“WHY WON’T DOUG
SAUNDERS STOP DREAMING OF CAMELOT?”
by Chuck Greenwood
My friend Doug is
a middle-aged lawyer – and, despite that, Doug is as decent a human
being as you’re likely to meet. He’s got this passion. I
call it Camelot, but Doug calls it Lodestar.
Lodestar is a real place – four-hundred-and-some acres of California foothill country, Calaveras County. The geography is welcoming, friendly – and a “habitat” exists on a geography, but only becomes alive, becomes a habitat, out of the relations that are created on that geography. The relations that Doug dreams of were created about forty-five years ago, by a group of high-school kids and a few adults.
I’d been there before, when the church first acquired the land – when there were no buildings except a line-shack at the bottom of the meadow. So Sue and I were happy to be invited to go along, when the church looked to hold “retreats” for these kids - as chaperones, warm bodies over twenty-one.
This was “the
sixties” – a hell of a time to be an adolescent, trying to sculpture
yourself an identity, with a little bit of help from your
friends. And most of these kids were being raised in an affluent
town, raised to be insulated and afflicted with a smug sense of
entitlement - where how you looked to others was a constant anxiety,
beyond the fears of self-exposure and vulnerability to ridicule which
are normal for adolescents.
But at Lodestar, this anxiety was suspended – the kids damn near vaporized this anxiety. The kids saw an opportunity - a week or a weekend - in which you and your accomplices could explore, together, who you wanted to be, right now and when you grew up. They bit into that opportunity with such urgency that they barely had time to chew and swallow—the talks, the discussions, the music, the acceptance of each other as human beings, were wonderful to watch.
They were kids, it was the sixties – of course there was rock-and-roll. But at night, the wild indigenous sounds took over – the brush of wind through the pines, the crickets, the scurry of clawed feet, the flurry of wings. An occasional scream from an unlucky rabbit. Maybe a careless human giggle, or a grunt - most likely there was sex and drugs, to go with the rock-and-roll, but the kids were usually considerate enough to keep those activities out of our sight. Sue and I mostly stayed out of the kids’ way, during the day, unless we were invited to join a conversation – but that happened a lot.
The last large meeting, at the close of each week or weekend, was convened typically on Sunday afternoon – the buses were waiting for the three-hour trip home, and tomorrow was a school day. Of course the kids knew what they had been doing, for themselves and for each other, and they knew that what they’d been experiencing was more than a little bit rare. And so the question always came up, on Sunday afternoon: “How do we take this home?” And, I think: “How do we keep this accepting of each other, this caring for each other, at the center of the rest of our lives?”
can be a long time. Those Lodestar days, and the days back in
town when we tried to keep alive whatever Lodestar meant to us,
led me into a career of working with kids and families - I was not
about to turn away from the joy of watching another human being’s
growth. I retired, a couple of years ago, and started working
seriously on writing the books that I’ve wanted to write for a long
time. And now, suddenly, those Lodestar kids are re-appearing in
This happened by accident, if you believe in accidents. I’ve got a book close to publication, and there are things that an author is advised to do in the way of marketing, and one of these things is to appear on a part of peoples’ computers called “Facebook” – they call it, I’m told, “viral marketing.” So I pushed through the thickets of my old feral wariness – I lived on a mountain, where every sword has two edges, for a long time, and I’m frequently uneasy in towns. I punched in “Facebook,” and started the process. And ol’ Doug was on me, like an Lodestar owl on a careless rabbit, sending me a list of fifty people – people whom, he said, I should ask to be my electronic “friends.”
I called Doug, on the phone - “Who the hell are all these people?” “You may not remember them,” he told me – “but they all remember you and Sue.” Doug’s mission seemed to be to put everybody who ever went to Lodestar into communication with everybody else that ever went to Lodestar – and from the electronic evidence, he’s had considerable success.
in nature, nostalgia’s real. So like everything else that is
real, nostalgia carries aspects which are both corrosive and
creative. We all know people – some of us probably are people –
who cannot break free from a dream of the past, real or imagined, and
so awake each day to bitterness. And other people – again,
perhaps ourselves – who awaken with a resolve to refresh that dream, to
inform our day with the mandates and the hopes of that dream. To
step outside the truces and compromises and conveniences that obscure
such a dream. I think that this is how Doug’s days begin, on the
days when he is fortunate, and careful.
And I think that, in these moments and mornings, an ancient and archival part of our brains wakes and stretches with us – mine likes coffee, black. I think that we have carried this particular nostalgia since we were a new species, building a habitat by the way we built our relations.
We were daily aware, then, that we were endangered - and daily aware that the world was lovely. Our relations with each other, and with the other living things who shared the planet, had to be courteous and respectful - we took no more than we needed, and we expressed our gratitude for the giving of it. These were survival skills, and they were carefully taught to children – since our behavior now had to be informed by precise instruction, whereas the behaviors of our ancestors had been dominated by precise instincts. Had we not cultivated these skills, I think, we would now be extinct, and we would be remembered only by rocks.
So I suspect that Doug’s nostalgia is a kind of conference-call. Between himself, and the Lodestar dream, and the archives that recall when we were new on the planet, part of the planet, and competent to belong upon it. And if Doug had his way, we would all be listening in, on the line. “Please be quiet, for a little while,” we might tell children and grandchildren and the television – “Can’t you see that I’m listening?”
Of course we were
children, at Lodestar, when Doug’s conference-call began – the kids
were maybe ten years younger than Sue and I. There are good
biological and developmental reasons, I suspect, why children are both
more savage and more generous than their elders, and why children carry
such a fierce instinct for justice - and why, come the revolutions, in
Paris or Budapest or Tiananmen Square, the students are always the
first to mount the barricades. I suspect the minds of children
find their way to those archives more easily. Because they have
not yet been told, too many times, “That’s just the way the world is.”
So the really honorable thing about Doug is: he’s stubborn, he’s intractable, he’s like Terminator: he won’t ever stop, ever. He insists that we can all remember when we were those children, and he’s unlikely to pause until we do exactly that. Kenneth Rexroth used to recall the aging fierce radicals - veterans from the days of the Wobblies, Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Little Red Songbook. When Woody Guthrie said, “I ain’t a communist, necessarily, but I been in the red all my life;” and Will Rogers said, “I see where Standard Oil says, ‘We serve the public’ – and havin’ growed up on a farm, I know just what they’re a-gittin’ at.” These hard old men, Rexroth said, had lived fifty years in complete fidelity to one unmarried spouse, and had kept themselves fit and kept one set of clothing clean - all so that they might respectably show up on the barricades, when the workers of the world finally arose. And I have no trouble at all fitting Doug into that role.
I concluded, years ago, that the goal of becoming “independantly
wealthy” was a snare and a delusion, because the wealthy have to sweat
tax-collectors and kidnappers. That the American dream of “upward
mobility” was therefore also a shuck, and a con-man’s swindle – and so
the only reasonable thing to aspire to was lateral mobility. Step
out of the bastards’ way, live quietly and tell the truth, and stay in
touch. Seize what opportunities appear before you, to survive and
to keep the faith. “Take what the defense gives you,” as they say
in the NFL.
So I thought to establish a movement, of Laterally-Mobile-Persons-of-Integrity – the Limpies. “Nobody’s sure of their political agenda,” I would announce. “But they’re having a hell of a lot of fun – they seem to be more at home in the world than anybody around them. They may not save the world but they’ll maybe save themselves, and a few of their friends – and there is no other way, finally, that the world will be saved.”
But I never did establish that movement, or at least not as such. And as far as I know, nobody else did either. But maybe the movement lives – unacknowledged, and potent, and as resilient as the grass that grows through cracks in the cement - in Doug Saunders’ dream of Lodestar, and our own ancient dream of habitat.
So Limpies of the world, and children of Lodestar, arise with our good friend Doug. We can remember how to greet each other, how to touch each other and allow ourselves to be touched, carrying the same gentle awe with which we’d caress a sleeping child. “All real living is meeting,” Martin Buber said – you’ll notice that he did not say “ownership,” or “safety,” or “the absence of adventure.” We have nothing to lose but our compromises, and nothing to gain but our belonging. And all you gotta do to join is sing, the next time it comes around on the guitar….