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February 28, 2006

Weekend on Lopez


He swung the bar around his body, sweat glistening on his bare torso. A series of deep swooshing sounds came from the balls of flame as they cut through the air. Lit by the rapidly moving orange light of the paraffin, his face looked crazed. His head back, his eyes wide, he emitted a prolonged and deep laugh, like a demon.

Three musicians sat facing outward on the bench of the picnic table. As the plume of thousands of tiny red sparks rose up into the inky-black sky a hundred yards away, they humbly tapped out their rhythm on bongos and a glockenspiel.

The fire-demon approached the drums. Facing them, bending at the knees and offering his staff, held horizontal in outstretched fists, he cried, "Thank you drums!" The drummers looked up and replied in unison, "Thank you fire!"

I went into the house for another bottle of beer. A music recital had just ended and several people were putting their violins away carefully.

It was the end of a long day-of-meetings at Microsoft. I came down to the reception and there was Rosie waiting for me. She was dressed in black-and-white stripy tights and short trousers, and all manner of things woven by wise old hands in remote valleys. She was an earth-mother and had come to the land of technology to save me, and to make me whole. I let down my hair and pulled her up, for a hug.

"Why!?" I shouted, my voice carrying far across the Sound. In the distance I could see Vancouver Island; I shouted all the way to Canada. The Sound was a massive open space of water with green islands piercing it. "Why!?" I shouted again in tears of confusion and anger. And then I collapsed on the soft, mossy carpet of nature and felt at home; I could live there forever. We found an empty summer house, ate some herbs from the garden, and drank from the faucet.

We had reached this remote spot by canoe. We walked from Rosie's house down to the shore and pulled the boat into the shallows that were filled with seaweed. We tracked the rocky shore of the bay, dipping our paddles into the clear, deep, slate-gray water.

I was standing on my head against the wall. Debi, the teacher, came and helped me. She told me that I would hurt my neck if I did headstands on my forehead. The room was light, with white, curved and lumpy adobe walls, and a light-oak floor. The wall-of-windows looked onto a lake.

We met in the forest. It was a small dance and martial arts studio with a thickly lacquered floor and wood-burning stove. The five of us sat in a circle and practiced the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh in the darkness of the early morning. The logs crackled as we shared with each other what we were grateful for. We sat in silence and then walked slowly in a line around the room.

We entered the barn filled with bails of hay and discarded farm equipment: ploughs and tractors and old engines. We climbed the ramp which had horizontal grips nailed onto it and knocked on a door. Madrona, Rosie's daughter, opened it and invited us in. Her studio apartment, so un-barn-like, was spacious but cluttered with crystals and plants and unusual things hanging on the walls. Her bed was raised on a platform with a ladder for access and she had DSL (broadband). She was making a gourmet meal for her boyfriend.

We walked from the barn through fields and over stiles. Madrona wore a bowler hat and corduroy waistcoat; she looked even more alternative than her mother. We walked through a sparse forest and Madrona, a botanist, told me about the different trees and plants.

We came to some open fields with a view of the water. Far in the distance, on the other side of the bay, was the private compound of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. They told me that he does not interact with the small community on the island; instead he enters and leaves by boat and helicopter.

I watched a reading at the school; Rosie and her two children took part. Her son Kiba, wary of me, threw me his flat-cap to take care of while he performed; a gesture of trust and connection that I felt deeply.

We had lunch in the little café near Rosie's studio before I said goodbye to this little island community in the Pacific Northwest where everyone is known and where everyone is taken care of. And on the drive to Seattle airport, in the Spring of 2004, we stopped and I took pictures of Rosie in a field of daffodils.

"Did I tell you yet how much I enjoyed the Lopez article? I forwarded it to Madrona and she liked it too." — Rosie


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