I ran into Jerry Hatcher at Upper Pemigewasset Camp in late summer of '78. With him were his two sons, Clive and Wayne, who at twelve and ten were just old enough to hike the trails on their own. Doctor Williams' two beautiful daughters happened to be there, too. But they were outdoor women on holiday. They graced the trails in hiking boots, fashionable jeans and plaid shirts. Jerry was on vacation from painting; he was doing the other thing he loved to do: writing a poem. He worked on this poem almost all the time. Yet he was patient with me. He turned up his strong-boned, hoary, emaciated face and calmly gazed toward me.
I said: "What I think is that the world outside myself is real. That is what I'm interested in, the outside. But if the outside is real, then inside my mind, what I am thinking—I mean the activities of mind itself—must be unreal. Reality can't be two places at once. It has to be one place or the other. How can it be both inside and outside at the same time?"
Jerry said: "No! I have tried to show through my life's work that the workings of the inner, the perception and mechanisms to the living inner power or mind, or whatever you want to call it, that is the real. All the outside, except what we experience directly, which is hardly anything at all, if you think of the big picture, lies as obscurely as the whisper of a rumor in darkness."
Next day I tagged along with Clive and Wayne. Their father stayed in camp, working on his poem. We hiked around the mountain through the tall trees into a grove of white birch. The trail passed a waterfall at the base of which was a large pool. The crystal water shimmered in the airy light of the birch grove. The beautiful Williams sisters had arrived before us. I sat on one of the boulders beside the pool. The thought of swimming in the same water with them was perturbing. The situation seemed too idyllic, too full of human warmth, too full of the something that perturbed me. It wasn't real enough, the real being, shadowy, dark. But the two boys quickly stripped down to boxer shorts and dived in.
The girls teased the boys, who were practicing swimming in great seriousness. Grasping the boys' ankles as they swam past, they abruptly ducked them with loud shrieks of derisive laughter. In the sunlight of the very hot day the water sparkled. The turmoil of the stream rushing into the pool got mixed up in the turmoil of my heart. The girls wore oversize tee shirts; and the sun clung on them as if amused, because they were very lovely.
I was thinking; and I suddenly remembered what I had not told Jerry. If the world outside myself were the real, then I must be hardly a speck of dust! Time and change in a universe that appears to be infinite roll onward, and with them, a speck of dust "blowing in the wind", as the song went, was I. I dreamed of being an artist, but where would I find the mettle to feel worthy? Where would I find the mettle to shake the truth out of illusion as artists must?
The ladies spied on me in my somber bemusements. They splashed water at me, and they mumbled to each other tales about the holy saints. Saint Francis and laughter got mixed up in the rushing water. "Wasn't he the one who flogged himself?" I heard. "He must have been a gruff and grumpy one."
So I did not go in the water that day. I walked back to the camp with the boys. Jerry turned up his eyes toward me from the paper that lay on his Holy Bible. The paper was covered with small, neat handwriting. I complained to him how tiny I felt in this huge universe of many constellations, time warps and black holes. "That is a problem," he said. "It's worth thinking about."
Then the Williams sisters walked by, making merry the trail.
"Gosh, aren't they beautiful," I said.
"Oh yes," Jerry said. "They favor their mother. But I think they have freckles."
"They don't have freckles! I thought artists were supposed to be far seeing." I couldn't help laughing. I had nothing against freckles, but they didn't have freckles.
Jerry said, "Yes, I believe they have freckles. I'd paint them with freckles, anyway." And he bent down to his study again.
I sighed. The evening was sultry. I went to sit under a tree beside the river. I dreamed long about stories that were often exceedingly scummy, but they captivated my mind so that in them I was lost. Should the Williams sisters pass by in the dusk, I prepared a charming quip. I could almost see their campfire through the trees. I knew that their mother disliked my uncouth beard and dirty hands, my rags and mud splattered Jeep. "He shows no respect," she had grumbled. Doctor Williams attempted to encourage me along. But I did not want to teach. I worried that I must lead a genuine life. I simply could not believe that books could tell you everything; I could not believe that books told you much of anything. I distrusted books; I distrusted everything with which I had no personal experience. I worried about this all the time. I was convinced that there was already enough opinion in the world without me adding to it. I had met kindhearted and gentle souls while I was teaching, men and women ambitious toward scholarship. Even Jerry, who was quivering over his poem. But none of it was real!
Then suddenly I heard Jerry's voice. It was dusk; the woods were still. "Paul, Paul, where are you?"
"I'm almost exactly in front of you," I said, laughing.
"Oh yes! You're right here. Listen to me. I've written my poem." He stood, leaning over the paper. It was as if some magical confluence of the universe were gripping him. He cleared his throat, trembling with joy. He read in a stern, clear voice in which I heard genuine authority.