Tag Archives: nature

“Can I Take You Home — To MY House?”

It was a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight.  There were no other signs, just my own prior knowledge, but I was sure the room was located upstairs.

Or, it could have been one of those houses that sits on stilts in my grandfather’s village.  There seems to be no natural reason for such a structure:  The inland area at the foot of an ancient mountain knows no floods.  There are no rivers that run by it, and the winters tend to be brutally dry and viciously cold.  But when the snow melts, it turns the ground into mush; yet, no river banks can be feared to overflow.  The thick, purple layer of evergreens that covers the sides of the dormant mountain holds its outer layers in place, and I have never heard of mudslides or earthquakes in the entire history of the family.  If anywhere else, there, in the middle of Russia, nature is obedient and tamed.

There was always a calm flow of hours whenever I came to town.  There would be bickering between the two sides of the family, and that would be the only noise I’d hear for days:  The Russian whites on my father’s side would find the brown tint of my skin somewhat scandalous.  My brown motha’s blatant sexuality didn’t help the matters either.  The matriarchs — the mother of the family and her only daughter (a matriarch-in-training) — would always insist on accompanying me in public.

But the town would be calm, and with an exception of an occasion hushing down of the old women, flocking benches at any hour of the day, I saw no outwardly confrontations.  And even those women would express their aggression with silence and gossip, to which I wouldn’t be made privy, because it would unfold behind my brown back.  This was no place for verbal confrontations or domestic fights.  An occasional drunken brawl would be talked about for months.

And then, everything would return back — to silence!

In a wide living-room, luminous with sunlight that’s possible only in August, there was a circle of mismatching furniture:  An old couch with wooden arms and flowery pattern of its material; an armchair of dark blue velvet, worn out and soiled in its folds.  A wooden barstool was covered with a crocheted throw of fluffy, egg-foam-colored thread.  And there was a rocking chair occupied by the ghost of my grandfather — the only member of the family who was always openly thrilled by the fact that I stuck out in all their photographs.

They were all blue-eyed, tall and sinewy; and in every picture, they stood behind me like a white backdrop.  I would look at the lens from underneath my bushy eyebrows, with eyes so dark, no camera could distinguish the ending to my pupils.  And above my serious, mismatching face, I would be balancing a cloud of messy hair, which, before the flash went off, had been aimed at by one of the matriarchs’ hands and yanked into a careless ponytail.

(Looking back at these photos, you can already see that my body would belong to neither my motha’s clan — a curvatious creature of wild nature — nor to the shared lean physique of the white matriarchs.  I would be somewhere in the middle:  My adolescent frame would already exhibit some softness, but the brown legs, darkened by my chronic solitary play in dirt fields and haystacks, belonged to someone who knew how to run.)

Sylvie Guillem by Richard Avedon

In the sunlit living-room, one of those hand-woven rugs took up the middle section of the floor.  On it, I would be permitted to play, occasionally, after the matriarchs confirmed that there was no work left to be done around the house.  Still, I would hide out, until my grandfather’s return.  Like me, he would be ushered out of the kitchen by the women; and while he watched TV, I finally felt safe to bring my toys out of their hiding places and spread them out at his feet, upon one of those hand-woven rugs.

There was no eating on the floor.  No eating was permitted anywhere but the kitchen and the garden bench.  At times, the old man and I would sneak behind the house and curb our appetite with fresh cucumbers or a few unwashed tomatoes.

“It tastes better this way,” my grandfather would wink at me while polishing the giant berry on against the cloth of his knee.

But seeing a skeptical glimmer from underneath my bushy eyebrows, the old man would reaffirm:

“You get all the natural vitamins when the tomato is unwashed.  Trust me.”

The secret would be to chomp it down quickly, before the matriarchs came out to the garden to collect some scallions or a bouquet of dill for the dinner salad.  So, we would climb back up the stairs (the house sat on stilts, remember?); and reassume our positions of most safety:  His — dozing off in his rocking chair, and mine — conducting stories upon a hand-woven rug.

But in my last night’s dream, the wide living-room, luminous with August sunlight, was filled with other people.  They were loud and beautiful; and they laughed with such violent joy, I noticed the open windows of the house and the shimmering dust suddenly visible in that angle of the sun.  We would be heard, I realized; and what would happen to the silence so strictly protected by the locals — it, at times, eliminates all life?

The beautiful people kept laughing, though.  The women with golden hair intertwined their limb in ways that only women do with each other:  with an intimacy that comes with tenderness and, most importantly, a lack of angst.  The children straddled the wooden arms of the couch; climbed onto the women’s knees and crawled all over their feet.

My grandfather’s chair sat empty.  I watched it from the corner of the room, where I had wedged myself in under an armpit of a tall man with laughing eyes.  He, too, was in on the joke; and he kept shooting over loving gazes my way that seemed to say that I was the pun of it.

Is this what families are supposed to look like?  Is this the way I wanted mine — to feel?

I had so little to remember them by, that all I seemed to want to keep was the empty rocking chair and my grandfather’s ghost.  The rest was up for my rewriting.

“We Live in a Beautiful World! Yeah, We Do! Yeah, We Do!”

I had been awake for less than ten minutes, yet I was already having a gratitude overload.

In comparison to my own bed at home, this creation underneath me better resembled a cluster of clouds.  It had engulfed me so quickly last night, I couldn’t even remember my last words.  Or my last thoughts.  But I was pretty sure, it had something to do with home.

I fell asleep with my window shades half drawn; and now, I could see the fluffy marine layer floating above what looked like a prehistorical forest.  They stretched for miles — these dense clusters of clouds — blocking the sun, yet dissipating quite quickly; and they slid through the tops of this quirky flora:  Palm trees amidst ancient pines decorated with some dainty lime-green growths that looked like the hair of mermaids.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  But is this where nymphs and pixies come to play?)

Right past this playground of magical creatures, the Ocean stretched for miles — into the horizon, from where the fluffy marine layer seemed to be crawling.  Around here, the waves were untamed by piers, or any other signs of humanity’s collective ego; and they were gigantic.  The Ocean thrashed against cliff rocks, modestly populated by idillic homes.  No two homes looked alike, but they inspired a stream of thought that I couldn’t pinpoint last night.  But then again, I was pretty sure it had something to do with home.

All throughout the day, the Ocean roared and hissed; and at night, it sang a chesty lullaby about the opposite shores it had licked on its way here.  The glorious monster was intimidating — and endless! — and only the fluffy marine layer could have known where it was coming from; or where it ended.

There was one small patch of land where I could approach it closer, on foot, without having to climb down cliffs.  I had to walk in shoes, though, because the beach was covered with moonstones and sea glass.  No sand.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  But is this where Aphrodite spilled a chest of her jewelry?)

I did try to get my feet in the water.  Having climbed over a lagoon circumvented by seaweed and lily pads, I kept my eyes right on the horizon, from where the fluffy marine layer seemed to be crawling.  On the opposite side of this calmer pool of water, young boys were taking turns swimming to shore.  One of them reminded me of my son:  a brown, fearless rascal.

At one point, my hand slipped off the rock and I tested the water:  It was warm and velvety.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  Is this were the sirens come out to gargle their throats and soothe their tired vocal cords.)

On the other side of my climb, a family of brown people started running to the shore.

“Look!  Look!” the fearless rascals were ahead of their adoring mother, leaping over the moonstones, pointing at the shiny surface right past the hissing, crashing, foaming waves.

The Latin face of their father meant business, but he did soften a little when he saw the skin of my exposed stomach:  I was just about the same color as his woman.

I too began moving in the direction of the migration, looking right at the horizon from where the fluffy, now scattered marine layer seemed to be crawling.  The water closer to the shore was playing patty cake with sun rays; and the entire surface seemed as luminous as a mirror.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  Is this were Neptune finds his reflection while brushing out his graying beard after having breakfast?)

With my eyes, I followed the direction of the tiny brown fingers.  But all I could see was:  The Ocean playing patty cake with sun rays, right into the horizon.  The fluffy layer had dissipated almost entirely, and only a couple of feathered brushes reminded of its short existence.

But, oh!  Something had just jumped out of the water — look! — and it curved its shiny back.  But before I could figure it out, it blinded me with its shine and dropped back into the Ocean.

Then, there came another one!  And yet another!

“Dolphins!  Dolphins!  Look!” the brown rascals seemed beside themselves, leaping through moonstones and sea glass, pointing their tiny brown fingers at the glistening backs.

The Latin face of their father meant business, but even he softened a little at the sight of all this glory.

I never reached the water yesterday.  Instead, I stood:  mesmerized, blinded.  All along the cliffs behind Moonstone Beach I could see idillic homes.  No two homes were alike, but every one — was lovely.

My own home:  Not the home I have now, but the one I was about to find elsewhere in the world.  And I was making a bet that it would be on a shore very much like this one:  Where dolphins could play babysitters to my brown, fearless rascals; and where every night, the Ocean would sing them chesty lullabies about all the other magnificent shores it licked on the way here.

My run through a wildlife reserve didn’t last for longer than thirty minutes, yet I was already having a gratitude overload.  Every sign of life left me more and more exhausted with excitement:

The single otter that surfed on its back through the roaring, hissing, crashing, foaming waves made me laugh every time its nonchalant white snout resurfaced above.

The boisterous chipmunks with focused faces were making a meal out of unidentifiable scraps they found in the layer of succulents.  I thought of the way I had always eaten apples:  with their core, sometimes using their stems as toothpicks, afterward.  Would my brown, fearless rascals inherit my quirky ways?

And oh, how magnificently the red-tailed hawk soared above!  Every time the wind picked up, it negotiated the flow with its black, oily wings; then kept cutting through the air.

What fearless grace!

And in the field of dried weeds, a couple of dogs were beside themselves:  dashing back and forth between their adoring masters and the rest of the untamed life.

I had been in this town for less than a day, yet I was already having a gratitude overload; all thoughts — leading home.

“Half of the Time, We’re Gone — But We Don’t Know Where, And We Don’t Know Where. Here I Am…”

I mean:  I had just written something about cotton candy.

“Kitten!  Look at the sky!” I heard.

I came out onto the porch:  Endless fluffs of torn clouds stretched across the darkening sky.  They were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat:  a palette of silver and all the purple shades of amethyst.  In a departing kiss, the setting sun colored the bottom layer with fuchsia pink.

“And who’d thought you up?” I whispered, in response.

By the time we got into the car, the fuchsia kisses had been wiped off.  And just as we drove off, an arrow of lightening shot down, about twenty meters ahead of our front bumper.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still think in metrics.)

“WOW!  Did you see that?!” he said and flipped his entire body in the driver’s seat in my direction.

“I did.”

But I was calm, in that tired sort of way.  Another day of work was behind me.  So were a few more good-byes.  There had been many of those, this year — a number of amicable departures and such a multitude of voices by the unsettled many, I was beginning to lose track of my losses.

So, I was leaving town on a whim, just so that I could wrap the last season of the year with whatever grace I could summon — elsewhere.

In half a kilometer, we reached the onramp.

(I have landed here over a decade ago, yet I still measure the distances I go — in metrics.)

How can the 405 be possibly packed at this hour?  Well, at least, it was moving.  We were moving; and I became aware of just how many people lived, dwelled, dreamt in this city.

Of how many dreamers had to survive the multitude of voices by the unsettled many — and lose track of their losses.  

Of how many of us had to leave town on a whim, in search of our grace — elsewhere.

We neared the hairy maneuver of merging onto the 101:  A few careful steps on the breaks and a couple of accelerations past the unknowing drivers — a couple dozen meters of betting against other people’s graces (which is always a tricky hand) — and we were free sailing.

(I know:  I have landed here over decade ago, yet I still measure my growths — my flights — in metrics.)

The traffic was moving against the dark mounts, outlined in the background.  On this freeway, everything seemed a lot more sensical at nighttime.  So, many times I had passed the peak that revealed the view of the Valley all at once, but never had I thought of it so stunning:  It spilled out in a palette of multi-colored stars dropped onto the ground beneath us.

The cars ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes were the color of French lemon meringue.

I opened my eyes:  I had to have drifted off for a minute.

(It’s a good thing that time is measured with the same particles in both hemispheres.  Because I had landed here over a decade ago, and I had long given-up on thinking in military time; but the rest of the adjustment was easy. Here, time — is a bit more simplified:  There is just never enough of it.)

I remembered waking up like this, back at the age when I was already filled with dreams, yet most of the time dismissed by the adults as too serious of a child.  I was asleep in the backseat of a cab, moving through Moscow, at nighttime, to catch an early morning flight to the East Coast of my Motha’land:  Somewhere, where both the skies and the forests were the color best found on the fur of some Siberian cat.  Leaning against the door, I had to have drifted off for a minute (at twenty three hundred, plus some minutes after — it was long past my bedtime).

The road was narrow, much narrower than it tended to be here, and a lot less sensical.  The traffic ahead looked like a trail of migrating fireflies.  And the lights in the oncoming lanes reminded me of Russian meringue cookies, with apricot jam.

I flipped my entire tiny body on the backseat toward motha:  She was napping on my jacket that she’d rolled up into a travel-size pillow.

But dad heard my commotion from the front passenger seat, looked over his shoulder and whispered:

“What’s your business, little monkey?”

“P!  Did you see that?!” I said.

“I did.”

P was calm, in that tired sort of a way.  But he smiled at me, just to let me know that he, unlike others, was taking me very seriously.  After all, I was a child already filled with dreams; and he had to have known that I was already meaning business.

Back on the 101, it began to feel like we were climbing.

I flipped my entire body in the front passenger seat — already feeling closer to having recuperated my grace with gratitude — and I said:

“Are we going up?”

“We are,” he answered.

He was calm, in a tired sort of way, and didn’t at all look like my father.  But still, he, unlike others, was always taking me very seriously.

The road narrowed down to two lanes, and I could clearly smell the Ocean:  It smelled like the East Coast of my Motha’land.

(I have landed here over a decade ago and willingly stopped measuring my life with memories. But somehow, I seemed unable to forget that one smell of home.  And after a decade of living, dwelling, dreaming in SoCal, I realized that here — I was much closer to homecoming.)

At this point, having gone however many kilometers out of town, on a whim, there was barely any traffic.  We were speeding, sliding, catching up to an occasional lonesome firefly ahead; until there were none at all, and the deserved single lane of the PCH began to feel a lot less sensical.

A lot like home.

There were so many ways to leave home, and there were many more ways — to land.  But I knew:

Homecoming — was always better committed with some grace; even if it was found — elsewhere.

“And I Still Have Hope: We’re Gonna Find Our Way Home.”

I’m on the 405, northbound.  Where I’m heading — is not really my kinda town, but it’s pretty enough.

Along the 405, such towns don’t seem to exist.  But I could always jump onto the 101 — and go home.

HOME.

It’s one hell of a hubris to assume that I could ever even have a home.  I’ve given it up, years ago, right around the time when most children cling to theirs.  They reach out for a sliver of Life in college, taste it, then scurry home to regurgitate it inside their childhood bedrooms still decorated with high school plaques and the faces of their expired heros.

And they whine:

“I’v changed my mind:  I am not hungry anymore.  I’d rather stay home.”

In spoonfuls, I ate mine up.

And then, I asked for seconds.

How Life flooded in!  And it continues to do so if I keep admitting to myself that I possess more hunger in me than most grown-up children I know.

Sometimes, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, but the ego doesn’t admit it:  It just stands there, a scarecrow in the path of a hurricane.

“I can handle it!” it boasts — and when I withstand; soon enough, I ask for seconds.

The things is:  You have got to keep raising the stakes!  Other people won’t do it for you.  You — only you! — know how much you can handle; and even if you don’t, there will be a growl in the pit of your stomach that tells you:  You can!  You know you want it!  C’mon!

And if you don’t do it, Life will flood in on its own, without asking, but this time it will break  down all the levees to shit.  Then, you’ll be hustling around, trying to catch up; trying to pick up the pieces:

“But I wasn’t hungry,” you’ll whine again.  “This is too much!  Why does this always happen — to me?!”

I pull off the road to fill up the tank.  At the service station nearby, I watch two heavyset mechanics trying to decipher something on their computer.  They mirror each other in the way they jam their bent wrists into the non-existent waistlines.  And all this could be idilic, except this is not really my kinda town.

And then, one of the mechanic whines:

“Is it time for lunch yet?  I’m not even hungry but bored outta my mind here, today!”

I keep on driving.  The sunlight bounces off the gas station signs and it blinds with something called V-Power.

I jump onto the 101 after all.

HOMEBOUND.

But by god, it is so beautiful around here!  After all of these years, I still haven’t gotten used to the sight of palm trees.  They stick out, like gentle, goofy giraffes, and they make me chuckle with an awareness of Here:  However odd or unimaginable, my Here — is very specific.

The rest of my Here sprawls out for miles.  It winds up, then drops down into the valleys colored with that deep green of my former home — so deep, it seems purple — it’s breathtaking.  When the roads narrow, I’m likely to slip in between two peaks.

I pass the burnt out hills:  It’s the end of summer, and the drought is yet to come.  So are the fires.  Yet, I have never seen such a shade of orange before:  It announces the proximity of possible disaster.  How thrilling!

There is an occasional greenery around planned communities where all the houses look alike with their pastel colors and idilic laziness:  They are — other children’s homes.

Except that these are not really my kinda towns:

My towns must be rougher around the edges.

So, these are not my kinda homes.

The PCH greets me with a marine layer that I’ve been taking for granted since leaving my home:  At home, that layer is perpetual.  Over there, they stumble through fog.  Over there, they cope.  Life floods in daily, over there; yet, still the days pass in a perpetual state of denial, unreadiness and self-pity.

But I never wanted to cope.  I wanted to live.

So, I’ve given up my home, years ago.

Besides, there was nothing left over there to cling to.  Life has flooded in so much, it has taken all the levees out completely; and many have given up on picking up the piece.  Instead, they choose to live in ruins, until Life floods in again.  And then, they cope.

But Here:  Here — is where I live!  And by god, it is so beautiful —  around Here!

The fog is burning out quicker than I can burn the miles.  The smell of the Ocean slips inside my car.  I roll down the windows.  Take the hair down.  The Ocean is stretching until the horizon, and right past it, I think, is where my home used to be.  Not anymore.

HOME.  HOME.  HOME.

I speed up, homebound.

Summerland.

Montecito.

Santa Barbara.

These towns are all very pretty.  But they are not really my kinda towns:

My town must be rougher around the edges.

It’s a two-lane road, from Here.  I see the arrows, pointing onward:

San Francisco.

HOMEBOUND.