I am without internet – I write this knowing I can’t post for a few days, but I wanted to take advantage of the peace, the opportunity to capture this moment now. (I am also without decent camera; forgive the cell phone pics.)
I sit on a twin daybed in the living room of a colleague’s guest cabin. He built his family’s house in the woods, just east of Caspar Cove and Point Cabrillo, just south of Fort Bragg. Over the decades, the house progressed from the tiny cabin they started with to an expansive home with multiple bedrooms, a loft, a spiral staircase, all permeated with warmth, beauty and love. Art, photos, books, well-kept old stoves – this home is the sort of place you take off your shoes and shed your worries.
The guest cabin invites even greater relaxation. I’d seen it in progress on a prior visit, but not finished – it’s still not quite finished. The kitchen area is incomplete and the main floor still rough. But the bedroom boasts a glossy new hardwood floor and brass bed, and the bathroom offers a clawfoot bathtub, colorfully tiled shower and a sink painted in a peacock feather motif. “Take a bath when you get there,” my colleague had suggested, so I stopped at Rite-Aid and, after much pondering, chose a reasonably natural tub of ultra-vanilla bath salt.
Back up a bit. I’d started the day with the sort of spousal conflict common in long marriages. An unpleasant start to any day, but especially one in which I was scheduled to depart and be away through the end of the week.
Back up a little more. I’d spent most of the night worrying about my children, their future and our family’s present struggle to find joy and comfort and mutual ambition. My own flaws illuminated my thoughts as well. In the daylight, I move with confidence, but in the wee hours, the doubts plague. Too many vices, too little willpower. I am not nearly what I could be and my family suffers for it. If only I were perfect, it follows, then they and our lives would be, too.
Back to today. I hadn’t driven the road connecting Petrolia to the 101 via Honeydew before. My brain ran amok with thoughts I wished I could commit to paper. Then I remembered I could simply record them on my phone. So I did:
“I am driving away from Petrolia toward Honeydew, Ryan Adam’s Gold CD in the player, ‘La Cienga Just Smiled’ playing, surfboard strapped to the top of the rental car. It’s beautiful. The Mattole River. Some of the leaves on some of the trees have already changed color, fiery red clusters among the green. Wildflowers exploding purple and yellow along the side of the road. Kaylee is tucked in at camp, soon to be hiking the Lost Coast. I have to trust the world to look out for her, I guess. She’s done it before, but still an odd thing to leave your child behind. Pink wildflowers, too. A kid on a quad, some motorcyclists. Not quite the middle of nowhere, but remote nonetheless. Ryan Adams sings about a broken body, a broken soul, which sounds cheesy when I say it, but is beautiful like this road. And I am filled with melancholy.”
And then, later:
“Still driving toward the 101. It’s amazing, just amazing driving this road. Windy, windy road going up and up and up. I have no idea really where I am. I mean, I have a vague sense of geography, but not anything specific. There are trees of many types: pine, fir, spruce and ones I can’t name. Signs warn Beware of Cows. I can see almost to the ocean, the road is so high up. Rare to see other cars up here. I am really surprised at the altitude I’ve gained, how far up this ridge I’ve gone, how far I can see. Is the marine layer hiding the ocean? I continue to go up on this road, which occasionally turns to gravel. Hardly any other cars, do hope I’m going the right way. Occasional dirt road. Must be so much tucked away. Clearly. Something’s happening around here. Very steep drop. Lots of trees. Hell of a view. Winding through this wilderness makes me think that perhaps the problem really is simply too many people. How could any problems exist here, with so few people? Lots of cyclists, surprisingly, and an occasionally large truck. A view so breathtaking I must stop and take a photo.”
And then I finally dropped down into the park-preserved old-growth and remembered that it doesn’t take very many people to do a great deal of damage and the solution lies in more than simply shrinking the population.
And I drove and drove and drove, leaving the 101 in Leggett and following yet more twists and turns until the world opened back up at the ocean, where clean lines stretched across an ocean unmolested by wind. I leaned on the gas a bit more, hungry to be in that ocean. Twenty minutes later, I’d stopped to check, saw a friend emerge from the trail before I could even look. It’s fun, he assured me. I took his word for it, lugged my gear down the trail, changed, paddled out, surfed alone in that glassy gray sea for an hour. The waves were mushy, the peak shifty and yet I found shoulder after shoulder. With each ride, my heart lightened, my mind slowed. Optimism may have not returned, but pessimism decreased.
I finally arrived at the guesthouse, peaked wood-beam ceiling and permeating warmth from the wood stove. A CD player sat on a bench. I’d grabbed an old CD carrying case on a whim. As I started the bath, I shuffled through for some music and found a copy, from one of my dearest friends, of Greg Brown’s Covenant. I sank into the steaming, vanilla-scented bathwater and listened to Greg, read my book – Ariel Gore’s Bluebird, about women and happiness. I resolved to note the moments of joy in my life, not just chronicle the complaints.
The future remains uncertain. The dog and the oldest cat need to go to the vet. We’ve yet to set any money aside for savings. Nothing has changed.
And yet, the music, the beauty of the drive, the ocean, the solitude, the comfort of this place, the heat of the bath – the day has been filled with so many moments of joy.
And, despite all the potential for suffering, I am filled with happiness.