Lost in the silence, oppressed by want before the sun rises, I haunt the borders of my heart, sucking my hitchhiker’s thumb, greedy for milk from a substitute mother, hungry to be held. I struggle with ancient luggage, too heavy to carry alone. Strum on the strings of my heart, reassure me of your presence. Wait for my voice in the morning, and I’ll wait for yours at night. Let me speak as if you are with me, sitting poised across the table, able to respond in kind. In the heat of time I blind myself to your mercy. I fold with a full house, go all-in with a ten-four. I drift in a cloud that holds nothing else. Drop me into the ark again. Send me down to my place when somehow I end up at the helm, awakening to the shouts of deckhands, Captain, sir, it’s high time we get moving. You know I don’t know what the hell I am doing. I never learned to read the currents. I need so much help to reach the calm seas and clear skies. I entrust your law to guide this ship through flood and fog. I stand in position on the leeward deck. Now take complete control, and steer this hull to the distant shores of my soul.
Love, kill now my best intentions. Will me into your presence, with gentle guidance or with firm control. Place the bread on my plate and forgive my hesitation, my demand for something else to eat, my rejection of your gift, my abandonment of your tender touch that never abandons me. Grant me the clarity not to avert my eyes from the unrelenting stare of my dying, but rather to widen my heart to include both sides of the balanced scale. Let the events of the day be the daily pill I take to make me well. Help me to hold both the precious dove resting on the olive branch, and the hungry vultures circling the charnel grounds, inside your balanced heart, which cannot grow bitter, which cannot be harmed.
been a prayer
As a bird, when tricked by a mirror image of itself in the sky, will fling its wings against the frame, hindering its inborn ability to fly, so too do the illusions in my vision injure my capacity to soar. My soul falls from its deathless star, and my body crumbles to the hard wet sand. I crawl underneath a parched plant to await the desert of absence, or recover the truth beyond the pall and pale, your miraculous resurrection. Find me here, my battered Lord, and beat your name in my chest like a drum. Find me here, and let me come to the blessed recognition of the Word beyond death, beyond fear.
Stillness, receive me
Here, and hold my fear, my care.
Hear my plea, my prayer.
Pen, write me right here.
Bells, take me from eye to ear.
Dawn, blaze through my fear.
Is it you, the one
whose name rises softly to my lips,
who I am longing for?
You who are absent, while I am here.
If you were here with me, would I find
someone else to long for?
Today rain falls on the ground,
and from within my heart this longing rises,
like a river surging over its banks,
like an eagle soaring above its nest,
like a stone rolling from infinity to infinity.
Rain falls, stones roll, time moves on,
and all but this longing in me is still.
Yet: what am I
but what longs
Your name is like the gentle rhythm of rain,
falling, and my voice keeps speaking it,
though to speak it brings me pain.
Who are you, you who are
absent, whose name rises softly to my lips?
Are you the one I am longing for?
The rain comes down harder now,
not so gentle as before.
It is a day to love or to love
from a distance, which is to long.
No distance is far enough, no closeness is close
enough. There is no safety or rest or comfort
in distance, there is only this longing, this aching
unrest of being apart from, separated by
the river you once crossed to meet her.
A whole multitude of birds part me from sleep this morning. They sing me awake but they cannot sing me to stillness; still, I do love to hear them sing; for a few moments I give myself over to the listening. I do not want the sun to rise but would like Time to stop moving so I can remain in these moments that flee from me as the sun finds its way into my room. When the sun rises the people also rise, and whatever peace I had felt within me will turn to conflict, what clarity I had felt will turn to confusion as surely as the day begins, whatever light in me the darkness had helped to rise will fall again with the rising sun. But perhaps I will have a few moments shortly after the sun has risen when the other light lasts past its usual time. That is all I can ask of the other light this morning. Then I will willingly return to the darkness from whence I either came or willingly walked into one time, having heard that only there is one truly lit.
And who was it I heard that from? Someone who had been lit then burned and then finally cooled? Or someone whose burning slowly grew and was not extinguished? Was it someone at all who told me that? Or did no one itself tell me that?
I can be told nothing by those whose passion, though it does not have to be visible and outward, I can nevertheless clearly see has cooled or whose fire has extinguished completely. Would you believe that I can be told nothing by most people? For instance, would most people tell me to “wait for no one”? No, they would tell me instead to “seek out someone to love, seek out your soul mate, find happiness in love, find satisfaction in work, spend time with others, get out of yourself, pursue your desires and your dreams, live in the moment, do not think of the past or future, sleep well, eat well, work hard, hold on, be free, be still, find comfort and shelter, keep moving, be moderate, let go, dance with pretty young women, talk with wise old women, laugh with women always somewhere from ten to seventeen years older than you, and above all do not wait and allow all opportunities to pass from you. Above all go after what you lack, do not wait for it to come to you.” But I lack no one, and how can I go after that?
Would they harass me to speak before I am ready or would they allow me to be silent until the words arise out of me on their own accord? When finally I find someone who will tell me nothing, then I will be willing to listen. This is why I am waiting for no one. Someone is always telling me something. I have the feeling that only when no one can find me will I be told nothing. I am always listening closely to be told nothing, and that is why I wake up early when only the songbirds are up. They sing of nothing and I listen closely to their song. They tell me nothing and if I could listen to them telling me nothing all day and night as I wait for no one, I feel I would soon be given all the wisdom of the ages, which I would keep within me until the one I wait for, who is now not a one, finds me and in doing so becomes no longer no one but also still not someone.
Still I am not sure if I am even someone at all, and moreover I am not sure if I want to be someone, if in being someone I no longer wait for no one. Actually, I am quite sure I do not want to be someone. “Sure you do,” I hear from those ones who are always telling me something, “Use your talents, go after success, receive the credit due for the work you put in, give people hope, give them a reason to live, inspire them to greatness, inspire them to be someone as well. When people say to you, ‘now you are someone,’ then you will know you are someone. When people say to you, ‘you have given me the freedom to be someone, and who I have become has provided security and certainty in my life,’ then you will know you’ve done what you were put on this earth to do.”
But still I say I was not put on this earth to do anything of the sort; I was not put here to inspire anyone but rather to wait for no one. Certainly I was not put here to provide certainty for someone! If you do not understand that, you are probably someone yourself, hoping to be provided with certainty, which may well be the end of all hope, which I am not certain even exists in the first place. You’re probably always telling me something you’re certain is true. When I say I wait for no one, I am not telling you that. I am telling no one that. Remember that no one is my audience. Remember that I hope (oh yes!), yes I hope that no one reads this and comes to meet me in the place we decided on before it was decided by all those not me that I should become someone—like them. Then I was still no one; now, still not yet myself, I wait here for no one still. I feel like I’ve waited for many years, even when I did not know I was waiting. I have been waiting for no one long before I was told to be someone, and I will wait for no one long after everyone has given up on me, convinced I will never become anyone at all. By all means, I would say to them, go on being someone; I will continue to wait for no one.
I used to think I was waiting for someone. There were women I thought I longed for. Perhaps when she returns, I thought, I will be able to be myself again. She let me be myself, she loved me for the whole of who I was and also for the splits within me. If she returns I can again be the someone I no longer am. But although she brought out the someone in me, when I was with her I was no longer waiting for no one. I would forget about no one in her presence, forgetting also that before my search to be someone began I had been waiting to meet with no one, who was absent; I had been waiting for no one until I was sure I could meet it everywhere.
When I was with her, everything seemed indeed to be all that I had dreamed of and more; it seemed she was the one I had waited for, though she was not at all no one; she was someone, and someone as beautiful and fleeting as the purest snow falling in the night before the desert sun melts it the next morning. If I could not be with her while still waiting for no one, then I could not be with her at all. But it took me some time to understand the longing, time I spent longing for some woman, or other, time I did not yet know what I truly longed for, which I came to understand was for no one, in time. But how I still long!
I had planned on starting from Eugene but there wasn’t a place to sleep. Even the Wal-Mart was not an option. No overnight parking, a sign said. I kept driving west towards the coast. The first town off the 101 was Florence. I parked by the beach and slept in the car, the windows down so I could hear the wind and sea outside.
I woke up as the fog was clearing, changed into a swimsuit and ran up the dunes that separated me from the sea. I jumped into the ocean and got out right away. It was low 50’s in the water and not much warmer outside. I got back into the car. I wasn’t sure if I was going to start biking that day, so I had spent a couple hours trying unsuccessfully to do some writing in the library. When I finally decided to get going, it was almost noon, and the wind had picked up in earnest. It usually started about 10 in the morning. I wanted to bike down to the California state line or up to the Washington state line. Washington was further, and I had a few days, so I headed north.
I parked the car and got my panniers ready in a Fred Myers. I saw signs here that also said No Overnight Parking, but I thought I’d risk it. There wasn’t any better place to park. I was feeling somewhat paranoid. I didn’t know anyone, and I just wanted to get on the road. I didn’t want anyone to pull up and ask me what I was doing or tell me that there was no overnight parking here. Usually, I enjoy the feeling of being a stranger, unknown and passing through, but only when I’m actually passing through. Be in the same place for too long and you might start to get recognized! Better to go unrecognized. Invisibility has always been the most desirable superpower to me. As a traveler, invisibility comes naturally. You blend in on the outside while still remaining unblended on the inside. Actually, often times you don’t blend in on the outside. The weight on the back of my bike would clearly distinguish me as an outsider. Very well, an outsider is usually what I prefer to be.
I quickly threw in some food and clothes in the panniers, not thinking all that much about just what I was throwing in, loaded on the tarp and sleeping pad, checked for a second to see if I had everything, and started pedaling. It was about noon, and I moved slowly for the first few miles, the same way I moved for most of the journey north. I hadn’t reckoned with the wind, which was strong and blowing directly into my face. I would also have to get used to the weight, which was 60 pounds at the least and probably more. Hunter Thompson writes in The Rum Diary, “I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe—a mixture of ignorance and a loose, ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.”
This is how I felt. Instead of despairing over the wind, I felt reckless, adventurous. I was pedaling against a powerful force; the wind was brutal, punishing, unforgiving, and indifferent to all comers. So be it. I would rather make my way against the indifferent wind along the rocky splendor of the Oregon Coast than try to make some legal tender by going up the actively cruel ladder of human production and consumption.
The miles were hard-earned from the get-go. Highway 101 climbs out of Florence before it drops down to Yachats. So I climbed. It took me a long time to get to Yachats, maybe three hours to go the 24 miles, maybe more. I realized in my paranoid rushing in the Fred Myers parking lot, I had forgotten a phone charger. I wanted to keep my phone charged in case I decided to go a different route or to look up things to do in the towns I passed through.
John owned the ramshackle electronic shop in Yachats, cords and wires all over the place. He only took cash. ‘The grocery store gives cash back,’ he told me. ‘You can pick up a snickers.’ I realized that was exactly what I craved, so I went to the grocery store next door, picked up two snickers and an espresso drink. It was a habit I would continue through the four-day trip, during which I ate horribly. Then I went back and talked with John about the wind. That was really the only thing on my mind. The wind has that way about it, clearing the mind of anything else but itself, the force you’re biking into. John told me that the difference in temperature between the coast and the inland was as much as forty degrees this day. It stayed that way into the weekend. 60-65 on the coast, close to 100 inland. Apparently, this difference was the cause of the ferocious wind, my brutal enemy on the way north and my good dear friend on the way south. He said some other things but my mind deemed them too scientific to understand.
I wished him good health (he was just getting over a flu) and then again it was to the road. I had gotten over one mighty hilly section and for a while the terrain was relatively flat. I had passed one woman a few miles before Yachats who looked like she was in utter despair, her head in her hands on the side of the road. I felt like if I stopped it would be a while before I continued, so I didn’t stop and give her the support I couldn’t have given her anyways. Now there were bikers going the other way, with the wind, looking exuberant and light. The opposite of me. They would wave happily at me and I would grimly put up a hand. There were many of them going the other way, but in my days on the road, that one woman in despair was the only one I saw going north against the wind.
I had driven this route the previous December, when I was heading from Alaska, where I had spent the fall with my cousins, to Arizona, where I was going to start college. I remembered staying the night at the Dublin House in Yachats and then getting off the 101 the next morning, driving to Eugene and getting on the I-5. Back then, somewhere north of Florence and south of Lincoln City, somewhere around where I was biking now, I had jumped into the ocean, though both the water and the outside temperature were in the 40’s. I had written this a few weeks afterwards,
“There was a definite feeling, on this December day on the Oregon shore, that I was not an important part of this scene in any way. Whether I or anyone else was here, the sea would remain, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, the waves would crash, the islands of rock and trees would stand. It was a reassuring reminder, the patient indifference of the lively inhuman elements.
In the summer, I’m sure the beach would have swarmed with men and women and children. But today it was empty of people and full of life. I wasn’t distracted by bathers and surfers, and I was able, when I paused for a few moments before I got to the car, to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me—the massive rock islands that stood to the south, the light Irish drizzle that fell from the low grey sky, the seagulls that soared north with the coastal winds. The realization that I was irrelevant to the scene was a simple one, but it freed me from the narrowing self-absorption that comes from driving alone, one of many poor souls detained in cars on the endless road, with only billboards for company, brought me back to the larger open world around me, the sands and trees and sea, including me but not requiring my presence.”
The self-absorption that driving brings does not come as much when biking. Because cycling is a physical struggle, the mind has no time to sink into self-pity or self-absorption. It must be in tune with the body, focused on pushing forward. When the body is not moving, the mind is free to do what it pleases, to be absorbed with itself and unresponsive to the outside world. Biking allows for another type of absorption, an absorption in movement and activity. On the coast, I was able to be present and responsive to the world of rock and sea and sky and trees. I was forced to be present; I could not help but be where I was. If my mind drifted at all, the biking would quickly become more difficult. The body needed the mind in order to persevere. The coastal winds added another element that required even greater presence. To ride north on the Oregon coast in the summer is a long and arduous lesson in patience and acceptance. I had to let go of any idea of myself as strong, as physically powerful. I was no match for the wind. To work with the wind at all I had to go slowly. There was no other way. I had to put my head down and endure the pain without expending unnecessary energy.
I continued on into the night. Each time I wanted to stop for the night, I told myself to keep on for just a few more miles. Who knows why? I simply wanted to keep going.
I was also in a stretch without many places to camp for the night. Newport was fifty miles from Florence and Lincoln City was eighty. Between the two, I don’t remember seeing any places to camp other than RV campgrounds, where tent sites are exorbitant, up to $40 a night. One of my rules of the road is never paying to sleep if I can help it. If I do have to pay, the maximum price I am willing to spend is $6, the price of a tent site in the national forest and state park campgrounds. I was also riding through a busy stretch. This first day on the road was a Thursday but it might just as well have been a weekend day. The highway stayed like this all the way up from Florence to the Washington State line and back again. The noise was at times unbearable for me, and so I put in headphones, diluting my ability to be present. But most of the time, even when I was riding right next to the ocean, I could not hear it or smell it because of the noise and exhaust from the cars. So I listened to Bob Dylan, belting out his Blood on the Tracks album.
“But me I’m still on the road,
Heading for another joint.
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from another point of view
Tangled up in blue”
Or Warren Zevon:
“Gridlock, up ahead
There’s a line of cars as far as I can see
Gridlock, goin’ nowhere
Roll down the window, let me scream”
Finally, past 11, I pulled into a state park in Lincoln City, about eighty miles from where I had started in Florence.