Monday, November 05, 2018

A Carrion Eater's Meal

A little story before tomorrow's election, completely irrelevant and non-political. Perhaps a sigh of relief, and a view of the future.
One of these could be Lew
For the past few months whenever I see vultures flying overhead I look up and say, "Is that you, Lew?" It's my new mantra. Why on earth would I say such a thing? Well, I'm glad you asked. I was reading about some of the old beat poets from back in the day and it made me want to read some of Philip Whalen's and Lew Welch's poems and bios. They were both college roommates of Gary Snyder's at Reed College in Oregon in the late 1940s. The three of them went on to write poetry, and Philip and Gary studied Zen Buddhism at the Zhodo Shinsu Buddhist Church in Berkeley. Philip went on to become a Buddhist monk. I was drawn to their poetry because I tend to like words written with an undercurrent of zen perspective.

Reading their bios reminded me that back in May of 1971 Lew Welch, while visiting with Gary Snyder, walked off into the woods at his Kitkitdizzi ranch in the Sierras and never returned. He left a suicide note and took only a .22 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. His body was never found. When I re-read some of his poems, like these last few lines he wrote in his poem "Chicago"...

You can’t fix it. You can’t make it go away.
     I don’t know what you’re going to do about it,
But I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m just
     going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I’m not around
      feeding it anymore.
...I wondered if it was a foreshadowing of his death. He was writing about leaving the oppressive polluted over-worked factory life of Chicago in the 1950s, but all these years later, it seems prescient. And the poem eerily describes our deadly carbon footprint on the planet that we are all facing now.

So while I was reading about Lew a couple of months ago, I found a story about how his friends responded to his utter and complete disappearance. Whenever they saw a vulture circling overhead they would look up and say, "Is that you, Lew?" I loved it. I wanted to keep the tradition going. We'll all be circling in the belly of the carrion eater someday. So let's look up and wave hello.

PS-- If you don't read anything about Lew Welch on Wikipedia, here's a surprising bit of history. He had a common-law relationship with Polish refuge Maria Magda Cregg. He acted as the stepfather to her son Hugh Anthony Cregg, III, better known by his stage-name Huey Lewis. He took the name Lewis in honor of Lew.

33 comments:

  1. Who says you don't learn something new every day. Never heard of Lew Welch but I have Huey Lewis. Not sure me looking up at Red Kite and saying is that you Lew would have the same meaning here.

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    1. Bill-- I do love the idea of you looking up at a Red Kite and asking.

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    1. On reflection some of that comment was badly expressed so I've deleted it. Sorry.

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    2. John-- I thought your comment was fine. But thank you for your kind consideration.

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  3. That is an interesting story! I've heard of Huey Lewis, but can't say I'm familiar with his music.
    Sometimes I fantasize about just going out into the woods where no one can find me when I reach the end of my life, so that I can fully enter the circle of life.
    I'll happily wave hello to the vultures. The last time I ignored a migrating flight of them, they flew so low over me, I could air rustling through their wings. I had to wave then to let them know I wasn't dead yet!

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    1. CCorax-- Interestingly, Roger has had similar fantasy. Just being left somewhere where he could feed the vultures. I love your vulture story! What a grand experience that must hav been.

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  4. So much to think and feel about in your post today before the election. So much to stimulate my curiosity. I've always been struck by what a beautiful experience it is for me to see vultures gliding high overhead. I remember how shocked I was when I found out what vultures look like when they are close by rather than far up and away in the sky. I had not connected the large birds I saw circling so gracefully in the California sky with the macabre crowd of tall oddly human-like creatures with no feathers on their heads who surrounded the carcass of a deer up near Clear Lake on one of my many solitary visits to Northern California between 1975 and 2008. And then I read this about vultures this morning:

    "Ancient Assyrians believed the Vulture was, like Nagarjuna's middle way, Sunyata, the encompassing overall non-separated union between the day and night. Ironically, regardless of the less than good image the vulture is typically granted by most, think about it.

    Unlike the needs of nearly all other living creatures, vultures do not kill. Their prey either dies or something else kills it.

    Truly a most noble attribute for any living entity, flora or fauna."

    And I learned about Kitkitdizze:

    https://kitkitdizzi.com/blogs/news/kit-kit-what

    Now I'm thinking of all the people who disappear without a trace and the grace of the vultures.

    It's a mysterious world, isn't it?

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    1. am-- It is a mysterious world indeed. A fellow blogger who hasn't posted in quite some time had a blog called Vulture Cafe. I love that so much. We are all in way or another going to be part of that cafe someday.

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  5. Vultures are the trash collectors of nature (along with a lot of other animals of course)...yesterday I saw one working on some road kill, which she had conveniently removed from the road. Loved learning about Lew. Thank you.

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    1. Barbara-- Vultures really do the necessary hard work. I appreciate them immensely. Glad to let people know about Lew Welch. I don't think he left much poetry behind, but he did leave quite a story.

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  6. Well, I'm not into poetry but was certainly around for the beat generation. I will have to find some of Lew's poetry.

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    1. Red-- We are big fans of the beat generation. They really opened up such a grand movement, which I think it many ways awakened the anti-war movement of the 60s.

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  7. I knew of Huey Lewis and the News but didn't know of his relation to the poet. I will Google to read some of his work.
    The image of walking into the woods and disappearing has a bit of appeal especially today but my curiosity will keep me here till my body quits on its own.
    I really think vultures in flight are beautiful how they ride the thermals.

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    1. Patti-- I also like the image of walking into the woods and disappearing, but things often turn out to be harder than anticipated. Vultures really are quite beautiful as they ride the sky.

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  8. Wow! I know about Snyder and Whalen but I had never heard of Lew Welch. What a great little Zen history lesson! And yeah, I love the circularity inherent in the idea that his life goes on in the vulture. I NEVER knew that about Huey Lewis, either!

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    1. Steve-- I think Lew didn't publish much, but was definitely part of the inner core of the Beats for a while. I was also surprised by his connection to Huey Lewis. It's so interesting what we can discover on the internet...one thing leads to another.

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  9. Vultures are some of my favorite creatures ever. Not beautiful, but oh, how they can fly! Poetry in motion, and from now on, when I see one I will address it as Lew.

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    1. kerrdelune-- Yes, vultures can really fly, in the most graceful beautiful ways. We love watching them. Also love knowing you will address one as Lew. Thank you for that!

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  10. Fascinating bit of history. Lew Welch was new to me, too, though I had heard of Snyder, Kerouac, Ginsberg, my great god Ferlinghetti, and many others. And the Huey Lewis connection was also new to me. Looking all that up on Wikipedia led me eventually to a great song I'd never heard either I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll by Nick Lowe. Thanks for setting me off on that bit of exploration.

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    1. Catalyst-- I don't remember when I first heard the story of Lew Welch. It's been quite a while. We are really big fans of the Beats. I'll give you a link here to a piece I did on being the volunteer coordinator at Naropa Institute in 1982 for the 25th anniversary of the publication of On The Road. All the old beats were there. I actually did an apprenticeship with Allen Ginsberg. But, like you, I always loved loved loved Ferlinghetti. His "Coney Island of the Mind" was the first book of beat poetry I read when I was 14 years old. It opened a whole new world for me. I still love to read "I am waiting." I'll go listen to the song. Thank you for that.

      Here's a link to the blog post:
      https://newdharmabums.blogspot.com/2005/03/happy-birthday-jack.html

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  11. oh, wow, what a story! All of it! And Huey. Oh, the connections. Now I've got to look up these poets; thanks for setting me up for a good bit of research that is sure to be rewarding.

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    1. Tara-- It's fun to look back at the artists and poets of that generation. They were wildly interesting.

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  12. Such an interesting connection with Huey Lewis.

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  13. I've only seen turkey vultures here in Maryland. Have never seen any of them in flight, just always by the side of the road "cleaning up." Interesting story about the beat poets. I was a little too young when they were writing, but my interest is now piqued to learn more about them. (I voted today and am cautiously optimistic about a blue wave; couldn't resist a quick political comment.)

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    1. Cathy-- Well, we took the House and that makes me happy. I wish we had taken the Senate as well, but the seven state governors in Democratic hands is a good thing too. I hope you enjoy all the read about the Beats!

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  14. I remember seeing vultures in Big Bend (I think) perched with their wings spread to catch the morning sun. I don't remember seeing them much around here until I moved onto the mountain, and now I see them all the time, including much closer to town, perched on the railing of a water tower with their wings spread. I guess they have been here all along, but it took a particular incident for me to become aware of them. A lesson in paying attention, I guess.

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    1. Mark-- I love seeing vultures perched with their wings spread. They really are such interesting beasts. We see them here all the time, on every walk we take, circling the cow pastures and sitting on fences after a meal.

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  15. This happens often trying to comment on your blog. I'll write out something and go to publish it and it disappears "poof". So I'll just say I loved that "Lew" story and the connection to birds and Huey Lewis. Thanks for the distraction. It's always Always nice.

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    1. Jsk-- I often lose comments too. If I don't check and make sure my name is in the "Reply as:" box, it disappears. For some reason google logs me out every now and then, and poof I'm gone. When I've typed a comment sometimes, I make a copy of it just in case it disappears. Glad you liked the Lew story. It really is a good one!

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  16. Enjoyed this post very much. :)

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