To One in the Dark V

Wandering toward Conclusions
Wandering like a vagabundo: I like hats. Some time ago on receiving a commission for two years of work I designed a hat and had it made for me. It is a subtle and elegant vanity, charcoal and black. I was once told it was the finest looking hat in Santa Fe. I have another, tightly woven out of surprisingly tough paper in China, that is neither subtle nor elegant. It approaches in size and form the rakish, inelegant head-dress of Diego Alatriste, the fictional friend of the historical Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas, author (among many other works) of El Buscon (“The Petty Thief” but translated into English as The Scavenger), controversially reputed to be one of the finest examples of Picaresque Novels from the 17th Century. It is a first person narrative and so leaves out the author’s moralizations that are found in the typically third person omniscient narrative style of the genre.
Wandering toward conclusions I wonder if picaros might not be a better qualifier for us than “refugiados” or “vagabundos.” Picaro, (Picara); the lowborn and unbound rogues who slip through what is palmed off as civilized just steps ahead of the savory elements of society that are out to apprehend them…  (I ended the last installment of this series without the slights idea of where to go next…wait…eureka!…I’ll take it this way…)

The first fictional picaro I knew was Scuffy the Tugboat of whom I once wrote a post for a now dead forum. The published piece was demolished by a hacker, but the copy I saved is the vanity below and it goes to a couple of points in this work:

Sitting here close to the top of that part of the Andes called a coastal range, shards of alto cumulus string out to the south and east. E. Harris sings “Hickory Wind,” I sample some beets pureed with coriander and sip a little ouzo, Lebanese ouzo called Arak, Sunday afternoon western Sud Americana time.

We wait for the chicken to finish roasting and wonder why in hell anyone would ever…ever…want to believe in a single god damned thing.

Time idles past like a sweet old Kenworth. The sounds, sights and the feel of the joyous power at hand are the ease-gotten gains. (There are thunderheads two miles deep down the range and thunder over the house.)

So why buy options in profitless stock? Why the belief, the faith?

Why put in for the insurance plan, the well-thought reasons for the moral, the approval of soc. and self? We’ve watched those markets for years and know them to pay no one but the brokers, and too little, too, at their best.

Did you come around here for the peace of it all? The certainty, perhaps? The deftly structured system to which you can pledge subordination? Needy for limits…this but not that? The four walls of sound profession? The constipation of philosophy? The assurance of Mission Control? The anchored soul with mortgage? A bathtub in which to float?

We were floating the Rio Grande through the Taos Box in a battered old raft called “The Charlie Allnut”: Michael the disillusioned lawyer, his lady Mahaba, my river-runner-groupie neighbor Marie, her sidekick, Sid the Shrink, from the Pen who was also the skinniest man in Santa Fe, and me. I was at the oars. We were kicking back through the placid middle stretches in the heat of late morning. Someone might have mentioned Alan Watts’s notion of the Tao as the “watercourse way”. In the light of this I mentioned how as I child, maybe three, could have been four, I learned that of the Tao from Scuffy the Tugboat, a Little Golden Book about a toy boat, tired of the confines of the bathtub, who makes his break for liberty when his little boy owner takes him for a field trip in the nearby brook. At large and alone Scuffy runs the brook that becomes a creek, that becomes a stream, that becomes a river; its breadth grows wide and its banks steep. Days and nights float past. Creek-side villages turn into towns, towns become cities. The fish that bump and splash at the brave little tug are growing pretty big, row boats give way to barges. Scuffy, though, pushes on through all that is a river’s evolution. He’s there to illustrate the principles of geography, but does he know his deeper teachings? Scuffy soon enough reaches the bay and heads to sea. And just as he passes the last pier he is scooped up by the father of the little boy who owned him way back at the headwaters. The two have been chasing after him all this way. They think they have saved him so it is home to the bathtub for Scuffy. We little ones were assured he was happy to be back.

The hearty crew of “The Charlie Allnut” was pleased with the story. I told them that Scuffy had been my favorite book for the longest time. But, there is that but…

“I never liked the ending,” I told them, “even when I was a little kid I knew it was a fucked up, sell-out, formula ending.”

“What..? No!”

“You wanted him to go to sea? You crazy?”

“He wouldn’t have lasted an hour.”

“Maybe not,” I said, “but think of the glory.”

Sid turned to the rest of the crew and asked, “Is this the man we want driving our boat?”

Now Nelson and Jennings duet on “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. This wise woman and I are still wondering why anyone would ever hem around themselves with the slightest thread of a belief; risk any possibility for the hopeful illusion of the order of things.

She says something like, “When you are going out there, like standing right on the event horizon or even on the other side where you can’t see and there is nothing else…it gets pretty scary. That’s when things start to fall apart inside, all the structures.”

“I think one thing stays,” I say, “that knowing you can handle it.”

“Maybe,” she says, “but for me, all I know is that it’s so right.”

This wise woman….

Scavenging toward Conclusions
The River is a good motif for such a piece as this, so I’ll boost a riff out of another old rant and see if between the two rivers I can’t drive this one on home.

There is a stretch through the Grand Canyon where the river has sliced deepest into earth and running flat pushes swiftly through sheared strata that are a bazillion years old and have names like Vishnu Schist, solid, straight up, uncracked rock. There are no sand bars, no falls or rapids, or beaches, no gravel, no boulders and nothing sharp to slice the water so it sucks up air and turns white. The surface is flat and dark; from a distance it looks placid. These vertical walls narrow the channel so the passage of the river is like forcing a fifteen-amp charge through a ten-amp wire; things get ftritzy inside. The river has scoured and sanded the rock into polished deep undulations, tunnels, pockets, caves, ramps and corners that shape and push the water into too many conflicting directions; it tangles the flow for miles into a turbulent, multi-skeined knot of insane subsurface hydraulics: roils, eddies, backwashes, under tows, whirlpools and cross currents heaving against cross-current, against the walls and boats, boiling to the surface and sucking downward, forcing past each other with enough velocity to shear a wooden oar in two if it is caught between. Shallow fissures suddenly snap open between the currents, hiss across the surface like snakes and then as instantly disappear. It is a welter of over wrought, omni-dimensional ripples, reverberating at the power of 10. This simple landscape of dark flat water and black vertical rock is called The Inner Canyon.

Of the various meditation techniques that rely on energetic movement, I lean toward the more subtle fringes of Taoist Spiritual Alchemy and these have a historically documented root in shamanic practices. Looking at the phenomena from either position, alchemy or shamanism, it does not take long to realize, apprehend visually, the finely wrought, omni-directional, eternally reverberating, multi-skeined knot of turbulent energy and information that is the Whole of It engulfing Ourselves, the universal Inner Canyon, where ambiguity resonates to the 10th power. Nowhere can one take a core sample or cut a cross-section that will dependably tell one anything except how that specific location used to look, nowhere is there solid predictability, nowhere is there anything that can be made discreetly identifiable as one’s own, nowhere is there knowledge or experience or their feeble, schizoid cousin, memory, that isn’t constantly mutated beyond the recognition of the day before. Anything other than the liberating reconciliation to the omnipresent hegemony of ambiguity is a fantasy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. One can scoot back from the edge of the flow, cobble up a little structure and inform it with some media, set up a booth in the market, consult and talk, draw electronic diagrams and make words like everyone else’s words. Fold it all into one civilizing movement, glove up and never touch the blood and push the line past all the provincial boundaries as the way to live Integrally.


About Steven Nickeson

I've been a cowboy and a hobo and a truck driver and a newspaper reporter and magazine editor. I've written two text books on Native American property rights and been awarded national prizes for investigative journalism. I've ridden horses, all named Alpo, damned hard in the Westerns. I was once a range detective for Santo Domingo Pueblo and a private investigator for 18 years. I've also been a manuscript physician and writing tutor and journalism teacher and consultant to a literary agent. I've been a fencing contractor, and a welder in one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and read Nordic Runes as a contract oracle on several psychic hot lines. My occupation for the last 19+ years is "Artist/Blacksmith" and I've done better at being an artist than any other calling. For nearly half of my life I have had an address along The Pan American Highway (Carretera Panamericana) in five cities/towns/villages, five counties, four states, two nations, two continents. I am in some way wedded to that road. View all posts by Steven Nickeson

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