Skamokawa (“Smoke Over the Water”)

When we experience our own desire for transformation, we are feeling the universe evolving through us.

Barbara Marx Hubbard

April 18, 2021 

After a night of restless sleep, I made some sandwiches and packed up chips, water, granola bars, and chocolate—also added a few books to my writing backpack and made sure the Nikon D810 had freshly charged batteries and was secure in its bag. Then I arranged everything in the car. I never did read or take pictures during the entire day trip, but bringing books, writing tools and cameras is part of the ritual of getting on the road.

I left the house at 10:30 am, north on I-205 to I-5. Light traffic. My black 2021 Subaru Outback Onyx XT, named Dark Star, is a comfortable touring car fitted with 21st Century technology. Safe. Quiet. Reliable. I was ready for a protracted drive to places in the Pacific Northwest I had not yet seen.

The Grateful Dead channel on Sirius XM played a show from Baltimore May 26, 1977. I tuned in for the last three numbers: Not Fade Away, Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad, Around and Around. I wasn’t feeling dispirited, but the music was appropriate. Left I-5 at WA-432 through Longview (where I went last week in the other direction) to WA-4. Longview is a depressing pit of a port—the smell of sawdust in the air mingled with diesel exhaust. The stink of extractive, unsustainable commerce. The trees are cut into lumber there and sent up and down the river to who-knows where.

The smell reminded me that I need to read Richard Hugo (I started to do that months ago and never made a dent). WA-4 is a two-lane 55 mph road. There was light traffic through Stella, Oak Point, Eagle Cliff, and Waterford. Stunning views of the spacious Columbia River. Lots of haze—not good light for photos so I took it all in with my eyes and memory. Cathlamet is the big town on the route. There’s a bridge there that crosses the river to an island where there is a ferry crossing on the south shore to Westport, Oregon. I’ll explore that at another time.

My goal was Altoona, not so much because it was a real destination for views and photos but because it has the same name as the town in Pennsylvania, where I was born in 1953. That’s a pointless reason for a road trip but it got me going on an impulsive morning.

WA-4 turns north and west away from the river at Skamokawa—a Chinook word for “smoke over the water.” I love those Native American names.  Except for Cathlamet, these towns are easy to miss. In some of them the speed limit isn’t even reduced. Somewhere near Gray’s River I came up on a cowboy in a pickup pulling a trailer. There was a restomodded, lavender Harley motorcycle haphazardly strapped to the trailer and the cowboy was going 30 mph and weaving back and forth in the lane. This idiot was oblivious, and the terrible driving went on for about ten minutes until a big Ford F150 pickup appeared in my rear-view mirror. Not wanting to be hemmed in between the two trucks I gave Dark Star the beans and blew around the cowboy when the road was clear. The F150 passed at the same time and started to creep up on me. I kept my foot down and left him behind. The tailgating here has become worse since the pandemic started and I’ve had enough of it. It was the first two lane passing job I’d done in the Outback XT and took me by satisfying surprise, very little turbo lag (far less than my 2015 Forester XT) and immense amounts of torque.

(Click on map to scroll and zoom)

At Rosburg (population 317) I took the side road to Altoona (population 39)—Altoona-Pillar Rock Road. Six miles of farms and out of the way homes. After three miles the Columbia appeared again, wide, patient, calm. There’s nothing in Altoona except a few upscale houses (comparatively upscale for the Pacific Northwest—not McMansions) and plenty of “No Trespassing” and “No Parking” signs. Not an inch of public land except for a pullover where there are two informational plaques about Lewis and Clark and their adventures on the other side of the Columbia. The plaques were dirty and forgotten. I ate my lunch and listened to the silence. No traffic. Just me on the side of the road. So much for Altoona. Like my birthplace it’s a place where no one goes.

Before the Second World War Altoona was one of six fish canneries in the Gray’s Bay area of the Columbia River, but after 1940 the salmon fishing industry declined and the cannery in Altoona closed in 1947. The building remained derelict for decades and collapsed in heavy weather sometime in the late 1990’s.  There is nothing left of the old town except for hundreds of vertical pier-support poles rotting along the shore. A woman mowed the lawn in front of her decorative home as I passed, and a man in a golf cart waved at me after I turned around where the road dead ends. There’s a one lane private track that continues past the end of the two-lane, but I wanted to move on, and frankly I didn’t have any business exploring it.

As I moved on I kept thinking of climate change and wondering what will happen to that shoreline in fifty years. I can’t help but have doom-thoughts now and then, and I thought about that fact as I drove back up to WA-4.

A few miles past Naselle I turned south, and there was US-101 again—that “hard road to travel.” All through my West Coast life from 1966 on, I’ve rambled and meandered on sections of that prolonged road. I had not been on the Oceanview—Cape Disappointment section of the route since 1977 and I had no visual memories at all about the views of Willapa Bay or the Wildlife Refuge there. As this was a daytime scouting trip I didn’t stop.

The coast at Bandon, Oregon (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

Mist hung over the bay, and bloated, grey clouds obscured the sun—coastal weather that soothes my soul. I pondered living on the coast of Oregon when I made my plans to move from California in 2018, but they were half-baked considerations. I knew I had to be near my daughter in Portland, as well as an airport and hospitals. The Pacific Coast remains home ground for me, whether it’s Sea Ranch and Mendocino in California or Bandon and Coos Bay in Oregon. In a couple of days I’ll be joining Paul in Brookings. Later in the year I’ll return to northbound 101 back to the Hoh Rain Forest and a long meditative sit at La Push. The memories made there in 1977 have called to me for years like a far-off voice from my youth that floats above the surface of my consciousness reminding me of unfinished business. I’m not sure what that business is—not now. But I have no doubt that someday it will reveal itself.

A quick stop at Chinook County Park for some coffee from the thermos I brought with me. Chinook (population 457) is another former salmon harvest town. I sat on a stump with my coffee where the Columbia flows into Baker Bay and again watched the mist-smoke float above calm water. There was no one there but me. These parts of the Pacific Northwest present an impression of vintage decline and frailty—as if no one is really living there. It makes me think that the planet is patiently waiting to see what humanity will do at the crossroads we occupy—the point where Business As Usual is an obvious fantasy. What next? Some say it will be the Great Turning. I have no idea, and despite my natural optimism I’m not sure we are up for that challenge. But the bay was beautiful, and the hovering fog calmed my negative reflection. The coffee was still hot from the morning—the miracle of the thermos—and I sat for many minutes watching the water lap against the shore and the saturated driftwood, scattered there by tides and currents.

Astoria -Megler Bridge (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

Then I crossed over the Astoria-Megler bridge. It’s the longest truss bridge in America. I had not traversed it since 1977, coming south from the Olympic Peninsula with my amigo JS, though I’ve been in Astoria a few times since relocating to Portland. It’s not an elegant bridge by any means, but its sheer practicality is in itself a statement of engineering fortitude. I’m sure Lewis and Clark would never have imagined such a thing—which makes me wonder what things will be built—or removed—on Planet Earth long after I travel over the metaphysical bridge that we all eventually cross.

I considered continuing on 101 south and then returning to Portland on OR-26, but the GPS warned me that there had been a major accident there, so I took OR-30 east instead and left the hard road that was not so hard behind me for the day. Jethro Tull was my accompaniment back to the Longview Bridge and I-5 South. Home at 5:15. Total mileage was 280. 31 miles to the gallon. Not bad, despite the CO2 I left behind me—my own Business As Usual.

It was good to get out on the road. I’ve been feeling stale because of all the shut-in languishing I’ve gone through for the last year. The new memoir project is temporarily stalled. I’ve done some rewriting of material for this new blog but I did little sustained reading last week. It’s a neutral phase of creativity—I need to break out of it. A camping trip will help. Brookings awaits. These last few weeks I’ve increased my range of travel east and west and I’m returning to a section of Oregon I know well. Paul’s done some research on back roads in the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest and I need some Ocean Time and negative ions.

After dinner I watched a YouTube video titled “20 Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs” (coincidentally Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” was one of them) and afterwards I thought about the fact that I am at a turning point, like all of us. The last year was unexpected and uncertain. Now is the beginning of a new beginning and as the Sage says, new beginnings are problematic. Yet when one considers the limitations objectively, hopeful change is possible.

Always mist, fog, smoke—skamokawa. I’ll remember that word and all the memories and hopes floating above the water. I have time for considering them now at length. Maybe it’s my own personal Great Turning at the start of new changes. If so, I’m ready for those adjustments to chase away my doom-thoughts and reopen my stale mind to gratitude and transformation once more.

Difficulty at the beginning works supreme success / Furthering through perseverance.

— I Ching

Grace and Memoir

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing

Ephesians 2:8
King Tide at Seal Rock, Oregon (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

Grace exposes all our gifts, both those we hold and those we have lost. Love enters our life through grace. The certainty of grace is gentle and subtle, and explaining it might destroy it, like locking a butterfly in a tin box.

I can only try through example: my brother and my dog are in the house with me, sharing my life in Oregon. They both appeared into my life unbidden. The giver of those two gifts is much greater than the “I” that is aware of the gift. In fact, the temporary identity of my ego is so busy with unimportant things most of the time that it is generally unaware of the love and grace that the giver constantly provides.

Perhaps that is why when I am cognizant of grace because I have taken the time to be mindful, my heart opens, and I feel a concentrated emotion that I also cannot describe. The inability to explain it is not because I do not have a talent for creating sentences. It is not that more words would help, it’s that all of them are inadequate.

The explanatory impossibility exists because the gifts are too considerable and generous for me to understand in the way that we normally define perception, like other inexpressible things: a sunrise, music, the laughter of children, and friends who have appeared and joined me on my travels.

When Saint Paul says “this is not your own doing” he is speaking of the giver: the gift of God. I know that there are those who may read that and shake their heads in dissatisfaction with the proper noun. We live in an empirical and materialistic age, where most of what occurs is described through pragmatic, rigid terms. I don’t deny that, nor do I reject it.

Yaquina Head, Newport, Oregon (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

I carry both the pragmatic and metaphysical viewpoints of the world in my consciousness. But as I have grown older and realize that most of my life has already been lived, that sensation of the gift of grace has existed consistently and I have to accept that there is something undefinable that provides all the love that has sustained my life.

My own experience tells me that the higher power cares for me. The realization is not attached to any specific belief or faith. The tradition in which I was raised is as human as anything else, thus it is filled with error, confusion and the projection of power, both at the institutional and personal level. The traditional Western churches lost their way long ago. Today we see some of them (far too few) realizing that and attempting to change. What I am describing has extraordinarily little to do with religion as we commonly understand it. The appreciation of grace is devoid of dogma, authority, belief, rituals, or tribal relationships.

I am not making a case for anything specific because what I speak of is indefinable—except for the simple fact that when I take time to reflect, I can see moments when there was something significant at work that could not be measured. It was, and is, simply there, especially when the events of my life were arduous and filled with sadness and stress. At those times I feel beneficence from outside of my small self.

When my heart fills with wonder, when I surrender to the actuality of grace transforming me in small and detailed ways in a world that appears to be out of control—that is when I feel the human condition most vitally.

I am learning my own past all over again. I am examining the years I have already experienced and rediscovering the moments of grace of which I was unaware. In so doing I am more sensitive to its frequent presence as I live through the latter stages of my life. The harsh world we have created obscures the simple miracles that actually sustain us. Yet they are there and when the veil falls we can perceive them with gratitude and read our own story.

The Long View

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Dark Star – 2021 Outback Onyx XT (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

After Paul left for the gym I headed out for a long drive in Dark Star. After a quick stop at Powell’s Books in Cedar Hills (to pick up a copy of the new Richard Thompson memoir—just published) I drove out Highway 26 and up Highway 47, the latter a road I had not yet navigated. By that time the weather was cold and windy, and I sensed rain approaching. It’s Oregon, I thought. What else is new?

The drive, the road, the weather, the time behind the wheel—all of that was the essential experience of being physically unrestricted, able to move easily, wherever I wanted to go. I was elated because it seemed a harbinger of my upcoming post-pandemic life—not so much the drive, rather once again the observation of my own life voyage. I’ve missed that freedom and my long road trips back to California and explorations elsewhere.

I stopped at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park— not a big place. It’s another one of those nooks in the crannies of Oregon. There were a few folks concealed inside their RV’s—and I thought of what Paul would have said: “that’s not camping, not if you’re going to hide indoors all the time.”

I got out of the car at the top of a hill and walked to a picnic table. Leaning against it I regarded uncut wooded hills, a plume of smoke, the overcast sky, and felt cold gusts of wind. There was no one around except for a grey-haired, elderly woman getting into a black Prius with her quiet terrier. For a moment I felt the ordinary veil of consciousness disperse, and wham-bam the emotion of being alive was there—present, and impossible to ignore —not that I would have avoided it because I long for it. I search for it. All I could say was “thank you,” which I did, and which no one could hear except for God, Great Spirit—whatever you want to call it—and a few crows hopping on the grass, searching for grubs.

Driving further up Highway 47—little towns—places that still depend upon timber extraction. Vernonia, just 2100 people, not far from Portland (I was home in two hours) but thousands of miles away in terms of the who-what-where-when-how of my own existence. North of town the hills were denuded of trees. At one point a sign proudly declared “replanted in 2018” on a stretch of land that even three years later looks as if it was clear-cut yesterday. My excursion along that road as an afternoon of getting away from my slowly receding lockdown suddenly became the hard and cold reality of visualizing history and perhaps the end of the world—doom-thoughts about climate change.

Turbo Woody – 2015 Forester XT (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

I continued up 47 through Mist (the town name is descriptive) to Highway 30 and then decided to drive over the Longview Bridge to I-5 and home. Back in 2018 Finn and I went up Highway 30 in July—a trip to Astoria on a hot day when the air conditioning had crapped out in Turbo Woody, and I saw the Longview Bridge stretching over the Columbia River, strangely built “way up in the middle of the air” as if it was on stilts. It was designed by Joseph Strauss of Golden Gate Bridge fame.

I wanted to drive over it that day three years ago, but I was escaping the heat of Portland with no cool air in the car and wanted to see Astoria to recall the time that JS and I went through there in 1977. Today I crossed the bridge while surrounded and hemmed in by truck traffic—many of the trailers hauling logs to the port in Longview, Washington—where they were destined to be cut or shipped, I have no idea which. I was reminded of the continual harvest of natural resources, and stripped mountains.

Woody – 1998 Forester S (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

I drove my fossil fueled car over that elegant 80-year-old bridge on my way home to comfort, food, and warmth. 170 total miles. No photography, just the drive. There was one treacherous, rainy moment on I-5 when a serious white out condition materialized, but I moved into the slow lane and cut my speed way down. I still get a little freaked out by that kind of weather since my accident in Woody way back in 2002. Now the driver-assist functions of Subaru Eyesight reduce the stress considerably.

Finn – “Let’s Go!”(photo by Richard Gylgayton)

It’s all too much, this “further up, further in” C.S. Lewis stuff here in the Pacific Northwest corner of America. A region far removed from my previous geography and yet not distant from the memories of my previous life embedded in the neurons that make up my cerebral cortex and that also provide me with the consciousness that makes me say “thank you….” Yet all of it is temporary. 

All that in a few hours, in this new geography—another taste of a land that I still do not know intimately. How long will it take for the Pacific Northwest to feel as familiar as my old home and its dry hills and oak trees? Will it ever? There is still so much to see, and time is short—but my wandering will always continue.

Notes on the text:

  • Paul is my brother. He and I often travel together. 
  • Richard Thompson’s new memoir Beeswing is a must for anyone who is a fan of his music. One of the great singer/songwriters/guitarists of our time.
  • Finn was my greyhound and loyal companion for many years. He passed away in February of 2020, just before the pandemic began.
  • JS is my old amigo, John Schettler
  • “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis


My Shadow at Coos Bay (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

Another late rise because of a late night. Coffee in hand. Oh, that’s good coffee. I’m thinking about the day ahead. Cool and cloudy for once. I can get some outside work done. Time to water the plants. I keep forgetting. 

My self-imposed news blackout continues. Sick of it all. The evil spreads like unbreathable vapor from a swamp filled with Lovecraftian monstrosities. I keep thinking how much easier it is to love than hate.

The problem is fear. Even the rich are afraid. They are more anxious than anyone else. They have more to lose, so they think. I lost almost everything that was significant to me, yet here I am. Alive. Happy. Lonely, but satisfied.

Accepting the loneliness is how you get to enlightenment. Goldberg in Wild Mind. She’s talking to her Roshi: 

“Are you lonely?” I asked him. 

“Of course,” he answered. “But I do not let it toss me away. It is just loneliness.”

So there you have it. There are days I think, how did I get into this writing? But here I am. And the truth is I wanted it.

I get it. I feel like raising my hand and waving it like an excessively enthusiastic student. I always wanted this. I never really thought about it because I had responsibilities. Like Candace, I also had “things that need to be done.” She said that whenever I encouraged her to write more often. Exactly those words. Every single time.

That’s all completed. The remaining responsibilities I have are minor. The girls are grown. Candace has passed. Finn needs me, but he’s laid back. Willing to wait for me in all things. He’s growing old as I grow old. He won’t outlive me though. I ponder that reality often. There are layers to loneliness. Dogs struggle with it also.

Here I am by fate, accident, karma, or as the Chinese say, the “Will of Heaven.” I am lonely. Yes. But so is everyone else. Nothing new there. It is just loneliness. I knew that before I migrated. It’s not so bad. It’s beautiful here. Huge sky. Big clouds. Low stress. Besides, I was lonely in my former home. Those days I was terrified by my solitude. Now, I relish it.

Writing is the reason I am here. I didn’t think much about it when I decided to move. I had other priorities. But it was there, unconsciously. 

Everyone is lonely, even when they are with other people. “Alone with others,” as Stephen Batchelor writes. “Our sense of aloneness and individuality is only conceivable in the light of our constant coexistence with other human beings, and we can only be together with others and participate in their lives because we and all others are in fact distinct individuals.

That’s why there are so damn many love songs and poems. That’s the only way we can even begin to cross the divide and ride the Great Silence between us all. We can recognize others as individuals, but we cannot be inside their heads and their experience. 

So, some of us write. Others make music or art. Cook. Build furniture. Design things. Figure things out scientifically. “Art is a thing done well.” I think Amanda Coomaraswamy said that.

“What is done in love is done well.” I know Vincent Van Gogh said that. 

Process, not outcome. I’ll go deeper and bring the light to the shadows. Light the swamp. Defeat the monsters. That’s what heroes do, after all.


Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life, Natalie Goldberg, Bantam Books. 1990

Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor, Grove Press, 1983

Lost Boy

Yesterday I rode the Max train to downtown Portland so I could shop for books at Powell’s. I stopped at Pioneer Plaza because I was hungry and there is a café on the corner of Yamhill and 6th that I like. I ordered a tuna salad sandwich and lemonade, then sat on a stool by a window and watched people, some of them young folks who were wandering about aimlessly.

Their clothing made them look as if the clock had been turned back to the 60’s or 70’s. I was dressed warmly, my San Francisco Giants knit cap over my hair, which is getting long again, so perhaps I was assisting in the perceptible time change. When I wear that cap, I fit in well with the crowd. Even with the SF logo emblazoned on it no one really pays any attention to me. Most people anyway. Occasionally someone will look at me and grin. Maybe I appear as a nondescript old guy with a bit of grey in my hair and sideburns. Maybe I look as lost and homeless as anyone else.

When I left the sandwich shop the air was colder. Though the sun was out, grey clouds were eating up the intense light. I crossed Yamhill and was trying to make my mind up whether to walk all the way from there to Powell’s or take the Max to the next stop and shorten the walk. There were no adults around, but I noticed a small boy about five years old staring at me. He was visibly frightened. I could tell that he wanted to talk to me. I knew immediately that he was lost. We looked into each other’s eyes and that encouraged him. There was a visual connection.

“I lost my mom,” he said. “I don’t know where she is. Can you help me find her?” 

“Sure,” I said, though I hadn’t the slightest idea what to do. Maybe call 911? I could feel my old paternal instincts rising in me. Enneagram Type 2 stuff: if someone needs help, then help them.

“I know her phone number,” he said, through tears and fear. He was extremely brave. It had taken courage for him to ask a stranger for help.

“Let’s give her a call.” My instinct was to sit down at his level and set him at his ease, the way I would if I was photographing him. In front of the courthouse fence there is a small ledge at sidewalk level, not really designed for sitting, but it would work. “Let’s sit down over there.”

I asked him his name. “Ansel,” he said. That charmed me. I thought of the photographer as I pulled out my phone. I told Ansel my name and he said, “Hi Richard,” in a wavering voice that sounded like an out of tune oboe.

“What’s the number?” He told me, slowly and deliberately, and I typed it in. He watched me. It was a 303-area code. Longmont, Colorado. Tourists in town for Thanksgiving?

The phone rang once and a woman answered, her voice nervous and distraught. “Have you lost a child?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what else to say. “I’m here with Ansel and he’s looking for you.”

“Where are you?” 

Pioneer Courthouse, Portland, Oregon (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

“We are right in front of the Pioneer Courthouse at the Max stop. I’m wearing a black knit cap.” I stood up so she could see me in case she was close by.

“I see you! I see you!” As I looked around, I told her my name. She hung up the phone. In a moment I saw her running across the street toward us: long black hair, blue ribbed coat, and boots. 

“Ansel, is that your mom?” He didn’t reply. When she reached our side of the street, he ran to her and she bundled him in her arms. 

“Did you thank Mr. Richard for helping you?” I’m not sure if he replied, he was so deeply buried in his mother’s hug. She turned to me and said thank you. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I almost burst into tears. 

“You’re welcome,” I said. “I knew there was a reason I was supposed to come downtown today.”

I don’t know why I said that. Often when I am alone these days, I feel an unexplainable energy guiding me, even when what I am doing is no big deal: like taking the train to downtown Portland to buy books. I just blurted out the statement. There was no response from Ansel’s mother. They were already leaving.

As they walked away, I could not hold back the tears. There was still no one around me on the sidewalk. I did not understand why I was weeping. Then I remembered a time when I lost my own mother at about the same age. It was in a store in a small town in Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania during a warm summer, not in the streets of a big city in the initial stages of winter on a very chilly day. I recalled the feeling of helplessness and dread. I assume many people have had that experience. It makes me wonder about the kids who have been torn away from their parents at the border by mean spirited racists and tossed into cages. I can’t imagine what distress they must feel, especially with no one around to help them find their mother.

MAX Station (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

The Max arrived as I was struggling to hold back my emotions. I jumped on and traveled one more stop. As the train rumbled, I calmed down. The afternoon was getting colder because of the clouds that had overwhelmed the sunshine. After I exited the Max and began walking up Oak Street to Powell’s, I walked past some homeless millennials wrapped up in sleeping bags. They were smoking dope and playing guitars. They had pitched an L.L. Bean tent on the sidewalk. I had no idea why they were there. They looked healthy. They weren’t the sort of homeless folks who were obviously mentally ill. They ignored me and I ignored them.

I thought of my own two daughters. When they were children that same paternal spirit possessed me when they were sick or upset. I thought about how long ago that was and how much my life has changed since then: living alone in the Pacific Northwest not far from my eldest, who is married and at the same age I was when she was born. I thought of my youngest, living in Iowa, making progress in her cognitive behavior therapy so she can deal with her agoraphobia, supported and assisted by her fiancé.

Powell’s was remarkably busy. I always feel an essence of positive vitality there. I assume that if enough people keep reading and thinking, we can keep our democracy viable in a time when it’s cracking at the seams. Powell’s sells coffee mugs and other items printed with the words “Read, Rise, Resist.” I keep meaning to add a couple of mugs to my coffee cupboard to remind myself that there is hope in these disoriented times.

(photo by Richard Gylgayton)

It was my first visit to the downtown Powell’s store alone. Other folks have been with me since I moved to Portland. As I walked through the stacks and shelves, I remembered the time I was there with Candace in 2007. I remembered where we parked and where we had a sandwich. It was a bright day in Spring, and we spent hours wandering through the store. The memory was vivid and in sharp visual focus like the photographs of the city that I made while we were there.

Seventeen years ago I had no idea I would be there again on a cold Saturday after Thanksgiving, searching for books on Bruce Springsteen and The Who that would give me color and facts for the book I am writing about music I experienced fifty years ago, rubbing shoulders with crowds of young people in the science fiction section, and standing in line to pay for a basket of word treasure with a rebate card from a recent purchase of a new oven and range.

It is still challenging to accept that my expectations of growing old with her were not to be and to acknowledge the fact that she left us bereft when she died without warning. I keep pushing through my new life after marriage and career. There’s no mother to help me. I do it alone. That I do accept. There is a certain freedom that comes with a life of solitude in a new geography that I am only beginning to investigate. 

I thought of also heading to a record store up the street, but as I left Powell’s and felt the growing cold I decided to go home. I walked through the passel of homeless kids. I thought where are their mothers? and walked on, back down Oak Street to 5th. At one point a woman strolled on the sidewalk, wearing a heavy coat, colorful scarves, and a red hat. As we passed, we looked at each other, a full eye to eye gaze, not just a surreptitious glance. She smiled. Was it me, or my silly hat that made her beam spontaneously? I kept walking, though there was a part of my mind that wanted to stop and say hello.

Inside the MAX (photo by Richard Gylgayton)

I did not have to wait long for the train. There was a group of thirty-somethings making a lot of brash talk-noise, but it didn’t disturb my reverie. The Orange Line train to Milwaukie was empty. I pulled out one of my new books, a recently published volume about the history of xenophobia in America and began reading. My thoughts kept wandering to Ansel and his mother. I hoped he would be ok and not experience much trauma from his adventure and anxiety. I thought he might remember that experience in sixty years as I had remembered mine.

When I arrived home, I put Bob Dylan’s album Time Out of Mind in the CD player. My recent re-fascination with Dylan’s music has nothing to do with the book I am writing; it’s a side project. Perhaps the music interests me because I am an elder and I can finally dive into the murky meanings of his songs, especially the ones Candace loved. She was a walking Bob Dylan lyric archive. She sang along with every song whenever I played his recordings. Not well, she was rather tone deaf, but I always paid attention to the lyrics when she sang them aloud. Now I read them while listening to the tunes. The first track on Time Out of Mind is called “Love Sick.”

I’m walking through streets that are dead

Walking walking with you in my head

My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired

And the clouds are weeping.

Did I hear someone tell a lie?

Did I hear someone’s distant cry?

You thrilled me to my heart, then you ripped it all apart

You went through my pockets when I was sleeping.

The lyrics do not fit precisely into my experience of the afternoon. Yes, the streets seemed dead as the sunlight dimmed, Candace was in my head, my feet were tired, and my brain was spiritually energized. But the dark clouds were not delivering rain, no one had lied, and the only cry I had heard was Ansel asking me if I would help him find his mother by calling her cell phone.

Certainly, my heart was ripped apart almost six years ago, but it was no one’s fault. It was just one of those things that inevitably happens, that we never want to anticipate, that cannot be avoided. But as Dylan finished the song and sang “I’d give anything just to be with you” I sensed the tune searching in my pockets while I was wide awake, looking for the memories that are my treasure, hidden amid the pennies and lint.

King City Wandering

Image credit: Dorothea Lange. (1936) “Bum blockade.” photograph, public domain.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021 – 8:07 am – Last Homely House

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Looks like a bright and sunny day ahead. Another press of coffee this morning. It’s the best way to wake up and write.

From Richard Rohr—a photograph by Dorothea Lange.

King City! I’ve wandered through there countless time traveling on 101—that “hard road to travel” as John Fahey titled it. Never had the sort of problem as expressed in this image though. Reminds me of the time I picked up a hitchhiker in Santa Maria. Only time I ever did that. I should write that out sometime. A strange experience. I remember it vividly, as I do most things.

We are all wanderers looking for love. Our journey starts with people, and that’s how we find the love of God. Even as I sit here in my homely house, in a fresh state of mind, with resources, warmth, food, and possibilities, I’m still wandering through my own experience. My own life. My own story. I’m grateful for all of it. There have been very rough times. But through it all I’ve always had—and have—hope and the knowledge that the higher power is looking out for me.

Occasionally when I reflect on moments of the past they not only seem like personal experiences but become representations of the larger human journey that we all make. Yesterday while talking with JS we discussed that fact, though we used different words. A life without reflection and contemplation is a half-lived life. It’s not for me to judge people who are incapable of that self-awareness—meaning the bigger Self that is the God-part within us trying to reveal itself—loving us the entire time.

You can’t get out of your own way without reflection and consideration. You can’t be authentic without looking inward and finding the Source. I think that’s the utter stark truth. All the struggles that we have in life, especially the ones we have with other people, can’t be understood in their entirety and scope without knowing and loving ourselves.

This last year I have watched it play out in my own country—the only time I can recall in my life when all of us were in crisis at the same time. Existential crisis at that! Staring at the possibility of catching a life-threatening disease and having to stop everything that we considered normal in order to protect ourselves. In doing so we had to face the possibility that “normal” was anything but normal.

I already knew that from my own understanding. Loss does that. It shakes you up. You deal with it, or you don’t. What we’ve seen in our fellow humans is that fact playing out in the midst of a planetary event with unmeasurable psychic effects and countless variations of response and non-response from every one of us. Our fantasies of comfort and security were revealed. Some of us saw that. Many did not. And though the light is at the end of the tunnel I wonder if we have learned that “business as usual” is not sustainable.

I learned that fact seven years ago when my wife passed away unexpectedly. It’s taken that long for it to sink in. I surrendered to it and it redeemed me. Maybe that would have happened anyway. This last year was not as bad for me as it was for others. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t lose anyone to the virus. (My old pal Lou Pierotti passed, but not from complications of Covid.) In fact, this entire experience gave me the opportunity to set my roots deep into the Pacific Northwest. Bloom where you are planted.

Yesterday I was able to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine. March 29. Not so much a sense of relief as that of freedom. (Those two things are not the same.) I am reminded that the higher power is always there and that I need to surrender to it. Over and over again. And then again, as I wander down my own highway looking for a ride.

John Fahey 07 101 Is a Hard Road to Travel