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Wake of the Whale
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ISBN-10: 1-89484-181-6
Genre: Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 481 Pages
Published: September 2002

From inside the flap

The narcotics underworld of the 70s was a deadly place, even for a man named Lucky. Beneath the shallow surface of glitz and glamour lay the dark depths of life against the law. In limbo somewhere between the hippie age and the selfish 80's a band of castaways tries to keep alive a dream of freedom and friendship.

As they sail the west coast, smuggling drugs aboard an old schooner they begin to share powerful night-time visions. As Lucky describes it, "It felt to me as if each night after we all eventually went to bed, made love, watched the stars or whatever we did to relax, as sleep approached, our minds merged - connected across the moonlit spaces by strands of ectoplasm or electrical fields or sub-real particles we will not discover for a thousand years. Then the orcas would come and give us a ride. Images and strange liquid sounds tumbled through our brains. Memories, maybe; someone's memories. Maybe our own if the biologists are right that we were once fish. Mostly it was just flashes of shorelines seen from the water, or long, murky stretches when the eyes were of no use and they had senses we didn't. And always there was the star, beckoning as though we could swim right off the planet."

Wake of the Whale (Excerpt)


They call me Lucky. A while ago, in a time not so distant in years as in spirit, I left my heart's home in the high mountain fastness of Stehekin, bound for the coast. The mountains are the Holy Land, God's Country, a crystalline evanescence of the Great Mother herself. But unprepared, without food or shelter, in the winter I would die. November was the limit, the edge of the abyss. Beyond November I was doomed. I must go down.

High altitudes and high latitudes test humans. Whenever there is trouble and hardship or when fear and weakness prevail, we descend. Inertia, or gravity, or some other force causes us, like water, to flow downhill.

Children who grow up in the mountains are told, "If you need to find people, follow a stream downhill." The further down you go, the more people you find. Eventually we'll all be lined up on the world's beaches, a mile deep, jostling each other towards the sea.

The relative number of people who live in the high lands is an index of a society's health. As their civilizations crumbled, Romans and Greeks and Babylonians and Mayans and all the rest, collected into ever larger cities at ever lower sites. Only the monks and the booksavers stayed in the high places and kept the faith for us all.

Your great-grandfather would never have built his house on a flood-plain. Today, suburbs sprawl across the valleys and tide flats where they are regularly inundated to everyone's surprise. Even in Paleolithic times humans lived on more of the planet than now. Many ancient archeological sites are too high in altitude or latitude to be considered habitable now. And while the rich were not nearly so well off then, the average person lived better and worked less.

If you travel the mountains in any part of the US, you will find deserted homesteads, whole ghost-towns, in areas now uninhabited, which were home to your revered pioneer ancestors. As the native peoples of the far north and the mountains lose their indigenous cultures, they move into lowland towns.

Life always looks easier down the hill. If you look up a slope, objects are enlarged, exaggerated, loom in threat. Look down and everything seems diminutive, controllable. So down we go.

Down, of course, is the wrong way. Everyone knows it. We are all supposed to strive for higher things, to climb the mountain of success, to hold the high ground. There are summit meetings and high councils and messages from on high. We do not descend into heaven or work our way down through the ranks. Even our musical scale progresses upward, (although I read in some old book that to the ancient Greeks the natural musical progression was down.)

The Bible says "Lift up thine eyes unto the hills, for therein lieth thy salvation." We all know that the right direction is up. But this is an age when the flame of human spirit flickers low and the dark pull of that other force draws us ever downward.

Usually my anti-gravity gland is very active. When my mind is clear, my body sound, my spirit true, I can let go the darkness and float upwards. From the time my Grandfather took me for a summer on the Stehekin and talked to me of the old days, I have naturally sought the high lands.

The only thing that always affects my a-g gland is hunger. By the time I admitted to myself that my partner, Snake, had gone south, I knew I was in trouble. Winter was hard upon me and I had no money, no food, and no feed for the horses.

There is a kind of relief when all the money's gone. It clarifies things, begins a new cycle. But the problem that year was deeper than money. I knew I could ride the horses sixty miles down the lake to Chelan, work in the orchards, prune with the Mexicans, and lay up at Granny's. I'd done that before. And I fit right in with the Mexicans, dark and silent. I knew I could go home and read all winter. Granny would like that.

She didn't care for the line of business I was in at that time, and I thought she would take the butcher knife to Snake the second she saw him. But if I read all winter, stayed out of trouble and worked every day, I could get on her good side. Not that she could have helped much in any financial way, it's just important to me to stay on Granny's good side.

But books were not going to do it. I had what Granny would call a hankerin' for somethin' real. Too many books. Writers had gone from writing about each other writing to writing about themselves writing. The books were full of hysterical characters doing implausible things in alien landscapes.

The last straw was a best-seller from a couple of years before that time by Robin Thomas called Even Honkies Sing the Blues. Snake had bought the paperback at the lodge in Stehekin on one of his Saturday tourist-ogling trips. He read it in a couple of days, laughed his ass off. I couldn't get half-way through it.

First music, now literature. It was all disco - kind of catchy, anyone could dance to it, but you never could remember the words. This could be you and your friends looked at down-hill. Nothing serious, no loomings or forebodings.

Granny raised me on a different sort of literature. The classics, she called them. Old books. Granny figured that if a book was a hundred years old or more, it had done all the damage it was likely to do and was safe for a child to read. She made me a deal. I could read all I wanted, but for every book I chose to read, she would choose one for me.

The first one I remember was a Bobb's-Merrill condensation of Greek, Roman and Norse myths. It was hot, better than the comic books I sneaked when I could. I sailed with the Argonauts, hid from Cyclops and had horny fantasies about the Sirens. I read in the shade of the great tree at Asgard and rode with the Valkyrie on my paint pony. I chose Tarzan of the Apes and read it in two days. She chose a condensed Gulliver's Travels. I read Riders of the Purple Sage, she picked Huckleberry Finn. Next turn she picked Robinson Crusoe, then started throwing short stories and poems at me. Poe and Hawthorne and Coleridge.

When I was twelve we had worked our way up to Moby Dick. I read somewhere that Ernest Hemingway said that all American Literature went back to one great book, Huckleberry Finn. It seems to me that Brother Ernest was remiss in his reading, or he lied. Among all our Leviathan books there is one that looms above them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.

I liked the book so much, I wanted to find out what sort of man wrote it. Granny showed me a picture, in her Lives of American Writers. I was shocked. It didn't seem that an old man with a white beard and watery eyes should be able to talk so young and alive as he did in that book. For a long while after, I would have this weird dream. The white whale would attack. Then, there was old man Melville, the broken Pequod in his teeth, with a kind of wild laughter in his eyes; and a great foaming wake streamed from his hair and beard.

Granny worked at the library five days a week, so it was easy for her to keep an eye on me there. My Grandfather died when I was ten so there was only me and her. If I was not in school, I went where she went. Every day after school and all summer long, that was the library. Sometimes in that old building I felt like a barbarian at Alexandria.

But if I couldn't go off into the wilderness, my second choice was to go off into a book. I will admit to indiscriminate reading. I read whatever I found interesting. Sometimes it would be the classics, as often, the heretics. Mostly it seemed that the heretics made more sense.

Granny was a heretic. That's what Brother Devon Lee, the evangelist, said when he came to hold meetings for two weeks the summer I was fourteen. But Brother Broughton took him aside and talked to him for a while and he never repeated it.

Granny had been speaking in tongues again, and interpreting it herself. Usually one of the old ladies would speak the message in a strange language, all weepy and swaying under the spirit. Then another old lady, out of nowhere, would start the interpretation, voice clear as a bell, speaking King James English pretty as you please.

Their messages were usually about avoiding sin, particularly fornication and adultery, and how you better read the book and understand it clear or Jehovah would burn your butt in hell until you could say the whole book backwards and forwards.

But Granny's messages were different. Her messages condemned bad stewards of the Earth and declared that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for rich people to get into heaven. Brother Lee didn't like it. He explained that "The Eye of the Needle" was a gate in the wall of Jerusalem and that small camels passed through it quite easily.

Brother Broughton told him not to worry about it, no one would pay attention to a crazy old lady anyway. What could you expect from someone who'd married a half-wild Indian.

Brother Lee said it was very irregular, how could you be sure it wasn't the devil talking such strange stuff?

Granny knew what Snake and I were up to the second we talked about spending the summer on the Stehekin.

"You stay out of trouble," she said to me when Snake went outside, "and stay away from that Snake. He looks like an addict to me."

She'd accused me of being an addict since I smoked my first joint. But then, who ain't an addict? Whether it's drugs, or alcohol, or power, or money, or sex, or fame, or knowledge, or truth, or God, everyone is stuck on something they can't get enough of. Something that will kill them in the end. The whole civilization is addicted to petroleum and power and greed and violence. We all are helpless, hopeless addicts.

I suppose it was my addictions that led me away from Granny, down to the coast that November. That and the dreams. Some might call it fate, but what is fate besides the sum of our dreams and addictions?

These dreams were different. Power dreams. I recognized the signs immediately. I hadn't had a power dream since that last summer on the Stehekin with my Grandfather. But then it had been a bear.

There was no bear in these dreams, but a whale, black and white with great gleaming teeth. She did not loom above me, but came up from below, rolled against me and beckoned me down, into the sightless sea.

Night after night she came to the camp where we waited for the plants to grow. Night after night she tried every scam, every wile to draw me into her world. Every night I resisted, but my curiosity grew. I knew some night I would let go, there in the darkness, and follow her into the depths.

I did not go to seek adventure. Adventure finds me often enough on it's own. My Grandfather said that only white men seek adventure, and that is because the Great Mother made them with holes in their souls which they try to fill with adventure or gold or sex or violence. I try to ignore the three-quarters of me that is white.

And I did not go to write a book. Granny tried to get me interested in writing when I was a kid. It seemed like a trap to me. If I spent my time writing, I would have no life to write about. I decided I would rather live than write.

But some stories demand their telling. Besides, I had to tell this story myself, since no one else was likely to get it right. My part was minor, but I did see some things closer than anyone else now alive.

I don't pretend to be some great writer. Granny did shame me into a couple of quarters of junior college in Wenatchee, and I did all right. But I've spent too much of my life among real people who speak a live language to be very comfortable with the language lawyers and professors speak. It seems to me their words mostly refer to other words. I always try to refer my words to real things. When you get the hang of it, it's a hard habit to break.

The Poet always told us to avoid anything that could be misconstrued as a moral or message or meaning in any poem or work of fiction. When I tried some to novelize this story, no matter how hard I tried to shape and twist it, meaning kept rearing it's ugly head. I guess my only choice is to tell it the way it happened.

They say that to write a book anyone will read anymore you have to grab your reader by the throat, with no warning, right on the first page, and drag them through the story so fast they don't have time to realize they'd rather watch television. You have to get your characters into bed before they've even been properly introduced, as if you could begin to weave before you strung your loom.

Well, I figure anyone who has to be gone at that way will never understand this story in the first place. So if it's literary assault and battery you want, you may as well put this one down.

Immediacy. That's what they say you must have. And suspense. Well, this story happened, as I say, some time back; and there is no mystery as to the outcome, it was all over the news.

Maybe you will understand it all. I don't. But some stories demand their telling. So, like some ancient mariner or skid row bum I grab your arm. "Hey, man! Hey, hey, listen to my story!"