Monday, July 20, 2009

Not because it was easy but because it was hard

The past several days have been filled with moon landing memories. Bookstore C has displays of commemorative newspapers, magazines, and other ways to part people from their money. Mira Costa tells us of the big step she is undertaking today, and my thoughts are very much with her. And I have been reminded of what I did on that day 40 years ago.

And I must say: what optimists everyone was! Most Americans were home huddled around the television. But not I. I and several skeptical friends decided to take advantage of the fact that everyone was looking in a different direction. We went out and climbed an abandoned dry-dock in Richardson's Bay, off Sausalito.

In two dinghies we rowed out to the structure, an unpainted wooden hulk several stories high floating way offshore. Someone had scouted earlier and found decking a few feet above water level where we could tie up. Clambering aboard, we found the deck leading to a featureless wall several stories high, with one ladder up.

When the dry-dock was abandoned, part of making it unusable was the destruction of that ladder by the systematic hatcheting of every rung. In other words, it wasn't really a ladder. It was two uprights with nubs of torn wood sticking out of the two sides. We used that to climb to the top.

Which was another deck, although rotten and broken in many places, through which one could fall fifty or seventy feet, whatever it was, into the dark interior where we could hear water lapping. We picnicked there for a couple hours. I made some attempt to be in the moment, and sat apart gazing up at the pale mid-afternoon moon.

Rationally, I could accept that there were people up there. It didn't seem to mean much, though -- after all, rationally I knew there were people in Australia, but I couldn't see them either.

Getting down that ladder was worse than climbing up, but we did leave and scatter to our homes. The streets of San Francisco were still empty in the early evening, and sounds of TV dialogue leaked through open windows. And I wondered: What's this all about, that America is so pleased by this and I simply can't see the point?

At that tender age I had known the total bliss of love, and I had found thrills in various discoveries that may seem small but were big when they happened (discovering garlic, how John MacLaren seeded the dunes to build Golden Gate Park, getting a feel for the Niagara Escarpment). But what spoke to me loudest were the words of e.e. cummings.

you shall above all things be glad and young

you shall above all things be glad and young.
For if you're young, whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love.

whose any mystery makes every man's
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think, may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation's dead undoom.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.

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