Friday, February 26, 2010

Read any good stories lately?

The best books are the ones that end up haunting me; the stories that visit me in the night, or in one of those vacant day-time moments; fiction that exposes me to my place in some broader circumstance.

The best books are like an ember that warms my inside as the story evolves from one form of substance to another. Its essence sits in my belly. Its spirit dances in my head. A spirit that doesn’t die once the book is read. Rather, it visits and revisits.

In the book’s haunting of me, I find I am part of what I have read. A character, exposed to myself by the author. I revel in where I’ve been; what I’ve learned about journey and about place; and what I’ve learned that I’d hidden from myself. And how, for days or weeks, the story continues to exfoliate, unfold and reveal more and more truth about myself to me.

There is no great divide between good fiction and truth.

After completing a good book or a great story, I don’t immediately pick up another. I want nothing to get in the way of my being haunted for a while.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Table Mountain Breakdown

[February, 2006] A FAVORITE STRETCH OF ROAD leads to Cherokee, off state route 70, where we’d explored as kids, always stopping at the mom ‘n’ pop for a soda. Atop Table Mountain, northeast from Oroville, springtime lupine and poppies and fiddlenecks and brodiaea grow thicker than the carpet in a rich man’s house. The landmark Needle’s Eye shows where hydraulic miners wore a hole clean through the mountain. The century old schoolhouse sits empty, but the nearby covered bridge still affords sheltered passage across some unnamed creek.

Up this way in 1850-something, a disgruntled and unlucky but entrepreneurial sourdough salted some diamonds in the mud up in a gully near Oregon City in order to create a land rush. Diamonds are typically mined from ore with a cobalt blue tint. No blue mud here. But who would know? Bastard made a killing selling bogus claims. Left the area just as the feathers were being plucked and the tar was coming to a boil.

Today, in Cherokee, not even the museum by the old WP caboose is open. No place to return to childhood and buy a Nehi or a piece of hard candy. Just a stretch of road lined with wood and wire fences. An occasional rock wall from a hundred and fifty years back. Ramshackle houses and some tired double-wides. Retirees getting away from it all. Cattle people and family farmers eking out a gritty living, enjoying pleasant, simple day-to-days.

SOMEWHERE NEAR THE TOP of Table Mountain, lush with tiny gold fields and emerging lupine, probably over by that covered bridge at Oregon City, I picked up the fence staple. Two nice neat holes out of which a hell of a lot of air could escape in a very short period of time. The back end felt like I was riding across a plate of mashed potatoes. Or a waterbed. Slippery. Slalommy. Loosey goosey. In an instant I knew many things. The tire was shot. I was 110 miles from home. And my cell phone was sitting on the dresser, not coincidentally, that same hundred and ten miles away.

People are more than kind. The joy of this spring day would not be defined by the intrigue of that new road through Rackerby, the view from Oroville Dam, or the fragrance of the gold fields and lupine and sweet cattle effluent. It would be defined by the three lovely red-headed ladies who stopped to repair the tire on one of their 18-speed Nishiki road bicycles. They loaned me a cell phone. Or the family heading back from the boat ramp that had seen me forlornly standing by the side of the road. They loaned me their cell phone. Or the four Harley riders who stopped to say that they’d rarely seen a Beemer “broke down” by the side of the road but admitted that anyone could pick up a nail. Offing their helmets I was impressed and surprised to see one male riding a Hog accompanied by three females riding Hogs. (Nice work if you can get it.) They, too, loaned me their cell phone.

Finally, that family who connected me with grandpa, two miles back up the road, across from the Cherokee cemetery, who put my bike up in his garage for two nights until I could retrieve it and ferry it home for repairs. Seems the seventy-one-year-old gent named Ernie had a couple of motorcycles in his garage – one a beautiful Honda 750 Harley cruiser knock-off called a “Shadow” – and he could most certainly squeeze mine in for however much time it took for me to get back up that way.

“Us riders,” he said, “got to stick together.”

© 2006
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revisiting Tuolumne County

I AWAKE IN A SUNNY BEDROOM far from home, slip back the thin fabric window covering, look down the gravel road that led me to this place and think of rectangles. The tiny plot upon which this cottage had been built and rebuilt and rebuilt again is irregular in shape; it’s acreage hard to cipher. The landmark for the turn onto this road is a doublewide with cars and children’s playthings scattered in the front yard. Across the back fence, the neighbor’s house is bigger and a bit newer. An old John Deere and a rusted wheelbarrow rest within mere feet of his front porch. Top of the hill, a gold-rush era look-alike constructed to benefit from a northward view of the Stanislaus River far below and a high and snowy Yosemite ridge far to the east-southeast. An area plot sustains a horse or two; on another, cattle; on another, sheep or goats. Fences made of rotted posts or t-metal iron and hog and barbed wire mark the irregular property lines. Sometimes.

AT HOME, we live in rectangles. Our houses are collections of ninety-degree angles. Our tiny properties, the same. Each house in the neighborhood is a faded shade of Easter egg and each lawn in front a uniform fescue green. When someone doesn’t water or doesn’t trim, there is dissonance. An auto that hasn’t been run for a month is blight. As is the uncoiled garden hose and the unretrieved newspaper from yesterday or the day before. If we knew our neighbor better we might say something or, at least, pick up the paper or coil the hose.

With rectangles, there is order to be honored. Symmetry. Everything fits. We rise in the morning. We eat. We go to work and return. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

I USED TO LIVE in the mountain foothills. In a neighborhood of long winding gravel drives, Western Bluebirds, hillsides dotted with oaks and stream courses awash with history. To be certain, cares and concerns lived with me in those hills. Now, perusing the blossoms on an old volunteer plum tree, I have to think real hard to remember what they were.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ode to the Independent Bike Shop Owner

“ZHE AIRHEADS HAVE ALL JUST DISAPPEARED,” the old German speaks wistfully. “Oh, ‘casionally, you con find vun mit low mileage und it's been sitting in un old man’s garage. Und he gets on it vun day und he says, ‘I zhink I cun still hold zhis zhing up,’ und he finds he con’t.”

He pauses.

“Zhe passion,” he thumps his chest, “is still here. Zhat’s why I keep zhe shop open.

“Zhe bikes have changed a lot, but not all zhat much.”

He’s reminisced many times before. For me, this is a repeat performance. One I rather enjoy.

“As long as I still have zhe passion.”

He thumps his chest again. I thump mine and he smiles.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Note from Dr. Seuss

The late Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) dropped in the other day, saying he’d like to help with my house cleaning chores. Imagine my shock and surprise! I gave him the vacuuming to do as I hate to vacuum and I never get it right anyway. He left this note behind:

Everywhere I see dog hair.
I see dog hair most everywhere.
Beneath the couch, atop the chair,
There’s dog hair nearly everywhere.

There’s dog hair on the carpet square.
There’s dog hair where the floor is bare.
There’s dog hair climbing up the stair.
There’s dog hair nearly everywhere.

Upon banana, peach and pear;
Atop the counter, it is there.
In the butter dish, I swear.
There’s dog hair nearly everywhere.

There’s dog hair in the food I share.
There’s dog hair in my underwear.
In weather foul and weather fair,
There’s dog hair nearly everywhere.

Asleep at night, I see dog hair,
And when to the potty, I repair,
In the toilet, there’s dog hair.
There’s dog hair nearly everywhere.

Dog hair floats throughout the air,
Therefore deep breaths I do not dare,
For I’ll ingest great gobs of hair.
There’s dog hair nearly everywhere.

Blowing here and blowing there.
The sands of time cannot compare
With the drifting nature of dog hair.
There’s dog hair damned near everywhere.

I’d like to live without dog hair,
But sans a dog, I would despair:
No human pal can quite compare
With man’s best friend, despite the hair.

- Ted

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, February 4, 2010


[In this scene, protagonist Steven Meyer, a rather bumbling screenwriter, is on a wilderness hike, scouting locations to stage a hot-air balloon crash that will serve as the setting for a screenplay.]

…At the edge of the carpet of greens and colors rose huge, fragrant red cedars and deep green firs with black bark. One kind of pine in this environment, Steven recalled from his failed days as a boy scout, gave off the scent of butterscotch or vanilla if he stuck his nose into a crevice in the bark. Steven spotted a pine, seeing its clusters of long needles and veered from the road to take a sniff. Wading through the undergrowth of manzanita, scratching his bare ankles on the spiny, stiff branches of the plants, he made it to the base of the tree and inhaled.

Wrong pine tree.

Advancing from the distance, from up the hill, came the gentle putter of a trail bike or two. Hondas. 90cc. Steven recognized the sound as he treked to the next pine sentinel. As a boy, he’d owned one of these bikes and had enjoyed days of exploration in these very woods. Closer and closer the tiny motorcycles drove as Steven inhaled the bark of another tree a few yards from the road.

Wrong again.

Steven stumbled a bit farther off the track and found a third tree. Bingo! The aroma filled his nose and almost set his mouth to watering. The tiny rumble of the trail bikes ebbed to an idle. Over their puttery din Steven heard:

“Shhhh. See that, son?”

“Yeah, dad.”

“Tree hugger.”

Steve secreted glances at the two. Tree hugger?

“A what?” asked the kid.

“Tree hugger.” The older rider pointed at Steven. “Must be one of those damned tree huggers that Pug LeBreaux’s always talking about on the radio.”

LeBreaux. Steven thought. He’s everywhere.

“Really?” asked the kid.

“Yeah. You can tell.” The older rider pointed. “See, he’s too close to that tree to be peein’ on it,” the older rider said. “I seen bear, and elk and coyote and even shot me a deer or two. But I don’t think I ever seen me a tree hugger before, son.” The engines of the two trail bikes continued at idle.

“Is he dangerous?”

Of course I’m not, Steven thought.

“Don’t know. Just better keep our distance,” the older rider warned. “Might be a young one around somewhere and you don’t likely want to get between ‘em.” He laughed and slapped the younger rider on the shoulder. “C’mon.”

“Wow,” the kid uttered breathlessly, clearly believing his old man. The two throttled up their motorbikes and continued on the road toward the camp.

Steven shook his head remembering the conversations of a few days before, back in the Squirrel Cage. There are wing nuts and nitwits and worse nowadays, everywhere, he recalled Hines saying. Then he thought: Maybe this LeBreaux fella is the source. The fountainhead.

© 2002, 2010
Church of the Open Road Press