With America at My Back

Back at the ocean to finish Lone Dog Road.

Books take a lot of polishing. You don’t want to “sand the edges” off them, but you want continuity and clarity. Sometimes that is a long time in coming. And so I have come back here to the vast Pacific to see if I can inject some magic and flow into the words and phrases of this book that has been my companion and obsession for the past two years.

People ask me why I’m so drawn to this place. It’s partly for the sunrises and the sunsets, and partly for the dull amniotic roar that fills the senses and never ceases. But it’s also for the impossible-to-explain feeling that all of America, both physically and metaphorically, is behind me. Here, 100 feet from the eternal breathing of the planet, all the fighting, all the thrumming machinery of human progress, all the sick politics and hopeless mix of human suffering and dreams, falls away. I can turn my back on the world and stare off into the infinite.

In daily life this seems like a betrayal of my human responsibility. But here, at the very western margin of the continent, it feels not only natural, but undeniable. I am as carefree and full of wonder as the dogs I see running along the beach.

My wife often says, “You think too much,” a legacy of my too intelligent, too depressed mother sitting at the kitchen table smoking cigarettes and staring into the middle distance. But there is healthy thinking and there is not-so-healthy thinking. And thinking about the junk and jangle of daily life can be not-so-healthy thinking when you are trying to enter into the magical, untethered world of the imagination.

At water’s edge the imagination can run free. God, eternity, the magic of music, the mysteries of birth and death, love, the whispering voices of the ancestors – nothing is off limits. If you want to think about bills and doctor’s visits and the problems of the world, you can. But if you want to stand against those daily concerns, the vast infinity of the rolling ocean can give you the power to do so.

I am using that power right now. America is at my back; infinite possibility stretches out before me. I hope I am producing a good book for all of you. I think I am.

My inspiration is the rolling Pacific and dogs running happily along the beach. If there is a better combination to clarify the mind and lift the spirit, I don’t know what it is.

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