Chapter One- Sunday Morning Coyote
A lone black crow stretches the eastern horizon as he wings his way over row after row of green leafed wine grapes, over the almond orchards, across the Stanislaus River, above acres and acres of alfalfa, sugar beets, and housing developments, over the rangeland, and all the way to the twin peaks of Mt. Diablo some fifty miles away. Time-space unfolds in every direction. The buzz of 6 A.M. traffic curving north and south on Ninety-Nine echoes across the rooftops. In the east, beyond the Sierra Nevada, the sun is just rising.
Focusing on the twin peaks of Diablo, I remember the coyotes and realize that the seeing back then was far short of the seeing that Krishnamurti speaks of; a seeing which can only happen when thought is dead, when there is no experiencer, no experience. "The seeing is of the highest importance. This seeing is out of time-space; it's immediate, instantaneous. And, what's seen is never the same again. There is no again or in the mean time," says Krishnamurti.
My seeing back then was more an effort at concentration where I focused on external events mostly with one center, often mistaking thought, the word, for reality, seeing through the image that thought created.
The seeing, though, was the culmination of my whole six years on that Byron sheep ranch. Actually more than six years, because moving to that hundred-year-old farmhouse in seventy-three kind of finished up the sixties for me. I mean, there I was completing a decade's study of Henry Miller, getting deeper into Krishnamurti and Castaneda, working on the novel, painting an occasional watercolor, recording my dreams, practicing meditation.ä There I was fitting into the non-work day most of what I had dreamed of doing when the sixties began and we split for Alaska. And, even though I was looking at the world through the image I had created, I did get a glimpse of reality from time to time, a glimpse that was apart from the image through which it filtered.
It seems like there are stages that we must live through in our journey to manhood. In the first, like so many of our generation, I set out to find, "What it's all about, man, " to "Experience every experience!" And, it didn't take long to discover that earning a living is what it is all about in twentieth century America. For a time, at least, the inner man must give way. Lucky for me, in the back of my mind always is Henry Miller's dictum that earning a living has nothing to do with living. Living, discovering one's own true identity, is all that we can do in life. So, our worldly occupation must support our real work.
The first stage then is gathering impressions, knowledge, experience, building the self-image. It is becoming a man, learning to earn your way in life. The second stage, which I began to experience with the coyotes, is partially one of gathering, but also one of seeing the false in what one has. It's when you begin to awaken to what you really are. And, the third stage, which is still to come, is dying to all that is known. It's maturing beyond what we would normally call manhood into another level. Only then, does the real journey begin.
But, the coyotes. The coyotes. It's an early Sunday morning in October. Jogging in the badlands behind our house, I stop at an irrigation pipe to tighten a shoelace. To the top, and then head home, I tell myself as I straighten my six-foot frame, and look across the winding uphill dirt road to where it crests about fifty yards away. A pair of ears shows over the crest. Jack rabbit? I wonder as I look down at Bingo and Fluff. The half sized sheep dogs circle at my feet as if they don't see the ears.
When I look up again, a black and white coyote trots into view. He takes a dozen steps down hill, and stops. I lift my glasses and rub my eyes in disbelief. He stands staring. I know he sees me; he's looking straight at me. Not a sound as he eyes me up and down.
I return my glasses, and the coyote starts back down the hill. Thinking of Don Juan's magical deer, I wonder if I shouldn't stand on my head or something. The coyote keeps coming. As the distance between us shortens, I'm certain he intends to walk right to me. Each footfall brings him closer, closer. I stand transfixed. The animal gives off a feeling of friendly curiosity with a complete absence of fear. And for a moment, I lose all sense of fear myself. There is just the animal, the dirt road, the rangeland, the blue sky.
The yelping of several other animals breaks the silence. Must be a whole pack, I tell myself. Down the hill he comes still closer. Maybe he's not a coyote. Maybe he's a wild dog. Maybe he's rabid, I think as a cartoon wild animal bare fangs flashing leaps for my throat. The coyote keeps coming. I hold my ground until he's less than thirty feet away, and then bring my hands together in two loud claps. He spins in his tracks and dashes back to the top of the hill. There, he turns to face me.
A string of yelps bursts from the dried up water hole to my left, and then from the rangeland to my right. The coyote looks down on me. Time ticks slowly. A movement to my left catches my attention. Just below the abandoned grass covered road this side of the water hole is a second coyote. He slinks away from me toward the third butte his belly touching the ground. I watch until he disappears behind the rocks on the up hill-slope. From the rangeland, the yelping comes closer. The black coyote still stares. I clap my hands together twice more. He turns and trots over the hill. With his exit, the yelping stops, and I begin cussing myself out for being a cowardly bastard. You should have let him come closer, I tell myself and think how don Juan would have said, "You blew it!"
It's later the same day. I'm sitting across from Alex at his place in Waterford. I take another sip of coffee and describe my morning meeting. "It was miraculous. I actually stepped through the crack in the world. Entered a different reality. If I hadn't become afraid, I'm sure he would have walked right to me. I could have reached down and touched him. He would have talked to me. You know, for a minute there, the world actually stopped. My visual perception expanded a hundred fold. And, everything came into scale; the vastness of the outspreading rangeland, how tiny I stood in relationship. Like, I wasn't even there. It was like one of those visions that you get inside your head where the color keeps expanding and exploding and expanding and there's no inside or outside. There is only the brilliance."
"Krishnamurti writes of a similar experience," Alex tells me. "You may have read it. It's always stuck with me because it was the first time I saw him describe the experience of, what would you call it, awakening? Anyway, in the dialogue, a man in his early thirties tells Krishnamurti how he got out of bed one morning and found everything as if he were seeing it for the first time. He went through his ordinary every day routine, getting dressed, going out for a walk. But, space-time no longer existed in its usual way. All that he saw or touched seem to glow with some inner energy. He stopped in front of a flower shop where he seemed to spend an eternity experiencing the very essence of each flower. He describes his morning to Krishnamurti, and then explains that his whole life is now devoted to recapturing that experience. Krishnamurti tells him that when the experience came, he wasn't looking for it. And, that one can never experience the real until the search. Until all the voices are silent.
"If you go into an experience in imitation of someone even as worthy as Castaneda, it will be imagination and not the real," Alex says as he reaches for the ash trey.
" But, all the voices were silent. No, no. If they were, I would have reached down and petted him."
"Yea, and he would have bit your hand off," Alex laughs.
What a difference between a Sunday morning trek in the Badlands, back then, and the Monday morning world of work. It wasn't until late afternoon at our faculty meeting that I got a chance to speak of the coyotes again. I tell Ida, "I think the silver and black animal is a magic coyote. If I had let him come closer, he would 'a talked to me."
"That's unreal," Ida answers wringing her hands together. "That's what you should be writing about. No one ever see things like that."
"Well, I did jot it down in my notebook. I do keep a journal on my experiences up there. You know, it's hard to believe. Just an hour east of the city. So close that when the fog blows into San Francisco we feel the change in the weather. Yet, we're surrounded by sheep and cattle, real working cowboys for neighbors, eucalyptus trees full of crows.ä And, now, a magic coyote!
"You know, how Castaneda says that there are separate realities. He argues that we accept this reality only because we are taught to do so from the moment of birth. Up there, I think I've come very close to entering a different dimension. Another world where all the laws are different. I mean, when you stop to think about it, the world we accept as real is so absurd, so contradictory, so make believe that it hardly makes sense at all."
"Now wait a minute. I don't think I can agree with you there," Ida tells me as tiny wrinkles in her dark skinned face smooth with self-assurance. "It's not that difficult for me to know what's real. Reality is right here," she says tapping bright red fingernails on the table. "Reality is the shitty six graders I have to face every day. It's going home tonight and having to put up with O.T.'s bullshit," she says and explains that she and her boy friend are having problems again. He suspects her of sleeping with someone else. She caught him searching her purse and the bedside table. He's even followed her a couple times. She explains that there's only this one other guy that she's seeing.
Before she can go any deeper, Pearson, our science teacher, joins us. His blue oxford shirt bunches over a wide brown belt. "I'll tell you," he says, "I'm so glad we adopted that assertive discipline program. It really does work. It's completely eliminated all my behavior problems."
"That's what I was afraid of when I voted against it," I interrupt. "Sure it works. If you nail a kid every time he breaks the rules that you've explained and posted all over the room, he'll obey."
"You teach them the rules. When they break them they pay the consequences. What could be fairer than that?"
"Yea, but they do so out of fear. And, what does fear do to our attempts to communicate? There's already too much fear."
"Ahhh come on, Daley a little fear never hurt no one. At least we're getting their attention. If you have to knock a few heads together to get their attention, that's what you have to do."
I nod my head, raise an eyebrow at Ida, and let Pearson ramble on. Do we ever stop and ask ourselves the whole purpose of education? I ask myself. If the function of education is to give our children the skills that will help them to live freely and without fear, assertive discipline is counter to our very purpose. When will we learn that one never learns through fear?
Before I can answer myself, Heinemann, our principal coughs and calls the meeting to order. "Number one on the agenda is the revision of the chain of command procedure that the departmental communications committee adopted last week," he tells us and points to the chart.
The coyote drifts farther and farther into the back of my mind as my week's work takes hold of me. Though it is only mid October, already my sixth graders have lost the genuine enthusiasm that they began the year with. Their work is hurried, turned in just to get it done with no care or pride in workmanship, no originality. Even though I've gone through it a thousand times before, though I know how impossible it is to take thirty plus kids who are crammed into a classroom against their will and get them excited about learning, I still get pangs of conscience. I tell myself I have to make some contact with them.
Tuesday morning, I try to put a little spark into my students. I ask them, "Why are we in school?" We do a circle diagram on the board together listing all their reasons for attendance. "Because it's the law." "To learn and get a good education." "To get a good paying job." "To be with my friends." "To give me self confidence." "Because my mother would kill me if I wasn't." This last one gets a laugh and we try to go a little deeper. Almost everyone agrees that the most important reason for being in school is to prepare for working life.
In a circle meeting on Wednesday, I ask, "Is that all there is to life, earning a living? Are we in school just so we can get a good job?" In our discussion, several students decide that there may be something more to life, that maybe we have some unique characteristics that could be developed, that there are mysteries to be solved. Several students let down their guard for a moment and show some real depth. We write on the board that we are not in school to work for our teacher, or our parents, but to work for a better understanding of ourselves. I think they're beginning to get it, I tell myself.
Then, they begin their written response. Five or six hands shoot up at once. "I still don't know what I'm suppose to write," Mike tells me as I bend over his desk.
"Well, where's your notes? We've been taking notes for two days. Read them over, and add your own thoughts. Tell us why you come to school every day."
Several more hands are raised. "Tomorrow's cheer leader try-outs. Are you gonna vote for me, Mr. Daley?" Sara asks as I kneel at her desk and peek at her empty page.
"Come on, you need to get started. Beside, I'm not gonna judge this year. I have to do student council.ä Now, why are you in school? Why do you come every day?"
"So, I can practice cheer leading," She tells me.
"Good, write about that," I say as I run a hand through her long brown hair, and take a quick peek at flashing green eyes. "Besides, you'll make it. You're the best.ä" The talking behind me increases. I turn around and heads bend back to their papers. A wad of paper flies from the second row to the trashcan. "Hey, who threw that?" I yell and instead of waiting for an answer continue; "You know we're not suppose to throw anything in the classroom." Back at the water fountain several students whisper in line. There's another line at the pencil sharpener.
"How do you spell professional," from the next student.
"You wait five minutes with your hand in the air instead of looking it up," I scream and write the word on the top of his paper. I glance across at the next desk and see that Jason is drawing another detailed scene of a W.W.II air battle. At the chalkboard, I write his name, and add Matt's and Anthony's. Matt turns back to his work. "How come you never put a girl's name up?" Anthony asks. I put a check by his name. He shakes his head, crumples his paper, and sits with folded arms. A couple more names on the board and the students settle down a little. When I stoop to help Tim, I see that he is copying word for word from his notes. I explain that it's not enough to just recopy what we wrote on the board.
"Hey, that's pretty good, Jimmy. You need a little more detail, though. How will different subjects help you become a better motorcycle mechanic? How will reading skills help? Math? English?" I ask and looking across the aisle spy Becky unfolding a note.
"Read it out loud," someone offers as I take the note and write Becky's name under Steve's. "Can I use the restroom?" the next student asks.
"Mr. Daley! Mr. Daley! When's my turn?" calls Tammy.
"Don't call my name! Can't you see there are hundreds of hands up, and you call my name," I shout as I take a quick glance at the clock.
"Do we have to write a good copy?" from someone else.
"I've been waiting twenty minutes," Mary tells me as I kneel at her desk. The noise level begins to shoot up again while I explain that she has a good start, but needs to add more detail. She tells me she's going out for cheer leader and asks if I think she'll make it. "We'll have at least two of you in the class," I answer. Toward the wall, Ashley and Jamie are pointing at Mark and giggling. He has his head on the desk sound asleep "Let him sleep, at least he's quiet," I tell the giggling girls
"Mrs. Dunbar doesn't make her class write good copies," a voice calls.
"Scotty jabbed me with his pencil!" calls another voice.
"Well, he wrote on my paper," Scotty screams as I walk to the chalkboard. "Oh, it's all right for him to write on my paper. I ain't staying. You got to give us time to eat.ä" Scotty continues as I write his name and add two checks.
By Thursday, the students are even more caught up in their writing effort, and I'm just as much caught up in the correcting. They have forgotten all about working for themselves, and so have I. They're whining and pouting. I'm threatening and writing names. By Friday, I'm totally identified. They are the students. I am the teacher. The assertive discipline rules are underlined. At end of the day, I drive home in a deep coma. I figure it's got to be my fault. Tell myself I have to work harder. Saturday, it takes all day and most of the night to put myself back together again.
Sunday morning, I steer my dogs through the barbed wire fence at the end of our road wondering why I ever went into teaching. What a waste of time and effort. You'll never make 'em think for themselves How are you going to teach six graders that real work is work on the spiritual aspect of one's self. The inner self. Christ, they can't even read and write. How do you make them understand that they have to work on themselves, for themselves? They're only children. It's the worst place in the world to be. I'm telling myself.
As my footsteps hit the rain softened earth, in one voice I'm moaning the fact that I'll never make it as a writer, that I'll be stuck with the god dammed sixth graders for the rest of my life. And in another, I'm trying to shut off internal dialogue. And, then, all the voices stop. I curl my fingers and let the morning silence enter. To the west several hundred acres of green irrigated pasture give way to the yellow-brown of fenced range land that runs all the way to the twin peaks of Mt. Diablo some twenty miles distant. As my head empties out, I get more and more into my body, into my running, into the surrounding rangeland. A rabbit darts across the road, and climbs into the mixture of wild oats and barley that lines the twenty-foot high butte to my left. Like a shot, Bingo takes off after him. Knowing better than to call him back, I look down at Fluff, now too old for the chase, and ask her why she didn't teach her son better. Taking the turn at the irrigation ditch, I pick up a little speed. My breath comes faster as I get into the rhythm of my body and the feel of my foot falls on the rain-softened earth.
I run the hundred-yard length of the ditch and start the up hill climb to the second butte. The sun breaks from behind an enormous cloud and spills its light on the grasses. The hill gets steeper. Lowering my head, I pick a path between clumps of yellow-gray prairie grass that spreads the upper slope. Clearing the top, I gain momentum, sprint for some fifty yards, and then slow to a walk. Out of nowhere, Bingo comes tearing by my right hand side. Figuring he's still on the rabbit, I shoot a glance in front of him and nearly swallow my heart. There, just a dog's length away is a half grown red and white coyote going for all he's worth.
"Bingo! Bingo!" I command patting one hand against my leg. He ignores my call and continues the chase covering some hundred feet before turning inland. I look down at Fluff who is still at my left hand leg, and there, by God, comes a second coyote. Acting like he doesn't see me, he trots right by. I watch him for fifty yards or so until he disappears into a gully. When I look back at Bingo, he and the first coyote are fading into the same gully. I picture the two animals ganging up on Bingo, and then it strikes me. Except for my call, there hasn't been a single sound. Not a yelp from Bingo. Not a whine from Fluff. Not a cry from either coyote. If I hadn't seen 'em I'd' a never known they were there, I tell myself.
A killdeer calls out to break the silence. I shift my feet and wonder what to do. What will Vickie say if you come home and tell her a coyote killed her dog? I ask myself and start off towards the low spot. In a minute or so, I spy Bingo going full speed towards the fence line. Now, the coyote is chasing him. I watch for forty feet or so until they disappear into another hollow. When I cover another fifty yards, Bingo reappears running towards me. Not a mark on him, as I rub my hands through black and brown fur, not a hair out of place. They must' a been playing. Jus' playing, I tell myself.
"Well, old boy you'll have something to tell your grandchildren," I tell Bingo as we angle toward the dirt road that parallels the fence line. "Might as well finish our run," I tell Fluff as we pick up the pace. When we're almost at the dirt road, we slow to a walk. High white clouds are breaking up overhead. On the other side of the fence, knee high yellow barley waves in the wind. Silence sings through the grasses and holds me for a long moment. Then, in the middle of the field, a third coyote appears. Full grown, he's hopping through the grasses on his hind legs just like a jackrabbit. Jesus Christ, I tell myself staring in disbelief. The animal takes several more hops and lands on all fours. We stare eye to eye. At first I think he must be the same animal that came over the hill last week. But, this animal's fur is red, dark red with big patches of white. I glance down at the dogs and to my surprise; they act like they don't even see the coyote. They're sniffing the ground at my feet. A gust of wind lifts the hair off the collar of my blue work shirt. The prairie wolf turns to his left.
Two more coyotes, about fifty feet apart, are hopping across the field on their hind legs just like the first was. For a second or so, thinking back to the younger animals, I'm afraid the pack is trying to surround me. Craning my neck right, I see nothing but miles of wind blown grasses. When I return eyes front, the three animals are dead still watching. Less than thirty feet separates me from the closest animal. He could clear that fence in less than a leap, I tell myself.
Minutes tick slowly. "That cubic centimeter of chance," rings through my mind as the coyotes stand like statues. Then, the lead coyote turns his head left and holds. As if following his command, the other two animals spin in their tracks and march across the meadow. In seconds, they're over a rise and out of sight. The remaining animal turns back and rivets his eyes on me. I marvel at how bright and healthy looking he is. Not at all like the dusty gray coyote that I remember from the zoo. In the story, "The Shadow of a Rainbow," the leader was a she wolf, I tell myself and wonder if this animal is female also.
Not a sound as the dogs circle out a dozen feet or so. A flight of cliff swallows flash overhead. I shift my eyes to watch their play in the wind. White clouds and blue sky stretch out the horizon. The coyote turns sideways and lies down. Wind gusts through the full-headed barley so that sometimes she disappears altogether. At other times her features show so distinctly that they seem to be magnified. Time-space disappears. With intense curiosity, she studies the strange intruder who interrupted her morning hunt. Her eyes shine with a deep intelligence, an intelligence that mirrors her surroundings. Clod after clod of brown earth, stalk after stalk of yellow barley, even the individual seed stands out with striking clarity. And, as our eyes meet and hold the silence deepens, and in the silence, there is no separation.
The earth rotates beneath us until I hear the call for Sunday morning breakfast. Better head home. Anne and the kids will be wondering where you're at, a voice tells me. "So long dona Coyote. Nice to have made your acquaintance, " I tell the animal. She regains her feet. "See you next time," I say and turn to leave. After a dozen steps, I turn back to wave another good-bye. The she-wolf nods her head once and turns to the foothills.
When I jog into the driveway, Milligan is climbing out of his new Dodge pick-up. Breaking to a walk, I detour to the barn, and call good morning. We discuss how happy we are to see the first rains, and before I can say what just happened, Milligan goes into a monologue about the high costs of replacement parts for the irrigation pump he's rebuilding. I peek into his sun-leathered face. Small, dark black eyes meet mine and dart away. He pauses for my concurring nod to his statement that everyone tries to rip off the little man nowadays. "You'll never believe," I say instead and catch myself just in time as the memory of his losing battle with the coyotes runs through my mind.
I nod twice and his monologue picks up again. As Milligan explains how he's still in court, fighting the government over the price they gave for the piece he had to sell off, and how they didn't even want to pay what they agreed on which is way under market value; I remember his description of a pair of coyotes who got into the sheep right outside his backyard window; how they dropped six lambs before he could get out with his twenty-two rifle. "It wouldn't be so bad, you know, if they jus' killed what they ate. Grown one will down a lamb to teach the pups. Get in the sheep and they kill for the fun of it. Never eat the whole thing. You know, just the heart and liver, and leave the rest. It's always the fattest and healthiest they go for." he told me.
While Milligan explains how the tax structure is keeping down the middle class, I recall his story of how he hunted the pair. He discovered how they came down from the government property through where the barbed wire is pushed down at the end of the road, jumped his fence, circled through the lower fields, crossed highway Four, and leaped the fence behind his house. Next morning, before sunrise, he's waiting in ambush. Somehow they know he's there. They take another path and down two lambs before he can get back across the road. That pair alone took more that thirty sheep over late summer and early fall. Trouble he had getting the state trapper to come out. Bleeding hearts who never lost a dime to coyotes push a law through the legislature that bans the use of ten-eighty poison. He has to petition for special exemption. Write letters describing his loss, send pictures. "When the trapper finally came out and set his baits, he took more than a dozen coyotes on that state property alone," Milligan told me. Yea, and, I can still remember, even today, jogging along the canal bank a few days after the poison was set and seeing the two black lab. pups their bodies bloated to twice their normal size stone dead.
When I walk through the kitchen door, Anne, Stoke, and Vickie are just finishing breakfast. I sit down to cold bacon and eggs, and explain that Milligan held me up. "Did you ask him about fixing the roof?" Anne asks.
"No, I was gonna, but he started in on the pump he's rebuilding, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise. You'll never believe what happened. I'm up on the second butte. You know, across from the irrigation ditch. Bingo goes running by. I figure he's chasing a jackrabbit. But it's a coyote! Young one 'bout the same size as Bingo. Then, another one goes by so close I could' a touched it."
"Bingo was chasing him!" Vickie asks with a ten year old's enthusiasm.
"No, for real?" Stoke asks with an older brother's doubt.
"God damm it! If you showed as much interest in your family as you do in those dumb animals. I knew you wouldn't ask Milligan about the roof. The carpets ruined from the rain last night. You know how long he takes to fix anything." Anne tells me her brown eyes sparking anger.
Monday morning over coffee, I tell Ida about my latest sighting. "Must be a family; mother, father, uncles, pups. The black and white one might be the father. I think the leader yesterday was a female."
"Could you pick up some scat for my outdoor ed. class?" Ida asks as she runs a brush through her long black hair.
"Milligan having trouble with coyotes again?" Pearson questions as he pulls up a chair. "Just reading how they're paying a two hundred dollar bounty on 'em. Some of the ranchers are making more money hunting coyotes than raising sheep."
"Two hundred dollars?"
"That's what I read. You want to go partners, I can loan you a rifle. I got a call that'll bring 'em close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Split fifty-fifty on all we take."
"No, I don't think so. I could never kill one, " I tell Pearson as the bell rings for classes to begin.
Two hundred dollars each, I'm telling myself and thinking here's my chance to get the new carpet, get the car fixed, have some extra money.
"You have to be careful who you tell about the coyotes," Ida whispers on the way to our classrooms.
Before reading, I tell my sixth graders.
"Come on, Mr. D. You're just telling a story, huh. Ain't no coyotes around here no more," Matt says shaking his head back and forth.
"Me and my dad heard one when we was up camping last year," Curt explains.
"Weren't you scared?" Sara asks with wide green eyes.
"Keep him talking. We'll get out's work," Anthony whispers to Matt.
"All right. Let's take out our reading books. Time to get started," I tell the class.
"Ahhh, Mr. D., tell us some more of your big bad wolf stories," Anthony pleads. Several voices join in encouragement. I put Anthony's name on the board. "What's that for?" he yells. I put a check by his name. He opens his book with a repressed snarl curling his lip. Already he's beginning to understand the principles of assertive discipline.
Saturday night at the Wild Idol Inn, I tell Frank after we've downed a couple of Coors. "Ran into a pack of coyotes on that state property up behind our house. Pair a' young ones went by as close as you are right now. Don't think they ever saw a human before. You ever see any when you're up moving cattle?" I ask wondering if I dare mention their magical qualities.
Frank nods his head. A wave of pure black hair falls from beneath his straw cowboy hat. "Now and then. Now and then. Get around the cattle sometimes when they're calving. Had to take a shot at one last spring. Seen an eagle up off a' Morgan Territory Road."
As Frank describes the bird's graceful flight, a guy in Levi's and felt cowboy hat walks up and slaps him on the back. I recognize him as the new neighbor who moved in across the street to run the old Brun's place. Frank orders three more Coors and introduces us. "You know Jack, here, don't ya? He's the guy who lives cross the road I was telling ya 'bout."
"Yea, we met once before," Lee answers and reaches over to shake hands.
"Jack was telling me he ran into a pack a' coyotes up on that state property behind your place."
"That right? I blew one the fuck away a couple nights ago. Pair of 'em got in the corral. Fucking dogs never made a sound. Hadn't been for the noise the horses were making I'd 'a never knowed they where there. Smoked the first one. Other one got away, but I don't think he'll be back too soon. Sneaky low down mangy mother fucking ky-oht. See me coming, he'd better turn tail. I'll blow 'em away every fucking time. Blow 'em the fuck away," Lee tells us as he put a mock rifle up to his shoulder and gets off a couple rounds.
"Funny I never heard no shots," I tell myself as I dig into my pocket for three more Coors.
Later that night, I dream about the coyotes. Anne and I are walking hand in hand on the dirt road below the first butte. We stop, turn to face each other, and kiss. A feeling of total love envelops us. We feel just like we did fifteen years ago. Nothing else in the world exists but the love we share with each other.
The scene shifts. I stand with my back against the kitchen counter. To my left with her leg pressing mine stands a slender teenage girl. As I eye her soft budding body, she peers out the window, which is over the kitchen sink. I turn to face her and slip one hand on her Levi covered butt. Gently, she pushes my hand away. When I try again, she slides around me. I follow and with one arm, trap her against the kitchen wall. With my free hand, I finger the bottom of her blue half shirt. She leans down to squeeze by. Her small pointed breasts rub the counter top. I slip a hand under one and finger silky softness. Holding my breath, I reach for the other breast and wait for her to pull away. Instead, she backs her ass into my pelvis and bends to look out the window.
Following her glance, I see the coyotes running atop the second ridge, several young and a couple full-grown ones. As I look closer, I see dogs among the pack; a black and white husky, and a brown sheep dog. I focus on three more animals. They're all dogs, now! I tell myself as they come to a rest spread out some fifty feet apart. In a moment, they take off again galloping toward a small patch of woods where the irrigation ditch should be.
Trembling with fear, I run from room to room locking windows and herding the kids into the kitchen. "Stay inside! Stay inside! There's a pack of wild dogs coming!" I shout and head for the back door.
I race down the driveway thinking to lock the gate. But, before I reach it, the lead dogs come tearing in. Jumping the barbed wire fence, I race through the field toward the badlands with the dogs snapping and snarling at my feet.
At the southern edge of the first butte, I stand catching my breath. Wind whistles through the dew-dampened grass. There's not a sign of the dogs. Looking across to the second butte, about two hundred feet away, I see a coyote clear the knee-high grass. Spread across the grass, are three more coyotes trotting south behind the first. A surge of joy runs through me as I watch their graceful gait. Then, a rustle in the weeds of a down slope ten feet away attracts my attention. My head jerks back in fright as I spy a shrunken black and gray coyote. His lean rib cage shows beneath dull matted fur.
He must be dying, I tell myself as the fear of death runs clean through me. The dying animal crawls toward me. Looking for some means of escape, I spot a rusty harrow standing on its side a step behind me. I leap on it, and holding tightly to the rusty spikes turn my back to the coyote. Got to turn and face him. Got to turn and face him. I keep telling myself. But, try as I might, I can't bring myself to do so.
I awake from the dream with a taste of fear still in my mouth. As I wait for the coffee to perk down, I listen to the cawing of a lone crow in the eucalyptus tree outside my backroom window, and think about the death of the magic coyote. Jus' take a quick jog up there, I tell myself.
The kitchen clock reads 7:43. Not time. Gotta wake 'em up for eight thirty Mass.
Stoke and Vickie sleep silently in their bedrooms. Anne is asleep on the front room couch. "Hon. Hon. It's quarter to eight. You wanna get up, or still sleep?" I ask noticing how young her face looks while blessed with sleep.
"Still sleep," she says through tightly closed eyelids.
"You wanna wake up for nine-thirty, or eleven?"
"You wanna jus' sleep?"
"Jus' sleep," she tells me.
I tip toe back into the kitchen, take a quick gulp of coffee, and head for the door. Since the dogs weren't in the dream, I won't wake them either, I tell myself and laugh that instead of dreaming my double, I'll be doubling up my dream.
By the time I jog on the dirt road below the first butte, I'm so into the morning, so emptied of the voices inside my head that I nearly forget the dream. A falcon glides several hundred feet above the damp brown grasses. I ease to a stop and watch him cut a graceful path. He dips his left wing, and dives toward a fence line. Pulling up just inches above the ground, he goes into a climbing westward turn. The sky expands over the rolling foothills as he climbs to five hundred feet and levels off.
With my heartbeat quickened, I resume my jogging pace. Turning left, I follow the irrigation ditch for some fifty yards. All of a sudden, two herons explode out of the ditch. The first is pure white. Her mate is blue, a bright blue on top and a blue-black on the underside. Whirling to my right, I watch them wing toward the foothills. They reach two hundred feet and circle east toward the canal. As I follow their flight, I catch sight of a single coyote about thirty feet behind me on the first butte. Son of a bitch, I tell myself. Several moments pass with him looking down on me. Then, he turns left and trots down hill out of sight.
One of the pups? I ask myself, and pick a spot about fifty feet ahead where he'll have to scoot across the road to reach the second butte. Scanning a complete three-sixty, I see no sign of the other coyotes. At about four hundred feet, the herons are back over the ditch. I focus on their path and catch a slight movement across the way. A second coyote comes to the edge. Looking for his companion, for the moment, he doesn't see me. I take a deep breath and measure the fifty yards or so across the ditch and up to the top of the butte. The animal moves a step closer, spots me, and freezes. My eyes dart left and right as I recall the dream fragment.
Come on, this isn't a dream. This is real. Nothing to be afraid of, I tell myself. With one eye on the animal above, I hold my ground, and watch for the first coyote. Before long, he crawls across the road, trots up hill, and is lost in the oat grass. The other animal keeps me locked in his sights until the first joins him. The two exchange glances and look down on me. Must be the same pups, but there's not a spot of white on 'em. They're both pure red, pure red, I tell myself. The animals turn their heads south, give me one more look, and take off.
I picture a rocky area about two miles back where Milligan's hired herder watched the sheep one winter several years ago. It strikes me that I haven't been back that far since the morning I stopped to have a chat with him. They could have their den back there, I tell myself as I step into an easy jog.
On top of the second butte, I run at a medium pace looking for some sign of the two. Nothing but copper colored grasses. At the southern edge, I stop to scan the half-mile of flat land between the third butte and myself. Still no sign of the early morning hunters. Then, something moves on the abandoned road below the water hole. I watch one of the young prairie wolves climb over the far bank and walk to the middle of the road. Seeing no danger, he scurries down the bank on my side of the road, and hurries to a spot where the road makes a ninety-degree angle with the ground. Peering squint eyed though the oat grass; I think I see him make a kill.
That was quick, I tell myself, but then think, No... no. I'll be dammed. That was his stash. They must cache the kill and pick it up on the way back to their den. The coyote gives truth to my words as he carries the dead animal to the middle of the road and sets it down to have a final look. Focusing on what looks like the black inner lining of a football, I can't be sure if it was a rabbit or a ground squirrel. God damm, I tell myself as he picks up the kill and take off down the far bank.
While I wonder if I should pursue the animals all the way to their den, a sudden touch of loneliness strikes me. Not another human for miles. Nothing but fence posts, damp earth and prairie grasses. No one who wants to hear my story when I return. I shift my feet and wonder what I'm doing here.
Then, on the dirt road where I first saw the silver and black coyote a movement catches my eye. It's the magic coyote. I'll have another chance to talk to him, I tell myself
One of the young coyotes comes over the hill, thoroughly checks his back, and turns toward the third butte. I look east and catch the speed of the rising sun. Too late to track them any further, I tell myself.
A week later, I sit at Alex's kitchen table telling him about my dream and encounter with the coyotes. We discuss the Jungian symbolism in the dream. "You have to remember that the characters in your dream are not real people. The girl that you're sexually attracted to. It sounds to me like that's your anima. You know, the anima points the way to the unconscious. The girl draws your attention to the window through which you see the coyotes," Alex tells me.
"Yea, I understand that," I reply nodding my head. "But, I wonder what the coyote's death means. Why should the magic coyote die?"
"There is no magic coyote! Remember, everything in a dream is some aspect of the dreamer. The coyote is some psychological force in you. What is it in yourself that must die?" Alex asks
It's three weeks later; I stand at the edge of the second butte catching my breath. A movement atop the third butte catches my eye; I'm certain that it's the black and silver coyote. I watch him disappear into the rocks and follow in quickstep. When I reach the rocky area, I catch another glimpse of the coyote. He's entering a grove of eucalyptus trees a hundred yards farther south. At the trees, I find a narrow path that leads to an ancient stone castle. Strange I've never seen it before, I tell myself.
In front of a bright red door at the back entrance, I examine the mortared stone. Is someone living up here? I wonder as I finger a brass doorknob. The door creaks open. I step into a small white washed kitchen. As I peek around, I hear a low moaning sound from an adjoining room. You better get out of here quick, I tell myself in a trembling voice.
"Morning? Morning already?" I hear between moans. "Fix me some coffee. Fix me a cup of coffee," says a low feminine voice. I see a jar of instant by the sink and look for something to boil water in.
The bedroom door opens. A girl who looks to be in her late twenties steps into the room. Long blonde hair flows over her shoulders and down her back. She's wearing a full-length green gown, two pieces of sheer silk tied front to back just above her full round breasts. "It's morning already?" she asks reaching for her head. I watch taut brown nipples point upward and lift my eyes to focus on the girl's face. Her tawny green eyes sparkle magic.
"Let's have our coffee in the front room," she tells me and leads the way into a large room, which is furnished with medieval chairs and couches. She points to a fifteenth century brocaded chair. While I sit down, she disappears back into the kitchen. I study the oil paintings, which line one wall until the girl returns with cups and a silver coffee pot. As she leans to pour, I inhale the fresh clean scent of her body. Sitting on a chair next to mine, she sips from her cup. A smile lights her eyes as she meets and holds mine. "Before we can get to know each other, you'll have to change out of your old clothes. Are you ready for that?" she asks.
"I'm ready," I answer as my heart skips a couple beats.
"When you return I have a secret to share," she says pointing to a door across the room.
I walk through the door and find myself back on the edge of the second butte
Beyond the mighty Sierra, the sun is still rising.
Chapter Three-Seeing the Dragon
I had a long string a dat bad luck.ä And I pray it's gone at last. Gone at last.ä Gone at last.ä I sang to myself though I knew I was pushing it driving all the way to Santa Cruz before I even had a chance to road test the junkyard carburetor that I put on the day before. In fact, going to the concert in Santa Cruz was the very last thing I wanted to do right in the middle of our Christmas vacation. For at least two weeks, I had tried to talk Stoke out of it; saying that we couldn't afford it after all the expense of the holidays, that we could wait until the group came to Oakland later in January, that the car wasn't running right, that I was right in the middle of my cab driving novel.
"Donny's dad took us to the Coliseum. Eddie's dad already took us twice. You never take us any place," Stoke argued.
To make matters worse, Anne wouldn't think of going. I couldn't talk Alex into it. Just me and the kids, I told myself thinking I'd have a really great time.ä
The second we hit that first long up grade south of San Jose, I knew I was right. The engine began to cough and sputter. I made my way to the inside lane and geared down. The hill got steeper. Creeping along at twenty miles an hour and holding up a long line of Sunday afternoon traffic, I was telling myself, I knew it.ä I knew it; we're not even going to make it to Santa Cruz.
Why do I always give in to them? I wondered as I glanced across to where Stoke sat long legs stretched out in front of him. There he was just as tall as me, a little less than six feet, at a hundred and sixty pounds a bit heavier. Like yesterday, I remember teaching him to play catch.ä Even back then, I always let him have his own way. When will I ever learn? When will I learn? I was asking myself.
When we cleared the last up grade, the engine seemed to run a little better, but I knew we'd never make it home. I pictured us on the way back some time after midnight, breaking down on the Nimitez, fighting the wind and cold and dark. I thought how embarrassing it would be if I had to call Donny's father to come pick us up, how we wouldn't get home 'til three or four A.M., how I'd lose another day's writing....
In Santa Cruz, there was a long line at the only open gas station, an off brand where I couldn't use my credit card. I counted the change from my last twenty and tried to figure out just how much the whole thing was costing me. Twelve fifty a ticket, and Anne insists that I buy one for Stoke's tenth grade pal, Donny. "It will make a nice Christmas gift," she told me. A tank of gas. They'll wanna eat after. And, Christ, if I have to get a tow.ä I told myself and wondered if we shouldn't start home while it was still daylight.
Yet, even back then, in seventy-nine, there was a little part of me that took the whole thing as a small adventure, a part of me that identified with Henry Miller and Castaneda and wanted to experience the concert as a writer might.
To my surprise, there were parking spaces just a couple blocks from the civic center. As we walked by the empty government buildings, Donny was telling me about the time Ed's dad took them to a Kiss concert in Oakland. "He had these little bottles, you know, the kind they serve on the airlines. Driving over he was just sipping. But, when we got on the Nimitz, he started chugging 'em. I guess he didn't want to get caught with no alcohol going into the Coliseum. He was chugging and throwing the empties out the window."
"Right on the freeway? " I asked and told myself, God damm. Santa Cruz in the wintertime! My eyes opened wide as I got into the feel of that early December evening. A damp chilled breeze blowing off the Pacific. Streets lights blinking on. Stone civic buildings standing sentinel behind trimmed evergreen hedges. Strangers and Blue Oyster Cult fans funneling in the same direction. A touch of excitement sparking off the sidewalk and bringing to mind the old Trivia Coffee House days.
How long has it been? I wondered as an image from the winter of fifty-nine flashed through my mind. It's after closing, around two A. M. I'm sitting at the big brown table by the front window listening to a long drawn out story from Sol Weinstein, the comic who writes for the Trenton Times. My good friend and co-owner of the Triv., Vance, sits next to me. Across the table, the black capped little poet, Mark, laughing at all the right places his green teeth showing; John, descendent of African Kings, eyeing up the new kid, and hoping to walk his white ass home to the room he rents away from home; Black Barb, leaning back, eyes closed and legs wide open; White Barb, leaning forward, with eyes wide open and legs tightly closed.ä As I listen, I remember the guy from Philly, Cal, with the same last name as Sol, and how he told the six Fort Dix soldiers that Jack and Vance were his friends, that he'd kick their asses if they didn't return the coffee cups, that they could fight him like men one at a time or he'd take on all six of them. They shake his hand and return and buy more coffee toasting his courage.ä
Other faces from the Triv. ; the Village poets, Dick Woods, and Jonathan North; Big Leo, Bearded Gregory Demetrius, the bongo player, Concho, the copy boy from the Tribune, Frank. And out in an alley somewhere waiting to kick my ass 'cause I banned them from the Triv. for coming in all high on Four Roses and Tea, and busting up the place, were Jack Gore, and Tommy Booze.ä
Where are they all right now? I asked myself. What would Vance say if he were here on this Santa Cruz night?
At the civic center, the line was a little over a block long. We fell into place across from the driveway to a small parking lot. Stepping in behind, and lounging in front of us were just the kind of people you would expect; college kids in Levi's and sweat shirts, high school kids wearing their Day on the Green shirts behind open jackets, guys with long hair and beards, girls with big breasts, and nice asses, a scattered parentä. As we squared away in line, I thought of Vance's comment at a break in Sol's monologue. "Yea, you know what Lenny Bruce says, If Christ were alive today, in twentieth century America, he'd be electrocuted. Do you realize, instead of a cross, you'd be wearing an electric chair around your neck!"
Christ began to look more and more Beat in those coffee house nights and days didn't he? I asked myself as I felt a pair of eyes stare into my back. I turned and saw a college age Chinese kid.
"Got a match, bro.?" he asked.
"No, I ain't got one," I replied as I eyed the neatly rolled joint in his hand.
"I got a pack," Donny said reaching into his fur lined jacket pocket, and handing the pack to the kid.
A string of firecrackers went off near the back of the parking lot.
"Hey look," Stoke said turning his attention to the action.
"Keep 'em," Donny told the kid, and moved a couple steps toward Stoke.
The kid lit up, sucked in deeply and passed the number to his girl who took a hurried puff and returned it. Looking toward Donny, and seeing a slender longhaired high school boy, he shook his head no, and pointed the number at me. Even if they do see me, it's no worse an example than chugging booze, I told myself as I reached for his hand. A big smile lit up the kid's face.
Probably home grown, I thought after a quick hit. The number went from the kid, to his girl, back to the kid, and then to me. I took another quick hit just to be polite thinking that Anne would kill me if she saw this.
"Put away half a bottle a' Jack Daniel's before we left the pad. You know, man, you got to have your head really fucked up to get into the music," the Kid said.
The line grew longer. "Lucky thing we got here early like I said," Stoke told me as we stretched our necks to see the end of it. Donny stepped off the sidewalk for a better look. I followed while Stoke held our places. People crowded behind us for at least three blocks. Bumper to bumper cars circled the block. Kids hung out of windows greeting friends in the line. An occasional car came to a complete stop until horns and shouts from behind got it moving again. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about the up coming New Year's Eve at Alex's. How we'd toast in the 80's. How I'd have to tell him about my latest dream of the coyote.
"That's from their last album," Stoke hollered nodding to a full blast car stereo.
"Who, Blue Oyster Cult?" I yelled back.
"How'd you like living there?" Donny asked pointing to a three-story apartment house adjacent to the parking lot.
"Be great if you're into rock music," I answered noticing that the lights were out and the windows empty.
"Got a match, bro.?" the Chinese Kid asked of Stoke.
"Donny already gave you his," Stoke told him. As the Kid searched through his Levi jacket, Stoke and I exchanged places. Scratching his head, the Kid thought for a second, reached into his back pants' pocket, lit up, took a long hit, and offered the J to his girl. She shook her head no. When he pointed the number at me, I nodded to the boys, with an expression, which said, "Sorry." The Kid winked that he understood and took another hit.
As I looked towards the front of the line, another memory from the Trivia days flashed through my mind. It's a week or two after we opened. The Snowman walks in just before closing. I'm in the back office blowing some Z's. Vance, Mark, and some other regulars are at the front table waiting for Sol to finish his shift.
"You got any Tea?,,, Man?" the Snowman, a tall black man in his mid twenties, asks in a hoarse whisper when Vance steps behind the counter.
"Tea? Why hell yes, man. We got orange blossom, mint, jasmine, red rose, chrysanthemum, mulberry, herb, bancha-green, American.ä"
"No, man... I mean Tea.ä You got any Tea?" the man asks through sparkling white teeth.
"We got every tea a man could want. We got.ä" Vance says running through the list again.
"Dig, man.ä This is a favor. Couple sticks," the Snowman tells Vance as he opens his magazine to reveal the merchandise. Closing it, he passes the magazine across the counter. "Catch you later, man. Dig?" he says and takes his leave.
Vance wakes me up around five A.M. after Sol and the others are gone, and explains what happened. High school dope fiend movies still in our minds, I tell Vance, "Too late to try it now. I have to leave for work by one."
Vance comes back with, "We don't want to smoke none 'round the place, anyhow. Look what it done to Gore and Booze.ä"
We decide to stash it under the back seat of my Buick and wait until Thursday, my day off from the airport job. "Yea, you can pick me up early. We can head down to the river," Vance tells me. Two days later, when we look for the stuff it's gone. We tore apart the whole back seat trying to find the two J's. One of the regulars must have heard the story and gotten into the car. Vance and Cal shared a joint on one of their jaunts through Philly together. But he and I never did share one.ä I told myself as a couple of long legged coeds walked toward me searching the faces. I caught the eye of the closest girl and we exchanged smiles. As she continued down the block, I told myself that Alex would have invited her to cut in line.
Sure.ä Sure.ä I answered remembering the kids, that I'm wearing a shabby sweater, that my Pinto probably won't even make it home tonight.ä
"What time you got" Donny asked as he and Stoke returned from the curb. I pointed to my empty wrist. The Kid's girl told us it was just passed seven. More and more people kept coming. The dress got freakier; a girl in a long green velvet gown, a guy with top hat, tails, and cane, a couple dudes in full leather. The line behind us got longer, and so did the line in front of us with concertgoers spilling over into the street. I blinked my eyes trying to take it all in while I half listened to Stoke and Donny argue about the merits of the back up group's new lead singer.
The Kid took a fresh number from his jacket pocket. It slipped from his fingers. He stooped to retrieve it, leaned too far, and went over in slow motion his shoulder banging into the sidewalk. The girl, Donny, and I rushed to help.
"I'm all right! I'm all right!" the Kid shouted staggering to his feet. He checked his thumb and index finger, smiled, and shook his head.
"You don't need any more," the girl laughed and gave him a big hug. He returned her hug with his left arm.
"You got to have your head really fucked up to get into their music," the Kid told his girl as he lit a match and puffed into the flame.
A burst of excitement ran through the crowd. The line jerked forward, stopped, and then started up again. We crossed the driveway, and I turned to look for the Kid. He was rooted to his spot. The girl tugged on his arm with all her might, but he wouldn't budge. As the concertgoers stepped around, she dropped to her knees, and embraced the legs of the froze up Kid. Her teardrops washed his stonework body. "He got his mind fucked up all right, but his feet won't work," I told myself as I patted my shirt pocket to make sure the tickets were safe.
"Where you want to sit?" Stoke asked when we stood on the wooden floor inside the five thousand capacity auditorium. I stared wide-eyed as the unlined crowd broke for favorite spots. "Me and Donny want to get as close as we can," he said with a sense of urgency in his voice. I turned in a circle and watched the seats filling up.
"You probably don't want to sit too close," Donny told me.
"Yea, over there," I said pointing to a section of seats to the right of a small platform that was filled with lighting equipment. "I'll meet you by the stage here when it's finished." The boys nodded their good-byes and took off in a rush.
Several rows up, I found an empty section of cushioned chairs and eased myself into the first one. Patrons were filling up the rows around me. Stoke and Donny, standing some ten people back from the right hand side of the stage, turned to check where I was, and then refocused their attention up front where a crowd of some five hundred hard core rockers were gathering. I could just make out a half dozen or so grips who were setting up in the dark. Recorded rock blasted from mountains of gray and black speakers. On the edge of my seat, a rush of excitement pounding my heart, an intense pull at my umbilical region, I had the notion that I should remember something.ä
Relax.ä Focus on the crowd. Try to find a "proper tonal," I told myself. As my eyes swept the auditorium slowly up one side and down the other, face after face struck my senses. I squinted an eye and tried not to rest on a single aspect. Arms and legs and bodies merged one upon the other and battered against my thought stream. The lighting stage caught my attention. Two bearded kids worked with easy confidence on a jungle of wiring. On both sides of the stage latecomers rushed to remaining spaces. Mixed with the odor of cigarette smoke was the sweet smell of grass. I swallowed at the dryness of my throat, and listened to a faint moaning from the seats behind me. Muted conversations bombarded my ears, while electric charged rock blasted my eyeballs.
As I continued to search the crowd for a "proper tonal," faces merged into memory. My mind drifted back to a Philadelphia stage that would soon hold Theodore Bikel. Vance is seated next to me wearing a small goatee, shades, a boat neck shirt, and three dollar white sneakers. "My old man." he's saying, "All he lives for is that God dammed house of his. You wouldn't believe the projects he's got lined up for me over Easter vacation. I mean, there's got to be more to life than jacking up the value of your property.ä"
An image of my last visit with Vance, at his Vegas home, in seventy-five, floats up from my unconscious and mixes with the sounds of Fiddler on the Roof. He's showing me his latest project, an enormous brick barbecue. He takes a sip of his fifth Martini. "I've been wanting to tell you this all weekend, Daley. I mean, I never thought you'd let California change you like that. I always thought you were your own man. It hurts me to say this, but if the chance came up, I couldn't hire you to teach in my school. I mean, there are certain values.ä Society is based on certain values. Values that go beyond that long haired hippy bullshit. The kids pick up on it right away. You let a teacher on your staff with shoulder length hair.ä"
"Mr. D.ä Mr. D.ä Is that you?" broke into my reverie as footsteps stopped at my row. I turned and saw a kid with sunglasses, a small mustache, and dark tanned skin. "What you doing at a rock concert?"
"Hey, how's it going?" I returned. "Yea, my son talked me into bringing him."
"You remember me, don't you Mr. D.?"
"Yea, sure, you won't believe this, but I had a dream about you a couple weeks ago." I answered and focused on a gorgeous high school girl who peeked around from behind him.
"Mr. Daley! Oh, hi!" the girl said.
"Mari.ä Hey how you doing?" I asked and gazed at a stunning face with violet eyes and wavy black hair. "Doggone, you must be what a senior, now?"
"Naw, we graduated last year.ä I was in your dream?"
"Yea, we were walking though my old neighborhood in Philadelphia. You looked just like you did in sixth grade."
"You mind if we sit here with you and your son?" Pete asked. I explained that Stoke and his friend were standing at the stage, and invited them to sit.
"So, you guys still hanging together after all this time?" I asked.
Mari explained that they had lost touch with each other for awhile. That Pete was home from college. That they ran into each other and he invited her to the concert.
"So where you going to school?" I asked of Pete.
"U.C.L.A. My dad wanted me to go to Berkeley, but I wanted to get a little further away," Pete explained.
"You remember science camp, Mr. Daley? " Mari asked.
"Yea, didn't we go in October? It rained all week. The trails were all wet and muddy.ä"
"Yea, we had to wear those long army rain coats. That was so fun.ä"
"You still go, Mr. D?"
"No, they cut outdoor ed. last year 'cause of Prop. 13.ä" I answered. We continued to talk about the dream, science camp, and other sixth grade things for several minutes. Then, as the two drifted into talk between themselves, I got back into watching the crowd.
A young man in green pants and a matching sweater caught my eye. He ran down the stairs, reached floor level and spun around. Coming back up the stairs three and four steps at a time, his long red hair bounced up and down with each footfall. His feet were way too big for his body, like he was wearing a pair of over sized clown shoes. With the green outfit, he looked like some kind of giant leprechaun. I turned my head to watch as he stopped several rows above, slid into the middle of the seated patrons, and scanned the upper rows. Slipping back to the aisle, he took off in a run toward the top.
"We're going down for a coke. You want us to bring you something back?" Pete asked as he and Mari got up from their seats.
"No, thanks," I answered, and shot a quick glance at Mari's soft round flesh as she squeezed by. "God, has it been seven years since they were in sixth grade?" I asked myself.
Just as the kids cleared the stairs, the Leprechaun came bouncing by. He kangaroo hopped around the lighting stage, and started up the aisle directly across from me. At the very top row, he worked his way in some ten seats or so, shook hands with the boy in front of him, and pulled the boy's girl right out of her seat. Slipping into her place, he pulled her into his lap, and stared into her face. I stretched my neck and blinked my eyes. In one swift movement, the Leprechaun lifted the girl from his lap, leapt to his feet, and did a sideways strut back to the main aisle. There, he stopped, placed both hands over his eyes and peered down the rows. His gaze bounced over the lighting stage and met mine. Leaping into the air, he shuffled his feet, and danced down the stairs.
An explosion of cheers pulled my attention from the Leprechaun. The volume of the recorded music went full max. Cheers and Yeas from the stage front rockers joined with the music of Montrose's hit single. House lights dimmed and flickered. I could just make out the backs of Stoke and Donny through the throbbing crowd. The movement back and forth across the floor grew more frantic. The Leprechaun was seated on the seventh row among a group of girls with one kneeling in front of him. He moved his head from one to the other stopping just long enough to bless each with a kiss.
How does he get away with it? I asked myself as I scanned the crowd to see if anyone else was watching.
Pete and Mari returned holding large plastic cups and giggling. "Like a sip," Mari asked as she slid into the seat next to mine.
"Yea, thanks," I answered tasting the dryness in my mouth and throat. I returned the coke and felt Mari's knee come to rest against my leg.
"What do you think of Montrose?" she asked leaning her face close to mine.
"I don't know. Stoke was saying they just changed lead singers. He told me the new guy is super good.ä"
"The one that quit them is Sammy Hagar," Pete interjected as he leaned our way. "He is really bad, man, really bad. Too bad for the rest of the group, too much.ä He's putting together his own group. A new group, man.ä"
"You go to a lot of concerts?" Mari asked.
"No, not really. The last one I was at was in Fresno. Tony, this friend of mine, is event's manager there. I didn't really get into the music. Tony was showing me all the behind the scenes stuff. Like for security he had a Fresno police sergeant, used un-uniformed college kids for crowd control. Lot of first aid for O. D.'s"
"Who'd you see, Mr. D.?"
"I'm not sure.ä I think the headliner was Black Sabbath.ä No, it was Rare Earth.ä"
"You seen Blue Oyster Cult?"
"No, I listened to a couple of their albums, though. Stoke has their albums."
"This is my fifth time. I really get off on them. They are really bad, man." Pete told me and explained how some groups cut really bad albums, but bum out when you see them live. Blue Oyster Cult, he explained is even badder live. "Wait 'll you see their light show. It will blow you away if you never seen it before!"
The house lights dimmed, flickered a couple times, and then went out. Spots and lasers sparkled the audience. I followed a single spot that bounced off the Leprechaun who was now at the bottom row. He pulled a long legged girl from her seat and led her down to the floor. Taking her in his arms, he danced her round and round as the spot faded out.
What is he part of the show or something? I asked myself as Mari's leg pressed into mine.
All of a sudden, the music stopped. Pitch blackness except for scattered cigarette lighters. Then, a hundred spots circling the stage. Blinding lasers reflecting off cold chrome. One by one the band fell into light as they strummed out a dumbing rendition of their hit single. The kids up front went crazy, screaming at the top of their lungs. Cheers and Yeas echoed across the floor. As the spots came to rest on the lead singer, the group toned down their darkened instruments while he went into a long spillage of words to welcome his Santa Cruz fans.
Live music began in earnest. I turned my attention to words and separate instruments, but I couldn't get the group into focus. Their playing was too loud, too electric, too shattering. There were too many distractions; the rhythmic movement of the stage crowd, the back and forth hustle of outer stage people, screams of approval from the seated audience, the warm flow between Mari's leg and mine. Reflections from the lights, which worked the musicians and the audience, mixed with illusions from behind my eyeballs; music keeping time with the lights, lights keeping time with the music. Flashes so loud and sharp that they blew away the thinking process of my mind, words falling out and breaking on the concrete floor. Visions of pure color; purple, red, and orange melting into violet and painting the empty space inside my head. Heart pounding wildly, I gasped for breath, and in a flash saw five thousand bodies each keeping their own separate time. In another flash, I saw my own vacant body beneath me.ä
Back inside, my legs snapped tightly closed as I wrapped both arms around my chest and sat bolt up right. I felt an intense pressure from my abdominal region. My mind flashed on Castaneda's seeing from a different center. But, instead of going with it, I shot a quick glance at Mari and Pete. With relief, I saw that their eyes were glued to the entertainment.
The back up group finished their second curtain call, and the house lights came on. I centered on the nervous rocking movement of some two thousand bodies on the floor. "Settle down. Settle down," I told myself as an athletic looking kid in a red football jersey caught my eye. I remembered seeing him before the group started. He had been dancing on the outer edge of the stage crowd. Strumming an imaginary guitar, he would dance forward twenty feet or so, do a backward step for maybe thirty feet, and then regain his forward motion. He must have made five or six passes, varying his step and cadence with each pass, but always in time to the music.
Now, he was walking slowly from stage right, just the opposite direction from that which he took earlier. Instead of dancing, he was bent near in half searching for something on the floor. He made a circle and disappeared into the stage front crowd. In a minute or so, he reappeared on the other side. Sliding through a group of college kids, he bent to the floor to pick something up. Holding the object close to his face, he shook it two or three times, and carefully placed it in his left hand. A ten-dollar bill? I asked myself, as I watched the Kid dance a gleeful twenty steps forward. He pushed through a dozen loosely packed fans; bent to the floor again, picked something up, placed it next to the first, and jumped in the air with joy. Tickets?
No, stubs.ä Ticket stubs.
The kid danced around the lighting stage, scooted to the floor, and picked up another stub. He slid it into place beside three others. Not stubs. Playing cards.ä He's picking up a hand of cards. The Kid held the cards at arm's length, made a change in the order, switched to his right hand, and shook them up and down in front of his ear. As he spread the cards close up to his eyes, a gigantic smile lit up his face. What's he holding four of a kind? I asked myself, and wondered if he could be some kind of diablero or something. I searched the crowd for a partner that he might be playing with. No one paid him the least attention. As he danced out of sight, I scanned the audience for some sign of the Leprechaun, but found no trace of him. Could he be a diablero too?
No, the two of them must be part of the show, hired by Bill Graham to keep the excitement flowing.
Mari tapped me on the arm and pointed to a girl just in front of the lighting stage. She was wearing an old fashion green cloth gown and matching bonnet. Completely identified with the recorded Blue Oyster Cult music, she danced away as if nothing else mattered. Mari and I shook our heads and laughed. I leaned closer to tell her about the Athletic Kid. She shook her head up and down, but I knew she couldn't hear me. As my eyes returned to the Dancing Girl, a thought struck me. Maybe they ain't diableros, the Athletic Kid and the Leprechaun. Maybe they don't work for Bill Graham either. Maybe they're just totally into that moment out there. Not thinking of tomorrow, not conditioned by the past. Totally into the now.ä
Weren't there days and nights at the Triv. when you lived as if nothing else mattered? I asked myself.
"I hope you don't mind, Mr. D.?" Pete asked. I turned and saw the number.
"No, go ahead," I told him. A big smile lit up his face.
The house lights flickered bringing a rush back to seats, a press of bodies toward the stage. I found Stoke and Donney through the crush and settled in my seat. The lights went out. The music blasted beyond full max. Above the hiss of indrawn breath, live Blue Oyster Cult exploded from the stage. Their fans went crazy; Shouting!!!! Screaming!!!! Whistling!!!! A burst of lasers pulled my eyes toward the stage. Spots light up strummed guitars in a punk rock pose, bad bad bad, super bad drummer, lead singer in a Mick Jagger mimic, lasers rebounding off steel string, and strutting behind my eyeballs into the blackness, electric vibes resounding from sea to shining sea, static sparks spattering off French fried brain pans as we, "Kick Out the Jams!!!"
The introductory piece ended with a fanatic burst of appreciation from the floor. Then, sparkling through high-tension wires came shadows of soaring serpents. On the stage, five men in a pool hall stance screamed at the top of their lungs, " HISTORY SHOWS AGAIN AND AGAIN HOW NATURE CONVERTS THE FOLLY OF MEN!!!! HISTORY SHOWS AGAIN AND AGAIN!!! AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN!!!! GO GO. GOT TO GO. GO GO GODZILLA. GO GO GODZILLA. GO GO GODZILLA!!!!"
My hand slipped off the armrest into Mari's lap. I felt the softness of warm flesh beneath tight Levi's, the steady motion of thighs in time to the music. Flash after flash of lasers pulled my attention to the bass guitar. The fiery eyes of Godzilla stared into mine. A flood of flame leapt from her nostrils. Towering above the city, the black fire-breathing dragon retched a steady spew of red vomit. Ant like inhabitants scurried in every direction. Bodies drowned in vile excretion flowed into over spilling gutters. Godzilla bent to suck in the flow. She grew beyond the skyscrapers. Mixing her fire with that of the sun, her eyes became two luminous orbs. Mari's legs opened slightly. My hand slipped between them. She always had a schoolgirl crush on me, I thought as the music stopped with a deadly silence.
From the silence, a thundering voice cried out,"YEAAAAAAAaaaaaaa!!!!"
I turned to my left and saw Pete standing on his seat. He was pumping both arms over his head and screaming for all he was worth. As I watched, Mari climbed atop her seat to join him. My empty hands folded over my umbilical region. In your dreams, you dirty old man.ä a voice told me. You're no better than a god-dammed pervert, another voice said as I wondered what Anne would think.ä
Focusing on my hands, I realized a pressure from my gut that was pulling me out of my chair. Sucking in, I held myself down with all my might, as a vision of myself, at the age of four or five, walking home pass the three story red brick row houses flashes into my mind. Several kids are playing on one of the stoops. I feel a strong urge to stop and join them, but something hurries me along. As I get closer to Berks, I tell myself, Mommy! I want my mommy! My mother is sitting in a wooden kitchen chair. She's pulling me home by my umbilical cord.ä
Catch the rope! Jump up and catch the rope! a fourth voice whispers.
In a flash, I'm out on the floor doing a dosados with the Dancing Girl. The Athletic Kid promenades toward us. "Deal!" I tell him.
"Ante up!" he retorts as he shuffles the deck.
I draw the Empress, the Devil, the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Hermit. "Bet twelve fifty," I tell the Kid.
"See you," he replies.
I throw back the Empress and the Devil, and tell the Kid two. He deals me the Wheel of Chance and the Fool.
"Dealer takes one."
I slip my new cards next to the Magician and bet another twelve fifty.
Coming out of the crowd, the Leprechaun picks up our wagers, and kangeroo hops toward the nearest exit. The Kid and I follow in hot pursuit. He disappears into a large house where some of the concertgoers are throwing a party to celebrate Pete's graduation from U.C.L.A. In the front room, I see the Chinese Kid polishing an intricately tooled brass etching. "Look," he tells me pointing to a panel of spherical figures. "Rub them lightly and you can watch them grow." I look more closely as the fruit like figures take on a fiery glow. Fully absorbed in the pulsating figures, I lose all sense of time and space.
I'm polishing the figures with a soft cloth, getting more and more into the scene of a medieval garden. The picture grows larger and more life like. I enter the garden, pass through the stone gates, and find myself at a Greek Theater Dead Concert. It's early summer, 1983. Alex is standing at my left hand side. From out of the crowd, two Deadhead guys and a girl in a long green velvet gown greet us and ask if we'd like to trip out with them. "This is some dynamite shit. It will take you into the fourth dimension," one of the guys says. The other passes a large clay Egyptian hieroglyphic filled biscuit to the girl. He explains that each one must take the right amount.
"Everyone is different. If you take too much you might never return. If you don't take enough, you might get caught up in someone else's body," he tells us.
"You'll be gone for a thousand days," the girl says as she passes the biscuit to Alex.
"The warrior takes every event as a challenge. Each blessing, each curse, is a card dealt you by fate," Alex reads from the Egyptian clay, and passes it to me.
I examine the clay closely. Four snakes are winding themselves in figure eight like loops and swallowing each other's tails.ä
I'm flying through an ether-like energy field which is just over the heads of the other concertgoers. Something in the field connects me to the past and future of each individual. A historic guidepost of our times flashes through my mind. When I'm almost dead center over the crowd, I rise to an altitude of fifty feet. A cheer goes up as a Bay breeze sweeps me over the trees and upwards into the clouds. Beneath, I see the city of Berkeley, the Bay, the bridges, San Francisco, the mighty Pacificä.
As I travel over oceans and sandy beaches, time expands and then begins to contract again. Back in the Greek Theater, I'm passing from body to body. Each wears a dark brown suit, a clean white shirt, and tie. Not one holds a single thought of what it will take to trap me. Each is sound asleep in his own lullaby.ä
And, the thing that keeps you hypnotized is the imagination that makes you believe that you are an eagle instead of a sheep, a voice tells me as I sit on my spot near the buttonwood tree a couple days before the summer of '87 Dylan-Dead concert. I reflect on Gurdjieff and realize that only with the first conscious shock can the transformation of impressions take place. Only then can the seed be transformed into a living entity. And to give oneself that shock one must free oneself from the Dragon, I tell myself as a lone crow stretches out the valley sky.
I'm standing in left field at the Dylan-Dead concert. "There's a very thin line between being in the moment and identifying with it. A razor thin line that you have to make a conscious effort to walk," I'm telling Alex.
"Exactly," Alex replies nodding his head in half time.
Incoming Bay fog draws my attention to the sky. Light years away, the stars look down on our planet. Words can't put you into scale with the cosmos. You have to see from more than one center, I tell myself as I focus on the fifty thousand 'I's who people the field, the stands, and my consciousness. Will history be any kinder to our Coliseum than it was to the Roman? I wonder.
It comes to my mind that Dylan never sings the same song twice when I stop listening to my album edition of "Baby Blue," and hear the crisp sharp words of the singer. Fifty thousand people merge into one long drawn out note.ä
"You know, it's the conscious shock that sets it all in motion," I tell Alex as I keep the beat at an interlude. "If you don't pick up the missing vibes between MI and Fa, if you follow cosmic law, you end up round in a circle like a snake biting its tail.ä"
"That's why man asleep can not do," Alex answers.
"So, to transcend yourself.ä To Remember Yourself you have to go beyond reality.ä"
"Go against God.ä"
"Krishnamurti calls it a mutation in consciousness,'" I answer, as Dylan comes back with, "Your empty handed fainter from the streets.ä" and I pick up the vibes with a faint picture of someone behind me saying, "Look at that old man dance.ä"
And, in the future, Dylan sings country again, and the Dead die.ä And, I realize, that one reality is just as valid as the next; the reality of Donny's father, that of the Chinese Kid, of the Leprechaun, of Pete and Mari, of Vance, of Alex. Each is valid, but not one is actuality. Each is created in our individual and collective mind by thought. Actuality is beyond the confines of perception and memory.ä
My novella Tasting the White Water was published by PublishAmerica on Oct.20, 2003.
Purchase Tasting at PublishAmerica.com
You can also purchase Tasting at Tracy Books.
The following is a synopsis and the first two chapters:
Tasting the White Water describes Jack's experience in the white water of three California Rivers, and in the psychological truth of esoteric teachings. Jack, and his friend, Alex, have white water rafting adventures on the Tuolumne, the Stanislaus, and the American rivers while they explore esoteric Christianity through the teachings of Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti. Off the river, Jack explores his nighttime dreams, and copes with the struggle and suffering of a middle class America that has lost its spiritual foundations.
Tasting the White Water
By Jack Daley
Dedicated to those family members and friends who served as models for the fictional characters who people this work.
"Without self knowing all meditation leads to delusion and to varying forms of self-deception, factual and fancied." Krishnamurti
Two weeks before our first rafting trip, Alex and I were up in Greely Hill looking at a piece of property that we were thinking about going partners on. At four thousand feet and dotted with pines, twenty minutes from the north gate to Yosemite, the ten acre plots were a really good investment, Alex was telling me. But, I wasn't paying much attention. Somehow, I didn't have the spiritual high that I always get when I'm up in the Sierra foothills.
All I could think about was how difficult the last couple weeks had been. First of all, Stoke moves back after a year out on his own, and is not at all happy about it. He wants his old room back, but he doesn't want any rules. Vickie is cutting classes right up to her last week of high school, and, picking up on Stoke's hours, staying out passed her midnight curfew. Anne and I are disagreeing more and more on what to do about the kids. "That's you to a T, you want me to be the bad guy. You never back up what you say you'll do," she's telling me.
As we checked out a view of the snow capped Sierra from a high point on the rock strewn property, I was telling myself that things were no better in my economic life. "The worse case scenario actually happened. I didn't get my regular summer school job. My mentor proposal to add video filming to the classroom curriculum was turned down. And, my novel came back with another form rejection," I explained to Alex.
On the way down hill, as we pulled over to get a view of the Tuolumne, I told him, "You know, twenty some years now I've been trying to make it as a writer, and I still don't know if it's what I'm cut out to do. I know I don't want to stay in teaching. And there doesn't seem to be anything else. I keep asking myself, 'What is that one thing on earth that you were sent down from the stars to do?'"
Alex opened the pick-up door and shook his head. "Of course, you realize, Jack, that's the hardest question a man can ask. Though it's really, 'What is it that a man can be in life?'"
At the edge of the dirt road, we caught sight of the river winding its way some three thousand feet below. A definite feeling of power rose from the water and touched our very bones. We could both feel it. Above, white puffy clouds were pushing off the Sierra.
"I'll tell you though, Jack," Alex said breaking several minutes of silence,
"I have figured out a way for you to get published. No question about it. Just string together that whole series of dreams. Your dream journal. Write it exactly as you dreamed it. No revision, no plot. Just a vivid recreation of all the detail. Call it, 'Dreams of a Madman.' Instant success!"
When his laughter died down, I had a little laugh of my own. "Well, you don't know. You haven't read the latest revision of the Alaska novel. I've inserted a whole series of dreams. Dreams that I've had in the past two years while rewriting. You wouldn't believe how they tie right in. What I'm trying to do is carry out what Jung calls the individuation process, to examine personal dreams that will lead to the collective.
"Like there's this dream I had last week. I'm in a long empty hospital corridor. A doctor in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck is removing bandages from my arms. I have the feeling that some world wide catastrophic disaster has taken place, that the world will never be the same again. I'm one of millions who have been injured or killed, I'm telling myself as the doctor completes his examination.
"He tells me I'm free to reenter society and asks if I intend to continue my career in education. 'No, I got to get out'a teaching. It's not the same any more. It's not any fun,' I answer feeling a great sense of relief at my decision.
"Then, the scene shifts. I'm in some kind of large factory. It's my first night on the new job. I'm tightening a clamp that connects two big black hoses. I can see this white creamy milk flowing inside the hoses. A trickle spills on the sleeve of my white work shirt. As I turn the wrench, I wonder just what my job is, and what I should do next."
"Wow, that's a big dream," Alex exclaimed nodding his head.
"Yea, I had a strong feeling for several days after that another disaster like the one in Chernobyl might occur.That it's a prophetic dream. From the collective."
"No, that's not a collective dream. That dream isn't about mankind. It's about you. Some kind of disaster within your personal unconscious. Though, of course, there are connections with the collective. What was there, milk flowing through pipes? I'm sure that's from the collective."
"Yea, I thought of my new job as connecting the lines where the milk is flowing. But, I felt so strongly that hundreds of thousands of people were involved. That's why I think it may be some kind of premonition."
"No, if it was from the prospective function, you would be able to pin point specific details. There are those kind of prophetic dreams. Jung describes several. But, they're always in terms of the specific facts they predict. Your disaster is inner. You know, if you have centers that are developing consciousness, that would seem catastrophic to sleeping psychological forces. There are complexes within our unconscious that don't want to come to light.
"It's a big dream, though. One you ought to work on. You know, I really find that Fritz Perls has the best method of looking at dreams. Remember, he says that everything in your dream is you, some psychological force in your unconscious. The doctor is you, the stethoscope, even the pipe where the milk is flowing." Alex said as we returned to the truck.
When we crossed the La Grange Bridge, Alex explained that we could put in there, behind the narrow wooden bridge, and raft all the way to Waterford. Remembering that we had talked about doing just that for several years, I suggested that we set a definite date. "What about in two weeks?"
"Sounds good to me. I have a patient who has a two-man canoe. I think he might just let me borrow it. I'd just as soon go down in a canoe."
"I'd rather take a canoe," I noted, picturing a couple trappers on the Delaware.
"You know, that's about the only way I haven't seen the Tuolumne, from a canoe. Its really played a major part in my life the last ten years. Even before that, when we were still in the Bay Area, I started to fish her. I've covered every foot, from her source in the high Sierra all the way down to Modesto. Only fifty years ago they were taking salmon out that weighed forty pounds. One of the top rated trout rivers in the world before they built the dams." Alex told me.
He suggested that I check around to see if I could borrow a canoe also, just in case. We decided that if we came up empty handed, we'd rent one.
Back then; I didn't argue with Alex's contention that the important question is really what is it that a man can be in life. But, today, some ten years later, as I question the worth of my writing for the millionth time, I wonder. There is a very fine line between being a writer and wanting to be a writer. For years, I was a "wanna be writer." I dreamed about being a writer, and never wrote a word. The act of writing is in the present moment. It is a doing, an act of transcribing words. When one is in the act of writing, is one a writer, then? Does doing lead to being? And, when one discontinues the act of writing, is one a non-writer? Of course, Henry Miller said that when the muse was in, he never stopped writing. At the dinner table, making love, riding his bike, he was writing. The act of writing is more than putting words to paper isn't it?
Even back then, I realized how difficult the question. What is it that a man is sent down from a star to do? It is so easy to be carried away by illusion, by Imaginary I. And yet, if we don't follow our bliss, our life is meaningless, and empty. Just to be a conscious man? Is that all God asks of one? Instead of being a writer, just being a more conscious man?
"As a machine has life, so does the I and the me, a life which is fed by thought and feeling. Fact destroys this machinery." Krishnamurti
On the Thursday before the two weeks were up, Alex called and informed me that he was getting a raft. "Yea, I talked to a couple guys I work with who've been down that stretch of the Tuolumne. Both said this time of year it's running shallow. Parts where you have to portage through. I'm going to a boating shop in Modesto right after work."
"Good deal. I'll go halfer's with you."
"Oh, you don't have to. Though if you did, we could get the bigger one. I really liked the four-man raft. It'll run a little over three hundred by the time we get paddles and a pump."
Buying it! I thought we were renting it, I told myself biting my tongue. By this time, I had picked up a summer school job teaching migrant students in Grayson, a little farming town about twenty miles south. I'd have summer school pay after all. Still, I'd have to ask Anne. Alex said he'd like to be in the water by sun up. I agreed to be at his house by five.
Driving across the great valley at four A.M., I watched the orchards and vineyards turn to larger and larger dairy farms and cattle ranches. Scattered beacons of light spread out wider and wider. A feeling of vastness and peace entered my very soul. Stoke was spending the weekend at a friend's. Vickie had made it home just a minute or two after midnight and even kissed me good night before going to her room. Anne was asleep in our bed. Not a worry in the world, I was telling myself and thinking that just a few years ago I would have been making my way home this time of morning; finishing up a night at the Black Hawk in the city, or maybe ending a song fest at the Overland House in Jack London Square. Still, even when you're just starting out, there's that four A.M. tingle.
It was still dark when I reached Alex's house. Spotting a strange car in the driveway, I figured he must have an over night guest. I tapped softly on the sliding glass door, waited a couple seconds and stepped inside. As I entered the kitchen, Alex and a girl who looked to be in her early forties were coming out of the bedroom hallway. Alex was in his Saturday night clothes; flowered short sleeve shirt, Calvin Klein's jeans, and white tennis shoes. The girl, wearing a basic brown blouse and slacks, didn't have a whole lot of sex appeal. He introduced her as Lucy, a neighbor who he had run into at "Sleezy Street," and related that she told him that her car wasn't running right. After they closed the place, she was following him home. "Lucky thing. You'll never believe it, man. I ran a red light. Cop sitting right across the street, waiting. They had me walk the line and the whole bit. Wrote me up for running the light and made me park the truck. Told me if Lucy wasn't there to drive me home, they would 'a written me up for drunk driving. We'll have to go back for the truck."
On the way to Modesto, Alex described how he had just put out a dube. Was watching Lucy in the rear view mirror. Came up on the blinking red and thought it was orange. "Soon as I started through, I knew I was had. I jumped out'a the truck and admitted my mistake. Couple years ago, I would'a fought it and probably gone to jail. Lucy couldn't understand. Here I get written up, and I'm laughing about it. I got off easy, man."
Back in Waterford, the sun was just rising as we changed into shorts and loaded the raft. I followed Alex to Robert's Ferry Road and parked.
"Remember the last time we were in a boat together?" Alex asked as he steered a climbing turn a mile or two from the put in.
"Yea, that was up in Clear Lake. What, twenty years ago? You know, you won't believe this, but I can remember that moment, right now, as if we were still there, the four of us. Anne and Sarah in their swim suits burning to a crisp. You and I fighting over who's gonna steer the boat. And, the motor quitting on us right in the middle of the lake. Looking at it in psychological time, I can feel it as if it were not separate from this moment."
"A lot of water under the bridge since then, that's for sure," Alex laughed. "But, I know what you mean. There are flashes when it all comes together."
"And if you hold those flashes, that's what Nicoll calls Self Remembering. He says it's possible to reach a higher level in yourself. A level where you enter the fourth dimension; a different time zone where there is no separation between past, present, and future. All our past is alive when we step out of chronological time."
"Yea, you have to step out of time," Alex agreed.
Outside, miles and miles of grassland waved in a silent breeze. A glimmer of river came into view. I rolled down my window and breathed in the dew fresh air. Peace and beauty filled the contour of the land. Green leafed ancient oaks spread the soft rolling meadows right to the edge of the shimmering waters. Sun and shadow played the curving two-lane road. Swallows flashed from their nests in the sheer left bank of the ancient riverbed that rose above us. As we slowed to cross the La Grange Bridge, a sign caught my attention. Something about a dangerous drop if the sluices are open. "Did you see that?" I asked Alex.
"The sign?" Alex answered nodding his head and turning on a slight grin. "There's a fifty foot drop if they're putting in water. Get caught in it and you're dead meat."
"Yea. Sure, fifty foot."
"Well, maybe not fifty feet. But, you can't ride it down. You have to portage 'round the drop.You do realize don't you. Once we get on the river, there's no turning back. I mean, we're on our own for a good five hours or more. If we put a hole in her or something."
A rush of fear struck deep within my heart as Alex parked and we climbed out of the truck. My eyes focused on the only other vehicle in the lot, an old camper with a boat rack on top. In my mind, a scene from Deliverance mixed with choppy white water swamping the whole front end of the raft. Jesus Christ, I told myself wondering just what I had let myself in for. Alex was already at the rope untying the partially inflated blue and yellow four-man raft. It struck me that the guys from the camper were probably watching. Searching the bank, I found no trace of them. Better give Alex a hand, I told myself and started for the other side of the truck.
"You run the pump right off the battery, huh?" I asked Alex as I opened the hood and listened to his explanation of the pumping procedure. He showed me the pressure gauge for the inner and outer liners, but I couldn't figure out which was which. I watched him fill the first valve, and took the pump to the next one.
"No, that's for the back decking. You fill that last," Alex told me and pointed to the pumping chart. All the time we were inflating and loading the raft, I had the distinct feeling that someone was watching my every move. That someone could see that I didn't have the slightest idea of what I was doing.
As we carried the raft to the water's edge, a chill hit me. I was wishing I had left my long pants on. Christ, I didn't even remember the strap for my glasses, I told myself while I tried to lower my end of the raft without getting my leather K-Swiss wet.
"Why don't you take the front? We can trade off every hour or so," Alex said as he held the raft steady. I climbed in and wondered if I should put my life jacket on. "You really control everything from the back. The guy up front just balances and watches for rocks," he told me as he pushed off.
While Alex continued to share his newly acquired knowledge of rafting, I was wishing I had read up on it a little like I had planned. Christ, what'll Anne say if get myself drowned or something?
Then, the peace of the river touched me. Gently lapping waves. Wisps of wind. The cry of a killdeer. Alex had both oars in the rings working us out to the center. His legs stretched halfway across the raft leaving just enough room for mine. "Man, this is something else," I marveled as we studied the wooden planks on the underside of the bridge. From both banks, tree covered earth spread out to meet the water's edge. Morning bird song filled the air.
Before we hit our first rough water, we had changed from one man rowing to two man paddling. For some reason, Alex had decided that the man in the front of the raft should row with his back to the water. This meant that I had to work my paddle just the opposite way from how I normally would. As Alex called row right or, hard left, I would stop and ask myself, which right? Which left? More than once I got the two mixed up and rowed us straight into the rocks. Other times, when I found myself in the rear of the raft, I'd misjudge the flow, over compensate, and row us into the over hanging branches. Lucky for us, the rapids were so shallow that we had to work harder at keeping our weight off the bottom than we did at steering.
Lucky for us, there were long stretches of deep quiet water where we could practice. Stretches where schools of twelve to eighteen inch trout flashed just beneath the surface, where snowy egrets fed along the edge. A stretch where two blue herons lifted skyward and followed the river on and on and on until they finally disappeared from sight. There were stretches where hardly a trace of civilization touched our senses, where deep red clay canyon walls spread the river into a wide lake, where you no longer felt the heavy hand of time, where you sensed the same Tuolumne that the Chulamni felt for thousands of summers.
Just before we hit the campgrounds two hours this side of the take out, the river narrowed down again, and flowed a little faster. We began to see other craft in the water; canoes, rafts, and inner tubes. In a water slide like drop, we rushed passed the campers showing off our stuff. Balancing the raft, with our heads at times in the chop of a wave, we were taking it left and right, riding the crest in perfect harmony until we hit a drop that spun us three times and shot us sideways toward the right bank. Leaning back with my ass off the bottom and my oar above my head, I spotted this abandoned cow pasture coming down on us. Before I could get my oar in the water, strands of barbed wire aimed straight at my face. Without thinking, I jabbed with my oar and fended off the attack.
"Good thing you saw that. Do you know what that wire would'a done to the raft?" Alex asked.
"I was thinking how it would'a ripped out my eyeballs."
Then, calm again, and a long stretch where the sun beat down. "Damm it, I knew I should'a brought some lotion. Doug warned me about how hot it gets," Alex said. Three miles of river where we tried to row in unison to make time against the stillness, where I got really pissed at Alex for trying to row both sides instead of waiting for me, where Alex yelled, "God damm it, Jack, you're on the wrong fucking side again," just before I rowed us into the trees, where the wind blew us backwards and I began to think about Monday morning.