brendan’s wake

after three years of wandering the waters of the whulji, which white ‘settlers’ usually call puget sound, i came ashore in bellingham, washington, with much less baggage, it seemed, than i had had when i started. about 4500 nautical miles had passed under brendan’s keep and trailed behind in his wake.  when we had left, he was packed with gear, which became jetsam along the way. when we beached at post point, brendan had shed his shiny newness and i had shed shirt and shoes and most of my stuff. but there was baggage to be unpacked, some of which i am blaming on james joyce. most of my reading on journey had been james joyce. i actually landed with only one book, an oup leather-bound authorized version of the bible, but i had read ulysses three times, and wandered through finegan’s wake as repetitiously and repeatedly as i had wandered among the straits and islands of northwest washington and southwest canada.

the tides are a river, and i had shared joyce’s ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay’, but bellingham would be my ‘Howth Castle and environs’ to which by ‘a commodius vicus of recirculation back’ i came, there to unpack my baggage.

looking back at that younger, fitter self who set his bare foot on the sandy beach of fairhaven, it seems that bible represented the culture of  my past which i had died on the ocean waves but which like finegan would wake again, perhaps.

the first conscious unpacking of my newer,younger, fitter but unexpectedly commodius baggage would happen in a surprisingly public environ. having decided to stay in bellingham i set out to find nice people my own age. i knew some nice people, but they were all twenty years younger than i, so i visited a methodist church.

indeed at garden street united methodist chuch there were nice people my own age, many of whom remain esteemed friends ten years later. there was a reading group beginning, for advent or something, and it started with the obligatory intros. leader asked me what i had been doing. three years of paddling in the wilderness. what had i learned? oh my. i thought at first it was a difficult question. there had been so much. but not, the answer came quickly, probably from the same reptile brain that had expected to die in a big tidal change off wilson point one sunny august noon: it’s all one.

it’s all one.

such a simple, attractive, concept that has haunted folks from plotinus through frege to einstein. and now it would haunt me. what is this one that had followed me in brendan’s wake?



back to the future

my reaction to awakening in the brave new future predicted by mcluhan was to go back, back to the world as i imagined it to have been  in seventh century northumbria, when the imperialism of roman (now incarnate in the roman catholic church) was just succeeding to impose writing on the previously oral culture of britain. i abandoned cars, chose to live on a small income by american standards, and put my ear to the ground in the new tribalism.

santa fe in 1989 was full of neo-everything. all ancient secrets were revealed, and one could purchase them at the ark bookstore. looking back at that period, it seems the last hurrah of the gutenburg era in my life, when almost daily i would hike around st. john’s college, that great bastion of bookishness that overlooks the city. i read celtic cosmic christic emergic shit, and thought it ambrosia. i danced naked around campfires in the snow with radical faeries, shifted shapes with ravens, and generally relived the magic history of western intellectual man. had art shows. led retreats. met some of the dearest and best friends of my life. lived in a gay spiritual benevolent community called the bad boys. loved it. meant it.

after about six or seven years of such a rich diet i needed more time to digest. i was like a snake who had eaten a huge meal that hadn’t moved through. i went on a prolonged retreat in the ozarks, hiking the headwaters of the white river, a stream i had long considered sacred. for another six years or so i would go back and forth between arkansas and new mexico. when people asked me what i ‘did”. i answered ‘watch sunsets and look for clues’.

rivers flow into the ocean. i followed the white river to the mississippi then made a cheat to the pacific. i had kayaked the rivers of new mexico and arkansas, so felt ready to move onto the face of the deep, like the breath of god. i first tried the warm waters of the atlantic, which begins in charleston, south carolina, at the confluence of the ashley and cooper rivers.  then it was off to the pacific northwest, which may not be kayak heaven but is where the sea kayaking magazines and snobby manufacturers are.

oh. my. god.

for three years i explored the waters of the whulji, with st. brendan the navigator as my guide. like brendan, but in a red pouch e65 instead of a curraugh, i wentto see what was out there.  i was self-powered, and self-sufficient as anyone can be. i kept journals, which i had begun at the beginning of the santa fe period, often with elaborate drawings or collages, with found objects and ‘profound’ observations. i proudly showed friends, who all seemed to have ibooks, my papermate flare, claiming i was entirely wireless. it was a set-up.