It’s incredible how easily I get sick in the car, like everything is flashing past at a thousand miles per hour and every bump in the road and twisting corner feel like chemicals in my stomach rising up through my neck and holding my brain with big red fingers. I’ve been in San Francisco for two days, riding in cars and busses around the city. It all moves so quickly and people are looking forward and forward and deep into a place I can’t see or imagine, right in front of the next footstep, just over the horizon. For thirty some days I’ve imagined the city, and all the places I knew - the Presidio, the Mission, Market Street and the Golden Gate. I stood on the old World War II barracks on the point, looking out towards the Pacific Ocean with the giant arches of the Golden Gate Bridge on my right and nothing seemed real, like I was living inside a projection of what the end would look like. It was as though I was still just sitting inside my own mind, envisioning the slight backwards arch and the cables bending in the sun listening to my feet slap on the concrete in pattern like big black tires - it was where I went when the road went straight. I closed my eyes. I was there already - and this time, maybe I was - only it was much bigger, or maybe, it was much smaller - in a wider radius.
I walked down the steps that had been notched in the wall of the bunker and over to a bench that sits where the bridge lines up. I saw down the bridge in a straight line like a gun barrel with all the cars floating up and over. There was a man taking photographs, squatting for the angles.
“Hello sir.” I said. He smiles.
“I just needed to tell someone - I just walked here. From San Diego. I had to tell somebody because there’s nobody for me to tell.”
“I’ve been walking for four weeks and there were so many times I didn’t think I could do it, but I did do it, and now I’m here. I walked here. I just needed somebody to tell.”
“I am from Montreal!” He proclaims.
“I speak FRANCAIS!” And he turned and walked down the steps towards the new perspective and the setting sun beyond the arches.
As I sat in the hospice home with my mother on her last days, she was awake at first. Eventually she slept more and more often until she was only sleeping. She laid back in her bed breathing slowly and when she left us - there were five of us in the room looking at our cell phones in the silence and the glow of a single lamp in the corner. She just stopped breathing.
“I think she’s gone.” My sister said.
“I think so.” My father said.
I didn’t say anything.
We’ve grown accustomed to the reception of endings, final words and poetry, the gasp and will of a dying soldier, the grand finale, the cheers of the audience - but maybe more often the end comes with silence, with the only English words a person from Eastern Canada knows how to speak, with a misunderstanding and an empty space. It isn’t what we expected, but poetry is creation and the moving from one space to another with just the words to say it correctly. There is no eulogy more eloquent than the one my sister gave when she said “I think she’s gone.” There were no words more poignant and elegiac to welcome me in from six hundred miles of road noise and wet nights than someone telling me that they didn’t understand what I was trying to say.
I picked up my backpack and walked until I found a bus, and then I got on the bus and that was the end of the time I walked from San Diego to San Francisco.
My friend Joseph met me just outside of Santa Cruz on Thanksgiving, one week ago. We had thanksgiving dinner in a bar in Santa Cruz together, talking about making records and old cameras. My first day out on the road I had discovered that my Minolta SRT 201 had a broken advance lever from the way I had packed it. Joseph brought me a new camera, the same 70’s SRT in all of it’s beautiful familiarity and the old man sitting beside me wanted to talk film with us. The waves were boiling in the first winter swell, big cold waves in blues and greens from the north. We stood at the lighthouse at Steamer Lane and I thought about all the years I’d been coming here to look at the same view in different shades and colors and all the different people I had been in different stages. The crowd was gathered to watch the surfers and the sun going down as I had seen it do every night for the weeks on the road, but somehow it seemed different, like it was further over and across and I was already walking away - but it was as though the sun was still watching me, looking past it’s audience on the cliffs with their cameras and saying “I know that one best” - and when I looked over my shoulder it felt wrong, not sitting. Not watching it go - because every night I had, through Los Angeles, and on and on and on - high above the water in Big Sur when the cars stopped coming, every night the same way. I felt it on my back and there was a sadness there. It was the first farewell.
There’s a house in Santa Cruz that, in many ways is the face of my times there, a constant and a comfort to me during many days on the road, under the redwoods on Mount Hermon. I told Joseph to wait outside and knocked on the door. Voices from inside shouted to come in, and I knew what I would find. Redwood walls, books, a grand piano tucked under some shelves like a children’s fort of blankets - a wood fire in the middle of the room and people. People sitting at a long wooden table under the eaves past the living room - covered in food and glasses with every color of drink. It’s the Burn’s house, the joining of two families and so many more. I invited Joseph inside where my old friend Josh met us smiling with drinks - and as I knew would happen, the end of the evening did not arrive until deep into the following morning. We sat in the living room with guitars - the old grand piano singing out alongside the slow picking of banjos, the muddy thump of Josh’s stand up bass, high glasses and new renditions. Someone delivered a kick drum and a snare into the room and played with wire brushes as everyone sang along with clinking glasses and conversation under the sounds of a full and beautiful time together, all lit by the feeding of the fire, flickering across the rafters.
“I’m sorry about your mom.” - it was Dave Burns when the party was over and everybody was shuffling out the door in their winter coats, he was looking directly at me, white-haired and laugh-lined. I didn’t have much to say, as I don’t when people tell me those words, but I could see the memories in his eyes standing like shadows in the dark - of the last days of his late wife, Josh’s mother - when she was sleeping more and more, taking slow breaths and then none at all. I looked around his house and then back at him.
“It turns out ok.” I said.
“Yes.” He said. “It does.”
There were eighty more miles from Santa Cruz up the coastline, walking in the fog and the breaking of the waves in explosions on the rocks. Joseph and I found the Pigeon Point lighthouse one night and set flat on our backs looking up in the dark watching the beams spin in the fog.
“Here you are, spinning in all the love you never found.” I told it, like it was watching across the ocean for something that never came, and there were more thoughts there, about how we are spinning in all the love we never found and the darkness was cold and complete. Joseph left that night, driving with friends back to Los Angeles. I woke up alone in the Eucalyptus again. It felt correct to me, that I would finish alone.
Two days later I crested the final hill in South San Francisco and saw the whole of the place spread out below, the bridge in the distance, I knew I was almost finished. It was a grief I can’t explain, like somehow everything I wanted was right before me and it wasn’t going to be enough anymore. I sat and wrote this in my yellow book on it’s last pages:
“Today I will sit and try and write a conclusion to this walk. I’m sure I’ll write about Thanksgiving and the lighthouse spinning in all the love it never found. I’ll write about expectations and the end, but I already know that there is still so much left undone, like I only just began to see anything at all. I think that I have come to terms with the fact that she is gone and I’ve forgiven myself for not being around in her final days as much as I wish I would have - but further: I’ve seen myself at my best and worst, I’ve learned, truly, of the great kindness of the God beyond, been able to rest in the experience that he is foremost good, and kind, and the answers will remain veiled by design…
But when I think back over all those miles and footsteps on the side of the highway I only see colors and photographs, the rushing wind and the clatter of motor cars. I feel the sun on my face and the sweat building on my hands and all the greater truths I found along the way are in there somehow tumbling with the tires and shining like the later sun off a single wave below - and I can only describe them how they came to me, on the wings of these things and the feeling that everything turns out ok in the end.”