I asked you once, twice, maybe a hundred times to teach me how to skip stones because—like the stick shift and softball and butterfly stroke—I never seemed to master the stance and feel, the order and ease with which you unfurl your hand and let it fly, each and every time erecting a bridge from here to halfway across the Pacific, yet no matter how patiently you loop your arms behind me and coach my grip, swinging my limbs just so, my stones fall from the sky like rocks.
Nestled between a bout of off-season flu and an eight-day existential crisis, the scheduling gods aligned for one foggy day of freedom. I decided to spend it weaving amongst the clumps of rancid porta-potties and artisanal taco trucks we call a music festival.
Defying all common sense, I brought my 12-year-old along for the ride. My stomach bucked and bobbed along the snaking entrance lines, wondering at my foolishness. At last propelled through the narrow nozzle of security, my bladder was already at maximum capacity, my bag dragging at one shoulder to counterbalance forty pounds of water and snacks. Must. Not. Complain. My job was to have a friggin’ awesome time, and to make sure it was contagious. Otherwise, why were we here?
As expected, the park was chock full of twenty-nine-year-olds—the “new nineteen!”— popping molly and strolling in white spa robes, or dressed as Super Mario, or waving totems plastered with Bill Murray’s face. I looked at my own ensemble of ripped jeans, Vans, and flannel. What a bunch of overgrown children, I thought, eyeing my sensitive child anxiously and forcing a weak smile.
But Miss Twelve grabbed my hand and plowed into great clouds of marijuana, into 50,000 fans abuzz with bass and adrenaline, bumping and dragging me until the warm bodies became an impenetrable wall. There in the epicenter, one could sing along at full volume, shout and laugh and pogo with abandon, all without attracting attention or judgement. So we did.
At one point, half a dozen strangers hoisted a man in a wheelchair over their heads. He sang too, arms afloat, head thrown back, silhouetted by a blanket of bright fog. The crowd was delirious.
From punk-hip hop to jungle house to indie folk, throngs throbbed and bore us six miles back and forth through the urban forest, laced and lit with a thousand colored lights. Bare limbs stretched like Dementors’ arms, now bright pink, now glowing green. Spotlights pierced the fog, rays of rock band sun, and music shuddered through the shadows to reach our ringing ears, even as we stood in line for $6 gluten-free cupcakes. And for eight hours straight, there was no middle school drama, no teenage drinking, no job search, no overdue bills.
On the bus home, Miss Twelve asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if Outside Lands was every day?”
“No,” I said. But we’ll be back next year.
As I may have mentioned before, I do a boatload of driving.
In fact, I drive up and over one particular hill at least six times every day. Let’s not explore the reasons why. Suffice it to say that having two children in schools on opposite ends of the city can make a person do ridiculous things.
Over the past six months, I’ve developed a habit of pulling over and parking at the top of the hill. Maybe I’d feel a little embarrassed if it didn’t feel so dad-gum therapeutic.
It’s not the most spectacular view of San Francisco, but the sky is constantly changing there–like moods. I am always surprised by what I see.
Sometimes the clouds split and a ribbon of light rips across the horizon.
Sometimes I can see it raining one place, sunny in another.
And sometimes–like this morning–the hill is adrift in fog and I see nothing at all. I always look for a while anyway.
I might comb my hair or clean out my purse. I might eat breakfast, read a few pages, or listen to the inane commentary of morning talk shows.
Often I close my eyes and take ten breaths.
The neighbors must wonder about me–though I have taken to setting my alarm for seven minutes, so I don’t wallow indefinitely–but for that tiny envelope of time, there is nothing but the sky and me. It is strangely satisfying.
Yesterday I found one of our goldfish in the freezer, nestled between the breakfast sausages and a pint of mocha ice cream. She lay awaiting proper burial: a tiny coffin, a moment of silence, a cozy hole in the yard.
But Piranha has been stuck in purgatory for two or three weeks now, while her surviving compatriot circles the tank and gives me the stink eye.
I briefly consider her stiff corpse–recalling her five-year sentence of dry fish flakes and fake plants–before tossing her regretfully into the compost bin. Here’s hoping she doesn’t haunt me for too long.
I like to boast a little about my rustic roots:
How I swept mouse poop out of the cupboards every June, painted the house, and picked rocks out of the yard.
How the power went out with every summer storm; how we heated the kitchen with a cast iron wood stove.
But one night last summer, I scratched my pajama’d leg and caught an unexpected handful of something.
Pants immediately at my ankles, I only briefly saw the great spider before it disappeared.
I lay awake long into the night, at last admitting I was more of a city girl.
Recently, I have been wallowing in a little pocket of crankiness that seemed bottomless. Such moods often dog me at this time of year; though I live far from the cold and snow, I’ve always chalked it up to seasonal affective disorder. I thought the only cure was longer days. Or Hawaii.
Then I found myself with two healthy kids–at the same time–and no freelance work for the day. So, after excavating two and a half months of neglected mail, I decided to take a short walk to clear my head.
What I saw so humbled me. How many days have drifted by without proper reverence?
I was up half the night for reasons unbeknownst to me, then startled early from my sliver of sleep by the odd thumps of an imaginary intruder. Heart pounding, I dismissed my fears, forcing myself to lie still as a board for another forty-five minutes.
Today, bleary-eyed and unproductive, I parceled 15 minutes to close my eyes and breathe. My plan? To reboot and arise again, convincing myself I felt refreshed and clearheaded. But the second my head touched the pillow, the strangest sound curdled in my cat’s throat. Next thing I knew, a flailing blob of black fur hurled itself across the room and a small bird began dive-bombing my eyes. Swell.
Clearly a moment of zen was out of the question. Instead, I heaved myself back into a vertical position and set about finding the bird. I had to get that creature out of the house before the cat disemboweled it on the bed.
The weird thing was, I couldn’t find it. The cat was no help, either. She was just as perplexed as I was.
How long are you supposed to look for a trapped bird?
Eventually I gave up and settled back in front of the computer to knock out some work.
After five minutes of relative peace, there was a little scrambling sound, followed by something hopping on my foot.
You might imagine that the problem was now solved–bird located!–except it can be quite a production to convince a bird to try the open door rather than flying into shelving units and closed windows. It’s like trying to shepherd a drunk friend out of a party, and they keep curling up on a pile of shoes or wandering off into a closet.
Later, I found myself ruminating on the frequent appearance of birds. They are everywhere for me these days. I hear them mentioned in a turn of phrase, a discussion of Halloween costumes, or see one staring at me while I eat breakfast. Two surfed on the hood of my car for a block or two after I stopped for coffee recently. I suppose I shouldn’t mention that the bird pictured above was killed in a brutal showdown in my bedroom and then hidden by my triumphant feline friend. I didn’t find that poor soul for a few weeks. And that’s not all. Almost every book I have read in the past few months has featured birds…including:
- Little Bird of Heaven–Joyce Carol Oates
- The Goldfinch–Donna Tartt (Not finished. No spoilers!)
- Ocean at the End of the Lane–Neil Gaiman
- Bird by Bird–Anne Lamott
- Imperfect Birds–Anne Lamott
Even Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh, had a chapter about a parrot that I read and reread repeatedly throughout the summer. And on my book list to read next? When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. I swear. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I also read Gone Girl, which has no significant bird that I recall).
If they were all crows, I would assume something terrible were about to befall me. I’m hoping I attract birds for a more benign reason. Perhaps I smell like a flower, or a heap of birdseed.
In any event, it’s time to get a feeder and a bell for the cat.
My assignment today: shoot “home.”
I was desperate to avoid a Hallmark moment, so I turned my camera lens toward the ugliest place I could think of–my sink full of dirty dishes.
I started photographing the surface bubbles in a pan full of oil and water, switching eventually to manual focus. Suddenly, it was possible to see the dying daisies in the window reflected and refracted in the bubbles. Despite my best efforts, then, I was overcome by my own homemade Hallmark moment. Taking a breath, looking slowly and deeply into the bottom of this messy life barrel, I found something of wonder.
All of these photos came from walks up Mt. Davidson. Thanks to nuvofelt for issuing weekly photography challenges.
I love, love, love shooting film. One has to slow down and contemplate the light, meter here and there, think in two dimensions, adjust the tripod. It is slow and meditative for me, in part because the equipment is so unwieldy, in part because the film so expensive. Each frame matters.
But this image was not shot on film. In fact, I’m lucky it exists at all.
Here’s the deal.
When I am with the spouse and kids, there is never a good time to take a photograph. I’ve missed many, many shots in the interest of “making good time,” catering to emergency bathroom and snack needs, or these days, trying to avoid the tween’s biting impatience.
My family will probably disagree–and for good reason. In truth, they have stopped and waited innumerable times for me to dig out my phone or a point-and-shoot. I take a ridiculous number of crappy snapshots on a daily basis, but the resulting images feel more like visual markers than like “real photographs.” Some are interesting, or serve to jog the memory, but most of them are jpeg trash. I save them anyway.
On the morning pictured, we were supposed to have hit the road an hour earlier. It had taken longer than expected to pack and leave our lodging, which was probably my fault. Two minutes into the drive, we had to stop and return Red Box movies. Five minutes later, we had to stop again to get gas and dig snacks out of a bag buried in the back. Finally, we were rolling. Everyone was a bit cross–and more than ready to get a few miles under the belt–when I saw the most amazing light coming over the lake and snow. I turned to my beleaguered family and smiled weakly. “So. I…uh…need to pull over for a sec.”
Sadly, I didn’t have my real camera along, but I grabbed the point and shoot and got out of the car. I slowed down for two minutes and really looked. I futzed a little with the framing and exposure. I walked closer, forgetting for a moment that there were three grumpy people back in the car.
It may not be the best possible photo, but it makes me very, very happy. In the midst of the manic, chaotic snarl of everyday finagling, it is possible to breathe and see and be in the present. And even if it’s just for two short minutes, it can be grand.