2006 Yom Kippur Fast at Sycamore Glen

October 1 2006 7:30 p.m.

Inside tent after a clumsy pitch in the early dark, flashlight hanging from a loop in the roof. The first time in dozens of overnights on Cal Poly Land I’ve brought a tent. Only a light rain, but enough to warrant it.

Left home on my bike at 5:30 to get settled by the sunset start of the holiday. Headed for the high ground and a view. But the overcast created a sense of quiet that made me want to stop and listen rather than look.

sycamoreleaves.jpgI parked the bike at the trail leading to Sycamore Glen. Normally dry this time of year, the creekbed was full of watercress and yellow monkeyflower, so wet I couldnt cross without getting muddy boots. My usual trail was overgrown this time, but I found a new one made by horses higher on the bank. The sycamore leaves were black green, thick, a foot across.

waterpipe.jpgI walked slow and wide-eyed, ready for surprises. At the end of the little canyon leading to the Glen, I heard the plash of flowing water. There was the source: a broken steel pipe. On another visit I’d found a slump in the hillside grown over with rushes, and above it a break in this pipe where a plastic coupling had come undone. I’d repaired that and wondered how the landscape might change as a result. In the waning light of this afternoon I sauntered up the Glen and saw that the former little wetland had turned to dry grass.

I decided to return to the broken pipe and camp near the old oak where I’d stayed during my Yom Kippur fast three years ago.


The temperature is dropping. My eyes are drooping. Its only 8:00.

October 2 7:45 a.m.

shadowline.jpgThe sun just hit the top of the citadel. I awaken to a clear, chill morning. The sharp line demarcating light and shadow creeps down the hill too slowly to register movement and then passes over me too fast to follow. I grab binoculars to capture the source of birdsong on the east slope. Three winged forms explode from the tall dry grass which seems to be in motion though there’s no wind. Then it fills the viewfinder: a large coyote with head held low ambling through the grass, brown against brown. Squawks and a small flock of ducks land behind me, somewhere beyond the big oak.

11:00 a.m.

I looked for the ducks without success, came back to the tent and fell back asleep. Could I ever function without coffee? Now, at the top of the glen, a few small clouds float in from the west. I recall last night:

I watched the looming shape of the Citadel darken and suddenly its top turned pink.


Behind me the sky became luminous. I ran up the hill and saw all of East Cuesta ridge lit up in alpenglow. Then a faint rainbow which grew upward, brightened, doubled and disappeared.


The western sky flouresced orange and silloueted horses grazing on the ridgeline.


A natural fanfare, blasts on the Shofar to begin the holiday.

It began to rain. I was glad I brought the tent.

At 2:00 a.m. I got up to pee. The moonless sky was a blanket of stars. I thought of pulling out the sleeping bag and gazing at the heavens, but I didn’t do it.

2:00 p.m.

Five hours remain. The water from the pipe sometimes sputters–burps from the earth. I hear a meadowlark. This hollow remains completely secluded though runners and bikers use the trails on either side. Knuckles ache. From using a pen or from not taking chondriatin pills this a.m.?

Yom Kippur marks not the beginning of school, but the second year of retirement. Last year it was in the Montagnola of Tuscany.

An inventory of time since: Many photographs and some writing. Four classes. Two trips to Lund”in fall a funeral, in summer a wedding. Three trips to Idaho, one with the grandchild. Family love. One trip to Philadelphia to speak about Shakespeare and the Military and attack the Big Neocon on the panel and see my old friend Brian. Organizing Earth Day. Digging the hole in the backyard for Jan’s office expansion. Sierra Club work. Gardening. Finding successors for the Cal Poly Land class. Organizing letters, photos, and books.

You cant go looking for poems, they have to find you.

3:35 p.m.

coyotebrush.jpgClouds gone, light intermittent early afternoon breeze. I’m sitting in the sun reading “Jewish Meditation” by Aryeh Kaplan. He says the word for retreat from the world is HITBONENUTH. This also refers to isolation of the mind in meditation. According to Kaplan, Jewish meditation is very similar to TM which I’ve practised for 30 years. It uses a mantra. The one he recommends is the Hebrew phrase for “God, Creator of the Universe.” This doesn’t appeal to me. A creator outside the creation seems made up.

I wander around the oak to cool off and stretch my legs. There’s a loud buzz. Beehive in a crack at the base. I back off.

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