Back at my desk, fifty-four degrees and there are high clouds of a storm off shore. The cherry tree in front of my office shows some yellow leaves and a few red ones fallen on the green grass. The fireweed blossoms have gone to white fluff the are carried off by the on shore gusts of wind.
It feels good to be home. I’ve slept long hours in my own bed. I spent a terrible night in a fine hotel in Tacoma after the PNBA book fair. The people were kind and there were readers who remembered me and I enjoyed meeting them but I had to do more “pitching” of the book than I am comfortable or used to. I also had a confrontation with an old friend which troubled me, I had just started taking some medication I had lived without for some time and it was working its way into my system and hadn’t reached its potency… blah blah blah but the result was I was having a bad time where I couldn’t sleep in the middle of an emotional crisis standing in front of a window looking out onto the quiet street of Tacoma Washington, wrapped in a clean hotel sheet. I fell asleep around six o’clock and had some breakfast and took some more pills. Then walked and walked. Tried to solve my problems to no avail.
Sometimes all anyone can do is hang on and just outlast your crisis and hope that it grows smaller in the rearview mirror. One thing I try to do when hitting bottom is to get gifts for other people to try and jump out of my own sick ego. I filled up a bag of books for a friend who was going to pick me up that morning. I knew she was coming from a writers workshop so I found her a black notebook which I thought would suit her. I knew my nephew had lost a book he had liked when his cabin had burned down and I found another copy for him. I found books that I thought other family members would like, and I stuffed them in my already full bag. By the time my ride came around I was feeling better and had a grocery bag full of books that was almost ripping out of the bottom.
My friend picking me up was Ann Randlette who had lived next door when I was six year old, in Woodway Park, Washington. It was an idyllic time and place: big plots of land with old trees and magnificent gardens. Ann was a couple of years younger, her mother Mary, was an artist, a photographer and she exposed me to the northwest coast poets and painters. We slurped our sugary cereal underneath Morris Graves paintings, and when I turned ten years old Mary gave me a volume of “Party At The Zoo” by Theodore Roethke, with Mary’s own portrait of Roethke glued inside. Bob, was Ann’s brother and we were friends and eventually went to the same school. Her brother Peter was impossibly young and cute when I left Woodway to follow my dad’s job to New York City in 1965, or so.
Ann picked me up and we drove to Olympia. Mary lives close by in an assisted living facility. Time has robbed her of most of her memories. Ann has bought Mary’s little house. I looked at all her beautiful artwork and then I fell asleep on her couch. This is the first I had spent any time with her except for her coming to a reading in something like fifty five years, but amazingly we were so comfortable still from knowing each other for so long that soon enough I was snoring like a sawmill on her couch while she checked her email and sorted through the signed books I gave her: an old man… who had once been her playmate, swinging on a rope swing out over a nettle covered ravine… hours on end. Then we went to Peter’s house for dinner where we talked about old, old friends and what had become of them. Peter had been a professor of media studies at Evergreen, his house was homebuilt on four acres of healthy second growth fir trees: fat furrowed trunks with thin underbrush at the base, and milky light filtering through: perfect Northwest light that his mother had loved to photograph. He showed me his mother’s collection of Morris Graves paintings. Some were painted on burlap sacks that Mary got from Morris once when she was visiting and he was just going to throw them away. She asked if she could have them and of course he said “sure”. Peter had just sold two of them to help finance a years worth of his mothers placement in the nursing home.
It was twenty-four hours of intense contrast: a sleepless night of staring down at hard pavement wondering if I should smash the window I could not open and then the reawakening of the beauty in the past. Life is long, even in just a day.
I am happy to be alive today. Tomorrow night I have a reading here in Sitka. It doesn’t matter, really how many people come, I know Jan will be there and Dick Nelson said he would come. Even if he forgets, which is more than likely, he told me he would and that means the world to me and when he forgets it will give me something to tease him about which is almost better. Home, everyone here gets a free pass and they know it. Because I know they have to take me back no matter what condition I’m in when I get here.
Green grass, yellow leaves,
fireweed has turned to fluff
and I still love you.
Ketchikan at the public library on the 14th.
Juneau at the State Library on the 18th
Juneau at the Public Library downtown in the evening of the 19th.
Skagway on the weekend of the 20th and 21st for their bookfestival.
Fairbanks in the Murie Building on the evening of the 27th UAF Contact Northern Studies.