Wednesday’s Words: Leaving San Diego (Plus Two More Unexpected Occurrences)

Dramatic sandstone cliffs at at beach within Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This is not the last day spent in the San Diego area but it seems a good final post about our felicitous trip.  I thought of it all often since our return, realizing it was meant to restore, buoy and fortify us. That is the pleasure of travel, even in one’s home country or closer yet to one’s home. Getting out and away has the effect of an elixir, only better, as such changes of scenery can awaken the too-comfortable mind, startle the senses and arouse the spirit to greater appreciation of human life as well as nature.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a quick trip to La Jolla. The area, comprised of 2,000 acres of Torrey pines and pristine beaches, is a southern maritime chaparral. It is home to this rarest native pine in the U.S. Before tackling the short trails above, we enjoyed this stretch of the Pacific Ocean’s protected beach (California’s beaches are not all public as they are in Oregon). The sandstone cliffs are steep, textured by wind, water and tectonic plate shifts over innumerable centuries. Large flocks of pelicans were feeding and flying about as though with uniform and often urgent industry–remarkable to observe. They are so large yet graceful, as all birds, in flight. A young lady was embracing waves and sunshine as we strolled–tempting, though!

We drove to top of the cliffs to immerse ourselves in views while checking out this unique maritime chaparral. The first view looks out over La Jolla and the ocean. We stopped at the Torrey Pines Lodge, now Visitor Center-Museum, Pueblo revival in style. It was built from 1922-23 thanks to Ellen Browning Scripps, a newspaper woman and philanthropist. From 1908 until her death in 1932 she championed this reserve and bought more acreage to add to it. Torrey pines survive difficult conditions of drought and sandy earth, storms and unrelenting heat. Their roots reach down to 246 feet in search of moisture and to get a good hold on these windblown cliff tops.

Then onto the trails which meandered through cacti, namesake pines and other chaparral growths, lizards, flowers. It was, to me, a sort of beautiful desolation up there…

The sunlight amid gathering clouds kept us riveted for a long while. There were near-rhapsodic moments of opalescent, shimmering light cast upon the Pacific. Multiple shots of such beauty were unavoidable! It was not easy to pare it down to these… It was windy, wild, a little forlorn, mystical; heavens and earth and sea exerted full power as I stood steady but small.

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By the time we headed back down, the clouds gradually began to clear and the sun resumed its potent heating up the air and our Northwestern-pale skin. La Jolla shone in the hills and San Diego was inviting in the distance.

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The beach and surrounds gave us a vivid view at last glance.

This was, as all our outings, satisfying. However, our very last day was spent on Coronado Island, right across the bay, over the bridge from San Diego. This was a visit I had quite looked forward to from the start. The town of Coronado offers many delights, not the least of which are renowned beaches of brilliant white sand due to a mineral, Mica. It was a pleasure to wander about the resort area as well as the rest of the charming streets full of sights and restaurants where we enjoyed a good lunch at an outdoors table. There are many elegant homes and gardens to take in. The world-class Hotel del Coronado was built in 1888 and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It has offered luxe bread and board to countless famous and infamous people over the years.

I regret that I have no photos, however–of which there were a multitude–other than this one courtesy of Wikipedia and one my husband took of me at the hotel. The tree behind me is a dragon tree. It was a backdrop in the film “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, filmed at the Hotel del Coronado in 1958. (Please find it in a bigger photo as it is impressive.) Would that I could mimic a Marilyn Monroe pose and attitude but alas!

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By Nehrams2020 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2983855

The final reveal of a couple more odd things that happened while on this trip: my trusty camera was stolen. Hence, all last day photos were lost. I was more than a bit upset when arriving back in Oregon that my deeply appreciated Fujifilm camera was nowhere to be found. I suspect it was taken at our hotel, as that is where I last saw it, lying on the bed. I’d asked Marc to grab it as my arms and hands were full but it was unlike me to not double check and pick it up if he did not. Rushing too fast to the airport, I guess.

We, of course, called the hotel but were informed nothing was reported left in the room. We called the car rental agency-no camera. I realized I never carried it on the plane, so didn’t bother to check with the airline.

I thought how the trip had rockily begun with a dissatisfactory room. How I had been tiptoeing about barely corralled sorrow from past and current losses. Then I contracted food poisoning the night before my birthday celebration. A few grim moments. Yet the ensuing times had become so much happier, richer in experiences.

So I had to talk myself away from that new, only material loss. Put matters into perspective. We had been offered, unexpectedly, shelter in the amazing Presidential Suite. My birthday had come and gone without further incident–another year winning the fight with heart disease. We had enjoyed several good meals. We had availed ourselves of sights pleasing, informative and entertaining. We had rested up as well as played each day.

It was, after all, just a camera. I could buy a new one. And have.

But there is a last surprising event (that I am half- afraid of mentioning): our entire trip ended up being “comped” (excepting a few meals sought when out and about). No charges for hotel food, rooms or car garaging and valet. Neither were there any car rental costs beyond gas. As many who have read the posts on this trip, we used many rewards points accumulated from my spouse’s extensive business travel–a perk of his hard work. But we did expect a few costs, of course, and it was not to be. I am truly grateful –not due to the money, no, but due to our more hidden needs. The getaway gave us stamina and gratitude to endure the sudden loss of my brother… and now another family member is critically ill.

Sometimes you get what you don’t even look for in life; this was the gift of deeper sustenance. I hope you enjoyed this trip with me–there will be more before summer is done!

 

Fealty: Definition 2. Faithfulness; allegiance

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I am often jolted from sleep, words blazing in my brain, sometimes whole phrases or poems that demand their places in my notebook. I obey, lest they slip away to the vast hinterland of dreaming once more. I hope they will stay in place on paper, releasing me so I can return to rest, but they often pursue me until given the gift of freedom. Which means: a life to call their own. This ultimately requires my attention in the waking life. The day has begun and I am glad of it.

But this morning was the sort of re-entry into daily life that I would rather avoid. I rose from murky consciousness toward a sheerness of wakefulness as sunlight tried to illuminate my thinking. My eyes remained closed against the morning as a weightiness threatened to hold me hostage. Unbidden words passed through the darkness under my eyelids: The music is over; your voice was lost. Too much means less and less. Travelling alone without one good compass ends good journeys. Who can even see your footsteps upon the earth?

All the things I don’t like and who among us would? Uncertainty, the remnants of loss, weariness, old hurts that reconvene like a war council. Unease remained as I pushed out memories that can still haunt me, the times when problems didn’t resolve despite earnest effort. The errors of judgment that hollowed out places where defeat still can burrow. I called on God of all, of east, west, north and south, God within and without, Jesus who finds and comforts me, reminds me of revolutionary love.

Capture all old tears and bring them back to me as shining orbs. Set me straight. Let me see again, a woman without misgiving.

My eyelids flickered and the room in its blueness came forward. The variety of pictures greeted me. Morning was grounded as light slipped over my hands and feet. I let the scattered threats fly away. But not before one more word lodged itself where the others had lain in wait.

Fealty. I knew the word from somewhere. Fealty. Didn’t it have something to do with truth? Or…money?

It presented itself many times as I prepared for the day. With a fragrant mug of tea beside me, I picked up The American Heritage Dictionary. I opened the volume.It was there, the word, right on the page before me. Out of all the pages that might have been interesting to read first, the dictionary opened to this page.

I read the first meanings: “1. a. The loyalty of a vassal to his feudal lord. b. The obligation of such loyalty.” I immediately recalled watching an historical drama, “The White Queen”, the previous night and believed I heard the word there. But, wait, a second meaning: “2. Faithfulness; allegiance.”

I sat back, held the mug between both hands and sipped. The words ran through me. Spoke to me. What am I faithful to? What loyalties means the most  and what am I called to do? Where is the allegiance that matters no matter what? My family, yes, of course, and friends. Then, as though unearthed from beneath the unwanted sourness, came this: Divine Love. Compassion and the causes of mercy and enduring hope. Celebration of all that the Creator gave us. And this fierce passion to write.

How foolish I can be, a small soul making my way through the unbearable and marvelous phantasmagoria of life. Fortunately I am still teachable.

This is the life I most care about, the one I choose. This morning began as a puzzle tossed into disarray, then reassembled in one swift movement. The day and my place in it came together again. I have my  compass. I have notebook and pen. A guiding Hand, an angel, a sudden crack in the dark that allows the right clues admittance to my heart.

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Eben Waiting

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On the morning he left there was a gathering across the street. Four women and two men sat in a circle by the fountain in front of The Manor apartments. He watched them talk and drink coffee, thinking about his trip. Annie had been cold on the phone when she said good-bye last night. They had argued, same old things, money, their future. He was currently working the counter at a deli while he looked for a better job. She wasn’t thrilled about that.

He was standing outside his place waiting for the taxi. Early, he was always early. To be late was to toy with the outcome of things and that was not a good idea, he’d found. You had to have a plan and stick to it whenever possible. Besides, if he’d stayed in his apartment Uncle Josef would talk him senseless. He’d welcomed Eben after he lost his good legal assistant job to downsizing. Now that his nephew was back on his feet the decision had to be made whether or not he was going to stay or move out. Annie was in Portland; Eben in Seattle.

“Well, you could marry her,” Uncle Josef had advised. “The girl has a career going, she’s pleasant. You won’t regret marriage–it’s said to mellow into a very comfortable thing. With the right one, of course. It’s pitiful that it’s just you and me here. Should have married Jane Hartner back in 1980. Do you think we could find her on the Internet?” He sat back and eyed Eben. “Your trip may sort this out.”

Eben pondered the situation. Annie had a way with words that could split him into little pieces, then put them back again before he knew what was happening. It made his head spin. He wondered if she was trained to do that in her therapy work or if it was just a defect. He couldn’t be sure; she was generally nicer although she seemed to find him annoying more and more. Not that he had an altogether sterling character. He tended toward introspection and that could be excluding of others. Of her, she noted often. He was particular. He liked documentaries primarily and hated anything made with eggs, beans or pork. He lined up his books as though they were on exhibit. Right up until June he wore cotton socks to bed. He also liked to play bocce once a week or so in good weather which he saw as an asset but she hadn’t decided.

Eben leaned against the wall. He tried to not think about the visit and watched the neighbors across the road. He only waved at them occasionally. They appeared to be an extended family.

A child popped up from the group. He was maybe seven, eight, a wild one– you could tell that from the way he looked: like a wind up toy that never unwound. He was alert to everything the adults were saying, leaning forward, climbing on one lap, then another, popping up between legs and elbows. He was wanting more attention though the adults were engaged in serious chatting. One man yelled at the boy to slow down, so he stood stock still a few seconds. The woman next to him lay her hand on his head, then he zoomed toward the street and zigzagged back to the fountain. He jumped right in; it was a hot day for fall.

“Marty, what are you thinking, getting your new shoes and pants wet?” the man berated him, scooping him up. He took him inside before he could wriggle away.

Eben could hear him screeching and he flinched. Loud, unhappy sounds were not to his liking. He enjoyed his aging painted turtle and Uncle Josef’s aquarium full of fish, silent, fascinating creatures that enjoyed lives of unimpeded ease. Eben did not look forward to the two Yorkshire terriers Annie had gotten when he’d moved out. They liked to bark at nothing, claimed her lap and snapped at him when he tried to be friendly. She said Eben wasn’t around enough to expect friendship but the truth was, he didn’t look forward to adding them to his small social circle.

The taxi was late. He was about to call when Marty came flying down the stairs again. Red shorts now, no shoes. At the edge of the fountain he dangled his hands in the water. The adults were laughing and sharing food, muffins Eben thought, mouth watering.  They took out cards and moved under the shade of a giant black walnut tree. The man who had yelled dealt them swiftly and they all concentrated on their hands. The boy was whipping up the fountain water with his hands. Then he looked across the street at Eben.

Eben looked down the road. No taxi. Marty looked both ways, then walked up to him, dripping.

“Hey, you going on a trip?”

Eben didn’t look at him. “Yes.”

“Family? Work?”

“No.”

The boy fiddled with the suitcase tag and read his name.

“Eben Hanson.” But he said it like “eebean”, drawing out the vowel. “E-bean?’

“Eben. Short ‘e.’ And you’re getting my things wet.”

“It’s just water, Eebean.”

Eben looked at Marty then. He had striking hazel eyes and freckles tossed across his nose. He was grinning and there was a blank spot where a front tooth should be.

“Well, who? A girl?” He giggled and poked Eben’s side with his wet index finger, making him jump.

“Shouldn’t you be with them?” He pointed at the group.

“They can see me. They know Josef. I see you come and go.”

“Really?” This surprised and irked Eben, that a child would know details of his schedule.

“If you have a girl she ain’t heeere!”

Eben sighed. Maybe if he just told the kid his itinerary he would get lost. “Well, I’m off to see her in Portland for four days.”

“Marty! Don’t bother our neighbor!” The big guy waved the boy back.

Eben pulled his suitcase to the street. “That man your dad?”

“Naw. Uncle. Don’t have a dad. I have a big family, though.”

Eben could hear the taxi. Marty tapped the suitcase, then Eben,  damp fingers cool on his arm.

“When you come back, you should play cards with us. You don’t have to be alone.”

“Thanks.” Eben imagined himself playing cards with them and smiled.

Eben nodded to the taxi driver. Marty looked back at him when he got to the other side of the street and waved hard and fast, as though all his energy was exploding from his small hands. Eben got into the back seat, then waved back. Marty climbed into the circle of adults, disrupting the card game.

On the way to the airport Eben thought about Annie and her intelligent insults and his quieter ways and he knew already. He was not moving back in, ever. There was time to find the right one. Someone he might have a family with one day. He wondered if Uncle Josef figured that out. Josef and Marty, they both knew a couple things.

Staying Alive: an Interview

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“So, alright, you have me sitting in a long-past-its-prime chair in a monochrome room and I am supposed to be cooperating so that you can do the work that is in my best interest I am told, but really is all this necessary again? I didn’t agree to come here to talk to you. I don’t even know who you are. I had no choice. I came because it was the last-ditch chance, his way or exit center stage! ‘Get out’ he said! I mean, I nearly…”

Mim’s inhales deeply, then fills the air with a few staccato breaths. She is hurting everywhere, toes to brain.

Lane leans forward. “It seems you didn’t really want to go, not like that. And you came of your own will today.”

“Yes, well, it isn’t that simple. It was a matter of giving in or getting out. I mean, leaving the family. Like, settling for a life on the street, likely, can you imagine? I can’t. He says he wouldn’t throw me out–how would it look to his firm, our neighbors?– but, hey, it has happened to better women than me. I mean, I’ve seen them out there and they are so sad, terrifying. But, then, look at me!”

The clock on the wall is simple, inconspicuous, but the ticking is like a stuttering shout. Mim, her new client, shifts side to side then pulls her shoulders back, finger to mouth so she can chew off a hangnail.

Lane sits still. In the corner of her eye she can see through the window, rain slashing across the parking lot two stories below. Her office is warm but the fortyish woman across from her shivers, folds her arms tight over her white shirt. Lane notes her shoes. They are expensive grey and black flats, slim and scuffed.

“I mean, it’s not like this is the first time. This is number three. Pretty soon I’ll be able to write reviews of all the treatment centers in northwest Michigan. I wrote a column you know. Used to. There can’t be that many more rehabs for me to check out. All the same in the end.” She exhales a guttural sigh that sounds like disgust. “So, yes, I have arrived once more, this year in New Times Center on Lake Michigan. I have to say it looks good out there.” Her good leg bounces. “It would possibly look gorgeous through the magic filter of gin.”

“You’ve had a lot of experience at this. You’re sober five days. It will look better in a week, two weeks. You know this already.”

Mim looks at Lane hard a few seconds but the woman doesn’t blink. Here eyes are moist, very blue, quiet. She is so still Mim wonders how she does it, listening to all the rantings.  Does she go home and have a tall glass of wine while she eats on her deck? Does she have to build a fortress around her before she goes to work? Or is she someone who gets it, this special sort of hell?

“I wonder what I must look like from the other side of the room, from your chair. It looks no better than mine but it must be a heck of a lot more comfortable. I know this isn’t a sabbatical trip I’m on, not a resort where I can kick back and have a good old time. But it isn’t the road to paradise, either. I don’t have to love it, find it new or fascinating. Because it is not.” She wets her lips, pushes her short hair off her forehead. “It is NOT.”

“It’s another try at sobriety,” Lane says, “a chance taken.” She pauses. “On something more. For you.”

200236712-001The clock, rain, the steamy warmth of the room: they have a dreamy effect and  contour Lane’s mind. Mim’s words, edged with gold–“It is NOT”–line up across her mental screen, perilous, brash. All those negatives over the years have become like so many glass words Lane collects, then breaks apart and rearranges with each new client. They create something else or do not succeed.

She picks up her mug of tea. The client doesn’t respond, only watches rain streaking the window, eyes narrowing as though trying to focus on one thought, a moment, the certain feeling that might tell a whole story, the truth, in one sentence. Lane knows it is hard. She sees it takes all Mim can summon to sit there and be seen like this when her nerves feel like they have shark teeth and her heart is a chattering fool. Lane knows it is not yet anything like the promise of well-being the tri-fold brochure intimates. The woman is to smart to see how she runs in circles. Yet. There can be change. There is a stirring in Lane’s chest like a small door opening, then: a steady pulse of compassion.

“I do want life to be different. I want my son and daughter to race up to me on visiting day, feel absolutely sure I am going to be strong. Kind. That is what I want to be: so much kinder than this.”

Mim brought the tender finger to her lips again, but she took it into her other shaky hand. She laced all fingers together so they formed a basket she peered into as they rested in the hollow of her lap. “But I don’t know what I’ll find if I stay sober. I don’t have any idea what I will discover inside, what sort of real woman is there…”

Ticktickticktick. Time slinks away as rain’s counterpoint beats an ancient drum on earth and brick walls. Mim’s fingers unthreading, shoulders sagging forward. Her face is like an underside of the moon, not fortuitously revealed but marked by a terrain confused by misinformation and the inroads of experience. Alcoholic eyes, burning wells. An etching of persimmon scars marches up her jaw line to her temple, slides across her covered, crooked nose. Her left eye is still circled by the palest velvety purple. Her lips move but nothing is let go. Hands fly to mouth, to eyes, to face.

Lane sits forward. “Life will find you, has found you even now. All you need do is be present with it. You have time here, a safety net. I’ll be here while you puzzle out the clues.”

Outside, Lane catches sight of a bony, bespectacled young man looking in the narrow window of the office door. He cranes his neck to see Mim. Crutches in the corner. Cast on her leg. She sees him staring and turns away. He feels sorry for her, her face damaged like that but he is much more angry. He might have been her, he might have ended up like her, but no. Did. Not. Happen. With a forceful push of the wheels, he propels his wheelchair down the hallway.

Mim stares at the empty rectangle of glass. “Lane, look, I can’t promise anyone anything. I don’t even know if I will stay.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“You came today.”

“Yes. I did.”

Lane nods and almost smiles. Mim feels done. She stands up with difficulty. Lane watches her hop to the crutches, steady herself. When her client stands a bit taller she crosses her office and opens the door. The hum of life flows down the corridor, a stream of possibilities. Mim looks over her shoulder, eyes like two dark stones turning and shining in light, and steps forward. She wants to smell the wet earth without alcohol numbing her senses. She wants to smell the rain.

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Gleaning Gifts of a Dream

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Last night I was a moody but confident, passionate but restrained, weary but adventurous sixteen year old again. I was talking to a roomful of people from high school. We had played together in each other’s yards and attended public schools together for many years. My mother was at my shoulder and noted one young man in particular and said something about an event that had occurred. I reminded her I had figure skated with him although he was a far better speed skater.  A sweet affinity was shared with the boy with the honeyed voice; we cozied up on the couch.

I stepped back and examined myself: auburn-brown hair touched with gold, bangs falling over one eyebrow, blue eyes peering out. The style was a modified style based on Twiggy’s, that famous beanpole model from the sixties. I had more curve and muscle. My skin was pale, smooth, softer than seemed reasonable. A smile swept over my face, light and breezy. It was good to be there that moment.

Then the scream of the alarm grabbed me from my dream with such force it felt like being pulled from deep waters–but I didn’t need or want to be rescued. I fell back. The dream arose once more, replete with familiar faces, voices entwined in easy conversation. The contours of living and dining rooms came alive; shadows shifted as bodies rearranged themselves. I sensed food being prepared in the kitchen: a party underway.

My childhood home, a sturdy yellow and turquoise bungalow. I crossed over the foyer, lingered by the baby grand piano, admired the dining table set with flowers. I glanced at the buffet which held a stack of mail, colored glassware, another vase with bright flowers. Music issued from the stereo, something I could not quite define. Was it classical? Did my gentle, dignified father put that on even though I wanted Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez? Then the den (a bedroom in earlier years), television room where a TV did not exist before 1963 because there was no time for it, no interest, really. There was always something else to do; my family got engaged in whatever required attention most. Usually music-making or studying.

Upstairs, two good-sized bedrooms and a bath. I paused on the landing, stared a long moment, then eased my way down. I sat on the third from bottom step. This was the best vantage point for many years, the place that was central to all first floor activities. I could hear most conversations, construct the scenes. It was the place from which I first discerned the fabulous, puzzling adult world. A spot where I used to cry without drawing attention, make a playground for a Barbie, and years later wait for the telephone to be free so I could talk with my best friend or maybe, surreptitiously, a boy. Where all five children waited for the door to be opened to Christmas wonders. I could nearly smell cinnamon rolls and sausage.

Out of some interior space floated my name, the nickname of my childhood. I entered the bright living room. My mother’s laughter became more quiet, then faded away. I glimpsed her fine-lined face haloed by the famous silvery white hair. The room remained filled with those I have known and nearly forgotten but no one is in a hurry. I wondered how long we would stay in this golden place.

Soon crows make a ruckus that punctuates city traffic. I sit up quickly, my eyes not yet seeing, my mind cloaked in secret things, unworldly things. Thin light is caught inside corners of the bedroom and so defines angles as I find my way back to this spot in time. I see the blue differently and realize for the first time it is the blue of my childhood room, before it was lavender. My heart is a cocoon of peace.

I can hear my youngest daughter’s voice. Laughter as she packs up to return to grad school. Her fiancé is washing up a few dishes as they talk.

After greetings and coffee, we pour over a bridal magazine and I know this is going to happen; she is getting married. And I want to tell her: “Grandma came to visit me. She misses you and longs to be at your wedding.”

Instead–there is not time for the tears that will find us–I tell her, “I had a dream of being sixteen. My face was open and so young, soft. There were many people at your grandparents’ house. It was lovely…”

I was married once in a chapel, the first time. I was more than a decade younger than this daughter and choices did not include quite finishing college. I was in love and unprepared, before much understanding was captured from life’s wily snares. I had ached to be wise, braver than brave as a youth, then as a young woman. But now I am a woman surrendering little by little to this ebb and flow of life, growing older. It is not arduous. Much like my mother was, I am filled with relentless curiosity, hope tinged with bittersweet yearnings and a reservoir of love that wants to transform discouragement and pain as well as celebrate triumph. All with a tale and an embrace, duly witnessing and making note of life in all its cantankerous and exceptional fullness.

I take a picture of my daughter and future son-in-law and there are my mother’s grey-blue eyes. Her crooked, sweet smile. Think: Well, here we are, Mom. This and much (you know how much) more to come.

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