Dog stew

Last week was a week of mishaps. One night, my bike bounced away from the edge of a steel plate in a construction zone. I hadn’t even seen the plate when the bike veered to the right. Not knowing what had happened, I turned to the left only to bounce off the plate a second time. By now, I was wobbling badly, and putting all my energy into staying upright. The next thing I saw was a rapidly approaching curb. The bike had clearly decided to end our corroboration, and it stopped abruptly at the curb’s edge, throwing me over the handlebars. I hit the ground, bounced into the air, rolled three times, and found myself dizzy but unhurt in a grove of oak trees. While I was rolling, I sensed that my lower body was turning at a different speed than my upper, and I had the thought that, if I had not been taking yoga, I would have to be carried away on a backboard. It’s funny how much time a person has to think when he’s bouncing.

Friday, we camped in the coast range. I awakened before Peggy, and thought I would hike the short distance to the top of Saddle Mountain by way of an abandoned trail. When the trail gave out, I bushwhacked, but the undergrowth was so thick that I gave up my summit attempt for fear of hurting my knee. I missed hitting the trail on the way back, so—the area qualifying as a rain forest—I spent the next ninety minutes struggling through five foot high salal and briers. The brush was so thick that the dogs couldn’t walk below it or upon it, and they cried in frustration as they writhed through it. I knew they could guide me back to the trail if they only knew what I wanted, but they did not, so it was one of those situations in which dogs could be helpful in theory but are in reality worse than useless (like when you lock yourself out of your car on a hot day, and your dog stares at you curiously as you tell him to lift the little knob with his teeth).

Baxter had trouble keeping up even at my tediously slow pace, and I knew that if I lost him, an inconvenience would become a tragedy. I protected my knee as best I could, but my feet were seldom on the ground, the brush being so thick that I was walking about a foot high except for those blessed occasions when I came upon a log that I could use as a bridge.

With the ridge to my right and the sun to my back, I anticipated hitting the road eventually, but the distance was surprisingly long and the going tediously slow. I knew that Peggy would be awake by now. I wondered how long she would wait before seeking help. I thought of the disappointment of our friends who we were supposed to meet for a picnic at Heceta Head, and of the news crews that would seek an interview when I was finally rescued. I couldn’t decide whether to grant a humorous interview, a grateful to my rescuers interview, or no interview. I decided that nothing I could say—or not say—would make me look like anything but a fool, so I hoped fervently that Peggy wouldn’t go for help no matter how long it took me to return to the van. I hoped she would look at the map (for a change) and see that there was a powerline to the north and roads to the east, south, and west; and would remember that the weather was warm enough for me to survive without provisions. I took frequent short breaks, focused on my breathing to remain calm, and ate salal berries and huckleberries. I regretted that I had no water for the dogs because they were struggling mightily, and I could not carry them.

When I finally hit the road, I felt as if the gates of heaven had opened, but when I reached our campsite, Peggy was gone. I began walking out the way we had come (we camped at the end of the road), and met her driving back. She had been looking for me. My legs were blood-streaked from scores of scratches, some six inches long. When our friends asked me what the hell had happened, I said that Peggy was a phenomenally passionate woman with phenomenally long toe-nails. “She can climb trees like a squirrel,” I offered. Their expressions indicated that they considered her story more plausible. All this happened two days ago, and my knee is a swollen, stiff, aching mess. Eight hours of yoga a week for a solid month, and I am as bad off as when I started.

On our drive into the woods, we listened to CDs I bought at a garage sale last week. I got Bob Marley, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix; stuff I had always wanted, but had never been able to find for 25¢ each. While I was listening to protest songs and acid rock as a young man, Peggy was tuning into Neil Diamond and Linda Ronstadt (How do people like us come together?).

“Was Jimi Hendrix black?” she asked. And then, “Was Jim Morrison in a band?” I told her about the joys of taking acid or smoking pot while listening to these guys, about how their music had been written by people on drugs for people on drugs, and how Hendrix and Morrison died from drugs. I said that their songs’ erratic lengths and variations made it even harder to keep track of time than the chemicals alone would have caused, so I wouldn’t know if the same song had been playing for three minutes or three hours. I would tell myself that it had to be three minutes because no song could last for three hours, yet my life prior to the song would seem unreal, like something out of a history book. And I wouldn’t just hear the music, I would taste it and see it. As I talked, she drove, and the sun flashed through the trees like a strobe light. The day was perfection. Foxy Lady, Hendrix sang, and I looked over to see Peggy ducking tree limbs that touched the windshield. “My old ladies high,” I thought, “and I am too.”

I cried during The Doors Spanish Caravan. “Are you crying because you’re sad that Morrison died young?” Peggy asked. “No, it’s not that. It’s the genius that it took to create such beauty that gets to me.” I considered it inevitable that these guys didn’t live to see thirty because they were cranked without crank. Some people are like tortoises, others like moths; and who is to say which can cram the most living into a lifetime?

When we got to our isolated and unofficial camping spot, we turned the music up, and opened the van’s doors. It seemed like a good time to party, and we had three beers and a bottle of wine to do it with. Half a beer later, we were asleep. The passage of two score and seventeen years has cost me my talent for dissipation, a talent that Peggy never had to begin with.

The young man who sold me the music was leaving for South Korea the next day to teach English. I wouldn’t have had the guts when I was his age. He said I should try it, that it would be easy for me to get a job in any part of the world because all I needed was to be a white man with a bachelor’s degree. “What’s your degree in?” I asked. “Romance languages and literature,” he answered. “Kinda funny isn’t it, learning all that Italian and Spanish, and then going off to live in South Korea?” He explained that South Korea was only his first stop, that his resume had received 125 hits from all around the world. At one extreme, Dubai offered $38,000 a year plus room, board, and airfare. At the other, Colombia offered spending money and a roof over his head.

“Well, you know, I’ve got a wife and dogs,” I said. “Your wife can work too,” he enthused, “but the dogs might pose a problem. They like dog soup in South Korea,” he mused, and I pictured being served a mysterious stew that turned out be marinated chunks of Baxter floating alongside shallots and potatoes.