If sixty-nine is an intimate number, lover and beloved curled up together, yin and yang, light and shadow, all of that…then what can we say of ninety-six? A number of estrangement, back to back and curled up in silence, lovers who no longer speak?
For me 96 is not like that. There is a song I heard once, years ago, from a group called the Whammadiddle Dingbats, but it’s originally by a chap named Dillon Bustin. It begins thus:There is a highway, runs to the country.
California Highway 96, which runs from Willow Creek up to I5 out past Happy Camp (where everyone is a Happy Camper as long as you don’t make that joke), passes through Weitchpec on its way. Just north of town lies a certain turnout, from which a gravel road winds its way past an old ranch house and through a disused corral filled with rusting fridges and washing machines. If you unlock the chain across the road (closed with the rancher’s trick of interlocking padlocks, so everyone has his own key) and drive on up the mountain, taking the correct turn at every fork, you come to a turnout on the right, with a flat spot to park your car. The old road, cut long ago by a drunkard, has washed out in a dozen places: walk it now, don’t drive. Peer over the side of the bank at the concrete blocks, still shaped like the bags that got left out in the rain. Beware the rattlesnakes and the black widows, and don’t step in the poison oak or the bear scat. At a certain place, unmarked, turn left and head into the trees. The path, barely traceable under the fallen leaves, descends sharply through close-grown Doug firs and tan oaks before emerging at the edge of a landslide. If you’re lucky, you can just see a cabin in among the trees to your left. Come on a winter evening, and maybe the smoke will be drifting out of the tin chimney. Maybe the kerosene lamps will be shining in the windows.
It is always thus in my dreams.The snake in the cellar, the mouse in the cupboard,
Much later, it occurs to me that I should supply the name of the song. It’s Moonshine in the White Pines.