The campground is still. Everyone cleared out early this beautiful, drizzly, grey morning because of last night’s downpour. I can’t blame them. I did the same thing, breaking camp at record speed from the primitive campground I was able to secure at the last minute. When I arrived, it was dusty and dirty but after Saturday’s monsoon rains, I woke up to ponds of mud. Dogs and mud and camping, I don’t think so, so Monet and I and headed into town for a cup of Lily’s latte and a veggie breakfast burrito.
Right now, and I suspect for the rest of the week while I’m here, it will remain quiet. Labor Day is a full week behind us and now us retirees come out of the woodwork and pantomime part-aay—whoot, whoot—like it’s 1976.
Right now, I can hear the rush-rush-rush of The-Weekend’s-Over-traffic, but it is muffled, almost like the breaking waves. This stillness, this calmness, sitting under my black umbrella as the rain drizzles around me, feels like my mother’s powder puff on my ruddy cheeks. When Katie was born, 31 years ago, everyone in the household was holy, reverentially, silent. We tiptoed. We spoke in whispers. We were in awe and transfixed by this tiny fawn of a human child. Being silent in Nature is like that. And even though “civilization” is just a mile away, I am uplifted, swaddled by an imaginary stork.
The rain is so welcomed to drought-weary California. Even though it can mess up plans—camping, outdoor birthday parties, hikes—it is an exciting reminder of change, how, as much as we try to be organized, we’re actually not in control of the big stuff, like the weather, or accidents, or terminal diseases.
Living-in-the-moment is my new discipline. Clearly, I need a lot more practice!
Having time helps, as does not worrying about unpaid bills. I had no idea that this State of Being was even possible. To sit, like I am, drinking a very strong cup of Kona coffee at my favorite campsite on a Sunday afternoon, not stressing about rushing home, what I’m going to teach tomorrow, watching the little yellow bird jump from bush to bush, enjoying my own company, is astounding, is an experience I wish everyone could also enjoy.
I am grateful that I was able jump when I was ready, that nothing pushed me off the edge; an illness, a financial calamity, a negative attitude about my home, my family, my city. I left with tears in my eyes, and love.
I suppose I’ll be processing the why I left and its implications for some time to come. What I know is I craved silence. I craved the white space of a clean canvas. I craved staring at the ocean for as long as I want. I craved saturating myself in being open to conversations with strangers, paying attention to interactions and relationships, being the observer and, when it feels right, the participant.
So yesterday, after a night at a dog-friendly hotel and enjoying an engaging dinner with my dear friends, Julie and her best-guy-ever husband, Ken, I decided to save money on a second night at the hotel, and reserved a primitive campground just a mile east of the one I booked for the upcoming week. I’m in wine country and driving past some of my favorite wineries without stopping was weird and very much unlike me; I figured, I’m by myself, I have my dog, it’s hot, and solo wine tasting isn’t fun if you don’t have a buddy with you.
But the vibrational pull of Vineyard Drive off the 46 and my favorite wineries was just too much for me.
You know, I had no choice. So, I turned right at the turnabout and took my Aloha Time down the oak-tree canopied winding road.
The folks at Rangeland Wines on the westernmost edge of Paso Robles are like family to me, so I figured I wouldn’t feel so pathetic wine-tasting alone. I love the owners, Laird and Lisa Foshay, their writer son, Jackson, and their sweet black and white herder pup. We always talk about the books we’re reading, the complexities of Climate Change, of course wine, and sometimes poetry.
Saturday, the tasting room was packed, more patrons than I’d ever seen before, but somehow Rangeland’s accommodating staff found room for me and seated Monet and I next to four senior citizen regulars; we immediately begin chatting about dogs, how my cattle dog isn’t especially friendly, and how much we loved Rangeland.
One of the men, a particularly upbeat, chatty guy, shared that he was celebrating because he sold his house—full asking price on the first day—and would be moving to Utah to a senior citizen complex that provides assisted living. “Weren’t you sad?” I asked. “Hell no! I’m sick of all the work,” he said. His friend, a woman who appeared to be in her mid70s, said they would be joining him in a couple of years because they can’t stand the Governor and the direction California appears to be heading. “It’s not so bad here, but in Los Angeles and San Francisco it’s just awful,” she complained, assuming I was on the same political page as her.
I didn’t get into it with her, but I love California, just like my immigrant parents did. Sure, there are parts that are annoying. The traffic. The congestion. The home prices. The homeless problem. But that’s true of all cities, I suspect. But look at our beaches. Look at our mountains, our National Parks, our economic opportunities, our diversity. Look at Kirk, one of the servers at Eberle Winery, another winery I stopped at (couldn’t help myself—it was close to the hotel!); he’s a long-retired principal (his son is also a principal) and he’s in love with his second career, pouring wine and talking about the challenges teachers and children face, and wondering about solutions.
“My son is in the class teaching because there aren’t enough teachers to fill the vacancies,” he said.
My friend, Julie, whose daughter is also a principal, told me the same thing. Hopeful educators are burning out, yearning to leave the profession. Educators are being blamed for problems they didn’t cause and can’t solve.
Man, oh man, we knew this was coming. It was predicted 20 years ago when I went back to college, at age 44, to earn my teaching credential and Master’s degree. We actually do know how to fix it: Teachers need to be respected monetarily. Teachers also need time to reflect and restore. Finland figured this out at the end of World War II when they systematically re-evaluated, and addressed, their national values and priorities; they made societal changes accordingly. I remember meeting a young Finnish mother on a paid-for, year-long maternity leave as we were waiting to get our passports renewed; she said that in her nation teachers are placed on a pedestal,”They more important than doctors.”
See, as I’ve been sitting here relaxing, thinking about birds and trees and the walk I’m going to go on in a few minutes now that the rain has stopped, I’m not checking out. I’m restoring. Getting better. Maybe edging to a place, in the future—not now—of boredom. At some point, I’m going to get tired of reading and relaxing. And no, as my sister asked today, “Do ever get lonely?” Not yet. I talk to people. Listen. I have days and weeks to think, which is what everyone needs.
Did I tell you, I’m on my second book, “The Namesake”, a paperback I picked up for a dollar at the library? Did I tell you that I once again crave writing? Did I tell you I’ve painted my second watercolor? Did I tell you that for the first time in years I languished in the hammock, fell asleep, and had a dream? Did I tell you today feels like Fall? Did I tell you a woman who was walking behind me noticed these magical, crispy yellow leaves dropping on me like a bride on her way to her honeymoon, and said, “Make a wish. It’s supposed to be good luck”?
I stopped on the muddy pathway, arched by poplar trees and a ribbon of campfire smoke, and closed my eyes.
There I was, 66 but feeling like 6, believing in Santa Claus, the magic of Walt Disney, and all the songs of my youth that said dreams really do come true.
So, what did I dream? You know I can’t tell. But I’ll let you know when it happens.