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On the Road Without Jack, 2011

While I’m driving back from the coast to 128, my mind (what’s left of it) is in free fall, landing occasionally on fertile ground where the sprinkling of my thoughts take root and, in time-lapse photography, make a story-picture-tale by the time I reach my front gate, thirty minutes later.

This on-the-road unbidden meditation comes upon me frequently.  The drive is on autopilot, the nattering voices of NPR fade; a story I was momentarily interested in recedes.  My mind time travels.  I, who have not much imagination, conjure scenarios, colorful characters, and gripping plots.  These must have been in the back seat all the while and now they emerge and invade while I’m driving; I welcome them.  The known road is a ribbon unfurling.  In a half hour I’ve written in air rivaling the great novelists – Tolstoy, Dickens – where all questions of the universe are explored and solved in less than 380 pages.

This free time yields so many thoughts, ideas, and sketches, sometimes I pull over to write something down, a code word or two that will refresh my memory when I’m home and can write in full.  Often those scribbles on the backs of envelopes or torn pieces of grocery bags I hold to the dashboard seem, at the moment, recorded for all time, but they are less decipherable than any Egyptian glyph later when I attempt translation.

I’m a writer, you see (really, I am, I have a hat that says so!) I write all the time:   grocery lists, letters to friends, random jottings, much like drool, a spot here and a spot there and none of it amounts to much more than a mess.  Then there are the 3:00 a.m. flashes of brilliance where I jolt awake and in the dark, write down a line which I am convinced is of such magnitude that tomorrow, when I release it upon the world, riots of peace and happiness will ensue.  In the morning when I can hardly fathom my cryptic swirls, I greet the new day struggling to remember that great 3:00 a.m. stroke –  vapor.  As with a fragmented dream, it’s gone, lost to what repository, I know not. 

While driving, I frequently have those silent conversations the Self and Mind engage in – definitely uninvited.  Mind brings up many subjects Self does not want to hear.  How is it that great decisions in one’s life are made?  Are they not a compilation of many minute inflections, reflections, and refractions? How do these things happen to us, this life?  What’s it all about, Alfie?

When I moved here full-time twenty years ago (and five part-time before that) I wrote to my friends in the city.  Here I am, I said, in the Land of No – no doorbells, no neighbors within sight or hearing, no noise, no need to lock your car, no mail delivery, no UPS or Fed-Ex delivery either, no curtains, no, no, no.  The complete privacy and quiet were paid for by long drives to town and isolation.  Everything’s a trade-off, a compromise.  Twenty-five years ago it was my time to really be with Nature, to live in the cycle of the seasons, to slow down from the frenetic concrete city pace and walk in the yielding country dirt. 

Now my notes to city folk are more along the lines of Land of No, No More –I’ve had it with tick bites, spider bites, poison oak, chopping kindling, constant dust in summer and mud in winter, never having a clean car, driving an hour or more to shop, having to drive much farther for certain services and on and on.  And no, this isn’t the entire gripe list.

Trouble is, when I fall in love, I mean really, really fall in love, it’s usually a forever thing.  I made a list of pros and cons and the cons won out.  It goes back to that decision-making dynamic, about how one arrives at an important decision – one that changes one’s life, yet again.  

If you’re drawn to the country, go to it.  You will learn there, you can be there.  We should all move towards what we seek.  The City, that seductive place, calls me now.  So here’s how it could shake out – I could move to the city and feel once again strangled, but this time the cast is different.  I’m much older and have grandchildren; I want to be part of their lives.  It’s more immediate – that growing up business – one day they’re in first grade and months later they’re asking for the car keys.  I want to go water those flowers.  I want to laugh more and walk more (even though the ground is not dirt underfoot) and I want to have someone beside me who walks and laughs.  I’m drawn back to the City and I will have something to learn there.  I have never stopped loving it and that love is long.  

My country place gives me the time of my life.  The list of what will wrench my heart to leave is long, longer than the con list against staying.  I cannot easily leave the bower of Nature, the trees who talk and sing and lift their arms in praise of sky; I cannot unlearn the language of ravens, forget the scents of throbbing forests, the perfume of the ocean, or cutting lettuce and eating it twenty minutes later.

I’ll be driving again the hideous 101, but south to north now. Perhaps those constant characters of mind will ride in the trunk this time and emerge as I’m turning onto Hwy. 128.  Will they be strident?  Will they whisper?  There’s really no map on this journey, sometimes the signposts are shrouded in fogs of memory, a miasma  – the jumble of years, solitude and silence, uproarious laughter and forgetting – twenty-five year, no regrets.  Balzac said solitude is fine, but sometimes you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.

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