A Hike to Nordhoff Peak, Ojai, California

Log of Hike to Nordhoff Peak, Los Padres National Forest
Elevation: 4485 feet
Longitude: -119.24182891845703
Latitude: 34.49861314473809

Sunday, July 25, 1992
(Transcribed and edited from a hand-held recorder used during the hike).

The trail head is located at the end of Gridley Road in East Ojai, nestled among the trees of an avocado ranch.  The backpack is heavier than usual due to the three liters of water; it’s full of clothes, too, in case I need a change for any reason. For food I have two green apples, two huge black plums, 0.85 lbs. of sharp cheddar and a loaf of stone ground, flat, thin rye bread.

Three years before the hike, getting acquainted with the mountains over Ojai

1135 hours: Here I am at the trail head; the sign reads 22W05.  Gridley Springs Camp is three miles up the trail, and trail 5N08 is reached in a total of five miles.  I have been at the junction of this trail and 5N08 once; it is at the crest of the ridge of these mountains, at about 4,000′ elevation.  Memory tells me the sign at the ridge reads another mile to the West is Nordhoff Peak at an elevation of about 4,500′.

When I attempted to climb Nordhoff from the other side of the peak, accessing the trail at Signal Avenue, I was unable to get to the top. I was out of shape and a good deal overweight.  This was about six weeks ago.  This time I don’t believe I am as badly out shape and I’m at least five lbs. lighter.  I’ve been boogie-boarding with Matt and Alex and friends between these two hikes, without wrenching major muscles.

I’m wearing my threadbare, brown corduroys to protect me from the brush and to allow ventilation.  I wearing a short-sleeved polo shirt but if the brush, or bugs, or sun get too troublesome I have a long-sleeved shirt in the backpack.

1140 Hours: The sun is almost directly behind me, so I must be headed more West than North, as my other senses tell me.  The sky is a brilliant and clear blue; a slight breeze is blowing to reduce the apparent temperature.  This first part of the hike is always the least interesting in that it traverses the side of a small canyon leading to the main fire trail. This path is full of high brush and is rocky and dusty. I’ve been up this part of the trail at least a dozen times in the three years I’ve lived in Ojai.  It always seems shorter going up than coming back.

I think I’m brown enough for the sun not to burn the exposed parts of my body except, perhaps for the back of my neck; I can’t see it so as a precaution I’ll raise the collar of my shirt for protection.

1147 hours: I’ve reached the fire trail. I reckon the path I just emerged from was about a half mile.

1150 hours: I leave this checkpoint after resting and admiring the view of Ojai, somewhat obscured by the two foothills on either side of my visual field.

1220 hours: I’m now on the point of a big curve just opposite the other side of the main canyon where the sedimentary layers curve upward in a very compelling manner. It really draws the eye — one wonders how it got that way; Jim and I have remarked on it a couple of times; Greg too.  From here is a comprehensive view of the Ojai Valley, including the Upper Valley; the foothills are well below now.  I put my tan shorts over my head and secure them with my sun visor string to keep the heat of the sun from my head, neck and shoulders.  It works.

1235 hours: I’m at the point of the last large curve before heading on a generally straight path to the springs.  I’ve traveled a total of two hours and reckon, therefore, I’ve gone two miles, with one to go before reaching the springs.  I have averaged two miles per hour uphill and three, going downhill on previous hikes.

1305 hours: I arrive at the springs and rest for 50 minutes on my back.  Just before arriving at the springs, I thought I might not be able to continue. But eating a plum, drinking a lot of water and resting has revived me and given me sufficient optimism to try to reach the summit which, if one can believe the Forest Service signs, is only two miles and one hour away.

1355 hours: I leave the springs.

I’m really taking my time on this path.  I’m still pretty much out of shape.  No sense in rushing.

1414 hours: the path becomes steeper and looks to stay that way for the balance of the trip to the ridge.

I can now see the structure built on Nordhoff Peak.  I saw it last hike going up the other side of the mountain, but was unable to reach it because I had exhausted my energy about one mile and 500′ elevation from the peak.

1425 hours: I should have a mile more to go.  I’m pretty certain now I’ll make it to the ridge.

1443 hours: Pause to drink water and rest.

1515 hours: Pause to rest by a small pool and the trickle that feeds it.

1528 hours: I’m beginning to lose my will; beginning to question the worth of this exercise.

1534 hours: I’m at a monstrous switch back.

1537 hours: I can see the fire trail along the ridge where I’m headed, although the precise spot where this path dumps out is obscured.

1554 hours: taking a break in the shade, drink water; feeling pretty beat, weak in the middle of my back.

1603 hours: will I be able to get to the peak and down the other side? I can clearly see the sign at the end of this trail, less than a mile away. Here are three large conifers at this level (ca. 3500′), ap­parently fed by an underground stream.

1630 hours: I arrive at the ridge.  In that I left the springs at 1355 hours, it took 2 hours and 35 minutes to go what is supposed to be two miles.  I’ll stipulate that I averaged one mile per hour, rather than my usual two for uphill hiking, and proclaim, therefore, that it was at least 2 miles from the springs to this spot on the ridge.  The sign here has been defaced completely.    I recall the sign indicating Nordhoff peak to be one mile to the West, last time I was here.

1635 hours: on toward the peak.

1723 hours: arrived in a fork in the road; left takes me downward toward the other side of the mountain; right takes me a little further upward to the Peak and the platform on top of it.  Despite my fatigue I will go the whole distance, so I turn right.

1728 hours: I reach the peak, and am touching the stairs leading up to the platform.  It took around one hour to reach the peak from the last checkpoint, one mile away, so I am traveling one mile per hour uphill in my reduced-stamina state, after the first three miles to the springs.

Fire Lookout Station, Nordhoff Peak

1730 hours: I leave for the downhill trip.

1747 hours: Standing at the same spot I stood on my last attempt up the mountain from the other side, where I quit, exhausted, not able to take another step uphill despite having the peak and the platform in clear view.  I seem to have more stamina today than last time I was at this point, so I’ll count it as a good thing.

1755 hours: I’m at the trail head (more of a path) going down from this fire trail to the one three miles below and to the West. I’ve got to watch out for a couple of patches of poison oak along this path I noticed the last time I was here.

1805 hours: Just got through running rapidly downhill to escape the hornets whose nest was in the ground, directly on the trail.  I leaped over the nest entrance, ran like hell for about fifteen seconds, swatting at a couple of hornets that followed.  I mashed one on my left shoulder.  Adrenaline was high, and I stop a minute to calm down.

1840 hours: still coming down the mountain.  I’m beginning to get mind wanderings due to tiredness, which is not so good to do, given it is quite precipitous on my left.

1853 hours: I’m at the end of this three-mile path down the mountain and have done it in around an hour. So, I went three miles an hour for the last hour, my usual downhill speed.

(Coyotes howling)

1904 hours: getting tired, but the worst is behind me, I believe, except for the final trip down the rocky path to Gridley Road.  I’m resting now at the “Day Use” site and after going a few more hundred feet I’ll be at the junction where I turn back (East) toward the car.

I’m at the fork in the road; the official trail goes down towards Signal Street but I’m going to take the unofficial trail that isn’t marked.  Jim and I have been on it, part way, coming from the other end toward which I’m heading.  Unfortunately, from what I can see from this point, the trail goes around a corner and it’s a steep climb. I don’t need too many more of those.  I think I’ll eat a bit.  I was hoping the bread had some kind of sugar in it, such as molasses, but it is pristine in its healthfulness.  I’ll not eat very much of it.  Perhaps water would be better.

1916 hours: OK, this is going to be my last leg; let’s see if I can do it without collapsing.

1941 hours: I’m getting concerned now; I just finished that uphill. I should have scoped this out; I was under the impres­sion that this leg was pretty much flat.  Now I’m going to have to go up again.  I’m not looking forward to it, nor am I now looking forward to the uphill I know about that connects the end of this trail with the beginning of the last downhill to Gridley Road.

1946 hours: I’m about to go up this very short but very steep uphill; I’m going to do it v-e-e-r-ry slowly.

1957 hours: I’m finally going downhill; I don’t know if there any more up hills — I’ve got to get around this bend first…It’s all downhill as far as I can see, and it looks like I’m getting pretty close to the junction.

Whoops, here’s a hidden little roller coaster dip, so I’ll have to take my time going up this rise.  I’ve just drunk my last water; there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll have to use the flash­light toward the end of the hike.  I’d better get moving.

This is going on forever!  First more downhill, then uphill, then downhill then uphill again.  Criminentlies — I thought I was there!

Here’s a bunch of uphill ahead of me.  I’m really discouraged; it’s getting pretty dark; I’ll get the flashlight out now.

2024 hours: There’s the junction!  It’s just a little bit of downhill to get to it, and then (gasp) I (gasp) will (gasp) engage (gasp) in (gasp) the (gasp) last (gasp) uphill (gasp) of this (gasp) trip (gasp).

2040 hours: I’m at the uphill end of the final leg of the trip.  I am whacked!  I’ve got to be careful going down this path; it’s rocky and loose and a misstep could prove harmful (it’s complete­ly dark now).  I’ll rest a couple minutes then get going. I want to get to phone by 9PM (2100 hours) to tell Mary not to worry.

2050 hours: I made it! Just a short walk to the car.

END OF NARRATION
Ron Pavellas, aged 55 years.

After notes:

I phoned Mary from a Mexican Market on Ojai Avenue near Gridley Road and told her I was safe but incapable of driving safely due to my fatigue.  While I waited for her I drank the world’s most delicious orange drink.  I checked my weight the next morning and found I had lost four pounds due to dehydration.

The marker is at the mountain peak.
Gridley Road is at bottom right,
the locus of the beginning and end
of the roughly circular hike

END OF ACCOUNT

Death and life

One life is taken by death and hate,

another comes to the world with faith.

Day by day it goes like this,

that is just how it is.

One day you greet with joy and another you mourn.

Inside those feelings keep you torn.

One feeling by another deceived,

to a point where it’s hard to breath.

Still we need to feel a while

and proudly walk life’s winding aisle.

Keep on fighting every day

until Death meets us, in his own way!

(NB: This was written by Linn Hillar, whose native language is Swedish)

October Musings in Stockholm, 2016

October 1, Saturday

Zephyr is the bringer of breezes.
He visits me as I sit in the garden,
Surrounded by tall, flowering bushes
In their last blooming days.

Moving air rustles through the leaves,
The flowering stalks bend and bounce
At the ends of long branches,
Some so heavy they reach the ground.

These I will remove
So they may grace our home
Before their final fading.


October 2, Sunday

It’s the Autumn cleanup at Johannelunds koloniträdgård. Our allotment is sixty-five square meters, enough for our flowers, fruits and vegetables.

One of our neighbors has a rose bush which dominates the end of a path where our parcels lie. Several years ago I was ordered by the leader of the cleanup, since the parcel-holder was absent, to take the bush down to the nub to clear the path. I was well out of breath at the end of the effort.

Here it is again, bigger than ever, crowding through the path into our mutual neighbor’s parcel. It’s an unruly, globular presence, gleaming with orange and red hips like lights on a Christmas tree.

The path ends at an impassable ditch just a few meters beyond the bush. If our mutual neighbor doesn’t like the intrusion, perhaps she should take care of it, or rally a bunch of younger people to commit to the effort. I don’t see her here today, and I’m hiding out, nursing injured extremities.

This bush is not only a survivor, but has gained intimidating stature. I am in awe of it, drinking its power as I relax on a folding chair, a few steps distant.

The risen rose bush
From Earth’s power and purpose
Sharp thorns and bright fruits

 

October 3, Monday
Kids at Play

At Four O’ Clock in weekday afternoons the commons is filled with children and parents. Two preschools are part of this planned neighborhood.

There’s a big sand box, a small slide, lots of plastic toys and small wheeled vehicles. Chalk marks and designs in pastel colors decorate the pavement.

The inevitable soccer ball appears, parents training their future players. The younger  kids don’t care where the ball goes as long as it goes, and goes—standing still and wide-eyed, tracking its trajectory down the slight slope toward the gate barring access to the stairs leading to the path around the lake.

Some parents stand in groups, adult-talking, eyes constantly glancing toward their liberated charges.

It has been dry recently, so the unplanned depression in the pavement down-slope from the sandbox merely has a thin layer of dried mud in it. On or after wet days, the parents allow their children to splash in the puddle at will, protected by suitable clothing, to be sure.

There are three swings on a standard playground swing set at the ‘top of the hill.’ Usually, these are occupied by the wee ones, seeming hypnotized by the steady rhythms provided by their parents.

The children don’t have to be reminded that ‘this moment’ is the true reality, as many sages aver.

I watch the children
I feel I am one with them
Just in this moment

 

October 4, Tuesday

small boats sail the lake
the surrounding green shores will
soon yellow and brown

 

October 5, Wednesday

A British pub
A British Pal
A satisfying pint

There is a certain comfort
in the companionship of a fellow
with seven decades under his belt

David writes prose and poetry,
plays music and sings,
contemplates the verities,
the patterns he perceives underlying all

A British pub
A British pal
“Another pint, please.”

 

October 6, Thursday
Transcribing Fred’s Letters

Fred died twenty months ago. I have his letters from year 1989 through the years until his death in 2015, over three hundred of them.

I have been transcribing them to have permanent, digital copies, as are mine to him. I started years ago, and years of work remain.

Today, I completed transcribing years 1989 and 1990, then compiled and integrated everything we told each other.

How have we changed? We grew a little.

Did we learn anything? Yes.

Did the world unfold as we then imagined it would? No.
 

October 7, Friday
Actual World

I pity the young people, the newest generation. They live ever more in a virtual world, a world without people.

Electronic devices command each set of eyes, down-focused onto a tiny screen for whatever happens there. I don’t want to know.

Last evening I attended a magnificent stage production, an opera about the life of Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa, with live orchestral music by Philip Glass, augmented by and integrated with the players of Cirkus Circör, acrobats extraordinary.

Real people

Colors, shapes and movements

Music and words to fill one’s body

Ancient figures brought to life, bringing wisdom and hope

A feeling of community with the performers and audience

You can’t get all that out of a tiny, electronic box.

 

October 8, Saturday
How it is to get old-er

One is concerned with one’s blood pressure

One is concerned with getting a sufficient number and kind
of foods and supplements containing the full panoply of anti-oxidants

One wonders if one’s prostate gland is well
despite having no apparent symptoms

One wonders if one will ever have enough self-discipline
to shed the ten kilos one has gained since young adulthood

One doesn’t like losing one’s suppleness, evidenced
by the groans one emits while arising from low to high

One’s feet never don’t hurt, somewhere

One’s irritability is evoked, but necessarily contained
when asked ‘How are you?’, because you have to say

“Fine, how are you?”


October 9, Sunday

We are seated across from each other at a birthday party. He seems to be around my age.

Some of his face was taken by accident or disease, but this anomaly quickly recedes in my consciousness. We engage in getting to know each other, sharing experiences familiar to fellows our age: travels, work, family.

He leans heavily on his cane when arising for another go at the buffet table. His attentive wife observes without intruding.

He is tall, bent, one side of his body lacking tone and strength. He returns successfully, our conversation continues. I reach for another bottle of light beer, but before I can open it he pours some from his open bottle into my glass.

I accept, also without comment. We are friends already.

 

October 10, Monday
Waiting for the Lotus

“Without mud, there can be no lotus,” asserts Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Buddhist teacher.

In a conversation today with two friends we became mired in the muck and mud of the current political theater in the U.S. A., which the press ecstatically reports and distorts. It is painful to observe the process and to endure the emotions evinced by those invested in one side or another.

The election will conclude within a month, the wailing and gnashing of partisan teeth and the postmortems conducted by the talking heads will last another, before the press will turn its jackal head toward the latest sex scandals and misdeeds and errors of other people in the public eye.

In a fiction by Jules Verne, “The Adventures of a Special  Correspondent,” there is a passage where a Chinese scholar is lecturing the narrator, a Frenchman: “The cares of business trouble us little; the cares of politics trouble us less. Think! Since the first emperor, a contemporary of Noah, we are in the twenty-third dynasty. Now it is Manchoo; what it is to be next what matters? Either we have a government or we do not; and which of its sons heaven has chosen for the four hundred million subjects we hardly know, and we hardly care to know.”

We have allowed the politicians, their partisans, and the press to thrust us into their mud.

I await the beautiful lotus flowers which will arise when the turbulence settles.

 

October 11, Tuesday
Restaurant Fantasy

There will be tables for one, two, and four people—no more.

There will be sufficient space between any two tables to allow easy passage by humans carrying portfolios, parcels, or plates.

All surfaces will be covered with sound-absorbing materials—no echoes.

No sounds will emanate from the kitchen and other work areas.

When removing vessels, plates and cutlery from vacated tables, staff will carefully place them in a deep, sound-insulated box-cart.

In a cafeteria or buffet with no wait-staff, customers will be encouraged to reserve conversations for the table, where cutlery, condiments, spices, and other supplements will be available.

There will be no ‘music’ piped in from overhead.

Peace and love will be more likely now.

October 12, Wednesday
The Book Circle

Only five of seven in our book circle will meet tonight. This will be sufficient.

Among us we have well over three centuries of fully living in the world.

We were born in widely different places, have traveled and read widely as well.

We can talk about anything.

We respect each other’s opinions, but are not afraid to disagree.

It matters not the book—it will serve as a pivot point for a spectrum of discussion ranging through history, culture, psychology, and more.

Sometimes the book will evoke painful memories which will be shared.

We know how it is.

 

October 13, Thursday[i]
Music

Consider ‘pure’ music

No words, no story

The God Zeus and the human Mnemosyne together created the nine muses

Euterpe, the muse of music, is “the giver of much delight”

We made music before we had words, it is said

I say, let us have more music and fewer words

 

October 14, Friday
Bus Stop

I reckon I’ve waited for the neighborhood bus
some four thousand times, probably more

Many faces are familiar, some new to me
some have disappeared

The little plaza has been completely renewed
new pavement, new stone planters, new trees

We had a good schedule fourteen years ago
ten, thirty, fifty minutes past the hour

It’s changed twice since then
the times are now too odd to remember

I often miss the bus now
but it’s only a twelve minute walk to the subway

Unless it’s snowing

October 15, Saturday
Last days in the communal garden

Cut away dried flower stalks
Uproot the spent corn and squashes
Plant the winter garlic

Rest a bit to view the remaining flowers
In neighboring plots and ours
Silently thanking the other gardeners

We walk home through the quiet forest
Yellowed maple leaves floating to the ground
Our footfalls crunching the gravel

Our souls are peaceful
We link arms
“What shall we plant next year?”

October 16, Sunday

Feeling housebound by mid-afternoon
we flee the house

let’s have a late lunch and skip dinner
To atone for last evening’s excesses

To bus, to subway train, to downtown
Noisy, crowded, chilly, everyone rushing

Find a restaurant, get out of the cold
good enough food, eat, finish

Let’s get home!

 

October 17, Monday
The 1960s, Berkeley

I opened the door, and there I was again
An instantaneous mind-space-travel
Of fifty years and more

Myriad living plants high on a wall
Ferns, orchids, others with names unknown
All watered regularly, along with others
Lining the street-level windows

Big red, but not too red, flower images
On green wallpaper, throughout
Warm and friendly
Wooden tables and chairs
Wooden flooring, well trod

The young and handsome couple, he and she
Behind the counter, at the stove
Like people I knew or regularly saw
In coffee shops and restaurants
In the Berkeley of my college days

Simple in dress and manner are they
Modest and diligent in their labors
Smiling and pleasant to each other and all
Offering wholesome foods and meals
Quiet, jazzy chamber music remembered from my youth

Those were the days…

 

October 18, Tuesday
Do it in the Dark

Early morning, the sun not yet risen
One long side of the room is all windows

One other club member is there as I enter
Fluorescent lamps blaze from the ceiling and wall

After I gather and place my equipment, he leaves
I rush to the light switches, click click

The predawn light is just enough
I lie on the mat and pray—no more people please

Inevitably someone will enter, thoughtlessly
Without perceiving me, switch on the lights

I begin, slowly, first the knees, then hips
I sense someone entering the room

The lights remain off

The spine, the ligaments of the legs
Methodical breathing, counting

Another person, still no lights
Continue the regimen

I remain as the others leave
Finish with the plank, two minutes

Rise, look out the window, sip water
Peacefully greet the dawn

October 19, Wednesday

Where did the day go?
Carrying me through the hours
barely hanging on

 

October 20, Thursday

Would it help
if I told you of
your logical and historical errors

Would it help
if I disagreed with
your cherished beliefs

Would it help
if I argued with
your fixed political position

would it help
if I told you of
an annoying characteristic

Would it help
if I just smiled?

 

October 21, Friday
In the Way

The Afghan wars, past and present
were not about Afghanistan
but, being between other places
of interest to the great powers,
she is trampled in the struggle

I do not know what interest
the Great Powers of the present
have in a land created by the
Great Powers of one hundred years ago
but the people of Syria are in their way

The agonies of Afghans have continued
now for hundreds of years

Can the people of Syria expect
an end to theirs in this generation?

What if all the people disappeared
leaving only the elite and their soldiers?

Would there still be something to fight about?

Someone please explain this to me.

October 22, Saturday
The Martyrdom of Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich

He was gifted, he suffered, he made great music

His most deeply felt pieces were sad, even tragic

Yet, ironic, for his tormentors were tone deaf

And those who knew could see through the façade

A dangerous game to play

He played the game that Stalin put in place

To control the people through control of the elite

The rules constantly changing, people disappearing

The speeches prepared for him betrayed the people he admired

Until Stalin died, he feared death every day, but as time advanced

He feared life even more than death

But lacked the resolve to end it

Because he had more music to make

He remained alive, suffering, suffering, humiliated

Writing for the Russian people

Giving them a spiritual touchstone

The Church being officially forbidden and suppressed

We need to remember our martyrs

Yes, ours, even those without the suffering Russian soul

We suffer too, without being able to name our suffering

Listen to Shostakovich and recognize it

Music speaks to suffering and redemption

More fully than can any words

He suffered for us, the martyr

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)[ii]

 

October 23, Sunday

She is the one who showed me
how to pitch a small tent in sideways rain
on a mountain pass in Northern Sweden

Now we hesitate to leave the apartment
cold gray sky and gusty drizzle
lamenting that the city weakens us

 

October 24, Monday

preparing to write
allowing mind to empty
I await a form[iii]


October 25, Tuesday
Spreadsheet Satisfactions

I can create and control this little universe—
Columns so wide, rows so deep.

I can have over sixteen thousand columns,
Over a million rows!

General names for columns
Specific names for rows.

But how do I group the columns and rows?
And name the subcategories?

What about fonts, colors, backgrounds?
Bold or Italic, and where?

Show the grid? Use borders instead?
Thin or thick, and where to use each?

It’s hard work creating a universe.
Time now for a rest to let it all settle
October 26, Wednesday[iv]

I wept upon reading a passage in a novel
An old man needed the hand of a young woman to hold
So he could sing his song to the other old men
Gathered to remember the old country

I have felt such deep sadness at other times
It arises from a secret, sacred place
From a reservoir of pain stored away
In some far, inner recess

I have wept with joy, many times,
Mostly at weddings and births
But this occasion is different,
As if somebody, something died

I stop myself from prying into this hidden place
To discover what it may be which prompts me
To feel this scene as like a death
I will not unearth the secret

As Uncle Harry said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

 

October 27, Thursday
Gulliver Explains his Country to the Noble Houyhnhnms[v]

A chief minister of state is a creature who makes use of no other passions but a violent desire for wealth, power, and titles; he applies his words to all uses, except to the indication of his mind; he never tells a truth but with an intent that you should take it for a lie, nor a lie, but with a design that you should take it for a truth; those he speaks worst of behind their back are in the surest way of preferment, and whenever he begins to praise you to others, or to yourself, you are from that day forlorn.

The officials of his country consist of
Attorneys
Politicians
Proud Pedants
Censurers and
Judges

Judges, in turn, are selected form the most dexterous lawyers biased against truth and equity, favoring
Fraud
Perjury and
Oppression

.. so that in the trial of persons accused for crimes against the state, the judge first sends to sound the disposition of those in power, after which he can easily hang or save a criminal, strictly preserving all due forms of law.

As for money, when a Yahoo has got a store of this precious substance, he is able to buy the finest clothing, the noblest houses, great tracts of land, the most costly meat and drink, his choice of the most beautiful females, and thinking he could never have enough of it to spend; the rich man enjoys the fruit of the poor man’s labour, and the latter are a thousand to one in proportion to the former.

Hence it follows that of necessity , that vast numbers of our people are compelled to seek their livelihood by begging, robbing, stealing, cheating, pimping, flattering, suborning, foreswearing, forging, gaming, lying, fawning, hectoring, voting, scribbling, star-gazing, poisoning, whoring, canting, libeling, freethinking, and the like.

Three hundred years have past since Gulliver faithfully reported these observations and many more to the Noble Houyhnhnms. We must thank Science and Democracy for, in the years following to-date, having freed us from the terrors and inequities of the untrammeled power of princes, officials, the rich, and those in control of our most precious assets: the independent press, and that we have the freedom to speak our mind in public on anything (still) lawful…

Wait a minute—who is that banging on my door and shouting…?

October 28, Friday

What is the proper subject for a poem?
An ode to all things wild and beautiful?
A detailed discourse on one’s ripening mind?
How about elucidating on digestion?

A rant against the stupid government?
Another aimed at life’s injustices?
A yearning for a person not yet found?
Lamenting on the one you now wish gone?

Pal, look, no one will read it anyway
Just flush your mind then clean your messy home

 

October 29, Saturday
Still ‘Fall’ing

Yes, the countless leaves of trees and brush
Still fall and billow

Bright yellow, mostly, but unexpected dapples of red
from unexpected bushes

Berries, red and white, the latter to last
throughout the winter

The sun reflected from leaves of many hues and shades
is welcome contrast to preceding gray days

One must blink to help adjust one’s eyes to so large
a feast of impressions

So good to have a working retina, well connected
to the brain and, thence, to writing hand
October 30, Sunday

It’s become biting, not yet bitter, cold
Yet inviting when the morning sun
Illuminates through crystalline air
The glories of late Fall

There is no hesitation, as when the day is cloudy
To say “Let’s take a walk!”
And the preferred, almost automatic walk
Is to the forest leading to the communal garden

“Look, a deer! No, two… no, a family of five”
They are poking through the gardens
Two young ones engaging in mock battle
We stop to drink in this glimpse of Eden

Other walkers see them too
Stop as we do to admire them
We all move quietly and smoothly
The spell is broken by the yapping of two small dogs.

 

October 31, Monday
Limerick

The woman who cuts my hair

Was too long away from her chair

Hair as long as my arm

She retreats in alarm

Then sees it’s me, not a bear

 

[i] Listening to the works of Gabriel Fauré, 1845 – 1924), accompanied by Södra Maltfabriken Pale Ale

[ii] Upon reading “The Noise of Time,” by Julian Barnes.

[iii] “Form Is Emptiness, Emptiness Is form”—from yogic and Zen Buddhist teachings.

[iv] “Brooklyn,” by Colm Tóbín

[v] “Gulliver’s Travels, Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms,” by Jonathon Swift; 1726

 

Crimes of Consciousness

Friend and writing colleague, Sara Hendey, has written a series of poems inspired by the Indian sage Pantanjali. This poem, in particular, resonated in me, and she granted permission for me to post it here.

 Patanjali’s Sutra 1:33[i]

By cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the errors of others, the mind remains tranquil.

Crimes of Consciousness

patanjali_lg2dressing your mind
in jewels and furs
is scandalous

unless of course
you’re preparing to jump
out of your skull

Yogananda[ii] would skull-jump
during exam time
while meditating in a graveyard

soaking up life’s traumas
he sat straight and stalwart
like a tombstone

life’s first draft
is a sloppy copy
of thoughts

no siddhi powers
required
to change the script

be your own narrator
with a fly-swatter
vigilantly squashing negativity

rearrange the words
and pluck out the good
because you can’t curse in Sanskrit

like a triangle in a raincoat
balancing in a storm
hunker down to your inner self

bad thoughts about self or others
these are the crimes of consciousness
reflect on the root

be a cat at the mouse hole
keenly watch the mind
ready to pounce

observation is yoga
judgment is not
ahimsa[iii] is a habit of mind

mix the wisdom
into our collective consciousness
until all lumps are absorbed

our human mind is evolving
there are more Vedas to write
Patanjali didn’t tell the whole story

at the manifestation level
yoga has more unintentional injuries
than any other discipline

so don’t be lazy
watch your thoughts
this is very important

[i] The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 Indian aphorisms. The Yoga Sutras were compiled around 400 CE by Sage Patanjali, taking materials about yoga from older traditions. Scholars consider the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali as one of the foundations of classical Yoga philosophy of Hinduism. (Wikipedia)

[ii] Paramahansa Yogananda (1893 – 1952), was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his book, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi.’ (Wikipedia)

[iii] Sanskrit: “cause no injury, do no harm”

Solitude

I cherished the solitude of the occasional walk on the beach between Anchor Point and Homer—nineteen miles of vertical cliffs overhanging the mysterious rocks, tide pools, beached seaweed, and sixteen-foot tides. I had to time the ten-hour walk carefully to assure there was at least some walkable beach the whole way to Homer.

beach-between-anchor-point-and-homer

I thought the rocks mysterious because I couldn’t fathom how so many of different colors and compositions, and sizes and shapes, and in unlikely combinations, seemed strewn so haphazardly by an agent unseen. I imagined they had been spewed over the eons by the two volcanoes across Cook Inlet that I could see on clear day, Illiamna to the northwest and Augustine to the southwest. I later learned the movement of glaciers over millions of years had pushed surface debris hundreds of miles from any direction and left them all mixed together here along the shores of Cook Inlet.

beach-alaska

I loved these rocks. My associates at work, I knew, thought me slightly mad, having collected and placed interesting rocks throughout my office as objets d’art. The large black stone which I temporarily placed on the boulder in the above picture was the largest I collected, weighing 90 pounds.

Yes, I was mad—was not quite with the regular world, or, rather, not with the world I left behind in California. The solitude I enjoyed in this sparsely-populated region of Alaska had brought me to a new mental space. One grows both smaller and larger in Alaska. Smaller, because the landscape is beyond a human’s ability to perceive it whole; larger, because each person seems to count for something more in such a sparsely-populated place, than in the frightful, crowded urbs and suburbs rural Alaskans have left behind. I felt at home in a place in which I was not born, in which I owned only my personal goods, where I had no family, and where the people were individualistic and private.

I was at home with myself.

To emphasize the value I found in being by myself, especially along this beach, I tell friends a few short stories from my travels along it.

I once saw an eagle dive into the surf to catch a salmon and carry aloft to its aerie on the cliffs above.

I once failed to time the walk properly and had to navigate between the water and the cliff, between successive incoming waves of the rising tide.

I found shapes sculpted by wind and water and unknown powers.

Homer Beach-03.jpg

On my last day along this beach I saw two mature eagles with their young one, who looked larger than they because of its fluffiness, guiding their offspring by flying at her sides, keeping their wings under hers as she wobbled in the air on, perhaps, her first flight.

And, finally, I recount to friends how I never felt alone if I could see another person on the beach, even a mile or more away. I was startled once to suddenly see a distant someone behind me. I hurried forward to get around a bend in the cliff so I could rid that person from my view. It took me a while to recover from the intrusion.

inner voice is quashed
by clamor of others’ thoughts
solitude grows ears

The Pill Box

It holds three weeks of daily doses of Losartan, for mild hypertension, and tiny vitamin B-12 pills. There’s no connection between the two—it’s just that both are small enough to fit together in the twenty-one spaces, measuring around three cubic centimeters each. The multi-vitamin/mineral and Omega-3 capsules are too large to fit with the others.

This morning I emptied the last of the small pills into my hand, thus marking another three weeks of life having past, seemingly, very quickly. After conducting my after-breakfast pill-swallowing, I brought the empty box into the room where I store the refills.

Shortly before my friend Fred died last year, I wrote to him that my life seems to pass in three-week increments, measured by the re-filling the little pill box. He acknowledged in his responding letter that he, too, has certain recurring events in his life which mark the inevitable, ineluctable passage from fertilization to stasis (or, ‘room temperature,’ as Fred preferred to say.)

When not in a hurry to get somewhere else in the morning, as I reach for the pill box in my bed stand I pause to reflect on the three weeks just past. Usually, no particular event comes to mind, but I do a mental body-and-spirit scan to see if I can discern being three weeks older than three weeks ago.  I can’t. It is a mystery. It is inescapably true that I have aged three weeks since I last refilled this little box. Yet, I feel no different from the last time I conducted this review.

Now, gazing out the window of my home-office, where I do my writing and pillbox filling, I see the quiet lake welcoming the return of birds who nest and feed and breed here. They have an annual rhythm to guide them, but I cannot imagine they have the capacity to dwell on having aged another year. They are just living their lives as Nature and experience have inculcated in them.

a sunny morning
the birds and I are aging
alive together