Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pack-It-In Paradigm, Pt. 2: Way of the Hippie

The sun finally came back after three days of intense rain, the creeks and rivers having swelled their banks and washed out nearby route 212 for a spell. Apparently some of the locals were holed up at the Bear Cafe last night till midnight, drinking beers at the bar, waiting for the cops to open up the road again so they could drive home. That's what the aging hippie in the Hawaiian shirt said at the organic food stand this morning, while getting his java and New York Times.

Yes, we finally did it. We packed it in, as we'd hoped we would. For all of June, we've lived far from the employment-industrial complex of New York, near the village of Woodstock, where three long-ago days of rain-drenched hippie music have left in their wake a strip of incense-fumagated tie-dye shops and a smattering of weatherbeaten 60s dudes (now in their 60s) who live in the woods out of backpacks and occasionally stand on the side of 212 mumbling their own mysterious monologues, poking at dead birds with their walking sticks. They just stare at you when you wave.

The neighborhoods tucked back in the woods resemble those in Marin County, little 1920s bungalows with homegrown additions added in the 1970s (retrofitted glass domes, triangular windows), giving them the look of adult tree houses or hippie forts where some long-forgotten acid test or another took place. Christmas lights are popular year-round adornments. It's also what you'd expect, Volvos and overpriced organic food, silver-haired witchy women in purple peasant dresses and Guatamalan vests. But you also meet guys like Bill, our neighbor, a former Manhattanite in his late 50s who left for the rural life eight years ago. Last night he was walking his dog in the rain, smoking a hand-rolled cigaratte and watching our flooded local brook gush and gurgle like a Grand rapid. As we'd stopped to chat from our car, his smile was as warm and welcoming as any you'll find anywhere, his beatific face taking on a vaguely Native-American tincture. "We left and we never looked back," he says, flicking his ash, water drizzling down his matted hair. "Come back soon." He seemed to mean it.

Question: Could time spent in the woods crack our citified veneer and reveal the dirty hippie within? Rigorously-obtained data tells us it can. In the last month, I've barely bathed. I no longer wear underwear. I've grown a passable beard. Our calendars clear as the sky, we just sit here, gazing at the woods, listening to birds, breathing. We read books. We drink wine. We play guitar. We sing:

Gillian Welch's "Summer Evening"

"Paul's Song" by M. Ward

The Louvin Brothers' "The Christian Life"

Bobby D.'s "Oh Sister"

We play Bonnie Prince Billy's "A Beast for Thee" on the car stereo because the guitar part is too hard for me.

At night, we watch the wild smear of stars materialize in the big top overhead. You forget about those in the city -- and I mean totally and completely forget. Here, you breathe them back in like the homiest hometown you've ever returned to. Here's a recording of the babbling brook we hear while lying in the grass looking at them. Imagine fireflies dotting the darkness under the overhanging trees (also: adjust your volume DOWN at first).

Some days, we drive down remote dirt roads and find bright orange salamanders wriggling in creek beds. We watch the white-tailed deer and its spotted fawn nibbling in the back yard, wonder at the excitable finch pecking at our window like it wants to come in, chase the squirrel off the bird feeder every morning. You can sure as hell get used to it. (Above, that's a picture of a sleeping deer on the lawn here, as seen through a spider web in the window.)

We go hiking in the woods, down long, winding trails, where whole primeval ampitheatres of forest open up like mystical, open-air meditation chambers, one after another, one dark and dense, another light and airy, some wet, some dry, endlessly unfolding as you walk and breathe, eventually setting the internal sun dial you forgot you had back to zero: the beginning, the end.

On a Sunday, a young fella hiking back down the trail from Mt. Tremper wearing a bright tie-dye, his eye-lids pink, mouth bent in a stoned grin, tells us he saw a black bear up there "standing not fifteen feet away from me." It ran away, he says, but we do a lot of loud clapping on the way up, for good measure. It starts raining hard on our way down, and we gingerly hop-scotch the wet rocks, our clothes heavy, hair matted, sheets of water pouring off the dark canopies above in a steady, wet roar. When we get to our car, we're waterlogged and primitive, grinning like idiots. We dump our clothes in the trunk and drive home naked. Once there, Dewey Dell starts a crackling fire, I pour a glass of Kentucky bourbon (Bulleit, highly recommended) and I fall asleep reading Cormac McCarthy.

Later, I learn the three guitar chords to "Light Green Leaves" by Little Wings (C-G-Fmajor7) and we sing the interlocking lyrics together.

Light green leaves
(Beneath your windshield wipers whip around)
From the trees
(You comb your hair and walk back into town)
Traffic breathes
(The same breath that I breathe when I'm around)
And it seems
(We best enjoy them before they turn brown).

Light green leaves
(Like feathers on a bird that's standing still)
From the trees
(They flock upon the branches and they wilt)
Never leave
(As long as they're alive when they are found)
And it seems
(They're hanging in the trees but soon fall down).

Light green leaves ...


Tomorrow, it's back to the city, where surely the inner sun dial will crank back to ten and all thing's peaceful and mystified will be sobered by the daily warp and woof of the capital markets. I'll always have Kyle Field to keep me in the mystic loop. And fear not, my fronds, I've also got souvenirs, including a pile of LPs I've picked up in the sticks, some of which can surely summon the old spirit. I've even got an album of Peyote Songs by a peculiar offshoot of the Sioux tribe, recorded live during a mystical psychedelic rite. There's also some early ZZ Top I'm excited to lay on the people. Where there is vinyl, there is hope, I hope. Now I just need my turntable, a razor and a bar of soap.

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