Late September 1972
By this time I had moved to Topanga Canyon, an artist community and a Mecca for people who were searching to find themselves and to find the way they wanted to live their lives. There were many such people, these were turbulent times; Viet Nam, a verity of new and old social issues and a myriad of personal problems, many exacerbated by the social unrest. Topanga seemed to attract the searchers and the desperately lost. Sometimes this was called the hippy movement but, of course, that is an extreme simplification; the variety of these searchers was huge. There were emotionally disturbed Viet Nam veterans, poets, writers, artists, musicians, witches, wizards, fortunetellers, mediums, cowboys, Gypsies, transvestites, prostitutes, and many bums, just hanging around because it was easy to do nothing and not be noticed. Some of these characters were talented and productive, many were chronically in a drug-induced fantasy world; it was a hard time, it was a beautiful time. I found these people fascinating and they unknowingly helped me find my way back to planet Earth. Still, though through all this time of turmoil I’m sure, if it were not also for my position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I would not have made it back.
The trip to June Lake the previous year, with its symbolism and beauty, was so memorable that I decided to make it again this year. This time I took a woman I was seeing who’s name was Christy. She was a divorced mother with two boys who, like me, was trying to find her way in her new world just like the many other Topanga people; for a short period of time we were a two person support group for each other.
The hike was almost the same as usual except we started much later, but it was still overwhelmingly beautiful. I told Christy about the R on the birch tree and that I would like to find it and I told her about the stream and that I would like to hike until we reach it. We reached the birch grove and continued across the ski lift clearing and back into the woods. The trail was well delineated now with markers so when we reached the other side of the clearing we were still on course. About an hour later we reached the stream; it was small and had the best tasting water I have ever drank. After a short rest we decided to go further and find a place to stay a while and have some lunch.
On this trip I had been carrying my alphorn, assembled it was almost four meters long but it came in three pieces and had a comfortable shoulder bag that was perfect for hiking. We found a meadow, rested, and I began playing, improvising for as long as my lip would function, and if I remember correctly a little longer. The chances of anyone except Christy and the many unseen and probably agitated animals hearing what I was playing were close to zero. Certainly I’m not going to try to qualify my alphorn playing as good or bad but it unquestionably created an atmosphere of reflection. Christy and I sat for a very long time saying nothing and listening to the wind.
Like the wind my mind was moving and changing directions, and like the wind that day, I felt always a sense of tranquility. Finally the wind the beauty and the tranquility allowed me to release my senses and the memory of Jan became a part of me again; thoughts that been incarcerated in protective custody waiting for a safer time. I was not ashamed as my feelings filled my mind and tears filled my eyes. Christy asked me what was wrong and for the first time since the tragedy I was able to tell the story.
It’s not my intention here to ask a reader to commiserate with me on
that tragic night but a little history is necessary
On February 13, 1971 after playing a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic I stopped on the way home at Dante’s, a jazz club in North Hollywood. I listened to two sets and arrived at my home a little after midnight. Margot awoke about an hour later to Jan coughing and she was clearly very alarmed. I got up and she said ‘Jan isn’t breathing’. I tried to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but the air wouldn’t go into his lungs. We called the emergency number and they arrived very quickly but it was too late. He died about 1:30 AM on Valentine’s Day 1971.
As I finished telling this story to Christy she was weeping and quiet for about a half a minute. Suddenly she sat up, put her hands over her face and said, almost screamed, “Oh my God, that’s exactly the same time Jed was born”. Jed was her youngest son.
For a little while we were in shock. It took time before I could even accept that amazing coincidence as a reality not to mention processing it into some kind of meaning. How could this be real, today, in this place, how could I clearly see the lesson in this unbelievable scenario when it seemed impossible just to grasp the event? Words were not ready to work and thinking was hard to keep under control. Clarity arrived when I said to myself that the first thing was to be sure what it didn’t mean. It was absolutely clear that Jed was not the reincarnation of Jan. This was not going to be a story that I tell to the occult oriented searchers in Topanga who probably would have tried to convince me that Jed was Jan reborn, or to my colleagues in the philharmonic who probably would have assumed I had suffered some kind of psychotic break. This was a story that would stay private property in my memory for a long time.
On the way back down the trail we past through the birch trees again and I looked for the R again and again we didn’t find it. However, just off the trail we did find a recently carved J and we again we were amazed.
Upon returning to Topanga Christy’s and my life paths began quietly to move in different directions, however, I’m sure neither of us will forget that day.
Just as surely as I realized Jed wasn’t the reincarnate of Jan, I was equally sure that what happened that day shouldn’t be classified just as an amazing coincidence and forgotten. I think I always knew that life on Earth comes and goes and when death occurs a new life arrives to take its place. The lesson is a simple one but I will always remain in awe that it presented itself to me in such a beautiful way.