Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"...Place..." by Diane Lee Moomey

To enjoy a book I have to trust the writer.  Only then can I give in to her power.  Sometimes trust is easy - a voice sounding just like my own, or not like mine but amply  warm or authentic or engaging.  Sometimes the voice is first contact with a mind utterly different than my own but clearly onto something - such as the voice of Diane Lee Moomey.

And trust her I do.  She is kindred to the voices of Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard.  I’ve read her book three times now and will surely return again.  The book is called . . . Place . . . and that’s what it’s about: her lifelong search for …place… a state of mind, a home - not a structure or location but a spot in the spiritual and physical universe.

The power of the book is largely indirect, cumulative.  There are the people: James, her companion homesteader on their frozen one hundred hectares of Canadian Shield, gatherer of maple sap, a man she never fully reveals perhaps out of kindness, perhaps out of sorrow.  There is Marcel, a farmer who rides his tractor while composing poetry in his head, who sells candles at a fair where Diane sells porcelain eggs.  “When the fair is over… Marcel kisses me in front of everyone: a surprise kiss; a stong, hard kiss, beyond Quebec-polite.  This is not an invitation; it is a statement.  We could live Here together and do very well.” 

There is Evan, “another one of those rock-star potters that Ontario is famous for,” from whom she buys clay, with whom she shares a kiln and an attraction.  She says, “As Marcel is actually not wind, but the door through which wind blows, so Evan is not fire, but the kiln that contains it.”

And there is Will:  “Wherever he goes, he carries the presence of those red trees with him; the slow, tenacious movements of vines and of root hairs.  Winds do not blow him down; earthquakes do not topple him…  He moves like a plant, and thinks like one, too.  Days or weeks will go by with no apparent activity, then suddenly comes a flurry of blossoms, a setting of fruit.”

To read this book is to feel in your body - to your very core - how it is to walk (carefully) at midnight, sixty degrees below zero, in the Laurentiens: “No wind will blow; no snow will fall; storms move only in the much warmer regions near zero.  Smoke from chimneys will rise straight up, skies will be clear, stars clean and sharp.  Beneath the snow, Mouse and Shrew may sleep, may move about in tiny tunnels.  Above the snow, no sensible creature…” 

You will feel the dry heat of the noonday desert sun that paradoxically leaves you drenched: “I can feel the thin, high vibration of the ultraviolet seeping beneath arm hairs, altering my cells, changing my skin forever.” 

You will learn the smell of water, the personality of granite.  When a blue jay becomes trapped in your house, you will calm her with a spontaneous language:  “'Chikachikachik,' I continue, and walk slowly to the open door, carrying her in front of me.  As soon as she sniffs the plein air, she shoves off the dowel with surprising force and is gone.  I think, absurdly, of aliens coming to rescue earthlings as we flap against our own glass ceiling…”

You will swim naked at midnight in a small Adirondack lake:

On sudden impulse, I upend myself and dolphin-dive into the dark water, eyes open, pushing down as far as I can.  My fingertips brush the cold layer six feet beneath the surface.

I am not prepared.

Utter emptiness surrounds me.  This water is not simply dark, it is void.  It is nil, it is naught, it is no-thing and no-where.  It has no up and down, no cool and no warm.  It is the dark of the moon, the moment in the night before the dreams begin.  I feel no Presence or Non-Presence, nothing to comfort or to threaten, but all the same I thrash my way quickly back to the surface, splash hastily back to the shore, wrap myself in the towel and sit shivering on the dock.

I have seen my face before my parents were born.

Eventually from her birth on Canadian bedrock she comes to the Pacific Coast, a land crackling above the tectonic Ring of Fire, a land of “loose and temperamental stuff.  The occasional massive boulder on the surface is the black bear in the snowdrift, the swimming pool in the desert - astonishing by the mere fact of its appearance.”  To her surprise, it is Home.

Diane Lee Moomey settled for many years in La Honda, California.  Now she lives in nearby El Granada.  She designs gardens and is a frequent reader at Sullivan’s Lit Night in La Honda.  Perhaps one night, she’ll read this poem (from …Place…):


i drive the coast.
at the fault line,
soft ragged cliffs need only
a couple of richters
to go sliding into the sea.
i park here,
spread my blanket, picnic lunch.

deep beneath me,
rocks could wake, stretch,
roll over in their sleep.
they could, they could do it now.

i could drive on,
out of harm’s way,
but i won’t.

no, i don’t know why.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meet Terry Adams

(I wrote this as an article for the La Honda Voice.  With a few changes, I'm reproducing it here.)

Terry Adams manages the Public Works Department for Cuesta La Honda, where he keeps the roads repaired and the water running.  He bought Ken Kesey's cabin, suffered a tremendous flood that nearly destroyed the place, survived theft of his tools and theft of the cabin's historical artifacts, and rebuilt it into the showpiece that it is today.

In college in the nineteen-sixties, Terry took ROTC and studied Creative Writing, getting an M.A. at Miami University in Ohio.  If you ever wonder what happens to English majors, here’s one story.

After ROTC, Terry was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He served at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Nebraska where they have a bunker that is designed to survive a nuclear hit. His job? He was the Top Secret Control Officer. Terry was the keeper of the targeting instructions for all the nuclear warheads that all the Air Force pilots would need if we launched a nuclear attack.  He was, he says, "Postmaster of the Apocalypse."  He was at the SAC headquarters while four students were shot dead at Kent State. He was there when the Top Secret command to bomb Cambodia came across his desk, and he says, “Everything remained right, normal, and calm in Omaha.” He says his corner of the bunker was a quiet place, buried under 300 psi concrete. Few people wanted to visit the bombing codes - and if they did, they'd better have a darn good reason - so Terry was rarely interrupted. He says it was a good place to play cards. Even today, 38 years later, he won’t talk about what went on in that place because it's still classified information.  Which indicates why Terry was a good man to be in charge of Top Secret bombing plans.

Eventually Terry decided to opt out of the destruction of civilization and left the Air Force as a Conscientious Objector in 1972. Back home in Ohio, Terry says, “My father refused to speak to me and changed the beneficiary on his life insurance from me to the United States Department of Defense.”  Terry decided: “It was time to move to California.” He found work in Palo Alto as a Vocational Counselor. He met and befriended Vic Lovell, to whom Ken Kesey had dedicated One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was to be a lifelong friendship.

Terry set up a car and motorcycle repair business, then a handyman business, then became a licensed contractor running a couple of crews, then tried fixing up and reselling houses, then became a manager in the Maintenance Department at Stanford University, and eventually wound up right here in La Honda managing the Public Works Department.
When financial and legal circumstances forced Ken Kesey to sell the old cabin in La Honda where Kesey, Neal Cassady, Merry Pranksters, and the Hell’s Angels all hung out, Vic Lovell advised Kesey that Terry Adams would be the perfect keeper of his legacy. After years of neglect, vandalism, misuse and squatters, the cabin was a wreck. And then right after Terry bought it, in February 1998, a flood nearly washed it away. The water, Terry says, ran "two feet deep through the house, knocked two walls out of the back room, pushed the front wall 4 inches off the foundation, and left a foot of silt throughout. It took away the bridge, ripped out the water and gas lines – the 250 gallon propane tank has never been found."

The flood left Terry and his wife, Eva, homeless for 18 months.  What had been planned as a ten-year rehab was, in desperation, completed in two years. Terry says, "By 2000, we restored it to museum quality with a new, raised foundation and a freeway-rated bridge as the driveway. We numbered and reinstalled each piece of the old pine paneling and reinforced the framing to seismic standards." The entire rehab is a story in itself to be told another day. (Also for another day - Limey Kay did some masonry on the Kesey cabin during the Merry Prankster era, a story that involves all the basic food groups: drugs, alcohol, guns, Hells Angels...)
All this time, Terry was a writer. He’s no academic in an ivory tower. His hands are callused; beneath his nails are mud and grease. His poems, meanwhile, are as polished as his cabinets and have been published in many magazines.  Now Terry has a book of poetry called Adam's Ribs, and it's a dandy. He’s accessible; he’s humane; he has that twinkle in the eye. He can write about love and death, dump trucks, and the male scrotum - all with wisdom and grace.

Terry is co-host of Lit Night, and you can hear him read some of his work on the last Wednesday of every month, starting 7 p.m. at Sullivan's.  For more photos and for samples of Terry's poetry, click here and here.