Monday, June 16, 2003

The End(s) of the Road

This is the final post from my travelogue of old. I must admit, it wanders as much as J. and I did during those six days on the road.

* * * * * * *

Day Six

Washington -- the Evergreen State, or so says the welcome sign. Emerging from the hills of northern Idaho, just having basked in the lustre of the Coeur D'Alene Lake, if you'd never been here before you just might be fooled. Spokane is surprisingly green, for a major city anyway, but photosynthesis is definitely not the signature of the land due west. Gone are the mountains, the grass and trees; instead there is, by now this is becoming the cliché of the trip, nothing at all. Though it was the middle of summer, I thought about a certain Snow Man:

And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

And we wonder why we still listen to poets . . .

Things began to change a bit around the base of the Cascade Mountains. Around here the Columbia River basin provided such fertile land that white settlers removed the Wanapum Indian tribe that had called it home for generations, gradually at first but with climactic vigour in 1943, when the U.S. army decided it wanted to use the site as a production ground for the atomic bomb. Because they were peaceful and never actually fought the settlers -- this is almost too sad to believe! -- the Wanapums were never asked to sign a formal treaty with the U.S. government; as a result, the 'concessions' were, and continue to be, very few.

Now I don't know how much I owe my Uncle
But I suspect it's more than I can pay
He's asking me sign a three-year contract
I guess I'll catch the first bus out today.

So I'm heading for the nearest foreign border
Vancouver may be just my kind of town
'Cause they don't need the kind of law & order
That tends to keep a good man underground.

Thanks, Gram.

Passage through the Cascade Mountains is nothing short of metamorphic. It is as if all the chlorophyll absent in the eastern part of this only ostensibly seared state was somehow siphoned here. Our quick, verdant ascent proved a bit more precarious than I would've liked because of the rain. Man, did it rain -- I swear, there was no more sky. In fact, we were the sky for the rest of Washington, as the low-laying clouds wrapped around us at about 4,000 feet and flooded us with its floodwater deluge. Add to all this several cars racing by us at 75 and 80 mph and you'd find J. and me praying the sorts of pious prayers we only reserve for threatening moments like calls home and plane rides. What's that, Bob?

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways,
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

The end of a long trip is sort of bittersweet, don't you think? Kind of like a kiss from a girl who just told you she just wanted to be friends. With this in mind, J. and I were very tired, somewhat cranky, pretty happy to see that Seattle was only 30 miles away, and unspeakably sad to see our trip so close to coming to an end. J. even joked that we could still drive back to Cincinnati, and I think he was referring to more than just his apprehension about starting his new job and life on the other side of the country. There is freedom -- a joy! -- in travelling that is unmatched. When you don't know for sure where you'll be in two hours, two days, or maybe even two weeks; where you don't know a soul, and yet, for better or worse, they don't know you either. You can be who you want to be, when you want to be, as you want to be. Travelling isn't just about the elusive search for 'singularity', which I remember reading once somewhere in a psychoanalytic textbook. No, where you're on the move, with an aimless aim, a ramble . . . a stroll, life takes on a transitory nature that I yearn for [ed. I still do.] -- a Sartrean momentary existence, if you will, that seeks 'to be' and nothing more, for that's all there is -- there is no 'not to be', and thus, Hamlet notwithstanding, hardly even a question. Where there is no pretence of whom I ought to be, where I ought to be (or going), and even less of whom or where I once was. A simple point that travelling reminds me of: we are only where we are, who we are -- indeed, where and who we are going to be -- now.

The dry eucalyptus seeks god in the rainy cloud.
Professor Eucalyptus of New Haven seeks him
In New Haven with an eye that does not look

Beyond the object. He sits in his room, beside
The window, close to the ramshankle spout in which
The rain falls with a ramshankle sound. He seeks

God in the object itself, without much choice.
It is a choice of the commodious adjective
For what he sees, it comes in the end to that:

The description that makes it divinity, still speech
As it touches the point of reverberation -- not grim
Reality but reality grimly seen

And spoken in paradisal parlance new
And in any case never grim, the human grim
That is part of the indifference of the eye

Indifferent to what it sees. The tink-tank
Of the rain in the spout is not a substitute.
It is of the essence not yet well-perceived. (W. Stevens, 'An Ordinary Evening in New Haven' [XIV])

So, yeah, we're here: Seattle, Washington. Only now do I realise my trip's two deepest regrets -- (1) That the trip wasn't nearly long enough, and (2) that I didn't tell J. enough through the years how good a friend he's been. One of the classic platitudes that I hear too often is that every ending is just another beginning. This seems very wrong to me. What if beginnings and endings are only for people who don't know, or who can't accept, where they are now and only now, realizing that each 'now' is not necessarily leading to anything or anywhere, that it is Indifferent? I am always at my destination if I recognize this. What of hope, one might ask. Hope is not just wishful thinking that things will turn out; rather, to be hope it must be a present reality, that is, a 'nowness' that is life in harmony with that for which is hoped. If one hopes for eternal life, an eternal moment, as it were, one should live the present moment in a way that is confluent with that hope. Why need life and hope be separated at all? More to the point right now, if I hope to be a good friend, and I should think there is little else to do with one's life, should I not now live as I believe a friend ought? Is there room for regret; or is that all there is?

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous,

Within its vital boundary in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one . . .
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough. (W. Stevens, 'Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour')

Somehow, even whilst sitting alone on an empty plane over the middle of America I just spent a week traversing, neither journeys nor friendship are ever 'ended'. Closure is for wimps -- endings for the movies. I am always travelling -- 'now' cannot stand still. Life is, and nothing more. And that is all it truly need be.