Over the last two weeks I’ve been rereading The Dharma Bums in preparation for my own western adventures. What really struck me, and I remember thinking this as a kid when I first read the book, is that Kerouac has two months of enlightenment while atop a mountain in northwestern Washington, and yet this is the shortest segment of the book (only ten pages long). The pages leading up to it actually feel like Kerouac is rushing to the end. Rushing to have his book finished and sent out to the publisher. But it’s more than that. The description of this enlightenment is mostly about the changes of weather and has a hard time making much sense to anyone because it’s written in an emotional internal non-narrative. It’s as if he has a hard time describing what he got up there, so he just starts describing everything at once: him singing to himself, the 60 sunsets he sees, the feeling of open air, storms passing by, trees shifting, the mice that live in the attic, etc.
I can relate this to my own experiences on top of mountains. After Vermont, I spent 6 months telling people about what I saw and what I felt before I finally was able to write it down. But even then I hit a very big snag. There are no words to truly describe the little death in all its glory. And even if the words can be found the memory moves further and further away from clarity as your current self rejoins society and the every day life away from your natural flow. It is like having two realities. In the one you understand anything and everything and for a moment all of it is still. In the other you are rushed around and really inconsequential things become so frustrating, the only reprieve is sometimes found in drink.
Oh Kerouac, you are my brother still. Together we are Zen Lunatics. Together we make tall tales out of the simple things other people overlook. And when we tell our stories, people look at us and tell us “Yes. Duh. Of course,” and refer us to a more “elevated”, pretentious source. But Kerouac, you and I are humble giants and we enjoy our childlike enthusiasm over dumb things others have explored.
Because this is life, isn’t it?
And life is full of joy!