July 31, 2011

Afternoon Tea in Company

"Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things." -Saki

To my utter delight, I spent my birthday this year with the Townsend girls, my very oldest friends. (We go back to birth- a length of history I would challenge anyone to beat). To celebrate we went out for afternoon tea- all nine of us- our two mothers, their four girls, and my two sisters and I.

We spent the morning ironing our clothes (particularly feminine for the occasion)- doing our make-up- taking last minute pictures.  My little sister was particularly tickled in anticipation and told us with wide eyes- "We should pretend we're from England. From ancient times- before the revolution. And we should be very stiff and speak in English accents."

We went to a lovely tea shop- full of rose-china, linens, accessories, and satchels of tea. We were seated at two tables outside- next to the stain-glass windows and charming wooden-cottage doors. The tables were bedecked with flowers and lovely china, with pink napkins in flowered napkin-holders. Not far off- three older ladies looked up from their tea to giggle and wave at us and ask what the occasion was.  The charm of the atmosphere was contagious. (What is it in a woman- that blooms in the presence of beauty- and is ever seeking to recreate it around her?) We chose from a  vast tea menu two pots of tea to start off with (Dutchess Delight- which was a coconut, lemon, kiwi combo- Vanilla and Pieces- and later we had a mango tea and a blueberry tea)- and then adjourned to the dressing corner where we picked out hats.

What is a tea-party without hats?

Bonnets and boaters! Cloches and cocktails! Straw and felt! We had heaps of fun trying them all on and each choosing one to fit our outfit. I ended up with a wide-brimmed white hat- with a very coquettish netted veil. I found a pair of purple gloves to match my dress- but I ended up taking them off as they seriously interfered with eating.

Soon our tea came- and then our food. We supped on five different kinds of tea sandwiches- pesto and cranberry and humus and ham and cucumber- of that feminine shape and size that would make men shudder and despair of ever being truly satisfied. Next we had fruit and followed by scones with clotted cream, preserves, and lemon-curd. We finished off with strawberry shortcake (mine had a candle in it- upon which I wished).

As to our conversation, well, I shall not betray the confidence of that intimate circle by relating to you our numerous topics- or the smiles exchanged or the jokes shared and giggled over. No, for I hold the confidings shared by an entirely female circle sacred, and I could not tell you of them any more than I could offend the delicacy of my fair companions by relating to you just how many cups of tea each of us ladies consumed- imbued, as they were- with many slips of the sugar spoon and much cream besides. But I can tell you that there was joy- and joy abounding.

As three hours came to a close (you can imagine how much tea and talking filled those hours)- we perused the tea-shop- returning our hats to their hat-stands and fingering the linens for sale. There were three table-clothes purchased. One- a lovely paisley pattern of deep reds, oranges, and black- which, with my propensity towards anything Indian, I was immediately drawn to. Samantha, my darling friend, got it for me for my birthday. (Just the thought makes me smile.)

And then the antique store! More hats! More china! More linens! And cookery and table-ware besides. (We did not emerge unscathed. I believe there was at least one bracelet and exactly four silver napkin holders purchased.)

Five hours from when we set out- we returned home- weary from happiness. I can't think of a better way than to have celebrated my birthday. No tea could have been made any sweeter- for I shared it with the sweetest of company.

*Pictures by Madalynn Townsend. Used by permission.

July 28, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [45]

parking in Hollywood

snapping pictures of

an abandoned wine bottle

which later passed us-

acquired by three androgynous locals

July 25, 2011

River Rhapsody

There is in California a well-kept secret: the whereabouts of a river- secluded in a gorge- hidden by two mountain ranges.

On Wednesday we all- the eight of us and our grandparents- Poppi and Gaum- went river-rafting. We endured the hour or so of hair-pin turns to get there- and equipped ourselves with rash guards, wet-suits, hand-fin-gloves, hats, glasses, water-shoes, and a fair bit of sunscreen. We attempted to color-coordinate our various accessories- but in the end set out looking much like brightly colored tramps- our shoes, wet-suit, and air-mattress swung over an arm.

It is reachable only by way of an abandoned highway. For an hour you must walk in direct sunlight- the rising mountains to your left and to your right a cliff-drop into the gorge.

The chatter between us passes the time as our feet traverse the rocky highway deeper into the mountains- farther away from people, medical help, and proper bathrooms. We at last reach the turnoff where we leave the road and carefully descend a steep (and unsteady) dust footpath into the gorge. My sister takes my brother's arm- for her shoes have no traction and she does a great deal of discomforting slipping on the way down. After a quarter of a mile or so we reach the river where we put on our wet-suits and water-shoes and take our first dip into the river.

But the journey you must take in the blistering heat only magnifies the reward received in reaching the water. At first it is a shock of cold- and then the coldness is gone- and it is only a refreshing cool. You let your limbs slip under the rushing torrents- your feet find footholds between the river-bed stones.

We wade and stumble around rapids a bit up the river till we reach the first and second pool- my favorites. They design water parks after such places- clear, crystal, spherical pools spilling one into the other.

A veritable paradise- Diana in her infancy must have made these pools her bath- her radiant fingers smoothing away the edges from each stone till they gleamed, lunar pillars, around her aquatic palace.

We seat ourselves on the edge of the first lagoon- where the mothers and my little sister spend the day. From our packs we pull sausages wrapped in cellophane, carrots, and cheese. Those of us strong of lung (I do not include myself) blow up the ten air-mattresses which serve as our rafts. And then we are on our way- pushing off into a deep, green, shadowed lagoon.

In other places you can scarcely see the river floor- the waters turn from a languid green to an impenetrable black. In these secluded waters- who knows what lurks beneath the surface- sheltered in the shadow of the rising cliffs- hidden by the mountains.

This river is one of the few places where the rapids are large enough to enjoy- but not large enough to be of any serious danger. But this year the water is higher than normal (even higher than the other two times I visited in June) so we end up having to scramble around the falls- the current too strong to fight our way against. In between these scrambles we drift and paddle our way across lagoon after lagoon- till reaching our destination- where the gorge narrows and climaxes in a waterfall. In this particular section of the river the cliffs narrow so as to make a sort of passage between the mountains- so narrow you can touch both stone faces simultaneously as they rise above you for 20-30 feet.

Between Schylla and Charybdis you waver. To stay in the unknown depths of the black lagoon- or  to venture on into the foreboding enclosures of the stone passage, cliffs, and caves?

Through the passage you drift- dragging yourself along by the stone walls till the passage widens into a pool. Here the waterfall crashes down in a roar of wave and foam. My brother scares us by clambering up the rock face with the aid of two ropes and his own two adventurous feet- higher and higher above the stone and falls and water. We breath easier when he is back down. 

Where are the pirate ships? The smuggler's caves? Where in these depths do the mermaids play?

As we turn and head down-stream- this time with the current on our side- we pass two young men who are cliff-jumping. One of them lends his goggles to Paul who informs us that the depths of the pool are some thirty or forty feet and three-foot fish are swimming beneath us. (I didn't need to know that.) Paul takes the lead and he and I, close behind, blaze the trail ahead of everyone. We are both the lightest in our group- at 95 pounds- and we slide down the falls that cause others to capsize. Soon we are far ahead- and remain ahead no matter how many times we wait for the others to catch up. I am the first to sight our starting point- where we stow our rafts and return to the water unencumbered.

Beach yourself on a rock in the sun- let your feet bath in the rushing water- laugh and wave at those on shore.

We pull out our remaining victuals and the lot of us- on a rock in the water- rest from our toils and give each other back-massages. Then we begin the three mile walk home. 

Can we really leave this wonderful place? The cliffs and the river? We're here. For the moment. Here in California's best-kept secret. 

We reach the cars- we change back into clothes and shake off the sand. The day ends perfectly with Poppi treating us all to fantastic dinner- where we dine on pea soup and butter-lettuce salad, ravioli and baby-back ribs, sole and salmon- and for dessert a peach bread pudding and chocolate gelato. We crawl into beds- covered in scratches and bruises- aching all over- and full of good memories. Some of us are likely to return tomorrow.

But where is this Eden? I cannot tell. For I have become a secret-keeper.

July 22, 2011

Moonlight Moments

Sometimes it’s difficult to vacation on vacation.

There was a certain other-worldness to our week at Camp Spofford. I left the laptop at home. I was in a new place with new people. I was able- at least during the day- to forget my life and all its problems: a true and timely vacation.

But here… in a wonderful way, in returning to where I was a born, where I was a child- and the homeland of my parents and grandparents- I feel more in tune than ever with all that has made me who I am. There is no escape into alternative selves here.  Instead I am bombarded with memories from the past and I incessantly think of the future- of next semester at college- and of January when I transfer.
My sister seems to feel the same way. We were sitting in the spa- slowly cooking ourselves in the hot water and in the brilliant, harsh sun. “It is hard to just be.” she said. She too constantly thinks of the future. It is difficult to just take in the moment. 

In California- and so often unable to take in the moment. I fear missing these moments. Already I feel there have been moments not fully appreciated- already in the ever growing past.

Such thoughts as these played in my head last night as I gazed up alone at the night sky outside my grandparent’s house in Santa Rosa. The sky is a curious black in California- verging on purple, hinting of legions- almost misty. It is of that impossibly large quality peculiar to the flatlands. And despite the street lights (again, unique to suburbia), stars still shown down on my bare feet and upturned eyes. I felt, as I looked at it, that there is no sky like it- and how could I have forgotten it- and how could I possibly remember it?

I ran- across the grass and down the cooling pavement in the moonlight- thinking. And suddenly lights from an approaching car stopped me in my tracks and I stood very, very still  (abashed, as I was, to be caught alone and dancing at night on a sidewalk) next to a bush (which resulted in my getting many sharp needles in my feet) till they had passed and pulled into a driveway not too far away. I began to walk as inconspicuously as possible away from them when I heard some, well, rather unmistakable noises. I turned- and in the corner driveway stood the elderly couple just gotten out of the car- locked in each other's arms kissing. I stood, transfixed for a few moments watching this peculiar scene- then realized it would be very awkward if I was caught and moved on. I glanced back a few minutes later and they were still at it. (My grandparents informed me that their respective spouses were friends and had died and since then they've been going steady for three years.) 

Such tender love on such a tender night. The stars themselves were smiling. I smiled back- and the words from a song (which seems to be the melody that themes this vacation) -a stirring, wistful rendition of Over The Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole- played in my head. Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me…

Such are the moments that make up days. A beautiful young mother, pregnant with her third daughter, at the pool. All the old ladies- second grade teachers and navy men’s wives- with their twinkling eyes and smiles- all of them jams (sweet, pink, and preserved). These are the details I commit to paper- in haste lest the memory loose its potency- in hopes that I won’t forget.

I see fields of gold- grass turned to royal repose in the heat of summer.

I see trees- scattered and rising from the golden dunes. They are short and squat clusters of green- their gangly arms like the disproportionate limbs of trolls- weighted down and dragging on the floor.   

“If this is going to run around in my head, I might as well be dreaming…” (Nickel Creek)

I hear the sound of my Grandpa’s voice- as he prayed over our first meal here- thanking our good Lord for each of us- so special to him. And I sense- rather than see- my grandmother, like a ministering angel, doing the dishes as we climbed into bed- doing the laundry after we’re all sleep- and turning off the last light. (I was several times awake- my mind racing- late into the night. I wish I had joined her.) And I see her- her hand over her mouth- hiding something, or keeping something down- as she waved good-bye in the middle of the street as we drove away. 

And as I write this- that last memory brings the tears streaming down my face. The back of my throat burns.

July 21, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [44]

my sister

sees a sea-otter

for the first time

and makes a squeal

like a sea-gull in my ear

July 18, 2011

Sonoma and Sierras

The shouts of our triumphant rejoicing eclipsed the rumble of traffic as we crossed the California border. We think a Californian must have drawn  up the state line. They allotted all the desert waste land to Nevada and the second we crossed the border we were in the pine forests of the sierra mountains.

All I could do was stare out the window (and did for the successive three hours). I stared at the gray knobby rocks and the tall pine trees and the way the mountain-side floor drifted and dipped and rose and felt wafts of familiarity wash over me.

We drove over the mountains- and at one point we got out and looked at the green valley below- pine trees as far as the eye could see- rising again on the distant mountains. The sunset made them golden. I'd forgotten how beautiful Northern California is. The light was familiar. The trees were familiar. And oh, the sweet smell of pine- so familiar I wanted to cry. I found my mother's arms- "We're home."

The first two days we spent with very, very old friends. Our families had gone camping together before I was old enough to remember- but I do recall my sister and I playing with their oldest son and the day we went to the wharf in San Fransisco and I thought there was a snake in the hold of one of the ships. We had a wonderful time of fellowship together- talking about theology and culture and health food (they make home-made pickles and sour-kraut and kombucha- which, by the way, has won me over and I now thoroughly enjoy). Their eldest daughter and I took a walk and we talked about how the Lord had worked in our own lives and in those in our families.

It was a singularly odd sensation for me- to pass houses full of plants and landscaping modes  (wood chips and cement types) I hadn't seen in ages, yet with each tree or scent emotions and sensations and hints of not-fully-realized memories flocked to my brain. I almost couldn't think- I felt drenched in a nostalgic goo.

We are at present at my grandparent's house in Sonoma county- wine country. My grandpa gave us a tour of their complex (telling us funny stories- like how the bridge players have to wave their arms in the air to keep the motion-sensitive lights on) and we visited Jack London's estate and Luther Burbank's place (he cross-breed plants to develop 800 new varieties- including the Shasta daisy and the Russet potato). We dozed in Burbank's garden- while christian music from a band drifted from the park across the street.

My grandmother's been making us some fantastic dinners- we've had soup and salmon and filet mignon. My sister and I went grocery shopping with her yesterday. Costco is the same wherever you are but the people dress differently. (California guys know how to dress.) But in Trader Joes I smile to see six shelves devoted to different kinds of tortillas- at at Safeway the cash-register lady automatically (despite our six bags) asked if we "need help out to the car today?"

We've spent a few evenings at the spa- talking to friend's of my grandparents (we've had very interesting conversations on astrology and teaching). Almost every night we hold a double Pinochle tournament. We have nine players so we get two games going at once. Our grandparents taught us how to play years ago so they are ridiculously fun and intense games.

It still feels surreal that we're here. Actually here. All the more strange because we drove instead of being teleported by plane. At times I betake myself to dreamy walks outside. I do cartwheels in the thick grass. I stalk lizards. And I delight myself in again feeling hot sidewalk under my bare feet.

July 14, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [43]

I go to California

to be warm

and they freeze

me to death

with their air-conditioners.

July 13, 2011

Going West

We’ve been on the road for nearly forty-eight hours strait now. On Sunday we left after church (with many good-byes and well-wishes from our church congregation) and set out from New York on the trail headed west.

All eight of us are neatly packed into what we fondly call our green-covered-wagon (Suburban truck) and we pass the hours reading, driving, and making use of all our wonderful technological equipment. We fall asleep on each other if we're not too hot. We take much needed breaks at McDonalds and rest stops to eat our home-made chicken cutlets. (I think I could give a rundown on the states we’ve passed through based solely on the aesthetic of their rest stops).

I’ve watched as the rolling hills of Pennsylvania became the rolling hills of Ohio. The land flattened, cornfields state after state. Iowa was flat. So was Nebraska. We’ve had our share of mishaps already. In the night we missed the splitting of the Interstate 80 and 90 and ended up an hour or two north just over the border into Wisconsin. (Wisconsin was flat, too.)  We are blessed to have five drivers – my mother and sister take the night shifts as they are capable of not falling asleep at the wheel (a trait I regrettably do not possess). Both of my siblings only have their permits so a licensed adult has to sit in the front seat next to them at all times (despite, for example, my sister having driven for three years). So it was of particular satisfaction to me when on my shift I took a look around and found my mom, dad, and sister all fast asleep (my mother calls my "smoooth" hand at the wheel "lullaby-driving"). My brother got his driving medal when he took a shift in Iowa and drove through a torrential downpour which (we later heard on the radio) took out half of the power in Chicago.

In Nebraska things got particularly interesting. We stopped at our favorite rest area so far- sporting an immaculate green lawn that would have been the envy of my whole street back home, lovely stone-surrounded picnic areas, a baby dinosaur in a sand-box, and bathrooms of artistic white and blue tiling. The Nebraska landscape has a very gradual up and down to it- barely visible in what was soon night-time. And we ran into another storm. A huge storm. The radio promised golf-ball sized hail and possible tornadoes (but we never saw either). We stopped at a gas station to wait it out but were informed by an employee that we really didn’t have anything to worry about so we decided to brave it. Dad was driving. The rain was fantastic (visibility was the real issue) and we ended up joining three other cars pulled over under an over-pass. We watched the storm with baited breath. The sky was a constant flicker- and at times we saw bolts of lightning streak down and meet the earth. Then every few minutes there would be a flash of light- lighting up the entire sky (impossibly big with so few trees), truly blinding, followed by a deafening clap of thunder.

Eventually we moved on- and as the storm passed us I took over the wheel in the leftover drizzle. There are no lights to speak of on the 80 in Nebraska. I drove with my eyes flickering from the fifteen feet of visible dotted line down to my left- and the red tail lights of the one or two cars far ahead of me on the skyline. All else was black. And as I drove through the darkness on the narrow and strait road- I had the sensation of continuing on into a horizon of eternal blackness.

In the middle of last night we woke and tumbled out of the car into a Wyoming rest stop. It was freezing cold. But there was something in the air that hadn’t been there before- a scent of a particular tree, perhaps. It smelled less like New York- and far more like California.

I woke this morning to vaulting mountain ranges- layered stone in grey, cream, and red tones- to cattle ranges and protruding rock formations and a sunrise of deep golds and purples. From Wyoming into Utah, we weave our way through the mountains- passed caves and trains and small clusters of civilization- ever west, ever west.

I can scarcely believe we're almost there. Home. Where I was born. California. My California.  

Anticipation mounts. My heart begins to race.

July 7, 2011

Gogyohka-Thursday [42]

clothes, freshly ironed

travel tubes of paste and gel

notebooks and novels and electronic devices

my suitcase licks its lips-

it tastes adventure

July 5, 2011

Family, Family, FAMILY!

We were all unexpectedly surprised when we learned that we had a chance to go to Camp Spofford in New Hampshire the last week of June. Frankly, half of us kids weren't even excited. I mean... We'd never been to camp. Camp is where you wear t-shirts in bright neon colors and wake up with shaving cream in your hair and fight with people who look like you? Parent Trap? right? But as rumors (and rumors of rumors) began to circulate about the yearly delights of Camp Spofford- excitement did begin to ignite in our skeptical bosoms. We packed  the car to bursting- full of swimsuits, bibles, flash-lights and eight or so sleeping bags,- the three oldest of us packed into the very back row of our Suburban truck, and we were on our way. I was soon asleep- and didn’t wake up till Vermont.

Fifteen minutes into New Hampshire- we drove into Camp Spofford. A lake glistened to our left- to our right a chapel, field, and well-groomed cabins. We found our tentel and unpacked. We gathered around as Sarah and Dad read off the beach and camp rules (i.e.- no swimming after 10:00 pm as patrol sharks are placed in the water and they will bite). Daddy and I meandered hand-in-hand around the grounds... it was lovely. Everything was painted in woodsie hues- flowers cascaded from their beds (including a highly amusing literal bed full of flowers)- a brook ran through the grounds (traversed by bridges) into the lake and through the air wafted the smokey smell of dinner.

Soon we began meeting people- first a  boat man- then my siblings and I made conversation with a family on the playground. We began to learn each other's names with relish and giggled as one of the girls, (her golden hair flying), found her youngest siblings and stuck name-tags (like it or not) onto their unsuspecting backs. The camp convocation brought even more meetings- as we met the families behind and in front of us in the pews and were formally introduced to everyone as each family stood and counted off their names and each child's age. Then we did activities together. These were such things as making boats from Styrofoam trays and skewers and sailing them down the brook- and playing dodge-ball. '(Nothing quite like smacking people with balls to get to know them.) Then it was time for dinner! Smoked and pulled pork! Oh, man, that stuff was good...

We were there five days. We loved every minute. But how to encapsulate the essence of that time for you? Shall I tell you of the kids- the delightful little girls who would run and hug me on sight- or the boys with their bright eyes and sticks and water-guns?  Shall I tell you of the nights we spent playing card games till midnight in Knutes- where popcorn is a dollar with endless free refills- where they make amazing floats and shakes and fresh, hot, Cinnamon donuts? Can I possibly skip the water-skiing, the pancakes and chocolate milk, the Family Olympics, or the Talent Show? Where could I begin on the conversations we had- on theology and economics and children and parenting. How can I describe the encouragement I received from mother's smiles and my delight in holding a newborn?

How concisely can I possibly tell you of the the afternoon I spent on the island (covered in Ever-Greens and sulfuring fish)- digging up clay deposits in an inlet with the other girls and boys- covering our face and arms and legs with designs- applying the tattoos on each other- washing them off- reapplying- wading around the island, giggling and smiling under the sun? Or what of the night those of us in college drove into the town of Keene - meandering through kitchen stores, drinking coffee drinks, talking in accents, taking pictures, commenting on quaint buildings, and having a grand old time? Or what of the night Sarah, two guys, and I spent hours by the lake talking by candlelight of the sermons we'd heard that week, family dynamics, struggles, and faith. I was, on multiple levels, deeply encouraged by our fellowship. Oh, the family of God.

Or best of all- where to begin in relating the wonderful teaching we received from Norm Wakefield- who did the chapel sessions and adult workshops each day? We all- every family- were deeply blessed by he and his wife's ministry. On Sunday he spoke from 1 Peter about the imperishable relationship Christ has given us- based not on our actions but on His faithfulness and the work on the cross.  And on Wednesday he spoke from 2 Corinthians about tearing down walls- the walls in our own hearts. I was challenged to reflect Christ in my relationships- who chose to undergo the pain, separation, and agony of the cross so that we- sinners- might be reconciled to him... so that the veil- the wall between us and God- would be severed forever.

I was faced, perhaps for the first time, with how easily I build walls against people in my heart- and how many walls I have been busy building for so many years. Mr. Wakefield talked about how our relationships are an aroma before God- and how when we sow discord we reflect Satan's way- but when we choose to bear other's sin and keep our hearts open, offering the gift of a love based not on what someone does- but on what Christ has done- we are an aroma of Christ before God. Oh, to reflect Christ! To remind God of Christ! And so I am strengthened with a resolve. When I am hurt (how often, and how easily this seems to happen!) I find myself praying: I will not build a wall. I will bear this hurt (Lord, help me bear it).

How thankful I am for the family of God.

All too soon, it was over. We were saying good-bye to family after family with whom we had already formed a wonderful bond. We promised- and we will- be retuning next year.

We drove home and dragged our things back into the house- weary but happy. And that night Annie came into my room before bed. "Good-night" she said- and as our arms wrapped around each other, her head burrowing into me, I drank in wafts from her hair. She didn't smell like Annie.

"You smell like Camp Spofford." I told her.

"What does Camp Spofford smell like?"

"Like wind, and sand, and water, and happiness."

She smiled- her eyes lighting up with that very happiness- alive in her memories. And then she went to bed.