In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.
– Robert Frost
2:20 am. Another powerful dream about Mandela. This time, we were back in Pocatello when she was a very young puppy. We lived in the nice brick house on Spence–I was busy writing my book. It was summer. I would write every morning from around 7:30 to 11:00 and then we’d go to the park. Dela would run and explore and smell and roll around in the grass and I would read or just lay back on the grass and watch her. Then back home to write a few more hours. She lay at my feet while I sat at my desk and put down my story.
Sometimes we’d wander down the few blocks to the Starbucks in Fred Meyer. Even then, she needed no leash. From her first days she simply stayed by my side.
I’m thinking about hitting the trail soon. Seems it must happen. I thought perhaps I would settle a bit here in Cleveland, but circumstances have evolved. I thought perhaps a more normal life would present itself, but alas, it has not. If I decide to do the Great Divide next year, I would need to detach for ~ 2.5 months starting in mid-August. Too far out to know if that is practical/possible but it is definitely on the radar. If I take a year off, I could ride the Great Divide and then hike the AT the next Spring. Much better plan, so maybe see if that can work.
I will be 58 next year. The year that I am meant to have shed this urge for adventures. Alas, as with John, it has not worked. I know myself well enough now to know that another sabbatical and nomadic exploration is inevitable. All I can do is push it out to a point where my re-entry to society is not too painful. That means, more than anything, just getting some money squirreled away so I have a soft landing when I am done riding and walking and paddling.
When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would erase this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.
Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum.
I fear this disease incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself….A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we not take a trip; a trip takes us.
I had to dig around in my archives to find that passage from ‘Travels With Charley’. But when I did, I found a letter I had emailed to dad a few years back. Mom had made a comment that she did not like John Steinbeck. Her recollections were from her forced reading of ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘East of Eden’ in school. Two critical favorites, and bold, majestic stories, but definitely more sterile writing than much of his other works.
That letter is here.
Dad, please read these words to my mother and please ask her to consider giving Mr. Steinbeck a second look. He has an amazing ability to describe heavy things with lightness and to find humor where none should exist. He has a brevity in language that is enviable for those of us who are less economical with words.
I like to think that these writings represent the real man that he was—he merely occasionally dabbled in a more critically acclaimed style to show he was capable of doing it. It pleased the critics and brought him fame, but he was at heart a man of the people and was most at ease when writing in the style he was raised in.
This is a short paragraph from ‘The Russian Journal’.
Before we had gone to Russia, we had not known what kind of equipment would be available, so in France we had bought a wonderful pocketknife, a pocketknife that had a blade to take care of nearly all physical situations in the world, and some spiritual ones. It was equipped with blades that were scissors, with blades that were files, awls, saws, can-openers, beer-openers, corkscrews, tools for removing stones from a horses’s foot, a blade for eating and a blade for murder, a screw driver and a chisel. You could mend a watch with it, or repair the Panama Canal. It was the most wonderful pocketknife anyone has ever seen, and we had it nearly two months, and the only thing that we ever did with it was to cut sausages. But it must be admitted that the knife cut sausages very well.
And, one of my favorite bits from Steinbeck’s ‘Log from the Sea of Cortez’.
We come now to a piece of equipment which still brings anger to our hearts and, we hope, some venom to our pen. Perhaps in self-defense against suit, we should say, “The outboard motor mentioned in this book is purely fictitious and any resemblance to outboard motors living or dead is coincidental.” We shall call this contraption, for the sake of secrecy, a Hansen Sea-Cow—a dazzling little piece of machinery, all aluminum paint and touched here and there with spots of red. The Sea-Cow was built to sell, to dazzle the eyes, to splutter its way into the unwary heart.
We took it along for the skiff. It was intended that it should push us ashore and back, should drive our boat into estuaries and along the borders of little coves. But we had not reckoned with one thing. Recently, industrial civilization has reached its peak of reality and has lunged forward into something that approaches mysticism. In the Sea-Cow factory where steel fingers tighten screws, bend and mold, measure and divide, some curious mathematick has occurred. And that secret so long sought has accidentally been found. Life has been created. The machine is at last stirred. A soul and a malignant mind have been born. Our Hansen Sea-Cow was not only a living thing but a mean, irritable, contemptible, vengeful, mischievous, hateful living thing. In the six weeks of our association we observed it, at first mechanically and then, as its living reactions became more and more apparent, psychologically. And we determined one thing to our satisfaction. When and if these ghoulish little motors learn to reproduce themselves the human species is doomed. For their hatred of us is so great that they will wait and plan and organize and one night, in a roar of little exhausts, they will wipe us out.
We do not think that Mr. Hansen, inventor of the Sea-Cow, father of the outboard motor, knew what he was doing. We think the monster he created was as accidental and arbitrary as the beginning of any other life. Only one thing differentiates the Sea-Cow from the life that we know. Whereas the forms that are familiar to us are the results of billions of years of mutation and complication, life and intelligence emerged simultaneously in the Sea-Cow. It is more than a species. It is a whole new redefinition of life. We observed the following traits in it and we were able to check them again and again:
1. Incredibly lazy, the Sea-Cow loved to ride on the back of a boat, trailing its propeller daintily in the water while we rowed.
2. It required the same amount of gasoline whether it ran or not, apparently being able to absorb this fluid through its body walls without recourse to explosion. It had always to be filled at the beginning of every trip.
3. It had apparently some clairvoyant powers, and was able to read our minds, particularly when they were inflamed with emotion. Thus, on every occasion when we were driven to the point of destroying it, it started and ran with a great noise and excitement. This served the double purpose of saving its life and of resurrecting in our minds a false confidence in it.
4. It had many cleavage points, and when attacked with a screwdriver, fell apart in simulated death, a trait it had in common with opossums, armadillos, and several members of the sloth family, which also fall apart in simulated death when attacked with a screwdriver.
5. It hated Tex, sensing perhaps that his knowledge of mechanics was capable of diagnosing its shortcomings.
6. It completely refused to run: (a) when the waves were high, (b) when the wind blew, (c) at night, early morning, and evening, (d) in rain, dew, or fog, (e) when the distance to be covered was more than two hundred yards. But on warm, sunny days when the weather was calm and the white beach close by—in a word, on days when it would have been a pleasure to row—the Sea-Cow started at a touch and would not stop.
7. It loved no one, trusted no one. It had no friends.
Perhaps toward the end, our observations were a little warped by emotion. Time and again as it sat on the stern with its pretty little propeller lying idly in the water, it was very close to death. And in the end, even we were infected with its malignancy and its dishonesty. We should have destroyed it, but we did not. Arriving home, we gave it a new coat of aluminum paint, spotted it at points with new red enamel, and sold it. And we might have rid the world of this mechanical cancer!
And again from ‘Travels With Charley’
A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the house becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.
Talking about his friendship with the marine biologist Ed Rickett’s (Doc in Cannery Row)
Ed had a strange and courteous relationship with dogs, although he never owned one or wanted to. Passing a dog on the street, he greeted it with dignity and, when driving, often tipped his hat and smiled and waved at dogs on the sidewalk. And damned if they didn’t smile back at him.
Cats, on the other hand, did not arouse any enthusiasm in him. However, he always remembered one cat with admiration. It was in the old days before the fire when Ed’s father was still alive and doing odd jobs about the laboratory. The cat in question took a dislike to Ed’s father and developed a spite tactic which charmed Ed. The cat would climb up on a shelf and pee on Ed’s father when he went by–the cat did it not once but many times.
He regarded his father with affection. “He has one quality of genius,” Ed would say. “He is always wrong. If a man makes a million decisions and judgments at random, it is perhaps mathematically tenable to suppose that he will be right half the time and wrong half the time. But you take my father–he is wrong all of the time about everything. That is a matter not of luck but of selection. That requires genius.”
And as a war correspondent and later published in ‘Once There Was a War’ a brilliant passage describing the beginning of the dreadful and perilous Atlantic crossing the American troops had to endure just to be able to engage in the war properly.
SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND, June 21, 1943—The tide is turning now and it is after midnight. On the bridge, which towers above the pier buildings, there is great activity. The lines are cast off and the engines reversed. The great ship backs carefully into the stream and nearly fills it to both banks. But the little tugs are waiting for her and they bump and persuade her about until she is headed right and they hang beside her like suckling ships as she moves slowly toward the sea. Only the MPs on watch among the sleeping soldiers see the dimmed-out city slipping by.
Down deep in the ship, in the hospital, the things that can happen to so many men have started to happen. A medical major has taken off his blouse and rolled up his sleeves. He is washing his hands in green soap, while an Army nurse in operating uniform stands by, holding the doctor’s white gown. The anonymous soldier, with the dangerous appendix, is having his stomach shaved by another Army nurse. Brilliant light floods the operating table. The doctor major slips into his sterile gloves. The nurse adjusts the mask over his nose and mouth and he steps quickly to the sleeping soldier on the table under the light.
The great troopship sneaks past the city and the tugs leave her, a dark thing steaming into the dark. On the decks and in the passages and in the bunks the thousands of men are collapsed in sleep. Only their faces show under the dim blue blackout lights—faces and an impression of tangled hands and feet and legs and equipment. Officers and military police stand guard over this great sleep, a sleep multiplied, the sleep of thousands. An odor rises from the men, the characteristic odor of an army. It is the smell of wool and the bitter smell of fatigue and the smell of gun oil and leather. Troops always have this odor. The men lie sprawled, some with their mouths open, but they do not snore. Perhaps they are too tired to snore, but their breathing is a pulsing, audible thing.
The tired blond adjutant haunts the deck like a ghost. He doesn’t know when he will ever sleep again. He and the provost marshal share responsibility for a smooth crossing, and both are serious and responsible men.
The sleeping men are missing something tremendous, as last things are usually missed. The clerks and farmers, salesmen, students, laborers, technicians, reporters, fishermen who have stopped being those things to become an army have been trained from their induction for this moment. This is the beginning of the real thing for which they have practiced. Their country, which they have become soldiers to defend, is slipping away into the misty night and they are asleep. The place which will fill their thoughts in the months to come is gone and they did not see it go. They were asleep. They will not see it again for a long time, and some of them will never see it again. This was the time of emotion, the moment that cannot be replaced, but they were too tired. They sleep like children who really tried to stay awake to see Santa Claus and couldn’t make it. They will remember this time, but it will never really have happened to them.
The night begins to come in over the sea. It is overcast and a light rain begins to fall. It is good sailing weather because a submarine could not see us 200 yards away. The ship is a gray, misty shape, slipping through a gray mist and melting into it. Overhead a Navy blimp watches over her, sometimes coming in so close that you can see the men in the little underslung cabin.
The troopship is cut off now. She can hear but cannot speak. Her outgoing radio will not be used at all unless she is hit or attacked. For the time of her voyage no one will hear of her. Submarines are in the misty sea ahead, and of the men on board very many have never seen the ocean before and the sea itself is dark and terrifying enough without the lurking things, and there are other matters besides the future fighting that frighten a local boy—new things, new people, new languages.
The men are beginning to awaken now, before the call. They have missed the moment of parting. They awaken to—destination unknown, route unknown, life even for an hour ahead unknown. The great ship throws her bow into the Atlantic.
On the boat deck two early-rising mountain boys are standing, looking in wonder at the incredible sea. One of them says, “They say she’s salty clear down to the bottom.”
And the other end of the spectrum, Springsteen, off his new album, writing about how indulging solitude can lead to too much solitude—if we’re not careful. We seem to share some common traits.
Too many of other people’s words—not enough of my own.
Had enough of heartbreak and pain
I had a little sweet spot for the rain
For the rain and skies of gray
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay
You know I always liked my walking shoes
But you can get a little too fond of the blues
You walk too far, you walk away
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay
You know I always loved a lonely town
Those empty streets, no one around
You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay
You know I always liked that empty road
No place to be and miles to go
But miles to go is miles away
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay
And miles to go is miles away
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay
Hello sunshine, won’t you stay
My new MacBook Pro arrived. My last one was so full, that I had to shut down several times a day, even after moving most of my documents off to an external cloud drive. Apple products have slowly, but consistently slid in quality and overall value. They have always been expensive relative to PC’s and other devices, but they were so much better in the past. But in the last decade or so they’ve definitely lost their edge. I think it even started before Jobs was gone, but definitely has accelerated under Cook. The usability and ease of their graphical interfaces are far less intuitive than they used to be—and also, I think PC’s have done a lot to improve their quality and overall look and feel. But I didn’t have time to do the research and try to figure out the best PC and what the value might be, so I went with another MacBook Pro. Probably be my last I hope. If this one lasts 4 years, by then I will make the move completely to iPad and that operating system. Especially if I can start to wind down on work.
Saturday I had my neighbors over. I rarely saw them before this quarantine, but now I see them here and there. Ed, who lives right next door, is 82. Sweet and interesting guy. Cassandra lives right behind me. She is also retired and late 70’s or so I would say. Both her and Ed have done a lot of sailing, including some long passages. Tom and Doreen live across the street. Was nice to sit in the sunshine and have a few cocktails.
Later I wandered down to The Standard for my first restaurant experience in more than 2 months. Tables and bar stools were distanced and the wait staff wore masks. Dani was constantly wiping all surfaces down with sanitizer. Said came out and we had a glass of wine after the kitchen slowed a bit. I rode the motorcycle over–nice day and nice evening. Felt a little like actual living for a day.
Sunday I worked on camp trailer design. Threw together a mockup of the kitchen slide so Brian could understand what I was envisioning. I’ll likely head to Monticello next weekend to start building the next prototype.
I’ve started reading a Charles Frazier novel – ‘Thirteen Moons‘. I read ‘Cold Mountain‘ years ago. Good writer, from Asheville. One of my favorite little towns.
No other news of note.
Maybe sleep will come for a bit before the sun.