The Castalian Springs
twenty miles east of the airport, into the mountains, a small hand-painted sign
announces the New Callia Springs & Rock Shop: 1 mile. A small red arrow
points north onto Farm Road 13, a gravel road that ends at the advertised
property, or so I expected. I was returning from an exhibit over the mountains
was two days from Easter, the cusp of spring. I may have missed the season's
coming completely had I not been stranded on the mountain and forced to walk
that one mile to fetch water for my car. The road was narrow, and judging by
the tire ruts, two cars passing in opposite directions rarely, if ever,
happened. Fernbush, huckleberry and western redbuds grew up on both sides of
the road, from small, shallow ditches on the road's east and west sides.
It was barely spring, and the branches and vines growing within the trees stretched across the road, forming a tunnel of green. It couldn't have been less than twenty feet high from the road to the apex of the arch. The sun shone through in spots making the ground sparkle as though Gulliver or God had dropped a pursefull of coins. Wind passed lightly through the tunnel and smelled incredibly fresh and fruity like strawberries or honeysuckle. The umbrella of vines and branches was like a cave. Strands of grapevines and jasmine reached downward like gently blowing stalactites.
The gravel was fine and grainy and crunched when I walked. If not for the moisture and the gravel's soapy hue and texture, I could have believed I was walking on sugar. Maybe Gulliver dropped more than his purse. Larger pieces of limestone the size of apricot pits and small crabapples filled up the row between the tire ruts, but I stayed to the side where walking was easier. The ditches were full of young blackberries just starting to pink, on the verge of bulging out of their ovary drupelets.
Most of the blackberry bushes still had many of their white blossoms as did various other types of flowering plants. Within the week, the spring blitz will be in full force. Shrubs, grasses, trees, flowers and other botanical life will come first, then the insects will uncloak, emerge from uneaten or unrotted cocoons and feast on the fresh green. The swarms will come; the very parables of pestilence we've been expecting will come in May and June with mayflies and junebugs taking over the valley until man's devices kill them or they are eaten by other species a leg up on the food chain. Nature's timing is merciless. Immediately after laying eggs within the earth's folds and wrinkles, the martyred parents slowly digest within other creatures or melt into the asphalt of the new highway. Next spring their larvae children will uncloak, eat a few acres of gardens and woodlands, kill or be killed over mating rights, consummate lineage and then be eaten by each other or the next generation of higher bug life. But many will wander, enticed by man's own encroachment, onto the highway and desiccate on the burning asphalt or the grill of a speeding Buick.
It was cooler under the canopy. Already well after four in the afternoon, the warmest part of the day, and I was just warm enough under my jacket. The temperature was a mild 70, or thereabouts. Above the canopy or out by the highway it may have been warmer, but the heat was soaked up in the trees and shrubs around me. The leaning afternoon light leaked through the branches in such a way that I felt like jogging. Deep measured breathing was the afternoon's most sentient benefit. With air so pure and cool, every cell wanted to feel it. Every fiber of muscle, sliver of bone, knot of gristle and strand of hair wanted to breathe. It was like intercourse for every organ but one. Every tired or sluggish cell woke up hungry, stretching, smiling as though the daylight was reaching through the windows, the ceilings, the floors and thawing out the room as warm as your bed: blankets sliding onto the floor and the new made air filling you with energy and life.
The ground began to slope downward for about 200 yards ahead of me when the trees broke apart and the sunlight shone brightly onto the narrow road. A meadow opened there and the urge to run overtook me and I began to run. I jogged faster, feeling the air expanding within each lung. It moved through my chest and down to my legs and feet that began on their own accord to run faster and faster down the gradual hill. I pulled in as much air as possible through my mouth and felt for a moment that I wouldn't make it to the clearing, to the sunlight. Not since my youth have I run faster or with more passion than those painfully addictive seconds through the tunnel of leaves to the open expanse of springtime. My arms pumped faster with every stride longer than the one before, my pace driven harder by nothing but impulse and pure, wet adrenaline. I must have looked ridiculous dressed like a salesman I imagined, flailing a milk jug against my hip feeling completely absorbed by the valences around me, above me in the canopy and in the atomic spirit of the air itself. By the time I reached the sunlight I was coughing, breathing was painful, my nose ran as though it were afflicted with a crop of ragweed. My spontaneity surprised me, it seduced me in the burgeoning, blitzing, rushing optimism of spring.
meadow was ablaze with dandelions and cornflowers. There was hardly any grass
at all, something I hadn't noticed until I slowed down, rested upon a knee and
caught my breath. But I stood too soon and too quickly; the dizziness almost
knocked me over. I let the milk jug fall beside me, sat down on the sandy road
and leaned back on my elbows. Even in spite of the sunshine the ground was
refreshingly cool. The air blew in quick circles around me as it did within the
trees. It was a good run; it was like being a boy again running through a field
are no mysteries more intriguing than the past. It is a mystery of science of
art and of human behavior. My life is no less of a mystery than the one that
holds me here in
cusp of spring makes me question why the past is more mysterious than my memory
which is unable to endure the preserving nature of a photograph or a song or a
field of cornflowers and dandelions. Even in
cannot face my past any more than I can my future and the present consequences
of time that annoy me with remembering what is impossible to resuscitate. My
fate rests in some passive-aggressive anomaly that is imbedded indelibly in the
folds and wrinkles of my mind. I am the Robert Herrick of a new dispensation:
the self-sequestered man unable to live outside of
rock shop and springs rested at the base of a small hill. Several pine trees
and the largest white oak that I have ever seen were shading an old well around
which sat several white iron benches. The joints and seats were rusted of
course, but I sat down anyway; the setting was irresistible to ignore. It
reminded me of the patico at the mission. The well I think was just a man-made
convention of the resort's designers—nothing more than an adapted gazebo made
to fool visitors into sitting near the source of some mystical, enlightening
spring. It could have been a spot for the ancient Athenians had it been in
benches faced out, away from the well so if the muse decided to come forth it
could inspire without ever being seen. But the muse is rare these days. The
Castalian Springs on
The muse is a hard thing to catch. I waited for it while sitting at the well. I didn't have more than two hours of daylight so I knew that if it was coming it would have to be soon. The wind was picking up out of the southwest; I could smell the valley. Perhaps the muse would come in a fragrance. I could hear the wind moving faster, gusting like waves at the beach. Perhaps the muse would come in a sound. Maybe it would come to me through some special wavelength that the empty well was perceptive of—good thing there was room on the bench.
It appeared as though everything had dried up in New Callia. The only inspiration that came to me was the last thing I heard on the radio before turning off the car. Static. It was like some fuzzy martian language coming from my car radio and meeting unmixed from both sides of the mountain. After sitting at the well, waiting for the muse, I decided to get up and walk around the old place; but no sooner than I stood up and turned toward the property, did a dozen or so swallows fly up out of the well like a derrick gushing oil. The birds flew off in tight formation around the giant white oak and over the rooftop of what may have been the rock shop. Within a beat it was quiet again. Even the wind was still; it followed the swallows around the tree and over the tiled roof. The muse had come and gone before I could even say hello, introduce myself, ask a question or voice a concern. It did little else but startle the hell out of me. I felt like a child pestering my father for the same favor again and again and again before meeting a loud and reproaching "No!" But as a child, I'd have understood the message but not the messenger and ran off sulking, vowing to never speak again. This weakness has never left me. I am always left alone awaiting that still, small voice I've been told about, told to prepare for. But inspiration however it comes is always lost in its own volume and then scrambled in my inept ability to receive it.
On both sides of the giant white oak were bare patches of earth, presumably the parking lot. I doubt that more than three cars could have parked on either side of the tree, without blocking each other in—gridlock here seemed preposterous, especially now, being nothing but a burial ground of memories.
A busy day at the rock shop would definitely have consisted of several carpools. The place was probably never more crowded than the library. Maybe the artist had been to New Callia; maybe the gargoyles too. If the Castalian Springs offered a newness of life, maybe the springs here in New Callia offered the same cleansing refreshment. Maybe the artist and the gargoyles came to verify the claim and indulged. Maybe they absorbed what was left of the springs and are still waiting for its effects.
walked around to the side of the largest building, hoping to see the remnants
other building had two large glass windows on each side of the front door. The
room was divided by two wide bins about waist high, partitioned like a chess
board. I couldn't see within the compartments but I imagine they were once
filled with a bunch of rocks imported from more geologically impressive areas
finally found a water faucet at the back of the rock shop, but it didn't have a
handle. But surely by now my radiator had cooled enough to coast the last
twenty miles downhill to my home. Dusk began its decent and I had to start
walking now to reach my car by nightfall. Passing the giant white oak and the
well on my way up the gravel road made me feel a little nostalgic like I was
leaving my boyhood home in
I might never again have that urge to sprint down a gravel road, and if I do I might be too old or ill to even stand up. It was a good thing I almost fainted from the run. It was good that the swallows shocked the life out of me. It was good to see the chair that I was chained to, that held me under boiling water until my flesh slid from my bones as easily as a stewed dinner hen.
It can be good knowing one's fate. But would it change one's behavior enough to avoid mistakes, to prevent living, from being true to one's nature? If a moth knew its fate, would it suddenly become adverse to the lamp or the candle that will eventually kill it?
Sometimes I wonder if my soul had a face, what would it look like. Would it resemble the gargoyle that I sometimes see in the morning when I look into the mirror? And would it then keep me from being who I am, being true to my nature, or would I simply ignore it and withdraw deeper into my own world here in Valencia and end up like the mayfly or the junebug stuck like a seed in the mud? Without seeing the face of my soul, I wonder if my walks would have more or less meaning, if being stranded on the highway would reveal different mysteries, if inspiration would avoid me altogether or simply show me answers to other questions, highlighting other aspects of my character that might lead me away from danger even though it is danger itself that I am drawn to? What manner of death is more peaceful or less certain than the one we choose for ourselves, the one we anticipate while walking through a canopy of trees or yielding to a desire to run, to flee, or giving in to the need to sleep, to sleep deeper than ever before, deep enough to never wake up, to see the face of one's soul drowning, voluntarily in a peaceful spring?
I wonder if the moth knows that the light will kill it, or if the mayfly or the junebug know their very nature is to suffer and die. They will forever die following their own foolish natures, their own foolish inspirations. I should be glad that man's nature is more noble than theirs, that the inspiration we seek comes from more divine mysteries, for more divine objectives. And if the inspiration that comes is according to our wishes, then maybe being stranded along the highway or within Valencia is a fate worth knowing, a fate worth wanting regardless of how often it leaves us stranded and alone. We would have felt the depth of its wisdom. We would have felt its rush.