I stood on the porch and looked incredulously at the twenty-five-foot rental truck sitting in the street. The Texas June morning was already hot. I recalled the hot day before when Trevor and I had loaded all my and Darcy’s belongings and packed them into this whale of a vehicle, then secured my car to a trailer attached at the rear of it all. The whole assembly extended forty feet, and was packed full. It was difficult to envision the journey ahead of me. My emotions were bittersweet.
While attending Act III, a person sometimes realizes that he has stagnated; he has simply been working for the weekend, and has swept his dreams beneath a carpet of quiet desperation. Darcy and I had decided to move to the Pacific Northwest. We had discussed doing so many times, and this was the day that we would leave Dallas in the rear-view mirror. Why not, I thought. I had accomplished little more than a common existence. My great dreams of success were but numb reflections of youth.
“Life is what happens to you as you make plans.” John Lennon.
I was beginning a fresh expedition. Maybe it would be the right thing to do. If not, at least I was actively participating in my failure. And, the mountains, ocean, rivers, and forests of the Northwest would have a soothing influence, whatever happened.
Trevor arrived to see us off. We sat on the porch steps, wearing cowboy hats, and chatted idly, afraid to discuss the future. The Ringo Kid and Marshal Wilcox had matured. We had hung up our cap guns and exchanged fantasies for desires—the desire for love, health, prosperity, security, and peace of mind. Hell, in Stagecoach neither the Ringo Kid nor Marshal Wilcox ever spoke of growing old and dependent. Little cowboys only died when another little cowboy shot them dead, and then it was debatable. “Did not!” Did too!”
“Well, guess it’s time to go.” I stood up, tired from anxiety, but eager to get on the road.
Separation from loved ones is never easy. I had the excitement of adventure to divert my attention. For the Ringo Kid, it would be the lonely evanescence of our Conestoga as Darcy and I headed North by Northwest, then his return to routine. After rush hour, which never really ends in a metropolis of six million, I turned the key to a new phase of my life, and the large truck started up. Darcy and I began a two-thousand-mile passage to Portland, Oregon. Trevor drove the opposite way, to work.
Driving can be provocative. Several hundred miles of road gives one an opportunity for much contemplation, and I had much to consider. What was I doing? Why am I doing this? My loved ones will be so far away. I cannot wait to reacquaint myself to the saline fluid of our Mother Ocean, or to breath the pure mountain air of the gods. What will I do for a living? Am I doing the right thing? Thoughts of life and death, of purpose and quest, of responsibility and negligence, of Pappy and family, filled the gaps between cats (we were traveling with two), scenery, snacks, gas, maps, motels, supper, and slumber.
We pushed on, through the Texas panhandle, through Colorado along the Eastern slope of the Rockies, over the flat prairie lands of Wyoming, into Montana and over Fourth of July pass, across a short, evergreen stretch of Idaho, cutting the dry, Eastern corner of Washington State, to Oregon and the mighty Columbia River, and down the riparian highway into Portland. Our town home, which we had prearranged, was ready. We unloaded our possessions—complete with three large Ficus trees and other planted foliage of all types and sizes, which Darcy had mothered the whole trip, and which arrived in splendid condition, quite to my amazement—and settled into our new home. What now, brown cow?
Summer in the Pacific Northwest is gorgeous. The sun is warm, not hot. And, not wanting to sound repetitious, the mountains, ocean, rivers, and forests were soothing, promising, and exciting. During our first several weeks Darcy and I explored. For a brief time I was able to go back, into a youthful exuberance of novelty and fascination. It was refreshing, but short lived. It was time for a fifty-year-old bartender, classic underachiever, idealistic dreamer, and Pappy’s son, to find work.
Darcy, fortunately, quickly found employment. It was to be quite different for me. I called Pappy and conferred with him. It was good to hear his voice, and his vote of confidence, but it was paradoxically incomplete. Not because it was in any way disingenuous. What Pappy, Trevor, and I had achieved in the prior few years was sincere and special. Rather, there were new, untried rudiments to our father son relationship. I was apprehensive, concerned about my situation, a stranger in a strange land without friends, influence, or a network of any kind, afraid. Except for when I was a little boy, Pappy had not known me to fear. Except for when I was a little boy, I had never known Pappy as one to reach out to in times of fear. This is a bond that is only secured empirically.
I called Mother. She had been there. It was good to hear her voice, and her vote of confidence, but this too was diluted by age and distance. I had, after all, been independent for over thirty years, and asked only for love and occasional, brief periods of room and board as I trekked through life. She, being a mother of six, may have observed moments of trepidation, but it was not because I had intentionally revealed them. I would, as always, be expected to persevere.
I called Trevor. It was good to hear his voice.
Caw! Caw, Caw, Caw! Caw, Caw! Caw! Caw! The commotion was loud and furious! Caw! Caw! Caw! I stepped outside to investigate the circumstances. Summer had slipped into a beautiful fall, which had turned into winter. Caw! Caw! Winters in Portland are generally overcast and wet, though moderate in temperature. This day was chilly and clear. Caw, Caw! Caw! There are many large Pacific Northwest pine trees all around our townhouse group. Many stand a couple hundred feet into the sky, and so large in diameter that one can barely hug them at the base. Caw! Caw! The crows were in an uproar. Several other folks had stepped outside to see what was going on. Caw, Caw, Caw! There were several dozen crows high in the trees, and flying wildly about.
“It reminds me of The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock.” spoke one neighbor.
I concurred silently, and moved away from the humans. Perhaps it was reminiscent of a scene in a film, but this was no movie, and I was fascinated by the real nature of whatever was happening. Caw, Caw! Caw! The commotion continued, and the humans went back into their abodes, probably complacent from having heard it all before.
Suddenly, a large group of the birds separated from the upheaval and flew from one treetop to another, a half block away. The remaining two or three-dozen continued to fly riotously, noisily about. Caw! Caw! Caw! All around the top of one tree they darted about. Then, quite abruptly, the whole commotion moved away from the treetops, and into the open sky. Caw! Caw! It was then that I saw the crux of the activity.
Caw! Caw, Caw! The crows were chasing a large hawk, which had probably tried to sneak into their nesting area for a quick, thieving meal. Ol’ Hawk had not slipped in stealthily, however. I determined that the group of crows that had fled the fight were most likely the women and children. The group that remained was united in defense, and was now chasing Ol’ Hawk high into the distance. Caw! Caw! Caw! Caw. Caw… I watched as two or three crows abandoned the fight, then several more backed off. Finally, there were only two crows badgering Ol’ Hawk as he disappeared into some distant clouds. What a sight! I sat on my front steps in the cool, winter sunlight, in wonderment. All had gotten quiet.
Portland was a lively city. However, I was having great difficulty in finding work. Although I had made tremendous strides in the use of the computer, most on the more commonly used programs, my administrative talents were quite proficient, and I had well developed interpersonal skills, combined with years of devoted, diligent work experience, I was experiencing overwhelming rejection. Now, I will not bore you with my assessment of Portland’s selective, good-old-boy (and girl) business inclinations. Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, I find the people xenophobic, provincial, and sanctimoniously judgmental. Frankly, I felt no more appreciated than Ol’ Hawk.
Winter blossomed into spring, and spring into summer. Darcy and I had survived our new life for over a year. As I had an abundance of free time, I began a frequent correspondence with Pappy via e-mail and telephone that helped to bridge the three-thousand-mile gap that separated us. While during this time Pappy and Trevor were able to get together a couple of times, I was limited by distance and funding. I often thought of visiting Sir Uck Uck in Florida, but always I rationalized, avoided dipping too deeply into my savings, and relented to telling him in a letter, or telephone narration, about Darcy’s and my latest adventure to the coast, or to the mountains and forest. I had confidence that soon I would land a good little job, save my money, and Trevor and I would fly to Tampa for the next Father’s Day celebration.
Summer was blending into fall. Still, I was unable to find work. One warm, sunny day I decided to take a drive through the valley between the Cascade and Costal Mountain ranges; a short excursion as a reminder of why I had come to the Pacific Northwest. As I passed a small, two story, white house that sat slightly back from the unpaved country road on which I was driving, I was compelled to stop. It was quiet and rather lonely, although in good repair. The windows were shut, and the door was closed. Lace curtains, dusty and old, hung at every window. I ascended the three steps to the porch. There were several flowerpots sitting about with nothing growing in them, a couple empty and stacked inside each other. I glanced through the intricate, clear leaded glass design in the front door. The house appeared to be occupied. My curiosity was further engaged. I returned to my car and stopped for a long look back.
“I know this house.” I thought to myself.
I was reminded of the house in East Texas, where I had gone with Pappy only a couple of years earlier. I affectionately remembered Irene and wondered if she was still there. A shiver of vague recollection of the rooms upstairs shook my spine. But here it was quiet and peaceful. I felt curiously lured to the back of the house.
An old man sat on the back porch steps. I approached from behind; taking notice of his long, silver hair that cascaded down his shoulders and back.
“Hello.” I announced my presence. I was delighted to have found someone home, and I wanted to enquire about the house. It certainly was a coincidence of similarity.
“Rabbit.” He spoke.
I walked up to him, but he did not look up.
“Rabbit.” He repeated, and then pointed.
The house backed up to the foothills of the Costal Range Mountains. Between the house and the forest lined incline of the mountains I saw a garden, a pond, and beyond that, three beehives. I looked closer for a rabbit. The garden was lush with a variety of growth, of which I could only identify some cabbages and corn stalks. I looked further around, and thought I saw a turtle in the pond, but no rabbit. I scanned farther toward the beehives and saw bees, but I still did not see a rabbit.
I turned back to find the old man looking into my eyes. His face was aged, russet and leathered, and many lines mapped years of knowledge and wisdom, verified by the quiet light in his eyes.
“Were you not spooked by my coming around behind you?” I said, wanting to initiate a conversation with this interesting person.
“Your steps had no danger in them. You walked with cautious curiosity. Do you not see Rabbit?”
“Uh, well no.” I had to admit. I scanned the area again, then returned my attention to him.
“How long have you lived here?”
As if he had not heard my question, the old man asked me, “Do you know the tale of Rabbit?”
“Sit down, Rabbit will reveal himself.” He motioned toward a stump close by, where I took a seat, and then he began his story.
“Rabbit was born in the East. His mother was the She-wolf. She was good and loyal, and greatly loved Rabbit. His father, however, was Badger. Badger was an angry soul, mean and unfaithful. Badger drank heavily, and became more and more abusive toward Rabbit.
One evening, in a fit of great anger and abuse, Badger pulled off Rabbit’s beautiful tail. Rabbit was badly hurt, but he strained to not cry, so as not to upset his mother. In fact, Rabbit fought his tears with such strength that he cracked his voice and, from then on, he could speak only with hesitation. Rabbit went inward, and began to have great dreams of how he might someday get back his tail.
Meanwhile, She-wolf took Rabbit and left Badger. She eventually married Beaver. Beaver was a hard worker, but in those days, there was a great drought, and he was barely able to provide. Still, Beaver fought hard to be good to She-wolf and little Rabbit.
Rabbit grew into a young man, but continued to live in visions. He finally took Cat as a wife, and they started a family. But the great drought had gotten worse, and Rabbit’s voice recoiled more nervously than ever whenever he had to face the world beyond his images. Cat’s ancestors were from the family of Horse, and they continually scoffed at Rabbit. They called Rabbit an unpromising idealist, and said that he was lazy. And, they ridiculed Rabbit because his voice was broken, and he had no tail. Rabbit went deeper within, and began to seek comfort as an artist. Cat had to accept greater responsibilities. Times were difficult, and a wide gap opened in the ground between Cat and Rabbit. Rabbit decided to leave the East and search for his tail. He went to the West.
There, Rabbit met Fox. Fox was a beautiful, successful performer, and had a spectacular tail. She was very clever, and noticed that Rabbit had talent that Fox could use. Fox convinced Rabbit that if he would work for her, that Fox would show Rabbit how to get back his tail. Rabbit was quite infatuated by Fox’s gorgeous tail, and he eagerly accepted Fox’s offer.
As time went on, however, Rabbit began to realize that Fox was only interested in her own tail. She would stand for long periods of time in front of reflective waters, swishing and flaunting her stunning accessory. Rabbit’s job was to groom Fox’s tail: to clean it, brush it, fluff it, pamper it, and even paint exquisite pictures of it. One day, as Fox was feeling particularly pompous, Rabbit, with his voice very nervous and hesitant, asked once again about when he might finally get his tail. Fox replied snobbishly that Rabbit would never reclaim his tail, and that he was a fool for being such a dreamer. Furthermore, Fox sneered, Rabbit should keep his broken voice quiet, and speak only when spoken to.
Rabbit was stunned, but he was nobody’s fool. He had learned much during his time with Fox, but it was obvious that he would never find his tail there. Rabbit went to the South. She-wolf had also gone to the South, and Rabbit was so happy when he saw her. She helped Rabbit for a while as he struggled to find his tail—always certain that he would.
Rabbit remained in the South, where the weather was warm. He worked many little jobs as he continued his quest, using his creative talents and the skills that he had learned while in the West. He made many friends, and told many adventurous tales of his life, and his crusade to reclaim his tail. Rabbit endeared himself to many.
One day Rabbit was telling the story of his great quest to Pelican, a wise and close friend, when Pelican interrupted.
‘You know, Rabbit,’ he said, ‘I have no tail.’
Rabbit was astonished. He had never considered such.
‘But,’ Rabbit responded, ‘You have tail feathers.’
‘Oh, yes I do.’ Pelican shook his feathered rear and splashed water on Rabbit. ‘But, I think that you have been so involved in your crusade to reclaim your tail, that you have not noticed that you have a tuft of a tail.’
Rabbit was aware of his tuft. That and his broken voice were sad reminders of those horrible days of growing up around Badger.
‘I think,’ continued Pelican, ‘that you have covered many memories of your early days with a blanket of improbable, romantic aspirations. Others have known all along that you truly do have a tail—to say nothing about the countless tales that you have collected along the way. In fact, Rabbit, you are a master of many tales.’
Rabbit was silent. An incredible warmth overcame him. Rabbit had always been easygoing and generally happy, but now he felt joy spread throughout his being unlike any that he had ever experienced. It was this day that Rabbit ended his great quest for the impossible dream.”
“There, beyond the pond, and before the bees. Do you see him now?”
I followed the direction of the old man’s aged, but steady hand, past the garden, toward the pond and the bees. And, there he was, sitting serenely in the sunshine—Rabbit!
“Rabbit is old now,” the old narrator returned to his story. “In his last few years, he has been able to find peace in his life. He found a place in the sun, as you can see. But Owl has called Rabbit’s name. Rabbit does not know it, but it is time for him go to the North—to the light that gives life to the Earth.
I have watched Rabbit for many years. I have worried for him, and laughed at him. Now, I love him. It is enough.” His story was ended.
I chatted with the fellow for a while after, asking questions about him, the house, and life in general, to which he responded metaphorically, revealing little about himself or the house. Then, it came time for me to go. After shaking his strong hand and a brief farewell, I returned to my car and drove away. The house and the old storyteller remain a mystery to me. I have been unable to duplicate the route that I took that day. I have not forgotten, however, nor will I ever forget, the story of Rabbit!
Several days later, while Darcy was getting ready for work, and I was sipping on coffee and wondering if sometime that day the telephone would ring with an invitation to interview for a job, the telephone rang. Who could that be, I wondered, as it was too early for a routine telephone call. Darcy answered the phone, and after a long, quiet moment she handed it to me.
“Pappy died.” Trevor said. The remainder of that conversation is hazy.