HEF 3: IN WHICH the FOLKSINGER ENTERS EDEN WHERE the AUDIENCE BAKES HIM A BIRTHDAY CAKE —
March 16, 2015: Forty years ago in Toronto, my friends all seemed to be departing for an Eden they called BC: British Columbia. For me, however, it was California and by June, I was on my way back, on my way home.
Several Californians anticipating my return, I noted, placed Eden in the primeval and exquisitely beautiful forests of Western Oregon. So as California-bound Greyhound Bus number 1849 sped through the Willamette Valley, I kept a sharp lookout. Though stunned by a visage of Mountain Goats scaling a freeway-side cliff in Roseburg, I saw no evidence of any Eden. Were my friends mistaken?
No. Driving up into the Coast Range West of Corvalis on March 16th, 2015, I was at last to see what they had seen. My host, the inimitable Karl Smiley, had moved into this forest primeval a year or so before I had come hurtling through the state by bus. Fortunately, I misread my directions to his house and found myself meandering up a luminescent green roadway, deep with shadow, pierced by light.
I had to stop the car lest I drive it off a cliff for giddiness. I sat myself on a tree stump (the forest was in fact anything but primeval). The breeze was rich with pine resin, leaf mulch and the dust my tires had just kicked up. Birds melodically threatened any of their fellows encroaching on their territory or women. Somewhere up the road, logging trucks beeped in much the same spirit. I took a well-needed pee, wished myself a happy 61st birthday and found my way back to Karl’s house.
Karl Smiley is a ceramicist [see forget-me-not Peace Mug above] and veteran 60’s folk singer. The term 60’s folk singer meant that your presence could be required on short notice at Happenings, Riots or Anything In Between. Karl did not, let the record show, shirk his duty.
He and the neighbors had once put a church up on logs and rolled it down a nearby mountainside towards the hamlet of Summit. Railroad Police had been summoned to stop them. They, in turn, had been stopped by young hippie women brandishing blandishments of joints and sandwiches. The railroad cops, having yielded to temptation, were eventually to say, “Just make sure you clear the tracks before the 3:00 o’clock freight.” This instruction had evidently been followed because the old church building still serves as Community Center and therefor my venue for the evening.
The owner now of a most beautifully broken yet thoroughly capable voice, Karl has taken up the six-string ukulele, an instrument that sounds like a Peruvian charango. Karl made us some tea and sang me a song or so. I told him that he should add string bass to the mix and hit the road. He seems to be thinking about it.
We drove “into town” to meet an exotic music quartet: mandola, bass flute, fiddle and I-don’t-know-what and then set up at the community center where I noticed the sign for my show posted the wrong date. Karl gave me a Don’t Worry About It look. So I didn’t.
The audience arrived with a birthday cake for me. Nevertheless, my performance that night was Off. Except for “The Deserter/the Fall of Jack O’Lantern.” Karl gently took me to task for that next morning. No sense in subjecting you, dear reader, to a post mortem. Suffice it to say his observations and critique were most apt and useful.