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When it rains during the summer here it seems a benediction, a blessing, like traveling with someone I’ve never met but seem to have known my whole life.
Riding With Curtis Mayfield
with your trembling horns,
guitar notes falling like a plank in my heart,
your clear-as-sky angel’s voice,
stop kicking holes in the floorboard.
Riding around with you,
in this old truck that don’t even have a radio.
What are you doing here, you?
(I bang the dusty dashboard
and slap my knuckles against
the crack in the windshield.
Listen, you: the drums
and bass slap and crack, too.)
You, there, you still telling
people to get ready?
You were ready,
(I’ll never be ready.)
I’m on this little island
and would be alone
in my old truck
on this little island
except for you there.
You, Curtis Mayfield.
Who needs a radio?
This episode of Average Mortal Radio is rated R, for Rain, like the rain which is, at this moment, lashing icy and hard as a swung plank out of the north and west. In our latest episode we talk about Peter Matthiessen and artist James Barron, and their connection with us here on our gray and silver windblown island home, as well as an earlier incarnation of ourselves, a one-point-oh version, if you will, a version raised in Florida and who lived there many, many years, many, many years ago.
This is not about the Florida of condominium-stuttered coasts or drive-through Margarita palaces or even the Florida of the Mouse Who Ate Orlando or old people fitness stepping around the malls every morning. It is the Florida that inspired Peter Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy, which culminated in The Shadow Country, his single volume retelling of the tough people who inhabited the swamps, riverbanks, and boggy mosquitoy mangrove thickets.
I sent James a copy of The Shadow Country last week when I learned he was living in an old river house on the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe figures prominently in Matthiessen’s Watson novels and here is Matthiessen himself, in a passage that might serve as an introduction to James’ art: Color can threaten, overwhelm, whirling like that – an ant in a kaleidoscope might sense the problem.
James Barron, my cousin, my friend, for too brief a time my neighbor here on Lopez Island, can easily overwhelm with his whirling colors. To see what I mean, go to his website and look at his paintings, drawings, sculpture, and furniture.
And read Peter Matthiessen, look at the colors swirling around you, be drawn into the kaleidoscope, yes, like an ant.
This episode of Average Mortal Radio is rated R, for Ray, a novel by the Mississippi writer, Barry Hannah.
It’s Tuesday, the 3rd day of March, feeling like spring after the morning rains, and I think of Louise Gluck’s line: It is Spring! We are going to die!
But the morning rains stopped, the sun ripped into the sky like it had been howitzered there, and I drove with my wife down to a job off the middle of the island on Hunter Bay. While she trimmed trees and tidied up ferns, I climbed onto the moss covered roof of a garage/workshop and, with a wire brush and broom, began scraping and sweeping the clustered archipelagos of mosses loose from their clutch on the asphalt shingles and dumping them over the edge of the roof, onto a tarp.
Using my iPod, I listened to a series of lectures by Barry Hannah, the brilliant Mississippi writer, author of Ray, Geronimo Rex, Yonder Stand Your Orphan, and the short story collection Airships, among other works, a pure product of Clinton, Mississippi, a place outside of Jackson of which he speaks lovingly, kindly, and with a writer’s fondness for detail.
Among the lines from Ray, a short novel to be read again and again, savored like one enjoys the discovery of a great new neighborhood restaurant, are:
- I live in so many centuries. Everybody is still alive.
- Whoever created Ray gave him a big sex engine.
- I live near the Black Warrior River and have respect for things.
- Me and the machines saved Uncle Buster. He woke up wanting some wine. All ready to be a bum again. Go out there in the park, safe from vigilant idiots who get their haircuts at fifteen dollars.
- Now I guess I should give you swaying trees and the rare geometry of cows in the meadows or the like–to break it up. But, sorry, me and this one are over.
(The four quotations above are complete chapters.)
So Barry Hannah and I demolished verdant, rich mosses while my wife competently snipped at twigs and sawed at limbs in the garden far below where I worked.
There are worse ways to begin the process of welcoming in spring.
Because of unresolved technical difficulties, this (once more) belated episode of Average Mortal Radio is being brought to you by Cloud Islands Design and is rated R, for rivers.
Hermann Hesse has Siddhartha saying, shortly after his enlightenment, that “…there is much to be learned from a river.” T. S. Eliot says that “I think the river/Is a strong brown god,” one that dwells “within us.”
I’ve been thinking of rivers a great deal lately, for several reasons. One is that Adrienne and I have been helping our friend, Hank Meacham – a river guide on the Methow River on the east side of the North Cascades – get a blog activated in which he will be able to apprise potential clients of river conditions, as well as discuss his love of rafting, rivers, flyfishing, and antique cars. Another is that we were able to go rafting with Hank twice last year, once when the river was racing high and fast from the late spring melt and the other time when the water was lower, but, in its own way more exciting because the rapids were at their full, frothing power, roaring as if wild to be contained in deep canyons and between sage covered sloping hills. Both trips were unique and memorable in their own ways and for their own reasons.
Finally, I’ve been thinking of rivers as the metaphor for and literal method of journeys. In the past 2 weeks 2 dear Lopezians have died: David Fisher of a skiing accident and Leta Currie-Marshall of a failed heart. Both have left gaping emptiness in our small community; both have become part of the great river in which we all flow and which carries us all eventually.
I’ll be bringing you more information on Hank Meacham, on how you can visit his blog and how you can arrange a raft trip with him this season, but I hear now the words of a hymn with which I grew up:
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, beautiful river;
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
That flows by the throne of God.
Whoever God is to you, if there is or isn’t such a Being in your life or system of beliefs, go stand by a river. There is much to be learned.