Chapter 16

Language is froth on the surface of thought.                               John McCarthy.                                                                                                               (Father of Artificial Intelligence)

I have always been fascinated by the existence of a world behind words. As an English and Psychology major at UCLA, I wanted to explore that feeling I had when I wanted to tell a friend something and I struggled to find the right word. How did I know what I wanted to say? The look of recognition on a friend’s face when I found the right word was revealing, as if something clicked. Sometimes it took more than a word … it took a word picture, a description. Getting information from a nameless place in me to a nameless place in someone else. From my ‘right brain’ to my ‘left brain’, out to the other’s ‘left brain’, then to the other’s ‘right brain’ for recognition. The long way around. Talented artists take a short cut, ‘right brain’ to ‘right brain’. The direct approach. A viewer is attracted and may not know why.

Glacier rock b&w

These days, the biology is aligned with the physics. The scientists are telling us there is nothing without the observer. How I see things, what they mean, is up to me … up to the person I have learned to be. During my time in the Northwest, I began to see the side of a cliff as the face of millions of years. It isn’t just the vastness of space that makes me feel small, it is the vastness of time. What do ‘things’ mean, in terms of millions of years? Every time, in every place, what life comes down to is right here, right now. There is nothing else.

Nobody wants to limit his or her experience of life to words. The label is not the thing. The map is not the territory. The most common 100 words in the Oxford English Dictionary have 14,000 ‘meanings’. The same word can have many different ‘meanings’. It’s a wonder we get anything done. Over these last fifty years, I have come to see how I project ‘meaning’ into an objective world that is basically just being there. Things happen. A person has to be there for it to ‘mean’ anything.

All I ever see is the surface of something. What it means is what that pattern implies to me. Words are like waves on the ocean. Experience is what lies underneath.

When a friend sees my face, it is a surface of many complex patterns for him or her. When you touch a favorite object … when you hear a favorite song, it is the surface that touches your senses and it is your mind that recalls the patterns. The greatest art points to the greatest patterns. Like the proverbial Zen finger though, all any art can do is point. Same thing with words.

The patterns themselves are only in-visible. Can you point to how you get through the day? Can you point to a partner’s devotion? Loneliness? Love?

The world is the surface of things

A surface results from the presence of a pattern. It can have no thickness, no mass at all. Unless it is perceived, it is not even there. I make surfaces when I measure and count … when I am looking for things, pulling pieces out of the flow.

Grass bw small

Whatever is going on, I will not be aware of it, unless I sense a surface. I am usually seeking an object of some sort, but it may be a feeling, bubbling up. I navigate by choosing some surfaces over others. Sometimes I get the implications wrong. I learn.

As I get older, I am discovering that I can change the implications themselves … instead of forever seeking the right ‘thing’ or the right ‘place’. Surfaces are everywhere, depending on how I look. A critical step in my own growth is to make the effort to navigate by the in-visible patterns that resonate with a deeper feeling, rather than the shiny surfaces designed to catch the eye.

I’m not sure I will ever get the bits and pieces right. By ‘right’, I mean that state where everything fits. The wisest of us say that this moment … now … is perfect, just the way it is. Everything else is nonsense. I have had that experience, but for me, it doesn’t last. What I have done is simplify my life as much as possible, but there are always tires to be fixed and dues to be paid. Being in a body has consequences. Those not paying attention do eventually get run over by a bus. That has nearly been me, many times.

Stream chair bw

What is coming clearer is the effect of living closer to my spirit … that is, my tiny share of spirit. Business being done, it is so much easier to feel connected in the woods of the Northwest. The light. The smells. The laughing of the rushing streams and the singing of the early morning birds. Life has been that way up here for millions of years. Everything fits. A volcano erupts and changes the entire landscape. Nature adapts. A miles-long sheet of earth tears through the surface and a mountain range is born. Nature incorporates.

The spirit I feel personally sometimes is the same spirit that resonates throughout the magnificence of Nature. It is the same spirit that great art points to and great music sweeps into being. The same spirit awaits athletes in triumph and monks in meditation. We all have had that experience, esp. as children. Usually we are trained to associate that experience of no boundaries with winning and losing. That scares many of us off.

As adults, we learn that wonderful as it may be, dwelling in non-duality does not pay the bills. When taking care of business is the priority, spirit can be a distraction. When wanting to be the best or the biggest, spirit can be a distraction. When not wanting any thing, spirit is all there is.

So many people know much more about these realities than I do. All I can tell is my own experience. As I blunder around the Northwest, I see life, larger than me, at every turn. I am so small, but my experience is that I have something in common with the universe that bursts into view in the night sky … something in common with the millions of years that are wrapped up in the ancient landscape that glows a soft white under the starlight of billions of galaxies. My body is made up of the same stuff. It sings the same song. For a moment, here, now, I belong to something absolutely inconceivable. It is a chord that cannot be captured, because it is everywhere, all the time.

Cultus Lake b&w

These will always be only moments. For the longest time, I held on to the notion that once I got it – joy ever-lasting … communion with the universe … would stick. Now I know that as long as I am in this world, there will be stuff that is not I that I have to deal with somehow. Last year, in the wilds of the British Columbia woods, it occurred to me that I chose this … that if the whole deal were up to me, this is where I would want to be … in the middle of the mystery.

If I had the choice, I would not want everything to be settled. The person I have learned to be wants a perfect world. In a perfect world, I would lose consciousness and stop making an effort. Being perfect is fine, but there would be nothing to do. I am learning that the experience of what lies behind the veil of words is part of a cycle, not a goal in itself. It can be too much of a good thing and distract from organizing the bits and pieces around the body. Being in both worlds is what it means to be human.

In the Northwest, the powerful presence of the landscapes extracted my mind and shook it up. I saw what the mystics tell us, how it’s all perfect, just as it is. That is not where we humans fit. We come from the perfect, into the bits and pieces. Our purpose now is to restore the awareness of the spirit that is being hammered out of our lives. Spirit should flow through people like it does through the rivers and the trees. It will leak out when the observer loosens up the punctuation of his or her experience.

I interrupt the flow by trying to keep the good feeling that comes with belonging to everything, worrying it will leave, forgetting that is who I am and where I come from. I want to manage the world. Another misleading consequence of imposing grammar on the flow of being is that the world appears to be linear, one thing after another. Subject-verb-object. I do this to that. This allows me to believe I am in control. In reality, ‘that’ also does something to me. When the bat hits the ball, the ball also hits the bat.

MLB: APR 05 Indians v AthleticsThe sentence structure that I have learned to think with implies that I am running the show, that the world is at my command. As a kid, I was taught to take control, to get a handle on things. Emphasis on sentence structure stifles the power of the imagination to reach beyond the grammar machine, but it puts the rush of information that assaults my senses at every moment into an order that is manageable.

We are deceived into thinking that life is all one way. I do this to that and that doesn’t do anything to me. Growing up, we discover that real life is reciprocal, although we have a hard time thinking about it. There are two sides to every thing. Right does not exist without wrong. There’s no good without bad, no here without there, no now without then, no me without you.

In the business world, they plan for “unintended consequences” by keeping a reservoir of resources, just in case. This is an acknowledgment that when you act on the world, the world acts back. This is true down to the level of perception. Perception, picking one thing out of all things, is an act, not a passive receiving. As an act, it has consequences. How you see is who you are.

I get carried away with all the mystical mumbo-jumbo, but I feel strongly that this position has to be advertised. The confusion in the brain about what’s going on can be a serious problem, in terms of long-term health, when we stick to perceiving everything in concrete terms and deny responsibility for what we assemble as reality. We ignore the ocean below the waves at our own risk. It is the ocean that heaves and swells, moving the whole world here and there. It is the ocean we come from and return to … while the words flap about on the surface, whipped around by the current weather. It is the ocean that runs through us, when we let things be and look from the heart.

Out on the water small bw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

“You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear”.                                                                                                                                                       Rock Man to Oblio

As I was leaving Casa de Fruta, a few days ago, I stopped at the Chevron station to check the tires. The left rear was low, so I put some air in and then took off east along the Pacheco Pass, stopping at a Walmart in Los Banos for supplies. As I checked my pocket, getting out of the cab, I couldn’t find my wallet. I realized that it must have fallen out of my back pocket, while I was scrambling around with the tires. I retraced the 35 miles up the pass. No sign of the wallet at the air station, so I went inside and asked. The clerk said he didn’t think so, but automatically opened a drawer. There was something. He pulled it out, looked at it and said, “Yup. That’s you”. Talk about two sides to everything.

By late afternoon, I made it to BLM land, just south of Yosemite. Early in the morning of the next day, I saw that the left rear outside tire was completely flat. I am embarrassed to admit that I had neither a heavy-weight jack nor a suitable lug wrench. I had bought, in the first week of my travels, what I thought was a jack. It was actually a pair of jack stands. I had been relying on CoachNet, which had come to my rescue twice before, so I called them. Juan, at CoachNet, did note that I was a little far away, but he called back to tell me that Safe Towing, out of Fresno, would reach me in about an hour and a half.

About four hours later, Kurt and Shannon show up in a beat-up pickup truck. They have been married for 31 years, living in Fresno and Bakersfield. Kurt is a mechanic, Shannon handles the paperwork. We chatted for a bit, then Kurt set to work. He noticed right away that he did not have the correct size lug wrench. He mumbled something about ‘they’ having neglected to tell him that it was an RV … even though he found me immediately. I pulled out a little compressor that I bought at a Walmart a year ago, but I had, for some obscure reason, disassembled. Kurt put it back together and, using the generator, we powered the compressor and pumped air back into the tire, up to 70 pounds. It took a little while. Kurt agreed to call me the next morning at 7:00, since I was doubtful the tire would hold.

First thing the next morning, I checked. The tire appeared to be holding. I drove around the gravel lot. Must have been something with the valve. These matters contain an element of mystery for me. I checked it twenty times that day. Never did hear back from Kurt. Just another day on the road. Being from the North of England, I was looking for the third trouble. They come in threes, it is said. Maybe it was going to be when I tried to get back up the hill.

I have spent sixty-nine years trying to be right and trying not to be wrong. Now I see it’s more a matter of what works and what doesn’t … in the long run. Smart people would have had a lug wrench and would have tried replacing the air first. I might have, if the compressor had been working. I had taken the outlet valve apart for some reason … and then lost part of it. I had bought what I thought was a replacement, but I had not had the confidence to put it all back together. Kurt assembled it and attached the tire pressure unit. I can take apart a sentence syllable by syllable, but mechanical systems are like another language to me. I am far too ‘right-brain’. I don’t have the kind of imagination that puts parts together in 3D. It has been a long process, discerning inside what is a natural inclination and what is a learned process. Finding the lack of engineering talent was an easy one. Subtly, I aspire to it like some people want to go to Heaven. But for me, in this lifetime anyway, it’s never going to happen.

The best explanation of the left brain – right brain state of the art science I have seen is by Jill Taylor (A Stroke of Insight). She explains that the right brain is connected to the universe and consciousness at large. It works in pictures. The left brain is the inside-outside interface with the world and works with words. Right brain deals with ‘whole’ impressions and is the realm of archetypes and myths. The left brain looks to connect the bits and pieces and fit into the world. The communication between the two is what our lives are all about. Julian Jaynes tells the story well in his book about the origins of the Bicameral Mind.

I grew up learning to be ‘David’. That took a while. I’m not sure I ever did it properly. Along the way, I have been distracted by internal glimpses of something more going on, just beyond where I can sense. This was a saving grace for me. I had no real sense of home as a kid. Touching non-duality is like the experience of Love. Feeling a part of something so big, it is everywhere. For a moment, there is no this and that, no judgement, no good or bad, no right and wrong. No me. Only union. What works these days is for me to represent that. But no one, except a monk, can stay in that place … and get anything done. There is nothing to hold in memory. That’s why it takes faith. We need reminders. It’s ironic, writing a book about something that is impossible to know.

I have faith that there is a resonance. There is a pattern to follow, if I want to rise up out of this conditioned self. What has to break down is the illusion that life is a subject-object deal. This works as an operating assumption in the handling of things, but it’s useless in a field where the observer cannot be separated from the observed. It’s easy to see it as an impossible task. How do I use grammar to see beyond grammar? How can ‘I’ be the subject and the object. With the discoveries of quantum physics, we are having to come up with new words, otherwise we have no way to think about it.

As with everything, it’s making the effort that matters. As I rode around the Northwest in my little Tioga, I was often faced with choices. To go to north or south, to this park or that. To leave now or later. What didn’t work was not choosing at all. It’s difficult to just squat on the road. I have to do something. Why be on the road if I don’t want to make the effort? Stay home and stay safe. (Where is home now anyway?) Last year, I found that the good pictures were often an hour shuttle ride and a two-hour hike away. It took me four days to get to the eclipse last year. For a single moment. Sometimes, on entering a new park, I would make every possible wrong turn first. I knew I would get there, if I kept making the effort, because there are limited ways to go wrong in a park.

Sometimes it didn’t work out at all. I missed the light, in one way or another. I didn’t mind, because I did all I could. It’s taken a lifetime for me to see that not trying is the travesty. In the smallest of ways. It’s so easy to project ahead and see how something’s not going to work or is not really necessary. Common sense tells me it will never go exactly the way I think. Experience whispers that, if I start something, things will change because I started something … it’s already out of my control. If I’m not prepared to be uncomfortable, I probably won’t go there. I used to berate myself for not stepping up to a be a better person. Now I see that it just wasn’t time. I wasn’t ready. I had to clean up the mess first. That has been my style. I had to have nothing left to lose.

Growing up for me has been a process of owning my intentions. As I realized last summer in a torrent of feelings, what I really wanted wasn’t always pretty. The words were often a disguise. If I don’t own it, I can’t discard it. I have come to see that is how it works. Just thinking about it, being mighty in my own mind, is an experience that is safe from the slings and arrows. Manifesting those intentions, bringing who I thought I was into being, was risky business for my sometimes oddly still fragile self-image. As I changed social situations … over a dozen schools by the time I was 15 … the most consistent identity I developed was that of the outsider, although I always tried to fit in … like learning a new game. Deep down, I was scared to reveal who I really was … what I really wanted … not being clear about it myself and having no idea how it would go over and with others. That’s when it grew. The intention to hide.

Redinger Dam b&w smallRedinger Dam Spillway bwAs I sat there in the morning, watching the rising sun light up the hills above the little Redinger Dam south of Yosemite, I could see how inside, I withdrew certain precious feelings from the world at large. I learned to rely on the outside for clues on how to be. Blissfully ignorant of my own role in custom-processing that information. With no clue about how I was emotionally projecting everything, my being became the world’s fault. How I really felt leaked into what I thought I was seeing. There was no escaping who I was. The only way back to feeling connected with everything is through that personality. Who I really am is the looking, the wondering in the first place. The impulse behind the words.

In first grade, I was taught that the basis of all communication is the sentence. A sentence is made up of a Subject and a Predicate … that Subject has to be doing something. Out of the gate, we learn that there is ‘I’ and then there is everything else. Early on, we step out of the union with everything and begin separating stuff. It is a necessary step, if we are to get on in the world. Not learning to connect the bits and pieces leads to getting run over by a bus.

Taking that grammatically constructed world apart is not for the faint of heart. Historically, many lose their way. When the journey is successful, the abyss of ‘no meaning’ must be crossed. On the other side is the understanding that it’s all up to me. Some want that role. Some don’t. Those who do must come out of hiding.

Rudolph Steiner called it “sense-free” thinking … freeing perception from the learning stage, terms designed to operate on things and deal with outward impressions. To him, the brain (beyond the extension that is the eyes) perceives ideas, just as the retinas perceive frequencies of color and the eardrums perceive sound waves. For Steiner, the spiritual world existed objectively, in a range beyond our normal senses. He, like many others, emphasizes the requirement of genuine effort to make a change. For Steiner, this is the origin of free will.

It’s easy to drift off into this world of ideas in the right brain, sitting back, feeling the light breeze coming off the lake, lightening the summer sweat on my forehead. The first meditation I learned, from Thich Thien An, was to just sit and watch my thoughts. I still do that, virtually every day. Sometimes the thoughts are wrapped up in emotions and are hard to see clearly. Sometimes thoughts flower from emotions, almost more of a feeling. And sometimes, thoughts just occur to me. The left brain wants to modulate the energy emerging from the right brain, to get it under control, to shape it, keep things the same. The left brain wants to identify stuff. Put things in their place. Having worked so hard to create a picture of the world, it is not giving up without a fight. Still, the only way to be aware that I am moving forward, is to be aware that I am leaving something behind.

As I write this, I am sitting in my little Tioga, watching the sun rise through the huge pine trees at Dutch Flat. I have come here for a couple of days to be sure of the tire situation, before I move on, which I have to do because I can’t afford to stay here. One reason I’m here is that it is close to free BLM land in the Sierra foothills. I was very good at making money, once upon a time, when I was raising a family. Had to be done. These days, it doesn’t matter. I want it to matter. But it doesn’t. So I change everything else accordingly.

I am coming to see that guiding my life by these subtle senses is an occupation for artists and the elderly. Artists feel obliged to share their view of what may be invisible to others, through their inspiration. Old folks like me have taken decades to add up what is going on. I can see how, when I feel dissatisfied, it is because the left brain can’t find the right fit. In my mind, I can see myself returning to the wrong size wrench to turn the screw. Over and over. It must have worked, somewhere along the line.

Older people have had to make that left-brain interface with the world work in some way. Maybe they have settled in and closed the door. It is their right to do that. What I am discovering is that what I have felt so far in my life is a tiny, tiny slice of what’s possible to experience. It is a long process, deconstructing the templates that I have been using to bind time. Can’t let them go without paying a price. That price is any sort of certainty about what will happen next. Some older people are not so bothered by that.

I have been on the road for almost two years. I am leaving behind who I used to be … or how I used to present myself.  The roles I used to play are long gone – teacher, salesman, husband, even father. I am back to being a drifter. A drifter in a larger world. What time something happens is not as vital as it used to be. Where I am can vary and I don’t mind. Maybe that’s what we should do when we get old. Let the younger folks know, it’s ok. Things may not go the way you want, but what do you know? Everything changes, as you will come to learn, however hard you try to keep it the same. Relax. Make a genuine effort to bring that flow that rushes through you to life and everything will take care of itself. It is the effort that counts. Growing up is not a comfortable path. Being accountable for every perception goes against the conditioned urge to be right all the time.

This morning I’m not sure if the constant hum I hear is the traffic on Highway 80 or the wind brushing through the tall pine trees. I can’t tell if the energy I feel around not-knowing what I will do tomorrow is fear or excitement. I suppose I can call it what I want. Underneath it all, this morning I am glad to be alive. Being alive means to me being connected to Nature, being part of the bigger picture. A tiny part. Re-presenting the whole.

Leaf and water b&w small

As a character on the life-stage, I fumble around quite a bit, often not getting this or that part right, not conjuring the correct reality, not knowing what I really want.  On that path, I never got the proper handle on seeing things in a linear way. I am certainly in that place now. When my mind settles down, into the subtler spaces, I can feel the sense of who I am spread out into frequencies just beyond my senses. I get lost in the larger forces, the energy making up the other 99% of the spectrum. All around me. All the time. How can that not be home?

Chapter 14

 There’s been a lot of mountains and valleys in my life, but I keep smilin’.                                                                                                                                                          Billy Martin.

To be honest, I have my doubts about going in this direction in the second half of this story. I am not one to tell anyone else what to do. Too often, I have seen sensations I was sure of go out of style. As I grew older, the chance to learn through the experiences of others … reading about what went on in their minds, was valuable information to me. In the early days, it was a chance to think new thoughts, see things in a different way. As I grew older, I looked for confirmation … validation of a manifesting, invisible world. Once I was sure that there is an emerging dimension out there, just beyond our regular senses, the challenge became what to do about it. Again, I turned to words. So here we go.

God is everywhere, all the time. This book is about how I know that.

Narrow PassagewayI learned to look inward by looking outward first. That’s what this trip has done for me. Expanded my reflections. Images linger, but don’t remain without being called something. After-effects. Impressions. Echoes of direct experience. Words that are meant to describe the outside world actually create the world on the inside. All words can do is point. I am here, now. In between both.

I learned to be separate, in order to operate. The only tools I have to create an inner world are copies of those I have learned to use on things. It’s hard to keep it all in order, especially over a lifetime, when the scenery changes so much. Some of us, eventually, want to learn our way back. That’s all that Heaven is. Lack of separation.

The journey really has been on the inside all along. I wanted a reminder of the larger sense of life. That’s what the Northwest did for me. As a child, I was led into agreement with this world of apparent opposites, in order to see with a scale, to count and measure things, naming things to keep them the same. The counting and measuring is an agreed-upon illusion, to take care of business, dealing with others. Naming things works for a while. As long as everyone agrees to pretend. Having retired, I wanted to get away from that. Only I can know how I got here. Only I can find the way to open that habit-ridden, automatic self and climb out.

I can only picture life by what I have seen. Artists can create a vision. I have seen how, but it is not easy for me. Some smart people learn to do it with mathematics, which is way beyond me. For others, life is music. If you live on the range in Wyoming, you see life differently than a resident of New York. What you have available to think with is different. I found that on the road in the Northwest. Merging into the vastness and power of Nature, in its’ cycles of millions of years, had showed me my place. The bigger identity I felt, wrapped up in that landscape, took my breath away. I was a small version of something very big.

For moments, here and there on the journey, the inside seemed to be the outside. I was what I was looking at. For an instant, there was experience without an observer. In a flash, I could see how such moments cannot be remembered. There was nothing to point to. There was nowhere to go. It wasn’t useful, in terms of getting anything done. An experience impossible to remember. So there is Heaven on earth. Now what?

While I was out in these open spaces, it was all about the light. I spent hours waiting for the sun to rise or for the earth to roll into the right place. It seemed like Nature breathed in during the day and breathed out at night. The darkness is as essential to the process as the light. The key to enduring the darkness is to remember the light is there, on the other side.  In my mind, I can see it. One is part of the other. There can be no such thing as light all the time.

Long Road

As I write this, I am on my way back up to Canada. We are planning a reunion of old friends near Vancouver in July. I spent the first part of this year at the Oasis RV park, just south of Palm Springs, spelling out Part One. This year, instead of seeking something, I feel like I am taking something with me. A point of view. The travelling … seeing something new every day … keeps this process alive.

Inside, where Time is not an issue, I see mountains I climbed … the main one being raising two great kids … and mountains I avoided … I never finished my Master’s degree. I see valleys, deep gorges, like my first divorce. I have felt long, lovely days when sunny fields stretched on forever. Navigating this internal landscape has everything to do with how you look at it. And, eventually, who is looking.

That my body was a tiny speck in the universe didn’t matter. I saw that mind is much bigger than what I thought of as me. I saw my place in the scheme of things. The way lay before me. No less than a grain of sand or a leaf on a branch. No more than a day in the sun. Something inside is shifting. As if I am moving forward with time, instead of standing outside of it, counting. Things aren’t so much about what was and what will be. Each moment falls under a magnifying glass.

In Zen class, I learned from Thich Thien An that each of us lives in a bubble (he pronounced it ‘berble’). Penetrating that bubble happens rarely. The key is to find resonance with other bubbles and hopefully, the Big Bubble. Resonance does not know time or distance. In the end, as the brain recognizes, it’s all about patterns. A mess of incomplete bits and pieces can’t relate to anything and can’t get anything done. That’s a pattern all its own.

I saw how, when I skip a step or compromise in a process, I am making a pattern through which I will experience the world. I grew up in a world of short-cuts. Not the way to actually get anywhere. As my wife Nancy often reminded me, “If you’re going to wash the dishes, wash the fucking dishes.”

I was always fascinated by that place beyond words. Growing up, I remember watching Olympic champions on TV when asked to describe their feelings, saying that there were no words, literally speechless. I wondered early on what that was all about. Seemed like an experience worth pursuing. I believe we were once all of one mind, before we got serious about taking the world apart.  There was a time when there was no ‘I’ or ‘me’. Anything that came after “I am …” was just made up. Love is a reminder.

The way to opening up begins with seeing how you and I punctuate experience.

Sunrise over Salt Valley b&w

Chapter 13

A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything. – Malcom X.

I remember being sure, once upon a time, that it couldn’t be that easy to be blessed. I knew, in my heart, that I, for one, did not deserve it. That character, that socially deformed renegade who had faked and side-stepped his way through the business world into old age, had run his course. Handling the world was never going to be my thing. Finally, just being in the world was enough .

I had discovered, lurking in the shadows, secretly layered into the landscape I grew up in, was the conviction that I would find redemption in various sorts of self-destruction. In the mountains and the forests, in the cliffs and the canyons, I had seen clearly that it was only me that was in the way of understanding my place in the world. I was worth whatever I thought I was worth.

The road to Aspen was easier than I anticipated. A gentle slope. Along the way, I visited a couple of old teammates. Bill, in Grand Junction, bought me my first bottle of vodka when I was a freshman at UCLA. He helped Bob and me start Santa Monica Rugby Club in 1972. John, from the North of England, lived in Parachute. He was the scrumhalf on our first championship team.

On the 12th of September, I pulled into the downtown driveway of the house being cared for by Jerry, the President of the Gentlemen of Aspen. They were putting on their 50th Aspen Ruggerfest. I had been there in 1972, winning the 5th Ruggerfest with The Pumpkins. This year, the age brackets ran up to The Over-50’s, who platooned substitutes every five minutes. Even with those old guys, I was surprised by how few people I knew. Mine wasn’t just another time, it was another era.

Aspen b&w

Ruggerfest is a very social week in Aspen. Parties everywhere. I realized that I had not been in such an environment for years. At first, it was puzzling,  seeing all the beautiful women in torn jeans. I thought it was just very casual in a mountain town. But the torn pants did not go with the five-thousand-dollar jackets and the thousand-dollar shoes. I realized that it was supposed to be a statement of some sort. Back in the world, it was all about signals. All the women did it. The jeans were for sale that way in the shop windows.

After Aspen, I followed the better part of valor by driving around Independence Pass. My 20-year-old Tioga Arrow had performed well so far, but the risk wasn’t worth it. We, more maturely, took Interstate 80 and then Interstate 25 to Colorado Springs. From there, seven hours hard driving into big desert winds got us to Alberquerque. A couple of long days.

Three days after leaving Aspen, I was sitting at my brother’s bedside. We worked at talking for a couple of hours. When I held up fingers in front of his face, he couldn’t tell how many. Diabetes had robbed him of his eyesight. Jim talked about what he had been doing in his mind. He was a victim of his emotions. When he recalled an old girlfriend, he cried. When he recounted his latest imaginary meeting with a celebrity, he laughed. I held his hand and sat there. Before I left, I asked him if there was anything he wanted. He said, “To be cremated next Tuesday”.

I stayed at Western Skys RV park, outside of El Paso. I got to know Rosa, the manager, and her two sons … one in college and the other just graduated from high school. On the drive to and from downtown, where Jim was staying, it became clear to me that this weight, this guilt about having lived a life of indulgence while my brother suffered horribly, was just a part of who I was … like my broken collarbone that now sticks up on one side, or the corner of my eye socket that wasn’t stitched back properly, or the arthritic knees … I could go on. I sat with Jim for as long as I could for a couple of days. I saw that he recognized, too, when the time had come for a visit to end. We had to be careful. We were holding on to something fragile.

Driving with the wind, back across the New Mexico desert, I felt as if I were emerging from the landscape. From what I had seen that summer, it seemed the next logical step in the evolution of this magnificent earth. Awareness. The planet was waking up. I was waking up. I could not separate the two. The first step is to see what a mess we have made of things. Then it is time to see another way.

It occurred to me, as Alice and I wound our way through the canyons of southern Arizona, that words have become so powerful for us that we have forgotten what to do without them. We are losing our sense of the sacred. We want to wrap syllables around the experience of the numinous, to use language as a lever to access an experience of the divine. We want to feel the joy all the time. But words are not meant for that. The best words will ever do is point. The underlying assumption that naming something keeps it the same is an illusion.

Jean Piaget, psychologist, showed through his legendary studies in child development that logical and mathematical operations result from the internalization of operations originally executed externally, with solid objects. We have to think with ‘things’, before we can think without them. Survival depends on learning how to operate in the world. Contemplating the wonders of the universe comes later … and can only be thought about in terms of the language we created to deal with ‘things’. We don’t have a way to think about something that is everywhere, all the time … that is no thing. We can’t see something that is everywhere, all the time … where would we be looking from? Grammar is designed to remove the ambiguity when perceiving the world … an ambiguity that must be re-experienced in order to be removed.

The most insidious habit is the desire to know … all the more so because it appears to be the most successful approach to taking care of business. That’s why language started in the first place – to keep things the same. This is what binds us to the earth and obscures Paradise. When we grow up, we each have the opportunity to become a unique mirror to an unspeakably wonderful reality. One day, we will laugh at that feeble period in our history when we believed the meaning of life could be manufactured. Heaven is still there, waiting, unknowable, behind the veil of grammar. One has to be older, I believe, to understand all this and to realize how awareness punctuates experience.

But awareness is fragile, like my time with Jim. Awareness will spill into all the cracks … and we will turn our eyes from what we don’t want to see. Real awareness is almost too personal for us to talk about. Out of the gate, I only see things that are important to me. The awareness that shimmers over the Grand Tetons at dawn, skimming over icy mountain lakes and whistling through the tall pine trees … the scale I had experienced that summer, put my tiny point of view to shame.

Runner on dunes b&w

As I watched a storm pour rain on a patch of desert in the distance, I felt a warm appreciation for my age and a deep gratitude for being older. Ironic as it sounds, we each have to outgrow our initial identity, like shedding a skin, or leaving a cocoon … except this is a disintegration of a point of view. We all learn that nothing is good or bad all on its own. We know that karma is real and life is short. We understand that, eventually, we get what we deserve. As we watch the body grow older and do less, we learn that who we are … the spirit that is aware of all this going on … is ageless. This is growing up.

I have been aware of something just beyond the normal senses, a numinous world, ever since I can remember. Most people have had a similar experience along the way. I have always had a sense that there was more going on somehow. As a child, I was happy just to play there. As an adult, I wanted to know.

Crossing the Colorado river, returning to California, it was clear to me that I would never know, because I would have to separate to look. I saw too that being enlightened and feeling enlightened were different experiences. Being enlightened is not feeling enlightened all the time.

I remember when I saw my first Zen teacher, Thich Thien An, at the doorway to an extension class at UC Irvine. Thich had escaped the purge in Viet Nam. He was smoking a pipe. My friend and I thought he must be a phony. Why would an enlightened being smoke tobacco? Looking back, it’s as though I was expecting him to be drifting a foot off the ground and surrounded with a glowing light. In the first class, I asked him what he thought about the TV program ‘Kung Fu’, which was popular at the time. He said he hadn’t seen it, he was too busy teaching and driving on the freeways, fulfilling his duties as the resident monk at the Los Angeles temple.

What to do with what I had seen on this journey of thousands of miles, wandering through the mighty folds of the northwestern landscape, was a uniquely personal decision. How do I want to see things? How do I live behind the scenes? Growing up is just the beginning, once we have found our own path. We are always on the road.

Alice by the River Bank b&w

As I pulled into Palm Springs, from where I began a year ago, I remembered the last day of that first Zen class. At the end of the semester with Thich Thien An, we gathered at the Los Angeles temple, in front of an altar which was decorated with flowers, incense and a statue of Buddha. It was time to ask questions of the master, expecting an instant, hurricane-force transformational reply, as was legendary in such situations. Personally, I was concerned about the altar – the worship, the placing of personal power outside oneself … all those Seventies psychological clichés.

“Is it possible,” I asked him, “to reach enlightenment without ever having heard of Buddha?”

“Buddha never heard of Buddha”, was his immediate reply.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination”.                           Henry David Thoreau

I can imagine how taking credit for the eclipse worked for the Egyptian priests, back in the day, when they used such occasions to instill the fear of God. It would have worked on me. It would seem natural that someone who could turn the day into night should tell me what to do.

Tetons 7 b&w

From the granite of the Tetons and the frozen lava of Idaho, I drifted down to the red rock of Utah and Arches National Park. My experience was still rooted in the power of the landscape. I remember touring some of the ancient stone circles in England. I have a book that points out that features of the landscape surrounding these circles of stones often resemble super-size human features, esp. a pregnant woman lying on her back or the dominant presence of a mountain. In Utah, the Hopi Indians considered these arches to be sacred, portals to spiritual dimensions.

Arches 8 b&w

I loved having these grand ideas, but I was brought down to earth on a regular basis. I left a window open while driving and lost a piece of the blinds; I left the step out again; I forgot to put the clock away. I had to get more gas. When I was backing out of the RV space in Moab, I clipped a faucet that was standing up in a corner, crushing the plastic cover for the dump hole. Fortunately, I didn’t damage the faucet. Literally another half an inch and I would have torn it out. As simple as my life was by that time, it still didn’t work to take anything for granted.

I was near the end of my circle of the northwest. After the rugby tournament in Aspen, I was going further south to see my brother in El Paso. Hiking around the arches for hours in the soft morning light, my thoughts became cloudy and my true intentions worked against each other when I thought about Jim. I had stifled how guilty I felt, deep down … I only knew how undeserving of success I felt at times. I had never been clear about that.

Jim is younger than me by four years. He was an emotional kid. I remember, when he was about six years old, he cried while watching an episode of ‘Wagon Train’ during which a young girl sang ‘Silent Night’. He was a brilliant actor in high school, winning all sorts of awards. While studying acting in junior college, he attended a summer ‘drama’ camp in Northern California. At the camp, he took acid. This was the Seventies. Everybody took acid. I had been taking it for a while, even playing in rugby tournaments. For me, the experience seemed to turn me right side up. For Jim, it went the other way. He appeared to slip over a mental edge.

He didn’t get around to furnishing his apartment that summer. Clothes strewn everywhere. He stopped showing up for classes. He lost his job. This was the time of the draft. Almost all my friends ended up in Vietnam. I thought that if Jim enlisted, he could avoid the war and get himself sorted out. I drove him to the recruiting office. After barely making it through boot camp at Fort Ord, Jim was assigned as a cook to a base in Germany. One night, as he was being pressured by a sergeant on an overnight shift, Jim lost his temper and unloaded on everyone. He was shipped back to Letterman hospital in San Francisco and diagnosed schizophrenic.

When I picked him at Letterman in 1976, his hands shook constantly from the effects of the Thorazine … which he stopped taking immediately. He found a job in Long Beach as a janitor and obtained a degree in Theater Arts from Long Beach State. He participated in Community Theater. After about three years, he lost his job and began to fall downhill. Eventually, my parents took him into their home in Costa Mesa. Unbelievably, my father would take him out and drink with him. One night, Jim apparently pulled a kitchen knife on my father, who was dangerously obnoxious when drunk. When he wandered into the neighbor’s house by accident, Jim was arrested for trespassing. My mother was afraid to take him back in the house, so he sat in county jail for a year. She was clearly in pain from the guilt, but felt she had no choice.

When Jim got out of jail, he made his way to El Paso. I think it was because he didn’t want to be a burden. He lived in downtown El Paso for 25 years, in an old apartment building with a roommate on the other side of the bathroom. He wrote letters every week and I visited every couple of years. He survived on Army disability pay. During every visit, I would point out that he needed to take of care of himself. Walk. Climb stairs. Exercise. He seemed not to have the heart for it. I watched diabetes gradually take hold of him, while he refused to go to the V.A. During his lost years, he had crashed his motorcycle and the handle bar had ripped into his stomach. They reversed his large intestine. He had, at another time, driven the bike off a cliff and broken his hip. He believed he couldn’t walk. In his mind, he was done. He had given up.

I would sit by his bed while he told me stories of imaginary encounters with old girlfriends and celebrities. In his mind, he is married. His wife was away. He didn’t care whether anyone believed him. He was bed-ridden and nearly blind when I saw him last. I had tried to get him to get to use a cd player, so I could send him books on tape. That didn’t work. When I asked him what he did with all the time, he said that he took trips in his imagination.

I had always wanted to do more, but sometimes an hour with Jim would drive me around the bend. I had brought him out to California to visit his sisters, back when he could walk. I didn’t have any money to help. I felt like a failure as a big brother. I was supposed to protect him. I had spent my whole life just looking out for myself, while my little brother’s life came apart. I could imagine how alone Jim must feel. I felt like such a jerk feeling so impatient with him.

As I illegally crunched my way over the surface ecosystem of the national park, looking for the right light, guilt streamed out of my heart and blossomed into the canyon around me. I was never a good person. I had stolen lunch money from the counter of the pie shop as a kid in Darwin. I cheated on homework at Dulwich College, where I felt I was in way over my head academically. I avoided the ‘O’ and ‘A’ level exams in England by going to California. I always took the easy way out. In my first marriage, I never really put Bonnie first. I was too busy being a rugby star. I didn’t finish the Master’s degree in Applied Behavioral Science because I was getting divorced. I never finished anything. I talked my second wife into marrying me, before she was ready, before she caught on to what a bastard I really am. I pressured her to have children and it turned out to be twins, really locking her in.

For years, as a manager at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, I took advantage of people, taking some of their money for my own. Looking back, it was like three-card monte. Consumers didn’t stand a chance. For most of my life, I have been able to see weakness in others quickly. A plus on the rugby field, but not so much in personal relations. It felt natural to take advantage. And, of course, back then I dealt with the guilt I could see by drinking every day.

I grew up taking short cuts, ignorant of any character lesson involved in doing a thing the right way. I had heard about it, I suppose, after all I was an English Lit. major in college, but I was busy surviving. It poured over me that I had not been a nice guy. I had been selfish beyond belief. Karma was going to crush me. I was a useless mess.

Arches 0 b&w

I saw how I had maneuvered and manipulated the world into a shape that I imagined would work for me. I didn’t trust it on its own. That shape was only in my mind. For years, I had been unwilling to let go of these secret beliefs. I did not deserve an easy world. If anyone saw who I really was, they would punish me and take everything away. If I let the world be, it would hurt me … or, at the very least, I myself would disappear. Every time I looked for my place in the world, I had to slog through this mess I had made of my identity. I had stopped looking after a while.

Wandering in those magnificent desert canyons, I disappeared into the grander scheme. Stripped of the history, there is an ‘I’, an identity, that we have in common with everything.  I could not feel the Bigger I, but the vista took my breath away. There were no boundaries. I felt as if I were riding the edge of a wave that stretched out forever. All the power behind me. All the unknown in front. My regular senses were useless, since all they did was measure things, including me.

I was a spirit dressed in habits.  I had to have routines to make sense of the world. I saw how the world took the shape it did because of me. Layers of identity that I had wrapped around me over the years fell away. There was no need for any more of that. I wasn’t competing for survival anymore. I wasn’t going to anywhere. I was coming from somewhere. A heaviness eased out of my body. Letting go of a layer left me in more doubt … just as I was afraid it would. This was how I was holding the world together. But mixed in with the uncertainty was the undeniable experience of relief.

In my advanced age, I had a sense that this was as good as it was going to get. Being a part of it all for a little while. The being that lay behind all the noise. Wanting to know that I am a part of it all the time will never happen, because I separate when I go to look.

It was as if my whole summer piled into those three days, hiking through the arches. There was a thrill to seeing who I really was, even though I had to struggle through such a mess to even catch a glimpse. I knew I wouldn’t remember the experience itself, but I would never forget how I thought about it afterwards. I grew up believing that I am the subject and the world is the object. I would always remember that moment when I absolutely knew that wasn’t true. For a time, I felt a part of it all … as if there were no further to look. I could see nothing that wasn’t me.  I recall thinking that there were no words that would work … joy, treasure, destiny, bliss … words break experience into bits and pieces, not even coming close.

Sunrise over Salt Valley b&w

I had been in the landscape long enough to pull back the curtain of my individual history and see with unburdened eyes. I knew there was more, but it’s like trying to look at the back of your head. You need a mirror. The landscape had been that mirror for me.

As I watched the sun rise over the Salt Valley on the last day, I was filled with the unmistakable feeling that there was so much more that I did not know. My mind was open and there were no words. I had journeyed for a year, just to catch a glimpse. For a moment, just a moment … so fast there is no way to count … I saw why there was nowhere to go and nothing to have. My breath was the light and darkness and my soul was vibrating to the presence of the universe. I knew it wouldn’t last. That was life. But I was good to go for now.

Chapter 11

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?
Robert Browning.

Glacier Park, the crown of American landscape, sits high on top of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. Sitting at the end of the Going-to-the-Sun highway, in my imagination, I try to see these layers of sedimentary rock compressed under a vast ocean, as they were for millions of years. I can’t do it. My mind won’t bend that far. I was 6600 feet up. This is the dimension of the formation of planets, of stars bursting and galaxies winding into being. On this scale, I am beyond microscopic. In this dimension, I am just an idea.

Glacier rock b&w

Early one morning, in the shuttle on the way to the top, I sat next to Philip, an extra-ordinarily bright ten-year old. He was outgoing, confident and friendly. He explained to me that he was traveling the world with his parents. They had flown from Australia to San Francisco and bought a 36-foot RV. In the last year and a half, they had circled the United States and Alaska. The last six months of their trip across Canada was taking them back to their starting point. He was sure that he had learned more than he would have in two years of school. I guess it depends on what you want to know.

The fires were reaching down into the states as Alice and I drove south, east of Pocatello. The entrance to Yellowstone was crowded. I decided to move on south to catch the total eclipse from Craters of the Moon state park in Idaho.

I talked to my sons on their birthday. They are currently in the center of the storm, when it comes to operating on the world. Eric is a lawyer, working as a consultant to real estate firms in San Jose. He wants to be general counsel for a tech company. His girlfriend just moved in with him. Alex is a mortgage banker in San Francisco. He was living with his fiancé, who worked as the Art Director for GoPro. On the 15th of August, the boys turned 31 years old. My advice to them had been just work their ass off until they were 35, then put their heads up and look around to see what their options were. Making big decisions in one’s Twenties almost always leads to revision. This was not my grandfather’s world. My grandads worked one job each for fifty years. In my time, I have made a living as a teacher, a counselor, a salesman, a business manager, a marketing consultant, a photographer and a writer. It is gradually becoming accepted in our culture that, unlike in medieval times, one is not what one does for a living. This opens up a bigger way of seeing things.

Craters of the Moon state park is in the middle of Idaho, near Arco, the first community ever to be powered by a nuclear reactor, beginning on July 17, 1955. I slipped into one of the last spaces in the park, $37.50 a night for five nights. Directly under the path of the eclipse. No power or cell service. Just Nature and me, waiting for the ethereal, angelic light that would linger over the valley as the sun disappeared behind the moon in the middle of the day.

Crater path b&w

I hiked all over the park, looking for the best spot to capture what I was sure would be an eerie, once-in-a-lifetime light. I went too far climbing up amongst the ancient cylinder cones. Too many miles. The morning after, I could barely get out of bed. Age (I was 68 then) had tapped me on the shoulder earlier that summer, by the river. I had intended to cross a stream, bridged by a fallen tree trunk, to get a shot of a waterfall.  It is the kind of maneuver we used to make all the time as kids. Start forward hard, letting motion carry you to catch a branch on the other side. Once upon a time, I would not have thought twice. Unlike the me of old, I was hesitant and thought about it for a while. I made the step ok, but I failed in the quality of intention to get to the other side. I had no momentum. I pulled up short. I felt utterly useless for a split-second and then fell into the river. For the first time, it flashed across my mind that I was getting old and that I would, one day, be too frail to do much of anything..

Craters b&w

By 11:30 am., I had my 600mm lens set up on a tripod, so I could swing it up at the totality and not have to use a filter. A passing ranger had given me a pair of ‘eclipse glasses’, so I could prepare for the moment. The gloriously weird light I was expecting did not fall over the valley. It just got dark. And cold. I abandoned the wide-angle lens and swung the big telephoto up just in time. Too soon or too late and sunlight would burn out the image. It was a moment. That’s all we photographers want.

Eclipse

After the eclipse, a ranger at the park suggested a free spot to camp, across from the Bridger-Teton National Forest . So I turned north-east to Wyoming. I found the bumpy, gravel road across from the park that led up to some camping spots, hidden from the highway. No facilities. But I could see the Tetons … and it was free. Once again, propane to the fridge would be handy. I wandered down to the Cunningham Cabin, once home to western pioneers whose fondness for wide open spaces became almost a religion.

Cabin b&w

Driving back and forth to the park, the front end of my RV began to wobble on the windy gravel road. Turning too quickly or touching the brakes too hard produced a frightening chattering of the whole front end. Visions of nights in a hotel and a bill for thousands of dollars danced in front of me. Was it the steering? Maybe it’s the rotors. Wishful thinking. In Fillmore, Utah, I did stop by the Jiffy Lube and renewed Alice’s juices: new fuel and oil filters, replaced oil, steering and differential fluids, filled tires, cleaned windows and vacuumed the cab. $268. Worth it … after a year and 17,000 miles. They said they couldn’t see a problem with the brakes, but to be sure, they would have to take everything apart. There was no money for that.

Alice in Utah b&wMeanwhile, I heard more horror stories about Yellowstone traffic … major road construction. Labor Day weekend did not seem like a good time to visit. Besides, on the road, problems have to be addressed. At home, in the city, it is easy to arrange the habits of a day so that we bypass issues that may be lurking in the background. Often for years and years. You can’t do that on the road. Something noticed, and not addressed, will undoubtedly bite you in the ass, sooner rather than later. I did not turn east into Yellowstone. Instead I went south, to Moab, Utah.

On the first day of September, I pulled into Goose Island campground, next to the Arches National Park.  I signed up for three nights at $7.50 a night – 50% discount because I have a senior pass. The ocean did its thing up here as well, coming and going over this area more than two dozen times … leaving a landscape blanketed in iron oxide. For weeks now, although Alice and I were 6000 feet up, we had been driving along an ancient ocean floor. As it retreated, that ocean had left some fascinating rock formations behind. That’s where I wanted to find some pictures.

First, I had to face facts and fix the front end. The one thing I didn’t ask Jiffy Lube to do was rotate the tires, even though I did notice they were wearing unevenly in the front. So that was the first step. The manager of the tire shop in downtown Moab clearly knew that would solve the problem. $36. Too simple for me. Again, that kind smile.

That evening, watching the soft, dark red glow shimmer off the rusty cliffs along the river, something that was not happening occurred to me. It’s not a common experience – to experience something that’s missing. You have to come across an empty space in your mind and somehow recognize the shape … what was it that was there?

Tetons and lake b&wWhat I was missing was pretending. Changing schools so often as a kid, I developed the technique of copying others, often without understanding why they were doing what they were doing. In my early adult years, I became an expert at looking like I knew what I was doing. I was a high school philosophy teacher at age 21. Can’t get any more pretentious than that.

I knew the power of ‘acting as if’ I were already the person I wanted to be. But there is a learning curve, during which we would rather not have people pointing out our failures. Lately, when I looked inside, I was missing the tension that accompanies the waiting to be discovered as a fake. It was no secret these days. I obviously did not know what I was doing much of the time. No need to hide it now. There was a calm, quiet freedom in that. Part of me, from deeper down, was leaping into that space.

Chapter 10

“You cannot get behind consciousness” – Max Planck.

Crossing into Canada was a simple matter. Being in an RV, I thought that I should be in the ‘truck’ lane. The customs officer smiled at me kindly as he returned my passport, with a reminder that Alice was not a truck. That smile must be universal, acknowledging the less mentally fortunate. Maybe it’s a new Canadian – American thing. Perhaps all of us trapped in trumpland deserve such condescension for letting it happen.

It was Canada Day when I crossed over. My plan was to visit some provincial parks. I love riding along the roads in British Columbia. The teal rivers tumbling down the ravines are dribbles of the power that once ripped open the earth. Millions of years. Right before my eyes. It is like winding through the folds of the earth, wrapped up in sheets of granite that were torn apart by glaciers. It is a ravaged landscape.

Coquihalla River b&w

 

 

Turns out, the pass I applied for online was only for ‘national’ parks, of which there aren’t many. Provincial parks cost more than American state parks. And they were crowded. In Canada, they have a real appreciation for the sun. Reminded me of England. Sun-bathing, they called it. People everywhere. Traveling between the parks was expensive too. Gas cost almost twice as much.

So my return to British Columbia was a bit of a letdown. For the first time since I had been on the road, I fell into a bad mood. What was I doing, thousands of miles away from home? Wait. Where is home? Am I going to do this forever? Where will it lead? I thought my stay in British Columbia might not be that long after all. But where would I go after that? Was I just doing something stupid, once again?

After a couple of weeks in the provincial parks , I pulled into Glen’s driveway in Abbotsford, B.C. He surprised me with an offer to take me out to his favorite fishing lodge, in Bamfield, on the west side of Vancouver Island. I left Alice in his driveway. Two hours on the ferry, two hours crossing the island on the highway and then two more hours on a dirt logging road. Glen, Cheryl (his wife) and I arrived in time to share a steak dinner at the lodge with half a dozen retired police officers. I slept in a tiny shed, with two beds and a portable heater.

Trolling b&wAt 5:30 the next morning, Glen’s friend Jonathan took us out to sea. Jonathan is the varsity basketball coach at Vancouver high school. He is also a professional fishing guide in the summer and has worked with Glen, as a fellow guide, for years. It was cold and overcast, but the water was calm. We trolled around the islands, without disturbing the seals and the eagles. When a fish hit the line, the guys would haul it in and give me the rod for the last few meters. It didn’t seem fair to say that I ‘caught’ the fish, but I ended up with a couple of salmon. Fishing is not my thing. Something isn’t right with watching these beautiful big fish bleed on the boat deck. For food, understandable. But for sport, something doesn’t seem fair. These animals are minding their own business. Who are we to bring in boats, radar, multiple fishing lines with weights and flashers? The guys do freeze and eventually eat their catch. On the second day, Jonathan and Glen caught a couple of 30-40 pound halibut … worth a couple of thousand dollars as food. I took one frozen filet of salmon back with me and never could bring myself to eat it.

Eagle diving b&wWe went out the next morning and I took my camera. The eagles appeared to have territory about every two hundred meters along the coastline. They watched the fishing boats carefully. When Glen threw a little pink salmon back into the water, the local eagle was on it in a flash.

Being out in the elements, after stripping me of a hold on the past, restored a connection to the world around me. Out on the water, following the tide around the islands, it is impossible not to feel a part of everything. Everything is more powerful than you are. You can never dominate, you can only fit in. Out there, it seems like such an obvious lesson.

Waterfall b&wOnce again, Nature sorted me out. This time, instead of mighty forests and rushing rivers, it was the power of the ocean. It doesn’t take long to realize, travelling in the Northwest, that water is the essence of life. Frozen water ripped passages through granite, making valleys that foster seeds. Evaporated water feeds the new life. Rivers return the water to the sea. Nothing stays the same. It’s impossible not to see that this is how it all works. One element depends on the next. It is a continuous stream, not a mess of bits and pieces. Out in the ocean, my soul fell back into place.

I realized that, in a larger sense, I was home. This was it. I came all that way to be reminded. I was losing my self in the maze of concrete and steel, the veins of the city. I was disappearing in the piles of people that slogged and drudged their way along the freeways – the complete opposite of a mountain river. In fact, it was clear to me, there wasn’t any other place to go. The cold air streaming into my lungs. The mighty roll of the tides as the ocean breaths in and out. The songs of the birds and the splash of seals sliding into the water. The call of the eagles to one another along the shore. I fell into a chord that I could hear in my heart. I saw how what I thought of as my life was temporary, like a train waiting in a station. I would be moving on. All that is was poured into the little vessel that was me, for a little while. I was made up of the same stuff as the elements. We had vibrations in common. As above, so below. The ocean … the clouds … the glaciers … the rivers … it was all the same stuff. That stuff filtered into the earth and fostered life. Thousands of miles away from what I thought was home, somehow I belonged there.

There is a note, a vibration, a feeling, a state, a realization … that is Heaven on Earth. Those early mornings, out on the water, slipping between the islands as light filtered over the horizon, filled me with a spirit that was tangible, that I carried with me to sleep at night. The edge of my mind opened to a larger world, behind the sights and sounds, the here and there and the me and you. For a while, I was everything.

This was the experience I had been looking for. Since I was a kid, I knew it was there to be had. By this time though, I had to work my way back through 60 years of learning to operate on the world by being a separate identity, instead of being in the world as a part of something greater.

After a week in the Canadian coastal wilderness, I said goodbye to Glen and Cheryl, hitting the road for Mt. Vernon in Washington. I was not ready to go south to the cities. I heard the mountains in Montana calling. I ran into Eggi again at Ocean Shores. She was preparing to go to La  Push, on the Olympic Peninsula … one of my favorite places. She says that the TV series ‘Twilight’ was filmed on that beach. Having had my fill of the ocean for a while, I crossed into the middle of the state and sat for a couple of weeks by Little Diamond Lake.

I made plans for the rest of the summer. At the end of July, I would head for Glacier National Park. Then I would drive south to the Tetons and Yellowstone, eventually making it to the Craters of the Moon park to catch the eclipse. From there, south to Aspen in early September for the 50th Ruggerfest. I had offered to photograph the tournament for the host club, the Gentlemen of Aspen. The president of the club offered me his driveway for the week. From there, I would go further south to Texas and visit my brother. After that, I would return to Central California, making a loop around the Northwest.

That August, it seemed like the whole world was on fire … or at least, the western North American continent. The firestorms would last the rest of the season, from British Columbia to Los Angeles. Following a record year for rain, the earth was primed to burn. I spent the rest of the summer avoiding thousands of acres of forest fires.

Smokey Dawn b&w

I read about the Going-to-the-Sun highway, in Glacier National Park. That looked like the next stop. From the ocean to the mountains … which were once under the ocean. An observer up there stepped into the middle of millions of years of history. That was where I was headed next.

Going to the Suh highway b&w