it seems to me that sometimes that’s all I do. Often, I am ‘waiting’ for something in memory or trying to imagine something that has yet to take shape. Life on the road is a cure for that. Esp. on America West Coast. Moving through this magnificent landscape, nothing is like it was yesterday.  And the blessing is that there is no telling about tomorrow.

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Somewhere in the forest

In between yesterday and tomorrow is right now. Now is still and quiet. Now has nowhere to go. Now has no history. In the here and now, there is no waiting. Ironically, for life on the road, here and now is where the real treasures are to be found

 

Larger Forces

May 1

Today I took off from San Jose in my 1996 Tioga Arrow, headed to British Columbia to use my free pass for the 150th anniversary of their state parks. I slept for the weekend, parked in the street … something I would have never done six monthCalistoga 1 smalls ago. Change is in the air. First stop: Calistoga.

Shady streets. Natural storefronts. Mud baths. Mineral Springs. Something growing everywhere.

Memories of the desert are fading images of blowing sand and dust drifting off to the horizon. Filling in the spaces are the vineyards and rivers of Northern California. Green, instead of brown. Rushing water instead of dry gulches. A sun that nourishes, rather than being a punishment.

Calistoga 2 smallVineyards flow the length of the Alexander Valley. Up and down the rolling hills. The elements of the earth and sky transforming into wine. Alchemy opening a door to the voice of the Gods.

The edges and fierceness of the desert pushes you onto your own resources. The forest blends one place into another, wrapping around you, joining you rather than shoving you away with its harshness.

What I like about life on the road is that I can do whatever I want. Desert or Forest. Freedom like that can be intimidating. I am forced back onto my own resources. Like wandering in the desert.

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The desert is a worthy reminder of the responsibility that comes with being alive, but I prefer the forest. I lived by the Russian River for three years, not so long ago. Spending time by a river is a grounding experience for me.

The sound of tumbling water, the life-blood of the earth, rushing endlessly to the ocean … this is the music of life on this planet. There are many lessons to be learned from water. It is much like spirit.Russian River small

Spirit is a field in motion. It is the unseen that is carried from point A to point B … the movement from sadness to laughter, from pleasure to pain, from intention to satisfaction. Taking off for the NorthWest, saying goodbye to point A. I am setting myself adrift from the conventions, customs and habits that erected my former self. I am putting myself in the hands of larger forces … invisible hands that, if I stay in touch, will take me to Cloverdale on Saturday.

Caring

On my first RV drive to San Luis Obispo from San Jose, I left the windows open. I lost parts of several blinds over the windows because I did not take care to check everything before I left. After that, I followed a checklist for weeks. The dictionary defines ‘care’ as a disquieted state of mixed uncertainty, apprehension and responsibility. That sums up my life on the road. But I would go a little further. Caring is an active state. It is a participation with everything around you. Caring, or not caring, arranges the furniture. One of my favorite philosophers, Rollo May, wrote that care is the way back to being.

For the last month, I have spent most of my time in the middle of nowhere. It’s peaceful. Reminds me of my first Zen lesson – the ‘Just Sitting’ meditation. It’s special these days, to be able to sit and watch one’s thoughts. In the midst of serenity, little cares rise up and buzz around in my mind. I should replace some molding around the coach interior, but I haven’t done it yet. I planned to caulk the windows and was caught in the rain before I cared enough to get to it. I should have known better. Most people do. The vehicles I see in the RV parks are clean and well-cared for. Caring appears to be routine for veterans of the road.

Growing up for me has been a process of learning to care about the consequences of my behavior. I am learning to care more … to care enough to check the battery fluid weekly and bleach the freshwater tank once in a while. When I was married, I didn’t care enough about the same things my wife did … as if they didn’t have anything to do with me. For example, she saw dirt on the kitchen floor that I actually did not see. Even when she couldn’t see it, she knew it was there.

Palm Trees smallDuring my last stay in Palm Springs, the wind was fierce. A fine dust settled everywhere in the coach. I swept several times a day, having learned how dirt accumulates. Too little, too late for my marriage though. Being care-less probably began in childhood as some sort of defensive strategy. We moved every couple of years and I left a lot of stuff behind. Not caring is one way to get through situations which one is helpless to change. It is an easy habit to fall into because it literally means doing nothing.

Being on the road is a risk and an adventure. Staying on the road is a matter of caring. Caring is a way of thinking that takes all points of view into account.

Wilderness rawI spent a week hiking in Caspers’ Wilderness … a state park near the California coast that has not been flooded. When climbing steep hills, I look down at my feet. When I look up, the pull of gravity seems to double. Getting to the top is all about concentrating on the here and now. The hill is always higher than I thought, so when I catch myself thinking that the climb is almost over, I know I’m probably only halfway up. Something challenging usually takes longer than I thought and something easy can be over too soon.

Matt baseball smallI was in Southern California to photograph my nephew playing baseball. I had been telling my sister that I would do that since he was a freshman. He is now about to graduate. I dragged out the old Maxpreps shirt and got permission to be on the field. I put the photos of the game on Maxpreps for the team. They played the game at Estancia High School, where I taught English and coached soccer in the Seventies. Forty years ago. Another life.

After Casper’s Wilderness, I took the climbing to another level and drove my little Tioga 7000 feet up to Idylwild … at 35 mph for the most part. Alice can handle the climb, just not quickly. The camp at Idylwild was closed in by scrubby oaks, skinny pine trees and overgrown manzanita … punctuated by huge outcroppings of boulders. It had a closed-in feeling, which was not spared by any sort of wide view. I felt no inspiration, even at that height.

Then I spent a few days in Menifee, back in the valley. The chores were piling up: I nicked a vent cover on the roof in a reckless attempt to park at In ‘N Out burger. I scraped an interior wall pulling the ladder out of the storage bunk. I broke the toilet handle. I could go on. I felt as if there were no room for a thought to happen all on its own. Can’t care about everything, all at once.

Morgan Hill Uvas Waterfall smallInspiration, that breeze of divine breath that tumbles into awareness in unpredictable ways, comes unbidden. We can try to foster it by arranging circumstances just so, but that experience comes from a place of no words, no time, no thing and is not subject to our calling. It bubbles up from the inside, and doesn’t depend on place.

For us travellers, some outside places seem to resonate with something inside us. It’s different places for different people and sometimes it’s the same for all. The secret we each come to learn, eventually, is that we are the constant, the observer that is moving from place to place. That’s the irony of life on the road: every brush with Nature is a soft, subtle reminder that there really is nowhere one has to go and nothing one has to do … in order to be.

 

 

Every day a new day

I have been on the road now for seven months. There is a rhythm to it. Stay in one place too long and the urge to move is overwhelming. Go too far, too fast and it feels too much like starting over every day.

I have spent the winter hiding from the rain on the high desert in the Southwest. I was in Arizona for a couple of months – the sunrises and sunsets are awesome.
The light during the rest of the day just beats you up. I started my hikes before dawn. The desert in the Southwest is wind, sand, loud engines and big pick-up trucks. Empty lots of sand, scrub and blowing trash all over the place.
Along Lake Havasu, London Bridge appears like a london-bridge-smallmirage in the early morning light. An American genius reassembled the Victorian bridge in the middle of nowhere, in order to sell houses in the desert. It worked.

There are those tucked-away settlements where residents water substantial lawns on a regular basis and drive air-conditioned luxury cars to air-conditioned office buildings, but those people one rarely sees. For folks on the street, there seems to be a freedom out here in the desert, an unwillingness to conform. This must be connected to the huge skies and the enduring landscape.

I stayed along the Colorado river for a while. I had heard it was dying, but it seems to be doing ok. The Salton Sea, however, is dying, salt and pollution are turning the water on the shore brown. It took me a week to bleach the smell out of my tanks after I took on (supposedly filtered) water nearby. Apparently the lake was created by accident and has nowhere to go.

I am in Palm Springs now. Will be until April. This is the place to be in Winter (esp. if you have a leak in the roof). I am staying with the crowd at the Thousand Trails park. Huge RVs, costing  $200, 000 – $400,000 dwarf my 22-foot Tioga Arrow. I can understand why this lifestyle is growing. These mostly older, retired couples have all the comforts of home and the option to live wherever they want. Warm weather is important of course, but I have talked to many who change locations several times a year, visiting friends and relatives. Some maintain a house, a home base. Increasingly, folks are going on the road full-time.

caspers-2-smallThe first time I found myself without any sort of Wifi or cell phone connection was a wake-up call. There are times when I don’t have access to the outside world, nor do I have photographs or words to work on. I can meditate for a while because I have been doing that most of my life, but I am no zen monk. I am learning, in the morning, to watch the light fall into the hills and valleys. I am learning to watch how my mind jumps up and down over the course of a day, first this way and then that … watching to see where it might go next. And I am practicing a nap here and there, although I have yet to actually sleep.

There is a theme that emerges from the conversations I have with others on the road. Everyone is keen to share something new, something unexpected that they have encountered or a change in a previously known situation. Unlike many casual conversations, politics rarely comes up. There is an certain awareness, a sense of the instability of life on the road that lends an air of respect to encounters with others. Since it is impossible to know what this life is like before you do it, it’s a good bet that most people got fed up with something and took life into their own hands.

My time in the Southwest will be over soon. I will be on the road north as it dries up, leaving the sand on the beaches and the desert behind. Trading wide-open spaces for rivers and forests. From what I remember, life under those huge redwood trees is  the opposite of life in the desert. In fact, as I shift from one environment to another, I am the only constant I am aware of (besides Alice, my 1996 Tioga). It not so much that I am changing as it is that I am emerging, amidst all this uncertainty.

Dune and airplane smallThere are moments, like this one is Pismo Beach, when I am looking at a landscape that has literally shifted a hill into a valley after a storm … feeling the power of the earth, watching the waning light from the setting sun slide off the dunes. Then I look up as a white streak is flashing across the sky. In my mind, I see a couple of hundred people, walking around, going to the bathroom, reading airport paperbacks and working on laptops, speeding across the sky in a metal missile.

I can’t keep both observations in my mind at once. The sizes don’t match. I have to go back to the RV and take a nap.

What was and what will be

That was the beginning of my own travels. We emigrated to Australia in 1955. This picture was taken in Aden … after passing through the Suez canal. A year later, we flew in a DC-3 from Melbourne to Darwin, where my sister Christine was born. In 1960 we returned from Australia on an Italian ship, the Fairsea, through the Panama Canal. Four weeks out, six weeks back.

Last Saturday, my son Alex proposed to his girlfriend of five years. Continue reading