from A Squandered Life / First Spliff '68

US Coast

Somewhere on that coast road, near the state line between Oregon and California, I got a lift from another older hippy guy, in what was clearly a working van, who told me he was a carpenter. He talked quietly about the joys of working with wood and how he hoped to acquire or build a large sailing ship. I asked him how he got into the work and he said it “just happened”. We talked a bit about “careers” and he acknowledged that he probably didn't have one and that I probably didn't need one either. I remember asking him, “But what about when I get old?” and he said, “Well, just don't get old.” He came to a turn off and asked me if I'd like to come up to his place in the hills where he had a few friends and maybe stay a night or two. I thought that sounded like a great idea, and we carried on up the gravel road and into the heavily wooded hills.

It was getting dark and I hadn't seen any lights for a while when some gradually began to appear up ahead. My driver, who had introduced himself as Gerry, passed one set of lights and then pulled into a drive leading down to another set. When he switched off the engine and lights, a wooden house with an illuminated veranda stood before us, framed by the dark forest and the stars above. He led me into the house and introduced me to his beautiful auburn haired wife Joanne and two girls, one, Roxy, a slightly plump teenager a little younger than me, and one, Titch, about eight or nine, who I took to be his daughters. Gerry chatted with them for a while and then said, “We're just gonna go down to Pete's for a while.” He beckoned for me to follow and we went back outside and into the trees along a darkened path but towards the first set of lights we'd seen earlier.

Pete's house was very like Gerry's with an invitingly illuminated veranda and we went in without knocking. Pete was there with a bunch of friends sitting in a circle, in semi-darkness, on the floor. They all said their hi's to Gerry and Gerry introduced me and we joined the circle. I sat next to Pete and tried to pick up on the conversation. It felt a little over my head but they seemed to be talking about local stuff with which I couldn't immediately connect. At one point Gerry mentioned I was a Canadian and they all turned to look at me. “So what do you think of Music From Big Pink?” Pete asked. I hadn't heard of it so I said, “Not a lot really.” “What sort of stuff do you listen to?” “Joan Baez,” I said. There was a pause and then the conversation moved on. Pete turned to me and offered me a lit cigarette and I politely declined. He then began to lean across me and offer it to the next person on my left, and it suddenly clicked. All the conversations with all the lifts I'd had suddenly came to a head – especially the one with the guy who said, “Really, it's just another intoxicant.” I touched Pete's arm in mid-reach and said, “That's not a normal cigarette is it.” He looked back at me and shook his head. He offered it to me again and, when I accepted, said, “Just take a puff and hold it in for a while.” I took a puff and held it for a while. Nothing. The I took another puff and held it for a while. Still nothing. I took a third puff, held it, and passed the non-cigarette on.

As I watched this circle of people in the low light I wondered what, if anything, might happen. Then I wondered if I could find my own way back to my sleeping bag and a bed at Gerry's house in the dark. Then I thought about the dark forest and doubted my navigational capabilities. Besides, my limbs were feeling pretty heavy and I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the trouble. Then I noticed the ebb and flow of the gentle conversation around me. Not it's content, just the sonorousness of it and the way it seemed to come and go like the Pacific waves. Then I noticed how appropriate the soft, indirect lighting was. It cloaked the room and the setting in a magical glow which in some strange way pulsed with hope. Then I noticed that despite having been seated this long, I wasn't uncomfortable. The very heaviness of my limbs kind of bonded with the space I was occupying on the floor. I felt rooted and immoveable. I sensed that I could move but that not to was by far the more logical thing to do. What, after all, would I achieve by moving. I would probably only wish to move again shortly, and that seemed undisciplined, frivolous, unnecessarily restless. No, sitting still, trunk-like, was the responsible way to occupy space. And not just this space. Any space I might find myself in could and should be occupied in this same firm, rooted way. I wondered why this had never occurred to me before. How could I have come this far in my life without realising this? I wondered if the others in the room knew this. Without moving my head (that seemed somehow extravagant) I raised my eyes. These lovely quiet people were still conversing. I still couldn't hear detail, just the sounds, but I noticed how minimalist, in terms of motion, they appeared to be. I wondered if they were conscious of this. Did it come naturally or was it a consequence of living in this magical setting? I wondered about the various settings in my life and whether or not any of them rated as magical. I thought about my family and wondered if they were thinking of me. I thought about Wendy LaTiff and Youngberg and the blonde girls in the convertible. I grieved that I hadn't found or extracted more meaning from those settings, from those people. I wondered if I had ever been still with them. I thought, “I don't think I've ever really been still in my life before.” Without turning my head so much as a millimetre, I noticed Pete and Gerry looking at me. They'd clearly said something but I hadn't a clue what it might have been. They looked at each other, smiled, and then looked back at me. “Do you want to come back up to the house?” said Gerry. “Sure,” I said, without moving a single muscle. To be honest, I was relieved that they didn't seem to be in a hurry. My limbs seemed so rooted that I felt I might lift the floor if I stood up. Pete and Gerry conversed a little longer, then Gerry slowly, magnificently, hauled himself to his feet. Profoundly moved by this, I slowly, perhaps not so magnificently, followed suit. We said goodbye to Pete and his friends and stepped out into the soft dark night. I followed Gerry quietly through the pungent timeless trees, slowly making our way towards the pool of light flowing from his front porch. As we came into the house, I was struck by how bright it was inside – garish almost. Gerry seemed to sense this too and set about dimming some of the lights. We went into his living room and Joanne was in there, on the sofa, sitting erect like an elegant auburn glass vase. Gerry ushered me in and invited me to sit on a raised carpeted platform in the corner. I sat down cross legged, straight backed, and immediately found myself bonding with the space through those heavy limbs of mine. I looked up to see Joanne gazing at me from eyes of glittering lushness. She turned to Gerry. Gerry said, “He's on his first stoner.” From my position of stillness, I must have registered the palpable surprise I felt. They were smiling generously, but I'd completely forgotten about the joint and was simply feeling highly attuned to my rootedness in the present tense. Gerry put on Big Pink and I sailed away into the chords and bars and anguished half-tones of the Band's first album. I now realised I wasn't simply feeling attuned to the present because I could see the music rising and falling like the beams of massive piano keys and reverberating like the strings of a harp the size of the house and could feel my emotions tearing through my chest and helplessly following the other-worldly notes into the upper ionosphere and beyond. I could have been weeping but I was too rooted, too still, too sanctified, too disciplined, too full of wonder at all these sensations I knew I'd had before but which had never had the free rein they now appeared to have.

I don't remember going to sleep. I only remember being rooted to that space on that carpeted platform and gradually becoming aware that I was alone and that daylight was streaming through the windows.


© 2012 Deacon Martin

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