By Geoffrey Wallace Brown, Ph.D.
I saw Amtrak go by yesterday.
Jesus. What a colossal waste of money.
I wonder why nobody likes to take the train. Maybe it's because they'd rather fly.
I was strolling back from my walk up my favorite little road. North of town. The one that sort of goes by, and more or less dead-ends at that little Graveyard.
It's a little dirt road.
That goes to George Berge's Farm.
It intersects the old Highway 2.
You know, the old kind of highway they built around the ‘20's and ‘30's.
The kind that has steep shoulders dropping off the side, and curves all over hell and which way.
The kind Bonnie and Clyde used to drive those Old Clunkers around on.
That's the one.
The one that was there before they made the improvement; and built up the road: straightened it out.
Made it flatter. Easier to travel.
The new and improved secondary highway system.
We might call it.
And then, of course, under my childhood President, honest Dwight D. Eisenhower, they made the Freeway System.
So now we have these three road systems, often coexisting side by side. Right together.
Well, Judaism is the original trails and dirt roads, out of which the others were formed.
The Jews found the original sites to build the roads.
Catholicism picked up on that, straightened them out a little.
And paved them.
Protestantism, objecting to the curves and unnecessary hills and dangers in the Old Highway, straightened it out even more, so we got a much better idea of where we were going, and what we were looking for.
Christian Science is the Freeway System.
Only there are only 165,000 Christian Scientists.
In the World.
And 2/3 of them live in California.
I thought maybe, since we are nearing the end of this Course, it might be good to review some of the Practical aspects of Christian Science.
It was, after all, given to us to help us in our trek up the Mountain.
As well as lead us.
And I should, by the way, interject here, that I have not seen too much by the way of healing myself. Personally.
I have heard about them.
At great length.
Researched and studied them.
At great length.
I am a scholar. You know.
I can tell you that there are over 50,000 documented, written, testimonies.
In the Christian Science Journal.
And the Sentinel.
Monthly and weekly publications sent out to the Church Members to help them bob along on the massive Sea of Materialism that we all seem to exist on.
I have been in Boston, twice.
To meet with the head honchos in the Church.
I talked with Bob Peel.
The official biographer of Mrs. Eddy.
I talked with Brent Nettle.
Who headed the College Organization.
The Branch of the Christian Science Administration that has a group on most College Campuses across the United States.
I talked with Matilda Lowens.
Who headed the Division of Practitioners and Nurses for the whole organization around the World.
I talked with Corrine LaBarre.
Who at that time was the Clerk of the Mother Church, which is centered in the Christian Science Center.
In downtown Boston.
She answered to the Christian Science Board of Directors; which is a self-perpetuating body that looks after Mrs. Eddy's Estate, and Church Business.
Of which, you can be sure, there is considerable.
Since this little band of people has the perpetuating of the teachings of the Comforter that Jesus sent as their singular responsibility.
They have done a magnificent job.
I salute them.
And applaud them.
Although they are probably going to shit one collective nickel when they see this book.
Because of the awful, awesome degree of vulgarity I have had to stoop to to meet and reach the thought that is in the land today.
I also had a chance, by invitation, after talking with Brent Nettle, to attend a meeting, which was held for the first time ever, of all the College Faculty and Staff from all over the world.
Which happened to be held in the Spring of 1977.
Even though I was not a member of the Church.
(And still am not.)
There were three to five hundred people there.
I was deeply, deeply impressed by the love and courage of this little band of people, holding a Meeting in a Sunday School, in the middle of this huge metropolitan city, knowing that they were sitting on the Second Coming of Christ.
And having no way of getting that information to the World in any conceivable believable form.
An exciting moment to be alive.
I have a picture up on my Kitchen wall. Of a guy fishing.
In Glacier National Park.
It's right next to my picture of the group of young people from Manchuria.
It's an old brown picture, in a frame, clipped out of the Daily Missoulian.
The guy is fishing in a hole that is the dream of every (knowledgeable) dry fly-fisherman.
It is perfect.
Huge lunkers lurk there.
Waiting, ready, to take the bait.
If it's good enough.
Only, with dry fly-fishing it isn't even bait.
We put down the worms and spinners long ago.
In favor of something infinitely more sporting.
You see the idea in dry fly-fishing isn't just to catch a fish.
It's to fool the fish.
Dry fly-fishing is an art.
In fact, a good, mature, dry fly-fisherman eventually gets to the point where he files the barb off his hooks.
So he can release the fish after he's been caught.
You see you have to go to extraordinary, I mean unbelievably extraordinary lengths to fool the fish.
You have to make that fly, dangling, or bobbing on the water, the most delectable morsel a fish could ever wish for.
Which means, you have to make it duplicate a fly.
The kind that is "out" right at that moment.
I have seen grown men sit right down on the bank, of a stream, and tie a fly that looks like one that is in the hatch.
This is called "matching the hatch."
You see you have to get that fly to resemble, in every detail possible, the natural little bugs that come out on the water to lay their eggs.
Or whatever the fuck bugs do. On the water.
And it requires special equipment.
Not just specially constructed flies, to counterfeit the real ones.
Like the pole and line.
The pole has to have just the right kind of snap.
So it can cast that awkward, bulky line way out there, on the water, so that the "bug" comes flickering down, right past the fish's nose, and gently lands on the water, right in front of him.
And, the fisherman has to be far enough away that the fish can't tell it's him.
And not the real thing.
Which means, too, that the fisherman has to be extraordinarily agile to get around all the brush and rocks and swift water that would deter him from his appointed task.
Also, the line must be just exactly right.
Remember, the final effect, the bottom line in the dry fly-fishing business is the action of the little "insect" over the water; so the line must be perfectly balanced.
There are three parts to a dry fly-fishing line.
As a rule.
The Tapered Leader.
And the (usually) double-tapered Floating Line.
The line is double-tapered for two reasons.
First, so that you can turn it around and use the other end when the first end gets worn out.
Second, and more importantly, because it puts the weight of the line in the middle.
So that, as you let it out, you have the weight just where you want it for purposes of casting your line out as far as you can.
For this reason too, depending on the kind of water you are working with, you might want a front-loaded line.
For a small creek.
Then you want to make sure that your tapered leader is not too heavy on the front end.
That means that you don't want to have it clipped back so far that it is too thick (heavy) in weight for the little piece of leader you tie on to it.
You see, you have this little piece of leader, which is the actual line you use to tie your fly to.
As you keep changing your fly, which you seem to have to do interminably in the dry fly-fishing business (either because it isn't catching fish, or because you lose it, or because it gets wet and keeps sinking), each time you cut the old one off, and put the new one on, you use up a little bit of leader.
Well, because the tapered leader's job is to form a union between the floating line (which keeps the whole business afloat) and the fly, you can't very well keep on clipping the tapered leader forever: it goes from an average test weight of, say, six pounds, up to maybe twenty-five.
If you kept clipping the tapered leader you'd end up trying to tie a fly on to a chunk of line that had a breaking point of twenty-five pounds.
So you've got to tie something special and extra onto the end of the tapered leader, something you can keep clipping indefinitely, and that you can clip off and throw away when it gets too short, and tie on a new one.
Then you can keep clipping on it instead of the tapered leader.
This Tippet usually test-weighs at no more than four to six pounds.
I have some in my tackle box that goes down to two.
Well, then, so this is our last day together. What shall we do?
I went to see the "Christmas Program" at the School last night.
Diane Cunningham--the Superintendent's Wife--had the kids all lined up for a music program.
I love these little Indian kids.
They resist everything and anything that smacks of phoniness (evil).
She had them singing Silent Night.
There were over twenty kids on the stage.
She was kneeling--yes kneeling--before them.
On the stage.
With the entire audience looking on.
They sang so softly you couldn't hear them.
You couldn't hear them.
The rustling in the audience made far more noise than they did.
Those are my kind of kids.
I talked to Cliff Quam the other day.
About my metaphor.
The one about the Freeway System.
He turned a little green.
(Cliff runs the Choir in the little Lutheran Church down the street.)
He said that it was a nice metaphor, but he thought I'd have a little trouble getting people to believe it.
Smirking. Ever so slightly.
In the Spring of the year I got my nuts cut off at Whitman--1976--I had one complete Academic year to find new employment.
Or, a new line of work.
I knew the Philosophy game was hopeless.
So I began to think about other things.
I even went so far as to interview at two schools of Social Work in the Northwest.
I was too old for a Clinical Psychology program.
And the only other thing I was good at--besides teaching Philosophy--was listening.
So, of all the "counseling" kind of programs, it sort of looked at that time like Psychiatric Social Work was the only way to go. Maybe.
Until I looked into it.
It was ghastly.
So I gave it up.
Yet I knew, I just knew that something, somewhere had to be right for me.
I had come too far, down too long and hard a road, for God to simply shut the door and leave me trapped inside a closet.
Or, perhaps more accurately, outside.
Of any hope or chance of doing anything good with the rest of my life.
So I began to think.
As I had done at each point in my career, when I (seemed) to have totally run out of string.
Where to go next.
What to do next.
The only thing I could think of, that made any sense to me at all, was the Community College System.
True, if I dropped down in prestige, from a four-year College to a two-year College I would never be able to climb back up.
Especially in this teaching market.
But, and this was a pivotal point of self-knowledge at this time: I wasn't proud.
I really wasn't.
I knew that the thirty-five people in a class in a Junior College needed to learn how to think just as badly--or perhaps more so--as the kids I had been teaching.
So I began to think.
If I'm going to drop down and teach in a Community College, where would I most like to do that?
The answer came quickly and obviously.
Why, Kalispell Montana.
The lovely little town at the North End of the most beautiful lake in the World.
I had tremendous credentials for teaching in a Community College.
I could probably have my pick.
Why not, I reasoned, go to the most beautiful place in the World, where my heart of hearts really lies.
And Kathee could raise all the kids she wanted on the little Farm we would get.
So I called Bruce Johnson, the Dean of the College.
I told him I would be coming through Glacier Park that Summer.
And I would like to stop in and see him.
(I got his name from the Old Man in Missoula, who was more than willing to help me out in any way he could.)
So I called Dr. Johnson (he was the only other Ph.D. in the whole school so far as I could make out) and set a time, for that summer.
I wound up my affairs at School.
We had a lovely party at the Farm, attended by Jon and Kristin and Dale Cosper, a couple of students of mine, and a guy named Cal, an old Cowboy friend of ours, who ended up getting rip-roaring drunk and dancing in my Kitchen.
That was the Night of Commencement.
Skotheim's Secretary had come out to the Farm that day with a note, containing the message that my third and final appeal for a reversal of my tenure decision had been refused.
It was signed, "With regrets, Bob."
I hadn't actually instigated the third hearing.
Another fellow, named Martin Kopf, a sort of Barabbas-like character had done it.
The third and final Committee--the one headed by my old pal Dick Stuart--was appointed to review both our decisions.
It ultimately reprieved him--7-0.
And crucified me--6-1.
Martin was recognized as one of the worst teachers in the school.
But he had played the game.
And tried to get some publishing done.
So, there I was, at the beginning of the Summer, with the One Year of Grace they give you in the academic business, looking for what was going to happen next.
I got in my little car.
And began the long 320 mile Trek over Lolo Pass, that I had taken so many times.
At about halfway--right in the Middle of the Selway Primitive Area, just before you get to the Sign that says "Wilderness," and then goes on to give you a detailed explanation of what a Wilderness is--I broke down.
I was almost exactly at the place that says "Old Man Creek," going up the Lochsa.
The river whose name means "Rough Water."
Well, all these signs were getting a little too coincidental and too good to be true.
So I knew I was on the right track.
Following my same little intuition, "hunch," leading me up and out of despair, by following the highest and best and noblest sense of good (God) that I could see, at that moment--whatever it was.
I didn't care what it was.
Just so long as I had that comfortable, secure feeling that what I was doing was right.
That was what mattered. To me.
That was the only thing that mattered. To me.
So I got to Missoula.
Stayed the night with the Old Man.
And persuaded him to go with me the next morning up to Kalispell. A hundred miles North.
Even though he had a hangover.
Shaky as he was.
So, at the appointed hour, in time for me to make my appointment with the Dean, we climbed into his Van.
The Old Man had a Ford Econoline.
Made into a roving house.
For his dog.
The Wirehaired Terrier.
The three of us set out on our little journey.
We got there.
The Old Man knew how hard what I was going to do was going to be.
So he waited.
In the Van.
I went in and had a very amiable talk with Bruce Johnson.
I told him that I was sure I could set up a program, for these kids (people) in Ethics, that would grab and keep their attention.
He agreed that my proposal sounded plausible.
And told me to keep in touch.
And check with him next Spring.
A year later.
Which I felt sure I would do.
And one thing caught my eye.
A pinball machine in the main lobby of the main building.
As I went out, and met the Old Man.
Who was sort of asleep, in the back of the Van with the dog.
We started out of town, and I had a thought.
I said wait.
There's an old friend of mine that I heard was living here.
I think I'll stop and give him a call.
He wasn't home.
But, as we drove back, on the East side of the Lake, with the late afternoon Sun reflecting on the Lake, like a big warming smile from God, reassuring me that all was going to be O.K., I thought, I'd better call old McConnell.
Now McConnell and I go back to the First Grade.
We were in all our school pictures together.
But, Bob and I got to know each other best when we worked on the Konah together.
The High School Newspaper.
McConnell was the Photographer.
And Sometime Sports Editor.
And Assistant Feature Editor.
And we shared a lot of values in that work.
Also, and more important, he had been a member of Penn Stohr's Drinking Crew.
Which had been the core of the resistance to everything that was mean and awful and ugly about our High School.
McConnell was not the brightest guy in the world.
My Old Man had had him in Class--indeed Bob had gotten his M.A. in English under my Old Man's observation at the University of Montana--and my Old Man's favorite expression for him was "Bowling Ball Head."
But Bob and I knew each other.
He had wanted to put as the motto for our school paper--to be placed just under the Flag--"All the News That'll Fit, We'll Print."
Which indicates an intelligence and a wit that supercedes any shallow academic standards.
Well, I loved Bob.
And Bob loved me.
That doesn't go away.
So I followed that.
When I got home to Missoula, I called him again.
Till I got him.
And made an appointment, to come up to Kalispell, the next day, to see him.
I didn't know what for.
Just to see Old Mother MaHonnell.
As we fondly called him.
Those of us that knew him.
Back when he was so drunk he couldn't drive.
His own car.
And some other drunk had to take it over for him.
Good old Bob.
I understood he weighed about 275 pounds now.
That was okay.
So did I.
I also had a moustache.
That I had started in the Bin.
To hide the sores that were forming on the edges of my mouth.
So that the good folks at Whitman couldn't see how afraid I was, of what I knew they were going to do to me.
For my honesty.
Bob and I went back to rock-bottom honesty.
We had done a lot of experimentation with the Paper.
And gotten a lot of people angry with us.
He had been with me when I had stood up, in front of an irate School Board Meeting, while I was being attacked for having printed some truths about the old School Board.
And the place turned to Bedlam.
And they closed the Meeting.
Bob and I were close friends.
Even though we hadn't seen each other for years.
Down at Eddy's Club.
Or the Ox.
So I went up to see him the next day.
Up on the Wall, in my Study, where I do all this Writing, is the most precious possession I own.
It is a list.
The list of things I wrote down that day as I drove around in the Car with Bob.
And checked out the scene.
We went to Moose Miller’s Saloon.
Moose was a guy who knew the town, and all the people in it.
Moose was a friend of Bob's.
There was the name of a guy at the College I should see.
A guy who knew the Politics of the place.
There was the Union.
There was the Mental Health Clinic.
There was the guy for contacting if I wanted to get a special federal grant, for some kind of special educational program that I might want to get up there.
(The guys back at Washington University had accused me of wanting to go teach the Indians. And we were right close to a Reservation.)
And there was Elk Stryker Ridge.
Where Bob had narrowly missed his Bull Elk the year before.
First things first.
But. Number "3" on that list, the list that I have enclosed in a frame, with nonglare glass, hanging right beside my Ph.D., is something that I am more proud of than any other other single accomplishment in my entire career.
Bob's wife happened to come into his house, while we were talking.
We (she and I) had never met.
She had in her hands something for me.
As it were.
It was a picture of my dear departed Aunt Jeannette Rankin.
The lady who, three decades before, had had Congressmen and Senators standing on their seats, screaming at her, because she was the only person who would not vote for War when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.
She had promised the people of Montana that she would not.
And she didn't.
No matter how great the pressure became for her to go back on her Word.
Good old Jeannette.
I remember when I got married the first time.
She told me how proud she was of me.
She said that when La Guardia--the Mayor of New York--had proposed to her, she hadn't had the courage to take him up on it.
At the time, however, I hated Jeannette.
She was the sister of my Grandmother, Edna McKinnon.
Edna was such an awful person (I felt) that her husband, Jack McKinnon, (who was known far and wide as being the example of a Gentleman's gentleman) left her, and her daughter (my mother), and came West (from Boston) to Headquarters, Idaho. Which you will find 100 miles Northeast of Lewiston. It is a Logging Camp in the most remote place in the Continental United States.
Where he remained for the rest of his working life as a Parts Man for Potlatch Wood Products.
Granny was tough to get along with.
And she had been this half-assed Christian Scientist.
She had even offered to pay me $100, when I was Twenty-One Years Old, to read the Goddamn Thing. Science and Health.
With Key to the Scriptures.
By Mary Baker Eddy.
I honestly did.
For the hundred bones if nothing else.
But, I was so deeply offended, by the arrogance and simplemindedness of this feebleminded little old lady--Mary Baker Eddy--that I could not even finish it.
I still have the book.
The back is still broken where I left it open.
And stopped reading.
And sat on it. Or something.
In fact, Bob reminds me, that I even offered to split the hundred clams with him if he would write a book report on it.
I think I was most offended by the pretension of this little old Lady that she knew, anything whatsoever, about Science, which I studied.
Which she kept talking about.
All the time.
In the book.
What a pile of junk.
So I was not real pleased when Jan, Bob's Wife, came strolling in the door, with this little present for me in her hand.
Jan was a feminist.
Jesus H. Christ.
That was all I needed.
Somebody to remind me of Jeannette.
When the most vivid recollection I had of her was where she was chasing me around the farmhouse with a warm glass of Buttermilk.
Trying to get me to drink it.
Jeannette was a friend of Gandhi’s.
And believed in simplicity and purity in lifestyle.
I was with Bob.
Who was making himself two great Big Greasy Grilled Tuna Sandwiches.
If I hadn't been so scared I would have beat him out of one of them.
But Jan sort of weaseled her way into the Conversation.
And, when we got ready to take off, for our famous drive around town, preferably stopping first at Moose Miller's Saloon, she sort of plaintively asked if she could come along.
I was screwed.
We couldn't very well say no.
So she came along.
And sat in the backseat.
And, three hours later, she was talking to me on the Banks of the Flathead River.
She was saying things that I already knew were true.
And how I wasn't ever working for Anybody but Him.
She told me to go back home to Walla Walla, and get a copy of that book--Science and Health. And read just one sentence, that she had been quoting me, or trying to, to the best of her recollection.
From the first page.
Of Science and Health.
It goes, "Desire is Prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and deeds." (Science and Health, p.1.)
She even wrote that sentence in a note she sent me after I got back home, to Walla Walla.
She actually wrote the note on the bottom of my list; the one I had been making out as Bob and I drove around.
I was so nervous I left the list there, at their house.
And had to call her to ask her to send it. To me. There in Walla Walla.
Together with the note.
That is what I have hanging in my Study.
Is that Note.
Because when I went home, and opened up Science and Health, it was all there.
Everything I had been looking for in all my struggles; including all my intellectual searchings for the Truth that is Life.
The whole thing.
Was right there.
Everything I had been searching for all my life.
Was in that book.
And, Oh, the thing I am proud of, the reason that my list hangs next to my Ph.D., as the most prized possession I own....the Ticket, or Key to the Kingdom: it was humility.
Just plain old simple humility.
To what my buddy, old Bowling Ball Head McConnell told me, on the basis of my trust in our friendship.
He told me as Number #3, on my list, that I should go see the people at the Christian Science Church.
He assured me that they wouldn't be high-pressure anything.
And I had the humility to choke down my pride, and arrogance, and put that down, on my list, as #3.
I am more proud of the humility I displayed that moment than of anything I have ever done in my life.
Well, that's it.
Now you can go back to sleep.
But, for myself, I took a walk last Night.
Up to my old, favorite, Graveyard.
The snow was drifting.
And made it hard to walk in the Dark.
But I followed the North Star, as I always do.
The Big Dipper points at it.
The Big Dipper.
Full of clear, cold, chilling Waters.
About the Christ.
I lay down with my head against the gate.
To the Graveyard.
As I stared straight up into the Galaxy.
The Milky Way.
About how very, very close I had come to being inside that Graveyard.