THE WALK IS A RITUAL of its own. Sun-streaked ponderosa pines wave in the Sierra Nevada foothill breeze. Manzanita guards a hardpack road of decomposed granite and red clay, softened by overnight rain, which sits five hundred feet above the largest gold deposit in the world. They had a gold rush here not so long ago, in earth time. Blew out the nearby hills with hoses and water. But got their gold.
The road forks into two paths. To the right stands the Ring of Bone Zendo, named for a great poem by the region’s greatest disappearing act, Lew Welch. People have come here to sit in zazen for four decades. To the left, a low-lying house tucks within a piece of land that bears a name representing so much in literary, conservation and environmental circles: Kitkitdizze. The house encompasses one man’s vision, a distinct Japanese flavor to its layout and décor, a Native American sense of connectedness to Earth, each square foot serving and feeding the others. It was built by hand. No power tools.
Gary Snyder stands outside, near three cords of meticulously stacked oak and pine firewood. Emi, a German water dog with razor-sharp awareness (very much like her master), runs out and checks the guest. She maps with her nose: “She always sniffs everything, then re-sniffs it next time to see what’s familiar, what’s new — and records it,” Gary says. I’m getting re-sniffed; she jumps up to be petted.
Decked out in a heavy sweater, Gary’s full head of white hair, beard, half-tired eyes and lined, leathered face give him the look of a salty sea captain tossing about on the tempestuous North Pacific, almost 200 miles to the west. He also looks like the mountain man he is, his complexion a roadmap of depth, serenity, battles mostly won. A sage’s face. He faces the east, which should come as no surprise, since he’s been sharing and translating the deeper literary treasures and wisdoms of the Orient and bringing them back to Turtle Island, North America for 60 years.
“Good morning.” He offers a hand that has acted on behalf of its owner to build lookouts, shovel coal into ship boilers, saw and chop wood, tend gardens, grab onto craggy mountain peaks, scrape walls in deep Pleistocene caves, and fight battles to preserve and conserve home and place. This hand also has written thousands of poems and hundreds of essays that have appeared in his 22 books, each built to last forever. His handshake vibrates with a life and mind so rich, purposeful and meaningful to others that, to commemorate Gary’s 60th birthday, his friends, acquaintances, colleagues and other Eastern and Western culture figures contributed to a Snyder tribute anthology, Dimensions of a Life. It remains one of the greatest windows into a living writer ever published.
A loud, sonorous tone rings from the hill above. Gary turns towards his immediate neighbor, the Ananda meditation retreat and College of Living Wisdom. In 1967, he bought Kitkitdizze in a four-way purchase-and-divide with Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters), along with fellow great poet Allen Ginsberg and San Francisco Zen Center leader Richard Roshi Baker.
“What does that bell signify?” he asks.
“It’s the second bell of the morning. It comes at the end of morning meditation, but it’s the call to breakfast,” I reply.
He nods, studying my eyes and energy like an eagle. Gary always studies with his eyes, ears, and senses. It makes hanging out with him an even more remarkable experience. “Let’s go inside, make some tea, and talk about some writing and everything else that’s going on.”
We walk to the back deck, which opens to his winter bedroom. Before walking in, he points to a barn about 30 yards away. “That’s my summer office, where I keep all my books, where I write. Got all sorts of things in there. I just don’t use it in the winter. Too damned cold.”
Thanks to Robert for joining us both Saturday and Thursday!
Until next time…be naughty