A Hearse in the Wyoming Night

hearse cropped

I was 18 and I was in Berkeley California when I got the opportunity to travel halfway across the country in a hearse.

I was a new follower of The Grateful Dead and the hearse idea was symbolic and appropriate. What Deadhead wouldn’t jump on such an opportunity?

The hearse was old – a 1963 Cadillac Hearse – so she needed a mechanic. A good one. Someone who would always be there no matter what happened or where.

Steve hired Bob. Bob was a hardcore Punk Rocker, also from Berkeley, and he knew his way around carburetors, gaskets, filters and everything else required to keep an old car moving. While this seemed like an unlikely pairing it worked rather well. Bob was able to fix every problem that cropped up and, mostly, he had fun doing it.

Many years later I bumped into Bob at a party. He introduced me to a friend of his who kind of sneered and actually said something along the lines of – “You KNOW a hippie chick?!”

Bob was delighted and recounted the tale of the time he rode cross country as a hearse mechanic. His Punk Rocker friend was horrified!

“You did DEAD TOUR?!?! That’s SO lame.”

And I had the very memorable and enjoyable experience of listening in while this hard core Punk told his friend all the reasons why Dead Tour was not at all lame – in fact , it was about one of the coolest things. EVER.

“Dude! The parties! The drugs! The dancing! The CHICKS!”

I’m not so sure his friend was convinced but I loved hearing his perspectives and his glowing endorsement of the way we liked to do things.

Anyway.

It was very late one September night. I was asleep in the back of the hearse with 3 or 5 other hippies and Bob when they world started to sway. When I opened my eyes we were swerving all over the road as I tried to think who was driving – do they have control? What’s going on? The hearse rolled to a stop.

From the front seat – “Bob. Wake up man.”

Grumbles and growls as Bob crawled out from piles of blankets to assess the situation while the rest of us pulled the covers deeper over our heads.

We’d had a blowout and now we had a flat tire. This was Bob’s responsibility and we were all pleased it wasn’t our job as we snuggled down into the blanket warmth, grateful that we didn’t have to get up. It was obviously cold out there.

US night lghts

Mmmmm. Not my problem.

Ah but then. Bob told us we all had to get out while he changed the tire.

Guess we hadn’t thought of that.

It was 2 or 3 am and who knows where the hell we were. None too cheerful about having to crawl out into the cold, we tripped over each other and ourselves and fell into the night.

Shiver.

And look up.

HOLY SHIT!

Yeah, not very eloquent but I think we said it collectively.

We were somewhere in Wyoming along Interstate 80. And we were 50 miles from any town in any direction.

And the STARS!

The STARS!

milky way

So close you could almost reach out and touch them.  Stretching from horizon to horizon and looking like you could take a short hike over to see where they’re standing.

Seriously. Have you ever seen that?

Have you ever seen the Milky Way?

Do you even know what it looks like?

There are not a lot of chances to see it on the East Coast. There’s just too much ground light.

Here, in Vail, AZ, I’m about 20 miles southeast of Tucson and it may well be the darkest sky I’ve seen in decades. The sky is so filled with stars here that Orion – who stands proud and alone in my Connecticut front yard – is almost lost among his celestial companions.

And you know what???

milky way faint

I can see the Milky Way!

I can SEE it!

That slash of brightness across the night sky.

It’s a bit faint here. and it has been so long since I’ve seen it that I had to ask to be sure – IS that the Milky Way?

It’s not the brightest it can be. It’s not what ancient peoples saw when they looked up. It’s still tainted by ground light somewhat.

But you know what – It’s THERE and I can see it!

And if you have never had the pleasure – I implore you – at some point in your life – and the sooner the better – get thine ass somewhere crazy-dark and look!

Seriously Look!

LOOK at the sky!!!!!!!

 milky way apod

(Most Milky Way images from Astronomy Picture of the Day.)

Songlines in Progress

 

I began this journey telling the people around me that I was “going walkabout, ‘cept I’m taking my car.”

At first it just meant, to me, that I was going wandering.

 

Aboriginals in Australia go Walkabout and they follow the songlines. The Songlines have been there ever since the ancestors sang the world into existence during the Dreamtime. I’ve always been one to appreciate a good creation myth thanks to my early fascination with Joseph Campbell. Singing the land into existence? Wow, that’s beautiful. And powerful.

They go Walkabout in order to keep the land alive. (I don’t remember where I copied the following quote from…)

 

            “So important are Songlines to Aborigines that unsung land is dead land, and if a song is forgotten, any land which is no longer sung over, will die. To allow such a thing to occur is the worst possible crime for an Aborigine. To be able to sing a Songline indicates an historically unbroken, intimate knowledge of the land. In short, it marries people to place. This is called ownership.”

 

Traditionally this was done as a sort of coming of age ritual. It is a time of transformation from one stage of life – childhood – to that of adulthood, and responsibility. If they followed the Songlines etched in their entire beings, and etched in the story of the land, they could not get lost in the vast expanse of the Australian Outback. If I pretended to be an expert on the origins of the Walkabout I’d be a liar. (Or I’d be up all night turning myself into one.)

 

Modern day Walkabouts are not rare. Many people do them in an attempt to define the direction of their lives. A Walkabout is a time of solitude and soul searching. Which is exactly what I needed, what I wanted, and what was required for my life this winter. (Who the hell have I become at this age? Am I still who I think I am? And what do I want to do now/next?)

 

So off I go on my Walkabout. It’s nearly two months ago now, that I left. Telling myself I’m following the songlines. MY songlines.

 

There’s something tricky about following the songlines. Most especially because I’m not completely sure what I mean by that. Be it etched in the land, or etched in my own psyche, I just know that there is a path out here. Through this country. For me. And maybe (likely) it’d be a different path at a different time, but right now there is a very specific path. There’s a story. Of the now. And I need to find it and follow it.

I’m trying very hard to do just that.


Sometimes it’s about something to experience or a place to be. Sometimes it’s about someone to meet or a friend to see at just the right time. Sometimes it’s about a particular road to travel.

Sometimes I lose the songlines. Or I think I do.
I struggle at times with exactly where to go and what to do.
There are things and places and people I want to see but what if the songlines don’t go that way?
Some mornings I make up my mind on the direction to go, then I get out on the road and go a completely different way.

 

This happened in Atlanta. I thought, from there, that I was headed to visit my best friend’s parents and then I was going to Birmingham. But then the songlines pulled me north, into Tennessee. I went with it.

 

This happened also when I was in Dallas. I had determined all along to visit Austin on my westward journey. But I stayed in Dallas longer than planned and then the songlines dragged me west to Las Cruces for Xmas Eve. Literally, I woke planning to head for Austin, but got on the road and went west instead of south.

 

Okay.

 

It happened again as I was leaving Las Cruces. I wanted to go to Tucson. I’d been feeling the pull of the Sonoran Desert since before the journey began. But then a friend in Albuquerque was going on vacation and offered me his apartment while he was gone. This sounded ideal. So I forced myself north to Albuquerque, but when I got there I felt it in my whole being – no. no. no. This is wrong. wrong. wrong. I knew I’d veered from my songlines so I had dinner with said friend, brought him to the airport at 5am and high-tailed it to Tucson to reunite with my path.

 

I’m not kidding when I say it’s hard to follow the songlines. The wester I get, the feinter they seem. (Is feinter even a word? Well. I guess it is now.)

I wrote the following a few weeks ago –


“Just now, around noon on January 7th I’ve pulled over in order to type this.
I left Scottsdale yesterday sure that I was headed for San Diego directly. I still think I’m headed there. Just not so directly.
I thought I was headed for Yuma when I left. But no. The songlines steered my car to Blythe. I didn’t know why until I woke this morning. I knew I was headed towards the Salton Sea. And this road!
Oh my! THIS road!
It’s wonderful. Two lanes. 65 mph. I am mostly alone rolling through the desert. At first it zoomed through fields that the great majority of America’s veggies come from this time of year. Then came the small mountains – the road winds through and around them in glorious sweeping curves. And the desert here is lovely.
The road swims through dips. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. So much fun to cruise along. 65 mph. The sun. The sand. The scrub. Me. My car. The land. The day. This country. This lifetime.
And where I’ve just stopped, ahead of me are sand dunes. The Imperial Sand Dune Recreation Area.
Looks like the Sahara.
And I’m gonna start driving again. And I’m gonna pull over somewhere and take a walk in the sand because that is where I am, and that is why I am here.
Yay for songlines!”

 

So a few weeks ago I was clearly still on my songlines. Or at least I felt like I was.

But today. Not so much. (I think.)

I’ve been pondering this the past few days and have come to some conclusions.

 

Northern California and the Northwest really isn’t (aren’t?) part of my songlines this time around. Well. I suppose that’s not completely true, since, here I am.

It’s more of a nostalgia trip up here.

 

I knew this. Knew it before I left.

But I’d spent so much time out here in my younger days. There are so many people I love out here that I haven’t seen in 20 years and more. San Diego was definitely part of the lines. I’d spent two days there when I was 17 and didn’t feel that counted as really having been to San Diego. And I had to go to Riverside and find Tony’s grave. That was a part of the songlines too. But from there it gets a little cloudy.

 

I was lured ever onward by tricks and trails of the heart.

 

I considered not exploring California this time around but there were people I REALLY wanted to see.

So I figured I’d go to Laguna Beach. Either way, I needed a dose of the sunny pacific. There I would stop a few days and think. And consider if I was indeed going north.

 

And since I was this close I simply HAD to go in to LA. Some of my favorite people have four new girls since I saw them last and I want to know who these girls are as people. That’s important to me. Especially since I’m this close. And in LA there are some museums I would love to visit. So I went to LA.

 

One of my best friends in the world recently bought a house in Vallejo. I’d really like to see him and his new house and he really wants me to visit and smile at his choices. So I went to Vallejo. I wanted to.

 

Now. Once I’m in the Bay Area there are so many people to visit. But I’m off the songlines and I know it. I can turn back soon. I’ll just go visit my friends in Novato and have a night at Terrapin Crossroads. I mean. Since I’m this close. I would be silly not to do that much.

 

And there’s a bunch of friends in Santa Rosa. And some of my Oregon people are in Santa Rosa for the weekend too. It would be crazy not to go there for dinner. Especially since I’m this close.

 

Do you see what keeps happening?

 

And those who live in the mountain towns of northern California off 101. It’s only a couple more hours. And how lovely it would be to drive those vistas. I’ll go for dinner and a mini-reunion. It will be fun and I’ll get to see people that I haven’t seen in forever, children that are grown and starting their own families, towns that used to be so familiar to me. I had a wonderful dinner with old friends.

 

As I drove north from Redway, towards the Oregon Coast my mind and heart were stressed – what am I doing? What am I doing? What the hell am I doing?

Why do I just keep moving north? I should get to the border of CA and just turn around and head back south till I can find the songlines again.

Ah!

But that would be crazy – I’m really not so far from Seattle and all the people I love and would love to see in Seattle, Portland, Eugene. Some are very close friends and some are weak connections with a beautiful chance to strengthen relationships. Turn acquaintances into friends. Yes? This kind of thing is what life is all about.

A grade school friend with a creative restaurant. A close high school friend’s ex boyfriend. (Yeah. Follow that thought a minute.)

I want to know these people better. And if I turn around now, I might never get the chance.

And that night, as if he read my mind, I got a text from a friend I met in 1983 and I haven’t seen him in possibly close to 30 years, that said “Come to Portland, Please!”

 

Lured onward still.

 

And I’ve been trying to figure how I can squish everyone in as quickly as possible; see everyone and move on. ASAP.

 

My friend, on the phone the other night, said that I’ve seemed slightly annoyed ever since I left LA. Not that I’ve consciously felt it, but he might be right. There has, perhaps, been some resentment in my soul that I’ve left and/or lost the songlines.

 

And I told one of my favorite people in the world (She’s in Seattle!) that I was feeling squished and rushed and like my dance card was over-full. And she said that if I didn’t have time for her, she understood. But I should tell her where I will be and she’ll drive to see me. “I’ll drive 100 miles for a hug.” She said.

 

Stop.

 

I am on a most fabulous adventure.

And if I’ve veered from the songlines I imagined, so be it.

I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. Songlines or no songlines.

I chose to travel this road so I could visit with people who make my heart smile.

I will not rush this.

I am in no hurry. So what if I take longer to get home. What’s home?

 

So I’ve had to adjust my perspective. I’ve quieted the voices asking “what the hell am I doing?”

I’m visiting.

I’m may not be on the songlines at the moment.  (Or maybe I am?)

Right now it’s not about that.

Perhaps I’m singing this land to make sure it doesn’t die to me. From the quote near the beginning of this post – “any land which is no longer sung over, will die.”

I do not ever wish to forget this northwestern song.

 

It’s about people and relationships and if I think I’m off my path I’m likely wrong.

The thoughts that I am off my path are about me not living in the moment.

 

And that, right there, is the crazy part.

 

Be. Here. Now.

 

Seattle, Portland, Eugene, here I come.

Erté and the hippie

As a hippie in 1986 or 1987…

It was just another long grey day in San Francisco. One in a stretch of many.

We had no where we had to be, no one we had to see. The extent of our responsibilities was to get properly stoned.

We could wander down to the Haight and straggle around with the usual bunch, standing on the corner of Haight and Schrader, or go down to the Panhandle to get stoned. We could go for a walk in the Park. That always made for a nice day.

We’d emerge from 2332A Fulton St’s door, cross the busy street, pass the bus stop and plunge into Golden Gate Park. We’d go straight in for a while then start aiming West. A whole day could be enjoyed walking on paths, lounging in meadows, watching geese and tourists, scrambling on or under or around statues and carvings and bridges, eventually reaching the beach if we’d been industrious in our journeying, or popping out whenever we got tired and hopping a bus back to the house.

But today was too grey and misty for a day in the park.

For a lark we decided to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s where all the locals are expected to take their visitors. We’d go tourist watching, maybe get some Ghirardelli chocolates or perhaps some seafood, depending on how indulgently rich we felt ourselves to be at the moment we looked upon the fried crabs.

We were quite stoned and giggling along taking in the sights when it started to downpour. We ducked into the nearest alcove and saw that it was an art gallery. We fluffed our selves up a bit and decided to play curious tourist as opposed to jaded and wet hippies just trying to get out of the weather. It was an actual quick conversation. Do we go in? We knew we weren’t wanted; stoned, disheveled, wet, happy. It’s raining awfully hard.

“I shall be a tourist.” I said as I swung open the door and strode through.

I think I lost my breath for a moment. It was an striking little space, maybe 1,000 square feet, if that. The overall tone was a tad somber, the walls were rich and luxurious, the flooring silent. Rain streamed down the window adding a flickering quality to the elegant ambiance.

But what took my breath away were the statues. Spaced around the room on pedestals and long tables were sinewy women in retro outfits of high society’s yesteryears or the garb of ancient history. Each stood twelve or 15” high and seemed to shine.

From one to the next I moved, transfixed by the subtle details that brought these images to life. The drape of a gathered garment, the bend of a leg, hint of a shoe. Peacocks and leopard women, sirens and goddesses and one I had to imagine was the Statue of Liberty in her alone time. And some of these sensuous beauties were men! The beaded hairpieces, exotic faces, and the colors so vibrant they seared into my stoned brain.

I had just met Erté and I was awestruck.

Nothing was in that room but myself and thirty or so Erté bronzes.

The rain stopped. My companions we eager to be on our way and likely so too was the proprietor ready to see us leave but I felt like I was dragged out of there, nowhere near ready to leave.

There’s been a tiny hole in my soul ever since.

Lazy luxurious hippie days filled my time in San Francisco and though I told myself often to go back again and look, I never did.

I’ve never since been in a place with a real Erté bronze.

Erte-Chinchilla