The Seer

Once upon a time... when I was walking on Agate Beach in Oregon, I came upon this man who was playing beautiful music as if he were serenading the setting of the sun.
I politely asked him if it would be all right for me to take his picture.
He responded by saying that he had enough trouble deciding what he should do in life without advising others.
It was what the Seer might have said....

The following excerpt is much longer than most that I have used in this photo-essay, but I wanted to give the feeling of the whole passage as it needs to be seen as a whole.
(There is another picture following the passage.)

   Doc wanted desperately to go back to his old life-the hopeless wish of a man wanting to be a little boy, forgetting the pain of little boys. Doc dropped to his knees and dug a hole in the damp sand with a scooped hand. He watched the sea-water seep in and crumble the sides of the hole. A sand-crab scuttled away from his digging fingers.
   From behind him a voice said, "What are you digging for?"
   "Nothing," said Doc, without looking round.
   "There are no clams here."
   "I know it," said Doc. And his top voice sang, "I just want to be alone. I don't want to talk or explain or argue or even to listen. Now he'll tell me a theory he's got on oceanography. I won't look round."
   The voice behind him said, "There's so much metal in the sea. Why, there's enough magnesium in a cubic mile of seawater to pave the whole country."
   I always get them, Doc thought. If there's a bug-houser within miles he's drawn to me.
   "I'm a seer," said the voice.
   Doc rocked angrily back on his heels. "Okay," he said. "It's just my business but you tell me about it." He didn't remember ever having been discourteous to a stranger before.
   This one was a big, bearded stranger with the lively, innocent eyes of a healthy baby. He wore ragged overalls and a blue shirt washed nearly white, and he was barefooted. The straw hat on his head had two large holes cut in the brim, proof that it had once been the property of a horse.
   Doc found his interest rising.
   "It is my custom to invite a stranger to dinner," said the seer. "Not original, of course. Harun al-Rashid did the same. Please follow me."
   Doc stood up from his squatting position. The tendons behind his knees creaked with pain. The seer towered above him, and on closer inspection it was true that his blue eyes had the merry light of a wise baby. But his face was granite - chiselled out of the material of prophets and patriarchs. Doc found himself wondering if some of the saints had not looked like this. From the ragged sleeves of the blue shirt wrists like big grapevines protruded, and hands sheathed in brown calluses criss-crossed with barnacle cuts. The seer carried a pair of ancient basketball shoes in his left hand, and, seeing Doc look at them, he said, "I only wear them in the sea. My feet aren't proof against urchins and barnacles."
   In spite of himself Doc felt surrounded by the man. "Harun" said Doc "was visited by djinni and the spirits of earth fire and water. Do the djinni visit you?" Doc thought, Oh Lord! Am I going to play along with this nonsense? Why can't I cross my fingers and spit and walk away? I can still walk away.
   The seer looked downward at an angle into Doc's face. "I live alone" he said simply. "I live in the open. I hear the waves at night and see the black patterns of the pine boughs against the sky. With sound and silence and colour and solitude of course I see visions. Anyone would."
   "But you don't believe in them?" Doc asked hopefully.
   "I don't find it a matter for belief or disbelief," the seer said. "You've seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it's an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it? Don't you see Visions?"
   "No," said Doc.
   "From music, don't forms of wishes and forms of memory take shape?"
   "That's different," said Doc.
   "I don't see any difference," said the seer. "Come along - dinner's ready."
   In the dunes there are deep little creases where the wind-crouching pines have made a stand against the moving sand, and in one of these, only a hundred yards back from the beach, the seer had his home. The little valley was protected from the wind. The pine boughs covered it, and the sand was deeply carpeted with sweet pine-needles. Once down in the little cup you could hear the wind sweeping the pine tips overhead, and a perpetual dusk hung under the warped trees. The pines survived only by following the suggestions of the stronger forces-crouching low and growing their limbs in the direction of the wind, nourishing the little trailing plants which slow up the pace of the walking dunes. Under the trees a fire was burning, and on a hearth of flat stones blackened tin cans steamed.
   "This is my home," the seer said. "You are welcome here. I have a wonderful dinner." He brought a tin box from the fork of a tree, took out a loaf of French bread, and sliced off two thick slices. Then he brought sea urchins from a dripping sack, cracked them on a rock, and spread the gonads on the bread. "The males are sweet and the females sour," he said. "I like to mix the two."
   "I've tasted them," said Doc. "The Italians eat them. It's about as strong a protein as you can get. Some people think it's aphrodisiac."
   There was an iron simplicity in the seer. He was like a monolith of logic standing against waves of angry nonsense.
   "Next we'll have steamed limpets," said the seer. "I have a pin here to eat them with. Do you like sea-lettuce? It's an acquired taste. And then I have a stew - kind of universal bouillabaisse - I won't tell you what's in it. You'll see."
   "Do you take all your food from the sea?"
   The seer smiled at him. "No, not all. I wish I could. It would be simpler. I take all the protein I need, and more, but my human stomach still craves starch. I want a little bread and some potatoes. I love acid with the protein. See - I have a bottle of vinegar and some lemons. And last, I indulge myself with herbs: rosemary and thyme and sage and marjoram."
   "How about sugars?" Doc asked. "You won't find sugars in a tide pool."
   The seer dropped his eyes and watched a black ant try to climb an avalanche of sand, losing ground all the way. When he spoke his voice was shy and ashamed. "I steal candy bars," he said. "I can't seem to help it."
   "The flesh is weak," said Doc.
   "Oh, I don't mind that," the seer cried. "Appetites are good things. The more appetites a man has, the richer he is, but I was taught not to steal. I don't believe in stealing. It hurts my feelings when I do, and I don't enjoy the candy bars as much as I would if I didn't steal them, but I love Baby Ruths and Mounds."
   They picked the limpets from their shells with pins and dipped them in lemon juice. The stew contained mussels and clams and crabs and little fish, seasoned with garlic and rosemary.
   "Some people don't like it," said the seer.
   After they had finished Doc lay back in the pine needles, and a fine peacefulness settled on him. The air, the softness of the needles, the odours of kelp and pine and yerba buena, the music of surf against wind-plucking pine-needles, the fullness of belly, made a little room of contentment around him.
   He said, "I'm surprised they don't lock you up - a reasonable man. It's one of the symptoms of our time to find danger in men like you who don't worry and rush about. Particularly dangerous are men who don't think the world's coming to an end."
   "It's coming to an end all right," the seer said. "That started the moment it was born."
   "I don't know why they don't put you in jail. It's a crime to be happy without equipment."
   "Oh, they do," said the seer, "and they put me under observation every once in a while."
   "I forgot," said Doc. "You are crazy, aren't you?"
   "I guess so," said the seer, "but not dangerous. And they've never caught me stealing candy bars. I'm very clever at that, and I steal only one at a time."
   "Don't ever gather disciples," said Doc. "They'd have you on a cross in no time."
   "There's not much danger of that. I don't teach anybody anything."
   "I'm not so sure," said Doc. "The doctrine of our time is that man can't get along without a whole hell of a lot of stuff. You may not be preaching it, but you're living treason."
   "I'm lazy," said the seer. "Did you ever drink yerba buena tea?"
   "It's strong and aromatic and a mild physic. Can you drink it out of a beer bottle?"
   "I don't know why not."
   "Lookout! The bottle's hot! Here, wrap a twig around it."
   After a while the seer asked, "What's aching you, or don't you want to talk about it?"
   "I'd just as soon talk about it if I knew what it was," said Doc. "As a matter of fact, it's gone away for the moment."
   "Ah, one of those," said the seer. "Do you have a wife or children?"
   "Do you want wife or children?"
   "I don't think so."
   The seer said, "I saw a mermaid last night. You remember, there was a half-moon and a thin drifting-mist. There was colour in the night, not like the black and grey and white of an ordinary night. Down at the end of the beach a shelf of rock reaches out, and the tide was low so that there was a smooth bed of kelp. She swam to the edge and then churned her tail, like a salmon leaping a rapid. And then she lay on the kelp bed and made dancing figures with her white arms and hands. She didn't go away until the rising tide covered the kelp bed."
   "Was she a dream? Did you imagine her?"
   "I don't know. But if I did I'm proud that I could imagine anything so beautiful. What is it you want?"
   "I've tried to think," said Doc. "I want to take everything I've seen and thought and learned and reduce them and relate them and refine them until I have something of meaning, something of use. And I can't seem to do it."
   "Maybe you aren't ready. And maybe you need help."
   "What kind of help?"
   "There are some things a man can't do alone. I wouldn't think of trying anything so big without----" He stopped. The heavy waves beat the hard beach, and the yellow light of the setting sun illuminated a cloud to the eastward, a clot of gold.
   "Without what?" Doc asked.
   "Without love," said the seer. "I have to go to the sunset now. I've come to the point where I don't think it can go down without me. That makes me seem needed." He stood up and brushed the pine needles from his threadbare overalls.
   "I'll come to see you again," said Doc.
   "I might be gone," the seer replied. "I've got a restlessness in me. I'll probably be gone."
   Doc watched him trudge over the brim of the dune and saw the wind flip up the brim of his straw hat and the yellow sun light up his face and glisten in his beard.

Chapter 10 of "Sweet Thursday"

Here is another view of "The Seer", this time from the cover of the1958 Pan Books paperback edition.

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