Sunday, October 20, 2013

in my sisters’ town, or come with me to the deep blue sea (plus: on lonesome)

Sometimes when I go to my sisters’ town I stay up on the mesa outside of town, where my one sister lives, and other times I stay in town, where my other sister lives. When I am staying in town it is nice in the morning to walk down the town’s main street to the ocean.

Main Street, USA.

The storefronts are small and colorful, and there are many restaurants and small cafés, some with tables and chairs set up out front or on a side patio. You can get pizza, sushi, steak, seafood, Mexican food, Thai food, Italian food, American food, cajun, and there’s even a spot to get a burger and a shake. There are bakeries, a candy shop, a couple of places for antiques and knick-knacks, a grocery store. There are clothing stores, spas and salons, a place to buy gifts from the sea, a Rite Aid, and a laundromat. You can stop for coffee, tea, or cocktails, pick up and take home a six-pack of avocado honey beer. And there is a surf shop. Overhead the sky is a benign blue, and the skyline is flocked with the fronds of ancient palms. Even in an idyll such as this, though, there are dangers.

No matter where you go, there you are, and you’ve been warned.

One morning, the closer I got to the ocean, the stronger the smell of barbecue. Then, as I crossed the railroad tracks, the scent of eucalyptus. Another step or two and the salty smell of the ocean mingled with the eucalyptus, bringing to mind caramel. The eucalyptus faded, and there she was, the great blue sea.

On the beach.

It being a warm, calm day, I let the ocean wrap around my feet. When it was time to go, I rinsed off at a push-button shower kiosk and sat on a bench, studying this tree.

There was one crow in this tree, which you probably cannot see.

Then, people began flocking to the shore, walking to the ocean’s edge, stopping, staring out. This did not seem unusual at first, but once a dozen or more gathered, I wondered. So I stared out. And then I saw it, out there in the water: Fin! Shark! No! Dolphin! In fact, many dolphins. A veritable school of dolphins passing by, maybe 50 yards or so out, their dorsal fins emerging from the sea in sweeping undulations.

For many years, Chicago and the Midwest was my family’s geographical hub. It is where we grew up, and it is where for many years my parents and I lived close to one another. In the late 1970s one sister moved to California, and several years later the other followed. My folks and I stayed put. Then, I moved north, my father died, and my mother packed off to California to a well-structured community that accommodates her needs as they slowly—and sometimes quickly—change. She lives near my sisters, and they watch over her, and I visit.

My mother worries that being so far away from the family hub as I am that I must get lonesome. Sometimes I do. Recently, though, I was offered a perspective on loneliness that I’ve enjoyed turning over. Loneliness is, perhaps, just about sharing, and perhaps we feel most lonely when we want to share but cannot, or are trying to share and it’s not working, or think we have to share every blessed thing when we don’t. It’s a fine mix of elements—who to share with, how, when, why—and the combinations that work vary among us.

While visiting this week my mother asked, as always, if I ever get lonely. I told her no, not so much, not so long as I find a way to share. I asked my mother if she ever gets lonely, and she told me no, not so much.

Another day, back at the ocean, there was a feeding frenzy. Dolphins, pelicans, fishermen, grebes, gulls, terns, and cormorants were nabbing fish from the ocean. I could not identify all those birds, but my sister’s friend could (the terns were royal and the gulls were Heermann’s), and she thought there must be a school of sardines causing the commotion, possibly a school rounded up by the dolphins. Passing a fisherman I asked what he was catching, and he said perch.

Flocking to the sea.

I stood out in the ocean, floated, decided the long strands of kelp looked like bad decor left over from the seventies, and then my attention was diverted back to shore. Three small dogs were caught up in a rabid discussion. I watched for a while. Two of the dogs are family.

Two West Coast family poodles.

The discussion ended, I turned and looked out over the ocean. About 20 feet away a fin emerged from the water. It disappeared, a second fin came up close behind. The two dolphins swam slowly by, their fins rising and falling, emerging and disappearing, and each time they rose I could see clearly the light gradations of grey on their backs, their taut skin. Overhead, a small group of terns, maybe five or six. One dive-bombed, plucked a fish from the sea.

Just a couple of blocks from my sister’s house is a used book store. It is next to the library and purchases help to support the library. There I found two books to take home. One is “Here is Your War,” by Ernie Pyle, a hardcover from 1944, first printed in 1943. The other is “No More Secondhand God and Other Writings,” by R. Buckminster Fuller. It is a paperback from 1971, originally published in 1963. The first sentence of the preface contains 65 words, 150 syllables (or thereabouts), six commas, one period. Having read the sentence several times, I might understand it but am not sure. “No More Secondhand God” is a poem of several pages that I think I do, for the most part, understand. It begins
Late tonight
(April 9, 1940)
I am just sitting here
for one of the many reasons that
people find themselves passionately isolated.