The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Neil Young, Ken Kesey, Bill Ash

Sunday, January 23, 1983 

Sometimes storms stack up in the Pacific like jets waiting for a runway.  Some days your job is simply to survive with humor and grace.

Today another storm blows in, the fourth one in January.  It's an El Niño winter.  There's a pancake breakfast at the firehouse, a regular benefit for the La Honda Fire Brigade.  I'm gorging myself when a madman wanders into the fire station, no raincoat, black stringy hair dripping water.  He says he's looking for Ken Kesey.  

I tell him Kesey left town many years ago.  

"I mean Neil Young," the madman shouts.  "I'm looking for Neil Young.  Where's he live?" 

There are 30 or 40 people at the tables in the firehouse.  We all exchange glances.  We all know where Neil Young lives.  Nobody says a word.  

Finally, the madman leaves, kick-starting his Harley, roaring off into the rain.  Several of the people at the breakfast are volunteer firefighters.  It's their job to deal with road emergencies.  Pretty soon, they're thinking, we'll get a call to scrape that guy off a tree.  He might be an old friend of Neil, or even of Kesey, after a few too many drugs.  In La Honda, we're pretty familiar with that condition.

After dinner, I walk to Shirley's house for a meeting of the La Honda Poets.  Wind is howling.  From the blackness above, branches are falling.  I should wear my hardhat.  Walking is terrifying, but I'm not going to drive when Shirley lives just three houses from my own.

At any given time there are a few dozen poets living in La Honda.  As I've said:

La Honda is a small town, trying to get by 
with just five hundred people, population very high. 

About ten of those poets are gathered in Shirley's living room when her phone rings.  It's my wife calling.  A branch took out a corner of our roof and knocked out our power.  I leave; Bill Ash comes with me.  Besides writing poetry, Bill has a day job as a nuclear physicist running the Stanford Linear Accelerator.  I've done a lot of work at Bill's house, a dwelling that is slapdash even by the standards of La Honda.  Bill is the man who wrote:

Banana slugs are a fine creation
If you don't believe in reincarnation.

Shining flashlights into the trees, we check for live wires.  It seems safe.  Phones work.  Bill calls PG&E; it will be days before they arrive.  I light Aladdin lamps and build a fire in our fireplace. 

Outside, from the main road I hear sirens.

With Bill Ash, I return to the meeting.  No mere storm will stop the march of Great Art.  Tonight, our job is sharing our poetry, reading aloud.  Bill reads:

Of course I'll come to dinner, she said,
But remember I'm vegetarian.
That's fine, said I with a hungry look,
For I'm a humanitarian.

Here's my contribution:

At the Mercy of Orphans

Spare me, Big Trees.
Spare my house
built of the flesh of your

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