The Charm of Making | Field notes from the Pacific coast

This is a series of posts I started in late May and plan to continue for 40 days, with a goal of hitting 50,000 words by July 5 (#34 post). It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I’m writing each post live, pulling in stories I’ve drafted before or I’m writing for the first time, for this project. You can come and go (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is really the end.

By the end of the summer I was running out of time. I had to get a job, it was coming on two years. I’d probably gotten depressed, to where I didn’t realize it, started ‘drifting out.’ Brad was hiking a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from the Canadian border down to Snoqualmie Pass. We made plans to meet in a parking lot by the trailhead. I left home early, still dark, texted Brad from a Starbucks then got on the Mountain Highway loop east through the town of Oso, where they had the mudslide one year, a Saturday, when everyone was home. I hadn’t seen the devastation; there were still guys in fluorescent vests working on it, the hazardous area taped off, and with the fog it all looked ominous, where the earth cleft off and with it all those people and homes, made playthings by Mother Nature.

And past Oso to Darrington, the town where I stayed that summer for a couple weeks doing salmon research with two scientists, tromping through rivers with expensive, heavy, government gear. A group of about a dozen of us volunteers from all parts, we got the list of names before we met, and one was a girl named Sinead O’Connor, from Dublin. I had to wonder if it was the same one, and thought how queer, to be doing salmon research with her—but of course it wasn’t, and when we met, I said I’m sure you get that all the time: people thinking you’re someone famous.

I made friends with one of the scientists Correigh Greene, and though it was 2002, I still remembered his colleague’s name Peter 15 years later when I met a guy who knew Peter at a campground, a bible study group of a dozen guys who asked if they could share the area I was using with my two girls, and I said OK, they looked safe. One of them before we left asked what I did for work and I told him I was between jobs and he asked, would you mind if I said a prayer?—and he closed his eyes and smiled, addressed god, and I thanked him. He gave me his card.

Maybe it worked, because soon afterwards it was time for the kids to start school again and we were at an orientation thing with all the other parents, and Dawn saw her friend Deanna who works at Microsoft, and Deanna needed someone fast for a contract job, was Dawn available? They met to talk about it later, and Dawn said I might be better for it—and on that first day Deanna escorted me in from the lobby, introduced me to her colleagues, they were French and German— and I said I’ve lived in both of your countries, and it felt strangely familiar to Starbucks, the cubes and private meeting rooms, but I always felt good walking out to my car, no matter how familiar it seemed.

Before leaving town to meet Brad to hike the PCT Dawn let me know there was a lump in her breast they wanted to test and she hadn’t told me because she was scared, didn’t want to talk about it, but would get the results while I was gone, and without cell service I wouldn’t know until the hike was over the outcome.

We sat on the hammock by our sports court considering it, how fast things can turn like that. Then all you have is hope to hold onto.

Driving out to meet Brad the sun came up, and the late summer sky east of the Cascades was that indigo-blue, radiant. And the mountains with the morning sun, pink-gold. I bought a Grateful Dead CD for the drive, but all the songs were about death. “Death don’t have no mercy,” death-this, death-that. I worried about Dawn, reconsidered doing the hike, but we decided I should still go. Somehow not feeding into the fear of a bad outcome prevented it from happening.

And there was no real direness about the Dead I got. I’d read somewhere they got the name from an English folk ballad: stories about the dead who returned as ghosts to complete unfinished business on earth (and those who got their work done were ‘grateful’). That was me in the dreams I was climbing the stairs at my old job trying to get in, but couldn’t.

When the hike was through and I got service I pulled off to text Dawn and she was OK, no problem. Brad was carrying on further south, had the last of his brother’s ashes he was going to spread near Glacier Peak, have his last cigarette. (He confided in me it really wasn’t going to be his last cigarette, he’d made arrangements for more, with his next cache of supplies.)

I wanted to believe in god, and sometimes did, but the times I did were likely a matter of convenience. They weren’t the everyday Sundays for real Christians, the kind of daily worship. I wanted to think my god was my god, no translation needed. And I felt that in the early morning walks to the lake by our house when it was just me and the rabbits, some crows: small things that were all there for the taking, if you noticed. How the moss plumped up in a crack on the sidewalk, how you see things, how it makes you feel.

I was coming on five years of steady, daily writing through my blog that started one Christmas we went to Germany, for two weeks: if you believe in the idea of rebirth (either in a religious sense or otherwise), that was the time for me.

My job had gotten me down by then, not only from the work itself and my incompatibility with it, but for the fact I didn’t have the energy to write. I might have had the physical energy, but there was no feeling or creativity in me anymore. I resigned to forcing myself to write in the mornings every day before I went to work, and slowly connected with other writers and friends, and it became this daily act of make believe, to prop myself up.

That first morning in Germany, mid-December, I was jet lagged and woke around 3, drank coffee by candlelight and wrote, then left my mom’s house in the dark to walk up the vineyards into the valley and forest, as the morning light was finally coming on.

And to be back in Europe again, all the stimulation of foreign smells and sights, it reopened my senses: and the sound of the train coming into the village station, the dry squeal of the brakes, and the echo through the tunnel in its wake…I felt alive again, my senses reborn, and all of it, to write and just celebrate life.

That was the trip we drove to France for a night right before Christmas, and all the kids were drinking champagne: Laurent’s two girls, our two girls: I think the only one who wasn’t was the boy, he was still in diapers.

And I just wanted to write about it all, the wonder of it. I didn’t care for pictures, they never turned out as well. I thought I could make it better, how I told it. You never can but it’s still worth trying.

I was coming down to the end of my 40 day writing challenge to myself. Dawn teased me: “40 days, sounds biblical!” Maybe at last I’d washed out the bad feelings from leaving my last job, some peace I had to make with it, like to prove I really was someone I imagined (a writer) by finally writing about those years, how we evolve through a series of scenes and people criss-crossing, but still follow central themes that run right beneath our feet. How odd, we dream in metaphor: like, that’s how we really think at our base level.

And walking back from the lake with the rabbits and crows, I remembered the dream I had last night as I stopped to take off my sandals: a figure stuck on the edge of a rock face with a waterfall going over him. The water was green and the rock-face slick, brown granite: that guy was trapped there, doomed.

But then I felt my hand, my middle finger on a hold, a little ledge: and I swung myself down to another hold, and I hopped off to the side and looked back up, and realized I was that figure, but knew how to climb, I believed.





Categories: death, identity, Memoir, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Your 40 days, is my novel right now. I have something to prove to myself. When I worry that my writing has become too self-referential, I read one of your posts and see how it is done well and keeps my attention, and then I worry a little less.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Especially like the paragraph where you describe being back in Europe and how that jogged your senses alive…very nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Super way to end, realizing you can climb. Hidden skills. Or forgotten ones.

    Hope you guys have an excellent holiday up there. Fireworks are illegal here because we’re in a flippin’ tinderbox, but there’s always hoisting a few brews to make up for it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cool. Thanks Kevin for the inspiration on all this, truly…almost done. “Done-done.” And hope the heat abates and no bad luck with the dumb-asses for y’all down there. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautifully done as usual. Here you describe perfectly where I’m at:

    “My job had gotten me down by then, not only from the work itself and my incompatibility with it, but for the fact I didn’t have the energy to write. I might have had the physical energy, but there was no feeling or creativity in me anymore. I resigned to forcing myself to write in the mornings every day before I went to work, and slowly connected with other writers and friends, and it became this daily act of make believe, to prop myself up.”

    I saw Marc Cohn perform a couple of months ago. He said that whenever he is struggling with his songwriting, he goes to a place he’s never been before. It’s how he came up with his biggest hit … Walking in Memphis. I feel like I need to do that … or what you describe here. Just force myself to do it. Every single blasted day, write … work on my fiction. Pick one of the stories, or start something new and just write.

    It’s time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know this will sound contrived, but I did write that section with a few people like you in mind, who read my blog. I was actually hoping it would land with you that way and who knows, serve as motivation? Do it. Only one shot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I start every day trying to motivate myself to do a few things every day. One is to stop drinking. Today is day four of my latest effort there. Another is to start writing again. I’m still waiting for day one of that.

        Your writing and your “contrived” nudge in this post are motivational. I need to convince myself to take the leap off the high dive again. The last time I did it completely blind and the splash was incredible and the ripples lasted for about 8 or 9 years. I think the problem now is that my eyes are open which makes it much harder. Time to close my eyes again and just …. JUMP!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. i think it’s a toss up between the old familiar and the new unknown that seem to trigger my writing. for different reasons, the old, for a level of comfort, a trigger of memory, and the new, for a different perspective, a coming alive in a new way of sorts. when you combine both, as you have, it is powerful, bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah that’s a good observation Beth, I like it. I’m liking the word combine and recombine today for some reason. Thanks for that. Have a happy day! Bill


  6. Bill, what a perfect piece. Weaving the big themes, life, death, belief, in and out of the everyday bits of your life. Wrapping it up so deftly with those last two paragraphs. Nice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Ilona, was so nice to hear from you last night…thanks for this killer set of comments. I had a friend over with his son from Portland, time is hard you know. With all this, but thanks for the compliments, especially the Virginia Woolf reference…totally cool. I should have a look at her. Looking forward to reading again, here soon. Almost done with this project now, it ends tomorrow! And then I’m taking a break, looking forward to that. Hope you’re well, and happy you’re still reading my posts! Thank you for letting me know. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Engaging interesting piece and great comments. Very satisfying.
    The change of locale thing is fascinating. When I wrote poetry (20 – 40) it mostly happened when I was travelling. Didn’t make the poems any better, but, still, interesting.


  8. PS. Nice piece of synchronicity with the Grateful Dead and their name. (Was that this one or the last? I’m in the middle of a lightsabre-binge!). Pulled out that story for a re-visit of their first album as part of the 1967 series at VC.


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