Ticket To Ride, Book 2, Chapter 25: This is a holy place but not a “holy” place…

news_PMBT_BuddhaTogether, they traveled into the mountains north of Los Angeles in search of a Buddhist temple. There, they didn’t feel particularly welcome, or even otherwise enthused. A female monk greeted them from a distance as they approached the temple. The temple itself was actually a double-wide mobile home sitting on a lot with random stones strewn around and plants that looked like they hadn’t seen rain in years.

“This isn’t what I was expecting,” said Morgan.

“Me neither,” replied Livy.

The female monk came closer.

“Can I help you,” she asked in a rigid and icy tone.

“Um, can we look around?” asked Morgan.

“What is it that you want?” she asked coldly.

“Just to look around I guess,” replied Morgan.

Morgan and Livy took a few steps away from the monk and as they stepped away a large dog began to bark at them.

“This isn’t at all what I was hoping for.” said Livy.

“Why don’t we just split?” Morgan replied.

Livy nodded in agreement.

“We’re just going to take off,” Morgan said, trying to speak over the noise of the barking dog.

“Suit yourself,” the woman replied.

The two began to walk away.

“D’ya think this is the American version of buddhism?” Livy asked.

“Kind of like the American version of beer.”

“Exactly,” replied Livy.

On the way back over the mountains and heading toward the sea they saw a bend in the river, far below the road. The bend was almost a corner and there, at the base of a rocky cliff on the far side of the water, were two large, chiseled, boulders with pines, sycamores and oak trees rising above them and forming a triangle. Between the boulders sat a smaller stone and two mulberry trees that appeared as twin preachers. Behind the boulders, a very old live oak rose up twice their height and seemed a fitting replacement for the crucifix.

Morgan said it looked like a natural cathedral and how like Notre Dame it was.

“The earth made these things first and man was just a copy cat. Nothing new under the sun,” thought Livy, “but how lovely it is that nature is always first. “Things changed,” she said out loud now, “from the moment people began to congregate in villages. It was all here for us and we lost our way and’ve only created artificial replacements. That tree has a lot to say, more than any one can.”

Sitting by the river Livy thought how the trip to the Buddhist temple wasn’t all for naught. That they had gone there and not felt invited or welcome or drawn to it had just led them here, to this place which must have a name, but a place they would not give a name nor seek to find a name for from the people who would know these things. Names limit the energy and power of things, waterfalls are so much more than waterfalls. This place would just be the place they went to after the temple and they’d feel what it was and know that this place was where they both decided not to look further into organized religions.

“This is a holy place but not a “holy” place.”

“I know what you mean.”

Morgan had his beliefs in the power of the sea and Livy felt drawn to the forest. There’s power in these things, she thought, though they’re not seen. Just being in and around these things fed the inner life the way others are fed by the Sunday sermon. As she was thinking these things Morgan recited one of his songs to her:

 

“I don’t believe in idolatry,

I’m hindered by false prophecy,

and I don’t believe that God hangs out in a church.

My religion is not your decision,

my religion has no division,

mine is of you and you and you and me.

holy wars and mission plagues are what its brought to be

offer plunder

offer warfare

offer naught to me.

It’s of the openness of oceans

and of seas

of walking together

alone

of loving with ease

of the the wind in the mountains

of flesh, stone and bone

of thoughts without fear.

and in the seeds we’ve sown.

rejoicing in a union

or

just looking to the sky

embracing the land and oceans

answering

the “why.”

This is not a religion

in the modern sense at all

but have we gained by being modern

or following

a modern call?”

 

Livy felt warm everywhere and saw something rising in Morgan. He extended a hand toward her and she responded with a simple “yes,” and then they made love by the river.

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Ticket To Ride, Book 2, Chapter 20: Hold the best of him and don’t be false…

East Finchley SignTwenty

Livy’s mind slipped back to that December day in 1967. She and Trudy were back from Blackfriar’s Bridge and her mother had put together a small surprise party for her birthday.

“Happy Birthday love,” she says.

“Oh thank you so much mum, Livy replies, “is this all for me?”

There’s a birthday cake with waxy numbers in the shape of 10. Beside it is a box the size of a typewriter and a smaller box the size of a pencil  or pen holder.

“I can guess what those are, “ says Livy as her father walks into the room noticeably drunk.

“A fools paradise is all that bloody is. You’re just a stupid little girl.”

Livy looks to her mother for redemption or at least a kind word in her defense. Say something mum, she thinks.

“And you the bloody blind leading the blind, you daft cow.”

Her mother says nothing. Can’t say anything. The repercussions would be more than she could bear. She’s broken, and can’t be mended.

Oh mum, Livy thinks, if only he weren’t here, how wonderful it could have been.

“What about Trudy?”

“Forget it Livy,” her father says and takes the typewriter to the rubbish bin.

 

10218780_1Present Day (1979)

East Finchley, council flat, mum. Brick, grey skies, orange flowered, threadbare couch and that God awful painting of the toreador. Three years and I’m back.

“Livy I miss your father,” said Livy’s mother.

“He was a bastard  mum.”

“Please don’t say that Liv.”

“He was.”

“Drop your sulky teenage attitude for a minute.”

“There you go mum, let me have it.”

“Hmm?”

You’re sticking up for yourself.”

“Oh, I guess I am.”

“I’m so much more grown up when I’m not here.”

“Try to be that for me now.”

“I’m sorry mum, it’s just that I don’t have much good that I remember. He was a drunk and so damn angry all the time.”

“I wish you knew how wonderful he could be. It’s just that he got old too young. And well, when you came, he didn’t know how to be a father and felt inept. He wasn’t good at little girls.”

“Are you saying if I was a boy…”

“I’m not saying anything of the sort. It’s just that he’d closed himself off to me and you represented a challenge he couldn’t face. Your grown now and I want you to know that neither of us would have had you any other way, but he was closed. He tried but he was closed.”

“But you went away with him.”

“Livy I…”

“Let me speak this time mum. The valium, the naps, the wine, you let him take you with him and I was alone most of the time.”

“I remember you loved books.”

“Books were all I had, and Trudy.”

“But whether you remember or not, your father spent a lot of time reading to you when you were a child. He gave you that love.”

“I wanted love not books.”

“Don’t be disrespectful.”

“Children want love mum. Little girls want to love their daddies as much as their mommies. I’ve stayed away from men because he was what I thought they were.”

Livy’s mother began to cry.

“I’m sorry love,” she said to Livy.

“It’s ok mum. I’m ok. I just don’t want you to slip into some phony soft reverie of him. He hit you mum.”

“That’s enough now Livy.”

She began to cry harder and moved toward Livy and they hugged. Livy became the mother.

“I love you mum and I don’t want you to cry,” Livy said.

“So stop now lovey.”

“Just be ok without him mum. Hold the best of him and don’t be false.”

Livy reached into her pocket and pulled out a poem.

“Here mum. I just wrote this. It’s nothing, but maybe something.”

 

80

when I’m 80

I may,

God willing,

forget,

all the ages I’ve been and all the things I’ve done

and be spared the pain of

wishing to return to places I can’t go back to

and being with people who are not who they once were or,

are dead.

when I’m 80

I will,

God willing,

remember,

all the ages I’ve been and all the things I’ve done

and feel the joy of a life lived.

Ticket To Ride, Chapter 19: The sea joins the sky on a day heavy with fog…

Sea joins the sky...
Sea joins the sky…

Therapy Session Number Two

Miranda

“The whole time we were having sex I kept repeating her name. On the floor, wishing we were in a bed. Awkward on the floor, and beds are sexy. It was hasty and intense and all that hollywooded passion crap, but beds are sexy,” I began.

“Who’s this?” Dr. Nolan asked.

“A girl named Miranda… last year.” I replied, took a deep breath, pushed my hand through my hair, and continued.

“Just an hour before, she’d said, ‘It’s just like in the movies.’

I don’t remember much of what she said before that and very little of what she said after. Very little but some. I always remember most of what I say. Always. And replay it, measure it, bounce it against the perceived personality who heard it or it was directed to, getting it wrong but thinking I’ve got it right and running it through the committee in my head until there comes, invariably, some fucked up filibuster that won’t leave the floor until I shout it off, silently or aloud.

I remember a little of what she said. Most of it the sort that I’m given to get wrapped in, bounced by, smacking back and forth until my head is hollowed out and echoing with it. And again I shout it off, silently most of the time, never loud enough to keep it from getting into my stomach, tight and hot, rolling like a pinball, metal on metal with nowhere soft to land and no fantastic sound effects, metal on metal; a ball that started rolling 15 years ago with obsessive thoughts of ‘God is watching.’

We sat across the room from one another after she came in.  She had taken two steps around me on the way up the driveway and already I felt her distance. I understood. I’d evolved in an hour from pituitary to manic, gulping wine and not knowing yet that I was drunk and needing to eat. No fuel for the fire and scattered.

She’d called from down the street, ‘Hey,’ just thirty feet away, and I couldn’t figure whether to run, drop my pants or grab her. But when she came up the drive I couldn’t reach her, those two steps, and me, walking like I did in high school, with new legs and learning “the walk.” She said something like ‘this is nice’ as we walked toward my place and I felt patronized, and thought it’s very small and just barely enough and because I measure myself harshly in the face of a woman I thought she was bullshitting, all you could see was a garage door, behind it being a converted studio. But I like her and she was reaching for conversation as was I because she wasn’t supposed to be there, married and all. And married and all she’d broken from the grid to see me. I didn’t realize at the time that I was already drunk and hadn’t eaten and the wine was grinding things down, cheap wine and no fuel in the fire.

Miranda said, ‘I can see why you like it here.’

I felt patronized again but it’s not because it’s not a nice place, it’s just that I want more. She was being sweet but I wouldn’t realize this until a few days later and I was paralyzed, gone. We went in.

‘Want some wine?’ or

‘Would you like some wine. I’m not sure about this one but I hope I used the latter, it sounds nicer.

She said ‘No,’ at first, but then, confronted with a closed door and my look, like some hungry, frightened animal, she said yes. This was the first time that night that she said ‘No.’ Later it was no to this and no to that, the proverbial no that means yes. The proverbial no that for many means yes but always leaves me cold even though I know it might just be them being coy.

Her line about how it was in the movies was still a few minutes away. I felt this thing getting away already.

‘Where’s your husband tonight?’

‘Home, trusting me… do you have any photo albums?’

I said ’Yeah,’ ,  I reached in the closet for one, handed it to her and then followed with a comment that surprised me as sincere about how this particular album was an attempt to piece together a wanderlusted life. Dad had been restless, restless. Her response felt patronizing, like I was to be felt sorry for, but I like her and could well…

… I could like her more. We looked at the album, sitting Indian-style on the floor, and I made stilted comments. Scattered and cold, powerless. The plaid pants I had worn as a child to Busch Gardens, Florida, about 8 years ago, looked a lot like hers. But hers were tighter, fit better and I wanted to touch her. But thinking I’m the other man here and still feeling Catholic, incense in my nose, Sacre Coeur.

She flipped through the pictures and I joked about the torn pajamas that had been my favorites.

‘Were you conceited when you were younger?’ she asked.

‘I guess I was the opposite, self-conscious.’

When we worked together, I wanted to jump over my desk, jump over the desk and kiss her on that sweet spot behind her shoulder, and her mouth. She sat in the next cubicle. I sat facing her side and she would run her hand down her front from her breasts to her crotch.

We moved to two chairs, one across from the other, four feet apart, in a spartan studio that looks more like a storage shed than a bachelor pad, not sexy. We tried conversation and I wanted to kiss her but had shut myself down with not breathing and decided to have a smoke. I handed her a poem I’d written and went outside:

I have it right here.”

“Read it please Morgan.” Dr. Nolan asked.

the schematic of all things

I think myself not superior,

but apart,

or better,

and at the same time,

a part.

I think of the things I do as not greater,

but lesser,

at least,

of less apparent impact.

I will not shine in your eyes erudition

on the subject

but instead give you a dim view.

And it’s the you of this that must be figured,

you figure,

and I’ll do the same and am doing the same.

because the definitions are that grey;

the sea joins the sky on a day heavy with fog,

that we must do so together.

The sun in myself on you and the apparent them .

What first they are not,

what you are not,

and then what I most certainly am,

the I being you as you become the eye in this and not superior,

but apart,

or better,

and at the same time

a part.

And then as a part of the greater,

or the higher,

reaching down to perform the lesser,

or less apparent,

the minute,

the trivial task that strikes like flint,

the power fed feeds.

I,

or now you,

won’t speak in specifics.

I,

or you,

and finally we,

will not give logistics or diagrammatic signs of the specific.

Specificity dims the impact of the metaphor,

(the intellectuospiritual machine)

in which to plug the act,

the thought,

or the feeling,

and then just push “play.”

“Nice poem Morgan… what happened next?,”  said Dr. Nolan.

“Wrong candles burning, autumn spice, nice but not sexy. And sexy not having happened yet I went out to breathe, gulping at air and smoke like I was on a boat, sinking, wishing I was in the audience of the world that is a stage, watching.

Miranda said ‘It’s interesting,’ talking about the poem, ‘I don’t understand it but I like how the lines roll here (pointing), this repetition, and the way the lines stick out here and here… what’s it about?’

I said something like blah, blah, blah, bullshit, bullshit. I’d just spoken to a friend, two friends about it, just before she came and I’d told them I didn’t know what it’s about, but with her I tried to explain, blah, blah, blah, bullshit, bullshit.

I said. ‘It was inspired by you.’

Miranda said, ‘You mean it’s about me?’

I said, ‘Sort of…. I was thinking of you and the first line came into my mind and I had to get out of bed and write… I thought you would understand it. I was thinking of you.’

She smiled but didn’t understand it. Her smile was enough to make me not care if she didn’t understand.

Then I remembered, ‘You said you wanted to ask me something, ‘a guy thing.’

‘Yeah, oh’ she said smiling, “Well, there’s this guy… he… well he said something like… everyone in town knows me or has.. you know.. something like I’ve been with a lot of people… do you know what that means?’

I sat and tried to figure this. Was she trying to tell me she’d been pegged as some kind of slut, what did she want me to say, what was she looking for? I didn’t want to think of her as having been with a bunch of guys and I couldn’t figure if maybe this guy was just some prick that liked to bash women. Yeah, he’s just some prick I thought.

‘Guys talk…,’ I said, ‘I’ve never really been one to talk… but guys talk… I think you’re one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.’

She smiled a sort of disbelieving and shy half-smile.

‘I have some questions.’ I said stuttering, sounding like I was about to hold an important interview. Must have just been writerly curiosity, trying to make a story out of everything, or maybe just to know her more and to know I wasn’t alone.

‘What do you really want to do?’ I asked.

‘I want to paint, right now I’m just painting signs, but I want to paint.’

And I was thinking that I wanted her to paint, I wanted her to paint and I wanted to sit and watch her paint and I wanted her to paint while I was away and when I would come home I wanted her to be excited by what she’d painted and want to share it with me. And I would write and we’d be near each other and we’d share things. These thoughts were coming to me fast and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Then I asked, ‘What were you thinking on your way here?’”

‘Good question,” said Dr. Nolan

“Miranda said, ‘At first I thought we’d jump straight into bed, but as I got closer I thought we’d talk and then get in bed… by the time I got here I didn’t know.’

I wished we’d both run into each other before we started getting rational.  But now we sat, both not knowing but sharing the unknowing and looking at each other.

I said, ‘You mean you got more rational on the way?’

‘Yeah, I guess… I have to be at a friend’s to model, I can’t stay long, I don’t know why I said that, it’s like in the movies, do whatever you’d be doing if I wasn’t here.’

I told her I’d be on the floor watching a movie, and having said that I wondered how that struck her.

‘Well,’ she said, and I knew she was going to move toward me, ‘I’m going to come over there and kiss you.’

Thanks, I thought, close the gap for us, I can’t move.

I told her she smelled nice and she thanked me…”

“Well?,” said Dr. Nolan.

“Oh yeah.”

The whole time we were having sex I kept repeating her name… like chanting a mantra… but still not feeling at home. Still hungry, and alone.

“I’m guessing you know what this one was all about don’t you Morgan?” Dr. Nolan asked smiling.

“I suppose it was sort of safe… her being married…”

“And no commitment…  you weren’t ready to commit and she probably wouldn’t have if you wanted to. There are plenty of unmarried women in the world.”

“She seduced me.”

“That’s no excuse. If the two of you really wanted to be together she should have left her husband first and you should’ve drawn that line for her. You’ve been behaving like a tourist. Your attraction to these last two women is almost… you’ve been acting like a vulture.”

She was right and I cried. But I still loved Miranda and always would.

Shiny Boxes – A Love Poem by Philip Scott Wikel

good-things-come-in-small-packages-1Shiny Boxes by Philip Scott Wikel

 

If we could but place

afternoons like these

in shiny boxes

 

God damn the bittersweet

give me the lotus

and let me dream

 

damn the cold

and how it creeps

and shame on me

for letting it

 

If we could but place

afternoons like these

in shiny boxes

I’d open the rainy day in december

and never close it again

 

One Second Saviour

randomkindnessOne Second Saviour by Philip Scott Wikel

 

don’s liquor store,

a homeless woman kisses my hand

my heart swells and i’m a one second saviour

 

her husband bows as if in reverent prayer

i gave him 3 dollars on thanksgiving and

he probably drank it all but he’s still alive

so he must be eating

 

i see them and now every time

hope that the shelter opens soon and

i know it will and they’ll be warm at night

and less dirty

 

she’s red in the face

with the swelling of skindrenched

in alcohol and relentless sun

but her spirit’s intact

and she kisses my hand

i’m her one second saviour

and they’re happy to see me

AMERICA – For Sale by Owners

corporate-greed_27-06-1882We the people of the Un-United Corporation of America are placing our country on the market and invite any efficiently-run, honest and egalitarian nation to submit a bid. The time has come to look outside of America for our governance as anyone born and raised in America has been disqualified by virtue of their unfortunate birth. American politicians are incapable of upholding the tenets of our constitution and the dreams of our founding fathers. It is perhaps our water that causes the many and various defects in thinking, decision-making, and an irreconcilable deficiency in common sense, so please bring your own water.

Now some appropriate lyrics from The Police song, Spirits in the Material World:

There is no political solution

To our troubled evolution

Have no faith in constitution

There is no bloody revolution

Continue reading “AMERICA – For Sale by Owners”

An Explanation of “The Wailing Wall” by The Julian Day

I think people completely missed the point of our song “The Wailing Wall” and it’s probably our fault. We believe that if people exercised and taught self control and self-realization the world would be a better place. At this point in my life, I believe it’s counterproductive to “let go and let God.” No one really knows what God thinks or feels but many know right from wrong. Resting on the idea that the world reflects God’s will is scary to us. We live in a time that requires action on many fronts and being passive and trusting in God’s will only removes our personal responsibility and accountability for the way things are. Silence is our worst enemy.

We also believe that sugar-coating everything is counterproductive as well. Even John Lennon admitted that Flower Power failed. It’s time to engage, not disengage and retreat into a world that exists only in the minds of a few. Being positive is good. Just make sure to be realistic at the same time.

Finding “God” on the River (Part 2)

Please see the introduction below: Finding God on the River (Part 1)

He thought about how beautiful the river was with the sun coming overhead and shining on the water. It struck the light grey rocks on the side as well and the combination of the light on the rocks and on the water turned this part of the river into a dream-like sequence of slow-motion nature, with their figures and the dragonflies blending together into a moment of peace; the river symphonizing the scene with music fit for the coming of Christ.

These moments, whether they knew it or not, were why they came. It was not so much for the fish. They didn’t need to catch fish for food and, though catching fish was something you could tell your friends about, the honor of being a sportsman was far outweighed by this communion with Spirit and with one another. Being men, big and small, these things were not easily put into words. But these moments came, and though they might not seem to be done justice with words, there was a quiet knowing that the communion had been achieved. Some might say that this going fishing was like attending church, but this could only be part of the story. In going to church we’re guaranteed to find the word of “God,” provided our priest, pastor or preacher is speaking it. In going fishing, we take the chance that “God” Might find us. And He almost invariably does and we return home to mothers and sisters who can see that we’ve been with him, whether we caught fish or not. Neither experience of “God” is better or worse, it just might be that the one to one, experienced beside a river is perhaps clearer. And perhaps that is because there are no words to interpret, just what is felt in one’s heart. Spirit gave us that.

“Above the rapids and the fast water there’s a waterfall with a nice deep pool. That’s probably where your brother is. Why don’t we head up that way?”

The kid had drifted off again, watching the little pool in front of him. In it were crawdads, freshwater clams, and snail-like things that retracted into their shells when poked at with a stick. The leaves at the bottom were dusted with mud and the kid wondered why they hadn’t dissolved. Along the shore there was poson ivy and “sticker bushes” and wild berry bushes. You had to be careful fishing here and the kid watched as his father cast his line time and again and avoided getting snagged.

“Not really catching anything down here?”

“Naw… I had a few bites but your brother has a better sense for these things and I’m sure he’s pulling’em in left and right.”

The father reeled in his line and started up the path. The boy fought with the sticker bushes to get the net free then turned and ran to catch his father. As they walked northward along the river thay began to hear the sound of the waterfall. While a waterfall might seem just an interruption the the level flowing of water, when one is close to it, there is there a sense of power. The river is that much more alive there and one is inclined to stand in front of it and watch as sheet upon sheet and molecule upon molecule flows over and down and spits and splashes. And all the spitting and splashing combines together into a roar that, from a distance, is as soothing as the sound of the waves in the sea.

The brother was pulling in a big one as they approached and the smaller brother ran to make the assist. He had what appeared to be a fifteen inch Brown and it was putting up a considerable fight. Big brother pulled away from the water and the kid ran in with the net forgetting and not caring about getting wet. He scooped the fish into net and turned in the direction of his brother, smiling wide-eyed and seeing the same expression on the face of his brother.

“Right on bro,” said the big brother.

“Look at that!” said the father.

“Got two more just like it in here,” said big brother, patting his creel.

“Yer like an indian,” said the little brother.

“He definitely has a sixth sense,” said the father.

The boy looked to his brother with admiration. He’d taken all that their father had taught him and reached great heights. He was an accomplished athlete, good in school and an ace fisherman. He thought about how he was not like his brother. He hadn’t begun to play sports and didn’t even know yet how to swim. He was pretty good in school and spent most most of his time riding bikes with his friends or just goofing off. He’d taken an interest in books and spent a lot of time alone reading. He didn’t feel he was quite the “All-American” that his brother was but he was becoming who he was and slowly but surely he was seeing that he didn’t have to be a great baseball player like his brother to be recognized as an accomplished person. He liked baseball and sports and would one day be a pretty good soccer player and even learn to swim, but for now, he was mostly a quiet observer and this, he would find later, would be one of his greatest strengths when it came to writing stories.

“You guys ready to eat?” his brother asked.

“I’m hungry, how about you dad?”

“I could eat, yeah… let’s climb to the top of the waterfall and eat there.”

There was a flat rock with water flowing underneath at the top and they set down all their gear. The father pulled the sandwiches from his knapsack and poured a cup of tea into the top of the thermos and then looked to big brother and asked if he had the other cups.

They ate heartily, like farmers who’d risen early and had already managed to plant the entire field.

“Did mom make the sandwiches?” asked big brother.

“Yes… yes she did,” replied the father.

“There’s something about ham and cheese made by mom,” said big brother.

“Your sister made the cookies,” said the father.

“What a feast,” said the little brother and they all laughed at how corny and, at the same time, how right on his statement was.

“The river is really amazing from up here,” said big brother.

“It is,” said the father.

“It’s already been quite a day,” said the brother, turning toward his little brother, “maybe sometime you could write one of your stories about this.”

The sun shined into his face as he spoke and in his hazel eyes the little brother saw a certain green light that he would never forget.

Ticket to Ride on Amazon

Finding “God” on the River (Part 1) #longreads

Following is the first half of my story entitled “rivers.” As a child, my family and I didn’t attend church on a regular basis. As I recall, Easter Sunday was the only day we might be found there with any regularity. However, having said that, my brother and my father and I, did do quite a lot of fishing on the rivers of upstate New York, Northern California and Western North Carolina. And it was on those rivers that we communed with God, or maybe, just something greater than ourselves. Not unlike the characters in Norman McLean’s novel, A River Runs Through It, on our local rivers and, through the sacred act of fishing, we found our connection to a higher power and to one another.

Perhaps it was because of my father’s experiences as a child in a Catholic military school, or perhaps it was just from some strong internal impulse, my father saw it as very important that my brother and I spent a goodly amount of our weekends roaming the Catskills, the foothills of the Trinity Alps, or the Eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope you will enjoy this story and I hope it is a shared experience. And if it’s not a shared, I hope it will be one that inspires you to find a similar connection in your own life. In my mind it’s these kinds of experiences that define our existence on this little blue planet and make it all worthwhile.

rivers (part one)
by philip scott wikel

The South Fork of the Trinity…
… the Delaware…
Calicoon Creek, the Sacramento, the American, the Shawangakill and the Neversink.
Rods, reels and creels, deep pools and morning’s rising.

Risen, the conversation turns to fishing trips long past and recent tips on the best bait and the assurance that the night crawlers dug from the garden will be the best bet.
Eggs and bacon and the layering of Pendleton’s over t-shirts. Jeans and boots and the sound of the car igniting toward the new day.

The getting there is, as always, one of the best parts of the journey. It’s autumn and the trees around the old highway are alight with the season.

“Strung it with ten pound test,” one says.

“Browns have been hitting pretty consistently,” says another.

“Mom’ll have to use the biggest pan tonight,” adds yet another.

Morning’s light streams through birch, pine or hickory and we trudge through the distance from trailhead to stream. Wet leaves, rocks covered in lichen and moss; leaves as deep as knees and we wonder if waders were made for this. The dew is heavy everywhere and threatens to soak through but we’ve worn our best wool socks and waterproof matches ensure a fire if the wetness gets through.

“What do we have for lunch,” says the smallest of three, thinking already of mid-day and a picnic in the sun atop a dry rock jutting from the river bank.

“You can’t be hungry already,” says the father.

“Well no, but it’s good to know.”

“Ham and cheese and chocolate chip cookies, do you have the net?”

The smallest struggles for a moment, sleep still heavy in his head. He reaches around his body and finds the net bouncing against his back.

“It’s around my neck,” he replies.

“As soon as soon as we get near shore with one, do your best to be there.”

“I will dad,” he returns, thinking his is the most important job. A fish will often let you think it has him until he gets close to shore. It seems it’s always then that he manages to break the line and swim away.

The trail rolls over and heads toward a gorge. The three catch their first glimpse of the river and it sparkles like a liquid necklace of jade and turquoise, with saplings rising at her edges like charms given by a close friend. In sync, all three think “this is God’s country” and give silent thanks for such a wonderful day.

The sun is still low but is slowly rounding it’s way toward the tops of the trees, each leave kissed with its fire. In places where the sun touches the ground, rocks and leaves begin to steam like newly kindled coals. The chill air gives way to the coming warmth of the day while spiders and beetles and skier bugs begin their busy business and the air is filled with the richness of the forest that is forever composting; feeding itself with all that has fallen.

The older brother is quiet, on a mission. His day of fishing is a quiet meditation. The river is his canvas and with it he will paint a portrait of the mountain men of legend. His eyes are already searching for the places fish will likely be. He is a fish, and knows where he would go.

At river’s edge the older brother turns north, upriver, saying only, “See ya around lunch.”

The father turns to the small one and says, “Come on kid, we’ll look around down here, then make our way back up.”

“What’s in the thermos dad?”

“Hot tea, you want some?

“Yeah, my body’s a little cold.”

They stopped and he took a drink, burning his tongue with the hot liquid. He could feel the tip of it gone dead and started running it around against his teeth to wake it up.

“Burnt my tongue.”

“You all right?”

“Yes,” he replied lisping as he continued to test his tongue.

They rounded a bend and came to a point in the river where it slowed and where there would likely be a few fish. There was a long branch of a willow extending over a small pool and the water was swirling slowly below it. Along the river bank the water headed back upstream and it was in this place that the skier bugs did their dance. Here they could scoot across the water without fear of getting caught in the current and here the kid crouched down and watched them while his father prepared for the mornings first cast.

“Hey kid, could you hand me a few weights from your creel?”

The boy was startled, having quickly become mesmerized by the bugs and the swirling. But dad had said “your” creel and this implied ownership which meant that dad’s creel had become his creel and that he was now a fisherman of means and part of the club.

“Daddy won’t you take me back to Muellenberg County/down by the Green River/where Paradise lay?”*

This song began to play itself in his head as he reached for the weights. He grabbed the weights and handed him to his father and looked him full in the face. His dad had the look of an old Lumberjack and though only thirty-five years old he had an air about him of an old soul. Sometimes his dad seemed more like a grandfather, wise and full of stories. It seemed to him that his father had really lived, lived enough for two people’s lives or maybe even three. It seemed there really wasn’t a question he could ask that his dad didn’t have an answer for. And if he didn’t have a specific answer, he was always willing to venture a guess that seemed to make perfect sense anyway.

“I’m having a good time dad.”

His father hesitated and seemed overcome. Dads being dads and loving their children and doing things like fishing with them and having their kids enjoy these things made dads swell with joy.

“Me too kid,” his father replied with a hint of a cry in his voice, “me too.”

“I love you dad,” said the kid feeling this was the right moment to say this.

“I love you too kid,” his father said with tears in his eyes, “you know you’re really growing up kid, you’re mother and I are very proud of you.”

“You really don’t have to say that,” the kid replied, “I know you do.”

“Even so, it’s important to say it.”

This struck the kid deeply and he felt very loved.

“Why don’t you get your pole ready and cast your line?”

The kid thought about this and he thought about how he’d rather be there for the assist. To him there was a great glory in being there at the right moment to make sure the fish got ashore. In this moment his father thought maybe he hadn’t heard him and asked again, “Why don’t you get your pole ready?”

“I’m just gonna watch you for now dad… but I’ll be ready with the net.”

(To be continued tomorrow)