In pre-travel, secret e-mail communiques from Tristan, briefly back from China, warning and informing me that his parent’s house was abuzz and busy with nervous and hurried vacuuming and cleaning, dusting and brushing before my arrival on this quick August trip to Solvang, CA. This frantic cleaning ritual tradition by my long-time, Africa friends, Karl and Shelagh, had always perplexed me. No matter what had been swept and cleaned and dusted before, no first morning could pass without me being slowly motivated into bringing order to their kitchen. An irresistible itch needing to be scratched finally compelling crazy, compulsive, frantic cleaning behavior. Starting simply with washing up my breakfast china and utensils, it always ended up with the entire kitchen being taken apart, cleaned, reorganized pot by pot, pan by pan until it sparkled and everything resumed its practical place. Instead of this intrusion being considered an affront, it was usually met with a deep, grateful sigh and ‘thank you‘ from Shelagh and then followed a week after my departure with Karl’s regretful sigh as chaos return to kitchen; “I miss Gerald.” The standing joke was that I was going to be passed around amongst Shelagh’s work colleagues as the guest with a built-in cleaning service.
“Hey, I actually brought a bathing suit, but not a beach towel. If we are going to the beach this trip, I’ll need to borrow a towel, okay.” A casual comment thrown out as we planned a day-out adventure to the beach. This comment being followed by a long pause and blank stares.
“Swim? No one swims here. No one swims in the Pacific Ocean. It’s too cold.”
Stopped equally cold in my tracks as if I was being let into a long-held secret that the sky isn’t blue, grass isn’t green and water isn’t wet. My mind reeled back over full histories and melodic songs and evocative stories of sunny Southern California beaches, beautiful ocean and the persistent clamber to live breathlessly near to both.
“NO ONE swims in the ocean? What the hell is everyone doing in California then? What’s all this fuss about Southern California and living close to the beach then? What? You just go and look at it? This is nuts.” And repeating, “You don’t swim in the Pacific? Really? “No one? Followed finally by the thought, “Boy, the Jersey Shores is sure looking pretty good round about now.”
But, Solvang and Southern California has many other attractions apart from cold water beaches. Perfect, Goldilocks weather; not too hot and not too cold, but just right. Rolling grasslands and hillsides covered in vineyards, flora abunda roses growing like weeds and seemingly every Toyota Prius that Japan could sell. And there is plenty of what I have come to term as “woo-woo,” that mythical and mystical state of mind, the ability to realize imagined gods everywhere and in everything and the ability and pension to simply make up the rest. Feelings … angels … incantations … karma and drama. Exampled perfectly, out walking one afternoon towards Rancho del Cielo, the “Reagan Ranch,” (link) along a single lane road that ended suddenly with a concrete barrier. Only certain eyes would see, and only certain souls would intrude; an envelope, yellow and sun faded, secured on concrete and under a small stone. The contents, no letter, but an inked greeting under the flap … “Have a beautiful day.” Indeed.
Don’t you just love Southern, woo-woo, California?
Shelagh is one of those uncomplaining women who never mentally stops planning the next meal. As one ends the next begins in this endless roll of breakfasts and lunches, picnics and dinners. With local orchards full of plump peaches, a pie was mentally baked for that evenings desert. Ignoring the posted sign which read, “Closed,” at her favorite Buttonwood Farm Winery (link) and another sign informing, “No peaches until Wednesday,” … and this was not quite Wednesday, Shelagh, ignoring laws of nature and seasons, ignoring also, the fresh fruit and produce stand meant for the public, stepped up to the homestead back door, Buttonwood’s recyclable, cardboard peach box, empty in hand, but held out ready for replenishment. The orchard keeper, sweat soaked kerchief at brow, dusty and dirty, witnessed this determined approach. A quick verbal, heading-off-at-the-pass, ‘sorry, no peaches today,’ replied with an answer that never once considered the inevitability of the lack of peaches in her plan, ‘but I only need a few for a pie.’ As if by sheer determination and stubborn will, Shelagh thought she could alter destiny, advance time, and ensure that peaches ripen at her personal will.
As it turned out … apparently, she can. Surrendered reluctantly, just enough pie, perfect, peaches that just happened to be put aside, hidden, but at hand.
Maybe it is the sound of different accents which causes people to pause, hold in their tracks, or perhaps it was admiration for Shelagh’s determined will, but somehow our peach intrusion rolled into a relaxed conversation, questions about peach orchards and peaches; Elberta, Red Havens and Whites, organic fertilizers, seasons and cycles. Our orchard keeper began rolling a much riper, golden peach in his left, earthen hand, old pocket knife in his right, and without glancing down, he slowly cut through the plump skin and began to neatly divide his fruit into exacting perfect wedges which he shared equally between the three of us, one at a time. With his one thigh straddling the corner of an old trestle table, he settled with a sigh. Suddenly time had no meaning, no urgency.
There will be no more wanting nor worrying about Wednesdays.