I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. There was never any more inception than there is now, Nor any more youth or age than there is now, And will never be any more perfection than there is now, Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. Urge and urge and urge, Always the procreant urge of the world. Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex, Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life. To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.----------------- Walt Whitman 1819- 1892
Spring has come to Sitka, the sun shines more often and when the rain falls it is warmer and more sporadic. Fruit trees show their blossoms, those that didn't get caught by the freezing rain. Dandelions have begun their seething rush through the lawns and road cuts.
I know I should hate them but I don't. They are the lovely anarchists, the interlopers. I like how they tent up at night and unfold to smile at the sun in daylight.
The herring have spawned more than a month ago and the great flocks of gulls have dispersed. Now the King Salmon are starting to shoal off shore and the with them the salmon fishermen, the charter lodges, the trollers, the line crews in the cold storages begin to arrive. There are two cruise ships are in town disgorging their sleepy, overfed visitors onto the streets to buy their T shirts and trinkets. Pretty girls are arriving in town with every plane, strong young men with every boat.
Someone has convinced the tourists that no trip on a ship is complete without buying a piece of expensive jewelry as a love token for the woman you are traveling with. Romance and travel, overindulge, you may never pass this way again. "Urge and urge and urge the procreant urge of the world" you would have to be numb to the world not to feel it in the air this time of year on the streets of Sitka.
I am preparing for the Northwords Writers Conference in Skagway at the end of the month. I love Skagway, for that town has no shame when it comes to the tourist trade and it comes by it honestly. One of the fun things I get to do at this year besides hang out with Dana Stabenow, and Don Reardon and the magnificent Buckwheat is to have a public conversation with Mary Roach, the science writer who is the author of among other books Bonk, Stiff, Gulp, Spook, and Packing for Mars. I've been cramming for this interview for weeks now. She may be the smartest person I will have ever spoken with in my life. Certainly she is the only person I have ever met who has had intercourse while being photographed in a sonograph machine, which I positive people are going to want to hear about.
"Urge and urge and urge...." I am sixty one years old and because of my persistent unipolar depression and the cocktail of medications I take to keep that in bounds, the old "fire down below" as Bob Seger sang does not burn as hot as it did as when I was eighteen, or when I was thirty, for which I am frankly thankful. I can think a lot more clearly now and I enjoy womens company much more without the fire alarm blaring in my ears constantly. Distracting that.
I do enjoy lovely smart women. This week a colleague of Jan's from Norway by way of Denmark and England named Chris Lockyer stayed with us. She is a renowned expert on the physiology of large Marine Mammals, particularly whales, for nearly forty years she has crawled around in the guts and heads of whales all over the world plucking out eyes and ear bones to examine. Just as Jan is, Chris is extremely lovely, and more importantly quite gracious and good company. She has picked up quite a lot of interesting conversational tidbits in her long life. It is a blessing to sit on a fine, clear evening to drink a soda and listen to beautiful and smart women talk about a subject they are passionate about. This is a different kind of passion that I'm experiencing now that I hadn't expected.
The Urge of the world takes all kinds of forms doesn't it? The herring spawn coming in and the smell of milt in the air. The conversation of a long married couple. Dandelions taking over a lawn. Old friends talking on the phone not wanting to hang up, enjoying each others voice.
And sex, I'm not giving up on sex. I can't wait to talk with Mary Roach about sex and death and digestion. If you have a notion you should come to Northwords and ask her your own questions. My questions might tend to be writerly, or frankly dorky. (Did your publisher pay for the cost of the sonogram or was that covered by your insurance?)
I will continue to write about sex, but I'm awkward at it, at least according to my father. On his death bed, and I swear this is true, he asked me to lean in, he said, "John," I said, "What, Pop?" he said, "You need more sex in your stories." "Don't make it so fancy, get right to the sex."
He died a couple of weeks later when I was back in Sitka, just before the herring spawned on our beach. I think of him now, often... but particularly in the spring, wondering how to put more sex in my stories without making it seem weird... or like I was just doing as a dying mans request.
Eagles on the beach
playing on their broken flutes,
fighting over fish.