Friday, July 17, 2015

Intelligent life in California

Deserts are not just for recluses anymore. Nowadays, entirely respectable people go there and rent houses and stay, and burn stuff, and watch caloric waves shimmer off the desert floor, and feel rugged and hardy and American, and drink a lot. You might have thought the desert was just for coyotes and creepy lizards, but I’m here to tell you. Much of Los Angeles is there, goes there every year, at least in the winter.

I’m talking about the constellation of towns near Joshua Tree National Park: Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Twenty Nine Palms, Yucca Valley City, Palm Springs, all of them partners-in-baking when the calendar progresses past May. Bob Hope made Palm Springs famous, mostly for the golf, I think. Dinah Shore, Gene Autry, the Rat Pack—the place has celebrity credentials. I found it mostly walled golf courses interspersed with walled condos and walled strip malls.

One day I got taken out to a mystery location in the Mojave Desert. Out we went to where the roads became rougher and thinner, and the desert began to dominate again over the futile etchy-sketchy byways of humankind. We went toward a destination my friend wouldn’t reveal, for an event she wouldn’t describe, and an experience she couldn’t calculate. Eventually, I realized why, as after I had it I couldn’t say much either.

We entered a gate like one of the many along those roads, opening to a property filled with superseded furniture, the bodies of ancient automobiles, many of them bullet ridden, antique refrigerators, antique freezers, skeletal old easy chairs, middens of colored bottles, roadside signs that formerly stood before hotels, drive-in restaurants and summer camps, forgotten children’s trampolines, the occasional jumble of go-kart and minibike parts, and other sequelae of hobby enthusiasm gone amuck, all long abandoned, all radiating slowly outward from the house in an ever-expanding pool like an oil slick.

Except this property was clean and neat and kind of enchanting. The parking lot was swept, small structures of neat carpentry stood nearby. Even the ancient automobile bodies look scrubbed.

This was the surrounding ground of The Integratron, which the signs there began to instruct us.

There were neatly carpentered benches, a wall of clean chalkboard with large cylinders of chalk waiting below, and a full length mirror displaying the picture of you over the words You Are Here. There was a cluster of hammocks beneath a gauzy shade, and free standing outbuildings in warm colors.

At the far end of the property was The Integratron itself. It looks like an observatory, about 60 feet high, a big white dome colored a metallic-looking white but in fact built of plywood and other non-magnetic materials. This you learn when you see the pictures of it under construction in the check-in office beside it. 

What you also learn, reader--something I’ll wager you didn’t know but not many people do in this age of distraction and ignorance of our heritage. What you also learn is that the Integratron was one of the first places on earth we made contact with the wisdom of other planets. Since then, owing to its highly unique resonance and geological anomalies, it has served as a place of cellular rejuvenation and the first stop in anyone’s education wishing to prolong life indefinitely.

Again, reader, please don’t reproach yourself for not knowing this; it’s rather poorly known, for whatever reason.

This contact, I might as well tell you, was made between an aerospace engineer from California in 1953, and a Venusian man who was dressed in a very dapper one-piece gray body suit. The Venusian, whose name was Solganda, told the engineer, whose name was George Van Tassle, how to construct a building that would extend human life and enable time travel. It would do a lot of other things, but unfortunately Van Tassle died before getting it finished. Three sisters bought it 14 years ago and now it’s a tourist attraction and—if you can believe this—recording venue for musicians.

We entered, on the ground floor, removed our shoes, underwent ritual purification, endured a body search—actually I made the last two up. But it did have the feeling of a preparation to enter holy space, with its formal ablutions and suppression of hilarity. We went upstairs. There were sleeping mats laid on the floor, and a series of bowl-looking things at one end of the room. Signs asked us to not touch them, though we never thought of doing so until we weren’t allowed. We lay down. A man began speaking.

I have no doubt he spoke English. But what he actually said I have no idea. He talked about this location being at the intersection of three rivers beneath the earth’s surface; and about how the height of the building is a number the reverse of which is the exact coefficient of pi at sea level. He spoke of the 17 rafters in the ceiling and their cosmic meaning. He spoke of cosmic meaning of every last joint, and why it was titanically significant. The room was a superb place for the “sound bath” he was about to perpetrate upon us, and we should be prepared to experience, in sound, the exact vibrational level that was known to rejuvenate human cells. It was all very mystical and numerological and, if you ask me, more than a little psychotic. Yet it stands to reason that earthlings like myself won’t understand these things.

After he had professed this incoherent scripture for 15 minutes, he began—I think he got a signal from someone in the audience—to bow his bowls, and the meat of the experience was arrived at last. These were quartz bowls, and when rubbed with a bow, made a rich and interesting sound. We lay back and closed our eyes, and the capsule-like room that had been built with the help of Venusians resonated with warm tones. The notes were full, disarming, relaxing, sustained as long as the gusts of wind and steady as the rock that produced them. I think I dozed off for a while.

The thing wore on for about twenty minutes and I cannot say that it—the sound bath/cellular rejuvenation/electrostatic irradiation—was unpleasant. I didn’t snore and I didn’t laugh, and when the whole thing was finished we wandered out further into the desert among the scattered properties and scattered lives, and looked for somewhere to eat.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fragment From a Voyage

We set out from San Pedro with a boatload of Boy Scouts, and things went according to plan: Up to Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz during the day, around to Painted Cave next morning, back down the other side in the afternoon. Nearing evening, we heard a distress call coming from our intended anchorage. A boat had gone up on the beach and the skipper was frantically calling for help. His words were poorly differentiated but his tone sang through. Panic. No one, he would have acknowledged in a calmer moment, could have appeared suddenly by his side, on an island 30 miles at sea, at least an hour from the nearest tow boat, to stop his sailboat from grounding higher on the beach with every breaker. After 10 minutes of shouting to the Coast Guard, he had established that he and a crewmate were safe on the beach, but their sailboat was grinding away in the surf, hard aground.

By this time we were opening the cove in question, a 100 foot line of sand bookended by tumbled falls of boulders, with the suggestion of a widening of the beach behind this landing. It was in fact an attractive place for cruising sailboaters, who liked to anchor there close enough inshore to relish the secret, empty beach. The first mate peered through the binoculars and at last saw the boat, a big cruiser whose distant mast swayed lazily in the swell. He didn’t see the former occupants, but they saw us. The frantic voice haled us soon after we radioed the Coast Guard of our proximity and readiness to help.

“Are you the big white sailboat a couple hundred yards out?” he said. The relief was already coming into his voice. “Thank god.”

Our inflatable boat was speeding shoreward.

“Are you able to bring the others aboard from the beach?” the Coast Guard asked.

We were.

“Are you able to carry out these operations without risk to yourself or your vessel?”

We believed so.

We came to anchor.  The next half hour we spent relaying information from the beached boat to the Coast Guard as the beached captain had only a handheld radio. We gave the vital information the Coast Guard always gets in cases like this, and then stood by for further need. Though our inflatable boat had stayed near the two men on the beach, eventually we recalled him when it was clear that rescue boats were on the way.

Meantime the scouts had gone swimming off the boat. And while they swam, and leapt, and swung from the tacks, we observed while the rescue boat from Santa Barbara arrived, and discussed with the stranded owner the cost of the salvage—as it was by now a salvage operation and not a simple tow—and then labored mightily with his 400 horses to drag a 10 ton boat off the sand. It was a tricky job as the tide was now falling and the next chance would be more than 24 hours away. But at last he succeeded, a cheer went up from the deck of the Exy Johnson, and tower and towed set off for home. For a moment before they left, a group of adults met at our bow to watch the goodbye, and to bid farewell to the little train. But also to possibly fend it off as it floated close.

Exy Johnson at Santa Cruz Island
The scouts, who had encircled the boat with all manner of aquatic capers, and mounted upon unsteady kayaks to search for distant caves, now slowly returned aboard. The tacks were brought in and restored to their rightful duties, likewise the rescue rings and floating lines. The galley, already warm, heated up to business strength, and dinner loomed ever closer. The first mate took the deck, and afterwards reported that we had received a thank you from the Coast Guard.

Next morning we weighed at eight and were out of soundings before breakfast was clear, turning 2000 and steering for Isthmus Cove on Catalina. At 1330, the breeze finally stirring the ensign, the squares all came up and the main went down. Our speed dropped from six to under four, though it rose again as the day waned. We had never dropped the main while running downwind and it came off well, the agile deckhand tip-toeing forward on the boom guiding down the sail and the scouts folding it there as neatly as they rolled their neckerchiefs. 

But I fear that with so much sailing talk the sensory parts of the thing, the memorable parts--the smell of jasmine, the barking of sea lions, the white crash of breakers on rocks, the peachy creamy morning of a deserted island cove—might be left unnoticed. To show a fair picture of our lives, this will not do. So then, be it known:

On the approach to these islands, they never simply appear. Rather, at some perfunctory point, oh, they are there. They are a less vivid brightness against the horizon, a pale outline between the sea and sky, a looming, a species of cloud. Many hours pass between first awareness of them and the first meaningful assessment. After a long time in the back of consciousness, thoughts turn at last away from the stowage of deck stuff and overhauling the ground tackle, and, once again, to them, to those sudden great presences-out-of-nothingness. Now regions of color are discernible, tan fields of sun-baked island grass, brown ledges of igneous rock, and lighter brown cliffs reaching straight upward from the ocean. Withal there is now a heaviness to the view in that direction, a heavy stolidity to what before was empty as ether.

Moving closer you begin to feel the mass of the land, like an object of gravity in blank space. Now the froth and cream of surf appears as a changeable white line at the bottom. Boulders of blue-gray jut up from the surf. Seabirds wheel above the worried shores, darting in and out among the wet boulders. Browner tufts of scrub bushes and trees populate the hillsides, with here and there a scar of ripped earth where a crag or promontory fell anciently into the sea. The outline of the land describes a sudden, thrusting aspiration skyward from the ocean, and among the sea caves at water level you hear the roar of crashing currents against the rocks and the voices of seals.