(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)
“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” Steven Wright
Last night by the fire, our new (old) house enshrouded in dense fog, I said to Marcia that I didn’t feel we were on the land where this house sits but rather on a boat, or possibly a raft, floating somewhere on the ocean of existence. I was not yet anchored anywhere except in my own interiority, except I didn’t use the word interiority because I didn’t think to use it until today when a letter came from my friend Max that said, “While it’s fun for me to say I’m on the Riviera, I notice this: in a certain way I am always in a room and inside my interiority when you and I are talking to each other. Wherever I may go, I’m always coming from that same place.”
Speaking of interiors, yesterday we had one of those spatial breakthroughs that amaze and gladden the spirit. On the east-facing wall of our new living room, two feet above the top of the doorway, sat a massive room-spanning shelf, a single piece of old growth heart redwood sixteen-feet long and a foot wide and two inches thick—an amazing slab of wood. And because the shelf was there and so massive and commanding and impressive, we kept trying to figure out what to put on it. We tried statues, books, driftwood, stones, gongs, drums, and pottery, yet nothing seemed quite right. But we had to find something to go there. Didn’t we?
Well…yesterday morning I woke to the epiphany that the massive shelf was actually a gigantic energy-clogging, dust-collecting, enemy of our psychic and aesthetic freedom, and so I conferred with Marcia and we decided to take the impressively massive thing down, which we and our carpenter-in-residence Jamie Roberts did—no easy feat. Then we scrubbed away the dust and cobwebs on the liberated wall and stood back to take a look. What a fantastic change! Now the room seems much larger and definitely happier, while the wall, I’m sure, is hugely relieved to be free of that burden.
Then yesterday evening—after an incredibly busy day of carpenters and roofers and painters swarming all over the house—two burly men, Spanish-speaking metal scavengers, showed up with their enormous blue pickup truck to take away various metal things we have removed from the house, the largest item being an old cast iron bathtub that weighed well over four hundred pounds. The two fellows mused for a moment over the tub, and then, as easily as I might lift an average-sized cat, they picked the tub up and slid the behemoth into the bed of their truck. And then, confronted by an incredibly heavy old woodstove, they lifted the massive thing as if it were nothing more than a chubby child; and my hernia ached as I looked on in awe at their prodigious strength.
As I was overseeing the various Herculean efforts of these two good men, I communicated with them in my extremely limited Spanish until one of the fellows, tiring of my linguistic deficiencies, said in perfect English, “So…where did you learn to speak Spanish?” I tried to answer in Spanish and he graciously helped me find the proper words. When I said I had gone to Mexico and Central America in 1970 as a Spanish translator for a marine biologist, the fellow translated my claim for his companion, who retorted in rapid fire Spanish something to the effect of, “If this guy was the translator, they must have had some very interesting adventures.”
“ I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” G.M. Trevelyan
One of my favorite things about our new house is that we are only a mile from the village, and in our first week here I have twice walked to town to do my errands. On the way to town, I descend some four hundred feet in elevation, which means that on the way home I ascend those same four hundred feet. Going to town today took me fifteen minutes, the return trip forty. I am in abominable shape, aerobically speaking, and I am hopeful that several walks to and from the village each week will eventually ameliorate my sorry condition. Today in my knapsack I carried home four bananas, two big carrots, a chocolate bar, a bag of ginger powder, a notebook, pen, pocketknife, and a half-pound of mail, the sum total of which nearly killed me. At one point I was walking so slowly I thought I must be kidding, but I was merely trying not to have a heart attack.
“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Henry David Thoreau
How wonderful I feel strolling into town after my downhill ramble, my little truck left at home while I get my errands done and get some exercise, too. I enter Zo to make a few photocopies and find Jan presiding over his remarkable machines, and I feel I must tell him that I walked to town, which seems to please him, for he knows the steep first mile of Little Lake Road very well, being a bicyclist who climbs that hill with great regularity.
Copying done, I emerge into the fog and do a double take because…no truck! I am once again a vagabond as in my youth, a wanderer possessed of only what I can carry. I traverse the two long blocks to the post office, send a package to Kentucky, a letter to England, fetch the meager mail, and head for Corners of the Mouth in the little red church where the vegetables are always superb and the choices of chocolate as wide as the Mississippi.
But wait! I cannot buy my usual twenty pounds of vittles, for I am on foot and in terrible shape, and the space inside my knapsack is greatly limited. Therefore, I tell myself, I will only buy what we most desperately need, which, thankfully, is nothing. But instead of nothing, I purchase the aforementioned four bananas, two big carrots, a chocolate bar, and a bag of ginger powder (Marcia’s making ginger snaps), and as Garnish rings me up, Sky is nearby replenishing the fruit bins and finds a perfectly edible but less than perfectly gorgeous Golden Delicious apple, which she offers to me as a perk for being such a good customer.
Thus burdened and gifted, I head for home, cross Highway One, and make the mistake of trying to go too fast on the first steep rise, which renders me out of breath and nauseated. So I slow way down to the aforementioned barely walking at all until my heart stops pounding and my vision clears and I am no longer in danger of throwing up, after which my climb goes wonderfully well, however slowly.
Eventually, many minutes later, I trudge past the elementary school and leave the road to climb a steep trail through the woods to avoid the treacherous curves of Little Lake Road, which trail brings me to a little clearing where I come face to face with a magnificent buck and a beautiful doe, neither of whom seems the least bit afraid of me; and when I offer them the apple gifted me by Sky, both deer nod enthusiastically, I kid you not.
Home again at last, the sun finally banishing the fog, I enter our new (old) house feeling absurdly triumphant for having done so little, and as I peek into Marcia’s office she looks up from her work and says, “What? Back already?”