"(A)ccording to custom the daily 'Washoe Zephyr' set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.
"(T)he vast dust cloud was thickly freckled with things strange to the upper air—things living and dead, that flitted hither and thither, going and coming, appearing and disappearing among the rolling billows of dust—hats, chickens and parasols sailing in the remote heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and shingles a shade lower; door-mats and buffalo robes lower still; shovels and coal scuttles on the next grade; glass doors, cats and little children on the next; disrupted lumber yards, light buggies and wheelbarrows on the next; and down only thirty or forty feet above ground was a scurrying storm of emigrating roofs and vacant lots."
MARK TWAIN: 'Roughing It,' Chapter XXI
The primary inspiration for building my first glider and attempting manned-flight came about after seeing a black-and-white Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movie released in 1947 called Tarzan and the Huntress. My second attempt at manned-flight was influenced by something I saw many years later in relation to the powerful 'devil winds' that sweep downslope along the eastern side of the mighty High Sierras called the Washoe Zephyr as written about above by Mark Twain.
In the Tarzan movie his son Boy builds a glider-type plane capable of flying while carrying him aloft. Before Boy has a chance to test it, their chimp Cheetah, apparently seeing the glider's potential, steals it. Hanging on for dear life Cheetah jumps off some rocks covering quite some distance through the air before eventually crashing into the trees and tumbling to the ground below.(see)
No sooner had I seen the movie than I ran all the way home driven with the passion and desire to build a similar workable glider with the capability of carrying a person, preferably me, in flight. Which is exactly what I did. Over a period of about a year, with the assistance of my Uncle, the two of us researched every attempt at manned flight we could get our hands on, starting with Leonardo Da Vinci Flying Machines that were designed sometime around 1490 AD clear up to Otto Lilienthal's pre-Wright Brothers designs of circa 1895, 400 years later.
Eventually we built an over fifteen-foot wingspan glider based mostly on a Lilienthal design that theoretically would be capable of supporting a man like Lilienthal's did, or at least a ten year old boy like myself, in flight. I am not sure what my uncle's exact plan for the machine was, but one day without my uncle's knowledge a friend of mine and I hauled it out of the studio and up to the top of the second story apartments across the compound, and, like Cheetah, hanging on for dear life, launched it. The following is the results of that flight from the source so cited:
"Initially the flight played out fairly well, picking up wind under the wings and maintaining the same two-story height advantage for some distance. Halfway across busy Arlington Street though, the craft began slowing and losing forward momentum. It began dropping altitude rapidly, eventually crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house across the way. Other than a few bruises and a wrecked machine, nothing was broken, although as it turned out, my dad wasn't nearly as proud of me as intended. I never forgot the thrill of that flight and carried that thrill and Leonardo's dreams into my adulthood." (source)
When I reached my mid-high school years I met a man that I call my Mentor in all my writings. A U.S. American born citizen, he had been a pilot in World War I flying for the British in the Royal Flying Corps, joining at age 16 before the U.S. entered the war after having crossed into Canada. I always felt we strengthened our bonds as friends initially because of his interest in flying and my early childhood attempt at manned-flight, re the following:
"Although I never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that, my mentor loved the story, and I think it was an early key to our initial philosophical bond."(source)
Which brings me to the gist of what I am getting at here. There is a slight caveat to my "never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that" found in the above quote. That caveat circulates around the word "similar" in the sentence, which we will get to later, and the aforementioned 'Washoe Zephyr' written about by Mark Twain and so quoted at the top of the page. The Washoe Zephyr, sometimes referred to as a 'devil wind' occurs on a regular basis on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, with an extremely strong portion on the east side of the paralleling Virginia Range, most notedly around Virginia City. Unlike the typical thermally driven slope-flows which blow upslope during the day and downslope at night, the Washoe Zephyr winds blow down the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in the afternoon against the local pressure gradient. The Washoe Zephyr figured prominently in my reconsideration of a second flight attempt. As for the strength and power of the downslope prevailing winds of the Zephyr and its ability to carry out what Twain has written it could do, in the book The Big Bonanza by Dan De Quille (1877), Chapter 35, the following is found:
"There is a tradition in Virginia City, that in the spring of 1863, a donkey was caught up from the side of Mount Davidson far up on the northern side, near the summit of the mountain and carried eastward over the city, at a height of five or six hundred feet above the houses, finally landing near the Sugar-Loaf Mountain nearly five miles away. Those who witnessed this remarkable instance of the force of the zephyr, say that as the poor beast was hurried away over the town, his neck was stretched out to its greatest length, and he was shrieking in the most despairing and heart-rending tones ever heard from any living creature."(source)
I had only been out of the Army and back in the states a few months when I bumped into a friend of mine, a recently discharged U.S. Navy able-bodied seaman, who I had not seen or talked to in years. As a teenager he loved Mad Comics. The only thing was his father wouldn't let him read comic books, let alone Mad. I had a whole collection of Mad Comics in those days and from time to time he would borrow one or two to read. One day he had taken Mad #5 home and was upstairs in his bedroom reading it when his father walked in. There was a hole in the wall right next to his bed where he was sitting and before his dad could catch him he dropped the Mad Comic into the hole thinking he could get it later. The thing is, the comic fell way down into the wall someplace and we were never able to get it, shifting the whole thing from a hole in his wall to a hole in my collection.
During our happenstance meeting following our military service as alluded to above, it came up in conversation that the childhood home he was living in at the time that he dropped the Mad between the walls had just recently caught fire, injuring his elderly uncle, with his uncle still in a long-term care facility recovering from his burns and smoke inhalation. He said the part of the house destroyed included the wall where the Mad #5 was and most likely, if it was still there at the time of the fire, it was gone now.
The afternoon passed in a continuing flow of small talk and reminiscing about the old days and the military when before we knew it, dinner time was on us. He mentioned earlier he was going to visit his uncle that evening and suggested we go to dinner together then the two of us go by and see his uncle. Basically having unexpectantly shot the whole day anyway, albeit pleasantly, and with no real reason not too by then, I joined him.
That is when something odd, at least as I viewed it, happened. When my friend and I were in the room visiting his uncle the TV was on, primarily being watched by the person in another bed sharing the room. On the channel the other patient was watching was a program that I would probably otherwise not have seen but for being there at the time. Because of the storyline it caught my eye and I began watching it much more intensely than perhaps I should have considering I was actually there to visit my friend's uncle.
The program on that night was a long-running TV western series I was generally enough familiar with called 'Bonanza' that followed the adventures of a father and three grown-up sons living on a huge ranch that stretched between Virginia City, Nevada and Lake Tahoe. As a young boy I had been raised on cowboy and western comic books and movies, even to the point for the most part, adhering to the Cowboy Code of the West as I grew into adulthood. However, even though I watched Bonanza in its early years, being in the military and all, I kind of lost track of it. The plot of the specific episode that night that so caught my fancy had to do with one of the sons attempting to fly, and doing so with the aid of what was called the 'devil wind,' legendary winds that supposedly would sweep down the mountains at certain times of the year near Virginia City wreaking havoc with all that came within its path.
Even though I was grown man, been in the Army and shaved and everything, seeing that episode of Bonanza, and as depicted in the graphic above, the attempt to fly using the 'devil wind,' it was like I was a kid seeing Tarzan and the Huntress all over again and needing to run all the way home to build a glider.
I could barely sense a quasi-vague remembrance hidden someplace back in my synapses regarding an actual real life connection between the so-called 'devil wind' cited in the TV program and Virginia City, it was just at the time I couldn't call it up. I had a long history with the east side of the Sierras, starting before age ten when my father married my Stepmother in Reno. A year after they were married, maybe a little longer, as I describe in Riding the Cab Forwards, I was back in the Reno area after my teenage older brother and first cousin hopped a freight train riding the rails some 500 miles north to Sacramento only to get caught in the switchyard by a railroad bull. My uncle flew up there to get them out of the jam they were in and I went along. On our return trip we flew over the top of the Sierras to an abandoned dirt airstrip out in a remote part of the desert some 50 miles south of Reno. There we picked up a mysterious unnamed woman covered head to toe with a full length coat, a scarf covering her hair, and large dark sunglasses who we transported under a cloud of secrecy to Las Vegas. To me she reeked of being a movie star, my uncle even telling the pilot that he thought the woman looked a lot like June Lang, a known movie star of the era. A few years after that I was back on the east side of the High Sierras again, only as follows:
"When I was around eleven or twelve years old or so I spent two summers living lightly on the land like a forest monk on the east side of the High Sierras under the auspices of my Uncle. During one of those summers, on return to our main camp after having being gone several days and driving up to Whitney Portal followed by a climb to the summit, my uncle and I stopped at the compound of a man of deep spiritual Attainment that he knew in some fashion by the name of Franklin Merrell-Wolff --- an introduction that I woefully admit meant nothing to me at the time or for years afterwards for that fact. As the slow series of events unfolded I had no surface understanding that the meeting was actually an almost mirror image of an earlier encounter under completely different yet still similar circumstances --- opening a window of things to come through a door from the past."(source)
So too, my father had a long term relationship being along the eastern slopes of the Sierras as far back as the Great Depression. In the 1930s he made his living prospecting for gold all up and down eastern side of the Sierras and often regaled us kids with stories of his adventures, many of which I allude to in Alex Apostolides. But, even with all of the above, including my meditation visits to my High Mountain Zendo it took a trip to Disneyland of all things for me to finally put it all together. I had flown to Catalina Island to see my mentor on one of the small Grumman Goose sea planes that used to ferry passengers back and forth to the islands in those days. They only carry a few passengers, six or eight, very tight inside and noisy. The flight, about 30 minutes long, left the smooth harbor channel only to encounter a fairly choppy sea on the Catalina side. When the plane landed it hit with a 'whomp' followed by a quick short airborne hop followed by a very, very hard second 'whomp' before it smoothed out and taxied to a stop. On the second 'whomp' a college age girl in the seat next to me who I didn't know nor ever seen before in my life until she boarded the plane, let out a short high pitched scream and threw both arms around me hiding her head on my chest. Within a micro-second it dawned on her what she was doing, bright red and highly embarrassed, she couldn't apologize enough.
The only town on the island of Catalina, Avalon, is not very large. While walking it's main street, Crescent Avenue --- which couldn't be much more than a quarter mile long right on the ocean front --- and on some of the adjacent side streets, it is not unusual to see the same people over and over several times on the same day. The girl from the plane and I ran into each other a time or two and of which, the last time I was with my mentor. Needless to say she was duly impressed, especially so by the serenity that he seemed to abide in. After that the three of us spent most of the rest of our time on the island together, albeit with her coming somewhat unnerved during a discussion between my mentor and I during dinner describing the first time I ever saw him. I was an eight year old boy or so stranded overnight with another young boy at an old stage stop called Eagle's Nest high in the mountains above Avalon after being left behind during an island tour. My mentor mysteriously showed up out of nowhere in the middle of the night at the stage stop with a prominent Indian holy man, only for the both of them disappear just as quickly.(see)
The girl from the plane worked at Disneyland and she invited me to meet her in a couple of days after we returned from Catalina, telling me she, as an employee, could get me in at no cost. She had to work part of the day during the time I was there, playing the role of Snow White near or on the Storybook Land Canal Boats, of which I rode two or three times just to see what it was she did. The rest of the day I hung out people-watching and taking in the sights. I was sitting alone in New Orleans Square drinking an iced tea and looking out toward Tom Sawyer Island when the stern wheel riverboat Mark Twain passed between where I was sitting and the island --- and it was then it dawned on me. All those months and it was Mark Twain! I left the park before the girl finished her shift and never saw her again.
In 1861 the newly elected President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, appointed Mark Twain's older brother as the Secretary to the new government of the Territory of Nevada. When his brother moved west to fulfill the appointment, Mark Twain followed. After a short unsuccessful attempt at prospecting for both gold and silver, the silver of which took him to the Comstock in the first place, he accepted a job as a reporter for the Virginia City newspaper, Territorial Enterprise, with his first article being published on July 6, 1862. A decade later, during the years 1871-1872 and well established as an author and humorist by then, Twain wrote a book covering his experiences out west titled Roughing It, published in 1872. It was from Twain's Roughing It, more specifically Part III, Chapter XXI, that, after seeing the Mark Twain paddle wheeler in Disneyland, discussed below, I recalled there was a connection between Mark Twain and the 'devil wind.'
Back in the far off long ago ancient days of the mid 1960s, before the rise of Google et al, research was much more difficult than it is in today's world. In today's world you can type 'Washoe Zephyr' into Google and before you have chance to remove your finger from the last letter Google has spewed out 1000s of potential search results --- why, you might even be able to find this page through Google if you searched hard enough. Anyway, pre-Google, when I was trying to run down information on the 'devil wind' and not being able to recall its formal name, 'Washoe Zephyr' as written about by Mark Twain, I called a hotel in Virginia City, told the person I would like to be there sometime when the 'devil wind' happened. She put me in touch with a local amateur historian who, in conversation, used the term 'Washoe Zephyr.'
After learning of Twain's use of the term 'Washoe Zephyr' I was soon able to pinpoint where he used it, that being the previously mentioned 1872 book he wrote titled Roughing It. Getting my hands on a copy of Roughing It back in the days we are talking about here was another thing, which, in that I was somehow familiar with the concept of 'devil wind,' Mark Twain, and Virginia City it makes me wonder where my initial source emanated from --- something I never learned.
In the year 1949 all kinds of original Mark Twain books and documents had been deposited in the care of UC Berkeley by Twain's sole surviving daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud. Upon her death in 1962 the entire collection was bequeathed to the University of California. It was at Berkeley I was able to kick back for a day or two and read a copy, although not a first edition, but one published several years later, in 1899 by the American Publishing Company to be exact, in turn getting all I needed to know from Twain's perspective.(see)
From Berkeley, armed with Twain's and additional information on the 'Washoe Zephyr' I drove east over the Sierras to Reno continuing then another 25 miles south to Virginia City. After arrival I could clearly see Mount Davidson that figures so prominently in the 'devil wind' stories, looking not much more than a boring backdrop west of town rising to a height of 7,868 feet, some 1648 feet above Virginia City's 6220 foot elevation. The next day I climbed to the top, and as boring as it looked from town it took me well over an hour to traverse the 1648 feet to the summit, plus at that altitude, as least for me, especially if you consider only a couple of years before I was scurrying around the Himalayas at twice the height, it wasn't the easiest thing I had ever done.(see) So too, it didn't take much to figure out hauling a glider that was anything similar to what I had used previously up the slope to the summit, unless it could be broken down into pieces and easily assembled then able stay together in flight during the Zephyr, it wasn't going to be a totally effortless endeavor either.
Later in the day I was going in and out of the various shops along the main street when I came to an establishment that touted itself as being a museum and history of Virginia City type place. It was there I learned of Dan De Quille's story of a donkey being carried by the 'Washoe Zephyr' from Mount Davidson to Sugarloaf rock formation some five miles away. I had a local point out Sugarloaf and after seeing the location of both mountains in relation to each other it seemed feasible --- IF the Zephyr could carry something as heavy as a donkey. Now, I don't know how much donkeys typically weigh, and, although I may have been an ass to some then as I may still be to some now, I was sure I was nowhere close to what a donkey weighed. Extrapolating, if the wind could carry a donkey over that distance, the same wind should easily be able to carry me over an equal distance.
With such thoughts in my head I picked up three local area maps, one from a gas station, one from a drug store and one a tourist type hiking trails map with elevations, each map with a different size, different measurement scales and different strengths. Taking all three maps to my dimly-lit over 100 year old room with a creaky wooden floor and a skeleton key door lock, I spread them out and drew a straight-line path on each of them from the peak of Mount Davidson to Sugarloaf. By morning I had a solution to my dilemma and where the one slight caveat mentioned in the very opening paragraphs comes in.
THE PHOTO ON THE LEFT ABOVE, SHOWS VIRGINIA CITY FROM THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT DAVIDSON.
SUGARLOAF CAN BE SEEN DUE EAST IN THE UPPER RIGHT CORNER JUST IN FRONT OF THE FIRST
CREST OF MOUNTAINS. PHOTO ON RIGHT IS IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION SHOWING VIRGINIA CITY
FROM SUGARLOAF WITH MOUNT DAVIDSON BEHIND.-- PHOTOS COURTESY OF SUMMITPOST.ORG.
For a vast number of young men growing up around the same time I did, after reaching a certain age, they were uprooted from whatever they were doing by the then in place friendly Selective Service System, otherwise known as the draft, and plunked down into the military. And so it was for me. Following a crowded ruckus-filled overnight 400 mile train ride from the induction center in Los Angeles to Fort Ord I, along with several hundred other potential GIs, at 4:00 AM in the morning, was herded into one of a whole line of cattle trucks and taken to what they called the Reception Company Area. Then, after being issued two pairs of too large boots along with several sets of too large olive drab shirts and pants, and having the good fortune of completing eight weeks of basic without incident I was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia to attend the U.S. Army Signal Corps School for what they called Advanced Individual Training, or AIT. Following completion of the training at Gordon I was sent across the state to Fort Benning for even more training.
It was at Benning that I learned, years before, about what I would eventually adapt and use to overcome the potential dilemma I faced against the 'devil wind.' After I made my investigatory climb to the top of Mount Davidson from the back streets of Virginia City, my dilemma was, if I was going to successfully complete a manned-flight in conjunction with and using the 'Washoe Zephyr' as the primary driving force for propulsion, it most likely wouldn't be feasible to haul a fixed-wing glider like the one I had used in the past, up the slope to the summit, unless it could be broken down into pieces and easily re-assembled, then be able stay together in flight during the Zephyr.
Fort Benning is the U.S. Army's major airborne training site, or jump school as it is sometimes called. Although things have changed drastically since I was in the military, briefly, in the simplest terms, airborne troops, both seasoned and in training, carried two parachutes when it came to participating in a jump. One, a primary or main standard-issued chute designated as a T-10, which was carried on the back attached to an over-shoulder and under crotch harness system. It was supported with a smaller front mounted reserve or emergency chute, called a T-10R in case the primary chute malfunctioned. The T-10 main chute canopy measured 35 feet in diameter and the whole package assembly weighed somewhere around 30 pounds. The front worn T-10R reserve chute measured 24 feet in diameter and weighed in at about 13 pounds, was packed into a bag similar to a duffle bag, easily carried and how I intended to use it, easily deployed. Although I never had reason to use a T-10R in any sort of an emergency situation, I was familiar enough with its functions and operation to know it was exactly what I wanted for my plan to incorporate the 'Washoe Zephyr' as the primary driving force for propulsion in my attempt toward manned-flight.
During the summer of that first year after being discharged from the military and not long after my rather intense investigation into the 'Washoe Zephyr,' under the personal request of my mentor, I went to Connecticut to visit a nearly invisible man of great spiritual prowess by the name of Alfred Pulyan, said by those who knew him to be an American Zen Master without the Zen nor Buddhism. At first I thought the whole thing would be a huge waste of time especially after having spent months Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery, ending for me, in a totally different set of results than anybody would ever expect. As the summer wore on and it was time to go I had completely changed my mind about being at the Pulyan compound and really didn't want to leave. I made plans to return the next summer and pick up where I left off, particularly so after having met Pulyan's Teacher, however before I could return the following year Pulyan died.
One year later, following my excursion to the top of Mount Davidson, instead of going to Pulyan's compound I was back in Virginia City, albeit this time skewed purposely toward the maximum strength of the 'Washoe Zephyr' season. For this trip however, rather than renting a room, I was instead parked along the backstreets of town in a fully-equipped nearly new Volkswagen Westfalia Camper van owned by an inner-city elementary school teacher of some accomplishment who wanted to exchange accommodations for a possible adventure. After settling in the two of us hiked up to the top of Mount Davidson, found the spot I wanted to use for my launch site, stuck a bunch of knee-high sticks in the ground, each tied at the top with two inch wide by two foot long bright red crepe paper stringers, placed in a variety of places in an arc in front of the launch site and down the mountain to judge the wind strength and direction. I stretched the open chute out full length in front of where I planned to launch from, propping up the canopy at the end like a wide open shark's mouth with drop-away sticks, then attached the whole rig to the front of my chest-waist over shoulder harness. After that I sat down waiting for the Zephyr to billow up the canopy. After a day or two of waiting, and a couple of false starts, the wind really began to roar, reaching what I gaged to be the right strength and velocity, and when I could no longer comfortably hold back against the forward pull of the wind I let my braced legs and arm-hand grips loose and off I went.
Although the wind was strong, at first the parachute unfurled only about half open, more wide than high, with the top folded over towards me and the bottom half closely dragging along the downward slope of the mountain pulling me right behind it, scraping and bouncing me over the rocky surface. Just as I was thinking the whole idea was really stupid and most likely was going to end in failure or worse, the chute raised upwards and caught a huge burst of wind with the canopy suddenly becoming open and fully billowed. The next thing I knew I shot away from the side of the mountain, both the chute and me level, extended straight back at the end of the suspension lines in a nearly direct center line with the canopy apex opening. As the ground dropped rapidly away from beneath me the wind strength pulled the chute so strongly that initially my weight wasn't a factor. Easily maintaining the same height in elevation at the time I left the ground I crossed over the northern end of Virginia City at least 1500 feet above the tallest buildings making my overall altitude roughly 7,600 feet. As I headed eastward past the town the landscape beneath me actually dropped away faster than I was loosing altitude although for a while I was sure I was physically gaining altitude over some distance as well. Soon I could tell I was beginning to angle lower off parallel with the center of the chute as I was able to see more and more past the canopy lower edge. Still moving forward with a fairly powerful wind momentum at a pretty good clip my body weight began tipping the chute-center angle and myself more toward 60 degrees, then soon, 45 degrees. My line of sight, clearing beneath the canopy allowed me to see Sugarloaf, although I was still west of it and off toward the south a little bit. The farther I got from Davidson the less strength the wind seemed to have. The same time I was loosing wind power and altitude the landscape beneath my trajectory began to rise. The chute and I tipped into an almost regular parachute drop angle and I knew I would soon be touching down. When I did it was a smooth landing considering the northern slope terrain. I was, for all practical purposes, on a north-south axis straight even with Sugarloaf, although somewhat to the south, having traveled totally airborne from near the summit of Mount Davidson to a location maybe a little less than 6 miles east of Virginia City. I walked back to the van and drove home the next day.
EARLY FLYERS FROM ICARUS TO LILIENTHAL
MARK TWAIN: ROUGHING IT
THE ZEN MAN FLIES
Let Me Travel Through the Air Like a Winged Bird
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
Access to free online versions of Tarzan and the Huntress constantly come and go. Try HERE first. It was posted full length May 1, 2014 by one Ursula Strauss who has posted most of the early Tarzan movies online on the usually reliable Daily Motion site. For the glider scene only, go to the video and slide the time forward to roughly the 41 minute mark.
If the above doesn't work there is also an online Tarzan and the Huntress video available that is viewable free and without downloading that has been online for a very long time, albeit with an overlay to the soundtrack in Russian or some such language. If you click the MUTE on your computer, go to the page, and slide the video time to the 41 minute mark the glider scene will come up. Click HERE.
The image you clicked to come here that depicts a winged-man flying is from the long running television series Bonanza, more specifically, Season 6 Episode 20 titled The Ponderosa Birdman, first shown February 7, 1965. The man in flight is supposed to be Hoss Cartwright, played by actor Dan Blocker in the series, although thought to be stuntman Bill Clark in the photo. In the series Hoss is one of three sons of the widowed family patriarch Ben Cartwright of which the series circulates around. For a rather comprehensive plot summery of that particular episode please see the following review by Susan Grote:
EPISODE: PONDEROSA BIRDMAN
The photo above depicts a U.S. Army paratrooper with, for whatever reason, both the 35 foot in diameter primary or main chute fully deployed on the right, at the same time as the smaller front mounted 24 foot in diameter secondary or reserve chute is open. Typically the reserve chute would NOT be deployed unless there was a malfunction or failure with the main chute. Having both chutes fully deployed and fully functional at the same time is highly unusual. The smaller of the two parachutes in the photo is the same type chute I used on Mount Davidson.
Three or so years later, 1970 in fact, under invite, I went with my uncle to the home of the author of over 100 cowboy and western books, Louis L'Amour. L'Amour and my uncle met back in the mid 1920s in New Mexico when my uncle found him crossing the desert alone after seeing his brother in Oklahoma on his way to Phoenix, Arizona to find his parents.
In passing I brought up having been in Virginia City a few years before. L'Amour, always the consummate story teller, regaled my uncle and I with a couple of tales regarding the Comstock and Virginia City. He told us at one time he worked at the Katherine Mine in Colorado and there met some old timers who had worked the mines in the heyday of Virginia City's mining boom. They passed on a number of stories, a couple of which he told us that day and which, if I remember correctly, ended up eventually in his biography Education of A Wandering Man (1989). So too, he wrote a book titled Comstock Lode (1981) that drew a lot of knowledge from those same conversations with the old timers. I don't recall if during our conversations in 1970 if I mentioned the 'Washoe Zephyr' or not, but in Comstock Lode, Chapter XXII, he mentions the Zephyr thus:
"All night long the wind blew. Stones rattled like hail against the walls and on the roofs of Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City. The walls leaned away from the wind, and newcomers worried about their roofs and lay awake, frightened.
"The longtime residents on Sun Mountain slept soundly, accustomed to the rattle of stones and the awesome sounds of the Washoe Zephyr. Their roofs might also go, but they knew there was no use losing sleep over it. Only the men in the mines were safe, and they had other things about which to worry."
In 1974 I returned to see L'Amour a second time, sans uncle, to discuss an antique firearm he was extremely interested in that my stepmother owned, a firearm that showed up repeatedly as his weapon of choice in many of the stories he wrote. The firearm, a six shot .44 caliber handgun made by Colt was the largest, heaviest black-powder revolver they ever made, known infamously throughout the west as the:
1847 COLT WALKER
In Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery I write about how I was brought before the presence of a very old and ancient man of Zen who had come down out of the rarified atmosphere of the high Himalaya mountains and asked to see the monk who was said to be under the protection of the Lord Buddha. Because of respect paid him by all, plus the serenity he seemed to abide in, it was clear the old man was Enlightened. After meeting him, there was something about him that would just not let go and it continued to gnaw at me for the longest time. Months went by. Finally, when the weather turned such that I could, I sought out the old man, visiting him at what was not much more than a stone-pile hut along the edge of a stream.
In Zen Monastery, other than saying that I went to see the old man I do not elaborate on any travails I may have encountered getting to his hut or on my return. In Hope Savage I relate to the readers basically the same story except that I interject more ordeal-like aspects encountered during my journey. To wit:
"Going to and from his abode was a very arduous several day trek, much of it through rugged and steep very high altitude territory. A good portion of the trail followed along side a series of streams that may or may not have been the same one, that was sometimes rushing and other times placid depending on the steepness or flatness of the terrain."
Even though the Zen-man and I were not able to communicate verbally in the standard way because neither of us had command of each other's languages, he as a man of Zen as were my leanings, for all practical purposes the two of us were quite comfortable in how we had established a working relationship of understanding between us. However, not operating at his level, for me there remained many more unanswered questions than answered ones.
In the mountains generally it was out-and-out cold, but in the rarified higher elevation where we were it was even more so. Even so, considering the usual outside nighttime temperature drop, with the tiny almost candle-like fire in his stone hut, it was typically bearable.
The day before I was to leave we spent a good part of the daylight hours scrounging around for burnable material. To me the amount we gathered seemed much more than would otherwise be necessary, but what I found even more odd was that we left nearly half or more of what we collected neatly stacked at the long abandoned stone hut he had shown me a few days before.
After returning to his hut and leaving the rest of the material we gathered, we put a little food, a few utensils and tea in a shoulder bag then went back to the abandoned hut before sundown for reasons to me unclear. After arrival we ate, then in the declining if not all but gone sunlight he searched around and found what at one time appeared to have been a fire pit. Following his lead the two of us put together a fairly good sized, considering what his fires were usually like, almost pyre-like pile of combustibles. With the sunlight gone and total darkness having fully encroached on us by the time we finished the Zen-man lit the fire.
We sat in meditation facing each other across the fire on an east-west axis with me facing east toward what would eventually be the location of the rising sun. At some point into our meditation, and non-Siddhi related, there was somehow a coalescing of our mind processes forming a single mental entity where we both able to understand each other's thoughts.
In the thoughts he was willing to share he revealed he had spent many, many years as a young man on the other side of time in Gyanganj, but one day he passed through the monastery portals to the outside world and when he did, he became an old man. Before the full abilities of the thought exchange phenomenon faded into oblivion I brought up, considering his age, about the arduous trip back and forth through the mountains to and from the monastery for example, and how, even for me in my somewhat comparable youth and the physical condition that accompanies it, how difficult it was. What I garnered as a response was that I travel my way and he travels his way.
The next morning the Zen-man was gone. So too, neither was he to be found when I returned to his hut, although I did find a rolled up piece of cloth tied to the strap of my shoulder bag. Marked on the cloth, most likely done so from the burnt end of a wooden stick, were four Chinese cuneiform characters, one in each corner and, filling most of the center, the outline of some sort of a shape I didn't recognize.
When the four Chinese characters were deciphered they turned out to mean nothing more than colors: red, yellow, green and black. The outlined shape in the center remained a mystery and meant nothing to anybody who saw it. The mystery however, was solved on its own some 15 years later, a period of time that found me living in the Caribbean island country of Jamaica, and was solved almost on the first day I arrived for what turned out to be a two year stay. So too was answered, before I left the island, my comment regarding how arduous the trip back and forth through the mountains was and his response that I travel my way and he travels his way.
The first part was answered right after leaving the airport to the train station. Almost immediately I saw a giant map of Jamaica and instantly I recognized the shape of the island as being the exact same shape the Zen-man drew on the cloth some 15 years before, an island or place he probably never saw or heard of in his life. Secondly, on my train ride through the cities and hinterland I saw all over, again and again the dominant colors of red, yellow, green and black in the graffiti adopted from the country of Africa and used by the Rastafarians in the graffiti that was plastered all over on almost every available open space. Those two eye-openers along with my experience high in the mountains with a Jamaican man of spells called an Obeah led to the meaning behind how the Zen-man traveled those so many years earlier as found in the following:
THE WANDERLING'S JOURNEY