Page 6


‘Authentic tidings of invisible things’ Those who have much to remember about Roy Bedichek are more fortunate than I, who am like a fool youth who might have feasted his mind on the talk of Socrates but spent his time instead in zealous plotting for a better Athens. Still, intermittently the last four years of his life I was one of the younger men whose intrusions Bedichek humored. He took pleasure in youth, perhaps because we illuminated his memories, and meant to him life that would go on after him, shaped by his ways ; for he was an emulable man. I have tried to emulate the way he timed his work and rest to “the rhythm of the natural day.” Rising at three or four, he began with an hour or two of reading “while slowly sipping a cup of weak coffee.” Then he stepped out of his house and trundling down the alley to his private place took counsel with the stars. “My hideout,” his workshed, was a room and garage half a block down the alley from the house. At once on cold mornings he started his wood fire in the pot-bellied iron stove in the center of the room. He sat in a hard-back wood. chair at his table; his guest took the rocker beside the stove. On his aged typewriter the keys looped up and landed on the cylinder like overhand haymakers. The walls were books, from the floor to the ceiling. I did not keep notes on the gifts he gave me there those few mornings recitations of verse, ideas from the past, his ideas, his enrichment of my ideas but had there been nothing but his telling me, “The most important thing a young man who needs solitude must do is get a place physically apart from his family, a place altogether his own. If only I had realized that sooner!”, still he would have strengthened my life. One morning we greeted on the southwest corner of the University of Texas campus. The grass in the sun was bright green; we sat beneath a venerable oak, on a cement bench there, and talked first of style among writers, toward which I, reluctantly aware that I had none, was vigorously venting my contempt. “Style,” I enunciated, “is the man.” He warmly agreed, and a little later in the conversation he advised me who had said so first. \(Memory accomodating ego, I I asked him his opinion on something I was doing that was troubling me. When I came across words I liked the sound of but either did not know or did not have, I was writing them down for going back to. Bedichek at once warned me that words consciously learned pop up later when they’re not appropriate and tempt you to twist your meaning to fit them in. I defended myself, though uneasily, by telling him about an image I had read of Dylan Thomas gathering in words new to him like a butterfly collector, and by describing my standards for accepting or rejecting words. In my notes I find an injunction, “Don’t use a word for its own sake.” Mr. Bedichek had the last but kindly laugh when, in a review of his Educational Competition, I disastrously misused a butterflyword I had collected. He wrote me a. two-page letter appreciating the review, never mentioning the mistake \(which came to my when I went over to apologize, he hardly let me finish and said laughing: “Don’t admit itblame it on the printer! All printers are liars anyway. Whenever I made a mistake on my paper in New Mexico, it was always a typographical error.” He knew that tension about mistakes meant tension about life. Once he wrote to deem]: me against my selfcriticism for neglecting, in part by failing to publish, a gifted. but eccentric Austin writer: “I have more cause for conscience concering this man than you have, but I don’t let my derelictions, real or fancied, dog me around.” I I The last summer of the drouth he took me into the hills and taught me how to camp. I still have my notes on his instructions \(I knew nothing, and he had to “Camp List “Coffee \(for water for dill. Flashlight; Spotlight; Refrigerator; Binoculars; 2 Pans-1 Dishes, 1 hands; Water Buckets; Detergent; Paper Towels; Bathing Towels; Knives, forks, & spoons; Butcher knife, big spoon; Chuck wagon with essentials; Beer, Sardines, & Lettuce; Axe; Pick Card Table \(with brown paper Sheets; Tarpaulins \(2 at least; Steaks; Chuck box; Back pack; Fishing Equipment; Look for desirable plantsGrubbing hoe and spadeGet all root & dirtPut in Stiff Pasteboard Boxes \(ReBreadboard; Compass; Books on Stars, Birds, Plants; Insect Repellant; Wind Break; Burn big log if rains; Rattlesnake Kit \(Stay We camped in a small grove of oak trees on a broken meadow. Across a clearing there was an abandoned one-room log cabin, 50 or 60 years old, with whose former inhabitants we commiserated; beyond, down an incline, were mysteries Bedichek reserved for the morning. He dug a trench in the ground a foot wide and several long and built therein a strong fire. After we set up the bedding he began methodically preparing supper \(he said he liked to linger over “scarThis was my introduction to sardines on lettuce with a cold beer, to his celery soup, and to potatoes and apples wrapped in wet brown paper, then in wet tinfoil, dipped in the water, and steamed in the coals. He washed the fruit first, and he completely soaked the paper before wrapping it around; he put the brown paper on. first because he believed tinfoil might impart ‘harmful chemicals to the food in the baking. In just such details as these, and with patience as natural as the alternating sounds and silences ‘A valuable part of Texas literature’ William A. Owens, Bedichek’s literary executor, suggests that persons who hold Bedichek letters deposit them, or copies of them, in. the archives library of the University of Texas. “They are a valuable part of Texas literature and should not be lost,” he states. of camp talk, he unanswerably reproached the clocks, traffic, agendas, vibrating appliances, fancy fishing lures, expensive boatsall the assorted urgencies of work and rest by which we mostly live. As the night became firm around us and the stars appeared we settled into steady talk across the fire. Women; the struggle for existence; psychiatry, in which he had a deliberately naive curiosity; public men; the contamination of vegetables by sprays in the fields and on the supermarket counters; literature; his early dayshis subjects mostly. Sometime before we went to bed we walked out into the clearing and he named many of the stars. I remember us, an old man and a young man, standing together on that balded clearing, looking at the full heavens and wondering on the vanities and illusions of mortal life. In the morning we began a routine we repeated the two or three days we were there. He took me around a stone field wall, past some kitchen middens \(grown over since the scientists `Every man has and must have contacts, but there are some areas, there are sacred places ; “in what concerns you much” you are alone.’ where a spring rose. He had brought us here because of this spring, the only fresh water for many miles around, and therefore an attraction for birds and animals as well as us. The rancher who owned the land had built a small water tank, about eight feet across and chest-high, in which to capture the flow. Bedichek said the spring had once been strong, and the ravine a flowing creek, but our visit, at the end of the drouth, there was only a timid run of water from an inset in the bank, some of it trickling over ground it blackened and disappeared in, the rest replacing the evaporation from the tank. He showed me the tracks of deer and squirrels in the mud from the night before, and then stationed us behind brush and trees across the ravine. We waited, the birds came, we looked at them through binoculars. Taking a tree census this trip for the rancher, he showed me hoW to tell the walnut from the pecan before the nuts appear, and some of the species of oak, and the like. We went down the ravine to a dry pebbled creekbed and, walking up one side, down the other, a lizard or two scurrying underfoot, we looked at every living thing. Spots of color I would have passed as weed-flowers, bloomless plants with dramatic futures, Bedichek named and noted. When a plant stumped him, he tested its characteristics against his key-books and usually figured out what it was but not always. During these forays I was overwhelmed by my ignorance of nature, but at least my resulting silence spared him its full catalogue. The heat rising, we would return about noon to the pond, strip, and dip ourselves into the cold, leafy water. Again we would talk: of Sam Houston, ancient Greece, sources of art, the question of beautyall the marvels, and women. I remember his old naked body, and his wet white mane. We would lie out to dry on the cement rim of the tank, an elm one side, a young sycamore the other, shading us. Once some birds came into the trees across the ravine, and then into the sycamore over my head, as we lay still in the shade, the only sounds the whirring of their wings. I had never been happier than lying there, a stone’s flip from an Indians’ campsite, and a life from the world as I had thought it had to be. I I I From our talks on this trip ensued an active correspondence of a month and a half. I sent him, on a point we had discussed, a remark by Thoreau in a letter in 1848: “In what concerns you much do not think that you have companions: know that you are alOne in the world.” He replied on October 20, 1956: Set the Thoreau quotation beside the verses I quoted to you from the Persian poet: ‘Do as thy manhood bids thee do,’ etc. You see both indicate the isolation of the person who means to amount to something in the world. Your man, Donne said ‘no man is an island’quite soevery man has and must have contacts, but there are some areas, there are sacred places; ‘in what concerns you much’ you are alone. The Persian’s verses he had quoted from memory, and then repeated that I might set them down: Do as thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause, He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his selfmade laws. All other life is living death, a realm % where none but phantoms dwell A mind, a breath, a sign, a voice, a tinkling of a camel’s bell. In a postscript Nov. 10, 1956, he wrote: “The star that chased Venus up the sky & finally passed her is her dad, Jupiter.” And Nov. 29 \(after quoting Goethe on Beranger as “a nature most happily endowed, firmly grounded in Bedichek added, in another postscript: The eastern heaven has been, \(during the past week 5:30 to tricks since the dying moon has entered the marathon with Venus and Jupiter up the sky. Sometime ago Jupiter passed Venus and has been gaining every he is quarter way up the heavens ahead. The dying moon appeared side by side with Jupiter ing and gradually fell behind until she was midway between the two planets. Venus kept \(apparing about 6 Jupiter was still far in the lead, and the lean crescent of the moon, out of breath, shone side by side with Venus, blazing undaunted in the accustomed glory of her eternal youth. IV “As to camping, Ronnie,” ran the note from him the Christmas season of 1957, “I have selected a summit with a positively Pisgah lookout from which with night closing in and the stars bobbing up over the horizon we might gain authentic tidings of invisible things.” Like a youth summoned by Socrates I prepared at once to go. He was 78 then, and I was 27. “Mount Pisgah” was a gradually rising hill, plateau’ed at the top, from which we could survey the hills and valleys of the region, which was about 20 miles southwest of Austin. We camped down the hill, at a place where it splayed out onto a level area. Our fire was enclosed \(but not sides, Bedichek’s Dodge pickup on a third, and on the fourth, a distance off, a windmill and water tank. The first afternoon a steel bar which . extended forehead-high from the tank malignantly knocked me flat on my back. Be d i c h e k was solicitously alarmed, and I confessed a pain on my forehead. When, the next morning as we walked toward the camp from our cots, the same bar smote Bedi and he fell to his back as violently as had I, he cursed, laughed, and did not confess a pain. A drizzle set in and all night and the next day soaked us unobtrusively. We were obliged to hug the fire, toasting towels and wrapping them around our heads, structuring the wood against the morning wind, making the best of life under the unfriendly grey sky. What we lost in naturestudy we gained in what Bedichek has called “animal enjoyment,” the smell and warmth of