Jack laughed, “They’re finally on to that!” He plucked a blade of grass and, looking at it reflectively, said, “John Barleycorn was a warning. A futile one at that. No one can save those who don’t want to be saved. But what is happening to you is not the same thing. You can’t expect an editor to believe you spent a day with a dead man. All the quantum speculations in the world are not going to explain this. They’ll say you are trying to be clever with a cocktail of science and metaphysics. Be sensible! Forget it. Both atheists and believers will despise you. Even fantasy and SF fans will throw tomatoes at you!”
He chuckled, twirling the blade of grass between his fingertips, then went on.
“On the other hand, life-like post-mortem interviews with famous figures is a novel idea and you could fictionalize future meetings with others here who are much more important than I. Unfortunately, that can’t be guaranteed. Yours may be a one-time-only visit.”
He leaned against the tree and added, “Only a woman in love with you – if she is intuitive – would believe this really happened.”
“I’m married to such a woman.”
“I’m glad, but mark my word: even she will have moments of doubt. In fact, you yourself in time will wonder.”
His voice conveyed certainty.
“Maybe it would be wiser to keep this to myself. I wouldn’t know how to explain all this anyway.”
He considered what I said. “Well, there is nothing to explain. You stumbled into another one of the infinite possibilities of the real. This cannot be explained in scientific terms. It’s impenetrable to logic, like a fairy tale. That’s why scientists are dumbfounded by what they are discovering. They are at the edge of dimensions that defy reason. Let me see that book.” He stretched out his hand.
I handed him John Barleycorn. He looked at the front cover, then opened it.
“A 1968 edition! Fifty-two years after my demise. I’m flattered!”
Encouraged, I inquired, “Tell me, were you not dazzled by the continuity of life, instead of the eternal nothingness you wrote about?”
“Dazzled? Why?” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I was no more surprised than you are now. It was like waking up after a sound sleep. Every night we go to sleep. How long is it before we wake? A few hours or centuries? Well, it’s the same with death. I went to sleep, so to speak, had a few nightmares, and woke up to this. Of course, I was wrong about death, and yet out of pure intuition – inspiration, if you prefer -; I did touch on the possibility of other lives in Star Rover and in my last short stories. Doubt, like hope, springs eternal in the hearts of men. A presage of ‘something more’ after death was in my heart, like in Hamlet’s. I was a fool. I accepted theories. After Darwin’s book, speculations exploded on the intellectual stage and I was swept up by the wave. Everyone believed in progress, the most enthusiastic illusion of all time.”
He closed the book, stared at it for a moment, then continued.
“Doubt unresolved is painful. The desire to be free from fear made me accept annihilation. Not to be is better than slavery. I wanted the dignity of dying like a man, refusing a last meal, never begging to be spared. I wanted to rise above the indignity of the human condition. We are crucified between a past we cannot remember and a future we cannot know. Our feet nailed to the eternal, vertical present, preventing us from levitating through our crown of thorns beyond being.” He smiled and, shaking his head, added, “I just didn’t go deep enough.”
“Do you understand now?”
“The mystery is as deep as ever, perhaps more so, as it should be on pain of our salt losing its flavor.”
“But at least you know that it is impossible for life to end in nothing.”
“Nothingness can be approached, but never achieved. I fell for the absurd. How could nothingness exist without being something? Nothingness is only an idea.
“In any event, three things saved me: intuition, sincerity, and generosity. Oh, mind you, I’m not taking undue credit. I was told by Ernest Hemingway, when he came here, that that is what saved me. Besides, this place is far from paradise. It’s what some call ‘the honorable prison.’ Another learning station.”
He stretched his arms wide as if to embrace the sky, and took a deep breath.
I scanned the spectacular surroundings, puzzled. I tried to take in all that lay before me, from the wondrous valley to the faraway ocean. A profusion of wildflowers studded the carpet of tender pasture grass swaying in the breeze down the gentle slopes all the way to the white beach and sparkling surf. The air brimmed with perfume.
“This… you call this a prison? How can this be a prison?!” I burst out.
“It’s a splendid prison no doubt, but a prison nonetheless,” he answered. “You know what a risk taker I’ve been. I lived like a hobo hopping freight trains. I sailed before the mast as a young man. I marched with the Imperial Army during the Russian-Japanese War. I was wild with life. When all other newsmen were held behind, I hired a Chinese junk and trekked through North Korea to the front lines. I sailed across the South Pacific to the cannibal islands. Most of my writing was about adventure. I battled for social justice. Risk-taking was my call in life. Well, there are no risks here. No new challenges. Personal initiative is stifled. No oppositions. I suffer the loss of exploits, adventure, the quest. Fortunately, release from here is pre-ordained by the requirements of the cosmic design. All I can do is wait out my self-inflicted sentence. This is the immutable garden, a place of rest, reflection, contemplation, and beauty.”
“Beauty all right! How could a writer ever describe this?”
“The same way you would a primordial coastline in springtime crowned by a virgin redwood forest. No one can fully depict the perfection of nature, not even in films. Some came close, especially poets, but it takes a great reader to add the inexpressible. There must be collaboration between the artist and audience. That’s why we came into being. All the world’s a stage, but we’re not just actors, we are also the audience out there in the dark.”
“How can I make readers experience the fragrance of these flowers, the crispness of the sea breeze?”
“By adequate hints, just enough to evoke resonance from what all humans have in the depth of their being, a remembrance of a lost garden.”
“Today that’s easier said than done. With television, the span of attention is ever shorter. Students leave college without the least notion of what it is to participate as a reader. If only they knew what they are missing. You didn’t have that problem.”
“No, in my time people were either illiterate or loved to read. Recent arrivals told me about TV dysfunctions. We have television here. I enjoy peeking at what’s going on in the dream world.”
“Now, wait a minute! Television!? You must be joking! This is absolutely incredible!”
“Why? Nothing incredible about it. All realities are refracted here. We can touch them. We can visit them, in ghostly fashion so to speak, just as you do in your dreams. That is a surrogate of freedom.”
“I bet you have a lot of good laughs!”
He smiled broadly and moved a lock of hair from his forehead.
“We laugh, all right. You should see the faces of those who died before the 18th century when they watch. I’ve seen them rolling on the floor. That would be an experience for you.”
I tried to imagine Jefferson’s reactions to CNN.
He paused, and his cheerfulness vanished abruptly behind a veil of sadness.
“We often weep, too,” he sighed, stood up, and gazed at the sea. I remained still until he turned back and sat down again facing me.
“Of all mysteries, none is more impenetrable than evil. God’s mercy is infinite, but so is human stupidity. When this century opened, I foresaw the rise of tyranny in my book The Iron Heel. Since I died in 1916, over 170 million have been slaughtered in the name of ideologies. The task of a writer now is to deflate whatever promotes collective madness.”
“All generations add a chapter,” I ventured, “but I doubt anything is in our control. We fenced ourselves in ‘private property reservations.’ We destroyed what we loved.” I pointed with a gesture of my hand to the splendor around us. “And now we live in fear of criminals, just as the Indians did when we came. Each generation reaps what the preceding sowed.”
“I feel like weeping when I think of millions of buffalo exterminated! What stupidity!” he said.
“Now we’re pulverizing the last primordial forests to make toilet paper, but let’s not get depressed,”I quickly added, ” I’d rather learn more from you.”
“You’re my guest.” Jack bowed slightly and, touching his heart, confessed, “I will admit to cutting down a few redwoods to build Wolfhouse. I should have paid attention to Teddy Roosevelt. In our day most Americans felt nature was inexhaustible. I made mistakes. But forgive me. I’m getting sidetracked. Please go ahead. Direct our parley.”
“All right. Perhaps I’ll write about this meeting after all, especially about the mystery of the possible. It’s going to be as difficult as your writing about Hasheesh Land. In John Barleycorn you spoke of enormous extensions of time, how your travels were seared on your brain in the sharpest detail. You related how you tried with endless words to describe the simplest phases and tiniest particles to persons who have not traveled there.'”
He nodded, and for an instant I caught the passing of an emotional cloud in his eyes as he spoke slowly, reminiscing, “With those words I introduced the ‘White Logic.’ One never forgets that sort of inspiration. I wrote the entire chapter in one uninterrupted flow.”
“That was evident.”
“That’s it. Something compelled me as I penned the words: ‘I talk for an hour, elaborating that one phase of Hasheesh Land and at the end I have told them nothing. And when I cannot tell them this one thing of all the vastness of terrible and wonderful things, I know I have failed to give them the slightest concept of Hasheesh Land. But let me talk with some other traveler of that weird region and at once I am understood. A phrase, a word, conveys instantly to his mind what hours of words and phrases could not convey to the mind of the non-traveler.’
“And: ‘I used all the hyperbole of metaphor, and told what centuries of time and profounds of unthinkable agony and horror can obtain in each interval of all the intervals between the notes of a quick jig played quickly on the piano.’ That was the White Logic speaking, which to the sober mind sounds like madness, for it lies beyond ordinary thinking.”
He took a deep breath.
I commented, “To those untraveled, the traveler’s account will always seem unintelligible and fantastic. Like Dante in his Paradise asking readers to take his poem on faith.”
He nodded in agreement, “That’s what you must do. I’m pleased you’ve understood that. You must bring your story as close as you can to the edge of a true account, but never, never cross the line. Let the reader suspect that there is something more than fantasy behind your words, but never let him be absolutely sure.”
He stood up quickly and said, “Come, let’s take a walk. Feel this solid ground under your feet. It will help you remember the concreteness of all this so you’ll never convince yourself that you just dreamed it, even if the whole world swears you did.”
We walked across meadows soft as velvet. All leaves and petals were unblemished and virginal. Blossoms of wine wooded manzanitas and madroña changing its pea-green trunk to pepper-red filled the air with perfume. It would have been sating had the air been drowsy and humid, but the air was sharp and thin like the echo of the night transformed into sunshine and flower-drenched sweetness. White, blue, and yellow butterflies fluttered through patches of light and shade.
We crossed a small stream that gurgled melodiously upon the slope. The hum of bees and sound of the stream mixed to create a delicate intangible sound that whispered the spirit of the place, a spirit of peace filled with life, quiet, but not silent, quick with being, but without the struggle of existence. In the shade of the sycamores we halted upon a red royal buck crowned with many antlers, knee-deep in a cool shaded pool, his eyes unable to pierce the green screen of bushes that concealed us. His head lifted and turned. His sensitive quivering nostrils scented the air, his ears moving with a swift eagerness for sound.
I felt light and invigorated, present, with all need for analysis gone. As we ambled along the pool’s edge, the buck observed us unafraid. Far beyond stood an imposing backdrop of snow capped mountains illuminated by the sun. To our left the blossoming fields sloped gently, stopping at the edge of a white beach kissed by the sparkling surf of an emerald ocean, foaming white around black reefs where colonies of sea lions rested lazily in the sun, occasionally barking to their mates. I was reminded of Jack’s description of a Carmel cove in Valley of the Moon.
Kind reader, only your imagination can add the indescribable sensation that separates reality from dream. To describe this experience so vividly etched in my memory is like trying to paint the immensity of the Grand Canyon on a 3×5 postcard.
Our walk continued for three miles or so. I cannot be certain, so carefree was I. Quite unexpectedly we came to a cozy gathering place. The rustic Redwood Cove Inn. The kind of place one found in the early part of the century along the winding Pacific Coast Highway. A construction of redwood and stone with a wide terrace shaded by a luxuriant grape-vine arbor. There must have been a dozen people at the open air tables. Some waved, smiling at Jack. He responded with nods as we walked onto the terrace.
“If you’re granted another visit here, I’ll have you meet some great friends. There are many from more remote times in the valleys beyond. You’ll be astounded. I still am.”
We took our seats at a massive round, hand-crafted wooden table in a shaded alcove. A handsome young gentleman entered and signaled warmly to Jack, who responded raising and lowering his head. He took his seat at a side table where another man was waiting.
Jack must have noticed my curiosity.
“That’s Frank Norris. You read The Octopus?”
“The fellow with him is Ed Markham. Hardly anyone remembers him. One of America’s best poets. ‘At her light touch, behold! a voice proceeds, Out of all things to chide our sordid deeds; A beauty breaks, a beauty ever strange, The Changeless that is back of all the change. Lightly it comes as when a rose would be – Takes feature yet remains a mystery.’ That’s what he wrote about art.”
Silence, except for a few faint words from the other tables. A tantalizing scent of delicious food reached me.
“Quite,” I answered. I was ravenous.
“I’ll tell André to prepare something special.” He got up and went to the kitchen.
From where I was sitting I could observe intriguing men and women enjoying mouth-watering delicacies. I watched Jack come out of the kitchen and walk back. He seemed very happy. I wondered what specialty he had ordered. When he sat down I looked at him for a while, then proceeded to lead the parley.
“You wrote that there are various orders of truth in this world. Some are truer than others. Some sorts of truth, you said, are lies, and these are the very ones that have the greatest value. And you said that ‘what is normal is healthful. What is healthful tends toward life. Normal truth is a different order, a lesser order of truth.’ Would you change that now?”
“No, but I would clarify it,” he answered picking up the book again. “Those words of mine were followed by the observation that man alone has reason. Animals have intelligence, but not reason. I said that man alone can penetrate the grand show of universal manifestation and be aware of the cosmic indifference. This kind of knowledge is not without penalties. Man should above all live life intensely. He should sting with life. It is good that man be life-blinded, sense-struck. What is good is true. And this is the order of truth, lesser though it is, that man must guide his actions by.”
“What about the higher orders of truth. Do they not precede ‘living life intensely?'”
“Living life with gusto, concern, with joy, is closest to the highest truth. I wrote that countless men glimpsed the higher order of truth and recoiled from it, then after a long sickness lived to tell of it, and thereafter deliberately forgot it. Well, I can no longer say that these men did right to forget.”
He clenched his fist as if to strike at something.
“I loved your description of drunkenness. It made me drunk.”
He was gratified.
“Drink and drugs are ever an evil curse. John Barleycorn and Misty Lady Marie Juana are orders of folly, the antithesis of life. John Barleycorn is seductive, but cruel like interstellar space, frozen as absolute zero. He will not let the dreamer dream, the lover of life live. Marie Juana leads dreamers in an indefinite labyrinth of illusions and makes the lovers of life lose contact with the birth pangs of the soul trying to be born. Marie and John are quite a couple. Both deny life and instill the notion that death is either an endless dream or a black abyss.”
“Alcoholics are tragic figures,” I added.
“I know. Victims of such dreadful intimacy take hold of the way of death and forgetfulness. That was my mistake. I almost escaped, but when I realized what was happening to me, it was too late. My body had already suffered irreversible damage. It was the grace of having loved life and loved many that landed me here rather than a worse place. I knew even then that behind the indifferent universe there was Something which is not at all indifferent. As Markham wrote: ‘the Changeless that is back of all the change.’ The Changeless.”
He stopped, eyes rapt in boundless vision.
I waited, then said quietly, “Would you now dispute John Barleycorn’s claim that all beauty and wonder are but futility and dust? Nihilism laying claim to a higher truth? The assertion that life lies in order to live? That life is a mad dance in the domain of flux and change, a mighty tide, an ebb and flow of appearances? That life is a ghost land? That we are only an appearance composed of countless appearances out of the past?”
He assented, closing his eyes and saying, “I would add that creation is a misconception and evolution a delusion. Both are speculations of dreamers who think they are awake. Optical illusions due to the veil of sleep clouding human consciousness. Change is intrinsic in the mystery of all possibilities. The Possible as such is the Changeless, the Immovable Mover.”
“I was naive,” he confessed. “I took theories as facts rather than speculations on possibilities. My dream, my theory is but one among an endless series projected by the nature of the mind. The infinite bowl will pour forth endless bubbles all doomed to burst.”
He wiped his face with the palm of both hands as if to erase the awesome vision he had evoked.
“Please, try to forget all this. It will never make sense to non-travelers.”
In the stillness that ensued I felt that my miraculous time here was running out. All would soon vanish just as it had appeared. I touched the table. It was as real as my own work table at home, even more so.
“Another thing, Jack,” I spoke as if pressed for time, “you realized the White Logic was deceiving you when it made you write ‘that with the last breath all is done: joy, love, sorrow, macaroni, the theatre, lime trees, raspberry drops, the power of human relations, the barking of dogs, champagne.'”
He peered at me with a mischievous expression I’ll always remember.
“I did call it a lie, after all,” he retorted, “and a lie it turned out to be, even for the raspberry drops.”
Chuckling like a boy, he reached in the pocket of his leather vest and handed me an exquisite little wooden box, opening it with a flick of his thumb to display the raspberry drops he still enjoyed.
“Here, try one.”
I did and was made speechless by delight capturing my sense of taste. This was a quintessential raspberry drop!
“You’ll have a very hard time trying to describe that sensation. The ultimate raspberry taste!” he proclaimed jubilantly, breaking out in happy laughter at seeing my surprise.
A lovely young woman appeared with our meal, a look of curiosity on her intelligent face. I stared at her in unbelief. I felt I knew her. I recovered.
“An abalone steak!” I exclaimed with genuine pleasure.
“Oh, yes, they’re abundant on this part of the California Coast,” he remarked.
“But, of course! Where do you think we are? This is unadulterated California…the way the once Golden State could still be if power holders realized there is something more important in life than money.”
We enjoyed our meal in silence. I cut into the succulent buttered white abalone meat surrounded by steamed vegetables. It was perfectly prepared and I knew I would never eat another like it!
As Jack poured me a cool glass of dry white wine, he confided modestly: “You know, Aldo, I learned I was quite wrong about another thing.”
“What was that?”
“Prohibition. My book was influential in bringing in the new law. Prohibition turned out to be a jump from the frying pan into the fire. It brought criminal profits and tripled political corruption.”
“Well, the same is happening now,” I concurred. “As long as drugs are illegal, they’re worth many times their weight in gold. The War on Drugs is another profit farce. Solution: cut off the profit motive, kill the market. But neither politicians nor criminals want the cash flow stopped. They are birds of a feather.”
The young woman brought a crisp garden salad.
Jack lifted his wine glass smiling, and I followed suit. He toasted, “This is to us! You’ll discover True Lady Grape, the finest of California wines. She puts John Barleycorn to shame. She transcends the White Logic with feminine intuition. Treat her gently, never abuse her, and she’ll let you glimpse Paradise.”
Our glasses clinked like silver bells. How exquisite and fragrant this timeless vintage was!
Jack picked up the book, opened it, leafed through some pages, then he took a pencil from his leather vest pocket and underlined the name Lue Ling.
“Lue Ling was one of the bibulous Seven Sages of the ancient Bamboo Grove who declared that to a drunken man the affairs of the world appear as so much duckweed on a river. He led me to another Chinese sage, Chuang Tzu, who four centuries before Christ challenged the dreamland world, saying: ‘How then do I know but that the dead repent of having previously clung to Life? Those who dream of the banquet, wake to lamentations and sorrows. Those who dream of lamentations and sorrows, wake to join the hunt. While they dream, they do not know they dream. Some will even interpret the very dream they are dreaming; and only when they awake do they know it was a dream…Fools think they are awake now, and flatter themselves; they know if they are really princes or peasants. Confucius and you are both dreams; and I who say that you are a dream, I am but a dream myself.'”
“What wonderful men they must have been. Are they here?”
“Not any longer. They both spent some time across that ocean in the real China.”
“Where are they now?” I asked.
“Who knows. In their next possibility. Perhaps someday I’ll meet them when my turn to leave comes. My mistakes will keep me here longer, but not too much.”
He took one more sip of wine, put down his glass, and stated with near solemnity, “The infinite possibilities of the Changeless are far more real than the actualities of the manifested world. Consider what is happening. This dimension, as you can see, is as concrete as your life at home. But for most readers an accurate report will only seem a figment of your imagination. Pure fiction. And that’s the way it should be. Think! If they discovered that this dimension is real, think what would happen.”
He paused, “They are greedy enough as it is. They would consume the earth even faster. They would look at this as a spare-world open to all fools, even ex-drunks like Jack London who burned his candle at both ends.”
I was struck. He was right! I looked into his eyes. Countless questions on my mind. He understood my predicament and smiled.
Our hostess took the empty plates and left us a bowl of fruit: peaches, grapes, apricots, pears, cherries. We still had some True Lady wine.
“Try these,” Jack offered, handing me a cluster of grapes across the table. “They are real. As you taste them, let me tell you what I learned about The Real.”
I took one delicate grape to my lips and savored it slowly, listening.
“Being is the absolute necessity we are all a part of. Existence is where you are now and where I once was. Existence is the expression, or better, a prolongation of Being. I, Jack London, do not exist anymore. But I am! You understand the difference, don’t you?”
I nodded and he went on.
“He who is can never not be, but existence we gain and we lose. I wait with great expectations to re-enter the existential plane through a mother’s womb, to be again water born, because only in physical existence am I free to reach Beyond Being. Oddly, the title of my last story was ‘Water Baby.’ Again, perhaps it was intuition.
“Have you any idea how precious an existential body is?” he leaned forward, looking me straight in the eyes.
“Like everyone else, I instinctively protect my body.”
He came back with intensity, his gaze penetrating to my core: “I wrote about comradeship, the insanity of war, the inviolability of the human spirit, and the redeeming salvation of love. But best of all, in my last stories I spoke about the wisdom of the Great Mother and the Water Baby.
“Listen carefully, my friend,” he went on vibrantly. “A human form is one chance in a trillion to gain freedom of choice, to transcend limitations and move beyond time and space. Existence is the isthmus between two eternities. That is why the human state has been called pontifex, ‘maker of bridges.’ We eternally are, but rarely exist. The difference between being and existing is subtle, but enormously important, and you should understand it and convey it.”
His voice trembled as he added, “That justifies immortality for an artist. To have understood that with the mind in the heart and to help others do the same is the ultimate purpose of art. At the end of my career I began to intuit that supreme truth. Had I understood sooner, my work would have been timeless. As it turned out, I gave courage to my readers, entertained them with adventure and fervent speculations, but I did not show them how to build a bridge.”
He plunged into a silence I dared not disturb.
At last I inquired, “Why are you here? Is this a place of reward or expiation?”
He looked at me and answered with a question: “Is your life a reward or a punishment for things you do not remember?” Then he asserted, almost with solemnity, “Being, my friend, is the source of all possibilities. That’s why intelligent use of freedom while we exist is the magic wand that can break the wheel of illusion.”
His hand slowly swept the air with a grand gesture indicating the imposing line of redwoods stretching as far as the eye could see. I looked at the monumental trees along the path that brought us to the Cove.
“This forest, for example…these wondrous trees that made John Muir weep, arise through immanent Will. In nature this Will becomes the law of the strongest, in the cosmos the law of inevitable consequences. Cause and effect. Karma. Some here refer to it as ‘the preferences of the First Artist.'”
“Creation is the Word of the ‘Motionless Mover,'” I commented.
“Creation as a concept is insufficient for human understanding. Redefine creation: ‘From the inconceivable silence of the Void beyond-Being the song of Being, rises with all possibilities radiating into existence. Time, space, and all the worlds.’ Poets like Markham can put it better. So can great musicians without any words.”
A tall man leaving the inn waved at Jack with a friendly smile, which Jack returned.
“That was Roy Benedict, a wonderful man, an unknown thinker, perhaps the sharpest critic of my work. It was only when we met here that I understood the flaws he had long observed in my writing. He told me I should have made it possible for readers to understand the apparent absurdity, get it? The plenitude of emptiness is only an apparent impossibility. It is just that. It looks like an absurdity, but it is an absolute necessity.
The nothingness from which creation seems to pours forth as if ex nihilo is the mysterious nature of the mind. But this kind of language is only for philosophers, so that’s where the artist must come in. As a writer- had I understood- I could have shown creation as the first archetype of lovemaking, and vice versa, because it is Love that speaks the Word of creation so from the mystery of feminine power and masculine strength comes all the music and dances of love. As the Greatest of Poets said: ‘It is Love that moves the sun and all the stars.'”
We fell silent. That last line of the Divine Comedy sent me back to my student days in Rome. The first verses of the Inferno surfaced in my consciousness, or was Jack projecting them? “Midway along the walk of life I found myself in a dark wild wood having lost the straight path…this savage wood even in thought renews my fear…I cannot tell how I got there, so full of sleep was I when I strayed from the truthful road….”
His voice brought me back.
“I repeat, let the reader suspect there is something more than fantasy behind your words, but never let him be absolutely sure. In my writing I should have employed the metaphor of the empty page and the pen. Paper must lie still to let the pen pour forth, but both are passive in the hands of the Writer.”
My heart leaped. “How beautiful!”
He took a final sip of wine, then plucked a grape. The young woman brought us a cup of coffee.
We tasted the aromatic brew, quietly contemplating the ocean view, watching a squirrel gathering morsels near the edge of the terrace.
“Your thoughts on possibilities keep resonating in my mind. Being is Possibility as such, because nothing is possible outside Being.” I said.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm. “You got it! But please don’t lecture about it. To most these kinds of ideas sound like a lot of hot air. Save your pearls. Conceal profundities as tiny fragments in stirring action, my friend. Good medicine must be coated with sugar. Make up some fantastic adventure you shared with Jack London in a dream, like sailing stormy Cape Horn in an open skiff or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Something a little more exciting than having an abalone lunch at the Redwood Cove Inn with a dead man!”
We chuckled heartily.
“‘Lunch With a Dead Man!’ What a title!” I said.
Then he abruptly changed the subject.
“Let’s go to my house. It’s only a few miles from here.”
He stood up, walked to the edge of the arbor, and came back with a perfectly sculpted yellow rose which he placed on the table. It had been a lovely meal.
We went a different way this time. The patterns of light and subtle depth of moist silences, the majesty of the giant trees were irruptions of cosmic vitality, beacons on the pathway of escape from dull momentary ephemera to blissful permanence. We hiked down a steep path and emerged in a cove, where the sound of the crashing surf woke me from all drowsiness.
Leaving our clothes on the sand, we ran into the pounding waves with the elation of children. The water felt cool, exhilarating, and made my skin tingle. We body-surfed, then floated lazily watching the graceful flight of seagulls and the powerful gliding of gray pelicans inches above the water, searching for their catch. We found warmth on a flat rock in the sand.
I flashed back to my early youth, to the California I had loved. The iodine smell of saltwater, reefs, and seaweed, the feel of the warm sand, all this took me back to almost forgotten joys. The roaring surf lulled us into peaceful sleep. After a while we woke rested. We dressed and climbed back up the pathway through the trees over the first ridge until we were in view of the valley.
The forest completely encircled the Valley of the Moon, the archetype of Jack’s last earthly dream. There it was, the Wolf House, built of stone and ancient redwood to last a thousand years.
We sat on a fallen log, studying the structure. The Wolf House had been burned down three years before Jack died by someone a day before Jack was to move in, never to be rebuilt. It was his final dream shattered on earth, but here it stood, exactly as he dreamed it.
He looked at me and observed, “We were born far apart in time. You are lucky because you found love on earth and in me your first real friend before you die. In this garden I found my other half. If you come again, I’d like you to meet her.”
“Why do you say that, Jack? Am I about to leave?”
“No visit can be long beyond the veil. It is a rare gift. You have experienced the possibility of the apparently impossible. You now have proof that Love is the weaver of the universal carpet, whose weft is made of cosmic dust and whose warp is life itself.”
I closed my eyes at that breathtaking thought, and when I opened them I was back in my earthly dream entering my house, the book still in my hand. I thumbed through it quickly. Under the words “Lue Ling, one of the bibulous Seven Sages” was a thick pencil mark.