I read David James Duncan's The River Why nearly a decade ago, when our book group was just beginning. Mostly I was unimpressed. (That's a general summary of my appreciation of Duncan's work in all forms, though I like his collection of essays and stories, River Teeth.)
I do, however, remember two particular passages.
In the first, Gus Orvitson (our hero) is wandering the rivers and streams of the Oregon coast, looking for fishing holes. He comes upon a curious sight. High in a tree, overlooking the banks of a river, stands a woman. A naked woman. A beautiful naked woman. She is unaware of his presence. She is completely focused on what she is doing, which is preparing to dive from the tree to the river. Gus watches her; he admires her beauty as she arcs through the air and plunges to the stream below.
This scene is etched on my brain.
Less memorable, but more applicable to my life, is the scene in which our hero contemplates his "Ideal Schedule". After he graduates from high school, Gus decides to become a solitary fisherman for a year, living the perfect life. His ideal schedule &madsh; one that avoids all distractions, including unnecessary contact with humans — will include fourteen-and-a-half hours per day to fish (approximately 14,000 actual fishing hours per year). He believes this plan will lead to "optimum happiness," but it doesn't.
It took some time to get settled in the cabin: a day to stash gear, a day to build a fish-smoker, a day to set up and stock the aquarium, a day to clean, and salt in supplies, two days to cut three cords of wood. But on June ninth I hung the Ideal Schedule on the wall by my bed and began to live it: I proceeded to fish all day, every day, first light to last. All my life Iíd longed for such a marathon —
and I havenít one happy memory of it. All I recall is stream after stream, fish after fish, cast after cast, and nothing in my head but the low cunning required to hoodwink my mindless quarry. Each night my Log entries read like tax tables or grocery receipts, describing not a dream come true, but a drudgery of double shifts on a creekside assembly line.
I wonder if The River Why might not hold more interest to the 36-year-old J.D. than it did for the 27-year-old J.D. As part of my quest for a pastoral lifestyle, I may be in danger of pining for an ideal schedule which is anything but.
My Ideal Schedule (as of Feb 2005)
eat oatmeal for breakfast while watching the birds
post a weblog entry and answer e-mail
walk to the public library
read Proust while lounging on the back porch
eat a light lunch of goat cheese and kalamata olives
nap in the parlor, in a sunbeam
putter in the workshop
pet the cats
go to dinner with another couple
spend time with Kris
read in bed til midnight
As I say, this schedule may prove less-than-ideal once I'm actually living it. This won't stop me from trying, however. I've begun a campaign to accumulate vacation days. My goal is to have a month of vacation saved by sometime next year. I'll take it all at once, and try to live my Ideal Schedule.
On this day at foldedspace.org
2004 — You're Invited! Kris and I are holding Chicken Noodle Fest on March 13th. Everyone is invited. Drop us a line to let us know you'll come.
2003 — Light Our assignment last week was to photograph light. Specifically, to look at the impact of light on our subject.
2002 — Indigo Girls We joined Cari and Chris for dinner (the first time we've gone out with them in years -- nice to do something with them again) and then we caught the Indigo Girls' CD Preview at the Aladdin Theater in southeast Portland.