Tag Archives: California

Bonanza

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

After her divorce, my youngest sister moved closer to the center of town. Her street is a cul de sac primarily of duplexes, inhabited by highly educated, multi-ethnic, mixed-aged residents, both married and divorced. This is where she now rents and where she has found a real neighborhood.

A small creek runs behind my sister’s house, visible from the window over the kitchen sink. And just beyond the homes at the end of the cul-de-sac: train tracks. Where a commuter train frequently comes whistling through, connecting ‘burbs such as hers to downtown Boston.

The sound of the train gives me comfort when I visit. Day and night it’s a type of clockwork. As in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, everything seems to be running on time, as it should. But I know I derive more pleasure from this than my sister, for train trips had filled our family’s earliest vacations. By the time she was born, our family was flying.

After my divorce, I flung myself out to California. The seed for that, I believe, was planted long ago on those family train trips west to explore the national parks and reach The Pacific. I will always credit the railroad for opening my world. Whether the seed was planted in me, or I left a part of myself there, I don’t know. But I came to live out west and have given it the greater part of my life.

A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known to only that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow. 

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited. Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

The west calls to me with its wide open spaces and quietude—even in the cities, where drivers don’t lean on their horns and honk. I applaud that. When I fly back to Seattle from Boston, even the freeways feel like meditation. After all that honking and yelling and road rage.

One girl’s Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood; the other girl’s Bonanza. In one scenario a track runs round n round an idyllic village on a model train table. In the other, the tracks go the distance and seem to disappear, only to start a whole new life somewhere.

What calls people west? What makes some New Englanders stay and others go? Come to think of it, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was not only what my sister needed at the time, but what she has always wanted. Whereas I was always pushing out.

We are each given one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable.

My husband must be the same sort of soul. We recently recounted to a friend all the places we had lived since marrying, and how long now in The Pacific Northwest. “You are like the pioneers,” he smiled and said, “who settled here because this is where the wagon wheels fell off.”

I think that’s it. We age and we slow down or find ourselves at last.

Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.

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Walking in the World

White Point sign

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

There are people in our lives who have an influence they’d never know. My parents instilled a love for Cape Cod that we find in many ways living here on San Juan Island in Washington. The friend in California who suggested a year or so ago that I rein in this blog to a remodeling theme: remodeling a house, remodeling a life—the same thing, in my book. Our daughter, now living in Argentina, who upon visiting before her departure grew my daily walk by a beautiful mile or two. And in sending me a video of the works of sculptor Anthony Howe on neighboring Orcas Island, my cousin in Atlanta reminding me to stay with art every day. And to try not to stray.

They are all part and parcel of who I am, why I’m here, and how I see it.

“Walking the loop” began as a tradition while living on upper Queen Anne in Seattle and continues out here today. That first loop took me around the perimeter of the hill, overlooking the Space Needle and downtown Seattle, Lake Union, and Puget Sound. Today’s loop takes me alongside Westcott Bay, and through the red, white and blue nostalgic quality of Roche Harbor Resort where everyone looks good in the light. Finally, the road meanders through an old growth forest of cedar, fir, and pine where everything grows dark and green, and back to my home on the bay.

Where the road dips down to the shoreline I experience what I call a Cape Cod moment, framed by flatlands, grasses, marshes, and horizon. In the course of this walk I may pass only one or two cars on the road, a few more in summer, on an island where every driver waves.

This is the walk my daughter grew, taking it out on a point to new terrain, the posh end of White Point Road. Here I pass tennis courts where nobody’s playing, a pond with a dock establishing someone’s swimming hole, and a private golf course back in there somewhere, for I’ve seen it from the water. Horse fencing and regally high pampas grasses standing like sentry guide the way. Crushed white shells underfoot line the one-lane road at sea level. It’s as private as private can be, except for me, out on this point.

Here I gape at houses, something that seems to be my lot in life: the desire to see myself in other spaces, other places. On walks I finish unfinished houses in my mind, or tear them down and start again. As anyone in the field knows, design is never done. When the bones are good, I may mentally repaint it, or envision it clad in cedar shingles, dark, red, natural or a weathered gray.

At home, the short video on the kinetic sculpture of Anthony Howe awaits me. It’s mesmerizing. How did my cousin know to send this now? I needed it. Isn’t art what ultimately pulls us through? All the arts, always. And art as balm, particularly in troubling times. Which is where we are today.

“After reading the newspaper on Sunday, I sit quietly and simply look at art books.” Michael Graves

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White Gloves

Following a visit to New England this winter, my daughter mentioned how dry her hands were there. How well I know, I thought. I remember living in a railroad flat apartment in NYC where the radiator heat dried my hands such that they would crack and bleed. I treated it by applying Vaseline to my hands at night and  wearing little white gloves to bed. The gloves must have been left over from the days of my dreaded ballroom dancing lessons in a large formal hall in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, where girls were made to dance with boys, and boys with girls–before we wanted to. Round and round the ballroom we’d go, and when one of the boys stepped all over a girl’s feet, the instructor, Mr. Ryder, would single him out to the center of the dance floor and make the boy dance with him. Oh, the look of devastation on the boy’s face–and the look of delight on Mr. Ryder’s.

The ballroom dancing lessons were scheduled on friday nights, the same time “The Twilight Zone” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” aired on television. T.V.’s best night bar none, and there was no taping then. The only redeeming thing about the evening was the requisite stop at a Friendly’s Ice Cream shop following the lessons, which whatever mother was driving the carpool that week had to make. There, having missed our favorite television programs, we felt entitled to gorge on Friendly’s Big Beef hamburger and fries with a Friendly Cola, or their milkshake, the Fribble.

My bedroom at home was papered in a bright yellow with green leaves and stems and white flowers flying around on it, as if tossed into the air. It was always spring in that room. Not so in New England. Maybe I was meant for more temperate climates, as I insisted on open windows and fresh air no matter what time of year.

Our house was a big old colonial in which every room was heated by a radiator. An oil furnace the size of a Model T automobile churned away in the basement to keep it all going. I liked my corner bedroom for the cross currant of air I could create in it. At night I’d burrow under layers of blankets and read into early hours with a flashlight: Gone with the Wind, On the Beach, Bring Me a Unicorn, and all the journals of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, falling in love not so much with Charles Lindbergh, as with Anne. I loved the way she wrote.

One night–it must have been a Nor’easter outside–wind was whipping through my room so hard the radiator went into overdrive. Hissing its head off and spraying hot steaming water all around the room, I had more reason than ever to stay buried under blankets, head and all. What could I do but scream for help? It was my father that heard my cries and came in and shut it all off (how’d he do that without getting burned?), closing my windows too most likely. An old camper at heart, he understood my craving for fresh air and had no harsh words for me, not that I remember.

Years later, in that railroad flat apartment in NYC, the radiator heat was even worse. Well, everything was. I was trying to recover from a broken marriage and deal with a divorce at the time, and not doing particularly well with either. That might have had something to do with it. So I moved West, choosing California, to put my life into some sort of sunshine. And to get out of those damn white gloves.

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Goodbye to a Market

Warning: I’m in a dirty rotten supermarket sort of mood.

A sad thing happened this week in our Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle: the dear little Metropolitan Market closed its doors. Let me say, Metropolitan Market was one of the reasons we moved here. We drew an area about six blocks around “The Ave” and confined our house hunt to that. The idea was to live where we would always walk to town, whatever the weather, and no matter how old we may grow to be. We had found our village in the city. “Why drive, when you can walk?” is our motto, and Metropolitan Market was central to our lifestyle.

Now I don’t know what is coming in, but I do know that recent development in town would have it that every block look the same. Metropolitan Market was different, mid-century architecture, impeccably kept, the staff most personable, produce you could trust to be organic (vs. the supermarket trick, or so I’ve heard, of replacing an empty organic bin with the other variety), and the foods they made, the soups, cioppino, sushi, Dungeness crab cakes, and bakery goods, splendid enough to go on the finest dining table. It was where we all placed our order for fresh turkeys every November, and could find quality kitchenware, chocolates, magazines, and even literary journals. Outside, a plant stand to rivel any street corner in Paris. Come to think about it, Metropolitan Market was our only local nursery too. Now I really am depressed.

Plus I have just come back from a very crowded Safeway where the music is sick, the loudspeakers are loud, the prepared food is fried and the like—although nobody eats like that except maybe the construction workers on their breaks (the ones who are tearing the town down). I don’t know who is employed at Safeway or where they come from, and as for the floral department, their way with plants is to dye phalaenopsis orchids blue.

I simply have to find a way around supermarkets. Something I can walk to, such as the bucolic farmers market on Thursdays. Come winter, move downtown and shop Pikes Market? Everything that is anything is so much further now and it’s time to go from carrying totes to using that cart I bought. A rainproof canvas shopping cart, bright red so cars can see me on gray days. I haven’t taken it out yet because I have some things to work out. My cart questions: do I push it or pull it? Do I push/pull it down the aisles and put the groceries I want to buy into my cart, and take them all out at the register, or will I look like I am shoplifting and be apprehended? Or should I fold up my cart and put it in the grocery’s shopping cart when I arrive?

Didn’t I know this would happen? A long time ago, after my first marriage fell apart, I lived in NYC for a year. I wish I could tell you it was marvelous: The Met! Lincoln Center! Central Park! But it wasn’t. Not that year. I was half crazy with a broken heart, and Central Park wasn’t even considered safe in the daytime. I don’t know if you could call it a phobia exactly, but I developed an irrational fear of bag ladies that year. Not a loathing, more of a trembling. An apprehension that it could happen to me. I knew that there had to be a story behind each and every one of these ladies, and my best guess was that some man had left her in the lurch. I am not sure if I ever got over this fear per se, but I up and moved to California. And now, here I am, thirty-something years later, further up the coast, and about to take up a cart myself. Didn’t I know it?

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