Dharma Bum

“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures …”

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

I recall a summer afternoon along the Green River. A bloom of flies had hatched the previous night and so the muddy, red water was humming with their sex. I had long, unkempt hair that had become bleached in the sun and dirt of my seasonal existence. It stood like a ruddy tree canopy atop my skull and sheltered the winged insects as they looked about for a room to get it on.

Even today, forty-some years later, I can smell the mud. If I close my eyes I can hear the water in its eddy and the occasional call of a red-winged blackbird from a tamarisk stand downstream. The desert heat warms my heart and my skin. Better, if I breathe deeply, I can find that moment of restfulness and contentedness which accompanied this afternoon in my life as I lay across a thwart of the boat I captained.

Kerouac discovered he had permission to tell everyone, anyone, that they could be free too. He realized this on a high Cascade ridge one summer in his youth. I forgot that, for a little while, but it’s true. I want to fulfill this vision. Why? None of this matters.

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