Can you ever anticipate where you’ll wander in a dream?

 WE’RE ON A TOUR BUS, coming down along the Northwest coast. The scenery is gorgeous, with the blazing orange light of late afternoon among swirling clouds. We cross a long bridge into America – the Columbia, I first think, though I can see little below or beyond – we come to a kind of Sturbridge Village of the Far West sort, debark briefly. I look up to see in the parting clouds a chevron of mountain peaks. I identify them, with Baker and Shuskin and the baby in front, but the clouds close over before you can view them, though you try.

Only days before, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d want to travel.


SEVERAL TIMES IN THE NIGHT, I encountered Abraham Lincoln’s Best Friend. Maybe not completely, but at least close to it, probably from his New Salem days. A storekeeper of some sort, maybe a printer with the shop “out back,” at least the action appeared to be in the other room. He greeted me / us across a rough plank counter, had some Blacks working behind him. With impassioned, watery eyes kept trying to tell me / us about a meeting or gathering for later that night, but carefully, not to be overheard by spies. The general plight, fear in the air.


I’M OUT DRIVING ON SOME CURVING rural roads I once knew. Take a turn to the left. Somehow, I wind up returning to the Ashram for a visit. From the circle, Swami addresses me by my street name, obviously a rebuke, and then asks, “What are you doing here? Why did you come?” Obviously, there will be no satisfactory answer. I wind up leaving.

Since it’s a vacation, I stay overnight elsewhere. Find there’s a public evening performance on the street. It’s an Ashram presentation from the Mahabharata; Swami, seeing me, is quite upset, shoots darts. I get the picture, and leave – realize as I’m going she’s still entangled.

So you think it’s only money?

I’M DRAGGED TO AN INVESTMENT seminar in a rambling, modern one-story home. Maybe we’d received an invitation addressed to someone else. At any rate, went. Midway through the presentation, I realized the numbers didn’t add up and left but tripped on my way out. [Now in a different room, with sun: trying to gather up my goods spilled from my purple bag.] The pastor’s wife shows up, indicates she’s not happy with his participation in this scheme. The pastor, strangely resembling the black-belt master, appears and tries to argue me out of my reluctance to invest – turns on me, “How did you find out about this?” My last remaining items are under the head of a sleeping baby – a sick baby. I go to get a pillow so I can retrieve my remaining items. When I return, my bag has been stolen.

Don’t trust a pastor with investment schemes.


WE’RE OFF SOMEWHERE THAT vaguely resembles the historic manor overlooking the river one town over – there’s some development but the landscape’s mostly open with green fields. While strolling alone, I notice a dark Victorian house with Japanese touches and tell myself to bring my daughter back to see it herself. Then, as I approach a crossroads, I see an even more elaborate version, this one with a Queen Ann with a Buddha face occupying half of the second story, its mouth opening out on to a side porch. It’s a truly stunning residence. And then my daughter drives the blue Prius down the crossroad. I wave to her to look the other way, at the house, but she waves in return only at me and heads off to another destination. We’ll rendezvous later.

Another dream intervenes (now forgotten) but the next thing I remember is entering the cellar, which contains an upright stone monument of some note. John and Sarah Dawson are already there. She tells me his family knew the owners of the house and he once wrote a poem in honor of the stone, which he now recites. Not bad for a physicist, I think.

Somehow, we become locked in the cellar, along with another couple. There’s a door to the outside, but when we follow, it leads to hurricane fencing and concertina wire. We’re trapped?

Not quite. John knows some secret to get through, and it leads us to an outdoor dining room, one with white walls and black iron gates – the iron topped by a wiggle of white paint to indicate they were Catholic.

John explains the owners were Germans who lived most of their lives in Japan before retiring to this site, presumably with their children and grandchildren.


SOMEBODY’S EXPRESSING APPROVAL of my shoes, maybe even adding them to a Ten Best list. “But they’re cheap,” I counter, “I bought them at the Kittery outlets years ago.”
“Doesn’t matter,” comes the reply. “Look at that hand stitching and the fact they’re comfy.”

With or without a camel caravan

TRAVELING WITH A LINGUIST, somewhere in Eastern Europe … perhaps the Balkans … or perhaps even parts of Asia, such as Kurdistan. At any rate, he was explaining the addition of syllables to a place name to indicate our destination as we headed toward the train station or a marketplace or the like. We were in crowded towns, of dark brown shades, all the same.

As the scene unfolded, we agreed to part, planning to reunite, which left me to wander on my own for a while. Of course, I became confused but not panicked. At one point, I actually saw him and another – maybe even an old girlfriend of mine – walking a street below me, though I was unable to catch up.

Somehow, I became part of a wedding party reception. An old girlfriend, in fact, maybe even the same one I’d glimpsed earlier, though we were now quite distant memories of one another. Still, when our paths crossed in the crowd, we acknowledged each other’s presence, yet I’m not sure either of us wished the other well. Still, I was dragged off to festivities at a long bar with seats all around, like the Tiki bar at Lobster on the Rough, only larger. It was late afternoon or early evening – dark, that is, with twinkle lights – a Renoir kind of scene. I was told to order dinner, but getting a menu was another matter. All of the menu-like brochures said nothing of the food, as far as well could tell, much less the prices. As I hesitated, I told the waiter to go on, I’d catch up to him. Finally, it came down between a steak at $60 and lobster, also $60. I ordered the lobster. I went over to the waiter, whispered my decision to him, and was told, “Wait,” and soon a lobster on a platter was handed to me, right there. I was also told, by my neighbors at the bar, to go ahead and begin eating while the food was still hot, so I was one of the first to do so. It was a large lobster, over two pounds, served with a kind of chili on the claws. (We’d had a bean soup earlier that evening, reminding me of chili.) The father of the bride was picking up the tab, probably $8,000 for the event. (My first lover’s daddy? Maybe because I’d come across his obit again earlier in the week.) Even so, I was aware that I was one of two or three “poor boys” admitted to this affair.

The next morning, perhaps, on a lawn overlooking a lake, I was told by another participant how much he enjoyed my presence, that I was one of the few people who could carry on a conversation, who had something to say, who had really done things. So that’s why I’d been admitted.


TRYING TO CONSOLE a deeply depressed Prince Charles. (Well, in some ways he was more like Mick Jagger. But when a dream imposes an identity, we stick to it. Besides, we were both much younger than we are now.) Considering the circumstances, we were getting along quite well. He even asked for a long hug before running off to jump on the mattress, like a trampoline, and then a set of sofas as the scene morphed into a hotel lobby as others, including the girl, drifted into the setting.

It started off when a woman I was involved with (a contra dancer?) who worked in his household or some other organization of his wondered if I would ask him, when he arrived, what he thought of her. Well, he and I hadn’t been introduced, so I was reluctant but now see that as an American, for me that wasn’t the problem.

Since he was essentially alone, I was able to strike up a conversation, however awkwardly it began. He did indeed recognize her name (Kate, never mind, not his daughter-in-law but more like Kate Moss) and rattled off a list of statistics and the like – nothing of an emotional nature, but still thoroughly informed.

A while later, I asked if he was a reader, and he assured me he was. I was beginning to tell him of Nicholson Baker’s work when we were interrupted.

These events leave me feeling confirmed as an author

Being invited to speak about my book, either as a solo outing or as part of a panel, is something quite new to me.

It’s distinctly different from being the featured poet at a café reading or even having a chapbook in hand for sale.

Since Quaking Dover is a factual history, the narrative ties into much more definable readerships than my novels have. I’m even able to present PowerPoint slideshows of people and places appearing in the story, and then be surprised afterward to meet descendants the families or the current residents of houses I’ve touched on.

Having a presentation be recorded and made available on YouTube, as happened through the Whittier Birthplace Museum in Massachusetts, is personally thrilling.

My previous YouTube appearance was private, for a selected audience, largely a sequence of appropriate Scripture and related images. It even had an original, emotionally moving musical score from a talented collaborator.

My face wasn’t visible there, by the way. Yes, the invisible writer as witness.

Alas, it’s gone and I do wish I had a copy.

Remember, writing is a solitary activity. Rarely do we get feedback from our finished efforts. Are we writers simply navel-gazing or do we somehow reach others, especially one on one? Have we actually been wasting our time?

In blogging, I’ll assume you, too, are a writer and know what this means.

Humbly yours, all the more.

What’s off with Microsoft’s log-in algorithm?

You know, the changing photo that keeps appearing when you log in. The calculations have no idea, really, of what I like or don’t. My sensibilities are far more complicated than its simple “mountains” or “seashores” calculus.

In one photo, for instance, a single bright-colored backpack at the bottom of the scene threw off the entire wilderness message. It looked like trash. That sort of thing. I didn’t like the particular photo for that reason, but I loved the bigger landscape.

It’s like living with a painting and one day you finally observe something that becomes a flaw. You loved it up to that point. And then?

It’s a binary switch rather than a scale of one-to-ten.

For now, I’m finding some comfort in that, sensing they still aren’t outsmarting me.


Beware of the snakes

WALDEN POND. IT’S DEEP WINTER, with a good two feet of snow on the ground. My thoughts turn to logistics: getting there from the town, what books and projects I’ll be taking, what food and cooking gear (if any) I should pack.

The prospect is liberating and exciting – an invitation to get down to some Real Work.


I’VE BEEN OFF SOMEWHERE and am returning with a friend as we come over the crest of a hill and look down to a very green meadow. A figure runs across the field. A moose? Or a horse? But a very full tail follows, and then I realize it’s a giant squirrel.

No wonder I awaken!


WAS SOMEHOW VISITING BROWN, a small group somehow in a social setting when we “went out back” to see is latest work. (This is where the dream picks up:) Not at his house and farm in Berwick, but rather beside the sea or a large gray lake. It’s a former industrial site, and he leads us into a large half-shell, somewhat like the Hatch Shell along the Charles except this has large piles of dirt inside, the kind that have been moved about by bulldozers. The shell is surfaced in rough concrete, and this is what he’s been painting on. Another person tells me Brown’s been doing very little of the painting these days but has others, including Mennonites, as apprentices who are doing much of the work he envisions. It’s largely gray, with some red and yellow. Brown tells me he’ll never be finished with this project and has no intention to.

We step back and the structure is no longer open to the air but rather goes back like a large Quonset hut or airplane hangar with office cubicles along the floor. This time, much of the surface is salmon or pinkish. What’s happening overhead is quite incredible, a contemporary Sistine Chapel. I retreat to a far corner to sit down to take it all in. Brown approves of my move with a nod or a wink.

In the final tableau, I’m outside in open ponderosa and see three typewriters in the sagebrush or palmetto. Warily, watching for rattlesnakes, I step out to get one in order to finish some project we’re engaged in. That’s when I notice the IBM Selectric II in a taupe shade. Before I can retrieve it, a stiletto-heeled secretary in black hosiery approaches to say, in effect, keep my hands off. As I retreat, something drops from a tree onto my neck and shoulders. I’m trying to brush the snake off as I awaken.

Back to places I’ve inhabited or at least visited

A rather elaborate sequence of dreams after drafting a letter to our former landlords. I had fallen asleep especially early, around 8 p.m., and this was kicking in probably around 4 a.m. and continuing until 6:

I’m in Yakima (actually had an elaborate “east of Yakima” dream about six months ago, heading through the small towns off toward Tri-Cities … no trace of its content now). Except that this one could as easily be Binghamton or even Manchester.

It picks up as we’re coming over the crest of a high hill overlooking the city. We’re on a clean concrete boulevard on a sunny day, the downtown arrayed below us – and golden hillsides overlooking it from the other side. Blue sparkling river flows through it. (Columbia River, as it is up in Wenatchee?) We’re chatting about my return visit after so long.

Actually, I now remember there was an earlier episode about taking my family out West … spurred by the letter, actually … so they become part of the crowd in this series, even when they’re masked as others, I suppose. In actually, it’s a golden morning after a very glum Sunday.

It’s a smooth sweep downhill, skirting the downtown. We’re talking about a movie that was done here. (Maybe even picking up on another recent dream of visiting Ivar’s orchard, which in reality could have been in York County as easily as Washington State.)

Next thing I know is we’re driving along the sparkling blue river. From the angle of the sunlight, we must have been headed east. The freeway is in a set of elaborate caging – wiring like extended lobster pots, actually – sprinkled by a earlier shower perhaps or occasional irrigation. A vast serpentine structure along the river and overhead – was the other side cliff? “They haven’t done a movie with this yet, have they?” Laughter. And our guide (Phyllis?) replying, “Not yet.” It was very cinematic and joyful.

We pull off at a small mill area … like those of New England. (I now remember yet another recent dream, of what I pegged as eastern Ohio or even West Virginia: driving along an industrial valley, leaving the freeway and visiting within the varied small cities. Many shades of Warren, Niles, Youngstown, with moats thrown in. Maybe this dream repeatedly. Trying to reconnect with something lost.) We park and walk past or through a small Catholic church and out on a shaded plaza beside a mill. In the window, I see someone sitting. Looks like Carl P., only turning to face us, is a woman. Not pleased by our banter, either. We start to borrow a picnic table bench to use elsewhere, then I turn around and replace it. Glancing down the street beside the church, I notice that what first appeared to be triple-deckers beside the mill are actually one long, complex series of stucco apartments with Roman Catholic crosses in strategic places.

I think we had been visiting in one of the apartments … a rather erotic introduction for me … though it’s all fuzzy now. Again, later vague memories of other apartment dreams and student-residents. Colleges or art schools. Maybe Cincinnati and theaters or music.

We exit through the church, and dash across the street to a parking lot – all set high above the river, like the Sam Hill museum and Stonehenge in the Horse Heaven Hills. The headlights of a procession approach – either a wedding or, as it turns out, a funeral. Now off to the side, we watch two groups in conflict – the funeral contingent above, with the hearse, and a group taunting and jeering below. Some kind of minor thug – a woman? – is to be buried after a funeral mass.

But first, we’re off. Somehow, our own crowd has changed. It’s more crowded, and Phyllis must be driving. A teenage orphan is snuggled up next to me and several others. (It’s getting very erotic.) She’s freckled, open-faced, and has somehow managed to live on her own – a victim of the thug’s oppression. A blanket’s thrown over us. I reach down to scratch my leg (I’m wearing shorts) but am scolded for touching someone else. Lift the blanket, and a face looks up at us. “Sorry. I’ll keep my hands up here, to myself.” Laughter. There are other bodies pressed in against us, too. It’s a crowded, but joyful trip.

Turns out this is part of a group that sees this as the moment of liberation from the thug’s circle.

A leap again, and we’ve stopped at a small roadside restaurant called, it turns out, Baklava’s. Looks like a Carvel’s or Baskin-Robbins. We’re running around in some confusion. I see bagels for sale, but not what I’m seeking. (Something big and fluffy, like a cinnamon roll, or even baklava.) “Oh, the coffee comes with baklava,” I’m told, and yes, the coffee is dark and thick.

After I get my order, one of our companions (not Phyllis?) goes up to the counter, where the manager (I presume) in a red-plaid shirt is at the counter. She squirts him with a fountain pen-turned-hypodermic, hitting him with a dark liquid. He falls over backward. He was one of the thugs and we’ve made our hit. We run from the store and no one pursues us to the parking lot. Good thing, since my car keys are tangled in my pocket. (So I’m driving now?) Even with the delay, there’s no sensation of panic. We’re on the side of justice, however illicit. The people’s side. Justice has been served. It’s still morning.

Going, going, Gohn

About halfway back in my life, I found myself among Plain-dressing rural Christians. Some of them were also Plain Quakers who retained the “thee” and “thou” speech of Friends’ tradition. My bff of the time was one of them.

Plain dress, should you ask, is what the Amish wear, as well as old-order Mennonites, Brethren, and some other strands, in their own subtle distinctions.

There were reasons I didn’t go all the way, but I did acquire some items, including broadfall pants that have no zipper or belt loops. They were surprisingly comfortable and very well made, in America, no less. After 35 years or so, my denim and blue corduroy pairs are finally showing some wear. I have no idea how many regular brand-name blue jeans these have outlived, but now it’s time to order more of the Plain style.

For many folks, that means Gohn Bros. in Middlebury, Indiana, whose no-nonsense, illustration-free catalog can be downloaded online or ordered by phone or mail. The owners of the store, we should note, aren’t Amish, though they’ve served that demographic for generations. I’ve heard of other faithful buyers who found the store through the Whole Earth pages of hippie lore. Maybe this post will add to it.

I am happy to see that the small-town emporium survives. A few minor changes appear in the options as enhancements rather than copouts. For instance, I can now substitute belt loops for the suspender buttons or opt for gray or black denim rather than blue. My, my.

Here I am, actively paring down my possessions, trying to use up what’s already on my hangers and in my dresser drawers, yet I’m feeling tempted to order a few new shirts, maybe a dress coat, too.

Don’t worry, it’s not Armani. Instead, these selections are much more everyday practical me. Just think, too, they’ll always be in timeless style.