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

 

Chapter 9

When we are no longer able to change a situation,                                                            we are challenged to change ourselves.                                             Victor Frankl

The middle of June found me at Crescent Bar, in the middle of Washington state, a tiny town built into a bend on the Columbia river. It got windy out there and a gust snapped a bolt holding up one side of the awning. I made the acquaintance of Mac, the park maintenance supervisor, and he gave me a long screw that I managed to fit through the holes. Gravity held it together.Columbia River b&w

I did my laundry, took a shower, checked all Alice’s fluids and cleaned the windows. A 24-foot RV is just enough housework. Any more probably would not get done.

I was still being pushed around by the weather and there was a big storm headed to the Northwest. I called a high school friend who lived in Mt.Vernon with her 89-year old mother. She said it would ok to hunker down in their driveway and put up the tarp. I thought I had the leaks taken care of, but I was learning not to take unnecessary chances. The price of being wrong was too high. If water seeped down into the walls, the mold could drive me out of my home by the end of the summer.

Sandi and I knew each other in high school but not well. We were part of the group in high school that took the advanced placement classes. That’s how it went for me when I joined a new school. At first, I would join the juvenile delinquents. (Must be something about me … maybe they are more accepting.) Then, after I had a chance to play whatever sport was in season in that country, I would begin to hang out with the ‘jocks’. Finally, after a couple of months in classes, I would find a place among the smart kids. I was too ‘rough’ for the scholars sometimes, too erudite for the jocks and too sensible for the hoodlums. Sandi was one of the smart kids. In high school, she was too wild for me. I was shy. Coming out of puberty in an English boys’ school, I did not know how to relate to her. She was a force, looking for guys who knew what they were doing.

I saw her at the twenty-year high school reunion. She was teaching in Europe and traveling the world. I saw her again at the 50th reunion in Long Beach. She invited me to stop by, if I were ever up in Washington. The rain started when I pulled into their driveway in Mt. Vernon. I climbed onto the roof and tied down the tarp. Then I joined Sandi and her mom, Joan, for a beer on the porch, which I could tell was an evening ritual on their part.

Horseshoe Bay b&wSandi had a car, so we drove to the ferry in Anacortes and took a trip out to Friday Harbor. I was thrilled to be back among the islands. But it wasn’t the solitary, dramatic feeling that marked my first time in the sound, when I was young. Then, it was a new experience blurring the distinction between inside and out. This time, there were people everywhere and formalities to follow. It was much more of an everyday thing. The main cabin of the ferry had jigsaw puzzles laid out on some of the tables, so that shifts of passengers can work on them, while they take for granted the spectacular display of the world around them. Still, it had been the ambition of a lifetime to get back out among the San Juan islands. Something invisible seemed to fall into place.

Mt Shuksan b&wAfter the islands, Sandi drove us in her little Ford up to the mountains, where there was snow. In contrast to the desert, where life is languid and stretched out, the Northwest is in your face. The weather wraps you into the landscape. The mountains are higher than you think, the trees are greener and the rivers louder. In the desert one almost feels left behind. In the forest, the earth fills the senses and it is impossible not to feel a part of something more.

After a couple of days, Sandi took off for Hawaii to visit her ex-husband. I moved to La Connor, Tom Robbins’ home town. Some of the coastal towns in the Northwest have a timeless feel. Fishing boats, tied to the pier, peek out of the fog in the early morning. Brick buildings, reminiscent of the 1930’s, solidify the old downtown. Signs with faded colors call out to a new generation of summer tourists.

Lone Tree sunset b&w 1There was no cell signal this far out, but I didn’t mind. There were plenty of pictures to be taken. I recalled that Eggi had said that she wouldn’t go out to these parts. She said she couldn’t live without knowing she had access to the Internet.

Reflecting on the contrast between Sandi, the adventuress with the flaming red hair and Eggi, the careful ex-techie. It occurred to me that each of us sees the world at a different frequency. As we move through life, what resonates to that frequency catches our attention. It’s easy to forget that there’s a dial. We don’t have to stay stuck in the frequency we started with. By the time we realize that, it usually takes some work and a little sacrifice to change.

In the middle of June, I retreated from the rain once again. This time to Little Diamond lake, in the middle of northern Washington. While coming up the coast, I had been caught in the traffic around Seattle. It is as bad as L.A., or San Jose. It is forecast that, in less than five years, traffic on the 405 in the heart of L.A. will average 10 m.p.h. We are in collective denial in the face of these burgeoning problems. California, food producer to the world, is drying up. Oceans are rising. Poles are shifting. donald trump is president, for God’s sake. What used to be wrong is now normal. What used to be facts are now just opinions. How can we expect to move forward, when we are creating a world in which reality itself is debatable? In a universe where each observer creates their own world, we need a social contract to get anything done. We have to get back to trusting each other. Denial, projection and fear … dominant forces in the mal-adjusted individual … have woven their way into the fabric of everyday life.

Diamond Lake b&wSitting by the calm lake, waiting for the rain, it was impossible not to see the mess we are making. I was reminded of my young days, when I would stride down every corridor that popped up: getting lost, hitting dead-ends, wandering in circles around the rubble… until, eventually, I found a way that worked. After exhausting every alternative, it is time to grow up.

As it is with the individual, so it is with everybody. As above, so below. These days, too many of us are growing old without growing up. Growing up means being responsible for what you think, what you see and what you say. If we would all just do that, we could get on with it. There really is no blame.

I had left everything behind in San Jose. Not just my family, but all the stuff, with which I was familiar. I disposed of all the representations of memories like old medals and trophies, clothes I never wore, a pile of old magazines for which I had photographed the cover, hundreds of books and a collection of old furniture. Remnants of a previous life. Everything I owned now fit into my 20 year-old Tioga Arrow.

A feature of this transitional experience is that the end is unknown. I can’t travel forever. I have to end up somewhere. If the end were known, I would already be there in my imagination and I wouldn’t really be floating unattached. In the same way, if I haven’t fully let go, then I’m not really on the journey yet … because I am literally what’s left after all that stuff is gone. That experience – letting go of all you know, not knowing what comes next, is pure movement. There is nothing for the mind to hold on to. There is only being alive. I was in the transition between one state and the next. A bardo. In the bardo, the usual rules don’t apply. A bardo is the blank page that separates one story from the next. If there weren’t any spaces, there would be nothing to see.

So often, we only tumble into transitional times when we have nothing left to lose. We certainly must be prepared to lose it all, to let everything go, if we want to change, otherwise we are not reaching out to the new stuff with all our might. When we feel like we have nothing to lose, we are open to something completely different. Most of us find it hard to give up something for nothing, but the bardo, the state in-between, must be dealt with, if one is to change. The experience of ‘un-attachment’, of letting go, is as important to our development as the will to get to a new place.

Driving East Washington b&wWe are our habits, so the process feels like losing an identity. New habits need space to grow. When we are guided by our old ways of seeing, we may miss what is right in front of us, because we are busy looking for something we can only see in a rear-view mirror.

By the end of June, my spirit was restored. The agonies of the Western world were behind me. I was ready to cross into Canada and visit Glen. I had no way to know that I was going to be taken even further out of myself. I just knew there was no going back.

 

Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.                                Lao Tsu

Even with a few months experience on the road, I was nervous about heading north. All the things I didn’t know were bound to catch up with me at some point. I was getting used to not knowing where I might spend the next night, but the growing familiarity with uncertainty did not make it any more comfortable. I was dedicating six months and all my money to see if I could take decent landscape pictures.

I am a good sports photographer. Worked full-time for years. But I did not see myself as patient enough to wait for the light to unfold across a landscape. Landscapes are the ultimate in slow motion. And there are so many great landscape photographers. Of course, I wanted see if I could do it, but I also wanted that experience I had been missing … the first time I felt myself to be a part of something bigger. That feeling had faded over the years, but I still had the knowledge that it had rocked my soul.

I felt a tug when leaving Nancy. Neither of us said anything about it being our 35th anniversary. But we both knew. Ever since I was a wild kid in Darwin, I have been periodically required to seek forgiveness. If you can’t forgive me my trespasses, then we’re probably not going to be friends for long. I’d like to think that I am kinder and more considerate in my old age, but I have collected some karma along the way. Out on those desert hikes, it occurred to me that somehow the photographs and the writing … my attempts at creating stuff … are applications for redemption.

Calistoga b&wDriving the road into Northern California was like diving head-first into Nature. I read somewhere that the human eye can distinguish a hundred shades of green. They were all on vibrant display after the record rain. Calistoga is shady streets, natural storefronts, mud baths and mineral springs. Something growing everywhere. Images of blowing sand and dust fade. Vineyards flow the length of the Alexander Valley. Up and down the rolling hills. The elements of the earth and sky transforming into some of the best wine in the world.

Paths b&wI 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. Here, 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 takes patience. It doesn’t just jump at you, as it does down south. The sun’s rays fall, like a light rain, in between the 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.

We cruised through Garberville and the Avenue of the Giants, through Eureka, past Trinidad and up to Oregon. By the middle of May, Alice and I were parked beside the Klamath River.

By the river, the early morning breeze drifts in through the bedroom window like the breath of the earth, full of fresh smells. The light seeps in through the trees, as the sun grabs a hold of the planet again. Without question, dawn is the best time of the day. All that is to be is loaded up and ready to go but hasn’t happened yet. The light is new. The promise of another day. This is why I like the big windows in the back.

Klamath from bedroom window b&wI stayed in a couple of Thousand Trails ‘resorts’. They were ok. Too much regimentation. Too many rules. People with bossy attitudes patrolling in golf carts. Often too far out of the way. I liked the Oregon state parks. They are more peaceful. Still learning, I nicked the rear corner again, backing into a space. I missed the fridge in the state parks, because it didn’t work on propane and I was still hesitant about running the generator for too long … just because it was something I had never done.

I had finally figured out how to use my smartphone as a hotspot and, combined with Verizon’s Unlimited Plan (which, of course, is not really unlimited), I was able to get on-line in some out-of-the-way places. Later in May, despite the infamous ‘Grey Days’ (coastal fog), the Oregon coast was getting crowded. Once again, I had forgotten about a holiday – Labor Day weekend.

I finally managed to find room in a Thousand Trails park near Humbug Mountain, in a space across from Eric, who was playing bass in a band at the local casino and next to Eggi, a laid-off Silicon Valley executive who had taken off to see the world in a brand new Mercedes Class C.

I went for a walk along the beach with Eggi … and her little dog. She is anxious to have everything planned six months ahead. In fact, she seemed quite anxious generally. She is a 53-year old ex-software engineer, who got laid off and decided to hit the road. I admired that. She seemed to be wound a little tight, but she acknowledged that letting-go is the purpose of her journey. She had plans into the Fall, reserving places to stay weeks ahead of time. She had programmed a ‘terabyte’ of movies to pass the time.

After our walk, Eggi asked me if I wanted a beer. I said sure. As the sun was going down, she walked over with a bottle of Corona and a pint glass of beer. She stepped inside Alice and handed me the Corona. We sat at the table. Eggi had come to California from Germany about fifteen years previously, directly to a job in the software business. She was emerging from a morass of job loss, house-selling and relationship breakup. I had respect. I could tell from the jar of cigarette butts outside her door that she wasn’t finding it easy. I suspected that throwing herself to the invisible winds would not have been her first choice.

I thought that Eggi might loosen up after a couple of beers, but it turned out that she meant it when she asked me if I wanted a beer. Her attention wandered during conversation. When she talked, she was careful what she said. After a while, I found the conversation tiring. I could tell what she was going to say next. I like direct conversation. I enjoy hearing from other people about the unique way they are dealing with the challenges we all face. I enjoyed swapping road stories, but part of Eggi’s way of dealing was not to go deep. I respected that. We could be friends, but we weren’t going to be close.

Oregon Beach b&wOn 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. Rain was coming to the coast by the weekend. I decided to shoot across Oregon and Washington to Quincy, by the Columbia river, in the middle of Washington state. 362 miles. The Thousand Trails brochure cites “300 days of sunshine”. The weather app. shows no rain. I booked it for 14 days. I was fed up with the fog.

As I pulled away from the coast, mindful of Eggi’s anxiety, I stopped at a ‘Les Schwab’ to check the tires. Turned out the rear inside tire was virtually flat. I chatted with Scott, who replaced it, and he was kind enough to check the other tires as well. All the rear tires were low.

After a couple of hours (and $142), I drove further up the coast to Walmart and re-stocked ($44). For the fifty years I have lived in this country, I don’t believe I had ever stepped into a Walmart before I took to the road. What was I thinking? Everything was cheaper. I could get milk and RV tape in the same place, as well as a McMuffin … as long as I weren’t in a hurry.

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 space between the beats 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.

Leaf and water b&wI had discovered a need to stop once in a while and let the life tumbling behind me catch up. A 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 was still feeling my way on the road. Still bumping my head on the cabinets, forgetting to close a window, latch a door or take in the outside step, but I was beginning to notice that there were times when I just wasn’t bothered by all that stuff. The surrounding landscape swept me up. At those times, I felt like I was part of the same stuff as the earth, the sunlight and the wind that rushed up the river. My coveted, treasured little ideas of myself dissolved and I felt so big my head couldn’t contain it. As if I were all there was.

Chapter 7

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.                                                                                                                                       Steve Jobs

By the third week in February 2017, the worst storm in a decade was battering the West Coast. I stayed in the sun. My time ran out at Oasis Palms, so I moved to a ‘resort’ closer to the Salton Sea.

Paragliders b&w I woke up on a Saturday morning to see a parachute in the sky, floating passed my window.  Turns out, the park had a little airstrip and was a weekend gathering spot for paragliders. I enjoyed spending a couple of days taking pictures.

I also had time for housework. Alice was cleaned, inside and out. I used the pressure washer I bought to prepare Glen’s house. Emptied the tanks. Took on more water (had to bleach the tanks again as a result). Ran the generator. Checked the battery. Pressure washer worked fine from an inside plug … still discoveries every day. Toilet bleached. Floor wiped. Windows washed. We were good to go.

 

Sevens Day 1 01 b&wAt the beginning of March, , Alice and I took highways 46, 5, 58 and 15 over to Las Vegas. There I met Ian, a photographer friend from England. We were there to photograph the USA Sevens rugby tournament. I had been the tournament photographer for years, back when I worked for Rugby Magazine. When I joined a start-up in 2008, I turned the official duties over to Ian. He had turned that referral into a full-time job, shooting rugby all over the world. I was not official anymore, but I liked to hang out. The food in the press box is usually pretty good. I provided some pictures for a couple of friends’ web sites.

Alex engagement b&w

From Vegas,  I crossed California again to San Francisco. My son, Alex, was going to propose to McKenzie, his girlfriend for five years, on the ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito. He wanted me to sneak on the ferry and get a picture. I captured them from the second deck of the ferry, as several people moved to give me room. All those people applauded the happy couple.

I was glad to have that time with family, because the West coast was heating up and I was keen to get on the road north. I wouldn’t see them for a while. I was looking forward to spending more time in this new state of mind that seemed to be opening up for me. A connection to something bigger. Mind has to be our key to the universe. Bodies only go so far. Mind, when all the noise settles, is unlimited. ‘Experience’ only happens in the mind.

My interface with the world was taking on a new character. I still had to take care of business – I nicked a vent cover on the roof in a reckless attempt to drive through an In ‘N Out burger … I scraped an interior wall pulling the ladder out of the storage bunk … I broke the toilet handle – but such maintenance was becoming routine. And, because my life was so much simpler, I could put that world aside every now and then. I was re-designing my life, letting it fall in line with larger forces. The size didn’t matter. Me or the Universe. There was a vibration that felt familiar.

When we wonder, what’s it all for, aren’t we talking about design? Robert Frost asked “If design govern in a thing so small” as a moment when a spider catches a moth on a flower. Is it all designed, down to the smallest detail? Does design even determine what I see, what I think of next? Or is it all just a random mess? Einstein’s answer was that God does not play dice with the universe.

I bet we are designed to become better people, to live in the spirit of things and to merge our individual identities at some point, as they were numinously merged in the past, before words. We have all had some sort of experience of that unified field behind it all, the non-duality – moments in art, music, sports, love … when time seems to disappear. That experience is not compatible with taking care of business and using tools. One needs to separate one’s self from the environment to operate on it. The best we will find is a rhythm. We can wonder or we can do. As spirit in a body, we are made for both.

I spent some more time in the wilderness, catching up with what was going on in my head. On May 1st, as I prepared to hit the road north, I felt like I was throwing myself out into the invisible winds. As it happened, May 1st was our 35th wedding anniversary. When Nancy and I said goodbye that morning, neither of us mentioned it. The price of getting along was not to reach back. I had already uncovered what an asshole I had been at times in my life. I was beginning to unravel the layers of guilt and self-deprecation to let a lighter energy seep through. Almost as if my real self were being called out by the landscape. Like Nancy, I just wanted to move on and get over it. I was emboldened by the first six months on the road. I would do more stupid things, but I knew I would fix them, or get around them. Somehow make do. I still didn’t know what I was doing much of the time, but I didn’t care about being sure as much as I used to. I had accepted that I would not ever be able to drive the world into a manageable size.

For a long time, I had been imposing a structure on reality that eliminated the view, because I was going somewhere in particular. Now it felt like I had blinders on. No regrets. I felt like I had to do it at the time.

I was lucky enough to live through all that. Now I had a chance to go back to basics. I had caught a glimpse … a note of what was behind the globe-trotting child, the rugby player, the teacher, the salesman, the husband, the father, the thought-less jerk … I could go on. There was something that always seemed to be new and yet had always been there. Something looking, not something seen. That’s who I was. There could be no path that would lead there, because there was nowhere to go.

So it was ironic that I was headed to the Northwest to find out who I was these days, but I suspected that the mountains, the forests and the rivers would put me in my place. I had felt that way before up there. On the ferry to Victoria in British Columbia. I was seventeen, on a rugby tour with UCLA. Early in the morning, standing at the bow facing a stiff, chilly breeze, threading through the islands, I had a feeling of belonging that I have never forgotten. At the time I wondered, how can that be? I had never been there before. I had been around the world, but the Northwest had a sound all its own. I felt like a tiny part of something magnificent. In a way I didn’t understand, going north was going to be like going home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.                                                                                                     Nicolas Tesla

Near the end of December, during long foggy walks along the beach at Pismo, I was able to reflect on the last image I had of the desert. On the way back to the coast, I had spent a morning in Laughlin, Nevada. This concrete oasis, on the edge of the Colorado River, sports a half a dozen casinos and not much else on the Nevada side of the river and housing developments all the way up the hill on the Arizona side. I walked ‘Casino Drive’, which serves as a low-rent version of the Las Vegas strip. There’s about a six-block radius with sidewalks. I entered into the caverns of a couple of casinos. Dark, stale, even the view of the river minimized by half-shades. Every available space rattling with lights and jingles, in a maze of slot machines. Whichever way one turns, within fifteen feet one is directly confronted with a dazzling screen offering spectacularly unbelievable rewards. The few people on the machines at 9 o’clock in the morning looked like they lived out back, pale ghosts waiting to haunt the tourists with stories of their sins.

In less than two miles of ‘strip’, all the restaurants, except a McDonalds, were discreetly inside hotel/casino buildings. Those buildings were interrupted by empty lots, the ever-present desert – which may have been waiting at one time for somebody to do something with all that space, but now had just given up.

I expected to see some restaurants, maybe a couple of country music theaters, perhaps a nightclub. But no. A marijuana dispensary on a hill overlooked the river casinos and a country music bar sat off on its own at the top of another hill. I saw several entertainment billboards and I did not recognize a single name. I suspect Laughlin is a good venue for cover bands. If I wanted to punctuate my experience with something that was not-Nature, this was it.

It was back at Pismo Beach, on the day before Christmas Eve, that the rain caught up with Alice and me. It rained hard for six hours. The first leak appeared over the bathroom sink. One leak, then two started to seep onto the cab bed. We had not sealed the edges well enough. I brought out the saucepans and the plastic containers. Fortunately, I always zip up my camera bags, but they were soaked. The rat-a-tat of the rain was interspersed with the plop-plop drips into the pots. If we hadn’t put a covering on the roof, amateur though it was, I felt like Alice would have been washed away from the inside out. The clear solution was to stay out of the rain.

I drove up to San Jose for Christmas, spending a warm family day with Nancy and my two sons with their girlfriends. Presents, dinner, board games. I am lucky to have such a loving family. My sons are 31 years old. They are both doing well and seem to be happy. Like every parent, I’m not sure how that happened, but I am incredibly grateful.

At the end of 2016, I had no idea about the future, except a vague plan to travel north. I was beginning to feel a subtle resonance between the inside and the outside. Occasionally, I was feeling a sense of identity with my natural surroundings. As if I belonged somehow. Boundaries seemed to soften. I felt a familiarity, in some ways a shade of what I felt with my wife and sons, as if we were interwoven … made of the same stuff. It was only a glimpse, but I had a sense that there was more to be had. A gate was opening to an experience that I had only suspected. My plan in 2017 was to find more of that.

I stayed in San Jose through to the New Year. It felt good to see how well my family was doing. Now that I think about it, it was a slight, but deep, relief. I was about to take off on a journey during which I wouldn’t see them for at least six months. It was a heavily textured feeling, realizing that they didn’t need me any more. Fortunately, one of the benefits of age is that I was genuinely happy about that.

At the beginning of 2017, the worst storm in history was bearing down on the West coast. Alice and I turned tail and ran to Palm Springs. I was learning to segment the journey into parts. What was my goal for the day, for the week, for the month? What did I have to do to prepare for that? I tried to extend the planning to a year, but my mind wouldn’t reach that far. Not enough information yet ….

Golf in tree b&wGlen drove down from Canada to finalize the sale of his house. I drove over from Palm Springs to meet him. Another friend, Stan (with whom Bonnie and I had lived in Long Beach), came in from L.A.. We spent a night catching up. Glen worked as a fishing guide in British Columbia and Stan has been a computer consultant since we lived together in 1975. Stan had developed an automated self-improvement system he had put online, called the Mind Mirror. He was the first to get a bio-feedback machine, back in the day. We got stoned and played golf on a 9-hole course down the road in the desert. Three or four rounds, I’m not sure.

The next day, we drove to Oatman, supposedly a ghost town. Glen thought there might be an opportunity for some pictures. In reality, it is just an old mining town on hill. Its star attraction, advertised far and wide, is the freedom a hundred or so burros have to wander around the streets. I wanted to get a picture or two, but the exposures were thrown off by the dazzling reflections of the bright and shiny tourist objects that twirled and flapped from every store front. We joined the other tourists playing ‘step around the burro shit’ in an attempt to find anything authentic. Unsuccessfully.

In the middle of January, Alice and I crossed California back to Pismo through the rain. We stayed at Pismo Dunes (for $42 a night), because the state park was flooded (and would be closed for the next six months.) The leaks were depressing, although not unexpected. I was running low on funds. I knew where I wanted to go in the Spring, but not in the next two months. I had a toothache. My two favorite places to stay were going to be closed for the next six months. Once that negative ball gets rolling, it picks up all the unfinished stuff.

When plans don’t work out and things get difficult, sometimes I see myself playing vulnerable. I have an unconscious, learned reaction to give up. Another vestige of childhood with a drunk for a father. I don’t think I am fundamentally a quitter, but I go through a phase where I would prefer just to give it all up when things get tough. In England, I would totally give up on Latin homework on a regular basis. In American high school, I was on the cross-country team. During a two-mile race, at about a mile and half, I would get a tremendous urge to quit. It would all feel impossible. For a minute or two, I would be right on the edge of giving up. Then it would pass, and I would enter into an almost dream-like state … as if I were in a movie. At that point, I would die rather than lose. I even, eventually, learned some Latin.

At times like those, it was a mental weight that pulled my spirit down. How stupid to buy an RV that obviously was going to leak. How foolish to go out on the road without a mechanical clue. How reckless to give everything away in order to grow. How can I live on so little money. How much do I miss my family. Questions that somehow felt like facts. My spirit will win eventually … I have been around long enough to learn that I will keep going, despite what is going on in my head. I can still get thrown off, but not as often and for not as long. Being depressed, when the weight of unfulfilled emotion presses the spirit flat, is part of finding one’s way in this world. It is one of the colors of life. There are just times when one has to wait.

So, after I got over my whining, I set about rectifying the situation. I bought a tarp at Walmart … an institution with which I was becoming quite familiar … big enough to cover Alice’s roof. I stopped by a dentist in San Jose and donated a couple of teeth. I joined Thousand Trails (they had campgrounds all the way to Canada) and made reservations in Las Vegas to get out of the rain.

It was in Vegas that I learned how many of the members worked with Thousand Trails. Bob, a retired iron worker parked next to me, was building a carriage at the rear of his rig for a freezer and generator. He took a cigarette break to explain that Thousand Trails had a rule – two weeks maximum in one place – and then you had to be out of the system for a week. Presumably this was to prevent people living in the system full-time. Every two weeks, Bob and his wife would drive their rig a couple of blocks south, down Boulder Highway to a park where they would stay for a week at $20 a night. Then they would return. Three weeks at $3 a night and one week at $140 … $203 a month rent. He said he had been doing it for a couple of years.

Booster b&w Wifi repeater b%w

It was also in Vegas that I tried to resolve the wi-fi problem. In these big Thousand Trails parks, the signal never seemed to reach to me. My son Alex had given me a wi-fi booster kit. Supposedly, the higher antenna would catch the signal and the computer brain would amplify it. The laptop then would connect to an interior network in the RV, rather than the exterior broadcast itself. The interior ‘brain’ boosted the signal.

Each place fosters its own frequencies. In Arizona, it was the pick-up trucks, sunsets and the sunrise. In Vegas, it was the sirens and the swoosh of boulevard traffic. That’s the treasure in travelling … a dose of something different … sounds, sights, smells and so on. I am beginning to accept that we are each a point on a sliding scale, when it comes to perceiving qualities. We each may literally not be seeing the same thing. Each person is unique in their abilities to perceive the world. Some are more empathetic than others, some are more adventurous, more musical, more this or that. Some of us like new frequencies more than others. We are tuned differently. This can be a problem when it comes to relationships, esp. for those at different places on the scales. It’s always been an issue for me.

By the second week in February 2017, I was parked at Oasis Palms RV Resort, by the Salton Sea, which most definitely has a smell … a character,  all its own. I would return to Oasis Palms a year later, where I am now, as I write this. Looking back, I can see/feel the vibration I got to know as me. The signal in all the noise. The note that stayed the same as I went from place to place and the other frequencies changed. I am/hear that note now. It’s about all that survived the 69 years. In the shift and flow of Nature itself, any thing we choose is going to change. I am always the story behind the scenes.

Oasis Palms RV Park b&w

 

 

Chapter 5

To act wisely when the time for action comes, to wait patiently when it is time for repose, puts man in accord with the tides.                                                                                                                                                                                                         Helena Blavatsky

There is a rhythm to life on the road. 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 was in Arizona for a couple of months, spending the winter hiding from the record rain on the high desert in the Southwest. The ribbons of pastel pinks and blues that burst across the sky in the sunrises and sunsets quietly thrill the senses. The light during the rest of the day just beats you up. Starting hikes before dawn was just right. During the day, the desert in the Southwest is wind, sand, loud engines and big pick-up trucks. Empty lots of more sand, scrub and blowing trash punctuate the city landscape.

After a $2 ferry ride across Lake Havasu, London Bridge rises like a mirage in the early morning light. In the late Sixties, an American genius re-assembled the Victorian bridge in the middle of nowhere, in order to sell houses in the desert. It worked.

London Bridge b&w

Now, in that desert, 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 seemed 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.

In some of these’resorts, huge RVs, costing  $200, 000 – $400,000 dwarf my 24-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 and travel seasonally, but increasingly folks are going on the road full-time.

Finding myself without any sort of Wifi or cell phone connection was a wake-up call. There were times when I didn’t have access to the outside world, nor did I have photographs or words to work on. I would read for a while. I could meditate, because I have been doing that most of my life, but I am no zen monk. I was learning, in the morning, to watch the light fall into the hills and valleys. I was 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 was practicing a nap here and there, although I never actually slept.

There is a theme that emerged from the conversations I had with others on the road. Everyone was keen to share something new, something unexpected that they had encountered or a change in a previously known situation. Unlike many casual conversations, politics rarely came up. There is a 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.

By mid-December, I was back in Pismo Beach. I was planning on hitting the road north in the Spring, leaving the sand on the beaches and the desert behind. Trading wide-open spaces for rivers and forests. From what I remembered, 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’s not so much that I was changing as it was that I was emerging, amidst all this uncertainty.

Dune and airplane b&wThere were moments, like this one, on the Pismo dunes, when I was looking at a landscape that had 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. I looked up as a white streak flashed across the sky. In my mind, I saw 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 couldn’t keep both observations in my mind at once. The sizes don’t match. I had to go back to the RV and take a nap.

Chapter 4

Sight is energy leaving the body                                                               Leonardo Da Vinci

On September 10, I was set up in an RV park near the Queen Mary – a luxurious spot at $65 a night. Nothing cheaper on the Southern California coast. The ‘resort’ was only acouple of miles from the house that saw the end of my first marriage in the Seventies. Looking back, it is impossible not to see how stupid and selfish I was in those days.

Long Beach House b&w

The house on Obispo street in Long Beach

After Bonnie and I returned from the little Honda Alaska camping trip in the summer of 1974, in order to save money, we shared a house with two other guys, Bob and Stan. We had the upstairs. I was teaching full-time, going to graduate school in the late afternoons and rugby practice at night. For a while, I had to endure a full-length cast on my right leg, due to a knee operation. Fair to say, I was not fun to sleep with during those weeks.

Clearly, in hindsight, the end of our relationship was spelled out. We all split up from the house in the June of 1976, after nearly two years. Bonnie and I rented a little house in Laguna Beach and began going to therapy. By December, we weren’t talking to each other. I moved out into an apartment in Costa Mesa, near the high school where I was teaching.

So a walk to the house on Obispo Street brought back memories. So did a visit with my cousin. Linda is in her sixties like me. She still lives in Thornaby, North Yorkshire, where her mother and my father were born. She is retired and, like several other English cousins, loves to travel. She brought some old family photos and we hung out for an afternoon. I was born in my mother’s home town of Sunderland, a little further north than Thornaby, near the Scottish border. My father left the English navy in 1946, married my mom in 1948 and I was born in 1949. We lived in the North for six months, at my Grandma’s house in Sunderland, before moving to London, where my father found a job on Fleet Street, at the Daily Mail.

My father’s father worked in a Yorkshire steel mill for fifty years. He was a hard man who didn’t talk much. My mother’s father was a master riveteer at the Sunderland docks for his working lifetime. He rode a motorcycle and liked to take pictures. A gentler man. This was the last generation when you really were done at age 65, ready for a bit of a rest. As a kid, I saw the North as if in black and white … stark. It always seemed to be cold up there too. The south was colorful and warmer.

After Long Beach and a dive into swirling memories of the past, I drove back to Caspers Wilderness. Nothing was calling me. I didn’t have to do anything there. I could sleep all day, if I were able to. The lack of immediate demands challenges the mind to come up with something to do, in terms of information-processing. What to think about? That can be a peaceful process. There is treasure in letting the mind drift. That’s how I started meditation, way back in the day.

The old ways were dying hard. The latent urgency, the need to do something now, hung about me like an old suit. The impulse to be somewhere, to act on something, tugged at the edge of my thoughts from the moment I woke up. It was starting to feel like an old itch … something one scratches just out of habit. Almost as if it didn’t matter what it is – just do something. I got over it, but sometimes it took a while.

I began to notice that when I pay attention, I can see when I am selling the moment short … doing one thing thing while having some other thing in mind. Doing a thing completely is the zen way of passing beyond time, but I had developed a knack for speed-reading the situation. Taking shortcuts. That was helpful at times, over the years … to cut to the chase. Certainly helped on the rugby field. A survivor’s mentality. But I missed way too many threads that were left hanging.

This feeling I have that I should be doing something, that I am missing out, is an illusion. When I take a moment to stop and take in my surroundings, these habits of thoughts run into each like a rushing crowd piling into a narrow gate at a soccer stadium. One thought tumbles into the next. On those long hikes, I began to develop a mental practice. The first twenty minutes would be taken up with seemingly random thoughts, bumping chaotically into one another. After letting that go on for a while, my current state of mind would begin to take shape. I would find bits of information hinting at a pattern that represented something deeper, bigger, something I could not put words to. I knew it wouldn’t last. I was happy with a glimpse.

Out on the road, I was beginning to get a clearer sense of how I was perceiving things. What the world out there, this or that thing, meant depended on how I was feeling. Alone, in the wilderness, it is possible to slow the thoughts down and take them one by one.

The quality of what you put out there really does determine the quality of what you get back. This could be a life-time theme, but it also works moment to moment, perception to perception. My internal state at given moment determines what I think I’m seeing. There are no imperatives in the realm of the spirit.  You can’t just tell yourself to be a better person, because when you are commanding the person you want to be, you are being a person who is not happy with who they are.

I spend a fair amount of conscious energy ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’, not fully appreciating something that may have gone well or even something that is going well at the moment. Probably a childhood thing, growing up with such a volatile, unreliable father, who constantly did not do what he promised.

During my business career, I buried those thoughts for the most part. Being a better person is not always the way to make money. In the wilderness, I was beginning to realize that a better person is not always who I was.

For the rest of September, I worked my way up the coast in a series of state parks. I found that the propane to the fridge didn’t work, so no fridge while boon-docking (when there was no shore power) … I couldn’t run the generator all day. Cell service was intermittent at best, so I had plenty of time to myself. I was headed to San Luis Obispo eventually, planning to stay at Bob’s and seal the roof. In 2015, it had rained only three or four times in California. That, I thought when I bought the RV, was my hedge against the leaks in the roof. Ironically, 2017 was the wettest year on record in the West.

On the second of October, I was back in Long Beach by the Queen Mary, for my 50th high school reunion. I ran into some old track teammates. My first girlfriend, Carole, was there. I still remember the first kiss on her doorstep. My mom drove us to see Dr. Zhivago when I was 16. I sang “I Love Her’ to her on the bus, when we were returning from a French Club dinner. She has five grandchildren but doesn’t appear to have aged at all.

The most remarkable thing to me about the reunion was how many people I did not know. There were probably 200 people there and I was familiar with about 10 of them.  Thinking about that while wandering in the wilderness later, I realized how busy we all were back then, each of us building a little world of our own . . . as if other people weren’t even there sometimes

After the reunion, I made my way back up to San Luis Obispo and Bob’s ranch. I spent a couple of days (and $300) there with Bob, putting two coats of rubber sealant on the roof. Bob and I have been friends for fifty years. We met on a rugby field during the final of a Sevens rugby tournament. I was playing for UCLA and he was playing for L.A. Rugby Club. It was late in the day, the last game. I got the ball near our own goal line and took off, a hundred yards to the other end. The sun was almost setting behind me. Bob took off to catch me. For the whole length of the pitch, I could see Bob’s long shadow catching up to me. When he was almost on me, I changed direction. All the way up the field. Pissed him off.

So we got to know each other on the rugby field, where it is difficult to pretend. He is English, coming out from Oxford in the mid-Sixties. In 1968, Bob arrived at UCLA. We toured Australia and New Zealand with University of California Golden Bears rugby team in 1970. We started Santa Monica Rugby Club in 1972, winning a couple of national championships with teammates we recruited from UCLA, USC, St. Mary’s and Stanford.

Bob is eight years older than me. In 2016, we both see an emerging problem. What to do with folks like us who have retired but still have 25 years to go? This is going to be a problem. Not everyone will be able to live on their social security. Too old for the stress of the 9-5. Too young to settle into a rest home. One change: more and more of us are hitting the road.

While we were finishing the second coat on the roof, I got a call from another old friend. I have known Glen since high school, even longer than Bob We lived together in a house with two other guys when I first moved out from home in 1968. Glen now lived in Canada, near Vancouver, with Cheryl, his wife of fifty years. They were having medical issues and they had a vacation home in Arizona, near the Colorado river, that they wanted to sell.  I agreed to drive out there and see what I could do to get the house ready for sale.

I needed refuge from the coming record rain, so in the middle of October, Alice and I drove to Fort Mojave, Arizona. I met Evelyn, Glen’s real estate agent, at the house. She gave me a key. I was going to sleep in a building again for the first time in two months. I wasn’t ready for the claustrophobic feeling when I was surrounded by walls at night.

Fort Mojave b&w

Fort Mojave, Arizona

For the next month, I worked on cleaning up Glen’s house. I trimmed trees and cacti around the yard, pulled weeds, spread gravel, painted a gate and a wrought-iron fence, dumped three huge bins of trash and watered every other day. I watched TV for the first time in a couple of months, seeing donald trump get elected. I believe we still don’t know just how evil that guy is. He will turn out to be the most corrupt President in history.

This ‘trump world’ was not anything I wanted to be a part of. He was not the problem. He is just a self-centered,  insecure con man. The problem is the millions of people who voted for him. The subject-object orientation (I do this to that and there is no reciprocation) to the world has failed these people. Nothing goes one way. Everything has an effect. They don’t have the tools, the education, to get a handle on the predicate of the sentence (the world outside the subjective). They have a subject, and a verb, but the sentence is too often incomplete. And they don’t know that they are operating in a world of incomplete sentences.

The threshold is crossed when we all get used to the world not making sense. The absurd becomes normal. One gives up and fails to develop a philosophy. Without a way to thread together experience, without a way to deal with time, an identity has nowhere to stand. Without an identity, one is lost and will follow the loudest voice.

The subject-object orientation … using tools … is handy in the short term. But once there is awareness of something more, something invisible, something that’s everywhere, all the time … one must move on, like a butterfly from a cocoon. Awareness of the non-local universe would fill those spaces that education in other ways couldn’t reach, but that awareness lies behind any subject-object, here or there, now or then kind of thinking.

Instead, Trump supporters fill those gaps in critical thinking with faith. Inarticulate faith. A blind, blanket faith that ignores evidence to the contrary. Emotional faith. Like betting on a horse because its name is some sort of personal coincidence.

My life was remarkably different by this time, only three months in. I was beginning to realize the beauty of being out in the sunrise and the sunset, rather than spying it from afar. I liked feeling the chill in the morning and the warm desert wind at night. I found myself getting restless in the house. Feeling ‘cooped up’, I was missing the feeling of belonging to Nature that I realized had been quietly taking shape.

The world and its politics were beginning to clash and clang in my life again. I needed to get away. I had spent months simplifying my life and I was beginning to feel boxed in again. I realized how the last couple of months on the road had opened up a part of me that had lingered since the frontier days in Darwin. The ‘me’ that had escaped the decades of money-making 9-5 had seen the light and was not going back. On Thanksgiving, Alice and I took off for Lake Havasu.

Dark Desert Cactus b&w