tone deafness

The low, blue-green profile of Tiger Mountain which barely forms that ho-hum pyramid in the foothills visible from porches in our neighborhood was the destination, three or four Sundays before last.  Oliver Fern has been antsy to ride his bicycle which indeed is a little red number begging to be taken out all the time and there’s no better place than some up-and-down hills on the near back forty where mountain bikers rule while staid plodders in our party utilized unflashy feet to wheelie-walk (or rockhop) over roots while breathlessly discussing weighty topics ranging from politics, literature or how to get the boys to stop turning their dirty clothes inside-out. Driving to the backside of the recreation area cum working state forestland which encompasses more than ten thousand quilted acres of trees and raccoons we found to our surprise (the boys’ delight) a lot of snow leftover from February. The path we commenced to take started inside of a dark hollow of Doug firs where the snow was surprisingly firm and the thought did occur to us prudence might be the better part of valor but the boys would have none of it and thankfully the route found plenty of southern exposure and we were even down to shirtsleeves at times. A number of areas on the trail blanketed by snow might have allowed us to catch up with the boys where it was necessary for them to dismount and plod along after they had spun in place like overeager hamsters, however, by and large they rode away from us for most of the morning and we decided the snow provided the advantage of discouraging any hungry cougars lurking about as cats this close to the city clearly must not like walking in the stuff because it makes their paws cold.

Warm sunshine baked the dusty parts of trail to a pleasant earthy potpourri and where we passed through snow there was that delightfully shivery freshness like glacier breezes. For lunchtime, the boys’ mother surprised them with cookies. Adam won the bullseye rock throwing contest aiming for the tall, spindly young trees perched on the steep slope below us which gave way to bare mountainside and a thorny old service road. We gazed out at the long forever ridge of Rattlesnake Mountain and the tippy-top of Mt. Si peeking over yonder from Ranger’s Prairie (you barely recognize ol’ Si minus those bottom few thousand feet of ramparts). Several years ago found me walking Rattlesnake’s eleven miles end-to-end in that exceedingly rare January when not a patch of snow was to be found on high, it may not have been the most exciting journey because it’s basically a tree farm up there but it’s kinda neat to connect the dots (Grandma and Adam picked me up at the other end). More than a month ago I suppose it has been, the Department of Natural Resources took the unusual step of saving us from ourselves and closed the Rattlesnake Mountain path due to deep snows.

Last year on Tiger Mountain, when the boys and I were taking a late-winter walk along a quiet, snowy path, somehow we found ourselves on a gated logging road and though the snow grew deeper we pushed on, until our exploration terminated atop an airy knoll in the middle of a clearcut which overlooked a quarry on one side and the other direction was snaggletooth distant views of trees and more trees. The views weren’t all that inspiring because it’s only Tiger Mountain (the unfamiliarity so close to home is the fun thing) but the main reason I remember that day is the genesis was revealed for the start of a thought-provoking essay which had been welling up inside of me and so many agonizing attempts were made at writing it that finally the idea fractured and gushed nonsense, a total ecological disaster and once again I came to that miserable (bad for me but good for you) conclusion I don’t possess the intellectual heft or savor to convey moral seriousness on just about anything and so I decided it was time to make peace with my breezy musings, those scenic tableaus of familial tranquility as it were.

July 2018 - USA Today 1010-2

Breezy musing or not brings me to this scene which anyone who has driven the winding highway along the Olympic Peninsula may recognize because I bet the metaphor has surely struck a lot of souls before their wandering eyeballs widened at the logging truck about to ram them off the road and I revisit the notion, turning it over in my head, every time we wind our way around Discovery Bay past that greasy spoon and maybe it’s the armchair social scientist in me or that navigation through my own cultural dissonance and endless worries about when the shoe will drop. This incongruous, dirty little news rack is like some kind of harbinger, out in the middle of way out there, a place where you would like to imagine life is so much different than anywhere else. Millions of dehydrated tourists pass by here in the summertime. Before smartphones came along, supposing just maybe this particular rack was intended for homesick Type As from Middle America or the other coast, a reminder of the outside world to tide them over during family vacations? This awful rag, perfectly at home on the filthy floor of the airport restroom stall where millions more travelers mindlessly piddle while waiting for their connecting flights, must be the People magazine or strip mall of news dailies and perhaps it’s symbolic apropos to the inexorable putrification of Anywheresville America: Mass markets for everything from food, fashion, sports to gun violence.  Back in January, the irony was more than a little depressing when Gannett found itself on the receiving end of a potential hostile takeover bid. The fish just get bigger.

At the Tiger Mountain trailhead that Sunday was a destitute couple from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, changing out of their bedclothes in the front seat of their red Chevy van. The sweetest-seeming young woman smiled at me from the driver’s side and I nodded knowingly back, the boys were tussling about who would be the first to ride off into the sunshine.  Part of her face was covered in scabby sores, a couple teeth were revealed to be eaten-away nubbins and as we set upon walking through the woods I couldn’t help selfishly wondering if our windows were gonna be intact later because I’m a pragmatist some of the time but mainly I couldn’t get the thought outta my head how it’s by the grace of God it wasn’t me sitting in the passenger seat, if not at Tiger Mountain then in a rest area someplace on the interstate, filling up on watered-down coffee because I’m an addict deep down, I can just feel it in my bones and I ran away from home a long time ago like maybe she did and it’s not hard remembering that terrifying feeling of escaping gravity only to find oneself locked in geostationary orbit.  Being necessarily obtuse here, I’m not sure where any of this is going because we’re just sort of nodding about this together, you know more than I about how the world works although you’ll talk until you’re blue in the face about not having answers. I find myself regularly locked in a chronic struggle against levity, having not quite figured out how to wordsmith my way around this pleasant cul-de-sac every time something heartbreakingly wicked in the world unfurls like a scarlet banner.  With apologies to Gertrude Stein’s ghost, I’ve worried more than once about where exactly the there is, in here and although I like telling myself there’s nothing higher than to write for writing’s sake, lo the complicity of silence and so this: What I really wish I could do but I can’t because I’m not good enough is write the serious stuff every once in awhile when it was really needed, reassure you with the voice of logic, reason or goodness during times of darkness, like some kind of Plato, Emerson, Woolf, or Martin Luther King Jr..  I wish I could be the light, that way. I’m not even the mite of a mote. Reading this must have felt like brick-laying or the sun beating down with the sails hardly fluttering but please believe me that there’s in fact a there, in here. I think.

8 thoughts on “tone deafness

    • Sometimes it really is so simple. Thank you for picking me up with that elegant quotation, Ilona. Hope it’s as beautiful down in Lewis County as it is up here, this morning. If it pleases you, imagine that across the miles (with just mild telekinetic backups through Chehalis and Olympia) we are synchronously raising our cups of coffee (or maybe it’s tea for you) for contented sips.

  1. Oh, dear Jason, but you HAVE found out how to wordsmith your way out of the cul-de-sac every time something heartbreakingly wicked in the world unfurls like a scarlet banner! I join you in feeling compassion for that young couple from Minnesota, and in breathing a sigh of relief too that it’s not you (or me). I hope you and the boys had a lovely rest of a hike/ride.

    • When I was done this felt like the usual overly self-indulgent, blobby attempt at reflection. Then I had to drop it because the boys and I were departing for spring break (unreliable to nonexistent internet) but when I came home I felt far less serious and more curious how it might be received, so carefreely I pressed the glowing red button. Oh, I’m still a little embarrassed because I think I failed to find the pulse on this one (I must seem like such a depressed, commie-loving negative Nellie) but the effort was the thing. Thank you for the kind words dear Heide and just because will you solemnly pledge to never be the kind of friend that allows their pal to walk around unwittingly with an oddly rhythmic fluttering crusty booger on the end of his nose, for fear of causing him mortification?

  2. Jason – I was puzzling over how to make a non-annoying comment, when you sounded a little dismissive about what you’d written, and in fact I find these posts engaging, and reassuring. Reassuring us that there’s a sane, peaceful there out there, kids riding bicycles & doing stuff with their folks. and scenic tableaus to settle our nerves a bit. I am sympathetic to someone trying to write something “Serious,” even if not aspiring to Emerson or MLK. Every now & again, I used to stick a sheet of paper in the ol’ Underwood and take a crack at a real Essay, something substantive, and …flounder & digress. And then flounder reminds me, that my essay isn’t good enough to wrap fish in, so I wad it up, and walk to the market that sells pretty inexpensive sushi. Although the discarded pages are better than USA Today, I guess, because all that colored ink probably comes off on the fish. (Actually, it was Smith-Corona, made in Syracuse or Cortland, NY, which I actually left at my parents’ house a long time ago, but Underwood sounds more serious-minded, somehow. don’t you think?)(And kind of a tradition, once a year, or so, I’ll eat a can of that Underwood deviled ham on crackers.)
    So anyway, the Milwaukee critics are definitely enjoying the meanderings and the pleasant cul-de-sacs, too, thanks for sharing some stories.

    • I’m resisting the urge to overthink a simple, non-annoying thank you because to do so would demonstrate I’ve completely missed (and I haven’t) the gracious, funny point you’ve made. Probably should’ve left my old electric Brother behind after the k and the n got balky but it has come in handy over the years, sometimes it was a doorstop but most recently it got repurposed as the control panel for a spaceship in one of my six year old’s science fiction fantasies then he dropped it on the stairs and the motherboard or something popped off and little parts that are known to contain lead, cause cancer and a better suntan in the state of California got scattered all over the place.

  3. Thinking about your comment about writing like Plato, Emerson, Woolf, or Martin Luther King Jr, I’m reminded of a quote by Mark Twain, “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” On the flip side, there’s USA Today, a rag many people read, but few ever stop to think about its contents. Your prose may be dense, and jump around like a flea in a kennel of dogs, but it does make us slow down and think about what you’re saying.

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