Well I left my happy home To see what I could find out I left my folk and friends With the aim to clear my mind out
Cat Stevens’s song, “On the Road to Find Out” was pretty much my anthem during my Chasing Light journey. Hitting the highway and headed for the next town, I’d crank up the speakers and rock out, believing, as I had since I was an eighteen-year-old college freshman, that Cat (now Yusef) understood something fundamental about me, about my raw hunger to know all I could, and about what would become my lifelong quest for stories and wonders and glimpses behind the veil.
Well I hit the rowdy road And many kinds I met there And many stories told me on the way to get there
Two years ago, I was learning my way around the northern California mountain town of Mt. Shasta, named for the stunning 14,179 foot high volcano about fifteen miles east of the small burg that is just off I-5.
I’d rented a small one-room studio for the month of May to give the dogs and I a break from the road and also so I could compile my notes about the journey thus far. (By then I’d been traveling and writing for five months).
I don’t even recall when or where I heard about Mt. Shasta, just that back at the genesis of my trip, in the summer of 2016, it went on my list of places I wanted to see. I knew it was a funky little mountain haven for a lot of mystics and seekers and hippies and “woo-woo’s.”
I knew the mountain was something to behold. Beyond that, I just wanted to hang there for a while and get to know the town and the people.
I met UFO enthusiasts and healers and hikers, librarians, artists, and retirees. I shopped at a fave health food store and made friends with the owner of the printing shop. And I found a great laundromat with clean new machines, easy street parking, and a tamale truck parked two doors down where a middle-aged Hispanic man sold his daughter’s swoon-worthy tamales. I’d put in my load of clothes then go buy one and chat with him for a bit, me in my broken Spanish and him in his broken English, and then go sit in Roadcinante with the doors open to the spring air.
The dogs strategically placed themselves on the grass near the sidewalk so they could intercept passersby for ear scratches and murmured adoration.
In the distance, beautiful, mysterious Mt. Shasta loomed, her slopes still pearlescent with winter snows that would only partly be gone by the time I left in June.
In the end I'll know
But on the way I wonder Through descending snow And through the frost and thunder
Every afternoon I took the dogs to a sprawling municipal park where there was a fenced-in dog park, and let them run. There were other regulars - lanky skateboarders and a girls' softball team engaged in fiercely strenuous practice, a twice-weekly Tai Chi class, and young moms and dads with their wee ones on blankets in the green grass. Some days I’d meet and visit with a tiny old woman weeding her plot in the lush community garden.
I was just leaving the park one afternoon when a young man puttered up in an old beat-up car and parked next to Roadcinante. He greeted me and the dogs as he wrestled a mountain bike from his trunk. He was going to try to hit some trails before dark, he told me, and gave a brief hello to the dogs and asked about Roadcinante. I offered the briefest recap of the journey and my idea for writing about it, and he nodded, a cloud of gold ringlets bouncing around his head.
“Cool, cool," he said and reached into the open window on the driver’s side and grabbed something. “I write poems,” he said, thrusting a sheaf of stapled wrinkled pages toward me, and then he turned and pedaled off toward the woods in the direction of the mountain.
At the top of the first typed page was the title, “Where Do We Reside?” and at the bottom were additional stanzas in black ink.
I watched him disappear into the trees, pedaling furiously, and wondered. Did he keep a stack of writing handy to just randomly hand out to strangers? I began to read.
This wind slithers its ancient, soft breath upon the entrance of the valley, he wrote.
Not asking us to accept anything. Yet the rocks that form the slightly crumbling walls on the valley floor creak with hunger…
The front page bore a scrawled signature, impossible to decipher, as were many of the lines in his poetry, cryptic and veiled, yet alluring in their opaqueness.
Upon the last grasps of the evening light, so comes the indecipherable wind. And so such families return to their homes, well recognized trails sought out again.
I hold hard to my writing, anxious over it all and often embarrassed to share it when it is still awkward and new. Yet here was this young guy with whom I’d interacted for no more than five minutes, saying, “Oh, here, I wrote this, you can have it, bye.”
Yes, high in the rocky hills the nights are cold, yet a moon of sweet cream entices our feet to walk.
I am continually struck by the mystery of it all, how it is on our human journey that even briefly crossing paths with another can tug us in new directions, as if we are all celestial bodies in motion, susceptible to each other’s gravitational pull. My heart followed him into the trees, wondering about his story, his journey. I wished I could have talked to him. I wished I could have asked him to read the poem to me, to hear his voice wrapping around his own words.
I wished I had thanked him for the simple act of sharing his words, for the invitation to be braver, freer, more open, more daring. In the end, lacking hard copy of any writing I took one of my cards with the picture of Roadcinante's interior all strung with sparkly fairy lights and dropped it onto his front seat through the still-open window.
I loaded up the dogs and, as the sun dipped behind the trees, drove away. Beside me lay the last page with the final words of his poem.
But between the feet that walk the dusty paths to the fields and those that return,
there remains reason in our actions [past present and future]
And in the wary light and the waxing moon’s gaze, that eye we may not know begins to see clearer.