It is Tuesday morning, 6:00 AM, twenty- eight hours since you departed from this world, and I urgently need to write this letter to you. I am at the ranch, and I want to catch you before you pass over head and move out through the western gate to start the party. Many great souls are impatiently waiting for you out there so we need to talk right now. I am seated at Joe’s desk. This should encourage you to listen. I know that I have told you many of my experiences over the last four years, but, somehow, I think that you may hear me more clearly now, less physical restraints, no more infernal hearing aids necessary. I want to tell you about yesterday, as well as share some specific memories with you. Rigid time lines and psychological spaces need to be set aside as I need to wander about freely. I am sure you will not mind. Here we go.
Let’s start with yesterday. When Joanne and I received the telephone call at 2:ooAM Monday morning, we both knew what it was about, as, in our own way, we had premonitions that you had moved on. We went down to your room to say goodbye. The evening, now early morning, was hot and wild, Santa Ana winds all night. When we arrived and approached you, you looked peaceful. I was immediately happy for you. You did not have the same grin Joe had. Joe looked as if he had just tricked God. You looked serene and relieved, as if you had slipped past this physical world just in time, which is true. I spoke some words to you, shed some tears, then opened the doors to the outside and the beautiful night air beyond, so as to give you free passage. Joanne said that I did not need to do that; souls can move through walls. I said, maybe, but I wanted to make sure this soul had a direct route. Hollisters like their windows open, anyway. When Joanne and I returned home, we opened a good bottle of red wine and toasted to you and to ourselves for a final chapter well written.
The rest of Monday was spent chaotically running around doing necessary but meaningless things, the ones you would have yelled at me not to bother with. It was unbearably hot in town; I was extremely restless and haunted by the need to get to the ranch. Finally, I hit the road about 5:oo with a mixture of sadness and relief in my heart. Life on the road did not move smoothly, however. I took the dogs to the beach; they did not want to leave and ran off. The repaired screen door in the back of the truck fell out onto the road. The gas can leaked, too many stops. The ridge was refreshingly cool though, surprisingly so. I pulled down the driveway about 7:00, opened the house windows to let the fresh air in, then proceeded outside to water plants and to search for you.
I had not been to Tepitates for over five days, much longer than usual. Our plants were dry. As I nurtured the trees, the back ridge serenity began to sooth me; thoughts of you flickered spontaneously through my mind. I finally decided to land on your bench at the top of the driveway so as to join the evening’s events more intimately. It was a particularly magical dusk. The air was soft yet robust. The oaks were rustling quietly. Turkey vultures hovered over the ridge and banked over the arroyo, their silver underwings gleaming in the golden rose hue of the setting sun. Dove were cooing, ban tailed pigeons were traversing the ridge, and one lone red tail posed motionless in the air, head cocked down, researching the terrain below. The ridge was alive everywhere.
I don’t know what it was about that bench, but I had quite an experience on it. Maybe you were sitting on it with me, resting up for the next part of you journey, or maybe you had sat there so many times yourself that your presence still remained, but, as soon as I began to concentrate on you, this is what happened.
My first reflection of you took me into the house. I recalled all those three, two, one conversations - 3 parts tequila, 2 parts mix, 1 part triple sec - those wild conversations with you and Joe sitting at the table in front of the big window. Joe would be seated in his chair, arms waving about. He would be filling the room with his energy and stories: Harvard snots, whore house jazz, greedy doctors, sixty patients work weeks for essentially no fee, salvation of the planet via female consciousness, coony woony, ranch politics, family feuding. On and on Joe would verbally rock and rock until he would run out of extraverted energy and lie down to refuel. Once Joe lay down, then, for a brief moment, there you and I would be, in the silence, Hollister to Hollister, eyeball to eye ball, a scene lit dimly by that amazing overhead lamp, dangling in the darkness, the absurd paraphernalia dripping from every possible tie. There, in some unique time and space, you would have lassoed some small artifact of conversation, something that Joe or I might have said that you would have corralled and held in your silence. Then, when there was a moment to share it without the Joe show to distract you, you would speak. You would gaze out beyond the big window as your thought would role off your lips and gently land on the table settling like a gold nugget between us. I would hear it, hold it, and admire it for its laser beam perceptivity and its vastly resonating simple truth. I always loved what it was that you chose to say and how you said it, certainly no mincing of words. However, even more inspiring than the words that you uttered, was the world that I could see behind your eyes. As I looked into your eyes, I could see my history. My father, Clinty, your twin, was right there, Grandfather Jim stood next to him, the Colonel behind them, sometimes, even the Chumash were there off in the distance. Everyone who loved this land would be there in your eyes. I cherished those moments, deep treasures, even though they were few and far between your husband’s orations.
So as I sat on your bench last eve, focusing my mind and heart on you, this house memory was the first to enter consciousness. Then, drifting out of this memory, while noticing the fading smoke blue cloud of ceanothis in front of me, something very interesting happened that I must tell you. As I thought about how the moments and words between us were so brief and few when compared to the time and massive word count within the Joe show, I suddenly was stricken by a thunderbolt of fear in my body. My fear emanated from the thought that, maybe, I really did not know you that well at all. Maybe, it was really Joe who I knew, or some bizarre relationship complementarity, the radical extravert-introvert dance, that I knew. Could it be that I really did not know Jane Hollister? After all, you really were so silent most of the time. I was in a total panic sitting there on that bench deep in this thought, head in hands, when a large buzzard swooped unusually low over my head. It caught my eye, and carried it to the row of oak trees that you planted along the driveway, some of the ones that I had just refreshed. Gazing at those oak trees so vibrantly spring green, I thought, “Shit, Doyle, what the hell are you thinking here? What do you mean that you did not know who Jane was? Yes, it is true that she was not represented inside the house to the degree that Joe was present, but you are looking for Jane in the wrong place. The real Jane is outside of the house, not inside, and everywhere you have wondered over the last four year,” I rejoiced within myself, “ You have encountered her life and spirit.” My panic began to subside as I reflected on you and all your experiences and activities outside of the house. A warm feeling flooded my body in response to these thoughts, and in this warming, I realized that I was freezing sitting now almost in the dark on your bench. As such, I decided to head inside and return to my Jane Hollister outdoor thoughts again the next day.
OK, so now, here I am back to early Tuesday morning at Joe’s desk, and I want to pick up with you from whence I left your bench, top of the driveway. It really is true, though quite ironically so, that I came to know you on a much deeper level when you left the ranch, and I took over tending Tepitates. When I visited you at the cottage and Villa Bella in town, I know that I tried to keep you appraised of the various events occurring on the ridge. But, I feel the urge now to review some of what has happened over the last four years before your departure to the other side.
It all started when I was asked by the fire department to clean out the overgrowth brush around the house. You remember the fire department. They are the ones who you acutely told that in the case of fire, let you, Joe, and the house burn because you did not want to be hassled by brush clearing or the paying of insurance. Well, when I began clearing the brush - not quite ready to burn up myself - I found your little oak trees everywhere. There they were wrapped in wire mesh, protecting them from the rabbits. Most of them were large enough to liberate. I did so then trimmed them up. It always amazes me how some of these trees grow right out of the sand stone rock cracks. You knew all about this; you knew that the oak tree roots were able to make their way even in sandstone; this is why you stuffed so many acorns in so many rock cracks. I remember you vaguely telling me something about growing oak trees once upon a time, but I had no idea that you were so involved with them. I am still finding these little trees to date, and they are all doing well.
When I began finding your little trees though, I recalled you telling me something about an oracle oak that you were particularly fond of. Well, it did not take me too long to find your old trail, cut through it, and find that tree. I have to say, I agree, it still is the most beautiful tree on the ridge, and you were right, there are seven small white trunks. I have left your wire mesh supply in the little cave close to the tree. The supply, tucked so neatly away in its sandstone storage unit, makes me feel good when I see it. And, I think you know this; I harvest the oracle oak acorns each year and continue the planting; the next generation is in process.
I want to tell you about the fox. She is back, and she looks just like the one you once showed me years ago in that old faded photograph. My dogs and myself have an intimate relationship with this fox. She always leaves her scat at the top of the walkway just to let us know who is boss. Only two weeks past, when I glanced at the back door window, I saw her perched like a bird atop the old metal bowl eating the corn in the birdseed. Don’t worry though, she is much smarter than my dogs; there is absolutely no need for you to be concerned.
Yes, you heard correctly. It is true. I must confess; I have reintegrated birdseed on the property. I really do love the birds. I am recalling one story you told me about your covey of quail and birdseed. You told me that the quail would come up to your back door and you would feed them. Then, one day you decided to cut them off because you were worried that they were becoming too domestic and too dependent on you. You thought they might have a better chance avoiding the fox if they were more in tune with their instincts. I suppose your decision was a good one, but I had not seen a quail on the ridge for a long time, until recently. They are back, and, I am sorry, I am helping them out. Animals need all the help that they can get these days. We will see what happens.
Speaking of what happens, a couple of months ago as I was walking to the oracle oak, I caught a glimpse of the mountain lion. She ducked into the glen of tan bark oaks near where Joe has been hanging out. When I saw her, I remembered how you used to walk down the ridge every evening, with your horn, whistle, and knife necklace around you while Joe waited nervously on the roadside bench preying that his wilderness wife would return, uneaten. The lion is still around, and your lion protection necklace still hangs by the door in the house.
In reference to things being eaten, I must tell you just a little about your pet rattlesnakes up on the ridge. I want to reassure you that I am doing the best I can not to harm them. Whenever I find one, I herd it down the hill away from the house and hopefully away from the dogs and kids. The one that lived in the woodpile just outside the kitchen - the one that startled you so much that you fell and cracked your hip - well, she is not living there anymore. We had to clean that area up, and I guess it became too civilized for her liking; so, she left. I do have another apology to make here though. Two weeks ago, I was driving down the driveway, and I ran over one of your friends by accident. I just did not see it. Please know that I put it to good use, delicious on the plate and beautiful on the wall, Clinty style.
Lastly, I just want to mention that I have not seen any of Joe’s raccoons around. I know that they were not your favorite animals. I think you referred to them as over grown rats. Perhaps you were right because once coony woony bit the hand that fed it and Joe cut her off, she has not returned since. But, you never know, because, as you always said, everything in the wild has its cycles. Coony probably will be back, and, yes, I probably will feed her. We shall see.
All right, so, what is happening here? Why is it that I want to mention all of these moments that I have experienced over the last four years, ironically, as, I said, moments experienced after you left the ridge. I am not really sure why at all. I think that it has to do something with my wanting to reassure myself that I really do have a sense of you as a person and that I knew you well. We did have some kind of magical connection. You would call me Clinty and I would often think of you as my father. It is true, incomplete cycles were completing themselves through our relationship. Of course, we never spoke to each other about this. I guess I just want to reassure myself that there was something special happening between us. It has been so good to get to know you better over these last four years relating to your land. It has really affirmed our relationship.
However, beyond reassuring myself of our relationship, I think this letter is really about my gratitude. You changed my life by assisting me to get back to the land. By helping me move into your home, you brought me back home. It is an absolutely overwhelming gratitude I experience when I walk about Tetitates tending to your gift. My wife, Joanne, wants to thank you for this gift and so do my children, Kyle and Ashley. You helped get their lost and restless wild man out of town and back to where he belongs. I truly want you to know that I will take care of your sacred high place, I promise. It is in good hands. Your rocks, trees, chaparral, animals, birds, reptiles, and insects will thrive. Don’t you worry about them at all. This is the least I can do to express my gratitude.
Finally, I want you to know that I am looking foreword to continuing our relationship. I am looking foreword to getting to know you even better than I do at this moment. Because, as I continue to walk about Tepitates, into the future, you and I both know, that everywhere I will walk, there you will be, outside, and we don’t have to ever talk about it. I love you Jane Hollister Wheelwright. You have a safe journey through the gate. Say hello to Joe and Dad. May peace be with you all,