the big rock candy mountains

They came bearing gifts of whiskey, wine and chocolate. The first thing Ades said when he walked through the door was, “Where’s Calvin?” I had a feeling he flew up from Virginia for a visit that lasted less than twenty-four hours just to hug our boy. He got to do plenty of that. Calvin has always taken well to “uncle” Paul. Perhaps it’s something in his deep voice. Maybe it’s his nice smell, or perhaps it’s the mere fact that Paul isn’t afraid to get close to our unusual, squirmy boy.

For nearly a week after Paul’s departure, we continued to stay up “late” with Michael’s other college buddy, Wolf, shooting the shit, imbibing a little too much, watching Paul Thomas Anderson and Coen Brothers films, delighting in the seventies music from Boogie Nights and in some of the lyrics of The Big Rock Candy Mountains:

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs

The farmers' trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh I'm bound to go
Where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall
The winds don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks

The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railway bulls are blind
There's a lake of stew
And of whiskey too
You can paddle all around them
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin.
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in.

There ain't no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws nor picks,
I'm bound to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the jerk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Though we stayed up past our usual early bedtime, Michael and I rose at five-thirty or so every morning as we have done religiously seven days a week at least since Calvin began having seizures and taking medicine for them almost eleven years ago. In that time, I can probably count on ten fingers the number of mornings I’ve slept in at home past six, or so, and never past six-forty-five or seven unless I was sick.

A few days into the visit, while sipping my morning coffee, I came across a piece in the New York Times online travel section titled, 52 Places to Go in 2017. I scrolled down through the list, marveling at the photographs and reminiscing about some of the same international places I’d been—Canada, Zermatt Switzerland, Dubrovnick Croatia, Tijuana Mexico, Athens, Budapest, Madrid. On a seven-month solo backpack trip to Europe when I was twenty-three, a trip to Eastern Africa two years later and a trip to Asia when I worked for Levi Strauss in my thirties, I’d been within miles of a few others on the list—Penzance England, Comporta Portugal, Hamburg Germany, Calabria Italy, Antequera Spain, Istria Croatia, Bozcada Turkey, Laikipia Kenya, and Busan South Korea. I lament that I don't—can't—do that kind of travel anymore, but I'm grateful for having had the chance.

Wolf, who was visiting from Brazil, wondered when the last time was that I had left home. I told him it was two years ago to visit my mother in San Diego nine months before she died. Most of my trips in the past ten years have been to see her there. Seven years ago come spring I took a rare trip to New York to visit friends and see art, then returned several years later with Michael for a twenty-four-hour stint when he had a solo show in Chelsea the summer of 2012. The last time I flew back to Seattle to see childhood friends and to attend my class reunion was five-and-a-half years ago, and the last time we visited Michael’s parents in Florida was, I think, in 2011. I haven’t been back to my beloved San Francisco in ten long years. Of recent, any traveling I do is in my mind, like while scrolling through the New York Times or traveling vicariously by way of friends' adventures.

Last month, I did buy a ticket to Washington DC to join the Women’s March which is the day after the POS’s inaugural abomination. I fly down and back same day. If the weather holds, and if Calvin is well enough for me to go (I should mention here that today is day eighteen since Calvin’s last grand mal ... his second longest stint in over a year) I’ll be getting out of this shitty little town—that I’ve actually come to like all right—for the first time in too many years. Upon my return I think a celebration with bourbon and chocolate will be well in order, and though I've never been there, in my mind I'll be traveling to the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Photo by David Wolf


  1. Christy, Wolf here. All of us dream of the Big Rock Candy Mountains and each of us crafts his or her "big canoe" to paddle around. What I re-learned during my six days with you, Mike, Calvin,and Nellie is that camaraderie, honesty, and decency are the strongest paddles we have to navigate the whiskey lakes of our lives. Thank you, David

  2. What a wonderful comment by David! I think I'd like him.

  3. I am so glad that you're doing this. I wish, though, that you were able to get out more often. You have to, Christy. You have to.