July 29, 2010
Though driving in the free-for-all traffic almost made me cringe, Northern Californy is the still where you oughta be. I'm staying at a motel in Petaluma, where lots of movies set in the 1950s have been filmed because parts of the downtown still look the way they did half a century ago. The movie houses of the day are still operating, and the ghosts of '55 Chevys and Mercurys rove Petaluma Boulevard searching for cherry Cokes and burgers.
Other parts of Petaluma are up-to-date, of course. The strip mall near my motel contains a Starbucks and an Indian restaurant called Namaste Kitchen. I mistakenly walked into the barbecue restaurant next door instead. Californians don't know how to barbecue. It's like the Danish band we heard playing New Orleans rock'n'roll in Copenhagen. The notes were right, but the feeling was missing, the way the bass and drums Second Line dance with each other. There's more to barbecue than meat and sauce. Ask the folks at Wib's, the Pilot House, Port Cape, Hamburger Express, the Branding Iron and Dexter BBQ. Barbecue and rock'n'roll are a feeling.
My workshop is in a converted barn on a property in the country. I'd never roamed the back hills of Sonoma County before. The sparsely treed grazing land has its own beauty. Cattle and milk cows dot the hills, and vineyards line the two-lane roads. A geologist could explain why these domed brown hills formed between the redwood forests to the north and the ski slope cliffs of San Francisco to the south. The dramatic changes in landscape and in cultures make California California.
The people in the workshop are from all over -- Nashville, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Seattle and Northern California, of course. We work for seven hours a day with a lunch break. Over lunch someone asked how I came to be here. I told him my wife bought me the workshop leader's book. He asked if you are interested in this kind of approach to spirituality, too, and I said no, you have a hard time not making fun of me.
He thought there was a sweetness to the fact that you got me the book anyway. I agree.
After landing in Oakland I considered going to Fenton's to have a Black and Tan ice cream sundae in your honor, but the traffic jams made me want to get out of the city and head north. I dropped by Bolinas to see where Gail's son Ben and his girlfriend Kelsy live. It's a compound of little cottages in the air. The only sounds are made by birds and the wind. The beach is a three-minute walk down the hill.
The owner of the houses is a Buddhist woodworker who used to travel with the Grateful Dead. When I lived in the Bay Area I worked with someone whose mom used to travel with the Grateful Dead. There is a glassblower in Cape Girardeau who used to travel with the Grateful Dead, too. It's become a calling card.
Our teacher says awareness, compassion and physical sensation are the three ways we perceive the world. Tibetan Buddhists call these emptiness, bliss and radiance. Most of us use one or perhaps two of these qualities. In the workshop we are learning it's possible to merge all three and that being in the world feels different when we do.
I'm off to Trinidad to see Julie and Lynn and the Jambalaya. I promise to bring home many treasures from Agate Beach. Lynn has a talent for spotting agates. All the rocks on the beach sparkle just after the tide goes back out, but Lynn sees the agates' inner glow. I think she has a feeling for it.
Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.