ON HE RODE — Chapter Nineteen

By the time I’m done sliding through loose dirt, detritus, and gravel

(like the shale mountain scree in “Dharma Bums”), I’ve rappelled from

boulder to branch of shifting cliffside, my guitar and beer bag

bouncing along for the ride.

At the bottom is the moist cool sand arcing in granular waves of

stones, pebbles, and grains mimicking their liquid creators. NTURE’S

SAND PAINTINGS the bumper sticker would say, a new player in the TREES

OF MYSTERY and SEA LION CAVES game, a curious rival and unknown

quantity. A bad idea, probably. But if you could convince enough

natural beauty suckers and dolts — school teachers on vacation, maybe?

Yeah, well first you have to get them down here, no small matter,

though passage could be crudely enhanced with a bit of picking and

shoveling. A navigable trail to let’s call it BIG SUR SCULPTING . . .

sculpting what? Sculpting sands? Or just BIG SUR SANDS? Sands? So

what? BIG SUR SURPRISE? Oh, that’ll get ‘em. Everybody loves a

surprise. “Look here. Look how the water has separated these loose

pieces of beach gravel, sorted them according to size, weight, and

texture, and deposited them in long, winding, parallel shoreline bands

in both directions as far as the eye can see! Isn’t that amazing?


“Yes, but surprise, surprise, you’ve got to get all of us old nature

freaks up that cliff we just came down. You got a helicopter?”

Hmm. Back up that cliff, hey? How DO you figure that one? Nobody ever

said this would be easy. Better have a Blitz Weinhard and think it


One time a couple years pre-Hawaii I hitchhiked to Seward, Alaska, out

on the Kenai Peninsula and stayed long enough to get hooked on the

local brew, Old Kenai, which turned out to be brewed by Blitz Weinhard

in Portland, Oregon. By then we knew it was time to move on. My

hitching partner was one Charles R. Barr III. We thought we were

Kerouac and Cassidy, and maybe we were. For a while. Tell you one

thing, if Primo beer ever stops brewing in Honolulu and starts

bringing it in from, say L. A., it loses my custom, bra.

The warm and foamy Blitz tastes so good I have another, after which I

fling a few beach rocks into the water and think about “Five Smooth

Stones,” a novel I never read, a movie I never saw, a title I’ll

always admire.

My trusty old Stella’s steel strings show no sign of rust from the

salt air. Wonder if they ever will? “There iiiiis a houuuse in New

Orleeeenz . . .” I blast the vocal as loud as I can make it, out into

the all-absorbing seaward sky, abandoning all hope of emulating

Demosthenes’ casting of heavy verbal stones into the hungry sea.

And only now I notice I’ve used the words “Seward” and “seaward”

relatively close together, and for some reason dredge up the word

“propinquity,” probably because I am a high school English teacher on

vacation at a famous unnamed beach in sunny California because that’s

what English teachers do, crazy as it sounds — and is — and we all

know it and are made uncomfortable by it. Being in the company of one

who has too many words but not enough of anything else can get

fricking uncomfortable as we all know, but try to imagine actually

becoming one such creature. Scary.

So here I am banging away on a six-stringed instrument I can’t really

play, braying tunelessly into the wind on an isolated beach at the

base of an anonymous cliff at the top of which sits my old car that

badly needs its oil changed. Are my circumstances dire? Or stupid? Or

stupidly dire? Do I sit here and let phantom words carry me even

farther beyond reason and good sense, or shall I pop another brew?

Another Blitz, of course. It’s been a busy day. I’m thirsty.

And suddenly I’m old, really old, bald-headed, ostrich-necked,

scaly-skinned, swollen-kneed, yellow-toed old. I’ve been old like this

for quite a long while and I’ve known it but denied knowing it until

now that I’ve got to climb back up this hill and don’t know if I can

do it because I am so fucking old.

Bullshit. Of course I can do it. Hemingway would do it. Kerouac would

do it. Would Emily Dickinson? Is there a frigate like a book? Could

there be? More English teacher detritus, stuff and nonsense to be

found beside any literary life’s highway. Don Quixote passed here. How

about Don Juan, Byron swimming the Dardanelles? The leg could be a

problem here, but he’d figure it out. And so will I.

Before I start buttoning things up for the climb to end all climbs, I

turn my back to the Pacific Ocean and sit on a log facing a shallow

cavelike depression at the cliff’s base to sing and play a last,

plaintiff “Rising Sun,” wishing I’d brought down my Hohner to take

advantage of the mild echo-chamber effect, wishing deeply that I could

really sing and play. You know, really?

Leaving my empties half-buried in sand to return to sand, I prop my

encased Stella as far ahead and above me as I can reach, then scramble

two-handed for things to hold onto as I hoist myself then Stella in

alternate maneuvers. Having relied on firmly implanted shrubbery on

the way down, I find the same doughty bushes offer secure and

comfortably spaced handholds for most of the way up.

Shirt off, I’m sweating heavily and feeling good, resting within the

full embrace of one of these providential accommodators when a detail

of its foliage becomes very clear to me — tripartite leaves. My “Boy

Scouts Handbook” was quite explicit. Avoid plants with tripartite

leaves named poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. Oops. The

tripartite leaves on this rugged bush befriending me clearly belong to

poison oak.

Talk story

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