A Much-Needed Vocation
“I’m gone again. Finding life in all I see, trust and hope are guiding me. The road is free, and I’ll pay that cost, to find myself in getting lost.”
As the unruly seventies came to an end, a lot of the craziness practiced by our rebelling generation was becoming uncool or passé. The revolution was aging. Fashion, hair styles, music and culture changed almost overnight. It seemed to me that society became less communal and spontaneous and more reserved and anxious… 1980s! Ronald Reagan. Cold War. 18% loan interest. Serious stuff, children.
For me for a fact dating was noticeably different. The young ladies of the punk decade were sassy and near impossible to charm. For a guy that has already told you he didn’t like to work too hard, this was something of a problem. I’m quite sure this had nothing to do with my getting older and irrelevant. The pretty girls who used to be at least somewhat at ease in noisy smoky taverns moved on to cocktail lounges, marriage, and self-respect. Sadder still, the smoky taverns began to move on as well. Every few months another blue and orange neon “Oly on Tap” window sign flickered and went out. The world was certainly making it harder to live my life like a country song.
But the wanderlust and self-dependence that I mastered in the 70’s carried me well enough into the new decade, ready or not. I would just have to go it alone. I had the time and resources to follow the breakaway allure of any untraveled road within a day’s drive. I was out there. I see now it was a part of the learning in the somewhat diverse life I now reflect upon. My own two-lane Vision Quest. But at the time it was just me going-gone. And it was the greatest of adventures.
I created a mental map of the lesser known and most uncelebrated destinations around my home state. In my mind this virtual chart looked like the work of some ancient anonymous cartographer on weathered parchment. Rough boundaries were set purely on guesswork and hearsay, locations were misplaced and named at random. Rather like a rendering of Middle Earth. Sketches of sea serpents and mermaids and exotic plant life were sprinkled about in the vastness and out to the torn margins. I savored the risk of falling off the edge of the known world with every adventure outward. Always the journey, never the destination.
The Path of Least Insistence
Come Friday, spring through fall, the blue highways beckoned me to tease the unexpected and curious from the geography. Those were the days that your route would be determined by a whim, not a satellite. I remained mostly to myself. People I encountered on the road could be helpful and informative, but I tried hard to keep the cast of my movie to a minimum and largely avoided others so as to claim ownership of all I saw and felt. I certainly took note of towns and buildings, parks and farms, and other man-made donations to the landscape and its history, but I felt most at ease with the beautiful and simple disorder of nature. The rushing streams, dusty forest roads, mountain trails, and the rolling fields behind the weathered farm buildings were what captured my eye and camera lens and filled me with serenity.
Trout Fishing in America
I began to stream fish. Driving a tiny, cheaply-build, used Japanese sports car with a luggage rack on the trunk, I ventured out with a sleeping bag, pillow, tent and duffel. In my pack was a 35 mm camera, rolls of slide film and my journal. The trunk held a tent and a camp stove for coffee. A fishing pole, worms, and tackle box were on the bucket seat beside me. ‘Dude, get a truck!’ you say. But my speedy drop-top Datsun 1600 roadster and I would climb mountains, ford streams, race freight trains along the Columbia Gorge, camp in the outback, and park behind fleabag hotels where somehow nothing got stolen from the open two-seater with the keys under the driver’s seat..
Author Richard Brautigan wrote several offbeat collections of poetic prose which became cult classics in the 1960s and 70s. The series of short essays in “Trout Fishing in America” paint a thoughtfully surreal picture of living deeply in life and nature. Brautigan, unfortunately, eventually succumbed to the disability and death common to those artists who could never achieve the expectations of their deep impressionistic insights.
In the title story he depicts a trout stream in southern Idaho as a metaphor for self-discovery within the flow of nature. That somehow made sense to me — in spite of the fact I was no kinda fisherman of the Zen persuasion. I cast to kill, severed the heads, and ate the prey. In a spiritually ritualistic way of course. Catch and release with no live bait was inelegantly silly and too damn much work, and I didn’t care who knew I thought so. The lesson being it’s important to keep some grip on reality when you’re learning to take trips into untested dimensions. Lest you disappear entirely. Like Brautigan. Like great writers too often do. I only ask that I be spared until I’m ready.
The Call of the Mild
To this day I will swerve off the road on a sunny drive to spend a moment or an hour or a day by a river. It was in simple sacred spots on these shores a half a life ago that I first heard the silent whisper of what would be a ’calling to self.’
I would choose retreats like this, and still do, because it is here I seem to find prayer in the invisible order of things. Unquestioning…just letting the road or the river take me to where I need to go. In those days I was not certain where that call would lead me, but over time I came to know I was experiencing, as my beautiful and occasionally confused lifelong buddy Margo would call it: the carrot at the end of the tunnel.
To Be Continued…