Friday, November 21, 2008

Up Above California


After a poor night's sleep, I walk under the shade of that huge sprawling Fig Tree near the train station, moving toward a brunch with Sheryl. It's fantastic to see her, and we have a good time catching up, though it's hard to cover 14 years in a couple hours. As we talk, a group of four hippie boomers hold a small impromptu parade, smiling their stoned smiles and flashing peace signs and holding placards saying, "Impeach." My reaction was the same as when I saw Oliver Stone's latest film, "W." Why now? Where were you 4 years, no, 6 years ago? Don't let your egos fool you into thinking you still matter. They are later replaced by a real parade of camouflaged ROTC clones and old jeeps driven by aging vets. Is this Armed Forces Day? Veteran's Day? Boy, I've been away from America a long long time...


After brunch, I take a taxi up to San Marcos Pass and the White Lotus Foundation. Here I'd spend the week, studying Thai Yoga Therapy. While I developed new skills, I would be living a porous schedule, with ample time to hike, read, meditate on and around big rocks and trees, and take brisk, exhilarating swims in local watering holes. The weather favored the latter, staying up in the high 80s (F) most of the time. Night brought on the winds. The first night they were especially strong, making sleep scarce. (Poor sleep being the theme of the trip, actually.) I could hear the wind coming from the valley below, roaring up the ridge where my yurt stood. Through the glass nipple roof, I would watch a tree bough thick as a Volkswagon bob and weave only a few feet above my bed. The constant gusts sounded like a dozen bears tearing through the canvas. A few BIG gusts shook the floor like an earthquake. With these Santa Ana winds often come fires. A few days into the week, moneyed Montecito was alight. Daylight hours were marked by the near constant thump of helicopters flying over, huge monsters filling up with water at nearby Lake Cachuma, which they'd then drop onto the flames. Looking up was like being an amateur entomologist; the various aircraft an intriguing variety of insect shapes. From my mountain perch, the sky over the sea was smoky, hiding the Channel Islands entirely. Ironically, the sky up here is a flawless blue everyday. Nights are even more starting, the moon highlighting the landscape in Day for Night clarity, everything shot through a gauze filter like those old films. Every cloud, every rock is visible. Animals take advantage of this light, and when the winds finally cease, I can hear them creeping around my yurt throughout the night. I look for tracks in the morning, but the ground is too dry from lack of rain. One afternoon, while hiking on the ridge above the yurt village, I find a variety of tracks in a soft patch of sand. There are an intermingling of deer and skunk prints, plus the huge paw shape of either a bobcat or mountain lion. My sleep is even worse after finding these, though I eventually drift off to the sound of crickets singing in time to Miles Davis on my computer.


I read a lot, do plenty of yoga, and learn how to give a Thai massage. The last night, I play my shakuhachi awhile in the underground kiva (formerly a bomb shelter), and take part in a ceremony led by a Yanqi Shaman. The next day I'm off to LA. Near Ventura, there is a spot where I always seem to see dolphins. On this beautiful day, there is dolphin activity all along the southbound PCH. I get dropped off at Urth Cafe in Beverly Hills, where I reconfirm stereotypes as I wait for Gordo. I haven't seen him in 5 years, a significant period of time during which I got divorced, changed careers, moved cities, and married again. An hour-long monologue fueled by strong coffee just about covers it all. Gordo's own life jelled during this same five-year period, and he fills me in as we drive toward a setting sun whose patented beauty could only be created by this city's smog. LA drivers obviously spend loads of time in their cars, and seem so at home in them, in the way that their eyes are off the road and hands are off the wheel more than half the time. We have a surreal dinner in a fairly lowbrow Italian place, where the Chianti is bad and the waiters sing Happy Birthday. I love Gordo for taking me here, to a place so obnoxious and bustling and completely at odds with the peaceful quiet I'd had for the previous 9 days. Even after years without contact, a truly good friend will still fuck with your mind.


One last night of bad sleep in a hotel across from LAX, under the white noise of incoming planes. I hop an early flight for San Francisco, flying in an hour over what had taken many days to drive. We pass over Santa Barbara, which shows no apparent fire damage from 30,000 feet. I look at all those central coast mountains, and for the first time in years I remember the word, "Wilderness." I don't usually think of myself as separate from nature or mountains or the forest. But what is spread below me looks rough and wild, its beauty hiding perils like forest fires and big deadly cats. It's like a thick wrinkly comforter on an unmade bed. Somewhere along the way it dawns on me how much like an American I now feel, how these three long trips over eighteen months have made the place seem like home again. Mentally, I'm prepared for the impending return. (Emotionally? Who knows...) As we near SF, I look down on the water of the Bay. Lacking landmarks, I have no real perspective. I could be hundreds of feet up or merely standing at the edge of a small pond lightly tousled by wind. This lack of perspective continues until the plane's shadow appears, rising and rising until it touches our belly.


An hour later it's wheels up again, and a bigger shadow now speeds across the tarmac. My seatmate is Japanese, who demonstrates that uncanny ability to sleep anywhere, a trait seemingly shared by most Asians. Within minutes of takeoff he's out, and for the next 11 hours he does a lovely impression of an angler fish, head back, mouth open. When this entertainment grows thin, I keep busy with my books and videos, breaking away from the mono-view of seascape that begins immediately upon leaving the fatherland. We pass half a day in tracing a high arc above Alaskan islands toward the little happy land where the mono-views are in the politics...



On the turntable: Velvet Underground, "Live at End Cole Avenue"

On the nighttable; Donald Richie, "The Films of Akira Kurosawa"

1 comment:

dana said...

...and welcome back....