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.
Driving 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.
I love how the light softens as I travel north. In the Southern desert, the sunshine is savage. There, I can almost hear the sharp light tearing at the landscape. 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.
I 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.
On Grey Days, for which the Oregon coast is well-known, the light and the lines are all mashed together and there is nothing to notice. 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.
I 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.