Blues in the Night

Blues. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Blues. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Going fishing with Dad was fun. Hot & humid Saturday mornings, piling into the station wagon with our poles, thermos or two, and bologna sandwiches. I had a spincast, pretty basic, the kind you had to bait yourself; the worms squirming in a Styrofoam cup filled with a bit of dirt and old coffee grounds. Dad was a fly fisherman; I was fascinated by the hours he spent tying his own flies in his basement workshop; I was also captivated by the ballet of the line striking the water. What an elegant and enigmatic ritual of rod and line dancing on the surface, breaking the serene plane. We fished in lakes and rivers of our Southern homeland, first Texas and later Virginia. I never caught many, and I know he spent hours helping me when he could have been fishing. But I remember the early mornings, alone together adrift in time, the sound of still water and rich dirt, the smell of dawn, before the fish bit.

Driving home, my father always sang to me, and I loved his tenor, cigarette scratchy. Sometimes, he made me laugh with a song from his days in the Air Force; “Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he, and he called for his pipe and he called for his bowl and he called for his privates three,” laughing and singing our way through the ranks to the general.

But more often than naught he sang Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen’s The Blues in the Night. For me it was a song of mystery, filled with exotic places, the sound of whistlin’ trains, of pain, darkness and loneliness beyond my age of understanding. But I felt the sadness, the melancholy, and the blues in his voice. It touched me deeply. He explained to me that Natchez and Mobile, Memphis and St. Joe were all cities on the deep and long Mississippi River with headwaters near St. Paul, Minnesota rolling all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf, the land of dreams. Our river, became the river of song. Magic. Later, when I was able, I purchased a recording of Louis Armstrong singing and playing his trumpet with Oscar Peterson on piano. Listening now, I bring my own archaeology of understanding to this song and what it says about the space and time from which it sprang…a place limiting relationships between genders and races. But Louis’ deep growly voice always takes me back to the riverside where song began for me.

My mama done tol’ me, when I was in knee pants My mama done tol’ me…

“son, a woman’ll sweet talk,
And she’ll give ya the big eye, but when the sweet talkin’s done
A woman’s a two-face, a worrisome thing who’ll leave ya to sing
the blues in the night”

Now the rain’s a-fallin’, hear the train’s a-callin,
“whooee!”
(my mama done tol’ me) hear dat lonesome whistle blowin’ ‘cross
the trestle, “whooee!”
(my mama done tol’ me) a-whooee-ah-whooee ol’ clickety-clack’s
a-echoin’ back the blues in the night
The evenin’ breeze will start the trees to cryin’ and the moon will
hide it’s light when you get the blues in the night
Take my word, the mockingbird’ll sing the saddest kind o’ song,
he knows things are wrong, and he’s right

From natchez to mobile, from memphis to st. joe, wherever the
four winds blow
I been in some big towns an’ heard me some big talk, but there
is one thing I know
A woman’s a two-face, a worrisome thing who’ll leave ya to sing
the blues in the night

So, let me give ya fair warnin’
You may feel fine in the mornin’
But look out for those blues in the night

 

exalt, soar: a love supreme

Exalting in the moment. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Exalting in the moment. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

It starts with the sound of a gong, and the tenor saxophone begins to glide like a hawk soaring on the winds. The piano an asymmetric counterpoint, a successive burst on the cymbal, and then the foundational heartbeat of the bass begins, the vibrations a syncopation. Led by John Coltrane on sax, Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on piano and Jimmy Garrison on bass, exalted and soared. A Love Supreme, was born. A masterpiece in four movements: Acknowledgement, Resolution. Pursuance, Psalm; a spiritual path. Elvin Jones wrote “every time someone hears it, that music touches them somehow, even people who are churchgoers and have always thought that popular music or jazz was influenced by the devil.” John Coltrane wrote a benediction in the album’s liner notes: “I will do all I can to be worthy of thee o’ Lord. It all has to do with it…thought waves – heat waves – all vibrations – all paths lead to God. His way – it is lovely – it is gracious – it is merciful…one thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God. Everything does.

Last weekend I read Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air; a book with tremendous impact in which Dr. Kalanithi grapples with the meaning of life when diagnosed with a fatal cancer.  Cherishing every moment with his wife and baby, he closed with the following: “everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind indeed.” Instead of chasing the wind, may we soar on the wind, exalting in each moment’s wonder as we travel our spiritual path.

Not to tarry, not to roam. We said we’d join her, she said she’ll meet us when we come

Winter plum. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Winter plum. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

On his recent bluegrass album, The Happy Prisoner, Robert Earl Keen recorded the Wayfaring Stranger with Natalie Maines. The plaintive lyrics haunt me:

“I am a poor wayfaring stranger, while travelling through this world of woe. 

Yet there’s no sickness, toil or danger. In that bright world to which I go.

I’m going there to see my mother. She said she’d meet me when I come.

I’m only going over Jordan. I’m only going over home.”

A classic American folk and gospel song, it resonates with one of Buddhism’s four Noble Truths that all is suffering, all is woe, and impermanence is one of the great causes of suffering. But a bright world exists to which we can go.

Last week the rains stopped and the fruit trees blossomed, a month before expected, but nonetheless spectacular for their early arrival. The plum trees in my yard shimmered in the February sunset, still winter by the calendar. The blossoms will not remain long. But long enough to tarry in my dreams, haunt my imagination, and find their way from brush to canvas to capture the beauty of impermanence.

This weekend we will say goodbye to a good friend, my second mother, who has gone over Jordan. There is no sickness, toil or danger, in that bright world to which she goes. Someday we’ll join her, going there, no more to roam. She said she’d meet us when we come. She said she’s only going home.

Shall we gather at the river?

Santa Cruz lagoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Santa Cruz lagoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

The sun was high in the sky: the light blinding and the air hot; no breeze. The egrets gathered as a rookery on the fallen trees by the lagoon in the Santa Cruz watershed, collecting themselves in the cool of the Eucalyptus trees, like sinners awaiting their baptism to wash away their sins. For a moment I lost myself in the other, the landscape. Quietly, I started to sing “yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, gather with the saints at the river, that flows by the throne of God.” Shall We Gather at the River was a signature song for John Ford the filmmaker famous for his westerns shot in Monument Valley; the song became soundtrack in some of his most famous movies including My Darling Clementine, The Searchers, and Stagecoach. Ford often used the song as a means to define the boundary between the anglo-churchgoing community “civilizing” the frontier, and the “other ” community defined by their racial and ethnic differences; the “other’s” music emanated from saloons and was typically defined by Ford as minstrel songs and Spanish California folksongs.

Art and poetry are means to give voice to the other, be it individuals, communities, or the landscape. In his book, The Other Voice: Essays on Modern Poetry, the poet Octavio Paz wrote “all poets….if they are really poets, hear the other voice. It is their own, someone else’s, no one and everyone. Nothing distinguishes a poet from other men and women but these moments – rare yet frequent – in which being themselves they are other.”

 

Blackbird, bye, bye

Raven on a misty morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Raven on a misty morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Last Wednesday was a beautiful misty morning; perfect weather for a bike ride through the great meadow. Everywhere the fragrance of sweet wet grass, and fog covered my Santa Cruz campus like a blanket. Damp air kissed my face making rivulets of sweat and rain. Up ahead a great black raven perched on a young Douglas Fir calling out percussively toc toc toc; I responded with a smile singing “packed up all my care and woe, here I go singing low, bye, bye, blackbird.” Written in 1926, Bye, Bye Blackbird became a popular standard covered over the decades by jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and Nina Simone. I climb the hill, my crank spinning deliberately, a revolution at a time, while I riff on John Coltrane’s cover of Bye, Bye, Blackbird. The great jazz saxophonist believed deeply in music’s power. In a 1966 interview with Frank Kofsky, published in Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, Coltrane said “music is an expression of higher ideals…brotherhood is there; and I believe with brotherhood, there would be no poverty…and there would be no war…I know that there are bad forces, forces put here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.” It gives me great pleasure to write that the UC Santa Cruz Library Special Collections & Archives preserves and makes accessible the Frank Kofsky Audio and Photo Collection of the Jazz and Rock Movement 1966-1968. Selected photographs from the collection are available online including an image of John Coltrane and his wife Alice (on piano) in performance.

Field of Rainbows. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Field of Rainbows. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

It is no small irony that segregationists opposed to the Civil Rights Movement played Bye, Bye Blackbird to taunt the Selma to Montgomery freedom marchers in 1965. In just another few days, 2500 cyclists, including me, will start our own kind of freedom ride, cycling 545 miles in the AIDS Lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles to help make AIDS and HIV a thing of the past. We ride for many reasons: because we’ve lost a loved one or a dear friend to the virus; because we hope to honor persons living with AIDS by meeting the challenge of the ride; and because we just want to try and help people in need. Please support my cause by donating to the AIDS Lifecycle helping me meet my personal fundraising goal of $ 10,000. http://www.tofighthiv.org/goto/robchandlerJune2015 This week I completed my last long-distance training ride for this year’s AIDS Lifecycle, a ninety-five mile round trip distance between Santa Cruz and Monterey. On the training ride, I travelled San Andreas Road, where calla lilies and strawberries planted nearby Monterey Bay created a quilt of rainbow colors. Serendipity. As if to honor we AIDS Lifecycle riders traveling this road next week on the way to King City. I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be a force which is truly for good.

Colorado of Texas

The Colorado River of Texas. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2015.

The Colorado River of Texas. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2015.

Storm fed by New Mexican arroyos, the Colorado River winds across the Texas plains and prairies nurtured by springs, through the Hill Country and the fertile black bottom land, gathering steam as the Concho, Llano, Perdnales and San Saba rivers contribute on the journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Great forces tell the story of this country, some natural and some manmade. Wind and rain, lightening and thunder, sun and drought, the migration of creatures in the air, on the land, and through the water dialogue with man’s domestication of the landscape, wrestling nature to some kind of tenuous draw.

In a collection of essay’s Sacagawea’s Nickname: Essays on the American West, Larry McMurtry wrote “man may have seven ages, but the West has had only three: the age of Heroes (Lewis and Clark), the age of Publicity (Buffalo Bill), and the age of Suburbia, for which the preferred term is Urban Sprawl. How we got from the first age to the third, and what we have destroyed in the process, is a story historians will be worrying for a long time.”

Leaving Austin meandering the back roads towards Waco, I purposefully took a slight detour to the northwest to visit the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Spring is the perfect time to catch the wild flowers and glimpse migratory birds nesting in the Texas Hill Country. Austin’s culture of great music and good food combined with Texas’ tax incentives are attracting the computer industry and the countryside is increasingly being developed into suburban housing enclaves. My journey is a series of interstates, highways, and two-lane roads that are increasingly developed. Thank goodness the Refuge was formed in 1992 to ensure some land would forgo development and protect the habitat of two endangered birds: the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo. And refuge it is. Although it is hard to completely loose sight or sound of the farm to market road, it is possible to loose yourself briefly in the surrounding natural history. Hiking on a ridge in the refuge, populated with juniper trees (known as cedars in Texas), I was rewarded with sightings of the nesting Warbler and a full stereophonic soundtrack of the bird’s beautiful song juxtaposed by distant thunder. My found treasure included a gorgeous view of the Colorado River of Texas with a threatening lightening storm looming on the western horizon.

I am conscious of the looming suburbs on the horizon, threatening like a storm this precious refuge. Back in the car, heading towards my Dad’s home, I queue up The Mountain on Steve Earle and Del McCoury Band’s album of the same name. I know the odds are stacked against nature; mankind’s greed and hunger scar the landscape with glacier like force. But I know we need to come to some compromise with nature, something more than this tenuous draw. We need to live and breathe stewardship; because the land helps keep us from worry and woe. As I merge onto the highway, Steve Earle sings:

“I was born on this mountain a long time ago

Before they knocked down the timber and strip-mined the coal

When you rose in the mornin’ before it was light

To go down in that dark hole and come back up at night

I was born on this mountain, this mountain’s my home

She holds me and keeps me from worry and woe

Well, they took everything that she gave, now they’re gone

But I’ll die on this mountain, this mountain’s my home”

The power of language

 

The Poet & the Patriot pub in Santa Cruz on St. Patrick's Day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015

The Poet & the Patriot pub in Santa Cruz on St. Patrick’s Day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015

Language and the stories we tell about our relationships to homelands and new found lands has been on my mind. Sitting in the pub on Saint Patrick’s Day surrounded by the din of good cheer, shamrocks, and a pint of stout, I heard above the fray, a few stanzas of my favorite Irish ballad The Maid of Coolmore.

The first time I met her, she passed me by, the next time I met her, she bade me good-bye. But the last time I met her, she grieved my heart so, for she sailed down from Ireland away from Coolmore. To the north of America my love I’ll search for, for there I know no one, nor no one knows me. But should I not find her, I’ll return home no more, like a pilgrim I will wander for the maid of Coolmore

Forced to flee their homeland because of famine, the Irish immigrated to America in the 1840s bringing little but the language in their songs. The great historian Oscar Handlin wrote in his 1952 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Uprooted “only in Dublin did I discover something and that not what I expected – not the documents in the libraries, not the sight of Bloom’s city, but the lilt of the Irish language everywhere adding a magical intonation to the words, so that never again could I read a line of the writing without hearing the resonance of actual speakers’ voices, without knowing the presence of persons long gone-by but real.” With this groundbreaking book, Handlin changed how we speak about and write our nation’s story and in so doing he changed how we see ourselves in and on this land. Regardless of origin, “the common experience was one of wrenching hardship and alienation and a gradual assimilation…that changed the country as much as it changed the newcomers.” The American story was no longer the myth of the Wild West, but the idea that we were a nation of immigrants. In Handlin’s words “once I thought to write a history of the immigrant in America. Then I discovered the immigrants were American history.”

Tomales Bay looking north from Point Reyes Station, charcoal sketch. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Tomales Bay looking north from Point Reyes Station, charcoal sketch. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Last weekend, I had the great good fortune to attend Geography of Hope a biennial conference held by Point Reyes Books fostering discussion about the relationship between people and the land. The 2015 conference focused on Women and the Land, and the panelist’s made clear the power of language to assign status or empower the powerless. The keynote speaker Robin Wall Kimmerer insightfully connected the objectification of women and the land; “when language objectifies, ascribing the status “it” we loose all responsibility. It is a convenient linguistic imperialism” that allows us to exploit and destroy instead of learning from and living with a land and it’s people. Kimmerer, a scientist, member of the Potawatomi tribe, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, called for the restoration of sacred language protocols with values of reciprocity and stewardship. Reading  the Poem When Earth Became An It, by the Cherokee poet Marilou Awiakta, Kimmerer said

“When the people call the Earth “Mother,” they take with love and with love they get back, so that all may live. When the people call Earth “it,” they use her, consume her strength. Then the people die. Already the sun is hot out of season. Our Mother’s breast is going dry. She is taking all green into her heart and will not turn back until we call her by her name.”

Tomales Bay looking north from Point Reyes Station, watercolor. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015

Tomales Bay looking north from Point Reyes Station, watercolor. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015

One panel asked the question what are the gifts and responsibilities of women in the work against carbon catastrophe? Lauret Savoy, Professor of Environmental Studies and Geology at Mount Holyoke spoke about Wangari Maathai, first Kenyan woman to receive a Ph.D., founder of the Greenbelt Movement, and recipient of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Recognizing that women are the primary caretakers of their families and their environment, Maathai established the Greenbelt Movement to plant trees and preserve watersheds, strengthening local communities’ capacity to take action against climate change; advocate for an end to government policies supporting land grabbing, deforestation and corruption; and advocate for gender livelihoods (recognizing that women’s work was critical to family survival – imagine that!). According to Savoy, Maathai’s work illustrates how cultural diversity and biodiversity are intertwined; because there is a wealth of knowledge to be tapped in people’s knowledge of the land, and their stories, their language about the land, restoring the environment goes hand-in hand with restoring cultural integrity.

Savoy also co-edited the book Colors of Nature: Culture Identity and the Natural World which features an essay by Jamaica Kincaid In History. Kincaid begins the essay asking “what to call the thing that happened to me and all who look like me? Should I call it history? If so, what should history mean to someone like me? Should it be an idea, should it be an open wound and each breath I take in and expel healing and opening the wound again and again…or is it a moment that began in 1492 and has come to no end yet?” Kincaid’s essay clearly evokes the power of language as she describes Christopher Columbus’ discovery “he couldn’t find enough words to describe what he saw before him: the people were new, the flora and fauna were new, the way the water met the sky was new, this world itself was new, it was the New World…to have knowledge of things, one must first give them a name.” Botanists from the Old World quickly began to organize the fauna. “The plants…had two names: they had a common name, that is, the name…assigned to them by people for whom these plants have value; and then they have a proper name, or a Latin name…assigned to them by an agreed-upon group of botantists…the invention of the system has been a good thing. Its narrative would begin this way: in the beginning the vegetable kingdom was chaos; people everywhere called the same things by a name that made sense to them, not by a name that they arrived at but by an objective standard. But who has interest in an objective standard? Who would need one? It makes me ask again what to call the thing that happened to me and all who look like me? Should I call it history?” Language give us the power to reimagine our destiny and rebuild our world.

 

 

From this valley

View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

From this valley they say you are going…we will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile…for they say you are taking the sunshine…that has brightened our path for a while.” These are lines from Red River Valley, a song heard throughout John Ford’s classic film of the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath, and the melancholy theme for the Joad family’s hard-travelin’ exodus from dustbowl Oklahoma. Tenant farmers, the Joads head to California hoping for a better life, forced from their home by drought and economic hardship. With a few days off in early November, I am driving there and back, crisscrossing my great state of California from Santa Cruz to Nipomo, Los Angeles to Fresno, and Yosemite to Oakland. The many legs of my journey take me through the Central Coast, the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Sierras, and the Central Valley. The land is parched, thirsting for rain and relief from a multi-year drought; and Chicano, Latino and Mexican-American agricultural workers — immigrants and migrants – who came to California hoping for a better life, populate much of this land.

In the fields of the Pajaro Valley, near Watsonville in Monterey County, artichokes, strawberries and cole crops like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are tended and harvested. Farther down the road, I arrive in yet another important agricultural county, San Luis Obispo, where avocados, citrus, and vegetables are grown. As I drive by the workers in the field, Gloria Anzaldua’s words from her book Borderlands: La Frontera ring in my ears: “To live in the Borderlands means you are neither hispana india negra espanola, ni gabacha, eres mestizo, mulata, half-breed caught in the crossfire between camps while carrying all five races on your back not knowing which side to turn to, run from…”

Today migrants of the borderlands make these agricultural riches possible, but some fifty years ago, “Okies” migrants from the 1930s dustbowl tended the crops of this county. Working in Nipomo, Dorothea Lange documented this earlier migration and plight of the workers in her famous Great Depression photograph of the “Migrant Mother.”

Further down the road, I reach Kern County in the San Joaquin Valley where, Buck Owens Boulevard crosses Highway 58, which leads to the Cesar Chavez National Memorial in Keene. The child of Texas sharecroppers driven out by dust and the Depression, Buck Owens found seasonal work following the crops from Gila Bend, Arizona through the Imperial and San Joaquin Valleys of California. Growing up listening to Mexican border radio stations and Baptist gospel songs, Buck made Bakersfield his home and became famous for singing the story of the “Okie” migrants who came to find work in the farms and oilfields of Central California. Owen’s contributions and the work of Merle Haggard are chronicled in Gerald Haslam’s Workin’ Man’s Blues: Country Music in California. Ironically, just a few miles south of the road memorializing Owens is the final resting place of Cesar Chavez at the headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) who started and led the farm workers’ movement to give voice to the next generation of poor and disenfranchised agricultural workers.

 

 

Austin

Moore-Hancock Farmstead log cabin Austin, Texas. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

Moore-Hancock Farmstead log cabin Austin, Texas. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

In just under thirty-three days, the AIDS LifeCycle begins and we ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Cranking up the training, I’ve been riding some classic climbs in the Bay Area: Pinehurst to Skyline, the Three Bears and the Hicks Valley Wilson Hill Road. But recently I took a break to visit Austin, Texas the home of former Governor Ann Richards[1]. Austin hosted the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) annual meeting. It doesn’t take much arm twisting to visit the queen city of Central Texas. Because in Austin you can easily find great music (we saw Squeeze Box Mania at Threadgills which featured the great conjunto tejano accordianist Joel Guzman and songwriter / vocalist Sarah Fox), local brews (Thirsty Planet’s Yellow Armadillo Wheat) and Southern comfort food (fried pickles)! And April is a beautiful time to visit Texas. Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush nonchalantly grace street corners and boulevard median strips. And a quick drive outside the city limits brings sights of mother Longhorns doting on their calves frolicking in pastures among the spring wildflowers. A meeting like SAH provides the opportunity to dig deeper into the urban landscape and we participated in the post-conference tour Transition, Gentrification and Hidden History in Austin’s Black Neighborhoods. When the Civil War ended in 1865, many freed slaves migrated to the nearest town where they settled and established neighborhoods such as Austin’s Clarksville and Wheatville. Some freedman like Orange Hancock settled on land formerly

Longhorns, Bluebonnets, and Indian Paintbrush. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2013.

Longhorns, Bluebonnets, and Indian Paintbrush. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

owned by their masters such as the Moore-Hancock Farmstead. Built in 1849, the Moore- Hancock home is the oldest Austin log cabin on it’s original site and a tangible link to 19th century African-American history in north-central Austin. The Freedmen communities thrived until 1928 when the Austin City Master Plan achieved segregation by zoning East Austin as a district where services and amenities such as plumbing and paved roads would be provided to African-Americans. With this zoning plan, Austin sought to draw African-Americans to the East side of town and extinguish black neighborhoods encroaching on expanding white Austin. Some eighty-years later, East Austin is gentrifying as popular food venues such as Franklin Barbecue have opened (just down the street from the historic Chitlin’ Circuit nightclub the Victory Grill where one of my favorite blues players W.C. Clark got his professional start) and the Rosewood Courts Housing Authority seeks a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. To learn more about these neighborhoods, read Michelle Mears book And Grace Will Lead Me Home: African-American Freedman Communities of Austin, Texas 1865-1928.

 

[1] HBO documentary films just released the film All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State and it is recommended viewing!

Or maybe the coast of Cal-i-forn

Monterey coastline. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

A traveller walking the Monterey coastline. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

Santa Cruz ahead and Monterey behind, we cycled through coastal farmland on yet another rainless winter day a couple of weekends ago. Here in drought stricken California, the Monterey Bay shimmers beside us and the air is sweet, replenishing my body with every breath. It is nearing the end of a sunny day, high clouds above us, but distant hills are taking on a hazy quality and we are glad it’s only a few more miles to retrieve our cars. I feel a strange guilt and paradox. It is beautiful, but it should be raining. We are training for the Strawberry Fields Forever ride, a fundraising event sponsored by Cyclists for Cultural Exchange dedicated to the “express purpose of furthering peace and international understanding through exchanges between people with a common interest in cycling.” An unusual and wonderful goal! As happy as riding makes me, I am nagged by the lack of rain. We need a strong steady downpour to quench this parched land. My mind jumps months on the calendar knowing I’ll be cycling some of these same roads in June when more than two thousand of us ride in the AIDS/Lifecycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Excited about the long journey in June and that my fundraising is helping people with HIV/AIDS, I know the route to Los Angeles will take me through my beloved golden brown California landscape. Oh, but how I hope we get more rain and soon.

Putting those thoughts aside, I reach the crest of a small hill. About a mile ahead, a man, dressed in black, is pulling a shopping cart; a mystery considering there is no grocery store in sight for miles…no strip malls, box stores, houses or anything of the kind remotely close. The rich farming fields of Monterey County envelope us, a land where artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and strawberries grow readily. Reaching his side, I note his tiredness and resignation, but I grasp this young man in his dirty Superman t-shirt is on an epic journey. He is not homeless, he is without home. Hoping my last Clif Bar will ease some of his sadness, he tells me his name is Lawrence. He describes leaving San Diego some weeks ago, “Life got messed up. It was time to walk…walk a long time…leave it all behind me…I’m going to Washington State. The walk will make it better. But Big Sur was rough. I barely survived.” Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a twenty, giving it to him as I shake his hand hoping the gesture will get him a little farther down the road and a few steps closer to finding home. I wish you well Lawrence wherever the road takes you.

It was time to return to my own odyssey. As my bike put space between us, I began to sing Bob Dylan’s Farewell, a tune lingering with me since seeing the Coen brother’s Inside Llewelyn Davis. I hope Lawrence strikes it lucky on the highway goin’ west.

“Oh it’s fare thee well my darlin’ true,
I’m leavin’ in the first hour of the morn.
I’m bound off for the bay of Mexico
Or maybe the coast of Californ.
So it’s fare thee well my own true love,
We’ll meet another day, another time.
It ain’t the leavin’
That’s a-grievin’ me
But my darlin’ who’s bound to stay behind.

Oh the weather is against me and the wind blows hard
And the rain she’s a-turnin’ into hail.
I still might strike it lucky on a highway goin’ west,
Though I’m travelin’ on a path beaten trail.
So it’s fare thee well my own true love,
We’ll meet another day, another time.
It ain’t the leavin’
That’s a-grievin’ me
But my darlin’ who’s bound to stay behind.