Death of the Great Friend


He lay on his back, hands, rising and falling gently, one on top of the other, resting on the middle of his chest. He was not sleeping and not awake. His mind was empty, open, free.

There had been visitors. They came to sit with him. As each came into the room and looked into his face, he briefly opened his eyes. Each found themselves stretching out beyond the confines of physical form and world, gone, nothing but the blue of his eyes. Each friend sat down next to the bed, each, through the flow of their natures, sending out waves of love. The waves lapped through him, reverberating, pulling to the shore with their tides.

When each left, the waves began to subside, lapping gently across the uppermost surface, the depths still silent, calm. But even when no one was present, waves of emotion came washing through him, pulling from somewhere out in the world where friends moved through their lives, longing for his presence, aching. He breathed from the silence and met them, gently as ocean meets shore and touches air.

Some could feel the breath moving through them. Others dreamed of him. Others were washed by thoughts of him, images of their time together, the magic of walking alongside him, looking into his eyes, playfully running down city streets, being pulled along, hand in hand with a compact, neatly dressed man with sparkling blue oceanic eyes, round, crinkled yet young face, cropped white hair, still vigorous in his eighties, headed somewhere to talk to someone important or maybe just to go feed the ducks at the park.

He had been prepared for these moments since he was a very young man. He had wandered from Norway to the Himalayas at the age of sixteen. He had studied with great mystics in the East and the West. He had lived and worked in over sixty-five countries, served during WWI, worked with MI6 during WWII, helped hatch a master plot to kidnap Hitler in 1944 (which was rejected by Roosevelt), was captured towards the end of the war by the Nazis, miraculously released with a visa. Author, economist, mystic, so much more, he had spent the last thirty years devoted to Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, a benign system of bringing solar energy from the sea.

Until his body was stuck down, he had continued his daily work to bring OTEC to the world, communicating prolifically with other engineers, presidents, presidential candidates, US Senators and a wide circle of friends. He went to the beach and bathed his legs in the ocean, his mother. Now even the unending flow of his letters had stopped.

There had never been any boundaries. Now that was becoming more and more evident to all those who loved him.

There was one heart holding him, despairing of the loss of him. He travelled to her in a dream and smiled and winked. There was nothing but ocean. He was nothing, as he had ever been.





This has been an odd week.  Much to think about (small details like the direction of our lives and what the universe is truly asking of us at the moment).

There’ve been raspberries to pick at least once a day (42 quarts in the freezer and counting), gooseberries to pick and freeze (small harvest this year–2 quarts in the freezer and more ripening on the bush for eating), black currents to pick (Creme de Cassis is in the cool storage, aging for the holidays), favas to pick, process , and freeze, zucchinis to do everything you can imagine with, snap peas to pick and distribute, broccoli to pick, blanch and freeze, the flower garden to tend, watering in the summer dryness of the Northwest and the house to clean to an inch of its life to get ready for a showing that never materialized. And the jewel of the week–a much-too-short visit in Seattle with my son who lives too far away and I haven’t seen for far too long.

Now my son is on a flight back to Indiana. The raspberry bushes have given all their summer energy to their fruits and are passing into the hot calm of August, their leaves beginning to dry and the fruit ripening too fast to keep up with, drying on the branches. I’ll pick a few more pints today and tomorrow and then that cycle will come to rest. We’ll be busy with more picking, processing, cooking and eating in the coming weeks.

There’s plenty of food in the freezer with lots more coming. Walter’s quarts of canned cherries, beautiful in their row on the shelf in the canning room, will be joined by pickles and canned tomatoes, drying garlic, onions and potatoes.

When we move to France, someone will have a lot of food for the winter. Or we will eat the food from the land we walk on as we have for thirteen winters. Life is good one way or another.  When the moment is right, we will gather our forces for yet another adventure on another continent.

Meanwhile, this week I will work on another story and you can read some of the stories you missed.  Browse by category.   As my son said, “It’s hard to keep up.”  

I know what he means.




A Window in Time (Part 1): Bastille Day


Today is Bastille Day.

I will tell you a story of a long ago Bastille Day in Paris the summer after the massive anti-capitalism and antiwar demonstrations and strikes of 1968. 

When I think of France I normally don’t think of Paris, busy, noisy, beautiful Paris, but today I’ll speak of a time in Paris when reality roiled its back like a sea monster briefly breaking above the water, creating storm waves all around.

She was eighteen, with blondish hair past her shoulders and blunt-cut bangs, a veteran of the 1967 March on the Pentagon, a student of English literature and of French and Russian and with the naive sense that her mind was capable of encompassing everything. Her parents were paying for a trip to Paris as a high-school graduation present, a cultural break before college. She and a friend from high-school had gone to New York together and purchased round trip tickets to London on Icelandic Air. The friend was also eighteen, with hair even longer and blonder than hers. They’d known each other for years but weren’t the most intimate of friends, she having found a consuming friendship with an intense young woman who had moved to their school from Palo Alto. France on Five Dollars A Day in her suitcase and on a strict budget, she and her friend had flown to London with hits of good Owsley acid hidden in their socks, meant to be shared at just the right moment.

Arriving at Heathrow, they’d gone directly to stay with a family in Oxford who knew the friend’s parents well. He was a Don at New College (the older part of Oxford) and the archetype of a cozy English prof, well rounded in body like a well-stuffed armchair, part of the stuffing extruding from his mouth in the form of upper-crust British English, full of overfed vowels, almost impossible to comprehend but occasionally well worth the heightened effort.

His wife was charmingly hostesy, and his grandchildren, all golden curls and perfect manners, made them feel they’d walked into a delightful post-Victorian Era British children’s book, especially when the children were released by their grandmother for “a romp in the garden” with the two friends. They went punting and picnicking on the Cherwell, a tributary of the Thames, where she dutifully made the rookie error of following the punting pole into the river, drying off in the sun on the river bank where they ate the things from the beautifully packed picnic basket. She learned how to say “boot” instead of trunk, and “strawbs” instead of “strawberries” and managed to choke down meat pies for the first time in her life.

From there, they took a train and then a boat across the Channel where they began their adventures by hooking up with a good-looking “older” man in his twenties who already worked as a journalist. They were intrigued by his aura of left-wing professionalism and his dual Greek and British passports.

They disembarked in Callais as the largest darkest orange full moon she’d ever seen rose over the tree-lined roads, golden fields of grain and red poppies spreading out on both sides. They camped in a tent with their new friend, putting up with some fairly gentlemanly groping, he trying to convince them to join him in Spain where he was headed for an extended vacation. They refused, feeling in part still dutiful and in part, even in their innocence, divining what a good thing he thought he’d found with two young American girls, perhaps eventually willing.

In the morning, he drove them into Paris in his Renault and deposited them in front of their student pension on the Left Bank on Rue des Ecoles where they’d somehow managed to rent a room for a month. They were enrolled in the summer French Intensive course for Foreigners at the Sorbonne, a process accomplished in those days totally by correspondence. They shared a room on the third floor with french doors opening onto a tiny balcony with iron grillwork. There they could sit on the window sill and watch the life in the street below and become absorbed in the lives of the people in the opposite flats.

They went to classes fairly regularly for a week or so before getting fed up with the slow pace of things. They were learning more French in their adventures around the city, where they went to cafés, wandered endlessly together or alone, shopped in the bookstalls on the quays of the Seine, explored Notre Dame and the Ile de Paris, sat on the quay in the evenings with German students whose big rucksacks were always there to lean on and their near-perfect English an entryway into the easy relationships of youth.

After a while, when they had practically stopped attending classes, they met up one evening with a young Frenchman on the quay. Young and ready for opportunity, he had approached the international group sitting around a guitarist and focused on the two blond women speaking a mixture of English and French. He was from Strasbourg, working-class and adventurous. He impressed the girls by teaching them argot and gallantly buying them a special dictionary of slang from one of the bookstalls.

Michel was his name. He was their age, friendly and easy-going and clearly interested in the friend with long blond hair for more than conversation. They went together to Greek restaurants deep in the Latin Quarter and drank cognacs so late into the evening that the two friend got locked out of their pension more than once. That was when he introduced them to the place where he lived in an Arrondissement on the other side of the river. The apartment where he lived with two other “mecs”, likely Algerians, was in a rough neighborhood. He’d bring back baguettes, butter and milk for breakfast and make them coffee in bowls with heated milk.

It was coming up on July 14th, Bastille Day, the day the two friends had chosen as the occasion special enough to use their smuggled acid. They consulted together about whether they could trust Michel enough to share it. After several days of hesitation, they decided to risk it. Down on the quays, they had all smoked pot with the German students. They knew he was no stranger to mind-altering experiences.

That evening, the three of them sat together on the edge of the quay and discussed the possibility. The two friends were now comfortable enough in their command of French that they were able to communicate some of the subtleties of the situation. As best as they were able, they described the experiences they’d had with acid, trying to give him a basis for a decision about whether it was something he wanted to take on.

In the end, although not without some trepidation, he did. He wondered, as privately did they, how prepared he was for an experience so extremely outside of what he had known growing up in his small town in the north of France. He told them more about what Bastille Day was like in Paris, full of fireworks in the street, parades down the Champs Elysee, crowds of people, parties, dancing, music and street performers everywhere. Everyone excited and happy. Everything festive. Everybody drinking lots of wine. How marvellous it would be with the enhancement of LSD, thought the two friends.

The night before, they slept at Michel’s apartment in the 17th Arrondissement, the two girls on the floor in bedrolls purchased at the Puce. The morning was bright, sunshine filtering in down the air shaft in the middle of the tenement and into the only the small apartment’s only window. They made cafés au lait and shared a baguette and then ceremoniously took the tiny white pills the friends had brought from the States, one each.

The two young women put on their long skirts and sandals and gathered up their passport wallets with enough money for food for the day. They waited as Michel, taking his time, had made sure he had his carte d’identité in his wallet and had combed his hair. Together they set off into the bright sunshine.

As they walked through the Arab quarter of Barbes Rochechouart, the streets were beginning to fill with people off for the holiday, walking in groups or with families, setting off to their favorite cafe to start the day. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy, people at their ease looking forward to spending a festive day together in a city with endless possibilities and endless beauties.

They descended the stairs of the Metro station at Brochant, Michel running ahead and turning to usher the girls down the next flight with a theatrical bow. They glanced shyly at each other as they stood on the platform waiting for the train, communicating without words the intoxication of an experience of the world that was beginning to unfold.  Even the expanse of the train station itself felt it held an intimation of how each object, each sight, now contained infinities of beatific interest.

After changing trains several times led through the maze by the savvy Michel, they emerged at the Louvre station, not to brave the pressing crowds of the museum itself, but to begin their day of wandering in sight of the old palace at the Tuilleries.

They walked through the gardens, seeing each familiar sight with total freshness as if its very nature had opened itself for their detailed examination and contemplation. People passed and left their impressions. The play of the children around the fountains took on its proper meaning. They were exhalted.

As the day began to turn to afternoon, they sat in a café with glasses of wine in front of them, mostly unconsumed, speaking to each other occasionally in the flow of all the magic unfolding in front of them in the street. There were mountebanks and fire eaters, street dancers and singers, but the people themselves were the most extraordinary sight. It seemed somehow that a festival of human oddities had begun, with families of giants and midgets, people with facial deformities, the enormously fat and enormously skinny, all gay and splendid in their holiday attire.

They walked again across the bridges, passing through the throngs who were promenading there, some chatting vociferously to each other, others laughing and gesticulating with their arms. They hung on the balustrades and watched the river below for a timeless interlude before crossing to the Ile de la Cité to enter the Cathedral.

What magnificence. They were pulled through the doors into the flow of people towards the center. As if on an island in the middle of a swirling lake, a white and scarlet-robed priest rose above the crowd, intoning words of ritual. The inner walls of the cathedral seemed to vanish. They found themselves immersed in another world, suffused by an incredible light that colored the air itself with jewel-like glow. The smoke of incense rose up into the arches of the heavens above, creating beams of white. They stood entranced at the edge of the gathering as a bell rang repeatedly from the altar, creating reverberations of color and sound throughout the nave. When the big bell of the cathedral itself began its tolling the universe itself was encompassed in the sound.

They were eventually pulled back through the doors to wander the grounds. There they walked on the grass and stone grass under the stupendous stone arches of the flying buttresses. Between the cathedral walls and the river, they became lost together in some zone of wizardry.  The air was beginning to scintillate with the colors of the sparklers that passer-bys held and spun in circles with their arms. Fireworks seemed to be coming from everywhere in the sky, sending sparks of light throughout the atmosphere, hovering around people and buildings, swooping like galaxies here and there. Time passed. Wonderful beings went by, singing.

In the midst of it, someone made a decision to climb the tower to see the gargoyles. Somehow directions were sought, money was exchanged and tickets bought. They climbed the long stairs of the north tower to the top to look out over the river and the city and commune with the gargoyles. What creatures they were. Some seemed to have flown tremendous distances in their travels and to have gained enormous wisdom. That afternoon, the three friends stood with them and heard many stories as they rested their heads against their stone wings.

Towards the end of the day, in Michel’s wake, they took the metro to Montparnasse, sat with the singing hoards of students gathered on the steps of Sacre Coeur, and watched the sunset, the city spread out before them. Flowers of color sprouted suddenly as fireworks exploded here and there amidst the sparks of the white street lights.   They thought that never before or since has there been such a magnificent sunset or such a joyous choir.

As the darkness began to penetrate into the streets of Montparnasse, they felt the lassitude of evening seeping in through their skins. The effect of the acid was on its downward mellow glide. The comfort of a little food and an apartment where they could relax began to call to them.

Even their young limbs were feeling a bit weak as they set off together again towards the Metro. After a miraculous navigation in the Metro, they were back in the Barbes Rochechouart.

They found a café where they bought some pastries from the case and then some fruit from the corner épicerie open late. They climbed wearily to Michel’s apartment where they put on a Bob Dylan record and stretched out his bed, contentedly munching pastries.

They must have dozed for a while. She woke to a pounding somewhere. Michel was up and moving to the door. The night was black at the window.

As she watched, he undid the locks and opened the door. As he pulled it towards him, a man seemed to slump and fall forward into his arms. Michel caught him around his back in a kind of rough embrace and walked him back into the room, easing the heavy form onto a chair. It was one of his roommates. Some guttural conversation was exchanged in the thick argot of the streets, incomprehensible from where she now sat on the bed, alert and more than a bit unnerved. Michele turned to the two friends, both now fully awake, and said in an excited voice,

He’s hurt. He’s been stabbed. He’s bleeding from his side.”

Over the next moments, they heard the hurried story of a fight in the streets Michel had so far be able to glean from his friend. Suddenly the door was being pushed open again by the other roommate, hair wet with sweat and shirt torn. He turned and quickly locked and latched the door behind him. There was more hushed conversation. A plan was being made.

The wounded man turned to the two young women groggily and explained in stilted but proper French that the wound was not grave, just painful. He was clearly in shock. Michel explained that the second roommate would take the wounded one to a neighbor’s apartment where he would be safe from the gang who had attacked him. They would wait until morning, evaluate the knife wound and see if a doctor were necessary.

In case the trouble followed his friend to their apartment, Michel thought it best they all leave. They gathered their things and the uneaten pastries and quietly and sleepily left the apartment, taking back streets around the scene of the fight.

It was too early for the Metro. Despite their drowsiness, they decided to walk back towards the girls’ pension on the Rue des Ecoles, where the concierge would not open the door for several hours.

A glow still lingered through the fatigue as they walked. It was mysterious and a bit exciting to be moving through the unfamiliar dark streets back towards the Seine. After what seemed a long and rather weary trek, they found themselves on the Rue Rivoli of the Right Bank, passing the back of the grand palaces of the Louvre.

They kept going until they reached the Boulevard de Palais and took a right turn towards the bridge to the Ile de la Cité. They could see Notre Dame not too far off, its towers, buttresses and rosette window brilliant in the dark city, a huge light among the nests of white Parisian street lights. They began their walk across the Pont St. Michel towards the quays of the Left Bank on the other side.

As they came to the bridge, sleep beginning to pull at them, they saw three women silhouetted against the white lights of the other bank, the colors of the Seine shining from below. They were leaning against the grey-white stone of the balustrade to the right, chatting, their murmuring conversation punctuated by quiet waves of laughter. One had her leg bent backwards behind her, letting her spiked heeled dangle from her foot, relaxed, black hair piled partly on her head, part hanging down her back.

As they came closer, they could clearly see the heavy black eyeliner and the red lips of the woman turning towards them. She looked pointedly from Michel to the blond friend walking close behind him. She spoke to Michel with flashing eyes and a little toss of her head. Of the string of invectives, the only word that came through clearly to the two girls was “Putain!” By the direction of her glance as she said it, they knew she referring to them. Her companions laughed and turned to lean their backs against the rail, the better to be able to taunt the two girls as they walked past. One of the leaning women spit on the sidewalk as they continued to snarl their insults.

Michel stopped several paces from them and turned to the girls, saying,

They’re insulting you and asking me why I’ve gotten myself some blond whores when I could have them with dark hair like me. It’s impossible! I have to defend your honor.”

As he said it he turned, swearing back at the women and pulling a knife he evidently had had in his pocket. He motioned the girls to go around him into the middle of the street as he kept his knife out in his extended hand and faced the women.

As the two friends began to move, the dynamic suddenly shifted. The two leaning women had pushed themselves from the railing and run around the first, skirting Michel. They were rushing towards the two friends, yelling, arms flailing at them with their claw-like fingernails. Suddenly they were on them, kicking with their high heels, scratching, biting, Michel trying to keep the other at bay. They felt as if they were being attacked by some pride of lithe cougars.

Knife hand extended towards the woman still holding the balustrade, Michel reached back with the other arm and grabbed his friend by the shoulder and then around the waist. She reached to grab her friend’s arm as he pushed and pulled them past the wildly flailing, screaming women. Grabbing her hand now, he pulled both friends in a human chain, yelling,

“Run! Run!”

With her friend still clinging to her hand, Michel yanked them with force into the intersection at the end of the bridge, heading for the opening of the Rue Danton. He turned to look as he said,

They’re chasing us!”

Panting, he added,

I think a guy has joined them. Keep running up here until we get to the police station. It’s just a few blocks. Run! Run faster!”

At that moment, she realised her friend’s hand had slipped from hers. She jerked as hard as she could on Michel’s hand as she wrenched around, trying to see behind them, screaming her friend’s name.

Stop, Michel, stop! I can’t see her! I lost her hand!”

But as she yelled, he just jerked her hand harder, pulling her forward. “We have to keep running. She’s following. I’m sure!”

Everything was happening in a blur of movement, nothing coherent.

When he had pulled her forward for a long block or two, both of them losing their breath, their tired legs buckling under them, they slowed as he turned and then stopped in the middle of the street.

I think they gave up,” he said.

He called out to the friend who must be just behind them, just around the last corner. No answer. He yelled again. Nothing. They began running back the way they had come, rounding bend after bend with no one in sight.

Desperately, she began joining him in calling out for her friend, their voices reverberating in the cobbled road. They finally arrived back at the intersection of the Boulevard St. Michele, near the bridge, having seen no one in the echoing streets.

She wasn’t sure what happened then. There was some confusion in her memory. She remembered there was a kind of greyness that hit them, followed by a perplexity of movements and ideas. She thought that somehow, after trying the police station with no result and wandering the streets in search of their friend, the sun had come up and the city around them was beginning to wake with a bit of a hangover, wobbling a bit here and there. She thought she bought Michel a coffee and a croissant and the sat for a few minutes in the first cafe to open on The Boule Miche.

By then, it was late enough to start back to the pension on Rue des Ecoles nearby to see if their friend would return there.

They walked along the quay where the bookstalls’ owners were just opening up the stalls and arranging their books for display. Passing each one, she felt rosy pangs of already nostalgic love for these men and women and their stacks of French and foreign books and art prints.

As they turned the now-familiar corner onto Rue des Ecoles and approached the entrance to the pension, she looked up at the third story window with the open French door, curtain billowing slightly outward through the opening in the breeze. There was nothing to indicate whether her friend had returned. Michel walked with her to the heavy wooden door. She opened it and looked up the stairwell, then turned and asked Michel to wait while she went up to check.

She climbed the stone stairs to their door and opened it with her key. With profound relief, she saw her friend lying there in her bed, asleep, still dressed, with the sheet pulled over her.

She saw her stir and called her name gently. Her friend’s eyes opened as she looked at her with a hint of accusation.

What happened to you?” she asked, in a rush, guilt flaming her face.

We were so worried! We’ve looked all over!”

Her friend half sat up in the bed.

My hand pulled out of yours and you didn’t stop. I yelled for you, but Michel was yelling too and no one heard.”

She shook a little as she said it, giving a kind of soft sob. The story tumbled out.

I had to think fast. I turned and ducked up an alley until they’d gone by. Then I ran back towards the quay as fast as I could go. When I got to the road by the river I saw a little car approaching the intersection. I ran out into the street in front of it and waved my arms. There were some guys running up after me from the bridge. The car stopped and someone started to lean out of the window. I didn’t wait. I just ran up beside the car and jerked open the back door and slammed it behind me. There was a couple in the front seat looking back at me as if I were crazy. I just yelled, ‘Drive away!’ Fortunately, they listened. After we’d gone a block or two and I could stop looking behind us, I explained what had happened as best I could. I asked if they could drive back and see if we could find the two of you. They did, but you were gone. They took me to get coffee and then back here as soon as the door was open.”

They hugged each other tightly and a bit tearfully, feeling shaky, and then went down to the street to reassure Michel. They all hugged there on the sidewalk, young and shaken, and agreed they needed to go to their own respective beds and get a good sleep. The bone-tired weariness and dullness of spirit at the end of an acid trip had overtaken them. The sun was warming up what promised to be a hot July day. They kissed each other on both cheeks and said “À bientôt.”

She and her friend climbed back up the stairs, threw off their sweaty sandals and clothes, closed the top shutters to keep out the sun, stretched out under their cool sheets and fell greedily into a deep sleep, as welcome as a long drink of water after a journey through the desert.

Her shame returned only in those dreams that happen just before waking as she finally stirred in the cool of the evening after Bastille Day, having slept away the day.















The Element of Earth

It was mid-September and the mornings were getting cold. The night before, I had laid out my clothes with a warm jacket, a wool blanket, wool hat and gloves and then slept soundly.

I was on a road trip on my own, a kind of pilgrimage. This morning I was going to the place that had called me back, a place on the high desert. I wanted to get there right at sunrise.

I left the house where I was staying very quietly, making sure to close the screen door carefully. The air in the dark pines was sharp with cold, the night turning to pre-dawn grey.

As I drove through the scruffy, sagebrush desert, light began to seep gently over the horizon. The road went on and on through a seemingly boundless expanse. The sun was staining the bottom of the sky warm orange and beginning to reveal the cloudless blue above as the huge rock formation came into view ahead.

The formation itself, now glowing orange and brown in the warmth of the rising sun, is the remainder of an ancient volcanic crater, looming up from the flat desert floor in a huge jagged semi-circle, one side open to the plains that stretch endlessly on all sides. I felt a warm flow of joy as I came closer and closer.

I parked in the dirt  lotand pulled on my warm clothing, locked the car and stood for a few long minutes looking up into the huge rounded enclosure, the rock walls looming high above me on both sides, orange and sandy brown in the morning light. I set off for the rocks under the steeper eastern wall. The air was still cool enough to make me thankful for the warm wool blanket I carried with the water in my pack.

These rocks of volcanic tuff had sheltered humans for at least thirteen thousand years, back when it was an island in a huge receding lake. They lived and hunted and fished all around the walls of rock. Their presence emanates from every shelter in the jutting rock, every waft of air, every clump of brown grass and sage. I felt it in the path still used now by tourists. I was all alone in their presence and would be for a few hours.

From below, I selected a spot among the huge rocks and vegetation near the wall’s protective interior face. A prairie mouse scuttered from the hiding place of one rock to another. A litter of small bits of tuff covered much of the ground where short brown grasses pushed up here and there. It was a place fairly sheltered from view from below and from the rays of the rising sun promising to gradually heat the air. It would have a commanding view of what had once been Lake Mazama, left by the receding glacier.

I climbed up and moved from spot to spot until I found one that had just the right view and was comfortable enough to sit for the hours until I would no longer be alone. Wrapping my blanket around my legs and feet, pulling my hat down over my ears, buttoning up my coat and putting on my wool gloves I began my sitting.

I greedily breathed in air permeated by expansive silence. No sound of human activity, no calls of birds, no movement of air. Stillness. The rock walls enclosed the whole space around my back and sides, looming upwards, earth jutting up towards sky. Gradually I felt each cell drawing in the solid brownness of it, the smooth greyness, absorbing the particles of earth and lava that had been compressed by huge forces over aeons. I settled into the earth, encompassed by its strength.

Before me spread the plain, the sun still tinging east-facing rock with orange as it rose gently higher. Humans had lived with this expanse for millennia. When early human lived here, it had been an enormity of water, stretching to the horizon. They had woken each morning with the presence of this rock, rubbed their eyes, stretched, yawned and begun their day, their eyes taking in all this beauty. We have all felt it the same way. We absorb the immensity. We reflect it in our eyes, our hearts. It stretches out within us and settles, as I had settled.

Sparrows came and scratched near my feet in the sandy dirt and dry grasses for moments, looking for seeds, heads cocking this way and that, ever alert, skitting off quickly. A big hawk flew out over the plain, rested in the air and then circled slowly back to a perch on the cliff above me where he stayed, watching. Everything returned to stillness. My mind became completely still yet full with the substance of earth.

The light changed so slowly that even change seemed stillness. The sun’s warmth gradually spread through the roundness of the opposite side of the crater while I continued to be hidden in shade. I felt the warmth in small currents of air begin to reach into the shadow.

Within the world of the enclosing walls, one by one, two by two, individual rocks took on shape, color and character. The colors of their solidity shifted from greys to warm browns and reds. They cast long shadows as the sun rose gradually higher, their dark spread the only movement. At the far edges of the crater, the rocks were already losing the depth of their deep colors to the bleaching light of the sun, losing their earth and becoming ether. But the huge walls retained their strength, their earth, even as the reds and browns began to disappear.

I sat as it all shifted slowly, slowly through me. I shed the blanket, the gloves and the hat and opened my coat. Other small birds flew among the rocks, chirping, warbling brief snatches. A prairie falcon swooped, calling its wild call, speaking to me, and flew out over the plain. Always the expanse, the weight and strength of enormous rock. Earth. Stillness. My body settled further as if enveloped by earth.

It was only after the sun was halfway up the sky that I heard the distant sound of a car. I watched as it drove along the road leading to the crater where I sat hidden, the warmth of the day having now penetrated further into the circle, light now where I had been in shadow. With slow deliberation, I put my warm clothes into my pack, drank some water and gathered myself to stand. As the car came to a stop down below at the entrance to the crater, an older couple emerged, looking up and around them, getting ready to ascend along the trails into the encircling cliffs.

I threaded my arms through the straps of my pack as I began climbing around the big rocks there half-way up the wall, picking my way, unnoticed, to the back of the crater. I had the whole day to explore the trails through the sagebrush and the rock formations that covered the expanse of the ancient crater. Each formation of red and brown tuff had its own qualities of earth. I wanted to pull it all in as I walked and breathed.

One by one and in small groups, more people gradually came to walk the trails. We spoke to each other briefly, always about the rock, about the awe. It was reflected everywhere.

When I had explored every nook and cranny as I would the body of a beloved, breathing in the various fragrances rocks, dust, dirt and sage, climbing up the trails to the top of the outer tip of one edge of one wall where it opens out over the prairie, viewing the infinity from the opening in every way, I finally left the intimacy of the grand but still enclosed space and walked out along the outside of the crater. I seemed to breathe a newer air there than that inside the walls. I craned my neck and looked up at the great height of the rock cliffs. There I sat and ate my late lunch under the sparse shade of a juniper tree.

After I had eaten, I walked the sandy trails back to the center of the crater and sat on a rock to absorb the entirety once more before I left.


I remained there on that rock until the sun was once again more than halfway down towards the horizon and the heat its most intense. Again, it was again perfectly quiet in the bleaching light. The last of the people had driven away. I sat until I couldn’t sit anymore. I took my time walking back to the car, absorbing each prospect as I went.

After I’d let the heat of the oven inside the car dissipate, I drove out along the arching road away from the crater, past the settlers’ cemetery, turning my head or looking in the mirror again and again as the sun, descending towards the horizon, began to touch the colossal volcanic walls with warming browns and red. I stopped the car and got out to see this unimaginably immense sanctuary of rock once more, small now in perspective.

The intimacy of being in its midst, the stillness, remained, even as it appeared to dissolve from earth to ether there in the gathering darkness in the distance.



The Element of Water


There is the water that runs down as melting snow from the high mountains.

Water that carries the flour of rocks ground by the glaciers that lie between mountain peaks that loom even higher–mineral flour ground by the weight of the glacier’s  captured snow, then suspended in the trickling streams that tickle the glacial underbelly as the cold, cold water seeps through the layers of ancient ice. Flowing from everywhere in the ice, pulled by the forces of earth, trickling down across the grey and brown surfaces of granite, dolomite, and gneiss, they feed into one flow.

This growing river’s water is sometimes white with the glacial milk, sometimes green as it dances in the light and begins to roar with the power of all this water, traveling down.

We climb up the trail along such a river which is rushing down the mountain all at one enormous speed, with all energy reaching upward and plunging downward in a tumultuous dance.

The sheer force of it runs through me, obliterating all else with its roaring, soaring endless song.

Then, there on the other side of the plunging, churning water, a slim tree had fallen and was caught between rocks in the river’s bed, stretching out what was once its sun-reaching height to point upriver.

As the water churns past the rocks that grasp it, its tip bobs up and down, its rhythm a complex counterpoint in the music of the water,  part of the symphony that all human symphonies yearn for.

In these waters that are as much air as water, as much fire as air, there are birds called Dippers that fly through the river itself. Although I watch carefully as I walk along the banks, It is only later in my dreams I see it, a small brown and tan bird, plunging into the frothy white and green waves, going upstream, flying with strokes of its wings in the clear depths, catching bugs and popping out again to bob along downstream for a moment.

As we travel higher there is a place where all this tremendous force, this deafening flow, is slowed by a gathering of the debris it has itself carried down the slopes. Behind the debris it pools, resting quietly before it gradually penetrates the barrier and resumes its fall.

The flow has become a lake above this dam, shining an ethereal turquoise as the sunlight strikes the particles of mineral milk, an apparition neither of earth nor sky but of some otherworldly realm. Watching from the shore the lake spreads inside you, reflecting all quietly, expanding to the outer edges of the soul. A bird may fly through this space, calling. If it does, by its nature, it will pierce into the heart of things.

Looking around, the mountains rise into the ether, snow still clinging precariously to their upper reaches.


We walk further along the trail, through the forest of cedars and hemlock, now beginning to turn to pines, birch, and ash along the rock slides in the flats around the lake.

Here water trickles down everywhere, flowing from the melting snow above down to the lake.  We jump over some streams, splash through others. The sound of the water here is as gentle as the music of a softly blown flute, flowing everywhere around us.

On the way back along the lake and down along the trail, the tremendous flow of the river carries me with it, dizzying in its dance, its love of gravity.  Certainly, there is somehow fire mixed in the cascading water–fire and air.  This is why a bird can fly through it.

As we walk, we hear a boom followed a moment later by a flash of light searing a white line through the openings in the dark trees. More of the elemental fire. The predicted storm.

The rain begins to fall sparsely in large drops, some dripping slowly off the leaves of overhanging shrubs. The smell of ozone wafts through the pervasive fragrance of the cedar.

The rain begins in earnest as we stand in a dry spot under a tree and pull our rain jackets out of our packs. There’s a satisfaction in the cool, dry smoothness of them against our still-warm skin as we continue our downhill walk in the rain.

The heat of the day remains as an undertone to all this chilling water, leaving pockets of warmth in the cooling air.

As we walk into the quiet of the lower forest the rain has stopped.  I am empty. There is nothing left but soaring space containing only pervasive and quiet joy.

If it were not so late in the day, I would turn around and climb back again, climb further above the lake. I would stay in the presence of all this water, all this elevation.

It contains its own yearning.