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BATIK ART BY JONATHAN S. EVANS
Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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HOTEL CALIFORNIA (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair)

HOTEL CALIFORNIA (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair)

 

It was wonderful to see Simma, Jeffrey and Harun again. They had just had another baby, Zeb, whose godfather I was. We stayed at their apartment for a week while I looked for a new car and finally bought a huge Chevy Malibu Stationwagon. It was probably the biggest car I'd ever been in and I called it the Whale. It ended up being a very good buy and rarely let me down. The next weekend, we loaded it up and all of us drove up to their new land which was situated between Auburn and Grass Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We left the main road, took a side road and eventually climbed a rutted bumpy track up a hill, rounded a corner and stopped in front of a strange, junky looking, geodesic Dome. It was rather big, over thirty feet high, with small windows set in it and had been constructed from old air-conditioning ducts hammered flat and nailed onto a wooden frame. It had a rough wooden porch outside and inside seemed very spacious though extremely funky. The only structure inside the Dome was a high sleeping platform at one end with a kitchen underneath. It had apparently been built out of the wood planks and iron rings of an enormous wine vat. Light streamed in through the small coloured glass windows and threw patterns across the floor. When it rained the following day, we discovered that it wasn't only light that streamed in through the windows. The roof became known as the "Roof of a Million Holes". Jeffrey had already climbed up on the roof, risking life and limb, to try and cover all those holes with plastic and tar and tar paper. Later I was to do the same thing many times but we never managed to stop any of those leaks. In fact that old Planetary Cataclysmic Theory that I applied to Susan could have applied to our life in the Dome. Every time it rained and in the winter in rained often, the order that we had so lovingly created in the Dome was totally destroyed. Nothing was safe from the rain and we would have to take everything outside to dry it before putting the Dome back together again. It was pretty frustrating and we spent many damp nights lying in between buckets and leaks waiting for the dawn to break so that we could get up and start all over again.

The Chester-Zankel Family could only stay around for the weekend and helped us settle in before they had to head back down to San Francisco where Jeffrey was still working for a computer service company in the city. We all loved the space in Grass Valley. Jeffrey had bought thirty acres altogether, most of it wooded but with pretty good access roads and a clear field that would make a good house site. He planned to build his own house there a little further down the line and eventually to move up there with the whole family. Susan and I were the advance party and would get as many projects started there as possible. The land was pleasantly hilly and covered with oak trees. We saw wild deer and turkey everywhere and had an easy walk down the hill to a lovely river and a nice walk up from the property to some rock formations with a great view. By the Dome, there was a big rock which was a natural spot from which to watch the sunset and that soon became a nightly ritual. There was a ramshackle chicken enclosure that we covered with plastic and used to store boxes and unused furniture. There was also a broken down little chicken shack, two floors with a ladder to climb up that I had earmarked for a studio. We had running cold water in the Dome and a great outhouse behind it which had three walls and a wide-open doorway with a wonderful view across trees and hills down to the river.

Susan and I spent a crazed first week alone at the Dome trying to turn it into a viable living space but were constantly thwarted by the rain. We seemed to spend more time trying to dry out the space than organize it but the others were pleasantly surprised when they came back up the next weekend and saw that we had certainly worked hard. I loved it on the new land. After all my trials and tribulations in New York and Miami over the previous year, I was ready for some simple country living, some peace and tranquillity and space. I was happy to be alive and was looking forward to getting back to some uninterrupted batik work. We didn't have much money but we didn't really need much either. I was sure that living in Grass Valley would be easy and was just what I needed. It would be much harder for Susan who didn't do well in an unstructured environment and neither of us knew what she could do there. I quickly made some great new friends, Ron and Sarah and their two kids who lived a little further along our road. They had dropped out in this quiet little spot to raise their children, lead a simple life and become as self-sufficient as possible. Sarah was very pretty, a Native American and had her first child, Wynema, from an earlier marriage. They were as pleased to see us as we were to see them and were incredibly helpful from the beginning. We made scouting trips down the spectacular wide motorway into Grass Valley but that little town didn't seem to have much going for it. But the next town down, Nevada City, was very interesting, with a good theater dating back to the days of the Gold Rush and a thriving theater group. The little town was full of attractive wooden Victorian style houses and a tourist scene which meant there were restaurants and cafes. Best of all, there was a community radio station. Promoted as a "full spectrum" radio station, KRVR was on the air twenty four hours a day and played every kind of music imaginable, classical to jazz and hot new wave rock to African tribal rhythms. That was a very big plus for me and I made plans to investigate the station's possibilities further. Beyond Nevada City, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada could be seen, their peaks covered with snow. There were various interesting communities little villages and towns to investigate. There was a Tibetan Buddhist center making tofu up there and the "beat" poet Gary Snyder lived nearby. I hadn't made any really good connections last time I came to California but had high hopes of doing better this time.

Susan and I made some wonderful walks in the woods and down to the river where we found stretches with little falls and pools which were perfect to play in. We would lie and listen to the sound of the water running over rocks, the clicking of crickets and the whirring of the dragonflies before picking water cress and mint and blackberries on the hot sweaty climb back up the hill to the Dome. I remember doing my very first full lotus yoga position one day in the Dome so I must have been getting very fit on life in Grass valley. But Susan was becoming more and more anxious and restless and she took to vanishing and going off on her own a lot. I guessed that she was starting to go into the manic mode of her cycle. There didn't seem to be any job opportunities for her but she needed to get involved in something soon. The problem was causing a lot of friction between us. I could see that this wasn't going to be the place for her where she could work at getting her life under control. We had some unpleasant arguments and eventually a nasty fight. Something Susan did pushed me a bit too far one day, I lost control and Iím ashamed to say that I slapped her. I felt terrible about that but knew that it obviously wasn't a healthy situation for either of us. She resolved to move on up to Oregon and join her mother at Rancho Rajneesh or in Portland where Pamela worked at "The Dancing Buddha" Restaurant and Disco.

Ironically, our last week together in Grass Valley was one of our closest and most loving periods. I suppose it often works out that way. She hadn't had any kind of episode for quite a few months but she might go into a destructive manic mode at any time, I felt. Anyway we looked at the situation, we knew that living at the Dome wasn't good for her or supportive of her needs. Moving on seemed to be the best thing she could do. She could always come back again if she wanted to, for she was very good with the children. But I knew I had to let her go. Our parting was incredibly sad after being inseparable for a year. We had been through a lot and although we never did get back together apart from a short visit she made to see me a few months later, I think of her often and remain very fond of her.

 

 

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