Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Gualala, to escape Xmas

On the way north....

Near the end of December 2000, I checked into Cabin #8 at the Mar Vista Cabins in Gualala, California. I readily believed the owners, Tom and Renata Dorn, that Cabin #8 was their best cabin, standing a bit away from other cabins and near the woods.

Every now and then it is good to follow the Buddha’s example and meditate “under a Bo Tree” until you are certain that you can still live with yourself amicably and peacefully. With every solitary retreat, one is visited by the same spirits that visited Buddha: loneliness and desire and the fear of aging and dying.

For the pangs of loneliness and fantasies of desire that flew around my “Bo Tree” – that is, Cabin #8 – there was the fish-slender Japanese-American youth at the Cove restaurant in Point Arena, like all the waiters, wearing a black T-shirt with a logo on the back, an altered yin-yang – the tip of the white part ending with the peak of a wave, the end of the black part being a tiny surfer.

It was also a writing retreat, but I found time to write in a journal too, where the part about aging flowed from my pen, and gave me some lines that evoked laughter and nods of recognition when they were spoken in my one act play, TURNING:

Trying to pull on my sox this morning – What are these toenails? I say to myself. I live alone now so I talk to myself that way. Growing strange – hard to pull on sox without getting caught on some odd splinter of a toenail. I’m growing stems now – I’m growing branches – I‘m becoming a tree!

What’s with this long list of complaints? It goes on and on –

Well, excuse me, world. It’s just that I am feeling a little worn in places – one eye, one ear – the way any fabric will grow thin in time, and then holes appear. Like old wallpaper, yellowing, drying, but not flaking off the wall – a picture that no-one sees anymore.

No longer troubled by that Xmas phobia in 2009, it is difficult to remember that I was also in that cabin for a few days in Gualala as a means of hiding out from Xmas. What that was all about would require a separate exposition, but now it seems very silly. Among the people I know, Xmas does not exist so I have no need to fear the day, the things that day used to evoke.

I don’t know if they are still there, but Tom and Renata Dorn were politically liberal, friendly toward guests with dogs, and had a watchgoat Buster tethered with a generous length of rope in the yard near their office, the red cabin amid all the yellow cabins. Renata had given personal attention to everything. Was it a little painful to see that Cabin #8 was set up for lovers? Everything in twos, including two champaigne glasses and a sprig of mistletoe over the bedroom door? The embroidered and ribboned window curtains were clearly her handiwork, and she must have placed the book of local women writers, given to her by her mother (as it said in the front of the book), inviting us to share her mother’s gift. Looking out the window one afternoon, I saw that Renata was sitting in a chair under a pine looking toward the sun and Buster the billygoat. Lonely people create cottages, and lonely people stay in them, I mused, inviting too many people into my loneliness, except that the solitude of natural places seems to open space for everyone.

Mid-mornings I would drive to do tai chi on a cliff where three sides looked over white water crashing against cliffs – a space just wide enough to do all the steps without falling off into that beautiful swirl of water where rainbows sometimes lingered before the spray fell back into the sea. I am most in love with the ever-changing beauty of water, the patterns of water close up, or the rucked and sequined sea. And in that place, and before reaching it, the sea was the dominant character. Driving past Valley Ford, I came into a landscape less familiar to me, and I felt the old paradox – You can be in a “quiet” forest and realize that it has its own “traffic noise.”* Nature at that point of the coast was not calming to me, as I saw foam slather around the monumental black teeth of the sea, those rock sentinels compact with millions of years of earth-time. Driving past those ominous dark and ancient ogres, electricity shivered through me.

I loved to cross the road from the cabins, unhook the leather thong that held a gate closed, and stand on cliff’s edge, over a hundred wooden steps down to the beach. The pre-dawn might be purple and red, and you heard the bull of the sea snort and stamp loudly on some mornings. That night, the ocean might still bellow, stomp, tear, and snort – while the stars…were silent.

*Wind in the Pines

Listening to the wind in the pines,
I hear the traffic in distant towns;
the roll of surf; the cheers from
a stadium crowd; the falling away
of the world when it rushes by
a diver or a suicide; the restless
murmur of an audience before
a concert or a play; the faint wail
of a far-off train; the keening
of an antique song: The wind
in the pines sings to me every day
in the voice of the bustling Earth,
with, once in a while, a hush
when it pauses to take a breath.

No comments: