Excerpt from Chapter 14 of Winterland Nights
Those first few months in Bollinger Canyon I lived in a buffer zone, passing from one chapter to another. I trusted the experience. Any apprehension that I felt was not because of that greater spiritual picture. It was because I had to make a living, pay the rent, take care of myself, learn how to be alone, and accept the solitude that bounded me in the canyon.
One morning just before my 23rd birthday in July I awakened early before the sun was up. I had slept deeply—but I was restless. I put on my jacket and went outside. The air was cool, but comfortable. Georgia, the petite black cat who lived in the corral came up to me and mewed. I started walking and said, “Do you want to come with me, girl?” She followed me.
As I crossed the pasture, I smelled the horses and the dry grass. I began walking up the trail behind the house and yard and sensed the incense sweetness of summer-toasted bay trees and the arid aroma of parched grass. It was a scorching summer, with more heat coming. Aside from the sound of my footsteps everything was silent. The night had not yet broken through to twilight, but there was ambient light and my eyes had adjusted so that I could see my way. As I walked the sky started to brighten. Black turned to violet. There was no fog and a few remaining stars flickered and gave way to the sun that was beginning to stir below the horizon.
The path climbed slightly and turned south as the landscape emerged in the growing light. Everything was shimmering, a trick of my eyes striving for the light. As I ambled, I felt as if there was another entity with me in addition to the petite feline familiar that shadowed me. Georgia dashed about, but always returned to the path on which I walked, checking up on me to be sure I was still on the trail.
I had no idea as to what to do that morning other than to keep mobile. I had made my way to a time when I had yet to be at peace with the concealed self that made me restless. I was scarcely aware that there were greater energies stirring within me that I would not have understood even had I been more spiritually perspicacious. I knew I was a mystic that did not fit into the mold that I had been given as a child. I had to make my own way. I was reluctant to do so.
The path led to a grove of poplar trees near the crest of the trail. I could see them ahead of me in the rapidly expanding light, their multitude of leaves shivering in the morning wind streaming in from San Francisco Bay. I loved that spot amidst those trees. There was a stump that I could sit on—a meditation chair provided by nature. It was another setting like the vortex in the redwood grove that had altered me a few years before. That summer morning, I remained the same human I was that turbulent night, still sensitive to the wildness that had compelled me when my mind was almost undone. I waited patiently as the sun ascended. Georgia jumped into my lap. The experience of immanence was calm.
Was Georgia trying to tell me something? She was a barn animal, and she lived on the edge of the wild. If everything fell apart, she could return there and make her way by foraging and hunting. She was gentle but potentially savage. As I sat on the stump, she remained on my lap, her eyes wide open, watching the light flood into the canyon as the sun inexorably climbed higher above the hills.
Color spilled from the shadows. Dull black and grey turned to iridescent green and fulsome ochre. The hills were ornamented with groves of oaks and buckeye trees. I looked up and saw the first hawk of the day darting about looking for a rising current of air that had yet to develop. Birds were awakening. I could hear them launching songs. Somewhere in the arousing geography a mockingbird began to call. At that moment it was the loudest sound in the canyon.
I heard the far-off rumble of civilization beginning its hasty rush through the spirit of the times, as I sat on the stump while my heart opened to the spirit of the depths. Like Georgia I was on the edge of my own animal nature. My own wildness and restlessness were there within me like a portion of myself that I had not yet recognized as a friend who loved me.
I do not recall how long I sat there quietly thinking that there would come a time when I also would arise each morning and go somewhere to earn my lucre—so I could make my own path through the outlandish world that humans had established. I knew also that there was something more important that needed doing. I had thought long and hard about what that might be as my time in college wound down. I had returned to the Bay Area to become a writer, but it was not my time then. The calling had called me, but I was afraid to follow. Later, when I had the mettle, I did not have the time.
As Georgia purred in my lap, a voice inside me whispered—an intimate articulation that I had heard many times before. I could not place it within the context of personhood. It had no physical face, no obvious visage. It was the voice that endowed me with images and metaphors that were replete with compelling mysteries that I could not understand. I listened while slipping in and out of its vocabulary in the same way as sensing dreams or reveries. It was the part of me that was not me. I could not tag it with a specific proper noun without it scattering into puddles of mercury. When I attempted to understand it with my small mind it obscured itself yet remained in full view at the same time.
What I heard as I waited in the poplar grove still speaks as I play the tape that presents the succession of my life on the river where the Yellow Princess navigates. I still can’t label that music, but it no longer just whispers like a tranquil ghost. I cannot see it, but it rests all about me. It wants everyone in the world to know that it loves us, even if we do not listen or are unaware of its existence. It does not hide, but it cannot be measured or seen except in its outer forms: poplars, animals, wind through trembling leaves, birds singing.
That morning, like that hawk looking for a lift, I sat and opened my heart to that voice, knowing that eventually, if I was patient, it would carry me across the sky while my feet remained firmly planted on the earth.
Photos of Bollinger Canyon circa early 1980’s by Richard Gylgayton.