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What To Be

When we were children in the 1950s and 60s, adults would often ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t recall any adults asking me what I’d been doing lately or how I was feeling. Nor do I recall believing these inquiring adults really wanted to know what I wanted to become. Their question was a ritual greeting, and my answer was the ritual reply.

When I was four and adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said cowboy, which I pronounced gowboy, according to my mother. Then when I was seven, I was given a small hardback book entitled American Indians, which turned out to be a very pro-Indian, anti-Gowboy tome. I read the book countless times and decided there could be nothing better than being an American Indian.

To become an American Indian, I stopped wearing shoes and shirts and long pants except when I went to school, and I made several wooden spears, which I became adept at throwing far and accurately. And for the next few years, I spent most of my non-school hours roaming the not-yet-built-upon land around our house—oak-studded hills, abandoned grape vineyards, piney woods. Most summer nights, I made a camp in the olive grove adjacent to our house and slept out under the stars. I was accompanied on many of my adventures by my dog Cozy, an unmistakably American Indian dog, and we spent the long summer days exploring our territory, tracking game, and avoiding contact with white people.

When my friends came to play with me, I tried to interest them in being American Indians too, but found no takers. Some of my pals were keen on fighting the Japanese and the Germans, so we did that, and some wanted to war against American Indians, which I refused to do, but none of my friends wanted to be American Indians, even after I shared with them my favorite parts of that foundational treatise American Indians. I was baffled by my friends’ unwillingness to convert, for I saw no downside to being an American Indian.

I know very well that the American Indian I became is not an actual indio, not a Navajo or a Pomo or a Lakota. But I did become my own kind of American Indian and was profoundly shaped by those years in which I roamed the California hills with my dog and my spear, learning the ways of Nature and avoiding the confines of the white man’s suburbia.

Many a day I would settle down in the woods and sit stone still for so long that deer and rabbits and lizards and quail would become unaware of me, or cease to fear me, as I watched them going about their lives in the wilds, their complex and fascinating lives.

Incongroovity

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Course of Life

Buddha’s Buddha

Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can go when things have got about as bad as they can reasonably get. Tom Stoppard

I take comfort in knowing that for all but the last few millennia of our millions of years of evolving into the species we are today, humans lived from day to day, untethered to the past or the future. Our existence was entirely about getting enough food for today, avoiding larger animals who wanted to eat us, and caring for each other. We did not concern ourselves with saving enough money to insure a comfortable old age, for we knew nothing of money or old age. We lived vigorously and alertly in the moment, ever vigilant and curious and open to what Nature was telling us.

Vito composing

To a great mind, nothing is little.  Conan Doyle

Through persistent practice there will come a time when your playing is so clear and rhythmically consistent, and your voice and words merge so seamlessly with your music, you and your song will be one.

honey bee loving lemon blossoms

Whole Love

Every choice is always the wrong choice,

Every vote cast is always cast away—

How can truth hover between alternatives? 

Then love me more than dearly, love me wholly,

Love me with no weighing of circumstance,

As I am pledged in honour to love you:

With no weakness, with no speculation

On what might happen should you and I prove less

Than bringers-to-be of our own certainty.

Neither was born by hazard; each foreknew

The extreme possession we are grown into.

Robert Graves

When I was nineteen, I became a vagabond for some years, and carried everything I owned with me, including three books: a paperback edition of Collected Poems of Robert Graves, and the two-volume The Greek Myths, also by Robert Graves, also in paperback.

During many of the hundreds of hours I spent waiting by roads for good Samaritans to stop for me, and on many a night before going to sleep, I would read Graves and take solace in what I came to think of as his cautionary romanticism.

When I was twenty-eight and had just published my first novel, I was waiting for my editor in the plush anteroom of the Doubleday offices in Manhattan. I had never met my editor in-person. We had spoken on the phone many times, and from her voice and manner of speaking, I imagined Sherry was a young white woman raised in the upper middle class who had, for some reason, fallen in love with my novel about white and black people living together and helping each other travel through this world of woe and joy.

On the walls of the anteroom were displayed the newest books published by Doubleday, each book standing on a small shelf and spot-lit as if a work of art. I blushed when I discovered my newborn book thus displayed, and then gasped in delight at the book displayed on the shelf next to mine: a handsome hardback edition of the newly revised Collected Poems of Robert Graves.

Then Sherry emerged from the labyrinth of offices and I gasped again, for she was black and exceedingly lovely.

In my stammered greeting, I said something about the volume of Robert Graves. Without hesitation, Sherry took the volume of poems from its pedestal, handed the holy relic to me, and I felt blessed, a thousand times blessed. 

The Old Way Home

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Lizard Song and Smoke

rose in smoky light

Max wrote: I had a very productive morning working on my book about lizards only to wake and find it was but a dream.

I wrote back: I’ve always liked lizards. I always feel lucky when I see one.

Max thought my response might make a good start for a story. I suggested the lines might also be good lyrics to a song. I’ve been playing around with a catchy chord progression for the last few weeks, hunting for lyrics, so I tried singing I’ve always liked lizards, always feel lucky when I see one to the music, and the words fit the tune nicely, so I got to work writing the rest of the song.

As I was trying out various combinations of words with the chord progression, the sunny day started to turn ominously gray as the air filled with smoke from the big fires inland. I stepped outside and the sun was orange. I went to get my camera and by the time I got back outside the sun was pink. A moment later, our mighty star disappeared behind the clouds and darkness fell at 4:30 in the afternoon.

pink sun

I found myself quasi-panicking. Should we flee? But to where?

Marcia finished giving an online cello lesson, we shared a couple beers, and I snapped a few pictures in the eerie daytime dusk.

strange smoky late afternoon

Then I performed my new song for Marcia and she approved. Here is the first verse.

I’ve always liked lizards, feel lucky when I see one.

I like pelicans, too. In fact, I’d like to be one.

I like koala bears, and I like kangaroos.

I like walking on the beach.

And I really really like you.

Now I’ve got enough new songs for my next CD, and when the pandemic subsides and and the air clears and studio time becomes available again, this is what I’m gonna do.

Studio Time

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September Fires

wood shed door

Yes, it does feel somewhat odd to be building fires in the woodstove in early September when much of California is literally on fire and inland temperatures are over 100 degrees. But here on the Mendocino coast we’ve been cloaked in fog, cold fog, for five days and counting. We heat our house with a woodstove, and after shivering for a couple days in deference to the plight of those living inland, I resumed building fires in the woodstove so the air inside our house would be warmer than the frigid air outside.

approaching the shed and drying soft wood

Our wood shed is about a hundred feet from my office door through which I will bring in the kindling to start the day’s fire. In the winter I have a stack of kindling at the ready on the north porch, but since this is not usually the time of year we have fires, right now I’m making kindling as needed.

last of the bull pine

The wood shed is currently empty save for a few dozen pieces of soft wood I’m turning into kindling to start these end-of-summer fires. In another few weeks, I’ll begin bringing in wheelbarrow loads of seasoned softwood and tan oak and fill the shed completely, approximately five cords.

before
after

The firewood I’m making kindling from came from a mostly-dead 150-feet-tall bull pine we had felled three years ago. We hired a couple expert tree guys to bring the giant tree down and thereby ended the threat the tree posed to three neighboring houses. We were greatly relieved to have that tree down, and so were our neighbors.

Defer bucking up bull pine

Our neighbor Defer bucked the bull pine logs into 16-inch long rounds, which I then split into firewood.

kindling on the hearth

Once I have enough kindling chopped, I bring the sticks inside and set them on the hearth while I crumple up fire-starting paper and toss the paper into the woodstove. I’m currently starting our fires with old income tax stuff we hung onto for the requisite years, old bills and bank reports now serving to keep us warm.

ready to light
the match is struck

The house grows warm.

Broke My Heart