Grokkin’ in the Free World: This is the Yawning of the Age of Aquarius

Updated: Jul 17

One of the things [Uncle Alex] found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

So I hope that you will do the same for the rest of your lives. When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

Kurt Vonnegut, address to the women of the graduating class at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, delivered on May 15, 1999

Earl Fowler

A comic in today’s paper spoke to me — and not only because it used my given name, which in popular culture always connotes a rube or doofus.

Two sad sacks who walked into a bar are sitting before glasses of beer in the single Mr. Boffo panel, which features the following description box: Some strive for lofty goals. Some are willing to settle for less … none more so than Earl.

The reader’s eye is now drawn to the comment linked to Earl by the stem of a speech balloon: I wish I could fly like a bird, but I’d be happy if I could moult.

So much for the early bird catching the worm.

It’s not a particularly funny comic — Mr. Boffo rarely is — but as a practising moulter (more in a male pattern baldness sense than with an eye to a rigorous serpentine skin-shedding), I grokked Earl’s pain.

Grok? If you read Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land back in the day, you’ll likely remember it as a neologism that means to understand intuitively or by empathy. Well, that and a tad more.

In the novel, whose title is drawn from Exodus 2:22 in the King James version of the Bible, “grok” is a Martian word with multiple meanings, sometimes antithetical, employed by childlike stranger Valentine Michael Smith. The verb has gone on to be used in such diverse areas as computer science, aerospace engineering and counterculture reminiscences of acid trips. The last of these is the tie-dyed category to which this meandering discourse roughly pertains.


Jeez, I can’t find my knees.

Flash back to natty Tom Wolfe’s description of a character’s thoughts while tripping on LSD in 1968’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:

He looks down, two bare legs, a torso rising up at him and like he is just noticing them for the first time ... he has never seen any of this flesh before, this stranger. He groks over that ...

Wolfe’s description of the drugged-out, outrageously painted school-bus capers and misadventures of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest novelist Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters — including Acid Tests (parties turbo-charged by Kool-Aid laced with LSD) with the likes of agitated driver Neal Cassady (the inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road), the Grateful Dead, Allen Ginsberg and the Hells Angels — was acclaimed (and deplored) at the time as one of the milestones of New Journalism and an essential portrait of the roots and growth of the burgeoning hippie movement.

The novel approach (no pun intended; and maybe not so novel if one considers the lively journalistic sketches of the young Charles Dickens) of injecting literary flair and techniques into reporting that the New Journalism represented a half-century and more ago — think Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Terry Southern, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, Robert Christgau and others — inspired a lot of aimless kids back then to think about pursuing editorial careers.

Little did we know.

Inverted paragraphs? Tedious, interminable city council meetings? Phlegmatic school board elections? Who signed up for this? What happened to the boys on the bus and when do we get to the Orange Sunshine part?

Almost cut my hair. It happened just the other decade.

Even though we were too young, callow, timid and, for the most part, sensible to be part of that first wave of the hippie subculture, my high school friends and I greedily devoured many of the books that influenced and reflected the way the times they were a-changin’. A hookah-smoking caterpillar had given us the call:

Steppenwolf and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Been Down so Long It Looks Like Up to Me by Richard Fariña

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche

Songs of Innocence by William Blake

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

The Greening of America by Charles A. Reich

A Separate Reality by Carlos Canstañeda

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by Buckminster Fuller

Steal this Book by Abbie Hoffman

The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

This is It by Alan Watts

That list is nowhere near complete, of course, and I’m not even going to touch on the calliopean consonance of Easy Rider and Hair and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Zap Comix or Whole Earth Catalog or any of those fellers. Keep on Truckin’, Mr. Natural.

I will pause here to acknowledge, however, a bit of microcephalic, muumuu/clown-suited, polka-dotted wisdom from Zippy the Pinhead that has taken on added poignancy in the wake of the Bush and Trump presidencies: “All life is a blur of Republicans and meat.”

While Trump 2.0 continues to unfold before our eyes, would that F. Scott Fitzgerald had been right about there being no second acts in American lives. Zippy originated a phrase with even more currency: Are we having fun yet?

For whatever reason — my age at the time, I suppose, and lamentable lack of a girlfriend — the books that had the biggest impact on me were: a) Castañeda’s series purporting to describe his training in shamanism (and the alleged teaching spirits of peyote plants) by Yaqui Indian “Man of Knowledge” don Juan Matus, and b) two works by Aldous Huxley: The Doors of Perception and The Perennial Philosophy.

Castañeda’s first three books, written while the South America-born immigrant to the U.S. was an anthropology student at UCLA, were his best and most popular: The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan.

Castañeda, who died in 1998 at age 72, was awarded bachelor’s and doctoral degrees based on the fantastic claims described in these works, which are now widely considered complete and utter fabrications. That is to say, fiction. They sold more than eight million copies in 17 languages during his lifetime, though, and certainly made entering an unknown realm that he called “non-ordinary reality” — either by getting baked, bombed and buzzed or learning how to do magic while being baked, bombed and buzzed — the principale objectum of a groovy kind of schlub.

And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.

Castañeda’s admirers included John Lennon, Jim Morrison, William S. Burroughs and even Federico Fellini, all adherents, in one way or another, of Nietzsche’s “aesthetics of intoxication” — the idea that a Dionysian frenzy in a disordered state was a crucial component of Hellenic art and remains a fast ticket to a non-ordinary reality inaccessible to our ordinary, waking, Apollonian consciousness.

You might have forgotten what passes for a plot, what with being a bit McGuinned and McGuired yourself during a first smoke-through all those years ago — in L.A., you know where that’s at — so here’s a quick synopsis of The Teachings of Don Juan:

A young man named Carlos, the author, meets an old Yaqui Indian reputed to be “very learned about plants” at a bus stop in Arizona. Reluctantly, the elder don Juan — whom I always envisaged as sort of a Spanish-speaking Chief Dan George — gives Carlos some sacred cactus bulbs. Carlos soon sees a transparent black dog (I forget how you see something transparent, but when it’s midnight at the oasis, cactus is our friend). Don Juan later explains that the dog is a supernatural being called Mescalito, the appearance of whom (which? them?) is a sign that Carlos is “the chosen one” favoured to receive “the teachings.”


Baby, everything is all right, uptight, out of sight.

Don Juan, who at one point turns into a blackbird or a crow, imparts cryptic wisdom to Carlos over pungent mixtures of mushrooms and herbs. There’s also a bit of divination with lizards and night flying courtesy of some “yerba del diablo.” The author initially thinks the resulting experiences are hallucinations, but comes to see that there is no such thing as objective reality — only differing perspectives, kind of like Einstein’s take on time and space. Near the end of the book, when he runs into Mescalito again, Carlos regards him (it? they?) as real and no longer merely a product of his own stoned mind.

The Teachings and its sequels were lavishly praised by many reviewers as nonfiction and analyzed as serious anthropology for years, an astonishing example of mass magical thinking finally called out by an incredulous Joyce Carol Oates in a letter to the New York Times in 1972.

Over the next decade, several researchers — foremost among them, Cecil B. DeMille’s son, Richard — succeeded in proving to observers willing to shed their blinders that Castañeda was a sham sorcerer and bona fide academic charlatan.

In a 2007 article in Salon magazine titled The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castañeda, which links the literary trickster to two possible suicides by “witches” close to the cult that grew up around him, biographer Robert Marshall quotes William W. Kelly, then chair of the anthropology department at Yale University, as saying:

I doubt you’ll find an anthropologist of my generation who regards Castañeda as anything but a clever con man. It was a hoax, and surely don Juan never existed as anything like the figure of his books. Perhaps to many it is an amusing footnote to the gullibility of naive scholars, although to me it remains a disturbing and unforgivable breach of ethics.

All the while, Castañeda claimed to be emulating Huxley — whose name takes us into deeper waters.

The English novelist, poet, essayist, pacifist and philosopher, whose nearly 50 books include such novels as 1932’s Brave New World (an influential vision of dystopia, like your high school English class in which it was assigned reading) and 1962’s Island (a less compelling vision of utopia), was a nine-time nominee for, but never a winner of, the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Doors of Perception, Huxley’s 1954 autobiographical book about his psychedelic experiences with mescaline the year before, was de rigueur among the headier heads in my neighbourhood in the late Sixties. As with his essay Heaven and Hell (1956), which elaborated on the themes laid out in the previous work, the title was cribbed from English prophet/poet William Blake’s 1793 book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Blake might have been mystified, but it was no coincidence that Morrison would name his rock band the Doors in 1965. The best part of the 2016 movie Doctor Strange was the Stan Lee cameo in which the Marvel Comics legend is seen reading The Doors of Perception and pronounces it “hilarious.”

Huxley tapped the metaphor invented by Blake to describe our normally banal, quotidian perception of the world around us:

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.

Describing a range of mescaline-induced insights ranging from “purely aesthetic” to “sacramental vision,” Huxley’s basic argument was that psychedelic drugs — which he continued to take until being fatally injected at his request with an LSD overdose in 1963, when he was 69 and suffering from advanced laryngeal cancer — could be used to facilitate mystical insights into science, art, religion and life itself.

(Trivia nugget for you celebrity death buffs: Huxley and Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis both died on Nov. 22. 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Though biographers and acolytes have made up for it since, neither writer received the attention he merited in the immediate aftermath of his passing. Obituary space is at a premium in the wake of presidential demises, as the insufficiently eulogized Ray Charles — who died within days of Ronald Reagan in 2004 — and James Brown, whose death on Christmas Day in 2006 was followed a day later by Gerald Ford’s — didn’t live to regret.)

Being high on drugs as a way to see all things thro’ much wider chinks of his cavern, like Huxley was on a number of fronts, found a receptive audience to say the least among such “brave neuronauts” — to use Tom Robbins’s evocative Space Age phrase — as acid proponents Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Alpert being the psychologist/guru who would transform himself into Baba Ram Dass). That Huxley would soon distance himself from Leary, whom he found overly fond of playing the public rebel and far too willing to promote reckless, indiscriminate use of psychedelics, might have been lost on the “turn on, tune in, drop out” Wavy Gravy set on your block. It was on mine.

The whole world is in jail and we’re plotting this incredible jailbreak.

It will come as no surprise that many of the adults in the room — including German novelist Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain’s mind-altering qualities notwithstanding), Jewish existentialist Martin Buber and Vedantic monk Swami Prabhavananda — raised the pertinent objection that psychedelic experiences should not be conflated with the authentic revelations of religious mysticism.

For my purposes here, it doesn’t much matter whether Huxley or his critics were correct about this. In fact, there wasn’t really much of a disagreement.

After rapturous contemplation of a vase of flowers (a “miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence”), and riffing his way through vivid, cleansed perceptions of art books, Mozart, a garden and his own extensive knowledge of philosophy and religion, Huxley readily conceded that drugs do not confer true enlightenment or a Beatific vision. But he never stopped believing that properly understood and superintended, hallucinogens can provide a helpful nudge in that direction.

(Here’s another weird bit of trivia. If you search 1950s back issues or The Saturday Review magazine, a sober compendium of reportage, essays and criticism not to be confused with Mad or National Lampoon, you can find a symposium titled: “Mescalin — An Answer to Cigarettes.” Huxley was among the contributors. The concept never gained much traction, but I’m not so sure it was a bad idea.)

I dug The Doors of Perception as much as the next Dormouse or White Rabbit, man, but Huxley’s 1945 comparative study of ostensibly drug-free mysticism from around the world titled The Perennial Philosophy resonated more profoundly when, while browsing through a head shop in 1970, I stumbled across the copy I still have. Ever since, I’ve returned to it periodically as a sort of metaphysical yardstick to measure my understanding of the world. I always fall short.

Whatever I am.

As it did for Huxley standing blitzed before that vase of flowers — that intense miracle of naked existence pulsing before him without inspiring the dread felt by Jean-Paul Sartre’s Antoine Roquentin in 1938’s La Nausée — the notion of personal identity gets a bit blurry around the margins for anyone who takes The Perennial Philosophy seriously.

It’s essentially an anthology of short passages pulled from traditional Eastern texts and the writings/ravings of Western mystics, with short connecting commentaries by Huxley promulgating the idea that “rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every religion of the world, and in its fully developed forms has a place in every one of the higher religions.”

In his opening sentence, Huxley defines what he means by Philosophia Perennis, a phrase coined 300 years before by German polymath Gottfried Leibniz:

The metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being— the thing is immemorial and universal.

Regrettably, this requires more concentration than a Tiger King meme or a full episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter. Steel yourselves, you New Age bohemians, freethinkers and flower children. If you’ve just had some kind of mushroom and your mind is moving low, go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall. I think she’ll know.


Huxley’s thesis also requires a leap of faith:

The self-validating certainty of direct awareness cannot in the very nature of things be achieved except by those equipped with the moral “astrolabe of God’s mysteries” (a neat phrase appropriated from 13th-century Sufi poet Jala al-Din Muhammad Rumi). If one is not oneself a sage or saint, the best thing one can do, in the field of metaphysics, is to study the works of those who were, and who, because they had modified their merely human mode of being were capable of more than a merely human kind and amount of knowledge.

Conditioned by a superficial acquaintance with the religions of our parents or grandparents to believe that there are hidden, sacred mysteries out there to be discovered, it was easy for many of Huxley’s readers — human, all too human — to be seduced by the theophanic calls of saints, seers and mystics to blissful, cosmic consciousness. Remember what the Dormouse said?


Feed your head. Feed your head.


But let’s be clear about what we Who and Johnny Nash fans were accepting right from the get-go: These guys (and they are almost all men) can see for miles and miles and miles and miles ’cause there’s magic in their eyes. They can see clearly now. For them, and them alone, the rain is gone.


Wise man also say only fools rush in.

The basic insight common to all these pundits and sages is the doctrine that beyond our personal egos, outside our normal individualized selves, we all either possess or partake in an eternal Self “identical with, or at least akin to, the divine Ground,” Huxley writes.


As above, so below.


“Based on the direct experience of those who have fulfilled the necessary conditions of such knowledge, this teaching is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula, tat tvam asi (“That art thou”); the Atman, or immanent eternal Self, is one with Brahman, the Absolute Principle of all existence; and the last end of every human being is to discover the fact for himself, to find out Who he really is.”

Lift the stone and you will find me. Cleave the wood and I am there.

That’s from the the Oxyrinchus Logia papyrus fragment found in a garbage mound in Egypt in 1897, a collection of purported extra-canonical sayings of Jesus believed to be the oldest surviving manual of the Gospel of Thomas. It correlates with this claim from Meister Eckhart, a German Catholic mystic tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII in the 14th century:

The more God is in all things, the more he is outside them. The more He is within, the more without.

That should give you a sense of the type of breathless insights, koans and aperçus (profound? meaningless? profoundly meaningless?) you’ll find in The Perennial Philosophy. I can’t do the book justice or provide more than a random sampling of what Huxley presents. But very few of we owners of a lonely heart in the country of the blind, I’d venture to say, fully understood or incorporated the ancient wisdom into our daily lives. There was far more Fozzie Bearian wakka wakka wakka going on than Valentine Michael Smithian grokka grokka grokka.

Here’s an extract from the Lankavatara Sutra, the scripture recommended by the founder of Zen Buddhism to his followers:

Those who vainly reason without understanding the truth are lost in the jungle of the Vijnanas (the various forms of relative knowledge), running about here and there and trying to justify their view of ego-substance.

The self realized in your inmost consciousness appears in its purity; this is the Tathagata-garbha (literally, Buddha-womb), which is not the realm of those given over to mere reasoning. …

Pure in its own nature and free from the category of finite and infinite, Universal Mind is the undefiled Buddha-womb, which is wrongly apprehended by sentient beings.

Here’s a saying attributed to Lao Tzu (also rendered as Laozi or Lao-Tse), the founder of Taoism and a semi-legendary contemporary of Confucius from the sixth century BCE:

It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;

The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.

Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences.”

He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.

Advice from the Third Patriarch of Zen:

Pursue not the outer entanglements,

Dwell not in the inner void;

Be serene in the oneness of things,

And dualism vanishes of itself.

Here’s Eckhart again (and you can see how he might have raised a few hackles among what we in the Sixties liked to deride as The Establishment):

A man must become truly poor and as free from his own creaturely will as he was when he was born. And I tell you, by the eternal truth, that so long as you desire to fulfil the will of God and have any hankering after eternity and God, for just so long you are not truly poor. He alone has true spiritual poverty who wills nothing, knows nothing, desires nothing.

St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish priest, mystic and Carmelite friar of converso origin:

It is impossible for the will to attain to the sweetness and bliss of the divine union otherwise than in detachment, in refusing to the desire every pleasure in the things of heaven and earth.

In a confusing multitude of names, amen.

Huxley erects a crisscrossing Be Here Now trellis with lattice panels of exhortations to rise from the foul, stinking lumps of ourselves by cultivating detachment, learning to divine the One behind all things, being perpetually Surprised by Joy, walking the Eightfold Path, contemplating Samsara and Nirvana, comprehending the Everlasting Yes and the Absurdly Good News, seeing globes of fire encircled by smoke rings and turning in mirrors by the Clear Light of the Void … and the next thing you know, in my squamous mind at least, old Jed’s a millionaire and I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

On With the Show, This is It! Goo goo g’joob.

As I wrote in a ridiculously abstruse nod to Buddhist practice, Alan Watts, Billy Joel and my mother-in-law in my 2020 vision Mummy Jihad, a book tattered, tossed and quickly forgotten by literally tens of readers:

Tutte tutte, vutte vutte,

patte patte, katte katte

it’s still rocking chair to me.

Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental.


Not that I wasn’t fully on board in 1968, when George Harrison turned a poem from the Taoist Tao Te Ching into lyrics for The Inner Light, the rarely played B-side of that Lady Madonna 45 now sharing space with a broken Nintendo Entertainment System in a forgotten box somewhere in your basement:

Without going out of my door

I can know all things of earth

Without looking out of my window

I could know the ways of heaven …

And not that I think there’s no more to mysticism and meditation than rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies. Hell, everyone smiles as I drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high. And I always admired the way the sometimes prickly Harrison could make Hare Krishna sound like fuck you when he was pissed.

But the truth is, I’m coming down fast — and so are you — nearing the bottom of our three-score-and-ten slides through this tellurian, sublunary plane of existence. And in the inescapable warp and weft of daily living here on the ever-shifting Margate sands, I still don’t know the ways of heaven from the way to San Jose.

In The Divine Comedy, Dante’s pilgrim finds his way out of a dark wood at half my age after embarking on his journey through hell, purgatory and heaven on that auspicious night before Good Friday in 1300.

That was 722 years ago, and I’m still stuck in the middle with Gerry Rafferty and Sylvia Plath and Winchester Cathedral bringing me down. Fifty years I have laboured to dredge the silt from my throat. I am none the wiser.

Here’s a definition of life that I do understand, mind you, from no less a literary pillar than the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats: “A vast preparation for something that never happens.”

Having failed to live seven years in Tibet and ruing my continuing failure to grok the Nine Consciousness Buddhist concept my teenage self was confident I would have mastered eons ago, I find myself in a position analogous to that of novelist Henri Barbusse’s protagonist in the 1908 novel L’Enfer, who watches the world go by (or at least, the happenings in the next room) through a spy hole while standing on his bed at a family hotel.

T.S. Eliot’s long, meditative 1930 poem Ash Wednesday, which focuses on the struggle of a non-believer muddling his way toward some kind of faith, describes my current attitude toward the Come to Jesus moment that never comes:

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain

and

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

Which is pretty much what I’m doing now on our balcony, as the sun warms my legs and red-breasted nuthatches call from the century-old Douglas firs and Western red cedars wedged between our townhouse complex and the neighbouring farm.

No matter how many cannabis gummies I suck or how many magic mushrooms I consume, I might never be able to conceive of myself in the way 17th-century French priest and mystic Pierre de Bérulle defined a human being: “An angel, an animal, a void, a world, a nothing surrounded by God, indigent of God, capable of God, filled with God.”

I doubt that I’ll ever be able to shake the illusion, if that’s what it is, of being a corporeal schmuck who adores the sardonic putdowns of his teenage grandson and the rhythmic breathing of his sleeping wife.

And honestly, after decades of investment in the phenomenal world of plants and birds and rocks and things, I don’t think I’ll ever want to — however great the rewards or peaceful the annihilation waiting on the other side of the crack in the teacup that opens a lane to the land of the dead.

I’m content, on Blake’s example, to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower. Infinity in the palm of my hand. Eternity in an hour. Who needs first-hand acquaintance with the noumenal or the transcendental?


In fact, isn’t that what this is?

You don’t have to wear a hair shirt and live in a cave, mortify the flesh, sport a fetching Roman tonsure (well, OK, I do ... but not by choice) or be touched with fire like a Blake or a Byron to grasp a more hopeful observation by Yeats: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

In other words: Keep on grokkin’ in the free world.

No turning of the sun into darkness and the moon into blood will be necessary. No Horsemen of the Apocalypse need mount their steeds. No call for Jesus freaks out in the streets, handing tickets out for God.

No sailing into the mystic. Just the soothing words of St. Bernard. Not the canine breed showcased in belletrist Susan Kastner’s memorable Neo Citran campaign from the 1980s, but rather an 11th-century Burgundian abbot:

What I know of the divine sciences and Holy Scripture, I learnt in the woods and fields. I have had no other masters than the beeches and the oaks.

Even if National Lampoon’s clever parody of prose poem Desiderata (which, by the way, was written in the 1920s by American writer Max Ehrmann and wasn’t found, as those funky, omnipresent posters of 50 years ago proclaimed, in a Baltimore church in 1692) is true and I am a fluke of the universe with no right to be here, it doesn’t really change a thing.

It’s still lunchtime in the material world and I just believe in me. Yogurt and me. That’s reality.

(Final morsel of trivia, always the cream from longwinded topic-milking like this: That’s Melissa Manchester providing the background vocals on Deteriorata, the 1972 comedy record that mocked Les Crane’s Grammy-winning 1971 recording of the original poem. The music was written by a young Christopher Guest. Crane, an early competitor of Johnny Carson’s for talk show supremacy, had just divorced Tina Louise, who played Ginger, the movie star, on Gilligan’s Island. Crane preferred the parody version — “take heart amid the deepening gloom that your dog is finally getting enough cheese” — to his own. At 88, Louise is the last surviving cast member of Gilligan’s Island.)


I secretly found Mary Ann sexier and sympathized with the bashful, lovestruck professor … but hey, it’s way too easy to forget one’s mantra (a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour) and get caught up in the inconsequential blather of an undisciplined mind when what we’re meant to be focusing on here is how well Romantic titan William Wordsworth — before his immense ego ate, digested and spit out his muse (talk about nausea) over the second half of his long life — summed up my thesis in 1798’s The Tables Turned:

One impulse from the vernal wood

Will tell you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good,

Than all the sages can.

Here in the shade of a towering cedar, we’re out of lemonade. But my groove W wife just topped up my orange juice.

Over the farmer’s field, where the hay was freshly cut and waits in flaxen bales to be collected, immature bald eagles are circling lazily, soaring, gliding, occasionally swooping, developing their hunting skills through trial and error and, mostly, play.

I can’t presume to speak for the mice and voles. But if this isn’t nice, what is?


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