I have been on the road for more than three years now. From the bold sunshine in San Diego and the dusty desert around Palm Springs, through the green pine forests, by the blue rivers and over the snow-capped mountains of the Northwest. I took pictures of eagles while I was cruising in a boat off the west coast of Vancouver Island. My little RV disappeared in the glacier-carved canyons of British Columbia. I lost the sun in the eclipse, looking from the frozen lava flows in Idaho and struggled to find it again through the smoke from huge fires in Montana and Wyoming.
After completing the circle through the Northwest twice, I have settled down in the places I like the most. For the summer, I have been staying in Etna, California, thirty miles south of the Oregon border. Etna is incredibly beautiful. The town lies in a deep green valley, but still 3000 feet up, with little rivers running everywhere. The mountains that surround the valley seal it off from the outside world. Deer cross through downtown on a regular basis. Hay is bailed in fields everywhere. The air is sweet and fresh. It is warm and quiet. At this time of year, the blackberries are growing all over the place.
In the Fall and Spring, I retreat to Dutch Flat, north of Sacramento. Up in the Sierras, esp. on the edge of the seasons, the air is crisp and full of potential. The blues and greens are sharp and energetic. The weather has a presence every day. For me, it feels like a threshold to greater mysteries.
In the winter, I stay near the Salton Sea, just south of Palm Springs. The desert is a contrast. So much more is left to the imagination. Grapevines grow in January down there. The San Jacinto mountains keep the storms away, for the most part. The geese stop by for a couple of days, on their way somewhere. Warm winter days, cool winter nights. I have always loved the seasons, but these days being cold is no longer a thrill. My old bones welcome the steady, warm embrace of Southern California.
I have realized that it’s not one thing that makes life worthwhile, it’s all of it. Any one experience is defined in terms of all the other experiences. Any one thing fades. Nothing could stand alone – there would be no contrast, no background against which the figure could stand out. There is no size to anything, unless it is compared to something else. What it is compared to is what went before.
In the last year, my brother died and my grandson was born. That is the bigger picture, in terms of hills and valleys. I can only use words that once applied to the landscape to metaphorically describe an invisible world beyond my senses. The experience is the same. The nervous system doesn’t know the difference.
At 70 years old, I am seeing friends die once in a while. That puts it all in perspective. Whole lifetimes linger in the mind. I begin to think about what I am leaving behind. There is no way to know how it all adds up. All I am aware of is that I gave it my best shot, expressing all I could think of. I believe that’s why we’re here – to add imagination to the circumstances.
My earliest memories of being around others are of being in the classroom in South Australia. I was six years old. I sat in the back of the rows of desks. Another boy and I would compete on filling out math problems on cards. The cards were piled on a table at the front of the classroom. When we each finished one card successfully, we would race up to the front table and get the next card. We called it “doing our sums”. Sums were math in those days.
In reality, we are constantly summing things up, revising the bottom line. Our awareness is actually a running total of experience. By adding things up, we can project a bigger picture. Perhaps even one we haven’t seen yet … for which we will have to use the words for things we have seen already. I don’t see inner experience as a bunch of different streams, feelings flowing this way and that. Inner experience is an accumulation of all that has been felt at any given time. Each moment is a current, flowing with everything up to now. The shape of Now reflects all that went (and didn’t go) before. I am an accumulation. What you see is how it adds up so far.
Just as my outer body is a visible running total of my biological interactions in life, my past thoughts and feelings are resulting in my experience now. The history is unrecoverable. Here, now, is the edge of everything that went before … like the last ring in a tree-trunk, the flower in the Spring, the stream after a snowfall or like the stars in the sky
There is just one experience. This one. Now. It is made of everything.