The Camerado Chronicles are a series of journal entries that started while my wife Aubray and I were living in Ashland, Oregon. In May 2004 I was fired from a job as a package courier. It was a very simple job that involved little more than running three hours to Eugene with a van full of packages and swapping cargo to carry a southbound load back to Medford. On the day I was fired, I finished writing the first draft of The Peasant and the King, subtitled “A New Christian Parable,” that had been my elaborate answer to the question of why the Christian faith, though appealing to my deepest, innermost nature in so many ways, had never been something I could fully embrace. The draft had mostly been written on a notebook positioned on my lap during the 6-hour round trip, with diligent effort five days a week for a couple months. Losing that job the very day it was finished really confirmed my suspicions that there was little other reason for me to be out there on such a tedious driving assignment.
Finding new employment locally, however, turned out to be a daunting and ultimately fruitless task, and after a couple weeks I started wondering out loud if the time wasn’t right for another tour of duty as an over-the-road truck driver. Quite to my surprise, Aubray agreed this time –as we would come to find out later, this was the beginning of the end of our attempt to live Happily Ever After together (one of the main themes of the Chronicles & of my life at the time). I was quickly rehired by a previous employer, US Express, and was all set to head to southern California & pickup my truck and return to work by early June.
Shortly before I left, Aubray and I made the curious decision to be baptized together at the Ashland Christian Fellowship, a church we had immersed ourselves in since we arrived in town eight months prior. ACF had a strong sense of community and a pretty swank coffeehouse, and that was what drew us in. Theologically they were no different than any Christian church we had tried and ultimately shunned, and the disconnect between the spirit and the letter of their teachings was only amplified by the depth of our connection to the people there. Yet there we were, in the frigid mountain stream waters of Ashland Creek, getting dunked in an ancient ritual of cleansing and new beginnings –perhaps there was no better time imaginable than that, as we were preparing to mend ourselves of the damage we had done to each other and forgive one another to open the door to a loving friendship.
But those ideas were not fully formulated then, and the confusion set back in as soon as I arrived in the dreary desolation of Riverside to re-immerse myself in what felt like the very non-spiritual world of truck driving. Aubray must have been confused too. One night during my orientation process we were talking on the phone & she asked me point-blank: why did you decide to get baptized? A fair question, for the ritual usually signifies the decision to join a church community, not leave it. I remember putting forth a very feeble answer, knowing that I wasn’t even scratching the surface of the truth. But that’s all my mind could produce in its dulled state.
The next day I was assigned my truck and started moving in to prepare for my first three-week jaunt back into the heart of America. Obviously the stagnant energy started flowing again, and at one point a simple phrase popped into my mind: “I don’t believe in the Bible, but I believe in Christ.” That was it. THAT was my answer. Every church I had ever experienced worshiped the Bible; they did NOT recognize and honor and revere the timeless, spaceless, eternal presence that is known in Christian circles as the Logos, the Word of God, the body of Christ –but is also known by other names and described authentically in other traditions. I chose to be baptized as a gesture of gratitude and submission to this Eternal Presence within us all, not to play out a ritual of mental subjugation to Bible worship.
The Camerado Chronicles are what followed –part road journal, part confessional of the feeling of loss that came from separation from my wife, but mostly an intricate elaboration on that simple answer, “I don’t believe in the Bible, but I believe in Christ.” Like the manuscript of The Peasant and the King, the majority of the Chronicles were literally written on the road, with a composition notebook laid out on some large flat surface on my lap while I covered the long freeway miles outside of traffic (and I learned it is actually easier to keep an 18-wheeler steady in this manner than it is a van or passenger car). “Part One” covered that first three-week stint of absolutely feverish production. “Part Two” was basically the next three months at a more leisurely pace, but also contains a fully developed single draft short story.
While this was happening, I often felt moved to express little snippets of the elaborate answer in poetic form. These were completely spontaneous & I never knew when they would show themselves or how long they would stay, so I started carrying a pocket-sized notebook to record them whenever so moved. Stylistically & inspirationally they owe a huge debt of gratitude to the master Sufi poets — Rumi and Hafiz in particular (a volume of the latter sat on our bookshelf for years before I decided to bring it with me on the truck, and I dove into it at one point; I think I can actually feel the difference in the writing from when Hafiz began speaking to me as I read them chronologically). The Taoist influence of ol’ folks like Han Shan, Chuang Tzu and Lao Tse can also be felt. Both traditions value simplicity of language & directness of intent, and I believe I internalized these values to a great degree –the very idea of writing a scholarly poem or linguistic stunt show seems very foreign to me.
I’m not certain how the Chronicles will manifest here. They once existed in electronic form, but the hard drive that was holding them exclusively at the time (like, before clouds were invented) was irretrievably destroyed in a one-laptop collision with the tire of a car on Lincoln Way in Philadelphia (funny story there…no, I won’t be telling it). They exist solely as their original messy handwritten selves in three composition notebooks on my book shelf. I suspect what I will end up doing is transcribing some of their highlights into my Dropbox, and either posting them here, or using them as seeds for new essays.
The name “Camerado,” by the way, was what I called my truck, and it came from the last two stanzas of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road.” Some of the best times Aubray and I had in Ashland were when we would drive out to some quiet spots outside of town & I would read her selections from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, including this one that spoke more to me of the nature of Christ than anything I ever read in the Christian Bible:
“Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe – I have tried it – my own feet have tried it well – be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”
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