excerpts from

Three Years
on the
Nowhere Road

I settle in for a solitary winter

I remained in that shelter on the Calawah, six miles outside of Forks, for the rest of the winter. Now that I was divorced I no longer needed to send money back to Illinois, which meant that, after I had saved up a small nest egg to cover my minimal needs through the winter, I could quit working for a couple of months and not have to face the long, cold walk to the mill each morning. I concentrated on building up a supply of dry firewood and making my shelter more homelike by building a bookcase to go at the head of my sleeping platform and fashioning several handsplit cedar boxes with leather hinges, for clothes and general storage.

In those long weeks above the Calawah, spent mostly alone, huddled by the stove and gazing out at the all-but-endless rain, it was difficult not to succumb to a serious funk. Whenever the rain relented, I took long climbing hikes into the foothills, seeking out eminences with extended views of the country, that helped me gain a wider perspective on my life. I also, sporadically, practiced yoga and breathing exercises. I even tried meditation every so often, but wasn't much good at it.

More days than not, the rain was relentless. Now and then I was able to catch a ride to Port Angeles, whenever a few tree-planter friends put together an expedition to the “big city” for supplies. For me, Port Angeles, above all, meant books, and I very quickly located two or three first-rate bookstores--- both used and new. Even the food co-ops carried books on eastern mysticism, which was one of my serious interests in those days.

I soon realized that my worst enemy was my own thoughts and that they could take me into morbid, self-destructive places that it was hard to find my way back out of. And so I read. And read. And kept on reading. The wonderful thing about wilderness solitude was the long stretches of time it afforded: the uninterrupted hours and days when you could read one long book after another for as long as you liked, whenever you liked. I had to lay in firewood and I had to walk into town for basic supplies every week or two, and I did a great deal of hiking and hill-climbing and exploring the river and its tributaries and miles of coastline, but I always carried two or three books in my backpack, and no matter what else I was doing, I always found time to read. In poor weather I would read all day and in fine weather I would still read several hours a day. My time was entirely my own and I made the most of it.

During that winter of solitude, as I reconciled myself to having lost my wife and my home, and strove to keep my thoughts and moods from spiraling into the Abyss, I read Thoreau's Walden and Winter Journal, some of Emerson's essays, Kerouac's Desolation Angels and The Dharma Bums, Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, Rand's Atlas Shrugged, all of Gary Snyder's poetry, Chuang Tzu's Tao Te Ching, Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Blythe's Volume 4 (Autumn-Winter) of Haiku, Niehardt's The Song of Hugh Glass and Black Elk Speaks, Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, essays by Krishnamurti., Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, parts of the Bhagavad Gita, Merton's The Seven Story Mountain, Seeds of Contemplation, and The Desert Fathers, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Watts' The Way of Zen, Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men, Trungpa's Cutting through Spiritual Materialism, parts of the New Testament, the Psalms, the Book of Job, two or three books about the Tarot, Jeffers' Cawdor and Other Poems, Sandoz's Crazy Horse: the Strange Man of the Oglalas, Waters' Book of the Hopi and Cochise's The First Hundred Years of Nino Cochise, as well as other books I can no longer call to mind. I may have read some of these after I left the Calawah, but they were all read during the year that I was on the Peninsula, and most of them that winter.

It was there in that primitive shelter overlooking the Calawah River in the early winter months of 1973 that I began my life as a poet (see the next chapter). For all the disorganised eclecticism of my reading, a central theme was beginning to take form: at least two dozen of the books I read that winter dealt with ideas of Nature, and it was Nature that would provide the underlying conceptual bedrock for virtually all my poetry for the next half century.

And speaking of Nature . . . the bookcase at the head of my sleeping platform that was my great solace that winter, and the home of my embryonic library, was also home to a small surreptitious rodent whom I never laid eyes upon and who had an extremely irritating way of announcing its presence. The first time it happened I was dead asleep. The wee beastie, whatever it was, lived somewhere just behind my books. Being a creature of the night, it chose the small hours to work on lining its nest and, to its great good fortune, the perfect nesting material was just inches away from its front door--- its front door being a small gap between two books on the bottom shelf that was next to my head, and the prize nesting material being the great mass of soft, curly, shoulder-length hair growing out of my scalp.

As I say, the first time this happened I was dead asleep. Dead asleep one moment and sitting bolt upright the next, with a sharp pain at the top of my skull where a tiny mouthful of hair had been wrenched out by the roots. After the fourth or fifth time, I had the bright idea of sleeping in a hat--- only I didn't own a hat, so I slept with my head wrapped in a towel like Lawrence of Arabia.

More excerpts from
Three Years on the Nowhere Road
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Off to the wilderness

A bus from the Twilight Zone

I am picked up, then dumped

On a dark, deserted highway,
the kindness of a stranger

My first ride in a logging truck

Forks, logging capitol of the world

To a camp on the Calawah

Job Interview

Up before dawn, a logger’s breakfast

My first day at the mill

A dip in the river

Working deck at the mill,
and almost losing a hand

To a new camp, further downriver

Robert Lee:
the old logger who lived in a box

The Dickey River People

When a barrel stove becomes a cannon

Alone at last

At the outfitters

On Christmas Day, I am flooded out

At the mill, I am promoted to splitter

Encounter with a sasquatch?

A scene out of Dr. Zhivago

I settle in for a solitary winter

Hanshan, the mad hermit poet

Hiking the coastline with a tomcat

A night on a seastack

I join an encampment of friends
on a tributary of the Hoh

Calling at the country estate
of Robert Lee, Esq.

Visiting around the Peninsula
in Robert Lee's 2-gear sedan

A visit to a Makah family on Neah Bay

These opening chapters represent
about 20% of the entire book,
which I hope to release
later this winter.

BJ Omanson
Nov 2021