Over the hills where the spirits fly | Field notes from the Pacific coast

Breaking camp at Mosquito Creek, dawn (May 2017)

It’s almost over, second-to-last post! This is a series I started in late May and have published daily for 36 days now. 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.

On the Washington peninsula it’s a bunch of no-name towns on the way to Aberdeen, towns like Elma and Oakville, Forks, Montesano…everything thins out, slows down, and it’s like clockwork once you get to Kalaloch, the fog kicks in, bleaches the trees and highways to gray and green, Scotch broom yellow. I was nodding off, caught myself at the wheel twice slipping out. Felt dangerous, was dangerous. I put the music up, just had to hang on another half an hour to Aberdeen, the Starbucks or a gas station where I could get some caffeine. I liked book-ending things. Finish the trip the same place I started, at the Starbucks. I’d changed from my work clothes in the bathroom and reemerged in my shorts and sandals and no one noticed. I’d been gone just three days, but like Loren says, it’s like I stepped out of time, outsmarted it. I’d gone out to clear my head from this Chris Cornell thing. No idea why that affected me the way it did, I didn’t even like him that much, didn’t listen to his music. Felt like I needed to play some tribute to him though, to make something positive in response to that.

I had my journal out at the Kalaloch and ordered my meal, sipped my beer. Cleaned up OK in the rest room, the blood on my palm from the blisters stuck around my wedding ring, all the mud on my legs, my face and my lips sun burned orange. I looked like hell but felt great, felt alive and young, strong. Coming off the bluff to the rock scramble down the rope ladder, a couple waiting for me below and me feeling proud and buff how I took each step with such confidence and at the bottom gave them a cool “what’s up” nod, didn’t even say much, hiked on. Alone for two days, just the Belgian girl by my camp, sitting by the fire with my back to her tent thinking how strange, here I am right next to this person I’ll never know and leave in the morning without even saying goodbye. Separated by this thin, rainfly mesh. All of us in separate rooms like that, together and alone.

And going through my notes from all I wrote on Friday, turning like a chicken on a rotisserie on the beach with no shade, in and out of the cold river, the sea, my nutsack like a walnut shell I had to make sure it was still there, worried it might fall off if I touched it. Coming in and out of the water with my crooked staff on my back, “Jesus Christ Pose.” Doing dramatic yoga twists, push-ups on a log, inverted, snorting, snot rockets, canned beer in a makeshift dam I built by the river to keep it cold and make sure it didn’t float away, protect it like a dog, my buried bone.

That dry whistle sound the eagle makes when it perches somewhere new, they all did that, to report their position to the rest. The crows did the same by our house when they flew in, they announced themselves, and it’s never a pretty sound with crows, they only have one setting.

I’d be going to see my hair stylist Donnie in a week and could tell him about my time here, how I’d started this writing project, was really going to finish it this time, could ask about his memoir: he’d been writing it a couple years now but was struggling, growing up in Alaska with bush pilots for parents on the flanks of Denali, all he did in his 50 some years. How hard it was to get your hands around that, to fit it into a small space. The fact that truth isn’t often the answer: some analogy to metal work, to heating it up, bending it. How you could tell still if it was truthful or not. How badly we needed the truth, we respond to it in our hearts. How the truth maybe lies in a moment and transforms, changes, doesn’t photograph well. It’s those stolen moments that do: the Doisneau photograph everyone had in their dorms in the late ’80s, that black and white shot of a couple kissing on some crowded street. You could catch it in your hands but had to make sure you didn’t squeeze too hard.

And there was the town of Elma I noted coming out, “Entering Elma.” That was the first chapter in my book, now. It was a name I never would have remembered, a nothing town. Somewhere in between other destinations. We stopped there and Loren parked his car the last time I saw him before we moved to Europe that summer. He could take a better route from there back to Portland south, save him the trouble of extra distance by taking two cars and leaving his there on the street, in Elma. It was an inconsequential scene. But I remembered it, driving out. It mattered again, something about saying goodbye, waving our arms out the car windows, realizing we wouldn’t see each other for another year, honking. He made me a packet of CDs with illustrations and all the songs handwritten, cursive. Road trip music for the UK: moody, autumnal tracks. Perfect for Scotland, like he was with us in the car, then. Knowing I think in saying goodbye the next time we saw each other we’d be different, there’d be all this in between us we had to share to catch up. That it was necessary, to change. Necessary, but harder than we expected.

I bought a can of Red Bull at the gas station in Aberdeen, my first one, 40 ounces: the cashier tried to talk me down to a smaller size but I told him I was having trouble keeping awake. By the time I got to Olympia I was doing 80/90 in my piece of shit Volvo, cat and mouse games with an Acura, two Jeeps. All the windows down, the sun roof open, making great time.

They played a song by The Strokes from 2001, I knew it was then because they had to delay the record release after 9/11, the last song was called “New York City Cops” and wasn’t nice (what they said about cops), and planned for release in September but then the label made them redo it, to take that song off. We’d gone to see them in August at the Crocodile and it was hot, sold out, the record wasn’t even out yet but they were crazy popular. The record leaked on the internet and I knew it inside-out. The singer took his mic stand and smashed the track lighting above the stage, killed the lights, everything went dark, and I thought thank god, this is punk rock, how badly I needed that.

And I remembered a woman Bonnie Kupcha from a warehouse where I temped, wrote about her on the beach, what she said to me one time: I was always saying how fast the weeks flew by when we got to Friday, was so glad it did, didn’t care: and she said yes Bill, but that’s your life flying by! And I didn’t care about that line of thinking at all. I had more life than I knew what to do with, then. I was 27, moving to France. Didn’t have plans after that, a one-way ticket. When I told Bonnie I was leaving, her eyes opened wide. She was older than me, Mr. Magoo eyes, but they bugged out when I told her that. And she said she always wanted to go there, to enjoy it. To really savor the moment, the same thing they always say for your wedding or if you’re having a baby, to just enjoy it, to be present.

And I wrote about what it means to be young, the difference between old age and youth, how these things are relative, how you see the world, your attitude. And if there’s an elixir to feeling young for me, it’s the band Led Zeppelin. They’re what you call timeless.

Categories: Memoir, music, writing

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

9 replies

  1. yes, spirits certainly don’t fall into an old or young category, they transcend time, and music is one of the ways we feel that )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure we are so good at just enjoying the moment and being present when we are a certain age. I think when we are young, teenagers and twenty somethings, yes, it’s all just right now, but it’s get’s harder after that. Our responsibilities become magnified and our attention is always on what we need to do and when. As I get older now, I find myself stopping short in the middle of something to just pause and be in the moment. I do it on the beach, in the woods, or the garden. I did it in Italy, very much on purpose, like when the bells would ring in some little hill town. Sublime moments deserve our attention. Thanks for sharing yours with us Bill!

    Liked by 1 person

    • For whatever strange/awesome reason whenever I get s comment from you it flashes me back to Langley, I think because I posted your “Anthony’s navel” post while we were there. Weird, but I like the association. When were you in Italy last?


      • I’ve never been to Langley, but I bet it’s beautiful. I must see it some day. That is a nice thing to be associated with! I was in Italy just once, a two week trip in Oct 2105. I have an opportunity to go back in 2018 and see the north. I hope I can do it. I fell hard for it–all the art, architecture, food, wine–and the whole European vibe. SIGH.


  3. Just spun side two of IV in your honour.

    Liked by 1 person

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