Journal: Blind Joe Death

February 6, 2022 7:39 am Last Homely House (reading room)

Sunday. Foggy February morning. Quiet at the Last Homely House “east of the sea.” Audio world this morning: John Fahey, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death. Side A, Track 2: “Orinda, Moraga.” The tune always calls my thoughts to the Old Ground in California. No regrets. Those were blessed days. So are these—quieter, gentler, but still sustained by grace. The winter mist reminds me of other vaporous mornings at St. Mary’s College as I meandered under leaden grey sunrise to the cafeteria for breakfast—where my friends whispered muted morning words over coffee, eggs, and toast. After murmuring my own half-asleep words I was off to early daylight Shakespeare with Bob Hass. Student days. Fifty years past.

This morning Stephen King, a different literature. The Dark Tower 3: The Waste Lands. Gunslingers, giant robot bears, murderous choo-choo trains, and magic doors to other worlds.  Here in the Pacific Northwest I am not living in a waste land. Tall pine trees wait like guardians in this misty air. The ravaged world of crazed humans seems far away yet akin to King’s peculiar tales. The Last Homely House is a place of cool contemplation. This is my home. My center. This is New Ground. It has taken four winters for me to settle into it the same way I dwell under my blankets at night. This is my place of rest. It holds the past. It contains the present. It becomes the future day by day.

These words are Sunday morning contemplation. Self-sermons. As I write, Fahey is picking out “Bicycle Built for Two.” The itinerant guitarist is buried not far from here, in Salem in a non-descript cemetery in a non-descript grave. He died in poverty and ill health. I visited his resting place a couple years back. I need to visit again. I’ve heard the voice of his guitar countless times over the last half century. It’s a reliable comfort.

Each day I have time to wait for my voices to arise. One is here now as I write this. A different voice from Deejay, Elder Richard, Young Richard, and Kid Richard—the characters that inhabit my new writing project. This journal is my practical voice—the laidback amiable speech of an aging grateful man who lives with an open heart and mind. Settled, yet still aware that life can change to tragedy in an instant.

The source of my voices always has been literature. From the very beginning: Dick and Jane. The Cat in the Hat. Aesop’s Fables. Winnie the Pooh. Hardy Boys. Tom Swift Jr. Poe. H.G. Wells. Robert Louis Stevenson. Jack London. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke.

And then—Tolkien. Life change. Desire to write. Read. Read. Read. Especially on Sunday mornings like this one except then living in a new house built in lima bean fields that were giving way to tract homes—parcels sold by the children of farmers who were dying off. I’d go paperback shopping with JS at the Book Nook or ride my bike to the Oxnard library on Saturdays to find more science fiction. Also Dickens, TS Eliot, Orwell, Conan Doyle. Meetings with JS at the Patiogon, our name for his parent’s sheltered back porch where we would make up stories. Now we meet on Tuesday mornings over the Internet.

All I wanted to do was read and understand how books functioned. No argument about what to study as a college student. My parents let me read as much I wanted. No questions asked. They never asked “what are you going to fall back on?” Dived right in. I lived in pools of words, swimming in them. Chaucer. Milton. Shakespeare. Then wham!—James Joyce: Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home. Yeats: O may the moon and sunlight seem / One inextricable beam / For if I triumph I must make men mad. Blake: I will not cease from Mental Fight.

In the background always SF/Fantasy/Mystery. Saki short stories. Chekhov. Summer of 73–reading War and Peace on a cross-country trip in the back of Dad’s ugly Cadillac and the sudden realization that my mind was my own, unchained. Impossible for it to be caged even if I was taken prisoner like Pierre Bezukhov.

On to my own life from there. Living in Bollinger Canyon. Constant reading of spiritual texts. Alan Watts. Aldous Huxley. I Ching, the Wilhelm/Baynes translation. Jung. Campbell. Poems. Gary Snyder. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Stories and yarns: James Clavell Shogun. Late Dickens—Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, novels that verged on modernism.

After I met Candace: Wilkie Collins, Dorothy Sayers, Yukio Mishima, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Mann—literature I was never exposed to in college. Quiet nights where the two of us read by the fire in a silent house as John Fahey played The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death in the background there as well. Living our Way of the West while the horses nickered in the back yard and views of Hunsaker Canyon sunrises and sunsets blossomed at the ridge behind a house that no longer exists.

Then children: reading to them aloud from Golden Books and all the books Candace and I had read as kids. Quiet evenings in Lucille Lane with all of us absorbed in a book. I turned to Faulkner. History. The American Civil War. Page Smith. Mark Twain. Jack London—this time the novels and stories I didn’t know. Martin Eden. The Star Rover. The Red One. The realization that Jack was writing science-fiction and mythic fantasy. So many books. I can’t remember them all. I have lists in my archives.

Reading on BART on the way into the City to wrestle with technology and earn my lucre. More Zen—translations by Thomas Cleary. Always more poems. Deep Time stuff: Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality—a recognition that I was an Integral guy. Linkages and fragments fell into place. Self-published Full Canvas. Assisted JS with first drafts of his early books. Photography came back and that got connected as well.

Tragedy. My world fell apart. Losses: friends, in-laws, spouse—end of their days. I was drop kicked out of the Real World. Three years of putting pieces back in order, integrating them again. Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Landing here in the Pacific Northwest at the Last Homely House, my bookshelves loaded with gems from the past and books yet to be read. The whole house is my library. Some volumes are penned with inscriptions by my lost ones. Also shelves crammed with recorded music—compact discs and vinyl treasures constantly rotating. Billions of musical notes in my mind like all the billions of words.

My own words are emerging because I have the time to listen to the voices in my imagination and put them in the computer. Winterland Nights in 2020. An ongoing book about the Beatles unlike any Beatle book ever written, I hope. I write for Boomers who love old music. Write what you know. My own words rising out of a lifetime of learning. There’s still time. Make haste. Time to do some transfiguration of my own.

Here I go.

No Confirmation Required

January 18, 2022, 5:24 am Last Homely House (reading room)

A thought: doing things for the sheer joy of doing things. No reason other than the making. Gathering thoughts, visions, and emotions together into forms of art: words, images, sounds, some organized and others random. All of that with no expectation or need of validation other than the doing of it. No transactions. No monetary gain. No emotional return. Only the process. No goal other than the creation.

Is that purity or reality? Is it a rejection of profit and motive or is it the actual core of creativity? If it is the latter (and I believe it to be) then how does one live in a culture like ours where confirmation is measured at best by the temporary pleasure of ego stroking and at worst by the shallow endorsement of monetary worth? Because any way you measure the result of the process, all of it is impermanent, even the doing. Eminent art that endures through centuries is dwarfed by geologic time. Bach and Shakespeare will not survive the heat death of the universe and the end of entropy.

No—it’s all in the crafting. In the pure grace of it. The fun of it. The joy. For some reason that I’ll never fathom, that is where I have arrived. In fact, where I have always been from the beginning.

These thoughts arrive after an hour of meditation, which came after another 4:15 am wake up out of a dream that was so utterly stupid that I gave up trying to sleep. (My rest had already been punctuated by wakefulness.) In the dream I needed to catch a ferry to “Alameda” and after walking slowly across a familiar beach (recognizable from countless other ludicrous dreams) and through a rundown casino populated by sinister criminal characters and worn down down on their luck folks standing in long queues for no evident purpose, I looked across a hopeless, ugly, colorless landscape that revealed no path to my goal. It was not an alameda, no promenade shaded by trees. I awoke swearing—angry at the dream because it was hopeless and meaningless.

Yet I am encouraged by the realization of joy having nothing to do whatsoever with our cultural madness. What I do here in this journal, what I do in the studio, as well as the actions I take during the day in sustaining my existence here in the unconventional and mystical Pacific Northwest require no validation. They are things in themselves. Ding an sich. As they are, they are what they are—Isness. Little bits of the Kosmos. That’s all. Not quite Kant—but also more than Kant. Numinous, not philosophical. Reality, not sophistry.

Perhaps all my experiences are a lingering dream, sometimes stupid, sometimes sublime, cresting to moments of elation when my heart opens to everything and words do not suffice. My past is present. My future is unclear, but overflows with hope and gratitude. Everything I do is a totem from the day before, revealing a path that meanders to the next present moment.

The poem of the mind in the act of finding   

What will suffice. It has not always had   

To find: the scene was set; it repeated what   

Was in the script.

                               Then the theatre was changed   

To something else. Its past was a souvenir.

Of Modern Poetry, Wallace Stevens.

Journal: January 11, 2021

8:34 am Last Homely House

Brief moment of light behind clouds—rose-orange blue. Gone now. Oregon clouds. The garbage trucks are roaming. My coffee is strong, hot, and sweet. I have another day. I get to do the things I love to do—except for travel—but that’s a minor problem. I’m thinking about just driving around town today just to look and see the world. But first—time in the studio.

9:07 am Last Homely House

As life is interrelated, the effort to cut oneself off from the other has the impact of cutting oneself off from oneself and life itself. We deny part of ourselves when we deny the other, as the other is indeed a part of us.

John A. Powell

1:14 pm Last Homely House

At about 11:30 I felt the need to get out of the house and drove to the Willamette National Cemetery. I’d been meaning to explore it for some time. It was an emotional journey.

The place is enormous. Hundreds of acres. It was dedicated in 1950. Over 164,000 internments.

I went to the highest point. There is an amphitheater there. A tall flagpole that is lit by floodlights 24 hours a day. When I got out of the car, I saw four placards and read them—all eulogizing 4 Medal of Honor recipients. My emotions got going. The flag was at half-staff. I’m not sure if it always is or whether it was set that way because of the Capitol Police that died in the riot.

I started to grieve, something that is always close to the surface of my emotional life. I kept thinking about the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol on January 6. Some of them were vets. How could they do that?

All those graves—many of them markers for people who gave their lives to defend a democracy. I don’t often think in those terms. I thought of my son-in-law, an Iraq war veteran, now a historian. I thought of my father, who didn’t fight but had a short stint in the Navy towards the end of WW2. I thought of my Uncle Lawrence, a tailgunner in a B-29 that was lost somewhere in the South Pacific just a few weeks before that war ended. The plane and the crew were never located.

It is sacred ground. Liminal space. There is no doubt about the authenticity of that feeling. The view, which was impaired by cloudy weather, was tremendous. I could see the base of Mt. Hood, covered in fresh snow, the peak occluded by clouds. Silence blanketed the vista and the grounds on which I walked.

Bare trees. Christmas wreaths on many graves—hundreds? A panorama of glistening green rings and robust red ribbons.

I don’t know what a patriot really is—it’s a word that is misused often and is soaked in sentimentality. I do know that I have never felt my identity of an American citizen as I did so strongly during my short visit.

I did not go there expecting any of that. I just wanted to visit the cemetery since it is close to my home. I had no intention of making a connection with the events of the last few days, and the last four years.

1:47 pm Last Homely House

Then there is this, which puts it all into a different perspective.

Getting Back

So what about that new project I hinted at way back on December 9? I can tell you a few things about it in the hopes of piquing your interest. It’s called Getting Back and it’s a memoir of my life as a Beatles fan. I realize that sounds nebulous but I can’t say anything more specific about it at this time, even though more specifics are available. This post is a bit of a teaser as to what kind of a book will be produced.

The project has been in gestation since Thanksgiving, a little over a month ago. During the recent weeks I wrote a 10000 word draft and realized that I was writing the way I had composed Winterland Nights, and it wasn’t working for my new subject. I didn’t want to write in the manner I had used before. I took some time to think about it, and gave myself permission to do something radical, which I also can’t be specific about because I don’t want to create expectations or spoil the surprises. All I will say is that it is a memoir and it is anything but a traditional narrative, yet it’s not quite metafiction. It’s a hybrid of some kind. (A meta-memoir?) It’s also hilarious (at least it makes me laugh), light-hearted, and bright, but is not mesmerized by its own cleverness (something that I hate and try to avoid at all costs). I hope it will be an atypically refreshing tale, unlike any other book that has been written in which the Beatles are a major topic. Certainly it’s not like anything I’ve ever attempted before.

As I have worked on it these last few weeks I’ve realized it will be more complex than I originally considered when I said to myself that I wanted to “write about” the Beatles while watching Get Back. That’s a daunting idea—there have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of books written about the Fab Four over the last fifty years, but I’m perfectly sure that there’s nothing out there like this project. I’m not trying to hype it here. I have read many Beatle-related books over the years and I am catching up with many more as I research this project. Many of them go over the same old stuff, sometimes from different angles, or explore minutiae, or express critical opinions (yes I said opinions) most of which are uninteresting, to me at least. I just finished reading two books, one which said that “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was one of the most creative tunes the Beatles ever produced (which it is), and another which called it a hackneyed waste of time (which it is not). I can assure you that Getting Back will have no such nonsense in it. 

Without giving the whole store away I can say this: one of the themes of the project is creatives working together as a group. The Beatles were a pop group that became a rock group, perhaps the most archetypal pop/rock group of all, not only because of their success, but because of the way they worked together. The Get Back film makes this clear. I would go so far as to say that Peter Jackson’s film requires a complete reassessment of not only the sessions that led to Let It Be but the incidents that led to the group’s dissolution, and everything that happened afterwards. Getting Back is my version of that much needed historical revision, from the perspective of an elder looking wistfully and imaginatively at how his life was changed the moment he heard “She Loves You” as a ten year old boy in 1963.

The Beatles set the basic pattern. Most popular music groups form this way: several friends form a band and make some songs, they rehearse, and then they play them for people. They get popular locally and work their asses off, then they get picked up by a manager, a producer, a record contract. Then, if luck is there and there is a resonance with the social culture, they sell tons of records. If not they find other jobs. If successful they make more records and tour. Along the way they get ripped off which, if they become monstrously popular, they are not aware of, not right away anyway, and legal follies begin. Then they break up because of stress, drugs, disinterest, or death and reform with other musicians perhaps with similar success—or they lose their musical chops, fade to irrelevancy, or spend their time doing reunion tours. That’s it roughly. The whole process is based on people working together. That’s why they call it a band or a group.

However, creatives like myself who write words are loners. Writers never write as a group. In rare cases there may be a collaboration of some kind (or an editor) but 99.9999% of the time we write alone in our offices or studios. We might participate in ad hoc creative writing groups with other writers, or attend graduate school and labor on an MFA (in which case they are in groups/classes with other writers). Even then the actual writing of the words is a solo task. Alone, with pen and paper, or a computer, or whatever, wherever.

The writer’s audience, for the most part, doesn’t experience the writer’s creation until after it’s complete. There’s a big difference between “I wrote a song last night—would you like to hear me play it for you?” and “I wrote a 150,000 word novel over the last year—would you like to read my semi-edited draft?”

Speaking only for myself as a writer, I start with an idea. Who knows where the idea comes from? In the current case it was because I watched the Get Back film and realized that it had been decades since I had thought about the Beatles and how they affected me when I was a young man. Jumping from “hey, that’s what I want to write about” to how do I do it? is a whole phase of the process, the first stage, which I call Rehearsal.

That label is not mine, by the way. It comes from Roy Peter Clark in his book Writing Tools, specifically Tool #41: Turn procrastination into rehearsal. Simply put, in a large writing project (maybe any writing project) you have to have some kind of plan. How that’s done is up to the writer, maybe an outline or a mission statement of some kind. For me it’s useful to not start the daily grind of writing until I have a surfeit of information roiling around in my imagination, and after I’ve organized all that stuff so that I know where I’m going, like following a map. The writing can change the map, often for the better, so I also throw a lot of words away during the second phase, which I call Creation. (The last phase is Consideration, but I’ll describe that in a later post.)

So to answer my own question (what about that new project?) I’m getting close to the end of the Rehearsal Phase, and thus my outline/map/plan is almost complete. Eventually I’ll have more information (or hype) for you.

All that being said I also want to mention that from here out the blog content will broaden into other areas. I certainly can’t post here regularly about a book that doesn’t exist yet (or post from the draft) but I will be writing short pieces about what I am discovering in the Rehearsal phase, and some photographic related things as well.

Happy New Year to all. Sign up below to get notifications in your email when I post and email me if you have any thoughts on this new project (or anything else). 

What Have You Been Doing All This Time?

Yes, I know, I know. It’s been three months since I last posted anything here. The lack of words does not mean I’ve not been occupied with creative projects! Here’s a quick summing up.

I was distracted by baseball all the way from the All-Star break to the dismal ending of the San Francisco Giants postseason, when I wrote in my journal on October 14, 2021:

Tonight I witnessed one of the worst travesties I’ve ever seen in baseball. Once again the state of refereeing was revealed in all its ugliness. This five-game series, a tight and highly wrought matrix of struggle and courage (on the part of both teams) was tarnished on the very last out of Game 5 when Wilmer Flores was called out on strike three on a check swing. A check swing! The most subjective call in baseball. Sounds like an easy call to get right considering everyone can see it. Did the bat go past the plane of the plate? Yes? Then it’s a strike.

As I said to Charles and Julia and JS, I don’t mind being beat by a team, but being beaten by a blind joker in a blue suit is ignoble. Its long past time for balls and strikes and check swings to be monitored by the same processes that are monitoring just about everything else in the game. To have something like that be the final play in a season like this, well that’s spitting in the face of baseball, the players, and the fans. Just terrible. Especially since a check swing call cannot be reviewed.

But in this case the bat did not break the plane of the plate. Gabe Morales, the umpire at first base, who has blown many of the check swing calls I’ve seen this year (no one get it right more than 50% of the time in my view—I saw scores of them missed as I watched more baseball than I have watched in years), yes Gabe Morales blew the call. Big time. Clearly shown on TV there was not a doubt. Right now it’s circulating as a gif all over the Internet.

As my brother wisely points out, every other major sport in the country has more or less corrected their abysmal refereeing, except for baseball. It’s long past due and I’ll think twice about shelling out a monthly subscription to MLB-TV simply to have my hopes ground into the dirt by incompetence.

Needless to say I’m terribly disappointed. I know it doesn’t matter in the larger perspective, but can’t I find one thing that isn’t ruined by idiots?

My regular readers who are San Francisco Giants fans will know exactly what I meant.

At the same time my creative pursuits rolled back to photography, and I started two projects. First, to get the bitter taste of that reckless check swing call out of my mouth I created a gallery of photos that I made at AT&T/Oracle Park from 2008 to 2021. Most of these were games I attended, but some of the images were made back when I worked for Advent Software (when it was a great place to work, before it was ruined and destroyed by…wait…stop, Richard—no point in going on about that—take a deep breath) and the stadium was used for offsite meetings for the entire company. The photos were taken from many viewpoints, behind home plate, up in the corporate boxes, way up in the upper deck from left field, and a few from the bleachers. There’s even one taken from a cruise boat trolling through McCovey Cove.

That gallery can be perused at this link. Leave a comment if you’d like. Eventually I’ll get them over to my SmugMug site which is in urgent need of a refresh, where I’ll put them on sale. If you’re interested in prints in the meantime (fine art made by yours truly) contact me at

The second project developed (yes the pun is intended, why do I feel I need to point it out?) as a result of my eldest daughter helping me organize hundreds of snapshot prints created during from 1985 to 2006, all of them of family and friends. Back in those days I would run rolls of Kodacolor through my Nikon FE and FM, have them processed at Long’s Pharmacy (remember them?), and shove the prints and negatives back into the envelopes after viewing them for a while. (A small selection made it into albums.) I hadn’t looked at them in many years and decided that it was long past time to scan them into my archives.

I was unimpressed with the results from the print scans, even though I have a high-quality flatbed scanner in my studio, so I switched to scanning negatives with Silverfast, and the results are outstanding. As the artistic passion (or obsession) kicked in I dropped all my writing projects (except for my journal which is a daily practice) and since early October I have scanned over 4000 images. Serendipitously, Adobe released new code in Photoshop and Lightroom that makes creating masks a painless, quick procedure and now all that film is a source for new images. It’s like having a darkroom again, without the chemicals—a hybrid process that combines both the analog experience of film with the digital experience of post processing images in ways I could only imagine thirty years ago.

You can view the color results here. The black and white images are here. The latter galleries date all the way back to 1978. These are not fine art shots. They are pictures of my life on earth, but they are renewed and recovered from my own storage vault. (Well, maybe that’s fine art after all.) They may not resonate with most of my readers, but if you were an old friend of mine way back when you’ll get a kick out of them.

During eight weeks of scanning I knew that I was not posting anything to the blog. But—there is news on that front. I’m working on a little something that was inspired by the Get Back documentary directed by Peter Jackson that began streaming on Disney Plus on Thanksgiving. Actually it may be more than a little something, I’m not sure yet. I can tell you it is in the vein of Winterland Nights, so if you read that memoir and enjoyed it you might want to check back and see what this new project is all about, once I start posting it that is.

If you sign up to receive notifications when I post on this blog you’ll be in the loop for that project. There’s a subscription link at the bottom of every page so have at it. I do appreciate the fact that you take the time to read my work. Enjoy the photos and I’ll be back very soon!


Notes on the post

  • Photographs of AT&T Park copyright 2021 by Richard Gylgayton
  • Beatles record bin photo by Mike on (thank you!)


The broom echoes in the atrium.
Clear light
cold pink February morning.

The neon sign cycles
Hot Bagels Hot Bagels Hot Bagels.

The broom’s push-pull repeats
as I drink this morning’s cup
of Major Dickason’s blend.

A moaning wind
underneath the entry doors.
The supple ring of elevator bells.

Tony said yesterday
that he had hopes
for the new century but they
had died
in a God shaped hole.

The century mark is just
a label.
The ineffable broom
is an ordinary thing.
All of this
is so familiar.


Brooms, Wyoming Territorial Prison, Laramie, Wyoming
Photo by Richard Gylgayton

Something Intimately at Hand

4.17.20 9:36 am Last Homely House

“It has something to do with presence—not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.”

Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001) 

Outside my studio window the morning light emblazons the maple trees in the backyard. I often feel a communion with that luminosity, except at those moments when my dualistic mind kicks in and my ego overwhelms my reverie with anxieties of one sort or another. During the last six years I have migrated from hope to fear and back quite often. That cycling has been due to the abrupt changes in my life walk. Through it all, when my head cleared and I was able to see my way past my troubles I have come face to face with that “something” that I can only label as God. That proper noun seems inadequate because of what most people assume it signifies—which is not what I mean at all.

“Being met” with that communion and sense of love for me as who I am, is what I think Bourgeault means by mystical hope. It’s what I am writing about in Winterland Nights, though I don’t tell it—I try to show it—as in the final scene that finishes Chapter 14. It is “an abiding state of being” whether I am aware of it or not. It is subtle—yet sometimes obvious. When I become aware of it my eyes tear up and I am filled with an indescribable emotion, a bliss state that transcends all my ego experience and simply sustains me with love. I do not want to break off the intimate connection to that condition when I am cognizant of it.

I sensed it the other night as I was reading a poem by Joy Harjo from An American Sunrise, titled “Directions to You Rainy Dawn Ortiz” (pg. 22). It begins:

Follow them, stop, turn around
Go the other way.
Left, right,
Mine, yours.
We become lost,
Take a deep breath,
You will not always be lost.
You are right here,
In your time,
In your place.

Then, yesterday, as I sat in the passenger seat of Paul’s truck riding through the valley of the White Salmon River, and later, eating my lunch while standing in the empty parking lot of the Mt. Adams Ranger District building, I could discern my departed ones enfolding me, not physically—though I like to imagine it that way—but spiritually. As I think about it I see that they are now bound up in that same communion. As Harjo writes: You are right here, / in your time, / in your place. That comforts me.

This does as well:

But we do hope. It is the main impulse of life. Why do we awake to a new day anticipating that things will improve? What accounts for the hope which lies within us? If life was simply about random particles interacting with no purpose or meaning, death too would be meaningless.

Ilia Delio, Hope in a Time of Crisis

I suppose all these thoughts are whirling around inside of me because of the pandemic and all the psychic energy that’s being projected by multitudes of people. That’s unmeasurable of course and easily dismissed empirically. But I can’t do that. There was a time that I tried, but my heart wasn’t in it. Something inside of me—the poet, mystic, artist, and creative man—wanted me to understand that Flatland thinking can only explain everything as particles interacting “with no purpose or meaning.” Not much poetry there! Now, in this time and place, in these circumstances, it’s obvious to me that the myriad things are not obvious.

Instead, there “is something intimately at hand.” The fact that I can’t fix a specific word on it just shows how intimate it is. That truth disturbs some people, so they either dismiss it as unscientific, or smother it in sentimentalism or literalism and remove all the sacredness from it.

There is nothing new in this journal today, save for the definition of hope as mystical. These days of waiting and quarantine are starting to seem like a blessing to me. I’m not sure what I really mean by that other than the outside world, that I normally discount, is now so quiet it seems not to really exist. I find that fascinating, because somehow that also comforts me. It is possible that this experience that everyone one is part of (“we are all in this together”) is a turning point. Maybe we are close to that moment of global awakening that I have hoped for. I will not dwell on that. All that’s important now is that I sustain my health and write, think, read, and care for my little piece of Earth and Heaven.

Seal Rock State Park, Oregon – photo by Richard Gylgayton

Long Walk at Dawn

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.

Winterland Nights is available in paperback and Kindle at this link.

Photos of Bollinger Canyon circa early 1980’s by Richard Gylgayton.

Rules of the Road

Think from the heart of the matter.
Gaze in the rear-view mirror.
As the past recedes—
the road endures.

No beginning and no end.
Follow it.
Let go. Hang on.

Where there is safety
there is silence.

Slow down.
Travel without moving—
say nothing
about what you hear.

Yesterday has already joined
the geography of our passages. 
The past is present—
embrace it. 

Shadow Sutra

I talk about the Buddha with my shadow
(a shadow is not a shadow
that is why it is a shadow).
We agree on many things
and disagree about others
that don’t matter much
and we are amused by the fact
that we cannot see each other’s face.

He is a smart fellow, my shadow.
He understands the mockingbird.
He doesn’t mind inclement weather.
When the sun is hidden by clouds
he just evaporates.
The antics of would-be kings amuse him.
He tells me not to be uneasy
be like him
then not there
always tranquil always humming tunes
that cannot be heard.

Composed in 2006