Sunday Mornings is a story about an aging teacher, Jack, who struggles against the mechanical processes that narrow our lives in a set direction. Written in the autobiographical style of Henry Miller each chapter gives a time-photograph of Jack’s attempt to reach a different reality. We follow Jack up to the California badlands where he meets a pack of wild coyotes and discovers that he is not yet ready to step between the crack in the world. He takes us to a Santa Cruz concert where the music goes round and round and he gets blown into a different reality. We travel with him in a fear ridden cab ride through the dark streets of downtown Oakland, and go a trip to the moon that leads to his North Philly home where he meets an Old Boxer and Remembers Himself in night time dreams
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By Jack Daley
Dedicated to those family members and friends who served as models for this work of pure fiction
Chapter One Sunday Morning Coyote
A lone black crow stretches the eastern horizon as he wings his way over row after row of green leafed wine grapes, over the almond orchards, across the Stanislaus River, above acres and acres of alfalfa, sugar beets, and housing developments, over the rangeland, and all the way to the twin peaks of Mt. Diablo some fifty miles away. Time-space unfolds in every direction. The buzz of 6 A.M. traffic curving north and south on Ninety-Nine echoes across the rooftops. In the east, beyond the Sierra Nevada, the sun is just rising.
Focusing on the twin peaks of Diablo, I remember the coyotes and realize that the seeing back then was far short of the seeing that Krishnamurti speaks of; a seeing which can only happen when thought is dead, when there is no experiencer, no experience. "The seeing is of the highest importance. This seeing is out of time-space; it's immediate, instantaneous. And, what's seen is never the same again. There is no again or in the mean time," says Krishnamurti.
My seeing back then was more an effort at concentration where I focused on external events mostly with one center, often mistaking thought, the word, for reality, seeing through the image that thought created.…
The seeing, though, was the culmination of my whole six years on that Byron sheep ranch. Actually more than six years, because moving to that hundred-year-old farmhouse in seventy-three kind of finished up the sixties for me. I mean, there I was completing a decade's study of Henry Miller, getting deeper into Krishnamurti and Castaneda, working on the novel, painting an occasional watercolor, recording my dreams, practicing meditation.… There I was fitting into the non-work day most of what I had dreamed of doing when the sixties began and we split for Alaska. And, even though I was looking at the world through the image I had created, I did get a glimpse of reality from time to time, a glimpse that was apart from the image through which it filtered.…
It seems like there are stages that we must live through in our journey to manhood. In the first, like so many of our generation, I set out to find, "What it's all about, man, " to "Experience every experience!" And, it didn't take long to discover that earning a living is what it is all about in twentieth century America. For a time, at least, the inner man must give way. Lucky for me, in the back of my mind always is Henry Miller's dictum that earning a living has nothing to do with living. Living, discovering one's own true identity, is all that we can do in life. So, our worldly occupation must support our real work.
The first stage then is gathering impressions, knowledge, experience, building the self-image. It is becoming a man, learning to earn your way in life. The second stage, which I began to experience with the coyotes, is partially one of gathering, but also one of seeing the false in what one has. It’s when you begin to awaken to what you really are. And, the third stage, which is still to come, is dying to all that is known. It’s maturing beyond what we would normally call manhood into another level. Only then, does the real journey begin.
But, the coyotes. The coyotes.… It's an early Sunday morning in October. Jogging in the badlands behind our house, I stop at an irrigation pipe to tighten a shoelace. To the top, and then head home, I tell myself as I straighten my six-foot frame, and look across the winding uphill dirt road to where it crests about fifty yards away. A pair of ears shows over the crest. Jack rabbit? I wonder as I look down at Bingo and Fluff. The half sized sheep dogs circle at my feet as if they don't see the ears.
When I look up again, a black and white coyote trots into view. He takes a dozen steps down hill, and stops. I lift my glasses and rub my eyes in disbelief. He stands staring. I know he sees me; he's looking straight at me. Not a sound as he eyes me up and down.
I return my glasses, and the coyote starts back down the hill. Thinking of Don Juan’s magical deer, I wonder if I shouldn't stand on my head or something. The coyote keeps coming. As the distance between us shortens, I'm certain he intends to walk right to me. Each footfall brings him closer, closer. I stand transfixed. The animal gives off a feeling of friendly curiosity with a complete absence of fear. And for a moment, I lose all sense of fear myself. There is just the animal, the dirt road, the rangeland, the blue sky.…
The yelping of several other animals breaks the silence. Must be a whole pack, I tell myself. Down the hill he comes still closer. Maybe he's not a coyote. Maybe he's a wild dog. Maybe he's rabid, I think as a cartoon wild animal bare fangs flashing leaps for my throat. The coyote keeps coming. I hold my ground until he's less than thirty feet away, and then bring my hands together in two loud claps. He spins in his tracks and dashes back to the top of the hill. There, he turns to face me.
A string of yelps bursts from the dried up water hole to my left, and then from the rangeland to my right. The coyote looks down on me. Time ticks slowly. A movement to my left catches my attention. Just below the abandoned grass covered road this side of the water hole is a second coyote. He slinks away from me toward the third butte his belly touching the ground. I watch until he disappears behind the rocks on the up hill-slope. From the rangeland, the yelping comes closer. The black coyote still stares. I clap my hands together twice more. He turns and trots over the hill. With his exit, the yelping stops, and I begin cussing myself out for being a cowardly bastard. You should have let him come closer, I tell myself and think how don Juan would have said, "You blew it!"
It's later the same day. I'm sitting across from Alex at his place in Waterford. I take another sip of coffee and describe my morning meeting. "It was miraculous. I actually stepped through the crack in the world. Entered a different reality. If I hadn't become afraid, I'm sure the coyote would have walked right to me. I could have reached down and touched him. He would have talked to me. You know, for a minute there, the world actually stopped. My visual perception expanded a hundred fold. And, everything came into scale; the vastness of the outspreading rangeland, how tiny I stood in relationship. Like, I wasn't even there. It was like one of those visions that you get inside your head where the color keeps expanding and exploding and expanding and there's no inside or outside. There is only the brilliance."
"Krishnamurti writes of a similar experience,” Alex tells me. “You may have read it. It's always stuck with me because it was the first time I saw him describe the experience of, what would you call it, awakening?… Anyway, in the dialogue, a man in his early thirties tells Krishnamurti how he got out of bed one morning and found everything as if he were seeing it for the first time. He went through his ordinary every day routine, getting dressed, going out for a walk.… But, space-time no longer existed in its usual way. All that he saw or touched seem to glow with some inner energy. He stopped in front of a flower shop where he seemed to spend an eternity experiencing the very essence of each flower. He describes his morning to Krishnamurti, and then explains that his whole life is now devoted to recapturing that experience. Krishnamurti tells him that when the experience came, he wasn't looking for it. And, that one can never experience the real until the search.… Until all the voices are silent.
"If you go into an experience in imitation of someone even as worthy as Castaneda, it will be imagination and not the real," Alex says as he reaches for the ash trey.
" But, all the voices were silent.… No, no.… If they were, I would have reached down and petted him."
" Yea, and he would have bit your hand off," Alex laughs.
What a difference between a Sunday morning trek in the Badlands, back then, and the Monday morning world of work. It wasn't until late afternoon at our faculty meeting that I got a chance to speak of the coyotes again. I tell Ida, "I think the silver and black animal is a magic coyote. If I had let him come closer, he would 'a talked to me."
"That's unreal," Ida answers wringing her hands together. "That's what you should be writing about. No one ever see things like that."
"Well, I did jot it down in my notebook. I do keep a journal on my experiences up there. You know, it's hard to believe. Just an hour east of the city. So close that when the fog blows into San Francisco we feel the change in the weather. Yet, we're surrounded by sheep and cattle, real working cowboys for neighbors, eucalyptus trees full of crows.… And, now, a magic coyote!
"You know, how Castaneda says that there are separate realities. He argues that we accept this reality only because we are taught to do so from the moment of birth. Up there, I think I've come very close to entering a different dimension. Another world where all the laws are different. I mean, when you stop to think about it, the world we accept as real is so absurd, so contradictory, so make believe that it hardly makes sense at all.…"
"Now wait a minute. I don't think I can agree with you there," Ida tells me as tiny wrinkles in her dark skinned face smooth with self-assurance. "It's not that difficult for me to know what's real. Reality is right here," she says tapping bright red fingernails on the table. "Reality is the shitty six graders I have to face every day. It's going home tonight and having to put up with O.T.’s bullshit," she says and explains that she and her boy friend are having problems again. He suspects her of sleeping with someone else. She caught him searching her purse and the bedside table. He's even followed her a couple times. She explains that there's only this one other guy that she's seeing.
Before she can go any deeper, Pearson, our science teacher, joins us. His blue oxford shirt bunches over a wide brown belt. "I'll tell you," he says, "I'm so glad we adopted that assertive discipline program. It really does work. It's completely eliminated all my behavior problems.…"
"That's what I was afraid of when I voted against it," I interrupt. "Sure it works. If you nail a kid every time he breaks the rules that you've explained and posted all over the room, he'll obey.…"
"You teach them the rules. When they break them they pay the consequences. What could be fairer than that?"
"Yea, but they do so out of fear. And, what does fear do to our attempts to communicate? There's already too much fear.…"
"Ahhh come on, Daley a little fear never hurt no one. At least we're getting their attention. If you have to knock a few heads together to get their attention, that's what you have to do.…"
I nod my head, raise an eyebrow at Ida, and let Pearson ramble on. Do we ever stop and ask ourselves the whole purpose of education? I ask myself. If the function of education is to give our children the skills that will help them to live freely and without fear, assertive discipline is counter to our very purpose. When will we learn that one never learns through fear?
Before I can answer myself, Heinmann, our principal coughs and calls the meeting to order. "Number one on the agenda is the revision of the chain of command procedure that the departmental communications committee adopted last week," he tells us and points to the chart.
The coyote drifts farther and farther into the back of my mind as my week's work takes hold of me. Though it is only mid October, already my sixth graders have lost the genuine enthusiasm that they began the year with. Their work is hurried, turned in just to get it done with no care or pride in workmanship, no originality. Even though I've gone through it a thousand times before, though I know how impossible it is to take thirty plus kids who are crammed into a classroom against their will and get them excited about learning, I still get pangs of conscience. I tell myself I have to make some contact with them.
Tuesday morning, I try to put a little spark into my students. I ask them, "Why are we in school?" We do a circle diagram on the board together listing all their reasons for attendance. "Because it's the law." "To learn and get a good education." "To get a good paying job." "To be with my friends." "To give me self confidence." "Because my mother would kill me if I wasn't." This last one gets a laugh and we try to go a little deeper. Almost everyone agrees that the most important reason for being in school is to prepare for working life.
In a circle meeting on Wednesday, I ask, "Is that all there is to life, earning a living? Are we in school just so we can get a good job?" In our discussion, several students decide that there may be something more to life, that maybe we have some unique characteristics that could be developed, that there are mysteries to be solved. Several students let down their guard for a moment and show some real depth. We write on the board that we are not in school to work for our teacher, or our parents, but to work for a better understanding of ourselves. I think they're beginning to get it, I tell myself.
Then, they begin their written response. Five or six hands shoot up at once. "I still don't know what I'm suppose to write," Mike tells me as I bend over his desk.
"Well, where's your notes? We've been taking notes for two days. Read them over, and add your own thoughts. Tell us why you come to school every day."
Several more hands are raised. "Tomorrow's cheer leader try-outs. Are you gonna vote for me, Mr. Daley?" Sara asks as I kneel at her desk and peek at her empty page.
"Come on, you need to get started. Beside, I'm not gonna judge this year. I have to do student council.… Now, why are you in school? Why do you come every day?"
"So, I can practice cheer leading," She tells me.
"Good, write about that," I say as I run a hand through her long brown hair, and take a quick peek at flashing green eyes. "Besides, you’ll make it. You're the best.…" The talking behind me increases. I turn around and heads bend back to their papers. A wad of paper flies from the second row to the trashcan. "Hey, who threw that?" I yell and instead of waiting for an answer continue; "You know we’re not suppose to throw anything in the classroom." Back at the water fountain several students whisper in line. There's another line at the pencil sharpener.
"How do you spell professional," from the next student.
"You wait five minutes with your hand in the air instead of looking it up," I scream and write the word on the top of his paper. I glance across at the next desk and see that Jason is drawing another detailed scene of a W.W.II air battle. At the chalkboard, I write his name, and add Matt's and Anthony's. Matt turns back to his work. "How come you never put a girl's name up?" Anthony asks. I put a check by his name. He shakes his head, crumples his paper, and sits with folded arms. A couple more names on the board and the students settle down a little. When I stoop to help Tim, I see that he is copying word for word from his notes. I explain that it's not enough to just recopy what we wrote on the board.
"Hey, that's pretty good, Jimmy. You need a little more detail, though. How will different subjects help you become a better motorcycle mechanic? How will reading skills help? Math? English?" I ask and looking across the aisle spy Becky unfolding a note.
"Read it out loud," someone offers as I take the note and write Becky’s name under Steve’s. "Can I use the restroom?" the next student asks.
"Mr. Daley! Mr. Daley! When’s my turn?" calls Tammy.
"Don't call my name! Can't you see there are hundreds of hands up, and you call my name," I shout as I take a quick glance at the clock.
"Do we have to write a good copy?" from someone else.
"I've been waiting twenty minutes," Mary tells me as I kneel at her desk. The noise level begins to shoot up again while I explain that she has a good start, but needs to add more detail. She tells me she's going out for cheerleader and asks if I think she'll make it. "We'll have at least two of you in the class," I answer. Toward the wall, Ashley and Jamie are pointing at Mark and giggling. He has his head on the desk sound asleep "Let him sleep, at least he's quiet," I tell the giggling girls.
"Mrs. Dunbar doesn't make her class write good copies," a voice calls.
"Scotty jabbed me with his pencil!" calls another voice.
"Well, he wrote on my paper," Scotty screams as I walk to the chalkboard. "Oh, it's all right for him to write on my paper. I ain't staying. You got to give us time to eat.…" Scotty continues as I write his name and add two checks.
By Thursday, the students are even more caught up in their writing effort, and I'm just as much caught up in the correcting. They have forgotten all about working for themselves, and so have I. They're whining and pouting. I'm threatening and writing names. By Friday, I'm totally identified. They are the students. I am the teacher. The assertive discipline rules are underlined. At end of the day, I drive home in a deep coma. I figure it's got to be my fault. Tell myself I have to work harder. Saturday, it takes all day and most of the night to put myself back together again.
Sunday morning, I steer my dogs through the barbed wire fence at the end of our road wondering why I ever went into teaching. What a waste of time and effort. You'll never make ‘em think for themselves How are you going to teach six graders that real work is work on the spiritual aspect of one's self.… The inner self.… Christ, they can't even read and write. How do you make them understand that they have to work on themselves, for themselves? They're only children.… It's the worst place in the world to be.… I'm telling myself.
As my footsteps hit the rain softened earth, in one voice I'm moaning the fact that I'll never make it as a writer, that I'll be stuck with the god dammed sixth graders for the rest of my life. And in another, I'm trying to shut off internal dialogue. And, then, all the voices stop. I curl my fingers and let the morning silence enter. To the west several hundred acres of green irrigated pasture give way to the yellow-brown of fenced range land that runs all the way to the twin peaks of Mt. Diablo some twenty miles distant. As my head empties out, I get more and more into my body, into my running, into the surrounding rangeland. A rabbit darts across the road, and climbs into the mixture of wild oats and barley that lines the twenty-foot high butte to my left. Like a shot, Bingo takes off after him. Knowing better than to call him back, I look down at Fluff, now too old for the chase, and ask her why she didn't teach her son better. Taking the turn at the irrigation ditch, I pick up a little speed. My breath comes faster as I get into the rhythm of my body and the feel of my foot falls on the rain-softened earth.
I run the hundred-yard length of the ditch and start the up hill climb to the second butte. The sun breaks from behind an enormous cloud and spills its light on the grasses. The hill gets steeper. Lowering my head, I pick a path between clumps of yellow-gray prairie grass that spreads the upper slope. Clearing the top, I gain momentum, sprint for some fifty yards, and then slow to a walk. Out of nowhere, Bingo comes tearing by my right hand side. Figuring he's still on the rabbit, I shoot a glance in front of him and nearly swallow my heart. There, just a dog's length away is a half grown red and white coyote going for all he's worth.
"Bingo! Bingo!" I command patting one hand against my leg. He ignores my call and continues the chase covering some hundred feet before turning inland. I look down at Fluff who is still at my left hand leg, and there, by God, comes a second coyote. Acting like he doesn't see me, he trots right by. I watch him for fifty yards or so until he disappears into a gully. When I look back at Bingo, he and the first coyote are fading into the same gully. I picture the two animals ganging up on Bingo, and then it strikes me. Except for my call, there hasn't been a single sound. Not a yelp from Bingo. Not a whine from Fluff. Not a cry from either coyote. If I hadn't seen 'em I’d’ a never known they were there, I tell myself.
A killdeer calls out to break the silence. I shift my feet and wonder what to do. What will Vickie say if you come home and tell her a coyote killed her dog? I ask myself and start off towards the low spot. In a minute or so, I spy Bingo going full speed towards the fence line. Now, the coyote is chasing him. I watch for forty feet or so until they disappear into another hollow. When I cover another fifty yards, Bingo reappears running towards me. Not a mark on him, as I rub my hands through black and brown fur, not a hair out of place. They must’ a been playing. Jus' playing, I tell myself.
“Well, old boy you'll have something to tell your grandchildren,” I tell Bingo as we angle toward the dirt road that parallels the fence line. "Might as well finish our run," I tell Fluff as we pick up the pace. When we're almost at the dirt road, we slow to a walk. High white clouds are breaking up overhead. On the other side of the fence, knee high yellow barley waves in the wind. Silence sings through the grasses and holds me for a long moment. Then, in the middle of the field, a third coyote appears. Full grown, he's hopping through the grasses on his hind legs just like a jackrabbit. Jesus Christ, I tell myself staring in disbelief. The animal takes several more hops and lands on all fours. We stare eye to eye. At first I think he must be the same animal that came over the hill last week. But, this animal's fur is red, dark red with big patches of white. I glance down at the dogs and to my surprise; they act like they don't even see the coyote. They're sniffing the ground at my feet. A gust of wind lifts the hair off the collar of my blue work shirt. The prairie wolf turns to his left.
Two more coyotes, about fifty feet apart, are hopping across the field on their hind legs just like the first was. For a second or so, thinking back to the younger animals, I'm afraid the pack is trying to surround me. Craning my neck right, I see nothing but miles of wind blown grasses. When I return eyes front, the three animals are dead still watching. Less than thirty feet separates me from the closest animal. He could clear that fence in less than a leap, I tell myself.
Minutes tick slowly. "That cubic centimeter of chance," rings through my mind as the coyotes stand like statues. Then, the lead coyote turns his head left and holds. As if following his command, the other two animals spin in their tracks and march across the meadow. In seconds, they're over a rise and out of sight. The remaining animal turns back and rivets his eyes on me. I marvel at how bright and healthy looking he is. Not at all like the dusty gray coyote that I remember from the zoo. In the story, “The Shadow of a Rainbow,” the leader was a she wolf, I tell myself and wonder if this animal is female also.
Not a sound as the dogs circle out a dozen feet or so. A flight of cliff swallows flash overhead. I shift my eyes to watch their play in the wind. White clouds and blue sky stretch out the horizon. The coyote turns sideways and lies down. Wind gusts through the full-headed barley so that sometimes she disappears altogether. At other times her features show so distinctly that they seem to be magnified. Time-space disappears. With intense curiosity, she studies the strange intruder who interrupted her morning hunt. Her eyes shine with a deep intelligence, an intelligence that mirrors her surroundings. Clod after clod of brown earth, stalk after stalk of yellow barley, even the individual seed stands out with striking clarity. And, as our eyes meet and hold the silence deepens, and in the silence, there is no separation.
The earth rotates beneath us until I hear the call for Sunday morning breakfast. Better head home. Anne and the kids will be wondering where you're at, a voice tells me. "So long dona Coyote. Nice to have made your acquaintance, " I tell the animal. She regains her feet. "See you next time," I say and turn to leave. After a dozen steps, I turn back to wave another good-bye. The she-wolf nods her head once and turns to the foothills.
When I jog into the driveway, Milligan is climbing out of his new Dodge pick-up. Breaking to a walk, I detour to the barn, and call good morning. We discuss how happy we are to see the first rains, and before I can say what just happened, Milligan goes into a monologue about the high costs of replacement parts for the irrigation pump he's rebuilding. I peek into his sun-leathered face. Small, dark black eyes meet mine and dart away. He pauses for my concurring nod to his statement that everyone tries to rip off the little man nowadays. "You'll never believe," I say instead and catch myself just in time as the memory of his losing battle with the coyotes runs through my mind.
I nod twice and his monologue picks up again. As Milligan explains how he's still in court, fighting the government over the price they gave for the piece he had to sell off, and how they didn't even want to pay what they agreed on which is way under market value; I remember his description of a pair of coyotes who got into the sheep right outside his backyard window; how they dropped six lambs before he could get out with his twenty-two rifle. "It wouldn't be so bad, you know, if they jus' killed what they ate. Grown one will down a lamb to teach the pups. Get in the sheep and they kill for the fun of it. Never eat the whole thing. You know, just the heart and liver, and leave the rest. It's always the fattest and healthiest they go for.…" he told me.
While Milligan explains how the tax structure is keeping down the middle class, I recall his story of how he hunted the pair. He discovered how they came down from the government property through where the barbed wire is pushed down at the end of the road, jumped his fence, circled through the lower fields, crossed highway Four, and leaped the fence behind his house. Next morning, before sunrise, he's waiting in ambush. Somehow they know he's there. They take another path and down two lambs before he can get back across the road. That pair alone took more that thirty sheep over late summer and early fall. Trouble he had getting the state trapper to come out. Bleeding hearts who never lost a dime to coyotes push a law through the legislature that bans the use of ten-eighty poison. He has to petition for special exemption. Write letters describing his loss, send pictures. "When the trapper finally came out and set his baits, he took more than a dozen coyotes on that state property alone," Milligan told me. Yea, and, I can still remember, even today, jogging along the canal bank a few days after the poison was set and seeing the two black lab. pups their bodies bloated to twice their normal size stone dead.…
When I walk through the kitchen door, Anne, Stoke, and Vickie are just finishing breakfast. I sit down to cold bacon and eggs, and explain that Milligan held me up. "Did you ask him about fixing the roof?" Anne asks.
"No, I was gonna, but he started in on the pump he's rebuilding, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise.… You'll never believe what happened. I'm up on the second butte. You know, across from the irrigation ditch. Bingo goes running by. I figure he's chasing a jackrabbit. But it's a coyote! Young one ‘bout the same size as Bingo. Then, another one goes by so close I could’ a touched it.…"
"Bingo was chasing him!" Vickie asks with a ten year old’s enthusiasm.
"No, for real?" Stoke asks with an older brother's doubt.
"God damm it! If you showed as much interest in your family as you do in those dumb animals.… I knew you wouldn't ask Milligan about the roof. The carpets ruined from the rain last night. You know how long he takes to fix anything.…" Anne tells me her brown eyes sparking anger.
"The warrior takes every event as a challenge. Each blessing, each curse is a card dealt you by fate," Alex reads from the Egyptian clay and passes it to me.