TAHOE CITY, Calif. - Mark McLaughlin's piece in the Sierra Sun last week about Captain Dick Barter, the hermit of Emerald Bay, helped me get my Tahoe perspective back. Thanks Mark! I've been living and visiting with people of all lifestyles and political persuasions the last two months, and have been somewhat citified.
It's great to be home, though the world is not as far away as it was in Captain Dick's day, some 150 years ago. There has been major progress in the world since then. Allegedly. Definitely better weapons, and more of them.
Some of the more rambunctious members of my family were up drinking and pontificating about the world until dawn last Saturday. They were loud, and, like the world, almost totally incoherent, like anyone would be who stays up drinking and talking all night. It made them easier to ignore, and easy to see why the world needs boundaries.
It's good to be home, and not shipwrecked on Lake Tahoe in winter and having to amputate my own toes, like Captain Dick. I've enjoyed a full spectrum kind of culture shock, but I didn't have to row 16 miles in a little dinghy for a drink, like Dick did. Instead, I'm going over the mountain again this weekend, in a nice car, through the rain and slush storm, for the funeral of my first cousin, Ginny Lagomarsino. I may not be as brave as Captain Dick, but I'll keep my fingers, and toes, crossed, just in case.
Captain Dick more or less foresaw his manner of death, shipwrecked and drowning, and he was right. I've heard drowning is not painful, but I don't believe it. Physically, there may be some truth to it, but, psychologically, it has to hurt. Still, if anyone could conquer the fear of death as he was dying, it would be Captain Dick Barter.
If I'm going to romanticize about someone, it might as well be sweaty, stinky old Captain Dick. But that's all the romance he gets from me, one sentence.
Last week I missed an opportunity to die an easy, peaceful and pain-free death. Instead, I am still here, hoping for the best, and trying to remain open to a more dramatic fate.
I was kicked back at home in my recliner, which does not stay up well. When you recline, it's all or nothing. That afternoon I had no idea how all or nothing it almost was.
Suddenly, or so it seemed, I felt very groggy and thought it would be wonderful to doze off, just for a few minutes. I had no reason to be tired, other than the fact that I am 62 and had been watching the news of the world, which alone would give even a young man reason enough to pass out. But I'd hate to miss going over the fiscal cliff.
I massaged my face, as if that would wake me up, and it felt kind of rubbery. I didn't think much of it. If I needed sleep, who was I to argue?
But I had rice cooking on the gas stove and I was hungry, so I unglued my lethargic body from the leather recliner and trudged over to the stove to check the rice. It had been simmering for nearly an hour, or so I thought. I was still feeling dopey when I lifted the lid and saw that the rice was still under half an inch of water. Then I noticed that the flame was out! I keep the window next to the stove closed when I cook rice, so the flame doesn't blow out. This time, I had all the windows closed, and my place is small!
The gas, behaving as gas does, was still on! I turned it off, opened all the windows and went outside. The pines were breathing blue sky, and the fresh air quickly woke me up. Then it hit me. I just nearly gassed myself out of this world.
Death by cooking rice. What a way to go! Although Captain Dick might not be impressed, and I'd rather get away from it all by going to a shopping mall riot on Black Friday.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.