Deep into spring and through with April, I look back to discover moments that quietly slipped by to be some of the easiest to make out. Like rainfall on the second to last night in Amsterdam en route to purchase tickets for the Rijksmuseum, or the bartender briskly correcting my pronunciation of “La Chouffe” at the historic Café Pieper. I see too many cups of pitch black coffee, far too many miles on my car, and picture frames on my bookshelf that now house Van Gogh’s Roses and Beetle and Cypresses and Two Women. I see an 8-year-old on a swing set who asks, “Have you ever made up an animal?” to which I answer, “Have you?” because the little experience I have with children informs me that it is easier to have them talk than listen. “Yeah! A lot! All the time!”
I see my last copy of the New York Times followed by my first issue of The New Yorker. For weeks, each day’s delivery of the Times remained in its plastic blue sleeve, arriving only to join its predecessors in a pile by the door. The pile grew, each delivery adding its own variation on dirt and rain, and I saw the gradual decay of what was important a day ago, a week ago, two weeks ago, and it was not only depressing but also confusing. What is important to know, remember or revisit? After canceling my subscription, I felt a pang of guilt when on my bank statement I noticed a $2.13 reimbursement for what remained of it, as print media may soon be gone and I think I will miss it. A subscription to The New Yorker is my way to make amends. Theatre openings, museum exhibits and restaurant reviews all reflect New York City, which is of little practical use yet rewarding to read, a reminder that on any given night there are countless variations on person and place, swirls of activity sending up dust clouds across the city, all cities, yours and mine. Then the flip side to consider, everything that takes place within the quiet and unseen. Taking it all in “makes you seem very small, and if you have difficult things in your life it is nice to think that they are what is called negligible, which means that they are so small you don’t have to take them into account when you are calculating something.” The character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is referring to the stars, though it rings true for the city as well.
I also see roses, roses of colors I’ve never seen growing all around. Amber Flush, Evelyn and Iceberg are some of the varieties I’ve seen if I did my homework right, though pinpointing the name of any given rose has never satisfied me nearly as simply admiring one. Despite their abundance, roses appear rare and precious, more on par with gold and platinum than their floral counterparts. I often encounter them in such rigid contexts, alongside baby’s breath and tied together with a bow, obliged to admire or sympathize or congratulate, depending on the occasion. But this spring, my first in Sonoma, I encounter them most often growing in the front yard. I can see roses through no less than four windows, often blurred by the breeze, buds alongside blooms and colors ranging from pastel to neon. Upon closer inspection, I see stems lined with thorns and spiders tucked deep beneath petals. Everything is alive and in spring it is felt. Let May pick up where April left off, roses abound.
I’ve begun to hear a murmur of impatience for the arrival of spring, still a month away, which I remain surprisingly patient for. When days effortlessly transform into weeks and then months, very little patience is required to pass a season. Spring has already dropped breadcrumbs, like the blindingly bright yellow fields that dot Highway 12, the containers of sown seeds in neighboring yards, and the light cotton dresses that reemerge from the depths of my closet.
February left a false impression when it introduced itself as winter amid dark clouds and rain. By the end of the first week, clouds broke to set loose an all too eager sun that has been shining ever since. The change was unexpected, my least favorite kind. After struggling to settle into the new home in the middle of winter, I had finally reached the end of a learning curve and was beginning to relish the season’s rituals; pulling on thick socks to guard against the icy kitchen floor, keeping spare jackets and scarves in the backseat of my car, collecting firewood, tending a fire, visiting deserted beaches, and driving with the heater on and windows cracked open.
The sun now pours itself into every room, urging me outside. I sometimes give in but I just as often decline, as the sun makes its way to me anyway, eager for attention. My desk sits alongside the window and warm air drifts in, knocking the vertical blinds against each other like modest wind chimes. Once spring arrives, I envision keeping open all blinds and windows, even the front and back doors, to erase any distinction between inside and out. But I feel perfectly fine waiting. Who knows, perhaps there is a rain spell waiting in the wings, there is a glimpse of one even now. Winter, take your time.
February, what a delight. After the never-ending holiday season, followed by the long stretch of January – an intimidating month, one that highlights our inadequacies and demands resolutions – I welcome short and sweet February.
I bid final farewell to the apartment in Berkeley, handing off its keys to the property manager after a two minute walk-through. The original owner was a spectacular chain smoker who cited the apartment’s proximity to Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto as one of its winning attributes, a place we understandably failed to dine at over the course of three years. As shiny new apartments sprung up tall around us, in time the largest real estate firm in the area took over our tired building, as is the trend in these shapeshifting neighborhoods. Finally standing bare and empty, the apartment never felt so small. In fact, it seemed to shrink with each visit since we began moving out in early December, as if distance inspires a fresh understanding of dimensions. The apartment indeed felt small while we lived there, its close quarters made obvious whenever a friend visited or a neighbor’s cat slipped in, easily overwhelming the space. But its familiarity bred comfort, and that comfort distracted from the smallness of 500 square feet. I suspect that comfort is what also led us to prolong the move like we did, to flip back between two chapters for just a bit longer. After the walk-through, I left Berkeley quickly only to take the long way home, driving Highway 37 through the southern tips of Sonoma and Napa. It felt like moving on, like settling in. A couple days later, I searched for the apartment’s listing on Craigslist and there it was, the rent almost double what we paid. So it goes.
Of the books I plan to read this month, I eagerly begin with Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson, a coming-of-age that unfolds within the obsessive world of 1970s New York City ballet. The subject provokes awe, the tone is reverent, and I anticipate the book to be a fixture of this first weekend in February. Then there is All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer, a favorite new author whose first book I adored; I remember lines in An Uncommon Education like, “she passed in a full sail of silence” and “living within shouting distance of each other.” Her second book centers on a group of survivors in San Francisco, the city in ruins after it is struck by two earthquakes within one hour. It is a scenario that feels scarily inevitable, and a reminder that we merely tiptoe around nature, a character of extremes that operates of its own accord. I am also very curious about Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett. February is a short one, but what is fleeting has left a permanent mark before.
I woke up two Saturdays ago with the ocean in mind, so off we drove to the Sonoma Coast, where we passed beaches with names like Salmon Creek, Goat Rock, Portuguese and Schoolhouse. Of all the new neighbors this move has introduced, these beaches are by far my favorite, and I hope they will tolerate my frequent and unannounced visits. The ocean was loud, its waves wild, which I bet means catching it on a good day, in high spirits. Grays, blues and whites intertwined to create a palette familiar to those who have spent a winter in California.
The following weekend, last weekend, we headed west once more. The subject of octopuses has lingered on my mind since reading and then re-reading The Soul of an Octopus, so off we drove 170 miles to Monterey, to go see one. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has several species of octopus on exhibit, but as with siblings and seasons and most everything else, a clear favorite quickly emerged. The Day Octopus was mesmerizing, stretching itself to its full length, plastering itself onto the glass, and changing color and texture on the fly. It was clearly showing off for us spectators – alone in its tank, without the bleating commands of trainers – which I thought generous and kind. How special that it puts forth such effort. Does it care what we think? We responded approvingly, with exclamations of awe and clicks of the camera.
The trip to Monterey confirms books to be reservoirs of ideas waiting to inspire our lives, often in the simplest of ways; like when I tell a friend a bee won’t sting her if she sends it love because “every little thing wants to be loved” (The Secret Life of Bees), or recommending a chicken sandwich and a glass of milk to someone in distress (Franny). I save songs referenced in books so that that gems like Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G Minor, Opus 23” (All My Puny Sorrows) and Yusef Lateef’s “The Plum Blossom” (The Light of the World) boldly slip into an otherwise humble music collection. If reading just a few books can inspire habits or playlists or weekend outings, surely reading hundreds of books can eventually inspire a life, and what is yet to be discovered excites me endlessly.
Tiny efforts here and there have made the difference in settling into the new home. Like a new calendar, fresh flowers, and endless cups of peppermint tea. In the spirit of cultivating new habits and routines for the new year, I’ve subscribed to the New York Times, and I must say that it is bizarre to have the day’s world news printed on paper and dropped off at my doorstep before I am even out of bed. It creates the illusion that the world is patient and its news finite; things happen, and when they do, we have a 24-hour window to pause, read and think, until we receive further word the next day. It also gives the paper an air of authority, seeming to assure readers that it is indeed the irrevocable news on record, which is perhaps an attitude to be suspicious of. News read online feels like a mere suggestion, one of infinity, which I suppose is worthy of suspicion as well.
In what feels like days we have reached mid-January, assuring me that the speedy passage of time was not unique to 2015, the erroneous conclusion I draw about each passing year. As there is every reason to expect another swift one, I feel inspired, or more so challenged, to approach each day wisely. Though the beginning of the year generously offers a chance to reflect on what that may mean and plan accordingly, mid-January seems to be the time to wrap up such prep work and simply begin doing. I fear that I tend to linger in the planning phase of any given goal, unknowingly settling for the pleasure of anticipation rather than that of accomplishment. But 2016 seems to be asking more of me, of all of us, and I am prepared to oblige. Cheers to this quickly passing, and oh so wonderfully rainy, start of the year.