The Dog On Eastbourne

Greetings, Bloggers, from me way out in the sticks, and the rocks too. Okay, so I’m actually back in Vancouver for a day or so, you got me…nevertheless, mentally I’m still lying in the Hennessey hammock on the old abandoned overgrown road that hugs the bluff, and listening to the dog on Eastbourne bark his fool head off.

No, Eastbourne’s not an island, just a neighbourhood on one. Keats Island, to be precise, located just a couple miles roughly west-northwest across Collingwood Channel from where I make my bivouac these days, and like most everything else around here (Bowen included) named after one of Lord Nelson’s admirals in the Glorious First Of June. Never to be forgotten! At least not by English sailors of the mid-1800s, anyway. And Eastbourne is the long strip of Keats facing roughly east-northeast, all dark at night during my youth, but now merrily strung with little elf-lights the year ’round. And at present also with me facing it, reading Lord Jim by the mini-flashlight clipped to my hammock, listening to that dog.

Metaphorically speaking, anyway.

It’s been — perhaps — an education. The old summer cabin having come down in a blaze of bulldozers sometime over the winter (and yet still standing somehow, miraculously untouched, inside my head), for months I’ve struggled to make plans to plant myself in my utopian summer country again regardless, and these have kind of come off, except not really, except possibly they have, except I still don’t know yet. It’s been sort of a puzzle. The Hennessey hammock was actually my Plan D, the plan that works when others fail owing to its lower ranking in the alphabet…hey, so how come we don’t call these plans, the plans that actually work, Plan A instead? The Hennessey is a truly marvellous camping innovation, a hammock you crawl into from the bottom because the top is sealed up with very fine-weave mosquito netting — above your head runs a guyline of black string that the netting tents itself over, and what you can clip to that string is what you can do when you’re inside the thing. A flashlight, a small bag for garbage, a book in a Ziplock bag, a pouch for eyeglasses and a bottle of water…anyway that’s what I put in there. Living in this sort of hammock is a strange thing, in a way a quite shockingly literary experience, even at times (if the two can genuinely be separated) a science-fictional one: inside the nylon sack, the only local “down” there is comes from your own body weight, and it is an absolute “down” — take your eyes off the radio you brought in there with you, and you’ll see it swiftly migrate to the approximate vicinity of your ass, never to be seen again — whoops — or take another person with you, and immediately rediscover them as your own personal black hole, and yourself as theirs, as you lie glued nose-to-nose with each other for all eternity, unless you can work together to perform the complicated two-body calculation of feet necessary to part the Velcro seal you slithered in through in the first place, and let Earth-normal gravity take over, and drag you out the aperture onto the ground. Yes, and my apologies: if you haven’t guessed already, it’s another lesson in the meaning of Elsewhere as according to General Relativity, filtered through experience and embellishment to become story…just as “To Light A Fire” is, or “The Cold Equations”, or “The Door Into Summer”, or “Gateway”, or (my favourite of all) “Nobody Dies”. Or, for that matter, “Lord Jim”. Or even, perhaps, “The Dry Salvages”…?

Oh, too much?

No, not too much: just enough, instead. In the hammock, you can do exactly as many things as the load-bearing strength of the string permits you to do, and nothing else at all beyond that. Try as you might. And this is roughly matchable to the way that, as time and space define each other at every step, so too do exigency and freedom. The past exists, but can’t be gone back to. The future doesn’t exist, until you laboriously make it up out of nothing at all, inch by inch. Right now, there’s just the gravity that obtains inside your little enclosure of action and reaction, and that’s what the world is, to you.

Of course, within these necessary constraints, you’re free to do as you wish; and that ain’t hay, you know.

Apart from the netting, and the symbolic debasement of the entry from below, what distinguishes the Hennessey most of all is what they call its “asymmetrical” design. Basically this means that there are ropes on either side of it that you tie up to tent-pegs or trees or what-have-you, that pull out the shape of the bag approximately into a rectangle that lies just slightly across the “beam” of the main lines that lift the whole apparatus off the ground. So you’re not lying, as it were, straight up and down in a kind of parachute-silk canoe; you’re lying at a slant to the major North and South of it instead, nice and flat on your back in a wider rectangle of protected space oriented roughly south-southwest where your feet are, to north-northeast where your head is. And thus the whole experience of clambering into the thing is pretty surprising to the senses. As you prepare to stick your head through the vaguely vaginal slit of the Velcro seal, and lie down in the dark, there’s a sense of…of what? Absurdity mixed about fifty-fifty with claustrophobia, I guess. Or, a very slight nagging sense that this may actually be your life, sleeping in a bag hung from a couple of trees, in the rain and the dark, and that that may say something about you. But you press on. Into the bag, the sack, the hive, the womb, the grave. You grit your teeth. You hunker down. You commit to the understanding of necessity. And then…

And then, HA! Surprise, surprise, it isn’t at all like what you thought it was a minute ago. You lie back in the rectangle of protected space, unexpectedly autonomous, and look up through the suddenly quite transparent expanse of netting that covers you, and you see the stars through the trees as they wave about in the wind, you see the moonlight off the ocean…suddenly, paradoxically, you are right there, absolutely there in the moment, and quite quite free of care. You don’t even want to turn on the carefully-clipped flashlight and unwrap the cleverly-preserved book, because that would interfere with the fantastic sense of space you’re currently enjoying. And then you see a couple Perseids come down out of the sky, and you hear a seal slapping in the bay below you, a deer or two pounding through the salal behind you, and the hammock sways a little in the breeze, and you fall asleep laughing a little under your breath at the distant punctuation of the dog on Eastbourne, barking away. Well, because what the hell is he barking at, anyway? What in the world does he think he hears, that’s such a big deal…?

Segue: for roughly the last ten years or so, mine has been a very pleasantly duplex life. Half the year drinking too much and wearing out keyboards and remote controls in Vancouver, and another half as a minor prince in a tiny kingdom in the Summer Country — casting the awareness of time away, if you will, in favour of its activity. And every May and every September, a waking-up and a putting-to-sleep, respectively. And I won’t lie to you: it was great while it lasted. But now, it’s over.

So…time to be someone else?

Hmm…

Last year, it seemed very sensible to me to begin making moves in the direction of living on Bowen Island permanently. Now, I’m not so sure. You see, everything’s just a tiny bit turned around: summer’s been like winter, really, the time of clutching at straws, of buckling down regardless, or of screwing up, of going unprepared to the bar, of forget buckling down but just keeping on keeping on…I mean I haven’t even written a thing since the end of June, and at the moment it doesn’t look like I’m going to, after all I am living out of a bag…but meanwhile winter seems to be holding out some promise to me, of profitable work (!), of constant movement, of endeavour…of some satisfaction, maybe, or some success. Much, it so happens, like being a minor prince in a tiny kingdom. Last night I had a dream, that some member of my family was getting married in England, in an enormously ancient and cavernous university Hall of some sort, and all our relatives old and young and living or dead were waiting there for the big event to take place. Members of the wedding party filed in, and were announced to the multitude, and took their seats. Then I walked in, and there was suddenly spontaneous applause from the cheap seats. I excused myself to my companion, and bowed elegantly to the hordes. And there was thunderous applause, a standing ovation in fact. And then I sat down in my turn, feeling like a character in a Lois McMaster Bujold book.

And then woke up, expecting to hear the dog all a’barking…but of course that was last night, and not this morning, and I guess even that hilarious dog has to sleep sometime or other.

So…

What’s it all mean? I guess you’re wondering. Well, I wish I could say, but I don’t know. I suppose it means that Elsewhere exists, but it can’t be got to…but, you probably know that already. So what else does it mean?

Let’s see…

Superficially I suppose it means that I’m looking forward to a winter wherein I spend about half my time being the Magus of the rocks and trees, beavering away in my old princely fashion, and the other half in town here, bent over the writing pad (and the keyboard, of course, Bloggers — you know now that I’ve found you I could never give you up)…and looking forward to a summer next year in which…in which…

Seriously: damned if I know. I don’t know. I think the dog on Eastbourne may be trying to tell me something about it, from far away, from far out of my reach, like the tolling of a rusty bell across the sea…but I don’t know what it is. Because I don’t speak bell. Or dog. Or rust. Or sea.

Or, do I?

Oh, don’t I?

I think I do.

Aloha, Bloggers, from the land of time and sea and space and fate, and (not to mention) sticks and stones. Sound carries over water, you know, so if you’d be guided by me, you’ll get yourself one of those Hennessey hammocks. They’re great, really. Like sleeping inside a big, fat, bloated metaphor that’s just bursting to deliver its isomorphic message. Morning breath and all.

Tell you what, let’s meet again here soon, and talk about comics.

Deal?

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7 responses to “The Dog On Eastbourne

  1. Maybe he’s just trying to pass along the message that fifteen Dalmatian puppies have been stolen. Sure, that was a long time ago, but it takes a while for the news to get all the way from London to BC.

  2. I tried to sleep in a hammock during my summer getaway, and I realized a couple of things. One was that it took forever — or at least, way longer than I had expected — for the side-to-side rocking motion to subside. It may have been especially pronounced in the rope hammock I was using; I’ve checked out that Hennessy hammock of yours and it looks pretty sweet. But there I was, bobbing to and fro all that time, acutely conscious of how the slightest twitch might affect the pendulum action…and I realized that far from drifting off, the hammock was making me more alert, more aware of the position my body occupied relative to the world. Very stimulating, in fact, but not conducive to sleep. The other thing was something I knew but had forgotten, having been a city dweller for so long: nature is noisy as all hell. Nature makes a fierce racket. On empty city streets I’ve found silence so deep I could hear my rubber soles hitting the pavement; in the wilderness the clamor of little things scrabbling around was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think.

    The above aren’t complaints: what the country does that the city doesn’t (for me) is force me to be more aware of my surroundings in the present moment. The city is for creating and disappearing into virtual worlds. And aren’t we lucky to be able to have both to choose from?

  3. You’re so right, RAB…in fact one of the things I most enjoy about my summer sojourns is the easy access to the ocean, because it’s even truer in the ocean than it is in lakes and streams, that swimming is the single act one can take in life that is both literally and figuratively immersive. You break the surface of the water; you are THERE, in complete realization of the actuality of life…and completely free, in the same moment, from everything un-actual. Well, because you can’t think about what Betty said to Reggie while you’re penetrating the surface of the moment, can you?

    But, as Buber says, it’s all about interval, too, right? The I-Thou relationship is the best, but just try buying groceries while you’re in it…that would be impossible…best or not, the process of living requires that I-Thou must give way to the lesser and abstracter reality of I-It, at least from time to time it must, anyway. Mystery being: we’re all free to return to the Source at any time, but we’ve got to return…because we can’t stay there.

    Gee, it’s awfully Talmudic in here all of a sudden; let me just open a window. Ah. Much better.

    The Hennessey is actually pretty good for sway-stability, once the initial (and you’re right, ridiculously prolonged) amplitude of entry dies away. Because you’re lying across the “beam”, see? So it gets to be quite stable. Me, I’m gonna upgrade to the King-Size model just as soon as I can, it’s apparently much less fussy than the regular A-Sym version…

    On a different note, my webcomic with Merrie is on a bit of a hiatus — but I’d like to email you the basic plot, if I haven’t already, so you can say flattering things about it, hurray. Also I was considering writing that “Snow Leopard” Inhumans script anyhow, but not posting it here of course…do you think you and/or Jonathan might enjoy looking at it privately, just for fun, to see where I was planning to go with the whole mess?

    Been drinking, obviously. Also in the last throes of prize-selection, as well. The famous Bowen Island Book Sale, you see: I have to decide what I could possibly part with. Curse you!

    And, yes: the country isn’t quiet. Well…actually, yes, it is quiet; it just isn’t silent. And, I often think, it isn’t particularly rhythmic, outside of the waves lapping on the shore and the humming of the bees. Whereas noise in the city is always rhythmic, and rarely — dare I say it? — asymmetrical. All these overlapping layers of eruptive sound here make a bit of an aural tapestry despite themselves, but in the country things suddenly go CRASH CRASH! out of nowhere, or at least they go scuttle-scuttle, and even the wind in the trees isn’t quite what you’d call soothing, most of the time. There’s probably a whole paper on the psychological mechanism of attention to be written there, I guess, although I won’t write it…

    Also: been following your holidaying posts with some interest, although I probably won’t comment on them ’til September. Man, I really love this sort of thing, though, you know? It’s a wonderful reminder of the fact that the understanding of comics usually begins in the explorations of childhood, and the ideas we adults have about what childhood ought to be like, that we thrust the kids into to explore. Campsites; motels; long empty beaches; etc.

    By the way, read my very first Lensman book last week — weird as hell! I mean I knew it was influential, but I never understood just how influential it was, on both the good and bad sides. Especially, I announce it here so I don’t forget: I’m planning a massive post on the various and (amazingly!) far-flung descendants of E.E. Smith, provisionally to be called “Secret Of The Psychic Princesses”.

    Okay, I think the beer’s getting good and cold now. Nice to be back, if only for a day or two. See you in September, RAB!

    You too, Matthew. But he left a long comment, you see, and you left a short one…

  4. Which Lensman book was it? There’s a core group of four books that make up the original Lensman serial, a few other novels by Smith that were written as separate works and retroactively tacked onto the series for marketing purposes, and one that was written much later to fill in some backstory. The latter is actually my favorite in relative literary merit, but the original series has the raw vein of primo pulp novel crack that inspired so many later creators. It’s vital to read those books with a sense of history, too: for its time, the Lensman series was distinguished by self-awareness and even a touch of self-mockery…but these qualities might be difficult to spot in a modern context. Anyway, when you do a post on it, I’ll be around…

  5. So, Bill, are you angling to take over that column that your mom used to put up on the fridge? What was it called again, Precious Cove? Also, I’m surprised you didn’t say anything about the big tree that used to be in your backyard.

    (Wow, I feel like such a troll for that, but somehow I’m not feeling the guilt or shame I would if I posted a similar comment on the blog of someone I didn’t know in “real life”.)

  6. I think it was called “Secret Harbour”. No, wait, that’s my favourite Hardy Boys mystery. No, wait again, that’s Hidden Harbour. So what’s Secret Harbour, eh Ed? What is it, huh? What?

    I don’t know if I ever told you, when I was a kid we had this great big tree in the backyard…and every summer my brothers and my uncles and I would go out and cut it down…good times…but, weird thing, I drove by the old neighbourhood the other day, and the tree isn’t there, anymore…and I guess that’s when you know you’ve finally grown up…and I guess we’ve all got our own “great big trees”, you know, Oprah?

    Post something, damn you!

    RAB: It was two books, First Lensman, and Secdond Stage Lensmen, the title of which alone bids fair to approach the ultra-insanity of Van Vogt (“Destination: Universe!” “Two Hundred Million A.D.!” Messed-up stuff…), and “pulp crack”‘s about right. But, wow. Is there any bad SF of the last fifty years you can’t blame on E.E. Smith? I’m actually amazed.

    Anyway, must dash!

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