View of Inundation Zone of Proposed Dam
The swallows had returned, brown and white swallows looping above the creek, disappearing into deep holes in the steep embankment, the flock somehow never diminishing, violet-green swallows weaving between them, jewel-like when the sun struck their deep green and purple feathers. A blue heron stood motionless on a rock, waiting, waiting for a shadow to move in the water. A lazuli bunting, smaller than most sparrows, foraged in the brush, its shrill, melodious call dominating the creek.
Justin identified birds by losing himself in his surroundings, waiting for a sound or a movement. By the embankment, he lost himself in roots lacing the earth and sucking up the water, the branches like roots in the sky soaking up the sunlight, each individual creature distinct yet part of one ocean full of swirling currents of water and breath. Sometimes he felt more like an ocean of consciousness than one distinct creature while other times he felt like a distinct individual lost in a great ocean of being whose currents swirled on without end.
Ron had sued the county for inadequate review of the rezone application, so Justin returned that evening to try to get a sense of what happened. The landowner had obtained a permit from the planning commission to build an upscale development near the creek even though the rezoning would establish precedence for other development in the area. The planning commission had not even required an environmental impact report to study the growth inducing and cumulative impacts of the project--just rammed it right through. Ron had appealed the decision to the county board of supervisors, which then unanimously approved the rezone application.
Justin realized that he might never see Ron again. Justin had searched half-heartedly for Ron for several months, on weekends and holidays, concluding that he had gone underground or offed himself in some secluded wood or changed his name and moved to another country. Justin couldn't rule out murder, of course. Ron was skinny, almost skeletal, with thin, shoulder-length hair that made him appear slightly feminine. One day as they were driving to a public hearing, Ron insisted that a study had actually been conducted that proved that corporate managers who were forced to wear dresses during a high-level retreat actually showed more sympathy for their employees afterwards. That same day, when saying goodbye, Ron had squeezed Justin's leg for an uncomfortably long time. Ron just smiled for a moment and then got out of the car.
Though he was articulate about complex issues at public hearings, Ron tended to be reticent. One time, however, at a public hearing, he froze for over a minute, just stood at the podium without saying a word, to everyone's embarrassment, as though he had completely lost his nerve. Justin then began to think that something was terribly wrong. That same day, however, Ron convinced Justin that they should commandeer an attack helicopter and blow up a hazardous waste incinerator if it should ever be built. Fortunately, thanks partly to their continued political pressure, the incinerator was never built even though the company had received the necessary permits.
Ron referred several times to a nervous breakdown he had suffered in the army during the Vietnam War, but never provided any details. He preferred to dwell on the issues, occasionally mentioning spiritual matters in conjunction with his description of LSD trips in the sixties. One time, for instance, his friends were in a circle and they began passing around thoughts as if they were all reading each other's minds, finishing each other's sentences, until they were all sure that they were so connected on some level that they just stopped talking because they didn't need to.
After Ron disappeared, Justin saw a homemade billboard on a stretch of Freeway 99 between Tulare and Bakersfield, which read, "Wake up and drop out--get your new identity here," followed by a phone number. Justin could imagine Ron making fake IDs for a living, so he called the number and asked if anyone by the name of Ron Manroe worked there. "Everyone here has a new name, so I wouldn't know," was the reply, but Justin left his own name and phone number just in case anyone with that name happened to pass through there.
Ron's commitment had transcended the desire for material success or prestige or even a little financial security, superceding every personal desire, even the need to survive, it seemed.
Since he was largely ignored and defeated on a political level by good ol' boy politicians, Ron had chosen finally to work his way through the legal system, demanding higher review of local land use decisions. He used the tools of the masters until he became effective, and then the masters used the same tools to crush him. Judge Adam Cane bankrupted Ron, fining him $300,000 for pursuing a "frivolous lawsuit." The Judge claimed that Ron had not established an adequate record on which to base a lawsuit since Ron had only gone on record opposing the rezone application at the final meeting of the county board of supervisors. The Judge apparently had conveniently forgotten the constitution or had never read it. No matter. Ron appealed the case and won, but only after he had been forced to declare bankruptcy. The developer then turned the tables and appealed the decision of the appellate court, eating up more of Ron's time and money.
Somehow, though, this creek had survived even though the landowner had the permit to alter it beyond recognition. Maybe Ron had had some effect after all, but not on the governmental level. Yet, as far as Justin knew, the bulldozers were already lined up and every acre of land in the world had already been surveyed to determine how many board feet could be logged, how many acre feet of water could be diverted, how many houses and strip malls could be built. Perhaps even the air had been inventoried to determine how many more molecules of pollution it could contain before people choked to death.
Like Ron, Justin had fought many battles and finally stood alone, powerless and ignored, but at least he could lose himself in the stream, could almost feel it slide over the stones, could sense the roots gently sucking the water up into the trunks and stems. The water was perfectly calm in places, revealing one world penetrating another, the connection between worlds suddenly disturbed by ripples and then restored, both worlds a flowing of past, present, and future in a never-ending cycle where nothing was lost, only changed. For a moment it seemed to him that even the house pit near the pounding stone might always exist in the grasses somewhere in that flowing, in some ether that permeated everything, a Universal Mind which remembered every atom.
The night flowing around him and into him, Justin felt the air cooling as the bunting sang, the swallows looping overhead, the heron winging away to some more secluded part of the creek.
Take the next path.
Walk on a forbidden path.
Walk on a scary path.
Meet the King of Cups.