Theory of Searches

Everybody and everything was on the go. As explained in the Theory of Searches, in the right location point, if you stayed put long enough, everyone would find you, and in the summer of 1968 you didn’t have to stay put for very long.

That summer a lot of us found each other at Galley Bay and almost daily another boat, such as the one that deposited me here, slid up to the wharf to discharge a wild assortment of visitors. Some who’d stay an hour or so, some for a few days or weeks, and some who would never leave. One day the Pinchots showed up. A pair of brothers looking for land on which to build a commune. They understood computers (as few did then) and spoke of an advanced technological society from which they’d embark upon their revision of the world. A new age. With them were Bill Heine and his wife, Ellen. They were a little older than the average Galley Bay visitor, probably in their forties and Bill also sported a trim crew cut in a time of long hair. features which had them pegged by some as probable “narcs” which, in time. proved to be damned ironic. They were pretty well ignored at first and, as for me, I pretty much ignored everyone that showed up, anyway.

Bob Carpenter was up there, too, and, as far as I could tell, was about the best musician on the place. He sang folk/pop tunes in a Dylanesque style, accompanying himself with solid guitar licks. He played no complicated solos, but his singing had emotional strength, and was in tune. Every day around mealtime everyone drifted back to the main house. Bob generally arrived first, setting up shop in the large living-room with his guitar, playing and singing. Often as not, a few others’d sing along or join in with flutes, recorders, or whatever. Half a dozen women would be in the kitchen cooking. Meals were fairly routine and unless someone had caught a salmon that day, in which case we feasted. Otherwise it’d be brown rice and fresh vegetables from the garden. The babies got to drink fresh goat’s milk.

Early on I took over the goatherd’s job. Though I will no doubt remain ignorant till my dying days of the ways of natural, that is to say non-downtown, living, I became something of an expert on goats. We had a little herd consisting of a king billy and a few nannies and their kids. I was struck by the difference between the sheep and the goats and this difference served me well as an analogue for humans. The sheep produced wool without any idea that they were doing so and seemed pretty damn stupid about everything else, too. The goats produced milk and sold it to you. The sheep had to be pushed around because they could never figure out what they were supposed to do, other than eat. You had to win the goat’s trust and then they’d follow you, if they felt like it. The goats were smart and even had a sense of humour. I loved hanging out with them, as did my dog, Abie, who’d fool around with the youngest kid, Skipper, butting heads and chasing each other around.

After several weeks residence at Galley Bay I’d devised the following system: Before going to sleep I prepared the potbellied stove. Some crumpled paper on the bottom, followed by fine kindling, bigger kindling, and a couple of pieces of firewood on top. Then I prepared the one-cup espresso pot on top of the stove. When I woke up all I had to do was toss a match into the stove on my way out to the goat barn. After milking the nannies and letting them out to roam for the day I returned to my cabin just in time to hear the final burps of the steamed coffee erupting into the top chamber of the pot. Then a couple of smokes with my espresso as I sat on the front step and watched the glorious day begin.

I realize now that throwing a lit match into a small stove filled with combustible materials and then taking off for 20 minutes to a half an hour every morning was a mad thing to do but in those days and in that place I was the king of the ignoramuses and the angels must’ve been looking after me or how can I possibly have survived?

It was almost a perfect life. All I needed was to get laid once in a while and it’d be heaven. I must confess now, in my old age, that though the lack of clothing seemed like a perfectly natural way to go, free and beautiful, in fact all those naked gals, many of them pretty damn voluptuous with their perfect young breasts glistening in the sun, had me as horny as old Jumbo, the king billy goat. Both of us jacked off frequently.

But, oddly enough, though I’m sure there must have been a fair amount of fucking going on day and night, my only sexual episode was on a trip to town where Marian, Wendy, and I got stranded overnight at the ferry landing at Earl’s Cove. The only shelter was the solitary restroom which was just large enough to open up a sleeping bag on the floor. We made a mattress out of two of them and the third was our blanket. By now we were so used to nudity that we three stripped without forethought and got into bed. Not much happened but by the time we got to Vancouver Wendy and I were in a hot alliance that lasted about three days. I should also add that Wendy was among the most opulent the large breast factions of Desolation Sound.

It would be unjust to construe my tit fetish as only a male preoccupation. Once I overheard Marian and some of the girls debating the various alliances, or factions that had formed among the women. As’ll happen in any large group of people sides had formed over various issues. Marian summed it up: “What it boils down to is the big tits versus the small tits.”

One late afternoon, as mealtime approached, I was drifting over towards the main house when I was stopped in my tracks by the guitar music I heard seeping out through the chinks and cracks of the aging lumber. If this was Bob Carpenter he must have made a major musical breakthrough on the order of a chinchilla learning to cakewalk. I could not believe my ears. Charlie Christian chords and a flurry of boppish eighth and sixteenth-notes made my hairdo flip. I walked in to find that old “narc” man, Bill, wailing on Bob’s guitar as the hippies stood about in happy confusion. Minutes later the gals in the kitchen announced dinner and as everyone straggled away I uttered my first words to Bill. “Shit, man… what the…?”

It wasn’t till later that we continued that conversation. “Well, I played a little guitar at one time.”

“A little guitar? Jesus, that was hot, man, incredible. I’ve been dying to hear jazz for months. That was a shot to my soul.”

In all the time I knew Bill Heine I never again saw him pick up the guitar. I must have begged him a thousand times. He always refused without explanation, as though there was some dark mystery behind it all; as though that one time I heard him he’d simply forgotten himself for a while. But in the course of the next couple of months (or was it only weeks?) we spent countless hours together, talking talking talking. When someone showed up with a portable battery-operated record player we requisitioned the thing and took it to my chicken-shack where I had managed to lay my hands on only one record, Coltrane’s Lush Life. We played the thing endlessly through the night till the batteries finally croaked while we talked about Jazz, New York, and all the mad characters of the time, a couple of whom I knew , but all of whom Bill knew. He seemed to know everyone and everything. I don’t remember where he was born but he showed up in New York sometime in the late forties, just about the time I was being born nearly four hundred miles to the north, in Montreal.

He knew the Pinchot brothers. They had millions it turned out. Some of it they brought with them in cash to buy this land they were looking for. When they came up from California they sent airfare to Bill and Ellen so that they could join them, get out of the City and kick their habits. Ellen came from Midwest wealth and once had a promising career as an opera singer but blew it all years ago when she got hooked up (and hooked) with Heine in New York. She was slowly going mad and I almost never saw her. She seemed okay at first and I liked her well enough but gradually she took to hiding out and I saw her less and less.

The amazing thing for me was Bill Heine, veteran of bop city and bop life, was perfectly at home in this wild world of rivers, trees, and oceans. He loved to fish and sometimes I’d go out with him, leaning back in the dinghy or rowing a bit, while we talked. He told me about Lester Young, who introduced him to reefer sometime in the forties. It must have the beginning of his walk down the road to junk. This was just one of many incidental facts of his life that came up in conversation. He never made any kind of point of talking about the characters in his life’s story though some of these names held powerful meanings for me. I know there were at least a couple of letters between Bill and Allen Ginsberg at that time.

HERE > I was with Bill when I met another character who was to make a huge impression on me, perhaps even to the point of having changed my life. Nancy was a woman I’d heard tales of but had never seen. She lived down at the bottom of the Malaspina Inlet, alone except for about thirty goats. One of the tales I’d heard was about the night she was woken up by the sound of a cougar going after one of her animals. She grabbed a rifle and went after it, tracking it through miles of dense, sopping wet, night forest. I can’t remember whether she shot the thing or not but, either way, she headed back home and went back to sleep. The next day she met Jim Cochuck, another loner whose farmhouse was a few miles in the direction the cougar had taken the night before. Nancy told him about it.

“Nancy, you must have been soaked and freezing. Why didn’t you stop by for a cup of tea?”

“Oh, but I wasn’t dressed properly for visiting.”

This woman had chased a cougar in the dead of night through miles of rain-soaked woods with a rifle in hand but would never dream of paying a visit on a gentleman, no matter how cold and miserable she might have been, unless she was properly dressed for the occasion.

One day Bill and I took the small boat with the five horsepower Seagull outboard attached down the Malaspina. He wanted to do a little fishing and I remembered seeing a small island, more like a big rock actually, that was completely covered with wild rosebushes. I had decided to make rosehip extract. I’d read that you couldn’t beat rosehips for vitamin C. Bill dropped me off on rosehip island. An hour or so later he was back with no fish. I tossed my bushelful of the rosehips into the dinghy and climbed in. It was starting to rain.

“Let’s go down to Nancy’s till this rain blows over. I been wanting to meet her, anyway,” one of us suggested.

“Yeah, me too. Let’s go.”

First thing to say about Nancy is she has to be the most hospitable woman on earth. Two dingy strangers show up at her door without warning and she lays out a spread of hot coffee, and fresh-baked cakes and strawberry tarts. I was ravenous by now and kept stuffing myself with tarts. More kept appearing while Nancy told us her life story. She’d never married, had no kids, and her only living relative was a nephew who’d show up now and then to make sure she was still alive. I’m guessing she was about sixty and had lived on this place half her life. She showed us around and I got to meet some of her goats. This was a real treat for me as I’d become quite a goat aficionado by now. I told her that I was in charge of the Galley Bay goats, that there were only five of them and that it was my only chore. She had close to thirty plus an immense vegetable garden and all the other work that goes with running a house on a small farm.

“Must be an incredible amount a work running this place alone,” I noted.

“Yes, it is.”

I wondered how she could ever get away from here, what with animals and all to care for.

“You ever take a holiday?”

“I haven’t had a holiday in twenty-five years. My nephew keeps offering to look after the place so I can have a couple of weeks vacation. Maybe one of these days I’ll take him up on it.”

“Where would you go?”

“Go? Why, I’d stay right here. I don’t know of any place I’d rather be.”

I was floored! I thought Nancy must be the happiest person alive, to be exactly where she wanted to be and whose idea of a holiday was to take a break from all her work for a few weeks to enjoy where she was even more. I thought of everyone I’d known who slaved day after day for something other than what they had, for a place other than where they were. Things and places that would never exist.

The rain, though light, kept falling and now, too, the sky warned of darkness. It was late afternoon and we knew we had to leave at once. Back in the dinghy we fired up the Seagull and aimed ourselves for home. The sea was against us as was the rising wind. Ten, fifteen minutes later we were almost halfway home and the sky turned black, the wind and the sea swelled. Bill was getting nervous but I was getting terrified. Soon we vanished into total darkness, just barely able to make out the shore as we danced up and down in the growing swells. It seemed like we were hardly moving, though we knew we were because soon the land on our left disappeared completely as we emerged from the strait. Out in the open everything got even wilder. Howling winds, raging seas, the works. I knew I was a dead man. Bill and I faced each other in the boat as he handled the motor, desperate to steer us in what seemed like it might be the right direction. Suddenly I saw his jaw drop and his eyes bug out. “Hang on tight,” he yelled. I grabbed my seat. All of a sudden we were in midair. In that instant my life flashed through my mind, just like they said it would. Then we fell, slamming into the water as my seat was rammed against my ass, sending a shockwave up to my terrified brain.

I don’t know why Nancy’s tarts weren’t in my underpants by now. The land’s edge that would lead to home and safety kept vanishing and reappearing till, finally, we could make out the faint glow of kerosene lamps as we passed into the bay and up to the wharf. I heard Bob’s voice and guitar, the loveliest music I’d ever heard. He was aboard the steel-hulled tub that belonged to some recent guests and in a matter of minutes Bill and I were in their cabin smoking cigarettes and gulping hot coffee. A joint was passed around and Bill acted perfectly calm, as though nothing at all unusual had happened. I sat quaking in my water-logged jeans, holding on to the coffee mug for dear life.

I loved Galley Bay. Often I lay, even went to sleep at night, atop the Bounty because the view of distant mountains was best there, and the gentle rocking of the boat was pure heaven. Nothing in my life had prepared me for such splendour. I knew in my heart I’d never leave. But it wasn’t the first, nor the last time, my heart deceived me. In my bones I remained a city boy. I never passed up an opportunity to go to Vancouver.

Ellen got crazier and crazier. Some kind of paranoia with maybe some other manias thrown in for good measure. She had nothing good to say for anyone and thought everyone was out to get her somehow, including Bill. She stayed out of sight and when you spotted her she was usually spying on you from behind a wall or some furniture. Maybe that’s why Bill decided to leave, to go back to New York. The visitors with the steel-hulled tub gave up on their Alaskan fantasy and were heading back to Oregon. Both Bill and I were on that boat and after arriving in Vancouver we said goodbye to each other for the last time.

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