Dimitri wakes from a dream in which he was speaking to a woman who
died a few years ago. The woman was telling him about what goes on between
death and rebirth. Dimitri can’t remember anything the woman said except the destiny of our intentions.
He repeats the destiny of
our intentions to himself a few times lest he forget, then falls asleep and
drifts into a dream in which a young man is speaking about the destiny of our
intentions. Dimitri wonders if the young man is talking about karma, the idea
that our actions and thoughts shape our future. The young man doesn’t reply to Dimitri’s
wondering, but Dimitri senses the young man is not speaking about our behavior
in this life determining what we become in our next life. Dimitri senses the young
man is speaking about the time after
we die and before we are reborn, when
each of us decides what we will try to become in our next life.
Picking apples in the orchard with his wife Olga, Dimitri tells
Olga his dreams about the destiny of our intentions.
She frowns. “Since when do you believe in reincarnation?”
“I neither believe nor disbelieve,” he replies. “This is what I
“So,” she says, smiling. “If you could be reborn, what would you
like to be?”
Dimitri thinks for a moment and says, “I would like to be a maker
of balsa wood gliders. What would you like to be?”
“I would like to grow flowers,” says Olga, imagining a sea of
blooms, “and make bouquets for weddings.”
Waking heavy-limbed, my first
conscious thought is If we were not
meeting Sally and Molly at the beach this morning, I would surely sleep for
another couple hours.
But we are meeting Sally and Molly, so up I get and Marcia gets up, too.
I splash some water on my face and
traipse through the quiet house to my office, and espy a beautiful doe just
outside my window, her browsing ground so very dry, and at least another month
until the rains come, if they come. As I take her picture, I am keenly aware of
how parched the earth.
On my computer I find an email from Marion in England, recently returned from trekking in the Cotswolds. She has sent several pictures of what are called kissing gates, clever designs that allow humans to pass through, but not livestock. I’m glad to see things are not so dry in England.
In the same email batch is a missive from Clare, Marion’s daughter, with pics of Vito looking happy to be in Switzerland. Though I miss Vito and Clare and Nick, I’m relieved they are living in Switzerland now, away from the fires and smoke and political chaos and rampant pandemic in California and America. The Swiss have been quite successful, so far, in containing the virus and political chaos.
I visit the orchard before we leave for the beach, and I’m pleased to see our final lettuce planting of the year is coming along nicely, the big tub keeping the babies safe from voracious redwood roots.
The apples look ready to eat, but they are hard as rocks and will need another
two weeks to ripen before we pick them.
Big River Beach is half in shade
when we arrive, the air wonderfully free of smoke. Hallelujah. Nine in the
morning, the air is already quite warm, and I think ahead a few days to the
weekend and the predicted heat wave that will bring thousands of people from
inland towns and cities to the coast.
Molly chases her ball out into a
great expanse of foamy surf, and I think of the arctic ice sheet breaking up
and melting away as it will now more and more every year.
Molly’s exuberance lifts my somber
mood. Hurray for life!
We walk up river to complete our morning sojourn, and Molly has one last swim in the green blue waters of Big River before we head for home.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Than bringers-to-be of our own certainty.
Neither was born by hazard; each foreknew
The extreme possession we are grown into.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our neighbor Defer bucked the bull pine logs into 16-inch long rounds, which I then split into firewood.
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.