The Middle Ground

Verbal Sketches Inspired by California's Central Coast

This collection of verbal sketches was one of the first times I can recall sitting down to write, just for writing's sake.  I remember being shocked just how much I enjoyed it and marveling at where in the world this stuff came from. It was a feeling of tapping into a part of myself I hadn't ever taken the time to get know before.

Drawing on memories, cliche, and the sheer enjoyment of putting words on paper, these brief little lines of prose still bring a smile when I revisit them.


I. Mid-Morning

The cold wet earth patiently endures the rare warmth of a sun-filled winter morning.  Beneath the surface of barely dry ground, the long memory of the Aleutian storm track lingers in the form of watery laughter in the face of the fiery sun’s futility.  It’s a battle as old as time itself, and there is no middle ground.

On this morning the sun declares it’s promise loudly, a promise of better times to those who’ve endured a long bitter season of soul shattering storms.  In this morning light there is also the promise of simple things. Joy and laughter and bicycle crashes.  Coffee and beer, skin and frivolity. These simple things may well fill the day and yet the first promise will remain unfulfilled. At the end of the day, profits will still be reaped from an illegal purity, just as it’s always been.

The sad truth is that the promise of hope that this day proclaimed to those who walk above the ground will soon be broken. Take your shoes off and stand in the bare dirt, listen with the soles of your feet, and you will hear the wisdom of the earth as it prophecies the patient endurance of coldness, and the water that by noon tomorrow will be falling from the sky once again.

II. New Year’s Day

The warmth of the afternoon smelled of a thousand years with a hint of sage. The wind had whipped the ocean a bit ragged but there were still a few pocket’s of sheltered water on the leeward side of every significant headland. Shelter.  A fundamental human need.  Though sometimes the shelter we’re looking for isn’t the shelter we need.

The windswept ocean is a constant reminder of what a mess can be made of our lives by elements beyond our control.  But the crunch of the gravel underfoot and the piercing volume of solitude can be just the unexpected shelter we need from a world of slick pavement and an all knowing everyone.

In this solitude every day is new.

III. The Arrival

The first sight of the Pacific after hiking across the bluff confirms the surprisingly early arrival of a much anticipated swell.  Back in town the word is all abuzz about this one. First real swell of the winter, big enough for the cove to break proper, the same old story as it’s always told and retold. Seems there’s no encryption on this network anymore, with every swell model downloaded to the public domain of collective consciousness.  Now we all know when to skip work.

And apparently most of us do skip work, judging by the sheer numbers of us that show up at every movement of the ocean to overload the circuit-boards of every decent break within easy driving distance.

Occasionally though, there are private moments of mystery still sheltered from public domination.  They occur at the wrong spots on the wrong tides, between swells, and often right under our nose.  The ocean is alive.  Like you.  We could watch you day and night and discern your patterns and forecast that you’ll do all sorts of things, and often we’d be right, but only out of luck. Nothing would prevent you from doing as you please, damn the forecast, you’re an ocean today. If you feel like waking up at 4 in the afternoon when nobody expects you to, you will, and we love you all the more for it.

IV. Restricted Access

Here is the edge of everyone.  The weight of an entire state passes overhead, rushing to and from the Great Place to Get Lost.  You can smoke a million cigarettes here and die of lung cancer seven times in a day before the fog rolls in and your story will be the same as everyone else’s.  Just be sure to get out of the taxi before the Russian couple gets you in their apartmant and start cooking crepes.  If you don’t, your story will then be very different. But that’s another story to be told on another day about the Great Place to Get Lost.

And that’s what they want you to do. Get Lost.

The signs on the fence say it all.

V. Approaching Storm

There is beauty in light regardless of what horrid reality it illuminates.  There’s times when turning away and refusing to see the wreckage of our collective lives, is to miss out on an opportunity to marvel at the wonder of light.

But so often that’s what we do.  We turn away and refuse to see what we don’t want to see.  Bury your toes in the sand, watch out for used needles, and listen again to the vibration of the deep as it rumbles out an earth shaking testimony of the storm that is to come.  The day will soon be dark, we will wish for the return of the light that we scorned.

When? When did we scorn that beautiful light?  Every time.  Every time it revealed to us our problems and we considered them someone else’s, waiting for the city maintenance crew to come take it all away to the safe deposit in the middle of the sea.

VI. No Fires

We’d driven all over the state, the miles passing like a rushing river in a sudden spring rain. It wouldn’t do really, us being together, that is.  She was from a different background than I was, a different class, far too refined to spend any sort of life with me. Her car worked all the time, it always started, one of them Toyotas I believe. Made me a bit uncomfortable, really. People I’d always been around never knew if they’d get where they were going on any given day. Volkswagens, american cars, unclassic relics from someone else’s childhood.

Needless to say, on this road trip we drove her car. No hotels, no campgrounds, just a soft shoulder on the side of a cliff with a construction site dirt berm for privacy, and a big blue tarp to envelope our time on the side of the road. There had to be at least two dozen rules against our unplanned happenstance there, but neither she or I stopped to read the signs.

We awoke to a different look in each other’s eyes, and the fire was still burning that morning suspended in a soft falling rain as we drove on.

VII. Denied

I’m not sure what I was looking for on that silver day, but something had drawn me out to this spot as I was passing through.  Maybe it was the gravity of human experience hanging thick in the calm salty air. Many sons of men have gone to these waters in a pursuit of love, never to return again.  The rusted chainlink and razorwire stand in the way of those who would follow after them, a weatherworn testament to their separation from the land of the living.

Oxygen. That tragic element that for each of us someday comes up short, is even now at work oxidizing and returning that cold cruel barrier back to the dust of the barren earth from which it was pulled.

But for now we stand waiting on this side, staring out to the light, but denied full entrance to it’s weightless blaze.



VIII. Mack

Everything moves. But not everything moves easily. Some things take untold years and a thousand deaths just to move an inch. We line up, waving our credit cards in the air, for a chance to purchase the fruit of this lifeless march.

To their own detriment, a people once worshipped a golden calf in the desert. Their impatience was thier undoing as they rushed headlong to an immenently lawless brand of well-intentioned but misguided self-fulfillment.

Step carefully onto the pavement of the busy highway. Stand on the center divider and feel the smooth cool paint of the double yellow on your barefeet. Listen closely  and you’ll here the barking of a silver pit bull.



IX. Fading Light

And the day is near over now.  The light has faded, and the time is short. Everything that’s ever been done, has been done today, and tomorrow is anybody’s guess.

We’ve built the fire and cooked our dinner in aluminum pots, our hands blackened by dirt and ash, the seasonings of our food.  Beers have been cracked, but not finished yet. The wind has now died and been laid to rest.

We have high hopes for tomorrow.

X. A Break in the Rain

The new morning dawns slow and wet. Everything falls into place, and we intend to trespass unashamed.  Whatever laws were written long ago that allowed the illusion of land ownership to the exclusion of free movement must have their roots in a time and place that no longer belong to humans, and today belongs to humanity.

The laws are monetary. The have’s and the have not’s. They may own the profit margins, but those don’t exist in the real world. They’re just abstracts that play out in the exchange of blood in a suffocated brain behind the desk of a thousand pressing decisions to avoid all that matters. They can have their monies. We can have their waves.

All the while the day grows darker, and nothing dry is left.  The patient endurance of coldness has won, and now even what’s right is wrong. The hillsides shake in the fury of another Pacific storm.  Nothing can be done now but surrender beneath the weight of it all. This is what it is to be human.

XI. Beckoning

Like a big brother with his struggling younger sibling pinned to the ground, a stream of spit dangling precariously over defiant eyes, mercy only comes with surrender.

The day’s storm has become our big brother. It’s been a day of a thousand years and we’ve not seen the sun since 1971. Wind and water stinging our defiant eyes, we struggle against the weather seeking mercy through strength and wit, finding the sheltered cove, the north facing coast, any anomaly of geography offering respite from the ragged mess that holds our spirits down. We seek this, but we do not find it.  We find only defeat.  Retreat.  Holed up in the car, heater blasting, foodless, weary and wet.

Nothing left to do but surrender. Crack a joke, and the very last beer, and drink to what has been and what will be again.  Stand on the roof of the car and howl at the wind, chasing the last sip of beer with a mouthful of smiling rain. Say uncle, and watch defeat become victory, watch the scattered become clean, watch the cold darkness be pierced by the merciful beckoning light.

XII. California Storm

This California storm is over for now, but there will be more to come. Some will be shorter, some will last longer than anyone ever thought possible. Yet through it all, life will unfold, in hillsides full of fiery births, born of water and light, burning bright and calm like the ringing of distant church bells, signaling that this is not the end.

It is only noon.

And there is still no middle ground.