Memoirs

Crossing the Divide
A Narrative of 1986

I

Merlin. Merlin Wilk. A name easily remembered and easily forgotten, written on the telephone message pad in my wife Judith's correct flowing hand with the explanatory "right-hand drive 1974 International Scout II $800".

I had made another call, to Idaho, also a right-hand drive International, a 1978, to meet the transportation requirement of my rural route contract. Total cost, $1,800, all the money I had borrowed the week before for our flight to Ken's wedding and to replace my present faithful misery,the getting home vibrating, hopelessly loud 1969 right-hand drive Jeep. For the Idaho car, I'd fly into Spokane and bus across the mountains to the coal-mining country where the Wobblies shot it out with the Pinkerton thugs. It might have been a good trip. But the seller sounded so much in command. I didn't like him.

At the other end of the telephone dial sequence was Wilk, an older friendly tone: yes he had the '74 International with half the mileage to the moon; his wife's name was Virgine; she was the rural carrier, he the corn farmer. He wanted $800, just the salvage price, because it did use oil. But sure, it could get me back to California from Denver where he'd meet me. Just put in a quart when I stopped to fill the tank. He would drive from Holdrege, Nebraska where troop trains had switched engines during the Second World War and the town ladies had walked along the track handing out gorgeous sandwiches to the Pacific-bound soldiers, rural generosity in the Mid-West before I was born.

Denver Street Map

Meet him in Denver. My heart leaped. Elizabeth was twenty miles away in Boulder, my once seven-year-old darling to whom I'd proposed marriage and long after kept in my mind's pocket. Now I could ask her if she were right to refuse me, saying back then in 1965 with a child's tragic wisdom, "When I'm old enough to marry, you'll be old." Her parents had known me since her same age, had watched near my shoulder like angels all my life, and they would go before me into the radiant emptiness that is coming (fearfully called death), really already here, winking on/off every instant, as we inspire and respire in the bus station babble all around us.

Soon, when our son married in Boston, I'd visit the Lockes for the last time. Our train would pass through Rochester near Clinton Avenue, before crossing the rolling plains of New York into the Berkshires and on to Union Station, Boston. I'd also see my brother for the first time in thirty years. And Lara, our oldest, would marry in August. Something indeed was at hand besides my checkbook, something disturbing, transcendent, an opening in the tumbling inexorable life-rhythm, where my gaze had to turn backward to wonder.

"For God's sake, be careful, stop by the side of the road and sleep for a while when you're tired; you don't have to set a speed record," she was saying. Nod, reassure, kiss: after all she was the rarest wonder of my era, a faithful wife. Virtue is no slight thing. I was a shade leaning into the car on a Ukiah early evening street in April saying goodbye. I was already dead, but the events of my life still had to happen, this being one. When I returned from Rochester, I met her at Cal.  She had heard the angels murmur near her shapely ears and she looked no further. That I impulsively took chances with money and mortality, leaving her to worry; that the years of marriage were end-to-end crises, the results of which were bad health, tension, fatigue, and strife—seemed an inappropriate discourse right then. In the other seat waited dark-haired Avrah, contemptuous as Carmen, like impatient Athena or elusive Psyche, like every teen-aged girl sweating in her underwear, she didn't care about me or anyone. The car faded smaller and I walked with my exercise-bag loaded with tools to Garnet's door to stay the night and get the Airporter at five.

II

She opened the door and smiled. Her dog hobbled forward like Ulysses' to greet me, a mysteriously benign silent creature, a Basenji mix just in front of his crone mistress. What did they know to be so kind? Garnet enveloped me with phrases of bedroom, the patio, the bath, all at my service. She had been the queen bee of more than one Bohemian generation rising right through the concrete and steel of America's spiritual wastes. First in Marin, when no one lived there, when Belvedere was a sleepy peninsula, and only a skilled boatman could cross the choppy current to Fisherman's Wharf, she rode the ferry from Sausalito, not knowing a fellow passenger Clyde Rice, whose "A Heaven In The Eye" recorded the parties, artists, the frickasee of freedom and sex in post-World War I San Francisco. She had played mother hen to many of them, as Gertrude Stein of Oakland did during the same years in Paris.

When World War II brought munitions and industry to the Bay Area, Garnet moved to another colony, Partington Ridge, below Monterey, the cliffs of Robinson Jeffers, the hollows of Henry Miller. "Oh we met at parties; I didn't know him really." Back in Marin after the War she fostered another pack of artist-revolutionaries—Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Magda, Joanne Kyger, faces that floated forward, flew elsewhere, like leaves in the Fall. Now isolated, crippled, and old she remained the Woman source. Death shall have no dominion over her.

Suddenly deaf demanding John Doyle arrived, to her chagrin. She didn't want to give him a loan from her savings, but it wasn't in her to covet paper. He knew that. I thought to myself as they talked that if I had asked her for $2,000 instead of the Bank of Willits, she'd have given it with no interest. Money is dirt between friends. And now the visitor lisped his remembrance of our ramshackle days building lives in Willits: the holiday music jams, the acquaintances, and without warning he was asking me to drive back to the City with him. I refused. I'd already bought my ticket and didn't want to ride in his pick-up or sleep at his flat. I'd be entering a vampire's underworld of the soul. Anyone who used his law office as a destination for the shipment of fifteen pounds of marijuana from his father's diplomatic suite in Europe could not be good luck.

In a few minutes he left. Garnet sat exhausted momentarily, but with an old boxer's indomitable cheer, she rose and moved about. She wanted to fix me a meal, but I embraced her and said I needed to sleep. Towards morning I did. Heading South in the Airporter van I dozed. No one spoke. As the electric metropolis came around us, cars whipped by at speed. Motion got quicker, expressionless, cold. Above, jetliners rose heavily. The day before, a Chinese jet had plunged 25,000 feet before leveling and landing at SFO. People hung upside down in their chairs, pressed backward against the headrests. In the baggage line I wondered if the tools would make me a terrorist suspect. It was April 1986, after Reagan's staff had declared the enemy within and without was, not the Communist, but the Terrorist.

On the plane my brothers and sisters didn't know each other. They were subdued, hypnotized in the slow dance of suitcase, coat, newspaper, the unified democracy of the seat-belt buckle. Since my last flight, when the plane's wings nearly broke off in the Santa Anna wind, I resolved never to fly again unless I was willing to die getting there.

A huge black woman squeezed over next to me. I offered her the window. "Good God no, I don't wanna look down there" she cadenced with a querulous question mark at the end. The numbers on my ticket and claim check comforted me and I told her it would be all right. "O I pray you're right," she breathed without looking at me, "my momma is sick or I wouldn't be doing this." The jet turbines revolved, the plane taxied to the take-off line, like a row of models from my childhood window shelf, all silver and gray, decals identical to the toys'. Around me the passenger bay was chock full, befitting a $50 flight to Denver and on to Cleveland. We were packed like Norwegian sardines with the heads left on. California passed beneath in a half-hour. The Captain's voice clicked on, sounding suspiciously like Chuck Yeager. Lake Tahoe lay below, a pond on the golf course. The Eastern Sierra approached, receded. His patter gave us to know he and Chuck had been good buddies at Edwards Air Force Base. He too was born in a cane-break by an old momma lion, used 'holped' as the past-tense of help, and could just as methodically cut a burning glove off his hand with a pocket-knife. Motoring six miles high in a clear sky would be no problem.

Two hours passed. The winged bullet tacked into a broad valley among the snow-country mountains. This was Denver, Chicago of the West, roundup city, slaughterhouse, hogbutcher, empire builder, a stretch of streets and building laid down on a prairie so desolate the cowboy togs fit the emptiness. I hailed a cab because there were no buses to town. I told the Black driver the Ranchero Motel. For miles there was nothing but on- and off-ramps, turns, underpasses, long straight tarmac hurtled over by steel blurs. We found the motel complex and I saw the Scout, a beaten-up yellow work vehicle, locked and with worn tires. I paid the fare plus two dollars more and he said, "Thank you. Good luck."

III

At the lobby desk I asked for Merlin Wilk. The girl said he had not checked in. I looked around the lobby: four seated figures and another just leaving. I was at a loss. The man approached and asked me, "Are you Bill Ray?" He was stocky and shrewd with a large blunt nose like W.C. Fields' without a hat. We shook hands and went to the Scout. It started immediately because he had warmed it up. I saw that he had raised and chained it to an industrial fork on the back of his pick-up, then he hauled it backwards for 400 miles, probably with the steering wheel unstrapped. The steering had 120 degrees of play. I had asked him to change the oil. It was black as coal. His workmen had pulled the thing out of the granery, over top of 30,000 bushels of corn. That explained the dry kernals,the gravel, and fine dark dust blanketing the engine. We exchanged the money, a certified check from the Bank of Willits. "Good luck" he said.

I didn't know if it would make the trip, 1,300 miles. Wilk hadn't driven it. Pulling into the closest parts store I bought a case of 20/50 oil and a filter, then drove to a station to change the oil and adjust the weak brakes. The Polish-looking mechanic and his sons stared at the car for a moment, a ceremony to be repeated at every point across the Great American Desert, the dried-up bottom of the sea, an unimproved real estate of plateaux, mountains, blank flats for hundreds of miles. I told my plan, to drive it back to California and use it for my rural route. He was hard, suspicious, coarse, but he recognized guts. Like the rest of the highway industry, the ones that did the actual work, he had his code. Three things made up the code: work, television, and animal caution. In his universe everyone worked, especially the ones who worked at cheating. Bodies survived or died or moved on. At night souls peered into the white-hot eyeball of television, seeking whatever escape were available on the channels that came in. "How-ya-doin'" was their 'Welcome Brother". "Good luck, come back and see us," was 'Fare you well Kinsman.' The mechanic said, "Get the rear brake shoe fixed when you get where you're going." He didn't charge.

Driving to Boulder it was clear that with 120 degrees of play in the steering wheel, only straight roads would do. The big worry was oil pressure. If it got too low I had three tons of metal on the road. In half an hour I stood at the duplex door and Elizabeth approached. She was tall, confident, long-haired, with blue eyes as concentrating as an eagle's. Her melodious voice said she was a singer. Her body pressed full and fertile. The child I had taken on bumper cars for her eighth birthday was still there within, though a woman's form had swelled and she could already teach a college level course. The child had been aesthetic. She saw little creatures by the brook on her way home. The grown woman took charge. She had her father's pointed chin.

"Do I seem old?" I asked her. She was puzzled by the question. She looked at my face and form. Then lower intuition moved her. "No, you seem content." Her look said she approved, that had things been different, she would have accepted me deeply. Things were different, but it didn't matter, not where we were. Everything real cannot be lived in one life. Her woman's love settled the feathers of my spirit. We embraced again in the college-town room. She knew very well my pilgrimage included this gesture. The details of life operated elsewhere. This was as close to living as we could get.

She was a singer. She knew music. We sang to the popular songs. She easily improvised the harmonies. The living room held hundreds of books and records. The bedroom was simple. In a few hours I would cross the Great Divide. We slept a chaste and heart-pounding rest. She woke me at sunrise, which was red. 'Red sky at morning, all sailors take warning'. I sang to her, still drowsy in her long t-shirt, from Kate Wolf's ballad:

I been walking in my sleep
I been counting hours
'Stead of counting sheep
Where the years went I can't say
I just turned around: they'd gone away

But I've been sifting through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
Tells a story I used to know
One that happened so long ago


It's gone away into yesterday
And I'm standing on a mountainside
Where the rivers change directions
Across the Great Divide

I heard an owl call my name
Called it out so clear and plain
Ran to the window to reply
But it had already flown
Across the borderline

The finest hour I have seen
Is the one that falls between
The edge of night and the break of day
When the darkness rolls away

It rolls away into yesterday
And we're all standing on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide *

*Kate Wolf, Another Sundown Publishing Co., (BMI), 1980

In how many more years, or even ever, would we meet again? I didn't want to voice selfish sorrow. Instead our lips touched and stayed. The Scout motor turned over and I left.

IV

The connecting road between Boulder and Interstate 70 wound through the mountains. Snow blustered. The crags had beards. It was still cold. Nothing but green and white silence beyond the rumbling engine. This was Mother Nature's elements upfront. At the junction, Idaho Springs, a gas station and tourist store, I checked the oil. In sixty miles it had burned two quarts. This car had no rings. I would need forty-five quarts to get home. In the back were ten quarts and I had a hundred dollars for gas, a zeroed-out checkbook, and two credit cards, very useful for ripping open letters. Without oil the engine would seize. I had to get to a town big enough to have 20/50 motor oil, meanwhile stopping every thirty miles. I passed the Highway 40 turn-off, the direct route to Salt Lake. It led through the highest mountain passes in North America. That would be lonely country to pour slow-motion ribbons of oil into the valve-cover opening.

Strange—no cars on the road, no radio reception, windshield wipers flipping snow this way and that. I was headed right into the storm. The cab was cold despite a very good heater. Cars parked off the road at odd angles. A few ahead in the snowy ruts proceeded at thirty miles per-hour. Oil pressure below half but holding. What would my jet-pilot friend do now? Passing through Eisenhower Tunnel, right through a mountain, built when freeways first appeared as post-War Utopia, I felt the elevation. This was indeed the Continental Divide, where one water-course drained in the Pacific and the other in the Mississippi. I saw no rivers changing courses. I had to turn on my lights to find the road.

Georgetown, Silver Plume, Dillon, Frisco represented by dark green freeway signs. I pulled off at Vail, the largest habitation in the two-mile high countryside. Gerald Ford skiied here. All around the gas station and restaurants were cars. I asked the best way to Salt Lake. "You can't take 40 now, it's eighty miles behind you. Maybe drive through to Scipio and then 300 miles north to Salt Lake, or straight across the desert to Reno. Just make sure there's nothing wrong with your car. Nobody's out there for a hundred miles at a stretch." An executive type getting warm asked, "Is that a diesel? Don't go up Pike's Peak. I couldn't make it in my Mercedes."  His words were good-natured.  He seemed to like that I was driving through despite the facts.

 Highway 40. That was the road I'd by-passed. I would have to drive on, even though it landed me hundreds of miles south of my destination. "Good luck," said the attendant. Levelled by the elements and stranded, his words meant something.

Onward—Dowd, Avon, Edwards, off the road to Wolcott, the storm past now. Maybe there would be oil at the general store. Ten houses sat spaced along the swale. I bought supplies and again asked advice on the best road. "Lots of people take this road right here up to Steamboat Springs; nice scenic route if the weather's good. Here's a map, just go by State Bridge and take 130. Only ninety miles to Steamboat Springs. Good luck."

Two more quarts in the crankcase and I got gas. State Bridge, Bond, McCoy, the snow turning to cold rain. High buttes, long barren valleys lay uninhabited, copses of cottonwood and pine here and there but nothing tall. Then stone formations erupted like Egyptian pillars crammed next to each other on an angle, a hundred feet high or more, rounded by five million years of weather. They exploded right out of the ground, were there before the ground, before glaciers broke the mountains and the rubble became Earth.

No wonder the Hopi came this way. Their ancestors walked from the Himalayas. But nothing on the road, no animals, no birds, no houses in the distance, just the Sentinels. Topanas, Yampa: I stopped at a roadside market, slamming the door against the wind. The sharp-nosed lady clerk waited for me to speak. She knew she was ugly and this gave her presence. She was a person. Beside the counter a swarthy cowboy, owner of the backhoe outside, stood saying a different nothing, that I didn't belong, I had no place on this earth. "Do you have any STP, something to keep rings from losing oil?" "No, you'll have to try Oak Creek, about twenty-two miles North." "Thank you." She nodded.

The country stretched wide open from range to range. Grass would grow here in rainy weather, in summer it would be rocky wastes. At Phippsburge, I bought two tins of STP and four quarts of oil, credit card money. Beside me an old cowboy smiled shamefacedly and bought two lottery tickets. "This gonna make you rich Ned" "—Well, might," the man replied.

V

Oak Creek was a group of buildings on either side the road, reminiscent of Pennsylvania or West Virginia coal-towns. The auto parts owner was a woman. "No, never heard of anything to seal rings," she said. Farther up the highway and gaining elevation again, finally there was a junction, Steamboat Springs with a big Safeway market and extensive shopping malls, spread so wide you needed a car to reach all the stores. On my first pass through Steamboat Springs it was a darkened burg. I hadn't stopped for gas, thinking I would make it to Laramie, but I was wrong. In Cowdrey, a gas station and nearby tree, I woke the owner, bought gas, and gave $5 extra, almost a day's wages then. That was February 1965. Cowdrey's sons would have been leaving for the war because it was duty and there had always been wars and if we didn't fight them there we'd have to fight them here. I myself, a twenty-one year old, told the draft board I wouldn't return to San Bernardino for any reason and take back their bus ticket.

Now Steamboat Springs was a big ski town. People came here to live half the year, then back to New York. I bought a case of oil and some Fig Newtons with a check. In the shopping queue ahead of me waited a woman, not young but youthful and slender, gray-haired, prominent eyes, modestly clothed. It wasn't her fault she was lovelier than others. She first received my attention with a clear gaze and smiled then immediately looked away. How many had done this? I wanted to apologize. Vulgarity is its own condemnation. But beyond the momentary heat is the compliment. The smile stayed with her as the door opened with an automatic lurch. Such is the life of the man who lives with his eyes.

Outside I called Mary Norbert Korte, my poetess friend, to explain I couldn't drive to Berkeley with her the next day. I was already six hours behind. We'd planned to see Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet, nephew of the Lithuanian Jewish mystic de Lubicz, who had comprehended many Egyptian mysteries, had published two copies of his revelations and burned them soon after. Henry Miller coveted the knowledge, this very same man Garnet had found unproductive and mean to his women. On one occasion Milosz had acted as go-between for the two unknowns, when he was a young poet and Consulate functionary in Paris.

I had managed only 300 miles by Friday noon, no chance at all to get home by Saturday afternoon. But maybe I could drive straight to Berkeley. When I called Judith, she said, "Be reasonable, don't take chances, call me if you do actually break down." Through Milner, through Hayden and Craig, Lay, Maybell, Elk Springs, always a day's horse-ride between towns, from before the railroad and car, and I stopped in that rhythm to pour oil into my huge squarish engine. Snow had disappeared from the roadsides. I passed through Dinosaur. Utah lay just ahead.

As the wily shopkeeper joked with his customers, I washed my hands in the bathroom and bought gas, peanuts, and orange juice in a knobby bottle, like the milk bottles on the steps in grade-school. I thought of calling Merlin to discuss the slight discrepancy in performance. The muffler had a hole sufficient for a softball, no horn or rear view mirror, the front tires were nearly smooth, the steering made me watch the road as it writhed ahead, the rings were gone, the brake pedal went all the way to the floor. Wilk must have bragged he never had to do a thing to it when he returned to Holdrege, back there in Middle America—not North America like the Hudson Bay Company, not South America like Bo Diddley, but out there on the rail line not far from Ragan, not far from Funk, not far from Beaver City, Macon, Atlanta, not far from Oglala where the federal troops destroyed the Sioux civilization, or from Old Jules Sandoz, who surveyed Western Nebraska, "to build up the country." And his daughter wrote a book about him that sits in the Willits library, for the greatest part unread. I wanted to stop Merlin's$800 check. But I had given him a bank draft.

VI

Huge ferro-cement dinosaurs punctuated the highway stretches. This must have been the area thick with jungle and swamps that dried in the blistering heat of an Earth-change. Now it was smooth rolling mesas and far ranges. Finally I had to stop and ask, in Vernal, about an auto parts store. After the second "Can't miss it!", I pushed open the wooden door and walked across the pine floor. The place reminded me of Napa Auto in Willits. Vernal had a broad spacious Main Street, which was the through highway. The buildings dated from the Forties. Stucco was cheap and fast, a new paint job easy. This was Utah. The towns were clean. When my turn came, I asked for valve cover gaskets and loaded up their supply of 20/50 oil. "Do you take checks?" I asked the wizened clerk. "Yeyuh, sure do." "I'd appreciate some paper towels if you have any." "Wayull, don't see none down here." Have you got a box for this oil?": "Wayull, no, got a bag here though." Every sentence went up slightly to end as cordiality. "Oops, sorry, can't take out-of-state checks, sorry." "How about a credit card?" "Yup, sure can." While we talked I heard one of the obviously respectable women in town tell her young grand-daughter to get napkins from the truck. As I walked out the side door, the child stood waiting for me, and she smiled, showing silvery braces. I said, "That's good of you. Thank you."

At the other end of town I pulled into a parking lot and went to work. The valve covers were so full of grease and grit, the heads would be fouled as soon as I lifted them. I cleaned everything, replaced the parts and went across the road to a gas station and cleaned my hands. Then I adjusted the steering worm down to a thirty-degree deflection. Up since five, on three hours' sleep, four the night before, I was flagging.

The landscape felt gentler. A trucker stopped on the shoulder as I had the hood up. "Any trouble?" he yelled. "I have to watch the oil." "Well drive ahead of me and if you break down I'll tell them in the next town." Ranges lay thirty miles apart. Ft. Duchesne, Roosevelt, Myton, Bridgeland. My oil pressure gauge showed no improvement and I was facing the desert at night. Five o'clock. I found a mechanic in Ft. Duchesne. He looked under the body, the engine, looked under the hood. "I can't see a single leak. I don't know why it's leaking oil on you. Why that's just unbelievable, a quart every thirty miles! And good God man you're using expensive oil! Use 30-weight. You say you're going to California and that's where you come from? That's 700 miles away West. You're way out of your way. This here is Utah! No, I can't do nothing for this engine. I don't know what TO do. But good luck now, I hope you make it."

VII

The sun fell fast as I pulled out of Ft. Duchesne. Once more I checked the oil before tackling the cold purple mountains twenty-five miles off. A huge long gray cloud hung over the range. I finished the orange juice and pissed into the empty bottle, thinking of the new federal drug-testing program. I regretted I had but one bottle to give for my benighted figure-head, Ronald Reagan, the man who had starved the mentally retarded to punish the idea of social institutions in California.  What a monstrosity that cancerous germ would bear in future time. There was a sudden motion to my right, a State Trooper pulling right up next to my door, talking into his short-wave receiver. I capped the bottle and set it in the well beside the seat. He approached, wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the Utah police.

"You having any trouble?" He was young and serious about his work. "I'm losing oil steadily so I stopped to check it." "You're going over those mountains?" "I expect to, I'm on my way to California." "I just got a radio report that the weather is BAD up there, so if you're having trouble I suggest you turn around," and he pointed, "and go back to the town you just came from and spend the night. It's too late for anyone to work on it tonight and if you go into those mountains and break down, you'll die there. Nobody'll be able to save you. There ain't no car coming down from there." "Thanks for stopping; I'll think about it," I answered. He sized me up. "Just a minute," he said and went back to his car and brought a map. "Here, you can keep this. This'll show you the road to Salt Lake." "Thanks again, I appreciate it." He circled and drove back to Ft. Duchesne.

Utah Map

The sun would be up another half-hour. I tightened the cap on the bottle; it wouldn't do to have that jostling around. I would have to reach the crest before the road froze or I'd be sliding backward. Blizzard gusts began to sweep over as I got elevation. A few minutes later I had to put the lights and wipers on. The heater showed full open but it was cold. A crack in the weatherstripping whistled a single high note. No cars ahead or behind. The icy track glistened, blue-veined like an infant's flesh. I stayed in the worn ruts of the ice. The wind sounded like an ocean. Gusts hit the car with the impact of a passing semi. At the crest I slowed, barely able to see. From below a single set of headlights approached, encountered, and passed on into the swirl.

The blizzard weakened the farther down I dropped. An hour passed. I was still in the mountains. The signs indicated Heber City. City. That meant civilization. There in Heber City Tom Brokaw and Robert Redford walked into a bowling alley and played a few frames and the attendant whispered, "What are you doing here?" When I got into town it was a warm Spring evening. Teenagers were out, intoxicated with the season, their appetites, everything, chasing each other in their cars, shouting messages, with the steady smiles of the sexually boundless. As I stopped to put in another quart, a car pulled alongside. "Hey, you okay?" the adolescent yelled. Music filtered out the window. "Yeah, just checking the oil. Thanks." "O-kayyy!" came the answer, the second syllable rising as they tore out through the gravel. Yes children, everything is okay. They didn't reflect on their wild dance of creation, with the birds and frogs also singing in sympathetic waves of happiness. They were gone. It was Friday night. School got out hours ago.

VIII

The plain below stretched out to the horizon like a sea bed. I'd make it to Salt Lake anyway. All day without a meal weakened me. In the big city I got salami, bread, and oranges. The clock said 10:40. People regularly fall asleep on the salt flats. There is even a beeping device that goes off when a car crosses the center-line. By the time I hit Wendover near the Nevada border, only the radio kept me alert. Song after song repeated its phrase that in the moment brought incantational magic, lifted the Unconscious of the mass into expressive form. The words hardly mattered, the feeling found some kind of voice. All around was night. Whitney Houston thrilled to her ecstatic pain. "How will I know?" she repeated. The cool Dire Straits imitated lower-class English in "Yuh so fah a-weh from meh". Starship tenderly invoked, "Sarah, Sar-raha". Meanwhile the late-night news vocally aped objective toughness. Governments pitched their manipulations, groping for compelling News-speak. There was 'indisputable evidence' linking Libya to a Berlin bombing, justifying unilateral attacks upon the madman of the Middle East Mumar Qadaffi—who was in the President's avuncular logic, not only crazy but flaky because he wore Arabic dress at home. Ferdinand Marcos emerged from his Honalulu mansion to address the Press, accusing the Reagan administration of conspiracy in his removal. Olga Alluyeva, Svetlana Alluyeva's daughter and Stalin's grand-daughter, returned to the United States after briefly repatriating with her mother last year. When asked what she missed about the USA, she said, "Oh just the whole thing." In local news, Senator Laxalt of Nevada was pondering whether to enter the race for President in 1988.

I had to rest. I pulled onto the shoulder and lay on the rubber floor-pad behind the two seats. My dream occurred as a cave deep under a precipice. I rested there. The dirt was soft and fine from eons. Outside the rain fell steadily but not cold. In gray early morning, light touched the walls and outcroppings. Well-defined instants froze one after another in the undersea atmosphere. This ledge, that subtle surface, had been human: they now smiled in the transience before the light expanded into garish day. A wall formation was a gentle figure blessing my rest. They had been purified as they became dust. In seconds the morning creatures vanished. I had snoozed half-an-hour and started driving.

California was 500 miles off, as far as Willits to Los Angeles. Oasis, Wells, Deeth, Hallack.  These mountains had antelope, big-horn sheep, even bear.  But close to the highway, the turn-offs led to all-night casinos. The gas station sold slick black paperbacks with directions and evaluations of the prominent whorehouses. Elko, which I'd once pulled into with a cup of gas in the 1966 VW tank; Carlin; Emigrant Pass; Rixies; Battle Mountain—who lives in these towns and how? Where are the Chinese ghosts who had built the railroad through them? Where are the torrents of Spring, Valmy, Golconda, Winnemucca? Reservation Indians driving Lincoln Continentals to the all-night markets stood in line under unreal fluorescence with a six-pack, at three in the morning. Mill City, Imlay, Humboldt, Unionville, Oreana. Now it was getting light among the mountains, but softened on the retired volcanoes. Whole ranges became Gods stretched out in their repose. I saw vast expressions emanating earthly peace, millennial acceptance—of me the only observer?. There were even smiles of bemusement too grand to be seen by an individual or a species during the day. The terrestial monarchs, an arm flung to the side being a gradual ridge reaching down to the foothills, gazed in lordly warmth upon the valleys. Slender ten-mile-long ladies lay on their backs unashamed of their contours along the vistas because they were the vistas, wreathed in sketchy smiles. These mountains were alive. At the heart of the desolation, midway in the wastes where I could die in a few hours, were the Gods. Or did I hallucinate?

IX

In Lovelock I needed more oil. The high-school clerk told me it was 110 miles to Reno. Now the land resembled Sacramento, Fresno, Merced, Madera, but without the huge pumps that force-fed the land with marketable water. In less than two hours would be the bee-hives of new clothes and flashy cars, fast-food, laundries, scantily-dressed girls wishing and repelling attention.

Reno was hot, endlessly paved. Hauling into the mountains alongside thousands of tourists and residents, I saw the incompatibility of the mountains and the occupying machines. Verdi, Floriston, Truckee, Soda Springs, Cisco Grove, Emigrant Gap, the remains of gold-rush days. I turned right, off Interstate 80 onto California State Highway 20, that would lead back to Mendocino County, my home. The high pines were so peaceful, deflecting heat and sunlight. The exposed rock reassured me. The was the Shasta Nation of Gary Snyder, the subsidiary mountains spreading out on the continent like magnetized filings from the core of the Central range. I passed the turn onto MacNab Ranch Road, where he and the other rebels of the early '50's made their first pioneering stand, and their last.  Jack Kerouac had dreams of establishing a writers' colony above Ukiah with the proceeds of 'The Town and the City'.  Were we their vagabond children?

As I dropped in elevation, fields and orchards appeared. A Highway Patrolman passed and motioned me over. He circled and got out with his enormous ticket-book. I had the hand-written ownership papers ready. He could see the Nebraska "In Transit" sticker. "Where are you going?" he asked. I told my story. He wrote a fix-it ticket for no sideview mirror, then added no horn. That was enough. He could show he was working. He let me go.

Now I smelled familiar ground, penneyroyal along the road. One short stretch to Williams and I'd be in tow-truck range. But suddenly, outside of Marysville the whole front of the car started blowing steam. Wilk had put in no anti-freeze, which didn't matter in Colorado but now it did. I cut the burst line, refitted and tightened, and drove to a farmhouse to fill the radiator, then back to town for anti-freeze. The kid at the Standard station let me drain and refill the reservoir. I barely restarted the engine. "Hey, your steering wheel is on the wrong side," he said as I left.

West of Williams, barren most of the year, was verdant, full-blown Spring now. The hillsides teemed with wildflowers. Birds moved about in groups to feed. The ridges ascended to clear skies. I couldn't remember appreciating this area before. The volcanic mountains seemed almost pleasant to the eye, so stable and still. The radio said five o'clock. I could still make it to Berkeley and meet Milosz. I'd written ahead. In my thoughts it completed a chain of connections: Garnet's idealistic youth, her Bohemian responses to our culture of war and industry parallelled Milosz's bond to de Lubicz's mystical freedom in the midst of Europe's systematic destruction; and Snyder, who cleaved to the land as a foundation for renewal was in harmony with Mary Norbert Korte, who had found her vocation being faithful to the coastal mountain forest. Life was a chance to see the pattern before returning to it. I was tired heading home.

X

In Upper Lake, by the edge of the blue Clear Lake expanse, I bought a whole frozen crab for Avrah. The Black sales-lady looked like Topsy with her pickaninny twists, but she knew how to sell. She'd gotten herself out of the ghetto. The radio faded in and out as I wound through the graceful passes going West: Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Ridgewood Ranch, Commercial Street, Willits California. There was Judith in our station wagon taking Hannah to a babysitting job no doubt. U-turning to follow her, I couldn't catch her eye in the rear-view mirror. Hannah got out as I pulled alongside. Though the corners of Judith's mouth were turned permanently down from daily dissatisfaction, her lips were red as the rose-lip't maiden's. She didn't need lipstick. A glance took me in. "Oh you made it! I'm going to Safeway, do you want anything?" "Some seltzer water..." "—Oh I'm getting THAT. I'll see you at home." Meanwhile Hannah had watched as she crossed the street ahead of our cars. She looked at me, then the Scout, and smiled.  She knew I took a chance.

Glenwood stopped on his way up the easement through our property. Together we looked at the International. A shot engine, barely started, bald tires, no horn, no brakes, no mirrors, a bass muffler. But the radio worked. Glenwood said nothing for a while. He looked like Santa Claus but he could carry the reindeer. His full beard and brawn gave away his Kentucky ancestry. His people, the Dukes, had been there before the Pilgrims. Migrating West in the '30's, they were known as the best hunters and fishermen in Willits. "You did good to get it here, Bill." Then he added, "I'd never have the guts to go a thousand miles and bring back a car." "I'm lucky, I always have been," I said.

Inside I turned the water on to heat. Elizabeth had sent a letter. After I left Friday morning she'd gone back to sleep and dreamed: children were playing naked under the trees in a green-lit forest. Beyond and within it was numinous peace, almost as in a distant planet where Paradise renewed each morning. A sense of Blessing descended into the atmosphere of the dream. The scene contracted into a spider, then reshaped into a crystal, then a dandelion puff, which telescoped to a star. She felt happy when she woke.

Finally I could bathe and rest. But what is the waking and what is the dream? Her glistening white teeth came back from childhood as I drifted down. We fall away into grace, and if we rise give it names. I had journeyed and now I slept.

WJ Ray in his International Scout II

WJ Ray
August 2006

Postscript:  The 1974 International Scout II is still in use with 318,000 on the odometer. I retired as a Rural Carrier for the United States Postal Service in February 2001.  See 'Ray v. Henderson' in Thoughts.

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