Tom usually has his silvery head stuffed into a gap in the brick bank. Is he depressed? Can he not stand to look at the watery world above him? I’ve often wondered at the state of his constitution as I witness the koi’s shenanigans, whilst mixing my breakfast at the kitchen sink. The last week Tom got out of his rut and was mingling happily among his peers. His black daubed scales looking all the more striking against Gigi’s sunset orange body. I can only see his head today, the pond’s surface is slowly becoming static, obscured with conjoining ice crystals.
I took the day off from doing nothing today…to do…nothing. I loosely call it nothing. Business doesn’t always have to be connected to pounds, dollar’s and pence. I’d walked my legs off the two previous days. One a self-governed ‘loose yourself’ walkabout which threw up a few pots of gold. I’d folded a crepe thin map, torn from a guide magazine, into several smaller squares, quickly wearing away the colour ink from my frequent referencing, and set out to meet a friend of a friend. Cathy, a good-hearted woman with highlights in her expresso toned hair and warmth in her eyes, has taken it upon herself to network like crazy to get me to my American dream. She gave me her friend’s number and told me to go visit her, ‘She’s from the UK, she managed to find a way…..maybe she can help you get to live here’. I do not need much pushing to go and have tea with people..sit and ask them about their ‘story’. Everyone is fascinating if you have a curious mind. Well, I got myself lost..ish. Found the house I’d been keen to explore, built by Lautner, a modernist architect and a student of Le Corbusier. I sighed dreamily at its glass fronted living space, designed to give the appearance of hovering amid the pines. I trespassed as much as I felt comfortable, sneaking a crafty peek before consulting the map and continuing on my quest to reach my, soon to be, new ex-pat friend.
Now even though my love for Idllywild has never been questioned what has been increasing, like a single cell at conception, was the confusion I felt at making a home here, maybe, perhaps, probably..hmm, not sure..in the future. If a community has made you feel more supported and welcomed and accepted than at any other time in your life and budged up to let you in then you’d WANT to live there..right?! Well, I didn’t. Until..until I walked up a path, strewn with boulders the size of garden sheds and found the space above my head getting lighter, the sky discovering me…poking and prodding at my entirety. My eyes widening to take in the panoramic views I was walking into. A deep green carpeted valley, the meadow landings and soft brushstrokes of mountains in the distance and the flat, inland empire town of Temecula below. It dawned on me..I’d felt cut off, hemmed in by the high sides of the bowl in which Idyllwild beats. When you have a view of where you can escape too..remaining becomes a choice and not a sentence. It was a gift. Inspiration point. The jumping off ridge to the world below (figuratively speaking. I ticked that skydiving box in New Zealand ten years hence and have no intended re-runs).
I finally arrived at my destination. An hour late (oops) but bubbling with joy. My visit with Liz had no earth jiggling a ha moments of a blind date and longed for romance with US immigration, no thigh slapping moments when (imaginary) massive ballbearings rolled into place. What it was, was a couple of hours spent in the company of another. Giving each other the time to air stories, curl up our feet and dig them into our cushions, laugh, exchange scraps of paper with cell numbers and websites and just… be.
So today, post walking marathon, I’d taken the day off. As the snow fell I chose to gather spice jars, masa flour, bamboo steamers and fry pans to create. My first time go at tamale making. Silly but I’d put off trying something new..even though I’d long wanted to press damp flour into corn husks, stuff them with dreamed up concoctions and roll them like a Cuban cigar to seal them against an hour of steam onslaught. I felt guilty for having so much fun..not sticking to my agenda, not writing or trekking up hills and counting off the minutes spent ‘doing’ in my day. Though, as much as I flicked the nagging figure that crossed its arms and tutted into my ear, I didn’t shift the feeling of being lazy, not doing anything worthwhile or worthy. Measured by salary. It was funny then, when Chrissy sat, body rigid fighting the cold, by the fire and declared she was having ‘boredom issues’. She felt she was ‘failing’ to do something, learn something, be something for every second of her day. We grabbed hot mugs of tea and pondered the Truth in human experience of what busy..ness is. Where did this idea come from of filling every second of your day with doing? Was it like this in the world, pre-industrial revolution? We agreed we both seem to run each day to a rhythm. A rhythm, set at high speed which makes us feel we’ve accomplished. Though I thought her rhythm had a figurative ‘record label’, she’d been signed up by commerce; she is a successful business woman, applauded friend to many, respected and loved community figure, mom, and lover to her sweetheart 4 hours away across the desert. Me? I spend my days visiting friends, baking, writing and moving my limbs as much as my fidgety nature requires. To me, this pushes me into the category of ‘good for nothing bum’, a gypsy, a freeloader…but I’m happy (in spite of my imaginary foe ‘ole misery knickers that sits scolding me on my shoulder). What is the Truth? I THINK this is a good life to lead. But society would have me think I’m wrong to create fleeting mayhem in the kitchen whilst sketching out some dreamed up meal, or wandering around the hills and fields looking at flowers and discovering all about habitat and wildlife. All without a monthly paycheck and a hierarchy of ‘suits’ above me. Is it not an accomplishment to take time to be with a great friend as she enthusiastically adorns you with information about acorn woodpeckers? Fills in the blanks why some trees are peppered with holes. Shows you the acorns the woodpeckers pick from the ground and slot into the cubby holes that they drilled into the dead trees and serve as their food store. Is this not living? Is it just as valid as closing a deal, opening a shop, taking people up in a basket to see the world from above or coach some young kid to develop their passion for music or welding? I don’t know…I’m asking you. I said to the Princess…’I wish God would come and join us on the sofa, nurse some hot tea and just tell us straight!’.
My dilemma’s are great. Great, not in size but in goodness.
My tamales turned out to be the first rung of a project to perfection. The sweet red bean tamale had good flavour as did the herby, leek, tahini and chilli ones but they lacked the lightness of corn that fills your nostrils with the tantalising scent of steaming corn flour. Though, I do not have a marker to their culinary zenith, I’ll know when I reach it. I’ll pierce the air with an imaginary flag and declare it conquered.
I took a brief interlude from writing this post to walk out in the snow. I followed a line of footprints on the road. A family of three, ahead, unseen, with a dog who zigzagged the road to visit various trees to cock his leg against. I wonder if I lived here long enough I’d get to know the people who own the differing tracks? You could never say that in a big city.
Tomorrow Chrissy and I take a road trip. I swap my yak tracks and boots for breezy toes and flip flops. Having lived on a small island for most of my life, where the weather is one theme from middle to edge, it tickles me that 45mins away the air is summery. My busy ness tomorrow will be watching the surfers, waving my fingers in rockpools to see the anemones contract their vili, walking a lot and exploring a new town. To this I happily commit an 8 hour day.